Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. III. Addison to Blake
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Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. III. The Eighteenth Century: Addison to Blake
 
An Excellent Ballad of Charity
By Thomas Chatterton (1752–1770)
 
IN Virginè the sultry Sun ’gan sheene
  And hot upon the meads did cast his ray:
The apple ruddied from its paly green,
  And the soft pear did bend the leafy spray;
  The pied chelàndry 1 sang the livelong day:        5
’Twas now the pride, the manhood of the year,
And eke the ground was dight in its most deft aumere. 2
 
The sun was gleaming in the mid of day,
  Dead still the air and eke the welkin blue,
When from the sea arist in drear array        10
  A heap of clouds of sable sullen hue,
  The which full fast unto the woodland drew,
Hiding at once the Sunnè’s festive face;
And the black tempest swelled and gathered up apace.
 
Beneath an holm, fast by a pathway side        15
  Which did unto Saint Godwyn’s convent lead,
A hapless pilgrim moaning did abide,
  Poor in his view, ungentle in his weed,
  Long breast-full of the miseries of need.
Where from the hailstorm could the beggar fly?        20
He had no housen there, nor any convent nigh.
 
Look in his gloomèd face; his sprite there scan,
  How woe-begone, how withered, sapless, dead!
Haste to thy church-glebe-house, accursèd man,
  Haste to thy coffin, thy sole slumbering-bed! 3        25
  Cold as the clay which will grow on thy head
Are Charity and Love among high elves;
The Knights and Barons live for pleasure and themselves.
 
The gathered storm is ripe; the big drops fall;
  The sunburnt meadows smoke and drink the rain;        30
The coming ghastness doth the cattle appal,
  And the full flocks are driving o’er the plain;
  Dashed from the clouds, the waters gush 4 again;
The welkin opes, the yellow levin flies,
And the hot fiery steam in the wide flame-lowe 5 dies.        35
 
List! now the thunder’s rattling clamouring 6 sound
  Moves slowly on, and then upswollen clangs,
Shakes the high spire, and lost, dispended, drown’d,
  Still on the affrighted ear of terror hangs;
  The winds are up; the lofty elm-tree swangs;        40
Again the levin and the thunder pours,
And the full clouds are burst at once in stormy showers.
 
Spurring his palfrey o’er the watery plain,
  The Abbot of Saint Godwyn’s convent came;
His chapournette was drenchèd with the rain,        45
  His painted girdle met with mickle shame;
  He backwards 7 told his bederoll at the same.
The storm increasèd, and he drew aside,
With the poor alms-craver near to the holm to bide.
 
His cope was all of Lincoln cloth so fine,        50
  With a gold button fastened near his chin;
His autremete 8 was edged with golden twine,
  And his peak’d shoe a lordling’s might have been;
  Full well it showed he counted cost no sin:
The trammels of the palfrey pleased his sight,        55
For the horse-milliner 9 his head with roses dight.
 
‘An alms, Sir Priest!’ the drooping pilgrim said,
  ‘O let me wait within your convent-door
Till the sun shineth high above our head
  And the loud tempest of the air is o’er.        60
  Helpless and old am I, alas! and poor:
No house, nor friend, nor money in my pouch;
All that I call my own is this my silver crouch. 10
 
‘Varlet,’ replied the Abbot, ‘cease your din;
  This is no season alms and prayers to give;        65
My porter never lets a beggar in;
  None touch my ring who not in honour live.’
  And now the sun with the black clouds did strive,
And shot upon the ground his glaring ray:
The Abbot spurred his steed, and eftsoons rode away.        70
 
Once more the sky was black, the thunder roll’d:
  Fast running o’er the plain a priest was seen,
Not dight full proud nor buttoned up in gold;
  His cope and jape 11 were grey, and eke were clean;
  A Limitour 12 he was, of order seen;        75
And from the pathway side then turnèd he,
Where the poor beggar lay beneath the holmen tree.
 
‘An alms, Sir Priest,’ the drooping pilgrim said,
  ‘For sweet Saint Mary and your order’s sake!’
The Limitour then loosened his pouch-thread        80
  And did thereout a groat of silver take;
  The needy pilgrim did for gladness shake.
‘Here, take this silver, it may ease thy care;
We are God’s stewards all,—nought of our own we bear.
 
‘But ah! unhappy pilgrim, learn of me,        85
  Scarce any give a rentroll to their Lord:
Here, take my semicope,—thou’rt bare, I see;
  ’Tis thine; the Saints will give me my reward!’
  He left the pilgrim and his way aborde. 13
Virgin and holy Saints who sit in gloure, 14        90
Or give the mighty will, or give the good man power!
 
Note 1. Goldfinch. [back]
Note 2. Used by Chatterton as ‘mantle.’ [back]
Note 3. ‘Dortoure bedde.’ ‘Dourtoure, a sleeping room.’—Chatterton. [back]
Note 4. Here Chatterton’s text-word is ‘flott,’ and his gloss ‘fly.’ ‘Gush’ seems more appropriate. [back]
Note 5. ‘lowings’—flames.—Chatterton. [back]
Note 6. ‘Clymmynge,’ noisy.—Chatterton. ‘Clamouring’ is adopted as nearer in sound to his text-word. [back]
Note 7. ‘To signify cursing.’—Chatterton. [back]
Note 8. ‘A loose white robe worn by priests.’—Chatterton. [back]
Note 9. Steevens, being in Bristol in 1776, saw ‘horse-milliner’ inscribed over a shop door, outside which stood a wooden horse decked with ribbons. [back]
Note 10. ‘Cross, crucifix.’—Chatterton. [back]
Note 11. A short surplice worn by friars of inferior class.—Chatterton. [back]
Note 12. A licensed begging friar.—Chatterton. [back]
Note 13. ‘Went on.’—Chatterton. [back]
Note 14. ‘Glory.’—Chatterton. [back]
 
 
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