Francis Turner Palgrave

Alfred The Great



The fair-hair'd boy is at his mother's knee,
  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!

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