Arthurian and Grail Poetry

The Calling Of Hengist And Horsa
By John Lesslie Hall

Lo! in legend and lay long we have heard of
The fame of our fathers, folk-leaders mighty,
Eminent earlmen. Oft, gleemen-thanes
All through the ages, excellent song-smiths,
Have sung of the bold and brave and illustrious
Fathers of England from far o'er the waters,
Earls of the eastward, how, oft in their sea-boats,
They sailed from their happy homes on the mainland
Far o'er the flood-deeps, famed, mighty ones,
Westward to Albion, wishing, craving
More honor and glory than ever had come to
Earls of that era. I have ne'er heard of
Men so mighty of muscle and valor,
Earls so eminent, as the atheling-brothers,
Hengist and Horsa, heroes of Anglia,
Lords of the mainland. The lay of the gleeman
Is full of their fame. Far 'mid the races,
The minstrel's song, swelling to heavenward,
Tells of the splendid, spacious, audacious
Deeds of those daring, doughty, invincible
Fathers of freedom who fared o'er the waters
Hither to England, and here builded them
A kingdom so mighty that men cannot shake it,
And hell cannot take it. These high-hearted, eminent
Earls of the mainland, eager for glory,
Were feasting, carousing in their far-away, sea-washed
Home in the billows: blithe were the sea-kings,
Beer was abundant. Their beakers lifted they,
Lustily shouting: the sheen-bright, delicious
Drink of good heroes they drained merrily
From cups that were brimming, from bumpers adorned
By the art of the graver. 'Mid all of the races,
Kindreds and folks, few had not heard of
Wihtgils's sons, Woden's great-grandsons,
Hengist and Horsa, heroes distinguished,
Land-chiefs belovèd. Lavish of treasures,
They feasted and shouted far over the waters,
East over the ocean, where Anglians and Jutemen
And men of the Saxons, mighty, dauntless,
Royalest of races, were reared 'mid the billows,
Founders of freedom. There flowed in abundance
The dear-lovèd mead, mellow, delicious
Cheer-drink of heroes: high was the glee,
The bright cups clattered. Clear to the welkin
Sang then the singer the sweet, heart-cheering,
Most winsome of melodies men ever listened to,
Heroes under heaven. I have heard never
'Neath arch of the ether of earls gladsomer,
Of men merrier with music and laughter
And song of the gleeman. Sang he exultingly,
In hall and in bower, to hero and maiden,
Of the daring deeds done by their fathers,
Of mighty marvels of muscle and valor
Wrought by their forefathers, far-famous heroes and
Athelings of old. Earls, hero-thanes
Harked to the harper. The high-mooded troopers
Lifted their lances and lustily bellowed,
Clattered and clanged them, clashing and crashing
Their shields and their shafts, shouting, yelling,
So great was their glee; good were their folk-lords,
Their liegelords belovèd were lavish of jewels;
Beer was abundant, and beakers were foaming
And bumpers were brimming; the benches did rattle,
Loud was the laughter. -- Then the lady Rowena,
Wavy-haired, winsome, well-lovèd daughter
Of Hengist the atheling, entered the mead-hall;
With jewels unnumbered, the gem-brilliant maiden
Glittered and glimmered and glinted resplendently,
Star-like did sparkle, as stately, decorous
She came through the building. The brothers were seated,
Hero by hero, high on the dais,
Famed folk-leaders. Fondly Hengist, then,
Greeted his daughter: down by her father
She sat on the settle, sweet, elf-lovely,
Curly-locked lady. The lay of the gleeman, then,
Sounded sonorous, swelled like a chorus,
Rising to skyward; the scop's clear strains,
The harp's sweet harmony, heavenward mounted,
Merry their mood: of men under heaven
