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The Tale of Balen   By: (1837-1909)

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Copyright in the United States, 1896, by CHARLES SCRIBNER’S SONS.



Love that holds life and death in fee, Deep as the clear unsounded sea And sweet as life or death can be, Lays here my hope, my heart, and me Before you, silent, in a song. Since the old wild tale, made new, found grace, When half sung through, before your face, It needs must live a springtide space, While April suns grow strong.

March 24, 1896.



In hawthorn time the heart grows light, The world is sweet in sound and sight, Glad thoughts and birds take flower and flight, The heather kindles toward the light, The whin is frankincense and flame. And be it for strife or be it for love The falcon quickens as the dove When earth is touched from heaven above With joy that knows no name.

And glad in spirit and sad in soul With dream and doubt of days that roll As waves that race and find no goal Rode on by bush and brake and bole A northern child of earth and sea. The pride of life before him lay Radiant: the heavens of night and day Shone less than shone before his way His ways and days to be.

And all his life of blood and breath Sang out within him: time and death Were even as words a dreamer saith When sleep within him slackeneth, And light and life and spring were one. The steed between his knees that sprang, The moors and woods that shone and sang, The hours where through the spring’s breath rang, Seemed ageless as the sun.

But alway through the bounteous bloom That earth gives thanks if heaven illume His soul forefelt a shadow of doom, His heart foreknew a gloomier gloom Than closes all men’s equal ways, Albeit the spirit of life’s light spring With pride of heart upheld him, king And lord of hours like snakes that sting And nights that darken days.

And as the strong spring round him grew Stronger, and all blithe winds that blew Blither, and flowers that flowered anew More glad of sun and air and dew, The shadow lightened on his soul And brightened into death and died Like winter, as the bloom waxed wide From woodside on to riverside And southward goal to goal.

Along the wandering ways of Tyne, By beech and birch and thorn that shine And laugh when life’s requickening wine Makes night and noon and dawn divine And stirs in all the veins of spring, And past the brightening banks of Tees, He rode as one that breathes and sees A sun more blithe, a merrier breeze, A life that hails him king.

And down the softening south that knows No more how glad the heather glows, Nor how, when winter’s clarion blows Across the bright Northumbrian snows, Sea mists from east and westward meet, Past Avon senseless yet of song And Thames that bore but swans in throng He rode elate in heart and strong In trust of days as sweet.

So came he through to Camelot, Glad, though for shame his heart waxed hot, For hope within it withered not To see the shaft it dreamed of shot Fair toward the glimmering goal of fame, And all King Arthur’s knightliest there Approved him knightly, swift to dare And keen to bid their records bear Sir Balen’s northern name.

Sir Balen of Northumberland Gat grace before the king to stand High as his heart was, and his hand Wrought honour toward the strange north strand That sent him south so goodly a knight. And envy, sick with sense of sin, Began as poisonous herbs begin To work in base men’s blood, akin To men’s of nobler might... Continue reading book >>

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