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The Haystack in the Woods
William Morris, 1858

1    Had she come all the way for this,
2    To part at last without a kiss?
3    Yea, had she borne the dirt and rain
4    That her own eyes might see him slain
5    Beside the haystack in the floods?

6    Along the dripping leafless woods,
7    The stirrup touching either shoe,
8    She rode astride as troopers do;
9    With kirtle kilted to her knee,
10   To which the mud splash'd wretchedly;
11   And the wet dripp'd from every tree
12   Upon her head and heavy hair,
13   And on her eyelids broad and fair;
14   The tears and rain ran down her face.
15   By fits and starts they rode apace,
16   And very often was his place
17   Far off from her; he had to ride
18   Ahead, to see what might betide
19   When the roads cross'd; and sometimes, when
20   There rose a murmuring from his men
21   Had to turn back with promises;
22   Ah me! she had but little ease;
23   And often for pure doubt and dread
24   She sobb'd, made giddy in the head
25   By the swift riding; while, for cold,
26   Her slender fingers scarce could hold
27   The wet reins; yea, and scarcely, too,
28   She felt the foot within her shoe
29   Against the stirrup: all for this,
30   To part at last without a kiss
31   Beside the haystack in the floods.

32   For when they near'd that old soak'd hay,
33   They saw across the only way
34   That Judas, Godmar, and the three
35   Red running lions dismally
36   Grinn'd from his pennon, under which
37   In one straight line along the ditch,
38   They counted thirty heads.

39     So then
40   While Robert turn'd round to his men
41   She saw at once the wretched end,
42   And, stooping down, tried hard to rend
43   Her coif the wrong way from her head,
44   And hid her eyes; while Robert said:
45   "Nay, love, 'tis scarcely two to one,
46   At Poictiers where we made them run
47   So fast--why, sweet my love, good cheer,
48   The Gascon frontier is so near.
49   Naught after this."

50     But, "Oh!" she said,
51   "My God! my God! I have to tread
52   The long way back without you; then
53   The court at Paris; those six men;
54   The gratings of the Chatelet;
55   The swift Seine on some rainy day
56   Like this, and people standing by
57   And laughing, while my weak hands try
58   To recollect how strong men swim.
59   All this, or else a life with him,
60     For which I should be damned at last.
61   Would God that this next hour were past!"

62   He answer'd not, but cried his cry,
63   "St. George for Marny!" cheerily;
64   And laid his hand upon her rein.
65   Alas! no man of all his train
66   Gave back that cheery cry again;
67   And, while for rage his thumb beat fast
68   Upon his sword-hilts, some one cast
69   About his neck a kerchief long,
70   And bound him.

71     Then they went along
72   To Godmar; who said: "Now, Jehane,
73   Your lover's life is on the wane
74   So fast, that, if this very hour
75   You yield not as my paramour,
76   He will not see the rain leave off--
77   Nay, keep your tongue from gibe or scoff,
78   Sir Robert, or I slay you now."

79   She laid her hand upon her brow,
80   Then gazed upon the palm, as though
81   She thought her forehead bled, and--"No!"
82   She said, and turn'd her head away,
83   As there were nothing else to say,
84   And everything were settled: red
85   Grew Godmar's face from chin to head:
86   "Jehane, on yonder hill there stands
87   My castle, guarding well my lands:
88   What hinders me from taking you,
89   And doing that I list to do
90   To your fair wilful body, while
91   Your knight lies dead?"

92     A wicked smile
93   Wrinkled her face, her lips grew thin,
94   A long way out she thrust her chin:
95   "You know that I would strangle you
96   While you were sleeping; or bite through
97   Your throat, by God's help--ah!" she said,
98   "Lord Jesus, pity your poor maid!
99   For in such wise they hem me in,
100 I cannot choose but sin and sin,
101 Whatever happens: yet I think
102 They could not make me eat or drink,
103 And so should I just reach my rest."
104 "Nay, if you do not my behest,
105 O Jehane! though I love you well,"
106 Said Godmar, "would I fail to tell
107 All that I know?" "Foul lies," she said.
108 "Eh? lies, my Jehane? by God's head,
109 At Paris folks would deem them true!
110 Do you know, Jehane, they cry for you:
111 'Jehane the brown! Jehane the brown!
112 Give us Jehane to burn or drown!'--
113 Eh--gag me Robert!--sweet my friend,
114 This were indeed a piteous end
115 For those long fingers, and long feet,
116 And long neck, and smooth shoulders sweet;
117 An end that few men would forget
118 That saw it--So, an hour yet:
119 Consider, Jehane, which to take
120 Of life or death!"

121     So, scarce awake,
122 Dismounting, did she leave that place,
123 And totter some yards: with her face
124 Turn'd upward to the sky she lay,
125 Her head on a wet heap of hay,
126 And fell asleep: and while she slept,
127 And did not dream, the minutes crept
128 Round to the twelve again; but she,
129 Being waked at last, sigh'd quietly,
130 And strangely childlike came, and said:
131 "I will not." Straightway Godmar's head,
132 As though it hung on strong wires, turn'd
133 Most sharply round, and his face burn'd.

134 For Robert--both his eyes were dry,
135 He could not weep, but gloomily
136 He seem'd to watch the rain; yea, too,
137 His lips were firm; he tried once more
138 To touch her lips; she reach'd out, sore
139 And vain desire so tortured them,
140 The poor grey lips, and now the hem
141 Of his sleeve brush'd them.

142     With a start
143 Up Godmar rose, thrust them apart;
144 From Robert's throat he loosed the bands
145 Of silk and mail; with empty hands
146 Held out, she stood and gazed, and saw
147 The long bright blade without a flaw
148 Glide out from Godmar's sheath, his hand
149 In Robert's hair, she saw him bend
150 Back Robert's head; she saw him send
151 The thin steel down; the blow told well,
152 Right backward the knight Robert fell,
153 And moaned as dogs do, being half dead,
154 Unwitting, as I deem: so then
155 Godmar turn'd grinning to his men,
156 Who ran, some five or six, and beat
157 His head to pieces at their feet.

158 Then Godmar turn'd again and said:
159 "So, Jehane, the first fitte is read!
160 Take note, my lady, that your way
161 Lies backward to the Chatelet!"
162 She shook her head and gazed awhile
163 At her cold hands with a rueful smile,
164 As though this thing had made her mad.

165 This was the parting that they had
166 Beside the haystack in the floods.
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