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THE BALLAD OF GLASTONBURY

by

HENRY ALFORD



INTRODUCTION.




Glastonburyanciently called Avalonis a place much celebrated both intradition and history. It was hereaccording to old legendswhen theneighboring moors were covered by the seathat St. Joseph of Arimathea landedand built the first church in England. It was here that the glorious king Arthurwas buriedwith the inscription:

Hic jacet Arturusrex quondamrexque futurus.



It was here that the scarcely less glorious King Alfred took sancturaryandhence that he went into voluntary obscurity when the Danes invaded England. Herealso was built that magnificent abbeywhose riches and hospitality were knownto all Christendom. Its last abbot was murdered on the Tor-hill by order ofHenry the Eighthand the building was sacrificed to the misguided fury of theReformation. The very ruins are now fast perishing.
The Quantock Hillsalluded to in the following poemare in the autumnprofusely covered with the mingled blossoms of heath and furze.

I.


[The prospect of the western plains.]



The hills have on their royal robes
Of purple and of gold
And over their tops the autumn clouds
In heaps are onward rolled;
Below them spreads the fairest plain
That British eye may see--
From Quantock to the Mendip range
A broad expanse and free.< >

II.


[An invocation of Timeto open the days past.]



As from those barriersgrey and vast
Rolled off the morning mist
Leaving the eyesight unrestrained
To wander where it list
So rollthou ancient chronicler
The ages' mist away;
Give me an hour of vision clear
A dream of the former day.

III.


[A vision is vouchsafed.]



At once the flood of the Severn sea
Flowed over half the plain
And a hundred capeswith huts and trees
Above the flood remain:
'T is water here and water there
And the lordly Parret's way
Hath never a trace on its pathless face--
As in the former day.

IV.


[The ship of St. Josephand how it sped.]



Of shining sails that thronged that stream
There resteth never a one;
But a little ship to that inland sea
Comes bounding in alone;
With stretch of sail and tug of oar
It comes full merrily
And the sailors chantas they pass the shore
Tibi gloria Domine.

V.



'Nights and days on the watery ways
Our vessel hath slidden on
Our arms have never tired of toil
Our stores have long been done;
Sweet Jesus hath sped us over the wave
By coasts and along the sea
And we singas we pass each rising land
Tibi gloria Domine.

VI.



'Sweet Jesus hath work for us to do
In a land of promise fair;
Our vessel is steered by an angel-hand
Until it bring us there:
To our Captain givena sign from heaven
Our token true shall be;
And we singas we wait for the Promise-sign
Tibi gloria Domine.

VII.


[The sign of promise is given to him;]



'When a dark green hill shall spire aloft
Into the pure blue sky
Most like to Tabor's holy mount
Of vision blest and high;
Straight to that hill our bounding prow
Unguided shall pass and free;
Sweet Jesus hath spokenand we believe;
Tibi gloria Domine'

VIII.


[And fulfilled.]



Thus far they sungand at once a shout
Peeled upward loud and clear;
Forlo! the vessel onward ran
With never a hand to steer;
And full in sight that Promise-hill
Towered up into the sky
Most like to Tabor's holy mount
Of vision blest and high.

IX.



Now raise the songye faithful crew
Let all the uplands hear;
It fitteth Salvation's messengers
To be of joyous cheer;
For Avalon isle ye make the while
By angel-pilot's hand;
Right onward for that pointed hill
Straight to the sloping land.

X.



Each arm is restingand every eye
With thankful tear is bright;
Thus spake one high upon the prow
Feeding his forward sight:
'The word of God is just and true
And the mountains green that stand
To the left and right in the morning light
Lead on to our Promise-land.

XI.



'Sweet Jesus hath broken the sepulchre
And pours His golden grace
Clothing the earth with the joy of birth
In every fairest place:
His servant asked a token sure
And a token sure is given;
And He that lay in the garden-tomb
Is Lord of earth and heaven.'

XII.


[They bless God on the strand of Avalon.]



By this the vessel had floated nigh
To the turf upon the strand
And first that holy man of joy
Stepped on the Promise-land;
Until the restin order blest
Were rangedand kneeling there
Gave blessing to the God of heaven
In a lowly chanted prayer.

XIII.



Then over the brow of the seaward hill
In their order blest they pass
At every change in the psalmody
Kissing the holy grass;
Till they come where they may see full near
That pointed mountain rise
Darkening with its ancient cone
The light of eastern skies.

XIV.


[St. Joseph planteth his staff as a token.]



'This staff hath borne me long and well'
Then spake that Saint divine
'Over mountain and over plain
On quest of the Promise-sign;
For aye let it stand in this western land
And God do more to me
If there ring not out from this realm about
Tibi gloria Domine.'

XV.


[The days of the ancient Church of Britain.]



A cloud is on them--the vision is changed
And voices of melody
And a ring of harpslike twinkles bright
Comes over the inland sea;
Long and loud is the chant of praise--
The hallowed ages glide;
And once again the mist from the plain
Rolls up the Mendip side.

XVI.


[The mort d'Arthur.]



With mourning stole and solemn step
Up that same seaward hill
There moved of ladies and of knights
A company sad and still;
There went before an open bier
Andsleeping in a charm
With face to heaven and folded palms
There lay an armed form.

