Francis Turner Palgrave

Caesar to Egbert


  England, fair England! Empress isle of isles!
  --Round whom the loving-envious ocean plays,
  Girdling thy feet with silver and with smiles,
  Whilst all the nations crowd thy liberal bays;
  With rushing wheel and heart of fire they come,
  Or glide and glance like white-wing'd doves that know
      And seek their proper home:--
  England! not England yet! but fair as now,
When first the chalky strand was stirr'd by Roman prow.


  On thy dear countenance, great mother-land,
  Age after age thy sons have set their sign,
  Moulding the features with successive hand
  Not always sedulous of beauty's line:--
  Yet here Man's art in one harmonious aim
  With Nature's gentle moulding, oft has work'd
      The perfect whole to frame:
  Nor does earth's labour'd face elsewhere, like thee,
Give back her children's heart with such full sympathy


  --On marshland rough and self-sprung forest gazed
  The imperial Roman of the eagle-eye;
  Log-splinter'd forts on green hill-summits raised,
  Earth huts and rings that dot the chalk-downs high:--
  Dark rites of hidden faith in grove and moor;
  Idols of monstrous build; wheel'd scythes of war;
      Rock tombs and pillars hoar:
  Strange races, Finn, Iberian, Belgae, Celt;
While in the wolds huge bulls and antler'd giants dwelt.


  --Another age!--The spell of Rome has past
  Transforming all our Britain; Ruthless plough,
  Which plough'd the world, yet o'er the nations cast
  The seed of arts, and law, and all that now
  Has ripen'd into commonwealths:--Her hand
  With network mile-paths binding plain and hill
      Arterialized the land:
  The thicket yields: the soil for use is clear;
Peace with her plastic touch,--field, farm, and grange are here.


  Lo, flintwall'd cities, castles stark and square
  Bastion'd with rocks that rival Nature's own;
  Red-furnaced baths, trim gardens planted fair
  With tree and flower the North ne'er yet had known;
  Long temple-roofs and statues poised on high
  With golden wings outstretch'd for tiptoe flight,
      Quivering in summer sky:--
  The land had rest, while those stern legions lay
By northern ramparts camp'd, and held the Pict at bay.


  Imperious Empire!  Thrice-majestic Rome!
  No later age, as earth's slow centuries glide,
  Can raze the footprints stamp'd where thou hast come,
  The ne'er-repeated grandeur of thy stride!
  --Though now so dense a darkness takes the land,
  Law, peace, wealth, letters, faith,--all lights are quench'd
      By violent heathen hand:--
  Vague warrior kings; names writ in fire and wrong;
Aurelius, Urien, Ida;--shades of ancient song.


  And Thou--O whether born of flame and wave,
  Or Gorlois' son, or Uther's, blameless lord,
  True knight, who died for those thou couldst not save
  When the Round Table brake their plighted word,--
  The lord of song hath set thee in thy grace
  And glory, rescued from the phantom world,
      Before us face to face;
  No more Avilion bowers the King detain;
The mystic child returns; the Arthur reigns again!


  --Now, as some cloud that hides a mountain bulk
  Thins to white smoke, and mounts in lighten'd air,
  And through the veil the gray enormous hulk
  Burns, and the summit, last, is keen and bare,--
  From wasted Britain so the gloaming clears;
  Another birth of time breaks eager out,
      And England fair appears:--
  Imperial youth sign'd on her golden brow,
While the prophetic eyes with hope and promise glow.


  Then from the wasted places of the land,
  Charr'd skeletons of cities, circling walls
  Of Roman might, and towers that shatter'd stand
  Of that lost world survivors, forth she calls
  Her new creation:--O'er the land is wrought
  The happy villagedom by English tribes
      From Elbe and Baltic brought;
  Red kine light up with life the ravaged plain;
The forest glooms are pierced; the plough-land laughs again.


  Each from its little croft the homesteads peep,
  Green apple-garths around, and hedgeless meads,
  Smooth-shaven lawns of ever-shifting sheep,
  Wolds where his dappled crew the swineherd feeds:--
  Pale gold round pure pale foreheads, and their eyes
  More dewy blue than speedwell by the brook
      When Spring's fresh current flies,
  The free fair maids come barefoot to the fount,
Or poppy-crown'd with fire, the car of harvest mount.


  On the salt stream that rings us, ness and bay,
  The nation's old sea-soul beats blithe and strong;
  The black foam-breasters taste Biscayan spray,
  And where 'neath Polar dawns the narwhals throng:--
  Free hands, free hearts, for labour and for glee,
  Or village-moot, when thane with churl unites
      Beneath the sacred tree;
  While wisdom tempers force, and bravery leads,
Till spears beat _Aye_! on shields, and words at once are deeds.


  Again with life the ruin'd cities smile,
  Again from mother-Rome their sacred fire
  Knowledge and Faith rekindle through the isle,
  Nigh quench'd by barbarous war and heathen ire:--
  --No more on Balder's grave let Anglia weep
  When winter storms entomb the golden year
      Sunk in Adonis-sleep;
  Another God has risen, and not in vain!
The Woden-ash is low, the Cross asserts her reign.


  --Land of the most law-loving,--the most free!
  My dear, dear England! sweet and green as now
  The flower-illumined garden of the sea,
  And Nature least impair'd by axe and plough!
  A laughing land!--Thou seest not in the north
  How the black Dane and vulture Norseman wait
      The sign of coming forth,
  The foul Landeyda flap its raven plume,
And all the realms once more eclipsed in pagan gloom!


  --O race, of many races well compact!
  As some rich stream that runs in silver down
  From the White Mount:--his baby steps untrack'd
  Where clouds and emerald cliffs of crystal frown;
  Now, alien founts bring tributary flood,
  Or kindred waters blend their native hue,
      Some darkening as with blood;
  These fraught with iron strength and freshening brine,
And these with lustral waves, to sweeten and refine.


  Now calm as strong, and clear as summer air,
  Blessing and blest of earth and sky, he glides:
  Now on some rock-ridge rends his bosom fair,
  And foams with cloudy wrath and hissing tides:
  Then with full flood of level-gliding force,
  His discord-blended melody murmurs low
      Down the long seaward course:--
  So through Time's mead, great River, greatly glide:
Whither, thou may'st not know:--but He, who knows, will guide.

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