There is none wise enough to know or to dream
What Wyrd the weaver willeth to bring him
Of good or of ill: to each happeneth
Of weal or of woe what Wyrd appointeth him:
She is supreme. There passed, then, a liegeman
Where Hengist and Horsa, high-mooded kinsmen,
Bold, battle-fierce, their beakers were tasting,
Spake with decorum, came with his message then,
Door-warden doughty: "Dear lovèd leaders,
There are come to our coast, craving to see ye,
Eager and anxious earlmen from Albion's
Far-away shores, have fared o'er the water-ways,
Came o'er the currents, craving to see the
Belovèd lords of the lands of the Saxons,
Whose fame, they say, hath afar and awide been
Borne on the breezes that blow to that far-land
West o'er the waters. They wish and do beg ye
That ye famous folk-leaders will fain grant them
A hearing to have now." Hengist replied, then,
Offspring of Woden: "Etheldrith dear,
Excellent earlman, hast thou asked these wanderers
What led them to leave their land and their kindred
Far o'er the ocean, and out on the waters
Boldly to battle the blustering currents,
Sailing the seas?" Said then Etheldrith,
Door-warden doughty: "I doubt not the sleepless,
Watchful and dauntless ward of the sea-coast
Questioned them coming, as his custom is ever
To stand on the strand striding his charger,
Curly-maned courser." Quoth then Hengist,
Wihtgils's son: "Safely then lead them,
Excellent Etheldrith, in to the building
While bumpers are brimming; bid them to enter the
Hall of good heroes." High on the dais, then,
Sat the two brothers; blithe were the earlmen,
Doughty and daring: of death, horrible
Robber and reaver, recked then but little
The far-famed, unflinching, fearless, invincible
Earlmen of Anglia. All was yet joyous,
Happy was Horsa: for him was not done then
The weaving of woe that Wyrd, the mighty one,
Winds as she will for world-folk and races,
Children of men. -- Mindful of courtesy,
Etheldrith came in to the wine-hall,
Bringing the messengers, men of the waters,
Earls of the ocean. The excellent liegemen
And kinsmen of Hengist and Horsa were feasting;
Singing their songs, sat they carousing,
Gladsome, gleeful. Gaily shouted they,
Sorrow they knew not. The sons of the athelings,
Brave-hearted battle-thanes, were blithely quaffing the
Luscious and mellow mead that was flowing
In beaker embossed and bumper ycarven
By art of the craftsman. All their equipments,
Armor and arms, did the earlmen of Albion
Early do off, entered the building,
The wide-famed wassail-hall; with welcome were greeted
By many an Anglian as ale-cups were passing. --
Ludwell discoursed, a lord of the Britons,
Earlman of Albion: "Ye earth-famous brothers,
Hengist and Horsa, heroes of Saxony,
Fair-haired, far-renowned folk-leaders mighty,
Hearken our message. Hither the currents,
The billows of ocean brought us uninjured,
Bold in our barks, braving the waters,
The seething surges, sent, sped upon
Errand most urgent, asking the mighty and
Far-famous, fearless, fierce-mooded, dauntless
Hengist and Horsa to help us to conquer the
Direful, devilish demons and monsters
That, night and day, never relenting,
Dog and pursue us, devils from hell,
Fiercest of foemen." Furious-mooded
Hengist, then, answered: "Hear when I tell ye
That Wyrd all-wise willingly helpeth
The undaunted earl if doughty his spirit!
Go ye then back; bear to your people
This message from Hengist, men of the westward,
That death is dearer to the dauntless hero
Than infamous life is." Ludwell replied,
Prince of the Britons: "Bravest of warriors,
High-mooded Hengist, hearken, we beg thee.
