Verse > Anthologies > William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. > The Book of Georgian Verse
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William Stanley Braithwaite, ed.  The Book of Georgian Verse.  1909.
 
The Bard
By Thomas Gray (1716–1771)
 
‘RUIN 1 seize thee, ruthless King!
  Confusion on thy banners wait,
Tho’ fann’d by conquest’s crimson wing
  They mock the air with idle state.
Helm, nor hauberk’s twisted mail,        5
Nor e’en thy virtues, Tyrant, shall avail
To save thy secret soul from nightly fears,
From Cambria’s curse, from Cambria’s tears!’
Such were the sounds, that o’er the crested pride
  Of the first Edward scattered wild dismay,        10
As down the steep of Snowdon’s shaggy side
  He wound with toilsome march his long array.
Stout Glo’ster 2 stood aghast in speechless trance:
To arms! cried Mortimer, 3 and couched his quivering lance.
 
On a rock whose haughty brow        15
  Frowns o’er old Conway’s foaming flood,
Robed in the sable garb of woe,
  With haggard eyes the poet stood;
(Loose his beard, and hoary hair
Stream’d, like a meteor, to the troubled air)        20
And with a master’s hand, and prophet’s fire,
Struck the deep sorrows of his lyre.
‘Hark, how each giant-oak, and desert cave,
  Sighs to the torrent’s awful voice beneath!
O’er thee, oh King! their hundred arms they wave,        25
  Revenge on thee in hoarser murmurs breathe;
Vocal no more, since Cambria’s fatal day,
To high-born Hoel’s 4 harp, or soft Llewellyn’s 5 lay.
 
‘Cold is Cadwallo’s tongue,
  That hush’d the stormy main:        30
Brave Urien 6 sleeps upon his craggy bed;
  Mountains, ye mourn in vain,
Modred, 7 whose magic song
  Made huge Plinlimmon 8 bow his cloud-top’d head.
On dreary Arvon’s shore 9 they lie,        35
Smeared with gore, and ghastly pale:
Far, far aloof th’ affrighted ravens sail;
  The famished eagle screams, and passes by.
Dear lost companions of my tuneful art,
  Dear, as the light that visits these sad eyes,        40
Dear, as the ruddy drops that warm my heart,
  Ye died amidst your dying country’s cries—
No more I weep. They do not sleep.
  On yonder cliffs, a grisly band,
I see them sit, they linger yet,        45
  Avengers of their native land:
With me in dreadful harmony they join,
And weave with bloody hands the tissue of thy line.’
 
‘Weave and warp, and weave and woof,
  The winding-sheet of Edward’s race.        50
Give ample room, and verge enough
  The characters of hell to trace.
Mark the year, and mark the night,
When Severn shall re-echo with affright
The shrieks of death, thro’ Berkley’s roofs that ring,        55
Shrieks of an agonizing King!
  She-wolf 10 of France, with unrelenting fangs,
That tear’st the bowels of thy mangled mate,
  From thee be born, who o’er thy country hangs,
The scourge of Heaven. What terrors round him wait!        60
Amazement in his van, with Flight combined,
And Sorrow’s faded form, and Solitude behind.
 
‘Mighty Victor, mighty Lord,
  Low on his funeral couch he lies!
No pitying heart, no eye, afford        65
  A tear to grace his obsequies.
Is the sable Warrior fled?
Thy son is gone. He rests among the dead.
The swarm, that in thy noon-tide beam were born?
Gone to salute the rising morn.        70
Fair laughs the morn, and soft the zephyr blows
  While proudly riding o’er the azure realm
In gallant trim the gilded vessel goes;
  Youth on the prow, and pleasure at the helm;
Regardless of the sweeping whirlwind’s sway,        75
That, hush’d in grim repose, expects his evening prey.
 
‘Fill high the sparkling bowl,
  The rich repast prepare,
Reft of a crown, he yet may share the feast:
  Close by the regal chair        80
Fell thirst and famine scowl
  A baleful smile upon their baffled guest.
Heard ye the din of battle bray,
  Lance to lance, and horse to horse?
  Long years of havoc urge their destined course,        85
And thro’ the kindred squadrons mow their way.
  Ye towers of Julius, 11 London’s lasting shame,
With many a foul and midnight murder fed,
  Revere his consort’s 12 faith, his father’s fame, 13
And spare the meek usurper’s holy head.        90
Above, below, the rose of snow,
  Twined with her blushing foe, we spread:
The bristled boar 14 in infant gore
  Wallows beneath the thorny shade.
Now, brothers, bending o’er th’ accursed loom,        95
Stamp we our vengeance deep, and ratify his doom.
 
