Helen Gray Cone

(1859-1934 / United States)

King Raedwald - Poem by Helen Gray Cone

Will you hear now the speech of King Raedwald,-heathen Raedwald,
the simple yet wise?
He, the ruler of North-folk and South-folk, a man open-browed
as the skies,
Held the eyes of the eager Italians with his blue, bold,
Englishman's eyes.

In his hall, on his throne, so he sat, with the light of the fire
on him full:
Colored bright as the ring of red gold on his hand, fit to buffet
a bull,
Was the mane that grew down on his neck, was the beard he would
pondering pull.

To the priests, to the eager Italians, thus fearless less he poured
his free speech;
'O my honey-tongued fathers, I turn not away from the faith that ye
teach!
Not the less hath a man many moods, and may ask a religion for each.

'Grant that all things are well with the realm on a delicate day
of the spring,
Easter month, time of hopes and of swallows!
The praises, the psalms that ye sing,
As in pleasant accord they float heavenward, are good in the ears
of the king.

'Then the heart bubbles forth with clear waters, to the time
of this wonder-word Peace,
From the chanting and preaching whereof ye who serve the
white Christ never cease;
And your curly, soft incense ascending enwraps my content
like a fleece.

'But a churl comes adrip from the rivers, pants me out, fallen
spent on the floor,
'O King Raedwald, Northumberland marches, and to-morrow knocks
hard at thy door,
Hot for melting thy crown on the hearth!'
Then commend me to Woden and Thor!

'Could I sit then and listen to preachments on turning the cheek
to the blow,
And saying a prayer for the smiter, and holding my seen treasure low
For the sake of a treasure unseen? By the sledge of the Thunderer, no!

'For my thought flashes out as a sword, cleaving counsel as
clottage of cream;
And your incense and chanting are but as the smoke of burnt
towns and the scream;
And I quaff me the thick mead of triumph from enemies' skulls
in my dream!

'And 'tis therefore this day I resolve me,-for King Raedwald
will cringe not, nor lie!-
I will bring back the altar of Woden; in the temple will have it,
hard by
The new altar of this your white Christ. As my mood may decide,
worship I!'

So he spake in his large self-reliance,-he, a man open-browed
as the skies;
Would not measure his soul by a standard that was womanish-weak
to his eyes,
Smite his breast and go on with his sinning,-savage Raedwald,
the simple yet wise!

And the centuries bloom o'er his barrow. But for us,-have we
mastered it quite,
The old riddle, that sweet is strong's outcome, the old marvel,
that meekness is might,
That the child is the leader of lions, that forgiveness is force
at its height?

When we summon the shade of rude Raedwald, in his candor how
king-like he towers!
Have the centuries, over his slumber, only borne sterile falsehoods
for flowers?
Pray you, what if Christ found him the nobler, having weighed his
frank manhood with ours?


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Poem Submitted: Thursday, April 22, 2010



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