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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Old Woman of Berkeley
By Robert Southey (1774–1843)
 
A Ballad, Showing How an Old Woman Rode Double, and Who Rode Before Her

THE RAVEN croaked as she sate at her meal,
    And the Old Woman knew what he said;
And she grew pale at the Raven’s tale,
    And sickened, and went to her bed.
 
“Now fetch me my children, and fetch them with speed,”        5
    The Old Woman of Berkeley said;
“The Monk my son, and my daughter the Nun,
    Bid them hasten, or I shall be dead.”
 
The Monk her son, and her daughter the Nun,
    Their way to Berkeley went;        10
And they have brought, with pious thought,
    The holy sacrament.
 
The Old Woman shrieked as they entered her door,
    And she cried with a voice of despair,
“Now take away the sacrament,        15
    For its presence I cannot bear!”
 
Her lip it trembled with agony;
    The sweat ran down her brow:
“I have tortures in store for evermore;
    But spare me, my children, now!”        20
 
Away they sent the sacrament:
    The fit it left her weak;
She looked at her children with ghastly eyes,
    And faintly struggled to speak.
 
“All kind of sin I have rioted in,        25
    And the judgment now must be;
But I secured my children’s souls:
    Oh, pray, my children, for me!
 
“I have ’nointed myself with infants’ fat;
    The fiends have been my slaves;        30
From sleeping babes I have sucked the breath;
And breaking by charms the sleep of death,
    I have called the dead from their graves.
 
“And the Devil will fetch me now in fire,
    My witchcrafts to atone;        35
And I, who have troubled the dead man’s grave,
    Shall never have rest in my own.
 
“Bless, I entreat, my winding-sheet,
    My children, I beg of you;
And with holy-water sprinkle my shroud,        40
    And sprinkle my coffin too.
 
“And let me be chained in my coffin of stone;
    And fasten it strong, I implore,
With iron bars, and with three chains
    Chain it to the church-floor.        45
 
“And bless the chains, and sprinkle them;
    And let fifty Priests stand round,
Who night and day the Mass may say
    Where I lie on the ground.
 
“And see that fifty Choristers        50
    Beside the bier attend me,
And day and night, by the tapers’ light,
    With holy hymns defend me.
 
“Let the church-bells all, both great and small,
    Be tolled by night and day,        55
To drive from thence the fiends who come
    To bear my body away.
 
“And ever have the church-door barred
    After the even-song;
And I beseech you, children dear,        60
    Let the bars and bolts be strong.
 
“And let this be three days and nights,
    My wretched corpse to save;
Till the fourth morning keep me safe,
    And then I may rest in my grave.”        65
 
The Old Woman of Berkeley laid her down,
    And her eyes grew deadly dim;
Short came her breath, and the struggle of death
    Did loosen every limb.
 
They blest the Old Woman’s winding-sheet        70
    With rites and prayers due;
With holy-water they sprinkled her shroud,
    And they sprinkled her coffin too.
 
And they chained her in her coffin of stone,
    And with iron barred it down,        75
And in the church with three strong chains
    They chained it to the ground.
 
And they blest the chains, and sprinkled them;
    And fifty Priests stood round,
By night and day the Mass to say        80
    Where she lay on the ground.
 
And fifty sacred Choristers
    Beside the bier attend her,
Who day and night, by the tapers’ light,
    Should with holy hymns defend her.        85
 
To see the Priests and Choristers
    It was a goodly sight,
Each holding, as it were a staff,
    A taper burning bright.
 
And the church-bells all, both great and small,        90
    Did toll so loud and long;
And they have barred the church-door hard,
    After the even-song.
 
And the first night the tapers’ light
    Burnt steadily and clear;        95
But they without a hideous rout
    Of angry fiends could hear;—
 
A hideous roar at the church-door,
    Like a long thunder-peal;
And the Priests they prayed, and the Choristers sung        100
    Louder, in fearful zeal.
 
Loud tolled the bell; the Priests prayed well;
    The tapers they burnt bright:
The Monk her son, and her daughter the Nun,
    They told their beads all night.        105
 
The cock he crew; the Fiends they flew
    From the voice of the morning away:
Then undisturbed the Choristers sing,
    And the fifty Priests they pray;
As they had sung and prayed all night,        110
    They prayed and sung all day.
 
The second night the tapers’ light
    Burnt dismally and blue,
And every one saw his neighbor’s face
    Like a dead man’s face to view.        115
 
And yells and cries without arise,
    That the stoutest heart might shock,
And a deafening roaring like a cataract pouring
    Over a mountain rock.
 
The Monk and Nun they told their beads        120
    As fast as they could tell;
And aye as louder grew the noise,
    The faster went the bell.
 
Louder and louder the Choristers sung,
    As they trembled more and more;        125
And the Priests, as they prayed to Heaven for aid,
    They smote their breasts full sore.
 
The cock he crew; the Fiends they flew
    From the voice of the morning away:
Then undisturbed the Choristers sing,        130
    And the fifty Priests they pray;
As they had sung and prayed all night,
    They prayed and sung all day.
 
The third night came, and the tapers’ flame
    A frightful stench did make;        135
And they burnt as though they had been dipped
    In the burning brimstone lake.
 
And the loud commotion, like the rushing of ocean,
    Grew momently more and more;
And strokes as of a battering-ram        140
    Did shake the strong church-door.
 
The bellmen they for very fear
    Could toll the bell no longer;
And still, as louder grew the strokes,
    Their fear it grew the stronger.        145
 
The Monk and Nun forgot their beads;
    They fell on the ground in dismay;
There was not a single Saint in heaven
    To whom they did not pray.
 
And the Choristers’ song, which late was so strong,        150
    Faltered with consternation;
For the church did rock as an earthquake shock
    Uplifted its foundation.
 
And a sound was heard like the trumpet’s blast
    That shall one day wake the dead;—        155
The strong church-door could bear no more,
    And the bolts and bars they fled;
 
And the tapers’ light was extinguished quite;
    And the Choristers faintly sung;
And the Priests, dismayed, panted and prayed,        160
And on all Saints in heaven for aid
    They called with trembling tongue.
 
And in He came with eyes of flame,
    The Devil, to fetch the dead;
And all the church with his presence glowed        165
    Like a fiery furnace red.
 
He laid his hand on the iron chains,
    And like flax they moldered asunder;
And the coffin lid, which was barred so firm,
    He burst with his voice of thunder.        170
 
And he bade the Old Woman of Berkeley rise,
    And come with her Master away:
A cold sweat started on that cold corpse,
    At the voice she was forced to obey.
 
She rose on her feet in her winding-sheet;        175
    Her dead flesh quivered with fear;
And a groan like that which the Old Woman gave
    Never did mortal hear.
 
She followed her Master to the church-door
    There stood a black horse there;        180
His breath was red like furnace smoke,
    His eyes like a meteor’s glare.
 
The Devil he flung her on the horse,
    And he leaped up before,
And away like the lightning’s speed they went,        185
    And she was seen no more.
 
They saw her no more: but her cries
    For four miles round they could hear;
And children at rest at their mother’s breast
    Started, and screamed with fear.        190
 
 
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