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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Two Poems by Alfred Noyes.....

the English Catholic convert who keen capabilities for spinning romantic yarns, rouse my imagination to flights of fancy. They are both about outlaws, and they both capture the longing for a world with free spirits and loyal hearts. The beautiful, archaic language and British resistence flare contained in these pieces is really something to make the heart flutter and then pound. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

A Song of Sherwood

Sherwood in the twilight, is Robin Hood awake?
Grey and ghostly shadows are gliding through the brake,
Shadows of the dappled deer, dreaming of the morn,
Dreaming of a shadowy man that winds a shadowy horn.

Robin Hood is here again: all his merry thieves
Hear a ghostly bugle-note shivering through the leaves,
Calling as he used to call, faint and far away,
In Sherwood, in Sherwood, about the break of day.

Merry, merry England has kissed the lips of June:
All the wings of fairyland were here beneath the moon,
Like a flight of rose-leaves fluttering in a mist
Of opal and ruby and pearl and amethyst.

Merry, merry England is waking as of old,
With eyes of blither hazel and hair of brighter gold:
For Robin Hood is here again beneath the bursting spray
In Sherwood, in Sherwood, about the break of day.

Love is in the greenwood building him a house
Of wild rose and hawthorn and honeysuckle boughs:
Love is in the greenwood, dawn is in the skies,
And Marian is waiting with a glory in her eyes.

Hark! The dazzled laverock climbs the golden steep!
Marian is waiting: is Robin Hood asleep?
Round the fairy grass-rings frolic elf and fay,
In Sherwood, in Sherwood, about the break of day.

Oberon, Oberon, rake away the gold,
Rake away the red leaves, roll away the mould,
Rake away the gold leaves, roll away the red,
And wake Will Scarlett from his leafy forest bed.

Friar Tuck and Little John are riding down together
With quarter-staff and drinking-can and grey goose-feather.
The dead are coming back again, the years are rolled away
In Sherwood, in Sherwood, about the break of day.

Softly over Sherwood the south wind blows.
All the heart of England his in every rose
Hears across the greenwood the sunny whisper leap,
Sherwood in the red dawn, is Robin Hood asleep?

Hark, the voice of England wakes him as of old
And, shattering the silence with a cry of brighter gold
Bugles in the greenwood echo from the steep,
Sherwood in the red dawn, is Robin Hood asleep?

Where the deer are gliding down the shadowy glen
All across the glades of fern he calls his merry men--
Doublets of the Lincoln green glancing through the May
In Sherwood, in Sherwood, about the break of day--

Calls them and they answer: from aisles of oak and ash
Rings the Follow! Follow! and the boughs begin to crash,
The ferns begin to flutter and the flowers begin to fly,
And through the crimson dawning the robber band goes by.

Robin! Robin! Robin! All his merry thieves
Answer as the bugle-note shivers through the leaves,
Calling as he used to call, faint and far away,
In Sherwood, in Sherwood, about the break of day.

The Highwayman

    THE wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,
    The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
    The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
    And the highwayman came riding—
    The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.
    He'd a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin,
    A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin;
    They fitted with never a wrinkle: his boots were up to the thigh!
    And he rode with a jewelled twinkle,
                      His pistol butts a-twinkle,
    His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky.
    Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard,
    And he tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred;
    He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
    But the landlord's black-eyed daughter,
                      Bess, the landlord's daughter,
    Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.
    And dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked
    Where Tim the ostler listened; his face was white and peaked;
    His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay,
    But he loved the landlord's daughter,
                      The landlord's red-lipped daughter,
    Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say—
    "One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I'm after a prize to-night,
    But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light;
    Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day,
    Then look for me by moonlight,
                      Watch for me by moonlight,
    I'll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way."
    He rose upright in the stirrups; he scarce could reach her hand,
    But she loosened her hair i' the casement! His face burnt like a brand
    As the black cascade of perfume came tumbling over his breast;
    And he kissed its waves in the moonlight,
                      (Oh, sweet, black waves in the moonlight!)
    Then he tugged at his rein in the moonliglt, and galloped away to the West.
                                        PART TWO
    He did not come in the dawning; he did not come at noon;
    And out o' the tawny sunset, before the rise o' the moon,
    When the road was a gypsy's ribbon, looping the purple moor,
    A red-coat troop came marching—
    King George's men came matching, up to the old inn-door.
    They said no word to the landlord, they drank his ale instead,
    But they gagged his daughter and bound her to the foot of her narrow bed;
    Two of them knelt at her casement, with muskets at their side!
    There was death at every window;
                      And hell at one dark window;
    For Bess could see, through her casement, the road that he would ride.
    They had tied her up to attention, with many a sniggering jest;
    They had bound a musket beside her, with the barrel beneath her breast!
    "Now, keep good watch!" and they kissed her.
                      She heard the dead man say—
    Look for me by moonlight;
                      Watch for me by moonlight;
    I'll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way!
    She twisted her hands behind her; but all the knots held good!
    She writhed her hands till her fingers were wet with sweat or blood!
    They stretched and strained in the darkness, and the hours crawled by like years,
    Till, now, on the stroke of midnight,
                      Cold, on the stroke of midnight,
    The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!
    The tip of one finger touched it; she strove no more for the rest!
    Up, she stood up to attention, with the barrel beneath her breast,
    She would not risk their hearing; she would not strive again;
    For the road lay bare in the moonlight;
                      Blank and bare in the moonlight;
    And the blood of her veins in the moonlight throbbed to her love's refrain .
        Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? The horse-hoofs ringing clear;
    Tlot-tlot, tlot-tlot, in the distance? Were they deaf that they did not hear?
    Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill,
    The highwayman came riding,
                      Riding, riding!
    The red-coats looked to their priming! She stood up, straight and still!
    Tlot-tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot-tlot, in the echoing night!
    Nearer he came and nearer! Her face was like a light!
    Her eyes grew wide for a moment; she drew one last deep breath,
    Then her finger moved in the moonlight,
                      Her musket shattered the moonlight,
    Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him—with her death.
    He turned; he spurred to the West; he did not know who stood
    Bowed, with her head o'er the musket, drenched with her own red blood!
    Not till the dawn he heard it, his face grew grey to hear
    How Bess, the landlord's daughter,
                      The landlord's black-eyed daughter,
    Had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.
    Back, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky,
    With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high!
    Blood-red were his spurs i' the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat,
    When they shot him down on the highway,
                      Down like a dog on the highway,
    And he lay in his blood on the highway, with the bunch of lace at his throat.
                  *           *           *           *           *           *
    And still of a winter's night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,
    When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
    When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
    A highwayman comes riding—
    A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.

    Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard;
    He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred;
    He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
    But the landlord's black-eyed daughter,
                      Bess, the landlord's daughter,
    Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

Robin Hood is here again....

The Highwayman came riding....


  1. Beautiful, Pearl of Tyburn. Your blog is a treasure: keep up the good work and God bless!

  2. Yes, The Highwayman is one of my favourite poems, wonderfully evocative with high emotions. Great.

  3. Thank you, Culbreath and Richard!

    I'm glad you both enjoyed the poetry selection. Mr. Noyes really did have a wonderful talent. I wish we had more poets of his calibre around today. Have either of you heard the Loreena McKennit song adaptation of "The Highwayman"? It is really amazing!

    God Bless,

  4. Oh, yes, we love Loreena McKinnit's "The Highwayman", to the point where I can't read the poem without hearing the music!

  5. Ah, "The Highwayman"! It still has the power to make me shiver. The last two stanzas are just like a campfire ghost story, and at the same time they suggest that Bess and the highwayman sort of got their way in the end.
    Wow, I'm sure "The "Highwayman" would make an amazingly shivery-scary song!
    "A Song of Sherwood" is new to me. It sounds as if the poet is wandering the woods, imagining that his hero will come around the corner any minute!
    Great idea to post these poems, Pearl! I hope you post more sometime, especially from great authors like this one.

    - Katherine

  6. My dad used to pile the lot of us into his lap and read poetry to usbefore bed. The highwayman was always a favorite pre-bedtime read. Thaks for bringing back some wonderful memories!

  7. @culbreath: I know exactly what you mean about hearing Loreena McKennitt's tune in your head when reading the verses of "The Highwayman"! She is a very talented singer, musician, and composer to have been able to turn the poem into a song so deftly.

    @Katherine: Indeed, it does seem that, in the long run, Bess and Highwayman got what they wanted. It makes one reflect on the after-life and wonder what sorts of relationships souls will have with each other there. Mr. Noyes certainly did know how to capture the "Spirit of Sherwood". He obviously had an incredible imagination!

    @Anonymous: I'm so glad this post brought back some pleasant memories for you! I remember my parents reading to me before bedtime, as well. But I'd always ask my dad to alter the story and make it goofy!

  8. From Mack in Texas:

    Thank you! I must look up Loreena McKennitt.

    I was blessed in Richard Greene's ROBIN HOOD in my childhood, and he remains my favorite / favourite. Errol Flynn is good, too, but the current grim, dark, politically-correct interpretations are so sulky!

    My modest memory of Richard Greene and his merry band (the allusion to Hanacker Mill is a tribute to Hilaire Belloc):

    At the Sign of the Blue Boar

    Under the oak tree, long ago,
    We lived with merry Robin Hood,
    Who taught us how to bend the bow
    And live aright in green Sherwood

    Now let us part the leaves again,
    And find that merry life, and bold.
    We’ll roam again as we did then --
    How came it that we all grew old?

