The Haystack in the Floods
William Morris, The Defence of Guenevere, and Other Poems (London: Bell and Daldy, 1858). PR 5078 D4 1858 SIGS end M677 D44 1858 Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).
1Had she come all the way for this,
2To part at last without a kiss?
3Yea, had she borne the dirt and rain
4That her own eyes might see him slain
5Beside the haystack in the floods?
6Along the dripping leafless woods,
7The stirrup touching either shoe,
8She rode astride as troopers do;
9With kirtle kilted to her knee,
10To which the mud splash'd wretchedly;
11And the wet dripp'd from every tree
12Upon her head and heavy hair,
13And on her eyelids broad and fair;
14The tears and rain ran down her face.
15By fits and starts they rode apace,
16And very often was his place
17Far off from her; he had to ride
18Ahead, to see what might betide
19When the roads cross'd; and sometimes, when
20There rose a murmuring from his men
21Had to turn back with promises;
22Ah me! she had but little ease;
23And often for pure doubt and dread
24She sobb'd, made giddy in the head
25By the swift riding; while, for cold,
26Her slender fingers scarce could hold
27The wet reins; yea, and scarcely, too,
28She felt the foot within her shoe
29Against the stirrup: all for this,
30To part at last without a kiss
31Beside the haystack in the floods.
32For when they near'd that old soak'd hay,
33They saw across the only way
34That Judas, Godmar, and the three
35Red running lions dismally
36Grinn'd from his pennon, under which
37In one straight line along the ditch,
38They counted thirty heads.
39 So then
40While Robert turn'd round to his men
41She saw at once the wretched end,
42And, stooping down, tried hard to rend
43Her coif the wrong way from her head,
44And hid her eyes; while Robert said:
46At Poictiers where we made them run
47So fast--why, sweet my love, good cheer,
48The Gascon frontier is so near.
49Naught after this."
50 But, "Oh!" she said,
53The court at Paris; those six men;
54The gratings of the Chatelet;
55The swift Seine on some rainy day
57And laughing, while my weak hands try
58To recollect how strong men swim.
59All this, or else a life with him,
60For which I should be damned at last.
61Would God that this next hour were past!"
62He answer'd not, but cried his cry,
63"St. George for Marny!" cheerily;
64And laid his hand upon her rein.
65Alas! no man of all his train
66Gave back that cheery cry again;
67And, while for rage his thumb beat fast
68Upon his sword-hilts, some one cast
69About his neck a kerchief long,
70And bound him.
71 Then they went along
72To Godmar; who said: "Now, Jehane,
73Your lover's life is on the wane
74So fast, that, if this very hour
75You yield not as my paramour,
76He will not see the rain leave off--
77Nay, keep your tongue from gibe or scoff,
78Sir Robert, or I slay you now."
79She laid her hand upon her brow,
80Then gazed upon the palm, as though
81She thought her forehead bled, and--"No!"
82She said, and turn'd her head away,
83As there were nothing else to say,
84And everything were settled: red
85Grew Godmar's face from chin to head:
86"Jehane, on yonder hill there stands
87My castle, guarding well my lands:
88What hinders me from taking you,
89And doing that I list to do
90To your fair wilful body, while
91Your knight lies dead?"
92 A wicked smile
93Wrinkled her face, her lips grew thin,
94A long way out she thrust her chin:
95"You know that I would strangle you
96While you were sleeping; or bite through
97Your throat, by God's help--ah!" she said,
98"Lord Jesus, pity your poor maid!
99For in such wise they hem me in,
100I cannot choose but sin and sin,
101Whatever happens: yet I think
102They could not make me eat or drink,
103And so should I just reach my rest."
104"Nay, if you do not my behest,
105O Jehane! though I love you well,"
106Said Godmar, "would I fail to tell
107All that I know?" "Foul lies," she said.
108"Eh? lies, my Jehane? by God's head,
109At Paris folks would deem them true!
110Do you know, Jehane, they cry for you:
111'Jehane the brown! Jehane the brown!
112Give us Jehane to burn or drown!'--
113Eh--gag me Robert!--sweet my friend,
114This were indeed a piteous end
115For those long fingers, and long feet,
116And long neck, and smooth shoulders sweet;
117An end that few men would forget
118That saw it--So, an hour yet:
119Consider, Jehane, which to take
120Of life or death!"
121 So, scarce awake,
122Dismounting, did she leave that place,
123And totter some yards: with her face
124Turn'd upward to the sky she lay,
125Her head on a wet heap of hay,
126And fell asleep: and while she slept,
127And did not dream, the minutes crept
128Round to the twelve again; but she,
129Being waked at last, sigh'd quietly,
130And strangely childlike came, and said:
131"I will not." Straightway Godmar's head,
132As though it hung on strong wires, turn'd
133Most sharply round, and his face burn'd.
134For Robert--both his eyes were dry,
135He could not weep, but gloomily
136He seem'd to watch the rain; yea, too,
137His lips were firm; he tried once more
138To touch her lips; she reach'd out, sore
139And vain desire so tortured them,
140The poor grey lips, and now the hem
141Of his sleeve brush'd them.
142 With a start
143Up Godmar rose, thrust them apart;
144From Robert's throat he loosed the bands
145Of silk and mail; with empty hands
146Held out, she stood and gazed, and saw
147The long bright blade without a flaw
148Glide out from Godmar's sheath, his hand
149In Robert's hair, she saw him bend
150Back Robert's head; she saw him send
151The thin steel down; the blow told well,
152Right backward the knight Robert fell,
153And moaned as dogs do, being half dead,
154Unwitting, as I deem: so then
155Godmar turn'd grinning to his men,
156Who ran, some five or six, and beat
157His head to pieces at their feet.
158Then Godmar turn'd again and said:
160Take note, my lady, that your way
161Lies backward to the Chatelet!"
162She shook her head and gazed awhile
163At her cold hands with a rueful smile,
164As though this thing had made her mad.
165This was the parting that they had
166Beside the haystack in the floods.
45] Poitiers. Here in 1356 Edward the Black Prince defeated the French. Edward was Prince of Gascony. Back to Line
51] Six men: her judges. Back to Line
52] the Chatelet: a terrible prison in Paris. Back to Line
56] She would be subjected to the trial by water. If she drowned she was innocent! Back to Line
159] fitte: "A part or section of a poem or song; a canto" (OED, "fit | fytte," n. 1). Back to Line
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RPO poem Editors:
P. F. Morgan