Rising from the Fens



A period study of King Alfred the Great

That mist rising from the fens
is like the veil between heaven and earth.
My ears, the cannot hear
My eyes, they do not see
But my hope will never fail.

My realm of thirty acres
is like a mustard seed newly planted.
My enemies, they cannot know
My friends, they do not guess
But my kingdom is growing.

The moon rising through the trees
is like a the light of God's holy Son.
The ceorls, they all believe
The witan, they all believe
That the light is now obscured.

For now, the sea-dragons prowl
razing the towns and villages near the sea
and inland near the rivers
our chapels and women fall prey.

I can see the gaudy raven
rippling in the wind on the proud prow
just as I can see the ribs of my kinsman
spread in bloody imitation.

I can hear the crackling beam burn
as our homes collapse under their heavy tread
just as I can hear our women scream
spread for their hard and gory horn.

And I, am I king?
A king that cannot act?

I long to end this weary watch
  to hunt that boasting folk
  to still those vulgar tongues,
but patience buys a nobler deed
so like the flooded plain yonder, I brood.

I long to read again and hear
  the church bell's ringing voice
  the scop reciting tales
of Grendel, and of Caedmon singing sweet
but like the henless bird yonder, I crow.

All my miseries are crowded here:
  hard tack for bread
  water for mead
  mosquito for song
and like the pent up horses yonder, I stamp.

Am I king?
A king with no gifts to give?

My subjects scowl while their biscuits burn.
Scolded am I and not fit to tend the fire.
They do not see the ships I build
nor the fortress burghs and newly rising churches.
For bards cannot foretell,
  and our prophets' voices are recalled
  and our saints and martyrs are scattered
  and the Prince of Peace is quiet and still.

My warriors stoop like heathens in their huts.
Wanted am I and furtively make the rounds.
They do not hope to win the fight
for the greening hydes and fertile river valleys.
The darkness has come again.
  Jerusalem once more falling...
  Rome once more withdrawing...
We dream the Rood whose voice is stilled.

My friends, I forswear and I tell you
that though bards are singing and bragging
of our fall around the fire
the day comes for the gathering.

We will to Egbert's stone
Then to Wessex and Londontown
Futuremen will sing of Alfred and of England
And only scholars recall the Viking kings.

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