Menella Bute Smedley

The New Forest

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There moves a sad procession
Across the silent vale,
With backward-glancing eyes of grief,
And tearful cheeks all pale.
Scatter'd and slow, without array,
With wavering feet they go,
Yet with a kind of solemn pace—
The measured tread of woe.
There women pause and tremble,
And weep with breaking heart;
While men, with deeply knitted brows,
Stride mutely on apart.
There infants cling upon the breast,
Their own accustom'd place;
And children gaze up askingly
Into each darken'd face.
For the king has sent his soldiers,
Who strike and pity not:
They have razed to the earth each smiling home—
They have burn'd each lowly cot.
It was the ruthless Conqueror
By whom this deed was done;
And yet more fierce and hard of heart
Was Rufus, his stern son.

So they leave each humble cottage,
Where they so long have dwelt,
Where morn and eve to simple prayer,
With thankful hearts, they knelt—
Places all brighten'd with the joy
Of sweet domestic years,
And spots made holy by the flow
Of unforgotten tears.
And the gardens are uprooted,
And the walls cast down around;
It is all a spacious wilderness—
The king's great hunting-ground!
While hopeless, homeless, shelterless,
Those exiles wander on;
And most of them lie down to die,
Ere many days are gone.
O Forest! green New Forest!
Home of the bird and breeze,
With all thy soft and sweeping glades,
And long dim aisles of trees;
Like some ancestral palace,
Thou standest proud and fair,
Yet is each tree a monument
To Death and lone Despair!
And thou, relentless tyrant,
Ride forth and chase the deer,
With a heart that never melted yet
To pity or to fear.
But for all these broken spirits,
And for all these wasted homes,

God will avenge the fatherless—
The day of reckoning comes!
To hunt rode fierce King Rufus,
Upon a holy morn—
The Church had summon'd him to pray,
But he held the Church in scorn.
Sir Walter Tyrrel rode with him,
And drew his good bow-string;
He drew the string to smite a deer,
But his arrow smote the king!
Down from his startled charger
The death-struck monarch falls;
Sir Walter fled afar for fear,
And turn'd not at his calls.
On the spot where his strong hand had made
So many desolate
He died with none to pity him—
Such was the tyrant's fate!
None mourn'd for cruel Rufus:
With pomp they buried him;
But no heart grieved beside his bier—
No kindly eye grew dim;
But poor men lifted up their heads,
And clasp'd their hands, and said,
“Thank God, the ruthless Conqueror
And his stern son are dead!”
Remember, oh, remember,
Ye who shudder at my lay,
These cruel men were children once,
As ye are now were they:

They sported round a mother's seat,
They pray'd beside her knee;
She gazed into their cloudless eyes,
And ask'd, “What will they be?”
Alas! unhappy mothers,
If ye could then have known
How crime would make each soft young heart
As cold and hard as stone,
Ye would have wish'd them in their graves
Ere life had pass'd its spring.
Ah, friends, keep watch upon your hearts—
Sin is a fearful thing.

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Menella Bute Smedley