Verse > Anthologies > William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. > The Book of Elizabethan Verse
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William Stanley Braithwaite, ed.  The Book of Elizabethan Verse.  1907.
 
Agincourt
By Michael Drayton (1563–1631)
 
FAIR 1 stood the wind for France
When we our sails advance,
Nor now to prove our chance
      Longer will tarry;
But putting to the main,        5
At Caux, the mouth of Seine,
With all his martial train,
      Landed King Harry.
 
And taking many a fort,
Furnish’d in warlike sort,        10
Coming toward Agincourt
      In happy hour,
Skirmishing day by day
With those that stopp’d his way,
Where the French gen’ral lay        15
      With all his power:
 
Which, in his height of pride,
King Henry to deride,
His ransom to provide
      Unto him sending;        20
Which he neglects the while,
As from a nation vile,
Yet with an angry smile,
      Their fall portending;
 
And turning to his men,        25
Quoth our brave Henry then,
‘Though they to one be ten,
      Be not amazèd:
Yet have we well begun;
Battles so bravely won        30
Have ever to the sun
      By fame been raisèd.
 
‘And for myself (quoth he)
This my full rest shall be:
England ne’er mourn for me        35
      Nor more esteem me:
Victor I will remain
Or on this earth lie slain,
Never shall she sustain
      Loss to redeem me.        40
 
‘Poitiers and Cressy tell,
When most their pride did swell,
Under our swords they fell:
      No less our skill is
Than when our grandsire great,        45
Claiming the regal seat,
By many a warlike feat
      Lopp’d the French lilies.’
 
The Duke of York so dread
The eager vaward led;        50
With the main Henry sped
      Among his henchmen.
Excester had the rear,
A braver man not there;
O Lord, how hot they were        55
      On the false Frenchmen!
 
They now to fight are gone,
Armour on armour shone,
Drum unto drum did groan,
      To hear was wonder;        60
That with the cries they make
The very earth did shake;
Trumpet to trumpet spake,
      Thunder to thunder.
 
Well it thine age became,        65
O noble Erpingham,
Which didst the signal aim
      To our hid forces!
When from a meadow by,
Like a storm suddenly        70
The English archery
      Stuck the French horses.
 
With Spanish yew so strong,
Arrows a cloth-yard long,
That like to serpents stong,        75
      Piercing the weather;
None from his fellow starts,
But playing manly parts,
And like true English hearts
      Stuck close together.        80
 
When down their bows they threw,
And forth their bilboes 2 drew,
And on the French they flew,
      No man was tardy;
Arms were from shoulders sent,        85
Scalps to the teeth were rent,
Down the French peasants went—
      Our men were hardy.
 
This while our noble king,
His broadsword brandishing,        90
Down the French host did ding,
      As to o’erwhelm it;
And many a deep wound lent,
His arms with blood besprent,
And many a cruel dent        95
      Bruisèd his helmet.
 
Gloster, that duke so good,
Next of the royal blood,
For famous England stood,
      With his brave brother;        100
Clarence, in steel most bright,
Though but a maiden knight,
Yet in that furious fight
      Scarce such another.
 
Warwick in blood did wade,        105
Oxford the foe invade,
And cruel slaughter made
      Still as they ran up;
Suffolk his axe did ply,
Beaumont and Willoughby        110
Bare them right doughtily,
      Ferrers and Fanhope.
 
Upon Saint Crispin’s Day
Fought was this noble fray,
Which fame did not delay        115
      To England to carry.
O when shall English men
With such acts fill a pen?
Or England breed again
      Such a King Harry?        120
 
Note 1. “This poem, like the Battle of Brunanburh,” writes Mr. Erskine, in his Minot’s songs, “is remarkable for its choric quality: the voice of the whole people is heard in it. In modern English literature it has hardly a parallel as a national song with the possible exception of some of Campbell’s odes, and Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade. Tennyson may have been influenced by Drayton. Their two battle-songs have almost the same narrative method, almost the same rhythm, and exactly the same cadence at the end.” Mr. Oliver Elton, in Michael Drayton, A Critical Study (Ed. 1906.), says of this ode: “It was not many years since the great theatrical success of Henry V.; and the most famous of Drayton’s odes may be taken as a lyrical epilogue, or rather intermezzo, by Shakespeare’s countrymen. It has been so arranged by Mr. Henley in his Lyra Heroica. Usually known as the Ballad of Agincourt, it was first entitled To my Friends the Camber-Britons and their Harp. The old popular ditty, Agincourt, Agincourt, was in the writer’s ears. He liked his poem, if we may judge by his nice and numerous improvements. The earlier version suffers from ungainliness or elliptical grammar; a few remaining traces of them in the later one are the only interruptions to its felicity. There is also a tendency to multiply the spondees, the better to hear the thud of the marching army—left, right. A few lines can show the change:

  
(1)
1606
Fair stood the wind for France
When we our sails advance
And now to prove our chance
      Longer not tarry:
But put unto the main
At Kaux the mouth of Seine
With all his warlike train
      Landed King Harry.
  
1619
Fair stood the wind for France
When we our sails advance
Nor now to prove our chance
      Longer will tarry:
But putting to the main
At Kaux the mouth of Seine
With all his martial train
      Landed King Harry.
  
(2)
1606
And now preparing were
      For the false Frenchmen.
  
1619
O Lord, how hot they were
      On the false Frenchmen.
  
(3)
1606
When now that noble king
His broadsword brandishing
      Into the host did fling
      As to o’erwhelm it.
  
1619
This, while our noble king
His broadsword brandishing
      Down the French host did ding
      As to o’erwhelm it.

This poem, the fine flower of old patriot lyric, shows a happier and more sensitive use of proper names than the play of Henry V. Shakespeare, in his list of those who fell at Agincourt, uses names for purely memorial reasons, copying Holinshed like an inscription: and ‘Sir Richard Ketley, Davy Gam, esquire,’ is the worst line in his works. ‘Ferrers and Fanhope,’ in the ballad, have a different value to the ear.”
  The text here used is that of the 1619 version except in two or three instances of single epithets, which, despite Mr. Elton’s opinion, seem the more apt for both sense and rhythm.
  The Battle of Agincourt was fought October 25th, 1415. A small army of Englishmen, under Henry V., defeated the French sixty thousand strong. “The triumph was more complete,” says Green, “as the odds were even greater than at Creçy. Eleven thousand Frenchmen lay dead on the field, and more than a hundred princes and great lords were among the fallen.” [back]
Note 2. Bilboes: swords, from Bilboa. [back]
 
 
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