Verse > Anthologies > Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. > The Oxford Book of Ballads
Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. (1863–1944).  The Oxford Book of Ballads.  1910.
108. The Innocents

MARK this song, for it is true,
For it is true as clerkés tell:
In old time strange things came to pass,
Great wonder and great marvel was
  In Israel.        5

There was one Octavian,
Octavian of Rome Emperour,
As bookés old doe specify,
Of all the wide world truëly
  He was lord and governour.        10

The Jews that time lackéd a king,
They lackéd a king to guide them well,
The Emperour of power and might,
Chose one Herod against all right,
  In Israel.        15

This Herod then was King of Jews
Was King of Jews, and he no Jew.
Forsooth he was a Paynim born,
Wherefore on faith it may be sworn
  He reignéd King untrue.        20

By prophecy one Isaï,
One Isaï at least did tell
A child should come (wondrous news)
That should be born true King of Jews
  In Israel.        25

This Herod knew one born should be,
One born should be of true lináge,
That should be right heritour;
For he but by the Emperour
  Was made by usurpage.        30

Wherefore of thought this King Herod,
This King Herod in great fear fell,
For all the days most in his mirth,
Ever he fearéd Christ his birth
  In Israel.        35

The time came it pleaséd God,
It pleaséd God so to come to pass,
For man’s soul indeed
His blessed Son was born with speed
  As his will was.        40

Tidings came to King Herod,
To King Herod, and did him tell,
That one born forsooth is he,
Which lord and king of all shall be
  In Israel.        45

Herod then raged as he were wode,
As he were wode of this tidíng,
And sent for all his scribés sure,
Yet would he not trust the Scripture,
  Nor of their counselling.        50

Then this was the conclusion,
The conclusion of his counsél;
To send unto his knights anon
To slay the children every one
  In Israel.        55

This cruel king this tyranny,
This tyranny did put in ure;
Between a day and years two
All men-children he did slew,
  Of Christ for to be sure.        60

Yet Herod miss’d his cruel prey,
His cruel prey as was God’s will;
Joseph with Mary then did flee;
With Christ to Egypt gone was she
  From Israel.        65

All the while these tyránts,
These tyránts would not convert,
But innocents ying
That lay sucking,
  They thrust to the heart.        70

This Herod sought the children ying,
The children ying, with courage fell,
But in doing this vengeánce
His own son was slain by chance
  In Israel.        75

Alace! I think the mothers were woe,
The mothers were woe, it was great skill:
What motherly pain
To see them slain
  In cradles lying still!        80

But God Himself hath them elect,
Hath them elect, in heaven to dwell:
For they were bathéd in their blood,
For their Baptism forsooth it stood
  In Israel.        85

Alace! again what hearts had they,
What hearts had they those babes to kill!
With swords when they them caught,
In cradles they lay and laught,
  And never thought ill.        90
GLOSS:  wode] mad.  ure] practice.  ying] young.  skill] reason.


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