Over Northumbria's lone, gray lands,
Over the frozen marl,
Went flying the fogs from the fens and sands,
And the wind with a wolfish snarl.
Frosty and stiff by the gray York wall
Stood the rusty grass and the yarrow:
Gone wings and songs to the southland, all--
Robin and starling and sparrow.
Weary with weaving the battle-woof,
Came the king and his thanes to the Hall:
Feast fires reddened the beams of the roof,
Torch flames waved from the wall.
Bright was the gold that the table bore,
Where platters and beakers shone:
Whining hounds on the sanded floor
Looked hungrily up for a bone.
Laughing, the king took his seat at the board,
With his gold-haired queen at his right:
War-men sitting around them roared
Like a crash of the shields in fight.
Loud rose laughter and lusty cheer,
And gleemen sang loud in their throats,
Telling of swords and the whistling spear,
Till their red beards shook with the notes.
Varlets were bringing the smoking boar,
Ladies were pouring the ale,
When the watchmen called from the great hall door:
"O King, on the wind is a wail.
"Feebly the host of the hungry poor
Lift hands at the gate with a cry:
Grizzled and gaunt they come over the moor,
Blasted by earth and sky."
"Ho!" cried the king to the thanes, "make speed--
Carry this food to the gates,
Off with the boar and the cask of mead--
Leave but a loaf on the plates."
Still came a cry from the hollow night:
"King, this is one day's feast;
But days are coming with famine and blight;
Wolf winds howl from the east!"
Hot from the king's heart leaped a deed,
High as his iron crown:
(Noble souls have a deathless need
To stoop to the lowest down.)
"Thanes, I swear by Godde's Bride
This is a cursèd thing--
Hunger for the folk outside,
Gold inside for the king!"
Whirling his war-ax over his head,
He cleft each plate into four.
"Gather them up, O thanes," he said,
"For the work-folk at the door.
"Give them this for the morrow's meat,
Then shall we feast in accord:
Our half of the loaf will then be sweet--
Sweet as the bread of the Lord!"