Menella Bute Smedley

The Conquest of England

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PART FIRST


Duke William stood on the Norman shore,
With all his merry men round;
And he will sail the blue seas o'er,
To land on English ground.

Saint Edward made him, ere he died,
Heir to the English throne;
But traitor Harold, in his pride,
Hath seized it for his own.
So the duke hath summon'd his vassals brave
From castle, cot, and tower;
And he will cross the rushing wave
To reckon with Harold's power.
They came, his liegemen stout and true,
With the serfs whom they commanded;
Some brought many, and some brought few,
But none came empty-handed.
By the trumpet-sound they gather'd around,
And the drum's inspiring roar;
And their spears shone bright as the stars of night
When they muster'd on the shore.
Whence comes yon graceful bark which glides
To the spot where the duke is standing,
And leaps the crests of the dancing tides
With an air of proud commanding?
The sails are of silk, and flutteringly
They wave in the breezes mild;
At the prow is a sculptured effigy
Of a fair and smiling child.
That smiling boy is carved in gold,
And the flag which gaily streams
Is thick with gems on every fold—
A palace that fair ship seems.

But who is the lady of lofty brow,
Bright eye, and arching lip,
Who waveth her white hand from the prow
Of the gay and stately ship?
She is known from afar by her graceful air,
And the circlet on her brows;
'Tis the Duchess Matilda, wise and fair,
Duke William's honour'd spouse.
To land full lightly vaulted she,
And up to the duke she came—
“My lord, accept this ship from me,
The Mora is its name.
Its chambers are deck'd for a monarch fit,
With cushions of velvet piled;
The form at the prow—look well on it—
'Tis the form of our youngest child.
My hand it was that 'broider'd the sail,
Though the tear was in mine eye—
God send my lord a favouring gale,
And a joyous victory!”
“Thanks, lady, thanks,” the duke replied,
“Right princely is thy gift;
Soon leaping from its painted side,
My good sword will I lift.
When its gay pennon streameth far,
My heart shall look to thee
As the pilot's eye to the northern star,
Guiding us o'er the sea.

Farewell, my lady and my wife,
So loyal, fair, and true;
If I come back to thee with life,
I will come with honour too.”
“Farewell, my hero—knighthood's flower—
My husband and my lord!”
Right tender was that parting hour;
Right fond each parting word.
The lady's tears, e'en while she spake,
Did fast and freely start;
And many a sigh did slowly break
From Duke William's mighty heart.
“Adieu!” he cried: in speechless grief
Matilda sought her bower;
And to his good ship sprang the chief,
With all his armèd power.
Away with a breeze that curls the seas
And scatters the foam as a cloud,
Each light bark rides on the bounding tides,
Like a knight on a courser proud.
They sail'd all the night; but when morning shone bright,
And the duke he gazed around,
Not a sail could be traced on the ocean's wide waste,
Not a bark could there be found.
“How may this be,” quoth the duke at last,
“That we are thus left alone?
My wife's fair ship, thou travellest fast;
Of our comrades see I none.

Go up to the mast-head speedily,
My squire. What meets thine eye?”
“Nought save the grey far-stretching sea,
And the cloudy morning sky.”
“Now, by my faith,” said Duke William then,
“Ill shall we fare I trow,
If I am met without my men
By the angry English now.
Go up again—what seest thou now,
My squire so brave and true?”
“Where the blue sea-line with the sky doth join
A darksome speck I view.”
“A babe may grow to a monarch free,
To a storm a little cloud;
God send that tiny speck may be
My gallant ship and proud!
Go up once more—gaze o'er the sea:
Good squire, what seest thou there?”
“Hurra!” cried he, “'tis a forest I see
Of tall masts rising fair.
They are coming, they are coming, as come the clouds
When the storm gathers fast on high;
When noiseless and light, and too swift for sight,
They cover the wide blue sky.”
The sea grew white with a thousand sails
On its distant billows riding,
Spreading their wings to the wanton gales,
Like the birds around them gliding.
The fresh breeze fann'd the Conqueror's cheek,
And the Conqueror's heart beat high—
“Our arms are strong, and our foes are weak,
We are sailing to victory.”


