The Rejoicing of the Land
1295 So the land had rest! and the cloud of that heart-sore struggle and pain Rose from her ancient hills, and peace shone o'er her again, Sunlike chasing the plagues wherewith the land was defiled; And the leprosy fled, and her flesh came again, as the flesh of a child. --They were stern and stark, the three children of Rolf, the first from Anjou: For their own sake loving the land, mayhap, but loving her true; France the wife, and England the handmaid; yet over the realm Their eyes were in every place, their hands gripp'd firm on the helm. Villein and earl, the cowl and the plume, they were bridled alike; One law for all, but arm'd law,--not swifter to aid than to strike. Lo, in the twilight transept, the holy places of God, Not with sunset the steps of the altar are dyed, but with scarlet of blood! Clang of iron-shod feet, and sheep for their shepherd who cry; Curses and swords that flash, and the victim proffer'd to die! --Bare thy own back to the smiter, O king, at the shrine of the dead: Thy friend thou hast slain in thy folly; the blood of the Saint on thy head: Proud and priestly, thou say'st;--yet tender and faithful and pure; True man, and so, true saint;--the crown of his martyrdom sure:-- As friend with his friend, he could brave thee and warn; thou hast silenced the voice, Ne'er to be heard again:--nor again will Henry rejoice! Green Erin may yield her, fair Scotland submit; but his sunshine is o'er; The tooth of the serpent, the child of his bosom, has smote him so sore:-- Like a wolf from the hounds he dragg'd off to his lair, not turning to bay:-- Crying 'shame on a conquer'd king!'--the grim ghost fled sullen away. --Then, as in gray Autumn the heavens are pour'd on the rifted hillside, When the Rain-stars mistily gleam, and torrents leap white in their pride, And the valley is all one lake, and the late, unharvested shocks Are rapt to the sea, the dwellings of man, the red kine and the flocks,-- O'er England the ramparts of law, the old landmarks of liberty fell, As the brothers in blood and in lust, twin horror begotten of hell, Suck'd all the life of the land to themselves, like Lofoden in flood, One in his pride, in his subtlety one, mocking England and God. Then tyranny's draught--once only--we drank to the dregs!--and the stain Went crimson and black through the soul of the land, for all time, not in vain! We bore the bluff many-wived king, rough rival and victor of Rome; We bore the stern despot-protector, whose dawning and sunset were gloom; For they temper'd the self of the tyrant with love of the land, Some touch of the heart, some remorse, refraining the grip of the hand. But John's was blackness of darkness, a day of vileness and shame; Shrieks of the tortured, and silence, and outrage the mouth cannot name. --O that cry of the helpless, the weak that writhe under the foe, Wrong man-wrought upon man, dumb unwritten annals of woe! Cry that goes upward from earth as she rolls through the peace of the skies 'How long? Hast thou forgotten, O God!' . . . and silence replies! Silence:--and then was the answer;--the light o'er Windsor that broke, The Meadow of Law--true Avalon where the true Arthur awoke! --Not thou, whose name, as a seed o'er the world, plume-wafted on air, Britons on each side sea,--Caerlleon and Cumbria,--share, Joy of a downtrod race, dear hope of freedom to-be, Dream of poetic hearts, whom the vision only can see! . . . For thine were the fairy knights, fair ideals of beauty and song; But ours, in the ways of men, walk'd sober, and stumbling, and strong;-- Stumbling as who in peril and twilight their pathway trace out, Hard to trace, and untried, and the foe above and about; For the Charter of Freedom, the voice of the land in her Council secure All doing, all daring,--and, e'en when defeated, of victory sure! Langton, our Galahad, first, stamp'd Leader by Rome unaware, Pembroke and Mowbray, Fitzwarine, Fitzalan, Fitzwalter, De Clare:-- --O fair temple of Freedom and Law!--the foundations ye laid:-- But again came the storm, and the might of darkness and wrong was array'd, A warfare of years; and the battle raged, and new heroes arose From a soil that is fertile in manhood's men, and scatter'd the foes, And set in their place the bright pillars of Order, Liberty's shrine, O'er the land far-seen, as o'er Athens the home of Athena divine. --So the land had rest:--and the cloud of that heart-sore struggle and pain Sped from her ancient hills, and peace shone o'er her again, Sunlike chasing the plagues wherewith the land was defiled: And the leprosy fled, and her flesh came again, as the flesh of a child. For lo! the crown'd Statesman of Law, Justinian himself of his realm, Edward, since Alfred our wisest of all who have watch'd by the helm! He who yet preaches in silence his life-word, the light of his way, From his marble unadorn'd chest, in the heart of the West Minster gray, _Keep thy Faith_ . . . In the great town-twilight, this city of gloom, --O how unlike that blithe London he look'd on!