Menella Bute Smedley

The Tournament

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The churches twelve of Wallingford
A stately sight they were,
When gleaming shields were hanging
From every column fair;
For a mile around the city
Earth's alter'd face was bright
With banner and pavilion,
With steed, and squire, and knight.

For king Edward holds a tournament;
His heralds, far and near,
Have borne the joyous message
To baron, prince, and peer.
They are coming in by thousands;
Woe to that warrior's fame
Whose knightly shield its place must yield
At the wand's light touch of shame!

The airs of heaven were wearied,
Long ere that morning shone,
With the sounds of clashing armour
And the horn's exulting tone;
Down many a woodland avenue,
Up many a grassy slope,
Came troops of glittering horsemen,
All gay with knightly hope.

And the serf forsook his labour,
And the ladye left her bower,—
They gather like the clouds of heaven
Before an April shower.
The lists are fairly order'd,
And every heart beats high
When the clarion's thrilling summons
Tells that the hour is nigh.

They have left each gay pavilion,
They are moving o'er the plain;
There rides Sir Piers de Gaveston,
Chief of a king-like train:
By his proud and stately bearing,
By his fair and rich array,
Ye might take him for a monarch
Upon his crowning day;
But like to plants that wither
In the hot sirocco's path,
So every face he passes
Grows pale with sudden wrath.
Ah, little scest thou, Gaveston,
With thy bright and reckless eye,
The doom that is before thee,
And the death that thou must die!

Yet the scowling gloom of Pembroke,
And Warwick's haughty glance,
The mutter'd curse of Arundel,
And Evreux' look askance,
The sullen frown of Lancaster,
And Warren's wrathful mien,

The bright and angry blushes
On the fair cheeks of the queen;
Her eye's disdainful beauty
As she pass'd the foe she scorn'd—
These might have warn'd that boaster:
He was not to be warn'd!

And there rode hapless Edward,
A graceful prince and gay;
But weakness in his ready laugh
And his eye's uncertain ray;
Who dream'd, that saw his maiden-grasp
On his palfrey's broider'd reins,
That the blood of the old Plantagenets
Was running in his veins!

And there rode fair Queen Isabelle,
A girl scarce fifteen years;
Like a swan on a breezeless river
Her snowy neck she rears;
Her beauty's proud magnificence
Was matchless in the world,
But ah! beneath its sweet rose-wreath
Lay the dread serpent curl'd.
Her smile of treacherous softness,
Her dark and glittering eye,
Were like a slumbering tempest
In the depths of a tropic sky.

On moved the gay procession,
And many a dame did lead
By the shining rein of a silver chain
Her warrior's pacing steed;
Each mantle gemm'd floats gaily,
Each courser stamps and fumes,
'Tis a heaving sea, whose billows free
Are banners and dancing plumes.

Oh, for the tongue of a minstrel
To tell in lightning words
The deeds of that glorious tournament,
The fame of those flashing swords!
How a fair and a queenly circle
Beheld the knights engage,
Like clear stars watching stedfastly
The foaming ocean's rage;
And amid those brows of beauty
Lofty and calm arose
The head of some ancient hero
Wearing its crown of snows;
'Twas a thrilling sight to witness
Each worn-out warrior's gaze
On a strife where he must not mingle,
On the deeds of his younger days.

Like walls of glittering armour
At first the champions stand,
As the Red Sea stood when its raging flood
Was cleft by God's own hand.
And the crash of their strong ranks charging
Arose when they met on the plain,
Like the roar of those bursting waters
Rushing together again.

Hark, how the watchful heralds
The shouts of their onset gave,
“Charge, warriors! Death to horses!
Fame to the sons of the brave!”
Those shouts are rising louder
At every well-aim'd blow,
Or whenever a lance is shiver'd
Fairly on breast or brow.
The air is full of battle,
It is full of the trumpets' sound,
Of the tramp of dashing horses,
And the cries of the crowd around;
The earth is strown with beauty,
It is strown with fair plumes torn,
With glove, and scarf, and streamer,
For the love of ladies worn;
But each maiden watch'd her champion,
And oft her white hands sent
Fresh gifts for every token
That was lost in the tournament.
Oh! with such eyes above them,
Such voices to cheer the strife,
No marvel those warriors tilted
Like men who are tilting for life!

But at length the sports are over!
Changed was the joyous scene,
When many a knight lay gasping,
Unhorsed upon the green;
Their squires are near to raise them,
They bear them soft and slow,
And loving eyes all mournful
Attend them as they go.
Not oft was life in danger;
Yet might those sweet eyes grieve
That in their sight, their own true knight
Should not the wreath receive.

Now shout ye for the victor!
The warrior to whose sword
Lady, and prince, and herald
The prize of fame award!
Doubt not his heart is thrilling
Thus on the turf to kneel,
While lovely hands unloose the bands
That clasp his helm of steel!
While every lip is busy
With the honour of his name,
And with glowing cheeks, each good knight speaks
The story of his fame!
Dear are thy gifts, O glory!
Dear is thy crown unstain'd,
When the true heart bears witness
That it was nobly gain'd!

Room for the queen! she cometh
To grace the conqueror now,
With a chaplet of green laurel
She stoops to wreath his brow!
A kiss—a gem—a garland—
These hath his good lance won,
And the king's own lips give honour
To the deeds that he hath done.
With dance, and song, and banquet,
The festive day shall close,
Till, wearied out with pleasure,
The warriors seek repose.

Yet lasts the giddy revel
Till the shining east grows pale,—
Ah, what a bright beginning
For such a darksome tale!
Even then the storm had gather'd
Which should burst in coming years,
For the reign of the second Edward
Was a reign of blood and tears!

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Menella Bute Smedley