PART II

The morn was bright, the sky was blue,
And each Norman heart was gay,
When swift as a bird the Mora flew
Into fair Hastings bay.
Full soon Duke William sprang to land
With a proud and knightly grace;
But he miss'd his step on the treach'rous sand,—
He fell upon his face!
Now foul befall thee, treach'rous shore,
Thou hast laid a good knight low;
A knight who hath never fallen before
By the stroke of any foe.
Ill be thy name, thou faithless sand:
Of foes we may all beware;
But how can the brave heart understand
That which is false and fair?
Pale grew the cheeks of the Normans then,—
“An omen!” they loudly cry:
“Let us go o'er the main to our homes again;
We will not stay here to die.”

But up leap'd the joyous duke from earth,
And shook his fair plume on high;
Untamed was his laugh in its ringing mirth,
Unquench'd was his proud bright eye.
His grasp it was full of the yellow sea-sand,
And he shouted, “My men, what ho!
See, I have England in my hand—
Do ye think I will let it go?”
Loudly then answer'd his warriors bold:
“True be thy daring word!
We will follow thee till our hearts wax cold—
God save our conquering lord!”
They built on the shore a fort of wood,
They framed it cunningly;
Its beams so strong, and its walls so good,
They had brought with them o'er the sea.
But they were not aware that a knight stood there,
And watch'd them whiles they wrought;
Behind an oak-tree unseen stood he,
And gazed on the growing fort.
Then with eager speed he mounted his steed,
And away to Earl Harold he hied.
“Evil, great king, are the news I bring—
Duke William hath cross'd the tide.
Duke William of Normandy, mighty and strong,
He hath landed at Pevensie;
And with him a fierce and a terrible throng
Of the knights of his own countrie.

They have built them a fort upon Hastings beach,
The like was never known;
No time is there now for dallying speech,
Arm, arm thee for thy throne!”
“I laugh at thy news,” Lord Harold he cried;
“For in annal and in song
Shall be told, how we taught this man of pride
His weakness and his wrong.
Arm, my brave Saxons, mount and arm—
Ye know that our cause is just;
Ere a night and a day hath glided away
Our foes shall bite the dust!”
The armies are marching—the two great hosts—
Behold, they are sweeping past;
The sound of their step on the echoing coasts
Was like a rushing blast.
They met when the western sun grew pale,
At twilight's peaceful hour;
When eve was spreading her soft grey veil
O'er hill, and field, and tower.
Sternly they gazed on each bright array,
By the moonbeams rising slow;
Like men who felt that by break of day
They should stand as foe to foe.
How did the Saxons pass that night?
In wassail and revelry;
Reckless they drank till the pure moon sank,
And the sun rose from the sea.

How did the Normans pass that night?
In fasting and in prayer;
They kneel'd on the sod, and they cried to their God,
And their solemn hymns fill'd the air.
“Mine arms, mine arms!” Duke William cried,
When he saw the first glimpse of dawn;
“Each moment is lost till my steed I bestride—
Sound ye the battle-horn.”
He buckled his cuirass blue and sheen,
And he brandish'd his sword so bright;
In helmet and plume was there never seen
A fairer or statelier knight.
Proudly he strode from his milk-white tent,
And high on his steed did spring;
Each man that saw him as he went
Said, “Yonder rides a king!”
The battle was long, the battle was fierce,—
It is an awful sight
When keen swords strike, and when swift darts pierce,
From morn till dewy night.
Full many a gallant knight was slain,
And many a joyous steed;
And blood was pour'd like summer rain
Or the last eve's flowing mead.
The Saxons turn'd, the Saxons fled—
How could they choose but yield,
When they saw Earl Harold lying dead
Beside his useless shield?

Now is Duke William England's king,
That great and mighty chief;
The Normans are blithe as the merry spring,
But mute is the Saxon's grief.
Good news, good news to Normandie,
Where the fair Matilda mourns;
'Twas a duke who left her to cross the sea,
But 'tis a king returns.
They rear'd an abbey where Harold fell,
A stately pile and fair;
Through its still, grey walls the solemn bell
Oft summon'd to praise and prayer.
It is standing yet—a monument
Whose old and crumbling wall
To the gazer's eye is eloquent
Of Harold's fame and fall.

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Menella Bute Smedley