Orpheus Sings – Once A King

Forest Path

Why lay aside the circling gold that once as king I wore?
I wore it proudly once when I rode down to battle’s shore.
My men and I would kill the Sea-Wolves come across the sea
For we would fight or we would die. And none of us would flee.
So armed we: fought for kith and home. My warriors and me.

The Sea-Wolves beached their longships down upon our windswept sands
We awaited them with spears and swords and sharpened battle-brands.
So we charged those fair-haired devils with their cold eyes of sky-blue
And we cut them down to the last man: their battle-chief I slew
Their blood mixing with the ocean-sea: I had sworn this day they’d rue.

We won. We gathered up our dead and burnt their boats ashore
But that rarely did deter them: other ships would come with more.
Yet we celebrated victory within my gathering-halls
Then we dressed the stones and built again our outworks and our walls
While our scouts were out, patrolling: looking for their next landfalls.

Next summer – Sea-Wolves struck again, in large and well-armed bands
With more axes in their shield-wall than I had swordsmen in my lands.
Others joined them from the south – they meant to soak my lands with gore
Overthrow my forts for good so we could hinder them no more
So we struck our forges, sharpened swords, and armed us for the war.

They marched on by Thor and Odin. And we cursed their heathen gods.
By the Blood of Christ we waylaid them by heather and by sod.
In the night we played at ambush: hit them hard before we ran
And our arrows sore beset them as we killed them all we can.
Yet still in place of those we killed marched many another man.

Well, we manned the wall and barred the gates. The lookout raised a shout
For the Sea-Wolves came that morning and they ringed us round about.
Then they charged us with grim fury: they would stand atop our walls –
So we slew them without mercy. But too few were made to fall.
They triumphed and overran us. Then they butchered one and all.

They killed us all. Us all? Alas! For only I survived
Me – they left for dead. Two days gone past before my soul revived.
Then I crawled from out beneath a pile of corpses lately slain
Gagging from my thirst. In every body fiber soared my pain
For those curséd dogs had sorely slashed my fleshly mortal frame.

I’ll be revenged! Or so I thought. From then I lived to die
Having only killed as many as I could. So reasoned I.
As I nursed my hate that winter, grief pervaded all my heart
And I numbly mourned my wife, my boy: whom death had wrenched apart.
One day I raged. The next I grieved. Each torment stung my smart.

But by the spring, I’d had enough. I bathed within the stream
And I washed my hate away. That night, arising in a dream
I could see my son, and my love too: upon a farther shore
At some distance, they called to me. Again the love I bore
Flooded me. We’d reunite one day. Yes, truly – I was sure.

They’re dead? They live! They live! And this in a far better place
Where my Saviour does protect them by His mercy and His grace.
So I hobble round my hermitage, I kneel before my shrine
And my falling tears in my last years show forth new faith sublime
That rests on Jesu only. Father take me! My life: Thine!

Listen!

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