‘Edward, lo! to sudden fate
  (Weave we the woof. The thread is spun.)
Half of thy heart 15 we consecrate.
  (The web is wove. The work is done.’)        100
‘Stay, oh stay! nor thus forlorn
Leave me unbless’d, unpitied, here to mourn:
In yon bright track, that fires the western skies,
They melt, they vanish from my eyes.
But oh! what solemn scenes on Snowdon’s height        105
  Descending slow their glittering skirts unroll?
Visions of glory, spare my aching sight,
  Ye unborn ages, crowd not on my soul!
No more our long-lost Arthur 16 we bewail.
All hail, ye genuine Kings, Britannia’s issue, hail!        110
 
‘Girt with many a Baron bold
  Sublime their starry fronts they rear;
And gorgeous dames, and statesmen old
  In bearded majesty, appear.
In the midst a form divine!        115
Her eye proclaims her of the Briton-line;
Her lion-port, her awe-commanding face,
Attemper’d sweet to virgin-grace.
What strings symphonious tremble in the air,
  What strains of vocal transport round her play!        120
Hear from the grave, great Taliessin, hear;
  They breathe a soul to animate thy clay.
Bright rapture calls, and soaring, as she sings,
Waves in the eye of Heaven her many-coloured wings.
 
‘The verse adorn again        125
  Fierce war, and faithful love,
And truth severe, by fairy fiction drest.
  In buskin’d measures move
Pale grief, and pleasing pain,
  With horrour, tyrant of the throbbing breast.        130
A voice as of the cherub-choir,
  Gales from blooming Eden bear;
  And distant warblings lessen on my ear,
That lost in long futurity expire.
  Fond impious Man, think’st thou yon sanguine cloud,        135
Raised by thy breath, has quenched the orb of day?
  To-morrow he repairs the golden flood,
And warms the nations with redoubled ray.
  Enough for me: with joy I see
The different doom our fates assign.        140
Be thine despair, and sceptred care,
To triumph, and to die, are mine.’
He spoke, and headlong from the mountain’s height
Deep in the roaring tide he plunged to endless night.
 
Note 1. “This ode,” says Gray, “is founded on a tradition current in Wales that Edward the First, when he completed the conquest of that country, ordered all the bards that fell into his hands to be put to death.” Mitford in his Essay on the Poetry of Gray, says of this Ode, “The tendency of the Bard is to show the retributive justice that follows an act of tyranny and wickedness; to denounce on Edward, in his person and his progeny, the effect of the crime he had committed in the massacre of the bards; to convince him that neither his power nor situation could save him from the natural and necessary consequences of his guilt; that not even the virtues which he possessed could atone for the vices with which they were accompanied.” [back]
Note 2. Stout Glos’ter: Gilbert de Clare, son-in-law to King Edward. [back]
Note 3. Mortimer: Edward de Mortimer, Lord of Wigmore, one of the Lords Marches of Wales. [back]
Note 4. High-born Hoel: son to King Owen Gwyneld, prince of North Wales, a famous bard, who conducted many of his father’s campaigns against the English, Flemings, and Normans. [back]
Note 5. Soft Llewellyn: last king of North Wales, murdered in 1282. [back]
Note 6. Cadwallo and Urien: bards of whose songs nothing has been preserved. [back]
Note 7. Modred: “This name is not found in the lists of old bards. It may have been borrowed from the Arthurian legend; or, as Mitford suggests, it may refer to the famous Myrldin ab Morryn, called Merlyn the Wild, a disciple of Taliessin, the form of the name being changed for the sake of euphony.” (Rolfe.) [back]
Note 8. Plinlimmon: one of the loftiest peaks of the Welsh mountains. [back]
Note 9. Arvon’s shore: “The shores of Caernarvonshire, opposite the isle of Anglesey.” (Gray.) “Caernarvon, or Caer yn Arvon, means the camp in Arvon.” (Rolfe.) [back]
Note 10. She-wolf: Isabel of France, adulterous Queen of Edward the Second. [back]
Note 11. Towers of Julius: “Henry the Sixth, George Duke of Clarence, Edward the Fifth, Richard Duke of York, etc., believed to be murdered secretly in the Tower of London. The oldest part of the structure is vulgarly attributed to Julius Cæsar.” (Gray.) [back]
Note 12. His consort: “Margaret of Anjou, a woman of heroic spirit who struggled hard to save her husband and her crown.” (Gray.) [back]
Note 13. His father’s fame: Henry the Fifth. [back]
Note 14. The Bristled boar: “The silver beaor was the badge of Richard the Third; whence he was usually known in his own time by the name of the boar.” (Gray.) [back]
Note 15. Half of thy heart: “Eleanor of Castile died a few years after the conquest of Wales. The heroic proof she gave of her affection for her lord is well known. The monuments of his regret and sorrow for the loss of her are still to be seen at Northampton, Geddington, Waltham, and other places.” (Gray.) [back]
Note 16. Arthur: son of Henry the Seventh. [back]
 
 
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