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The Tale of Balen

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Love that holds life and death in fee,Deep as the clear unsounded seaAnd sweet as life or death can be,Lays here my hope, my heart, and meBefore 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 loveThe falcon quickens as the doveWhen earth is touched from heaven above   With joy that knows no name.

And glad in spirit and sad in soulWith dream and doubt of days that rollAs waves that race and find no goalRode on by bush and brake and bole   A northern child of earth and sea.The pride of life before him layRadiant: the heavens of night and dayShone less than shone before his way   His ways and days to be.

And all his life of blood and breathSang out within him: time and deathWere even as words a dreamer saithWhen 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 bloomThat earth gives thanks if heaven illumeHis 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 springWith pride of heart upheld him, kingAnd lord of hours like snakes that sting   And nights that darken days.

And as the strong spring round him grewStronger, and all blithe winds that blewBlither, and flowers that flowered anewMore glad of sun and air and dew,   The shadow lightened on his soulAnd brightened into death and diedLike winter, as the bloom waxed wideFrom woodside on to riverside   And southward goal to goal.

Along the wandering ways of Tyne,By beech and birch and thorn that shineAnd laugh when life’s requickening wineMakes 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 seesA sun more blithe, a merrier breeze,   A life that hails him king.

And down the softening south that knowsNo more how glad the heather glows,Nor how, when winter’s clarion blowsAcross the bright Northumbrian snows,   Sea-mists from east and westward meet,Past Avon senseless yet of songAnd Thames that bore but swans in throngHe 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 notTo see the shaft it dreamed of shot   Fair toward the glimmering goal of fame,And all King Arthur’s knightliest thereApproved him knightly, swift to dareAnd keen to bid their records bear   Sir Balen’s northern name....