XVII.


[St. Joseph's staff hath buddedand bloometh atChristmas-tide.]



It is the winter deepand all
The glittering fields that morn
In Avalon's isle were over-snowed
The day the Lord was born;
And as they cross the northward brow
See whitebut not with snow
The mystic thorn beside their path
Its holy blossoms show.

XVIII.



They carry him where from chapel low
Rings clear the angel-bell--
He was the flower of knights and lords
So chant the requiem well:
His wound was deepand his holy sleep
Shall last him many a day
Till the cry of crime in the latter time
Shall melt the charm away.

XIX.


[The chronicle passeth to the pillage by the Danes.]



A cloud is on them--the vision fades--
And cries of woe and fear
And sounds unblest of neighboring war
Are thronging on mine ear:
Long and loud was the battle-cry
And the groans of them that died;
And once again the mist from the plain
Rolls up the Mendip side.

XX.


[The great King Alfred in sorrow avoideth the foe.]



From the postern-door of an abbaye pile
Passes with heavy cheer
A soldier-king in humble mien
For the shouting foes are near;
The holy men by their altars bide
In alb and stole they stand;
The incense-fumes the temple fill
From blessed children's hand.

XXI.


[The ancient abbaye is burnt and pillaged.]



Slow past the king that seaward brow
Whence turning he might see
Streaming upon Saint Michael's Tor
The pagan blazonry;
Then a pealing shout and a silence long
And rolling next on high
Dark vaporlaced with threads of flame
Angered the twilight sky.

XXII.


[But better days are near.]



The cloud comes on--the vision is changed--
And songs of victory
And hymns of praise to the Lord of Peace
Comes over the inland sea;
The waters clearthe fields appear
The plain is green and wide;
And once again the mist from the plain
Rolls up the Mendip side.

XXIII.


[It is the high prime of Glastonbury's glory.]



The plats were green with lavish growth
Andlike a silver cord
Down to the northern bay the Brue
Its glittering water poured:
Far and near the pilgrims throng
With staff and humble mien
Where Glastonbury's crown of towers
Against the sky is seen.

XXIV.



By the holy thorn and the holy well
And St. Joseph's silver shrine
They offer thanks to highest Heaven
For the light and grace divine;
In the open cheer of the abbaye near
They dwell their purposed day
And then they partwith blessed thoughts
Each on his homeward way.

XXV.


[But pride cometh]



The cloud drops down--the vision is changed
And an altered sound of pride
And a glitter of pomp is cast athwart
The meadows green and wide.
The servants of a lowly Lord
On earth's high places ride;
And once again the mist from the plain
Rolls up the Mendip side.

XXVI.


[before a fall.]



The strong man armed hath dwelt in peace
Till a stronger hath sacked his home;
And the Church that married the pride of the earth
By the earth is overcome:
There hath sounded forth upon the land
That wicked king's behest
And Lust and Power from Lust and Power
A blighted triumph wrest.

XXVII


[Villanous doings for lucre's sake.]



The winds are high in Saint Michael's Tor
And a sorry sight is there--
A dark-browed bandwith spear in hand
Mount up the turret-stair;
With heavy cheer and lifted palms
There kneels a holy priest;
The fiends of death they grudge his breath
To hold their rapine-feast.

XXVIII.


[The judgement of God on England.]



The cloud comes on themthe vision is changed
And a crash of lofty walls
And the short dead sound of music quenched
On the sickened hearing falls;
Quick and sharp is the ruin-cry--
Unblest the ages glide;
And once again the mist from the plain
Rolls up the Mendip side.

[XXIX]


[But in it He hath remembered mercy.]



Low sloping over sea and field
The setting ray had past
On roofs and curls of quiet smoke
The glory-flush was cast.
Clustered upon the western side
Of Avalon's green hill
Her ancient homes and fretted towers
Were lyingbright and still;

XXX.



And lowerin the valley-field
Hid from the parting day
A brotherhood of columns old
A ruin rough and grey;
And over allSaint Michael's Tor
Spired up into the sky--
Most like to Tabor's holy mount
Of vision blest and high.

XXXI.



The vision changeth not--no cloud
Comes down the Mendip side;
The moors spread out beneath my feet
Their free expanse and wide;
On glittering cots and ancient towers
That rise among the dells
On mountain and on bending stream
The light of evening dwells.

XXXII.



I may not write--I cannot say
What change shall next betide;
Whether that group of columns grey
Untroubled shall abide;
Or whether that pile in Avalon's isle
Some pious hand shall raise
And the vaulted arches ring once more
With pealing chants of praise.

XXXIII



Speed onspeed on: let England's sons
For England's glories rise;
And England's towers that lowly lie
Lift upward to the skies:
Till there go up from England's heart
In peace and purity
From temple-aisle and cottage-hearth
Tibi gloria Domine.
1 The magnificent views from the Quantock hills above Nether Stoweywhere thispoem was writtenembrace the whole of the moor district of Somersetshirewiththe bare hills and wooded capes which bound this singular tract of countryandthe Tor of Glastonbury and Mendip hills in the distance.