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HENGIST AND MEY:

A BALLAD.

Haec novimus esse nihil.
1 IN antient days, when Arthur reign'd,
2 Sir Elmer had no peer!
3 And no young knight in all the land
4 The ladies lov'd so dear.
5 His sister Mey, the fairest maid
6 Of all the virgin train,
7 Won every heart at Arthur's court,
8 But all their love was vain.
9 In vain they lov'd, in vain they vow'd,
10 Her heart they could not move:
11 Yet at the evening hour of prayer
12 Her mind was lost in love.
13 The Abbess saw, the Abbess knew,
14 And urg'd her to explain;
15 "O name the gentle youth to me,
16 " And his consent I'll gain. "
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17 Long urg'd, long vext, fair Mey reply'd,
18 "His name how can I say?
19 " An angel from the fields above
20 "Has rapt my heart away.
21 "But once, alas, and never more,
22 " His lovely form I spied,
23 "One evening by the sounding shore,
24 " All by the greenwood side:
25 "His eyes to mine the love confest,
26 " That glow'd with mildest grace:
27 "His courtly mien and purple vest
28 " Bespoke his princely race.
29 "But when he heard my brother's horn
30 " Fast to his ships he fled:
31 "Yet while I sleep his graceful form
32 " Still hovers round my bed.
33 "Sometimes all clad in armour bright,
34 " He shakes a warlike lance;
35 "And now in courtly garments dight,
36 " He leads the sprightly dance,
37 "His hair is black as raven's wing,
38 " His skin as Christmas snow,
39 "His cheeks outvie the blush of morn,
40 " His lips like rose-buds glow.
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41 "His limbs, his arms, his stature, shap'd
42 " By Nature's finest hand;
43 "His sparkling eyes declare him born
44 " To love and to command. "
45 The live-long year fair Mey bemoan'd
46 Her hopeless pining love:
47 But when the balmy Spring return'd,
48 And Summer cloath'd the grove;
49 All round by pleasant Humber side
50 The Saxon banners flew,
51 And to Sir Elmer's castle gates
52 The spear-men came in view.
53 Fair blush'd the morn when Mey look'd o'er
54 The castle-wall so sheen;
55 And, lo, the warlike Saxon youth
56 Were sporting on the green.
57 There Hengist, Offa's eldest son,
58 Lean'd on his burnish'd lance,
59 And all the armed youth around
60 Obey'd his manly glance.
61 His locks as black as raven's wing
62 Adown his shoulders flow'd,
63 His cheeks outvied the blush of morn,
64 His lips like rose-buds glow'd,
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65 And soon the lovely form of Mey
66 Has caught his piercing eyes:
67 He gives the sign, his bands retire,
68 While big with love he sighs,
69 "Oh thou, for whom I dar'd the seas,
70 " And come with peace or war;
71 "Oh, by that cross that veils thy breast,
72 " Relieve thy Lover's care!
73 "For thee I'll quit my father's throne,
74 " With thee the wilds explore;
75 "Or with thee share the British crown,
76 " With thee the Cross adore. "
77 Beneath the timorous virgin blush,
78 With love's soft warmth she glows:
79 So blushing thro' the dews of morn
80 Appears the opening rose.
81 'Twas now the hour of morning prayer,
82 When men their sins bewail,
83 That Elmer heard king Arthur's horn
84 Shrill sounding thro' the dale.
85 The pearly tears from Mey's bright eyes
86 Like April dew drops fell,
87 When with a parting dear embrace
88 Her brother bade farewell.
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89 The cross with sparkling diamonds bright
90 That veil'd her snowy breast,
91 With prayers to heaven, her lily hands
92 Have fixt on Elmer's vest.
93 Now with five-hundred bow-men true
94 He's march'd across the plain,
95 Till with his gallant yeomandrie
96 He join'd king Arthur's train.
97 Full forty thousand Saxon spears
98 Came glittering down the hill,
99 And with their shouts and clang of arms
100 The distant valleys fill.
101 Old Offa, drest in Odin's garb,
102 Assum'd the hoary god;
103 And Hengist, like the warlike Thor,