    Let us stroll to the Blue Boar Inn,
    Quaff a mug of October ale
    Nigh unto Sherwood and the fen,
    And, laughing, tell a jolly tale

    Old Gaffer Swanthold might rest there
    Easing his bones in the summer sun
    Chatting sweet Joan whose auburn hair
    Reminds him of his youthful fun.

    Stout of sinew and bold of heart,
    Home from the wars i’the Holy Land,
    A gallant knight now takes his part,
    A hero and a brave, strong man:

    Sir Richard o’ the Lea, a knight
    A warrior’s heart, but mortgaged land,
    Always first in a desperate fight
    Poor, but we know no better man

    O Alan-a-Dale, tune your lute
    And sing how Midge the Miller’s son
    Bullied by men (of ill repute),
    With Robin’s aid fought them, and won.

    O sing of good Saint Swithin whose
    Feast day predicts the summer’s moods,
    Forty days as the Saint doth choose,
    Smiling on England’s grain-fat roods

    Maid Marian, she’s just a girl
    So lightly dancing through the wood
    But she can outshoot any churl
    And she is sweet on Robin Hood

    Will Scarlet, too, and Little John,
    Scathelock and Stutely, still
    Ambushing fat bishops anon,
    Not far from old Hanacker Mill

    And we were with them there along
    The London Road from Nottingham
    Whistling a happy, wordless song,
    For nothing rhymes with “Nottingham.”

    Sing of Sherwood’s high-leaping deer
    Falling to arrows swift and sure
    Around the campfire, such good cheer
    Venison and ale – the poor man’s cure

    Far off in London, Henry, King,
    And his Eleanor of Aquitaine
    Too oft ignore their far-off shires
    And their people’s sheriff-ridden pain

    But with us always, happy Tuck
    Ever hungry but never mean,
    A Friar of faith, of joy, of pluck,
    A child of blessed Mary, Queen

    Telling his beads, sharpening his sword
    Saying Masses for Robin’s band
    Seated first at the groaning board
    Oft poaching on the bishop’s land

    O, merry robbers once we were
    In green and sunny barefoot youth
    “Stand and deliver, noble sir!
    Your purse is too heavy, in God’s truth!”

    Under the oak tree, long ago,
    We lived with merry Robin Hood,
    Who taught us how to bend the bow
    And live aright in green Sherwood

  9. I always enjoy poems such as these. I find them a little long towards the end. But then again they were not written for plebians!I haven't heard of Alfred Noyes before, but I'll be sure to have a read about him now.

  10. Mack, I am totally speechless. That poem is beautiful! It's rhythm and language bring back so many fond memories and inspire the soul. You have a real talent, Sir! Have you ever tried to get it published or put it to song? I am so grateful that you posted this. With your permission, may I feature it in a future blog post?

    Last Churchillian, you strike as the type who would like lush, romantic poetry. Indeed, sometimes they get a wee bit long, but they're well worth it. Besides, when they're put to music, like "The Highwayman" was, the words fly by with ease! Do look up Alfred Noyes when the get the chance. He was a real jewel in the crown of British literature.

  11. The Highwayman is a breathtaking poem, and I too always read it with Loreena's lilting melody in my head. The Song of Sherwood also pleases me as the fairytale forests of British poetry always fascinate me. Thanks for posting!

  12. "A Song of Sherwood" was a new one for me, Pearl, so thank you for posting it! Is Alred Noyes your favorite English poet? I love Lord Tennyson's "Lady of Shallott", in case you've ever heard that one-have you? I think that he wrote a poem on Robin Hood, called "The Foresters" or something, as well(?).

  13. Hi, Carolyn and Meredith!

    @Carolyn: Welcome to the blog! Loreena McKennitt's melody really does have a haunting quality that flows and flows. As I type this, I'm actually listening to her album "The Book of Secrets". Have you listened to any other of her CDs? I do wish she'd put "A Song of Sherwood" to a tune. Hmm...maybe I should try to track her down and suggest it!

    @Meredith: It was nice talking with you on the phone today! I'm glad you liked the poems. Alfred Noyes is definitely on my favorites lists as far as English poets go, although I also like G. K. Chesterton and Lord Tennyson, too. I just read "Idylls of the King" for literature this year, and it was quite musical in tone, if a bit long-winded at times! Is "Lady of Shallott" a section of "Idylls"? If so, which section? I'll have to look up "The Foresters" - it sounds intriguing.

    God Bless,

    1. Hello again, Pearl! It was so nice chatting with you the other day-we really should do it again sometime:-) Back to your question; it seems that Tennyson actually wrote two poems about Lancelot and Elaine, the first being "The Lady of Shalott", published 1833. Then he wrote another one(simply entitled "Lancelot and Elaine") and included it with the other poems in "Idylls". He must have really loved that story, it seems! But then again, so do I:-)

  14. Most excellent Pearl,

    Thank you!

    Yes, you may use my modest little poem.

    I apologize for not writing earlier; I have been on vacation in Taos, which is delightful and inexpensive (at least in summer).

    -- Mack