It was up in the morn we rose betimes
From the hall-floor hard by the row of limes.
It was but John the Red and I,
And we were the brethren of Gregory;
And Gregory the Wright was one
Of the valiant men beneath the sun,
And what he bade us that we did
For ne’er he kept his counsel hid.
So out we went, and the clattering latch
Woke up the swallows under the thatch.
It was dark in the porch, but our scythes we felt,
And thrust the whetstone under the belt.
Through the cold garden boughs we went
Where the tumbling roses shed their scent.
Then out a-gates and away we strode
O’er the dewy straws on the dusty road,
And there was the mead by the town-reeve’s close
Where the hedge was sweet with the wilding rose.
Then into the mowing grass we went
Ere the very last of the night was spent.
Young was the moon, and he was gone,
So we whet our scythes by the stars alone:
But or ever the long blades felt the hay
Afar in the East the dawn was grey.
Or ever we struck our earliest stroke
The thrush in the hawthorn-bush awoke.
While yet the bloom of the swathe was dim
The black-bird’s bill had answered him.
Ere half of the road to the river was shorn
The sunbeam smote the twisted thorn.
Now wide was the way ’twixt the standing grass
For the townsfolk unto the mote to pass,
And so when all our work was done
We sat to breakfast in the sun,
While down in the stream the dragon-fly
’Twixt the quivering rushes flickered by;
And though our knives shone sharp and white
The swift bleak heeded not the sight.
So when the bread was done away
We looked along the new-shorn hay,
And heard the voice of the gathering-horn
Come over the garden and the corn;
For the wind was in the blossoming wheat
And drave the bees in the lime-boughs sweet.
Then loud was the horn’s voice drawing near,
And it hid the talk of the prattling weir.
And now was the horn on the pathway wide
That we had shorn to the river-side.
So up we stood, and wide around
We sheared a space by the Elders’ Mound;
And at the feet thereof it was
That highest grew the June-tide grass;
And over all the mound it grew
With clover blent, and dark of hue.
But never aught of the Elders’ Hay
To rick or barn was borne away.
But it was bound and burned to ash
In the barren close by the reedy plash.
For ’neath that mound the valiant dead
Lay hearkening words of valiance said
When wise men stood on the Elders’ Mound,
And the swords were shining bright around.
And now we saw the banners borne
On the first of the way that we had shorn;
So we laid the scythe upon the sward
And girt us to the battle-sword.
For after the banners well we knew
Were the Freemen wending two and two.
There then that high-way of the scythe
With many a hue was brave and blythe.
And first below the Silver Chief
Upon the green was the golden sheaf.
And on the next that went by it
The White Hart in the Park did sit.
Then on the red the White Wings flew,
And on the White was the Cloud-fleck blue.
Last went the Anchor of the Wrights
Beside the Ship of the Faring-Knights.
Then thronged the folk the June-tide field
With naked sword and painted shield,
Till they came adown to the river-side,
And there by the mound did they abide.
Now when the swords stood thick and white
As the mace reeds stand in the streamless bight,
There rose a man on the mound alone
And over his head was the grey mail done.
When over the new-shorn place of the field
Was nought but the steel hood and the shield.
The face on the mound shone ruddy and hale,
But the hoar hair showed from the hoary mail.
And there rose a hand by the ruddy face
And shook a sword o’er the peopled place.
And there came a voice from the mound and said:
“O sons, the days of my youth are dead,
And gone are the faces I have known
In the street and the booths of the goodly town.
O sons, full many a flock have I seen
Feed down this water-girdled green.
Full many a herd of long-horned neat
Have I seen ’twixt water-side and wheat.
Here by this water-side full oft
Have I heaved the flowery hay aloft.
And oft this water-side anigh
Have I bowed adown the wheat-stalks high.
And yet meseems I live and learn
And lore of younglings yet must earn.
For tell me, children, whose are these
Fair meadows of the June’s increase.
