Till now trim homesteads bordered spaces green,
Like night’s first little stars through clearing showers.
Was rumoured how a castle’s falcon towers
The wilderness commanded with fierce mien.
Therein a serious Baron stuck his lance;
For minstrel songs a beauteous Dame would pout.
Gay knights and sombre, felon or devout,
Pricked onward, bound for their unsung romance.
It might be that two errant lords across
The block of each came edged, and at sharp cry
They charged forthwith, the better man to try.
One rode his way, one couched on quiet moss.
Perchance a lady sweet, whose lord lay slain,
The robbers into gruesome durance drew.
Swift should her hero come, like lightning’s blue!
She prayed for him, as crackling drought for rain.
As we, that ere the worst her hero haps,
Of Angels guided, nigh that loathly den:
A toady cave beside an ague fen,
Where long forlorn the lone dog whines and yaps.
By daylight now the forest fear could read
Itself, and at new wonders chuckling went.
Straight for the roebuck’s neck the bowman spent
A dart that laughed at distance and at speed.
Right loud the bugle’s hallali elate
Rang forth of merry dingles round the tors;
And deftest hand was he from foreign wars,
But soon he hailed the home-bred yeoman mate.
Before the blackbird pecked the turf they woke;
At dawn the deer’s wet nostrils blew their last.
To forest, haunt of runs and prime repast,
With paying blows, the yokel strained his yoke.
The city urchin mooned on forest air,
On grassy sweeps and flying arrows, thick
As swallows o’er smooth streams, and sighed him sick
For thinking that his dearer home was there.
Familiar, still unseized, the forest sprang
An old-world echo, like no mortal thing.
The hunter’s horn might wind a jocund ring,
But held in ear it had a chilly clang.
Some shadow lurked aloof of ancient time;
Some warning haunted any sound prolonged,
As though the leagues of woodland held them wronged
To hear an axe and see a township climb.