Not from the shade of cloistered grave,
But from the shadows of a cave
Within whose emerald mossy deep
Our spirits watch, but never sleep,
My eighty years in Lincoln green
Eight hundred winters more have seen.
Under this archer's keen blue eye,
Pageants of plenitude roll by:
Enamelled litters, which they ride
With all the horses tucked inside —
Or so I deem — unless they go
By means that necromancers know.
My mission was to spread the wealth
By bold endeavor, not by stealth,
And so if pilgrim souls should deign
To foot it down my wooded lane,
I will endorse the hungry poor,
Quilled arrows for my signature.
I mean to say, I'll tax the rich —
But who can tell me which is which?
In Sherwood, there are none who want
So that they starve — and if I haunt
The memories of those who live,
There's other gold that's mine to give.
Marian throws a spectral crumb,
And as before, the blackbirds come;
Envy is such a crumb as this,
One that the rich will never miss —
And on your tongue, where they belong,
Such crumbs are sacrament and song.
But even as you shall atone
By coveting what is your own —
The fragrant blossoms of the lime
Above two lovers lost in time —
A wolf-age winter closes in,
And freezes on that creamy skin.
Possession of the fairest maid,
Whose fatal beauty, bow, and blade
Burn like a shaft of flame and frost,
Cannot replenish what is lost
Through vain content, by those unmanned
Here in this cradle-changeling land!
When I had slain my dastard foe,
And stuck his head upon my bow;
When in the furnace of my rage
One died for each year of my age,
So that fifteen lay on the field,
My fate at Nottingham was sealed,
Not lured by gold, or melting lass,
But taken as I knelt at Mass!
I would not cause Our Lady grief;
Love laughs at locks — so does belief;
Swindler and bounty-hunting cur
Shall die — the rest is up to Her.
And those who toss their Books of Hours
From the stretched necks of screeching towers —
Like an oaf who leaves the wheat,
Mills the chaff, and finds it sweet —
Shall never know me, by my faith,
As Robin — just some nameless wraith:
A wraith in heavens of green, not blue,
Whose heart is blithe, whose needs are few,
Commander of full seven score,
And as night falls, there will be more
In answer to the huntsman's call,
Til Sherwood cannot hold them all.
Aye, til it strains with livid thieves
As bloodless as these withered leaves
That even specters kick to dust.
And will you pallid shadows trust
Old tales, and seek to join the host
Of heroes as a fettered ghost?
Betrayed, like one who could not guess
What treason moved the Prioress
To such black leechcraft as to drain
With knife and cup, my every vein,
Whose thin red currents trickle down
To meet the Thames in London-town.
In spring, I saw a ragged serf
Who trod the snow to rend the turf,
And from the plough, towards the Plough
His eyes would wander, and allow
Those bootless frozen feet to write
A wordless rubric, stamped on white.
The muck consumed his scarlet trail
Like tears lost in a harlot's grail.
Seek them within that mortar-cup
Of vileness, or be swallowed up,
You children of the Morning Star
Who do not know how rich you are.
Ancient Ballads of Robin Hood