Minstrels

After a couple of songs, it’s time for some poetry. Today’s offering is “The Minstrels” by William Wordsworth.

The minstrels played their Christmas tune
To-night beneath my cottage-eaves;
While, smitten by a lofty moon,
The encircling laurels, thick with leaves,
Gave back a rich and dazzling sheen,
That overpowered their natural green.

Through hill and valley every breeze
Had sunk to rest with folded wings:
Keen was the air, but could not freeze,
Nor check, the music of the strings;
So stout and hardy were the band
That scraped the chords with strenuous hand.

And who but listened?–till was paid
Respect to every inmate’s claim,
The greeting given, the music played
In honour of each household name,
Duly pronounced with lusty call,
And “Merry Christmas” wished to all.

A Shakespearean commentary on the riots

This just seemed rather apposite to me. The middle section (“This blessed plot”, etc) is very well known, but in context it has a very different meaning.

Methinks I am a prophet new inspir’d,
And thus, expiring, do foretell of him:-
His rash fierce blaze of riot cannot last,
For violent fires soon burn out themselves;
Small showers last long, but sudden storms are short;
He tires betimes, that spurs too fast betimes;
With eager feeding food doth choke the feeder:
Light vanity, insatiate cormorant,
Consuming means, soon preys upon itself.
This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise;
This fortress, built by nature for herself,
Against infection, and the hand of war;
This happy breed of men, this little world;
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands;
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings,
Fear’d by their breed, and famous by their birth,
Renowned for their deeds as far from home
(For Christian service and true chivalry)
As is the sepulchre, in stubborn Jewry,
Of the world’s ransom, blessed Mary’s Son;
This land of such dear souls, this dear, dear land,
Dear for her reputation through the world,
Is now leas’d out, – I die pronouncing it, –
Like to a tenement, or pelting farm:
England, bound in with the triumphant sea,
Whose rocky shore beats back the envious siege
Of watr’y Neptune, is now bound in with shame,
With inky blots, and rotten parchment bonds:
That England, that was wont to conquer others,
Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.
Ah, would the scandal vanish with my life,
How happy then were my ensuing death!

For the Fallen

We normally only quote the middle section of this. But I think the whole poem is worth re-reading.

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Lawrence Binyon
Originally published in The Times on 21 September 1914

In memory of John William Goodge, 1895 – 1917 and Robert Goodge, 1865 – 1916. And with grateful thanks that Sidney Goodge, my grandfather and the younger brother of John and Robert, was too young to fight in their war and, as a farmer, too valuable to be allowed to fight in the next.