The fair-hair’d boy is at his mother’s
A many-colour’d page before them spread,
Gay summer harvest-field of gold and red,
With lines and staves of ancient minstrelsy.
But through her eyes alone the child can see,
From her sweet lips partake the words of song,
And looks as one who feels a hidden wrong,
Or gazes on some feat of gramarye.
‘When thou canst use it, thine the book!’ she cried:
He blush’d, and clasp’d it to his breast with pride:—
‘Unkingly task!’ his comrades cry; In vain;
All work ennobles nobleness, all art,
He sees; Head governs hand; and in his heart
All knowledge for his province he has ta’en.
Few the bright days, and brief the fruitful rest,
As summer-clouds that o’er the valley flit:—
To other tasks his genius he must fit;
The Dane is in the land, uneasy guest!
—O sacred Athelney, from pagan quest
Secure, sole haven for the faithful boy
Waiting God’s issue with heroic joy
And unrelaxing purpose in the breast!
The Dragon and the Raven, inch by inch,
For England fight; nor Dane nor Saxon flinch;
Then Alfred strikes his blow; the realm is free:—
He, changing at the font his foe to friend,
Yields for the time, to gain the far-off end,
By moderation doubling victory.
O much-vex’d life, for us too short, too dear!
The laggard body lame behind the soul;
Pain, that ne’er marr’d the mind’s serene control;
Breathing on earth heaven’s aether atmosphere,
God with thee, and the love that casts out fear!
A soul in life’s salt ocean guarding sure
The freshness of youth’s fountain sweet and pure,
And to all natural impulse crystal-clear:
To service or command, to low and high
Equal at once in magnanimity,
The Great by right divine thou only art!
Fair star, that crowns the front of England’s morn,
Royal with Nature’s royalty inborn,
And English to the very heart of heart!
The fair-hair’d boy: There is a singular unanimity among historians in regard to this ‘darling of the English,’ whose life has been vividly sketched by Freeman (Conquest, ch. ii); by Green (English People, B. I: ch. iii); and, earlier, by my Father in his short History of the Anglo-Saxons, ch. vi-viii.
Changing at the font: Alfred was godfather to Guthrun the Dane, when baptized after his defeat at Ethandune in 878.
ON THE EAST DEVON COAST
Lie still, old Dane, below thy heap!
—A sturdy-back and sturdy-limb,
Whoe’er he was, I warrant him
Upon whose mound the single sheep
Browses and tinkles in the sun,
Within the narrow vale alone.
Lie still, old Dane! This restful scene
Suits well thy centuries of sleep:
The soft brown roots above thee creep,
The lotus flaunts his ruddy sheen,
And,—vain memento of the spot,—
The turquoise-eyed forget-me-not.