Whose are these flocks and whose the neat,
And whose the acres of the wheat?”
Scarce did we hear his latest word,
On the wide shield so rang the sword.
So rang the sword upon the shield
That the lark was hushed above the field.
Then sank the shouts and again we heard
The old voice come from the hoary beard:
“Yea, whose are yonder gables then,
And whose the holy hearths of men?
Whose are the prattling children there,
And whose the sunburnt maids and fair?
Whose thralls are ye, hereby that stand,
Bearing the freeman’s sword in hand?”
As glitters the sun in the rain-washed grass,
So in the tossing swords it was;
As the thunder rattles along and adown
E’en so was the voice of the weaponed town.
And there was the steel of the old man’s sword,
And there was his hollow voice, and his word:
“Many men many minds, the old saw saith,
Though hereof ye be sure as death.
For what spake the herald yestermorn
But this, that ye were thrall-folk born;
That the lord that owneth all and some
Would send his men to fetch us home
Betwixt the haysel, and the tide
When they shear the corn in the country-side?
O children, Who was the lord? ye say,
What prayer to him did our fathers pray.
Did they hold out hands his gyves to bear?
Did their knees his high hall’s pavement wear?
Is his house built up in heaven aloft?
Doth he make the sun rise oft and oft?
Doth he hold the rain in his hollow hand?
Hath he cleft this water through the land?
Or doth he stay the summer-tide,
And make the winter days abide?
O children, Who is the lord? ye say,
Have we heard his name before to-day?
O children, if his name I know,
He hight Earl Hugh of the Shivering Low:
For that herald bore on back and breast
The Black Burg under the Eagle’s Nest.”
As the voice of the winter wind that tears
At the eaves of the thatch and its emptied ears,
E’en so was the voice of laughter and scorn
By the water-side in the mead new-shorn;
And over the garden and the wheat
Went the voice of women shrilly-sweet.
But now by the hoary elder stood
A carle in raiment red as blood.
Red was his weed and his glaive was white,
And there stood Gregory the Wright.
So he spake in a voice was loud and strong:
“Young is the day though the road is long;
There is time if we tarry nought at all
For the kiss in the porch and the meat in the hall.
And safe shall our maidens sit at home
For the foe by the way we wend must come.
Through the three Lavers shall we go
And raise them all against the foe.
Then shall we wend the Downland ways,
And all the shepherd spearmen raise.
To Cheaping Raynes shall we come adown
And gather the bowmen of the town;
And Greenstead next we come unto
Wherein are all folk good and true.
When we come our ways to the Outer Wood
We shall be an host both great and good;
Yea when we come to the open field
There shall be a many under shield.
And maybe Earl Hugh shall lie alow
And yet to the house of Heaven shall go.
But we shall dwell in the land we love
And grudge no hallow Heaven above.
Come ye, who think the time o’er long
Till we have slain the word of wrong!
Come ye who deem the life of fear
On this last day hath drawn o’er near!
Come after me upon the road
That leadeth to the Erne’s abode.”
Down then he leapt from off the mound
And back drew they that were around
Till he was foremost of all those
Betwixt the river and the close.
And uprose shouts both glad and strong
As followed after all the throng;
And overhead the banners flapped,
As we went on our ways to all that happed.
The fields before the Shivering Low
Of many a grief of manfolk know;
There may the autumn acres tell
Of how men met, and what befell.
The Black Burg under the Eagle’s nest
Shall tell the tale as it liketh best.
And sooth it is that the River-land
Lacks many an autumn-gathering hand.
And there are troth-plight maids unwed
Shall deem awhile that love is dead;
And babes there are to men shall grow
Nor ever the face of their fathers know.
And yet in the Land by the River-side
Doth never a thrall or an earl’s man bide;
For Hugh the Earl of might and mirth
Hath left the merry days of Earth;
And we live on in the land we love,
And grudge no hallow Heaven above.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:53