104 Before the horsemen rode.
105 With dreadful rage the combat burns,
106 The captains shout amain;
107 And Elmer's tall victorious spear
108 Far glances o'er the plain.
109 To stop its course young Hengist flew
110 Like lightning o'er the field;
111 And soon his eyes the well-known cross
112 On Elmer's vest beheld.
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113 The slighted lover swell'd his breast,
114 His eyes shot living fire,
115 And all his martial heat before
116 To this was mild desire.
117 On his imagin'd rival's steed
118 With furious force he prest,
119 And glancing to the sun, his sword
120 Resounds on Elmer's crest.
121 The foe gave way, the princely youth
122 With heedless rage pursu'd,
123 Till trembling in his cloven helm
124 Sir Elmer's javelin stood.
125 He bow'd his head, slow dropt his spear,
126 The reins slipt through his hand,
127 And stain'd with blood, his stately corse
128 Lay breathless on the strand.
129 "O bear me off," Sir Elmer cried,
130 "Before my painful sight
131 " The combat swims Yet Hengist's vest
132 "I claim as victor's right."
133 Brave Hengist's fall the Saxons saw,
134 And all in terror fled.
135 The bow-men to his castle gates
136 The bold Sir Elmer led.
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137 "Oh wash my wounds, my sister dear,
138 " O pull this Saxon dart,
139 "That whizzing from young Hengist's arm
140 " Has almost pierc'd my heart.
141 "Yet in my hall his vest shall hang,
142 " And Britons yet unborn
143 "Shall with the trophies of to-day
144 " Their solemn feasts adorn.
145 All-trembling Mey beheld the vest;
146 "Oh, Merlin," loud she cried,
147 "Thy words are true my slaughter'd Love
148 " Shall have a breathless bride!
149 "Oh, Elmer, Elmer, boast no more
150 " That low my Hengist lies!
151 "O, Hengist, cruel was thine arm;
152 " My brother bleeds and dies! "
153 She spake the roses left her cheek,
154 And Life's warm spirits fled:
155 So nipt by Winter's lingering blasts,
156 The Snowdrop bows the head.
157 Yet parting life one struggle gave,
158 She lifts her languid eyes;
159 "Return, my Hengist, oh return,
160 " My slaughter'd love! "she cries.
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161 "Oh still he lives he smiles again,
162 " With all his grace he moves:
163 "I come I come, where bow nor spear
164 " Shall more disturb our loves. "
165 She spake she died. The Saxon dart
166 Was drawn from Elmer's side;
167 And thrice he call'd his sister Mey,
168 And thrice he groan'd, and died.
169 Where in the dale a moss-grown cross
170 O'ershades an aged thorn,
171 Sir Elmer's and young Hengist's corse
172 Were by the spearmen borne.
173 And there all clad in robes of white,
174 With many a sigh and tear,
175 The village maids to Hengist's grave
176 Did Mey's fair body bear.
177 And there at dawn and fall of day,
178 All from the neighbouring groves,
179 The Turtles wail in widow'd notes,
180 And sing their hapless loves.

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About this text

Title (in Source Edition): HENGIST AND MEY: A BALLAD.
Themes: love; mythology; history
Genres: ballad metre; narrative verse
References: DMI 32539

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Source edition

A collection of poems in four volumes. By several hands. Vol. III. [The second edition]. London: printed for G. Pearch, 1770, pp. 11-18. 4v. ; 8⁰. (ESTC T116245; DMI 1136; OTA K093079.003)

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The text has been typographically modernized, but without any silent modernization of spelling, capitalization, or punctuation. The source of the text is given and all editorial interventions have been recorded in textual notes. Based on the electronic text originally produced by the ECCO-TCP project, this ECPA text has been edited to conform to the recommendations found in Level 5 of the Best Practices for TEI in Libraries version 3.0.