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William Morris (1834-1896)

The Haystack in the Floods


              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:
            45"Nay, love, 'tis scarcely two to one,
            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,
            51"My God! my God! I have to tread
            52The long way back without you; then
            53The court at Paris; those six men;
            54The gratings of the Chatelet;
            55The swift Seine on some rainy day
            56Like this, and people standing by
            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:
          159"So, Jehane, the first fitte is read!
          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.

Notes

45] Poitiers. Here in 1356 Edward the Black Prince defeated the French. Edward was Prince of Gascony.

51] Six men: her judges.

52] the Chatelet: a terrible prison in Paris.

56] She would be subjected to the trial by water. If she drowned she was innocent!


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: 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).
First publication date: 1858
RPO poem editor: P. F. Morgan
RP edition: 3RP 3.336.
Recent editing: 2:2002/4/10

Form: couplets


Other poems by William Morris