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- Playful Poems - 10/35 -


For, John," said he, "as I may ever thrive, To pipe a merrier serenade I'll strive In the dark passage somewhere near to us; For, John, there is a law which sayeth thus, - That if a man in one point be aggrieved, Right in another he shall be relieved: Our corn is stolen--sad yet sooth to say - And we have had an evil bout to-day; But since the Miller no amends will make, Against our loss we should some payment take. His sonsie daughter will I seek to win, And get our meal back--de'il reward his sin! By hallow-mass it shall no otherwise be!"

But John replied, "Allen, well counsel thee: The Miller is a perilous man," he said, "And if he wake and start up from his bed, He may do both of us a villainy." "Nay," Allen said, "I count him not a flie!" And up he rose, and crept along the floor Into the passage humming with their snore: As narrow was it as a drum or tub. And like a beetle doth he grope and grub, Feeling his way with darkness in his hands, Till at the passage-end he stooping stands.

John lieth still, and not far off, I trow, And to himself he maketh ruth and woe. "Alas," quoth he, "this is a wicked jape! Now may I say that I am but an ape. Allen may somewhat quit him for his wrong: Already can I hear his plaint and song; So shall his 'venture happily be sped, While like a rubbish-sack I lie in bed; And when this jape is told another day, I shall be called a fool, or a cokenay! I will adventure somewhat, too, in faith: 'Weak heart, worse fortune,' as the proverb saith."

And up he rose at once, and softly went Unto the cradle, as 'twas his intent, And to his bed's foot bare it, with the brat. The wife her routing ceased soon after that, And woke, and left her bed; for she was pained With nightmare dreams of skies that madly rained. Eastern astrologers and clerks, I wis, In time of Apis tell of storms like this. Awhile she stayed, and waxeth calm in mind; Returning then, no cradle doth she find, And gropeth here and there--but she found none. "Alas," quoth she, "I had almost misgone! I well-nigh stumbled on the clerks a-bed: Eh benedicite! but I am safely sped. And on she went, till she the cradle found, While through the dark still groping with her hand.

Meantime was heard the beating of a wing, And then the third cock of the morn 'gan sing. Allen stole back, and thought, "Ere that it dawn I will creep in by John that lieth forlorn." He found the cradle in his hand, anon. "Gude Lord!" thought Allen, "all wrong have I gone! My head is dizzy with the ale last night, And eke my piping, that I go not right. Wrong am I, by the cradle well I know: Here lieth Simkin, and his wife also." And, scrambling forthright on, he made his way Unto the bed where Simkin snoring lay! He thought to nestle by his fellow John, And by the Miller in he crept, anon, And caught him by the neck, and 'gan to shake, And said, "Thou John! thou swine's head dull, awake! Wake, by the mass! and hear a noble game, For, by St. Andrew! to thy ruth and shame, I have been trolling roundelays this night, And won the Miller's daughter's heart outright, Who hath me told where hidden is our meal: All this--and more--and how they always steal; While thou hast as a coward lain aghast!"

"Thou slanderous ribald!" quoth the Miller, "hast? A traitor false, false lying clerk!" quoth he, "Thou shalt be slain by heaven's dignity, Who rudely dar'st disparage with foul lie My daughter that is come of lineage high!" And by the throat he Allen grasped amain; And caught him, yet more furiously, again, And on his nose he smote him with his fist! Down ran the bloody stream upon his breast, And on the floor they tumble, heel and crown, And shake the house--it seemed all coming down. And up they rise, and down again they roll; Till that the Miller, stumbling o'er a coal, Went plunging headlong like a bull at bait, And met his wife, and both fell flat as slate. "Help, holy cross of Bromeholm!" loud she cried, "And all ye martyrs, fight upon my side! In manus tuas--help!--on thee I call! Simon, awake! the fiend on me doth fall: He crusheth me--help!--I am well-nigh dead: He lieth along my heart, and heels, and head. Help, Simkin! for the false clerks rage and fight!"

Now sprang up John as fast as ever he might, And graspeth by the dark walls to and fro To find a staff: the wife starts up also. She knew the place far better than this John, And by the wall she caught a staff anon. She saw a little shimmering of a light, For at an hole in shone the moon all bright, And by that gleam she saw the struggling two, But knew not, as for certain, who was who, Save that she saw a white thing in her eye. And when that she this white thing 'gan espy, She thought that Allen did a nightcap wear, And with the staff she drew near, and more near, And, thinking 'twas the clerk, she smote at full Disdainful Simkin on his bald ape's skull. Down goes the Miller, crying, "Harow, I die!" These clerks they beat him well, and let him lie. They make them ready, and take their horse anon, And eke their meal, and on their way are gone; And from behind the mill-door took their cake, Of half a bushel of flour--a right good bake.

CHAUCER'S POEM OF THE CUCKOO AND THE NIGHTINGALE MODERNISED BY WILLIAM WORDSWORTH.

1. The God of Love--ah, benedicite! How mighty and how great a Lord is he! For he of low hearts can make high, of high He can make low, and unto death bring nigh; And hard hearts he can make them kind and free.

2. Within a little time, as hath been found, He can make sick folk whole and fresh and sound; Them who are whole in body and in mind He can make sick,--bind can he and unbind All that he will have bound, or have unbound.

3. To tell his might my wit may not suffice; Foolish men he can make them out of wise; - For he may do all that he will devise; Loose livers he can make abate their vice, And proud hearts can make tremble in a trice.

4. In brief, the whole of what he will, he may; Against him dare not any wight say nay; To humble or afflict whome'er he will, To gladden or to grieve, he hath like skill; But most his might he sheds on the eve of May.

5. For every true heart, gentle heart and free, That with him is, or thinketh so to be, Now against May shall have some stirring--whether To joy, or be it to some mourning; never At other time, methinks, in like degree.

6. For now when they may hear the small birds' song, And see the budding leaves the branches throng. This unto their remembrance doth bring All kinds of pleasure mixed with sorrowing, And longing of sweet thoughts that ever long.

7. And of that longing heaviness doth come, Whence oft great sickness grows of heart and home; Sick are they all for lack of their desire; And thus in May their hearts are set on fire, So that they burn forth in great martyrdom.

8. In sooth, I speak from feeling, what though now Old am I, and to genial pleasure slow; Yet have I felt of sickness through the May, Both hot and cold, and heart-aches every day, - How hard, alas! to bear, I only know.

9. Such shaking doth the fever in me keep, Through all this May that I have little sleep; And also 'tis not likely unto me, That any living heart should sleepy be In which love's dart its fiery point doth steep.

10. But tossing lately on a sleepless bed, I of a token thought which lovers heed; How among them it was a common tale, That it was good to hear the nightingale,


Playful Poems - 10/35

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