--I look on his tomb, In the circle of kings, round the shrine, where the air is heavy with fame, Dust of our moulder'd chieftains, and splendour shrunk to a name. Silent synod august, ye that tried the delight and the pain, Trials and snares of a throne, was the legend written in vain? Speak, for ye know, crown'd shadows! who down each narrow and strait As ye might, once guided,--a perilous passage,--the keel of the State, Fourth Henry, fourth Edward, Elizabeth, Charles,--now ye rest from your toil, Was it best, when by truth and compass ye steer'd, or by statecraft and guile? Or is it so hard, that steering of States, that as men who throw in With party their life, honour soils his own ermine, a lie is no sin? . . . --Not so, great Edward, with thee,--not so!--For he learn'd in his youth The step straightforward and sure, the proud, bright bearing of truth:-- Arm'd against Simon at Evesham, yet not less, striking for Law,-- Ages of temperate freedom, a vision of order, he saw!-- --Vision of opulent years, a murmur of welfare and peace: Orchard golden-globed, plain waving in golden increase; Hopfields fairer than vineyards, green laughing tendrils and bine; Woodland misty in sunlight, and meadow sunny with kine;-- Havens of heaving blue, where the keels of Guienne and the Hanse Jostle and creak by the quay, and the mast goes up like a lance, Gay with the pennons of peace, and, blazon'd with Adria's dyes, Purple and orange, the sails like a sunset burn in the skies. Bloodless conquests of commerce, that nation with nation unite! Hand clasp'd frankly in hand, not steel-clad buffets in fight: On the deck strange accents and shouting; rough furcowl'd men of the north, Genoa's brown-neck'd sons, and whom swarthy Smyrna sends forth: Freights of the south; drugs potent o'er death from the basilisk won, Odorous Phoenix-nest, and spice of a sunnier sun:-- Butts of Malvasian nectar, Messene's vintage of old, Cyprian webs, damask of Arabia mazy with gold: Sendal and Samite and Tarsien, and sardstones ruddy as wine, Graved by Athenian diamond with forms of beauty divine. To the quay from the gabled alleys, the huddled ravines of the town, Twilights of jutting lattice and beam, the Guild-merchants come down, Cheapening the gifts of the south, the sea-borne alien bales, For the snow-bright fleeces of Leom'ster, the wealth of Devonian vales; While above them, the cavernous gates, on which knight-robbers have gazed Hopeless, in peace look down, their harrows of iron upraised; And Dustyfoot enters at will with his gay Autolycus load, And the maidens are flocking as doves when they fling the light grain on the road. Low on the riverain mead, where the dull clay-cottages cling To the tall town-ward and the towers, as nests of the martin in spring, Where the year-long fever lurks, and gray leprosy burrows secure, Are the wattled huts of the Friars, the long, white Church of the poor: --Haven of wearied eyelids; of hearts that care not to live; Shadow and silence of prayer; the peace which the world cannot give! Tapers hazily gloaming through fragrance the censers outpour; Chant ever rising and rippling in sweetness, as waves on the shore; Casements of woven stone, with more than the rainbow bedyed; Beauty of holiness! Spell yet unbroken by riches and pride! --Ah! could it be so for ever!--the good aye better'd by Time:-- First-Faith, first-Wisdom, first-Love,--to the end be true to their prime! . . Far rises the storm o'er horizons unseen, that will lay them in dust, Crashings of plunder'd cloisters, and royal insatiate lust:-- Far, unseen, unheard!--Meanwhile the great Minster on high Like a stream of music, aspiring, harmonious, springs to the sky:-- Story on story ascending their buttress'd beauty unfold, Till the highest height is attain'd, and the Cross shines star-like in gold, Set as a meteor in heaven; a sign of health and release:-- And the land rejoices below, and the heart-song of England is Peace.
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