We are kinsmen and vassals of Vortigern mighty,
King of the Kentmen. We came at his bidding
To pray that your troopers, with ye two as leaders,
The brave-hearted, battle-true barons of Saxony,
Will lend us their aid, our land and dear ones
To defend from the furious, fiery, implacable
Fiends of the north. Foemen oppress us,
Cruelly harry us, killing and slaying us:
Men of the Picts painted and horrible,
Those grim, grisly and ghastly destroyers,
From the north swooping are sacking and burning
Our hedges and homesteads, heedless of pity,
Fell, fierce-mooded. And from far o'er the waters
Men of the Scots, mighty and cruel,
Grind us to powder; greedy of plunder,
They rob and ravage, ruthless and savage
Demons and devils. Dear hero-knights,
Wide-famous war-leaders, will ye not hearken
Our mournful entreaties? Our true-hearted liegelord,
The wielder of Kentmen, well will requite ye,
Vortigern the king will care for and grant you
Gifts as gracious as good he bestoweth
Free from his hand." Hengist the chieftain
Laughed then loudly, land-prince distinguished,
Said then smilingly: "Meseemeth 't were better
That your king grapple and gird on his weapons,
His armor and arms, his excellent falchion,
And lead out his loyal liegemen and vassals
To fight for their homes, than hide in his palace
In shameless deeds, shaking with terror,
Meek 'mid his maidens: many have told us
He slinks like a sluggard. But say, good Ludwell,
What aileth Albion's earlmen and princes
To weep, wailing like women and children,
And flee from the foemen? Your fathers of old
Were brave as the bear. With bosoms undaunted
They looked for the legions that long had been winning
Wars o'er the waters, waded to sea-ward
Meeting the foeman. Much have your people
Failed of their fame. Folk-leaders worthy,
Hasten ye homeward hence in your vessel,
Safe in your sea-boat, say to your liegelord
That heroes of Anglia heeded your message and
Will send you assistance. The seas angrily
Foam in their fury; far is the journey,
Dire the danger: if we dare to adventure
Crossing the currents, our keels imperilling,
Far from fatherland, facing the billows
That roar and tumble and toss and rumble,
Where the wind northeast, icicle-laden
Fiercely doth whistle, -- if we face the great tempests
Bringing you aid, offer ye nothing
Our kindness requiting? Will the king of the Kentmen
Gladly give to us gold in abundance,
Shepherd of peoples, will shower upon us
Gems and jewels, your generous-mooded
Liegelord belovèd?" Ludwell rejoined,
Earlman of Albion: "Eastward of Kent,
Off in the ocean is the island of Thanet,
The loveliest of lands that are lapped by the billows,
Winsomest of isles of all engirdled
In the wash of the waves, water-encircled,
Fairest of places. This fain, gratefully,
We'll grant you to hold as home-land and country
Forever and ever, excellent-mooded
Lords of the Saxons; and lavish of treasures
We'll fee your dear troopers, if ye fare hitherward
And help us to hurl these horrible, cruel
Demons and devils to their dens in the northland
And west o'er the waters." "Well have ye spoken,"
Hengist exclaimed; "we will come early now,
Braves of the Britons, and bring you assistance,
Soon o'er the sea-deeps. You may say, strangers,
That Hengist and Horsa, the high-mooded, dauntless
Kings of the creeks, will climb on their vessels with
Many a daring, doughty, unflinching
Sea-dog and viking, and seek for the beautiful,
Wide-famous, winsome, well-lovèd, down-trodden
Island of Albion. Not any of foemen
Ever hath daunted us. On all the waters
We have stretched under heaven our standards and banners.
The ocean is ours; the isles of the sea
Bow to our bidding and bring us their treasure
Of grain and of gold. Gleeful, fearless,
We ride on the rivers, racing and chasing
The fleets of the foe. Fare ye then homeward,
Back to dear Albion; bid them to turn their
Eyes to the eastward." Off then they hastened
Forth on the flood-ways, far to the westward,
Hying them home. The harp's sweet music
They heard on the air. The earls of the Anglians,
Their cups draining, drank as they hearkened:
Sweet was the song; sang then the harper
Gladly his gleesongs, gave forth his music
Proudly, exultantly. His praise lavished he,
Singing the story of the exceeding glory
Of earlmen of old, athelings, mighty ones,
Sons of the gods, scions of Woden;
Urged the brave earlmen ever to mind them
From whence sprang they; sped them on their journey,
Urged them to Albion, isle of the sea-foam,
Land all lovely with leaves, blossoms,
Forests and flowers, fairest and winsomest
Island that ocean ever embraceth,
Bountiful, beauteous; bade them possess it.