Arthurian and Grail Poetry

The Lady Rowena
By John Lesslie Hall

Few were the months ere foes numberless
At the seashore's sands savagely harassed
The king of the Kentmen. The cruel, blood-thirsty
Men of the Picts minded but little, then,
Foes from the northland, how the fair-haired, dauntless
Earlmen of Anglia ever intrepidly
Hewed them with edges, aiding the Kentmen,
But hied southwardly, ceased not their ravenous
Sacking and hacking. Soon was it told to the
Woe-begone king, the womanish, white-livered
Liegelord of Albion, that his earlmen and vassals,
Scorning him bitterly, would bring them a king
From the southward and westward, a war-mooded leader
Who dauntless and doughty would drive him away
From kingdom and country. He called terror-struck
(His heart was so heavy) for Hengist, far-famous
Earl of the Angles, urged him to help them
As erst he had done, eagerly promised
To give and to grant him gifts abundantly,
All he might ask of him. East o'er the waters,
O'er the surging, seething, sea-currents foaming,
Sent, then, Hengist for Saxons and Angles
And Jutemen and Frisians, folk of the mainland,
Most venturous-mooded of vikings and pirates
That sailed o'er the sea-deeps: soon, messengers
Reached the brave races. Readily, eagerly,
Heard the good heroes that Hengist had bidden them
Come o'er the waters; and there came then rejoicing
Earls of the east eager for glory
And thirsting for fame. Far o'er the waters,
O'er the waves westward, winds from the northward
Fanned then their foam-throated, far-dashing vessels
O'er the curve of the currents: the cliffs and headlands
Of beautiful Albion beckoned them onward
Far o'er the flood-deeps. Fond-loving comrades
Of the good days of old, eager to meet them,
Hied then to greet them: hearth-companions,
Kinsmen and brethren, came then joyfully,
Blithely embraced them, and bade them to tell of
The land and loved ones left o'er the waters
Far to the northward; of friends, kindred
And own dear fatherland fondly inquired they,
Asked then eagerly, earlman of earlman,
One of the other. -- Early anon,
They bound to the shore the barks of the athelings
Eighteen beautiful birds of the water
Close by the coast, cabled them tightly,
Fastened them firmly, lest the flood of the tide
Should sweep out to seaward the swans of the ocean,
Or the shattering shoals should shiver and crush the
Barks that had brought their brethren and comrades
Safe o'er the sea-deeps. -- Sweetest to Hengist
Of all that had come o'er the cup of the billows,
O'er the mingling of waters, westward and southward,
Was the lady Rowena, the lovely, beautiful,
Gem-brilliant maiden, jewel and darling
Of Hengist the hero: the harp and the gleeman
Have sung for ages the elf-bright folk-maiden's
Beauty and loveliness. Broad her renown is;
Forever and ever England shall honor her
As first of her fair-haired, fond-lovèd myriads
Of beautiful maidens, mothers and daughters
And sisters of heroes: the sweet-toned harp,
Joy-wood belovèd, long shall continue
To sing her glory in saga and story,
Lovely, illustrious lady Rowena,
Leading the line of belovèd, winsome
Women of England, elf-brightest, purest
Of mothers and maidens that men ever sought for
Of earls ever fought for; then ever-belovèd
Hilda the holy, handmaid of Heaven,
Eminent virgin; Ethelfleda
Lady of Mercia, mighty, fearless,
Queenly, kingly, conquering heroine,
Sister and daughter and darling of heroes
And known of all England; the excellent folk-lady,
Godiva the gracious, glory-encircled
And honored forever, who, to aid her dear liegemen,
With body all bare (but her bountiful hair)
As a robe fell around her) rode through the borough,
While here leal, true-hearted troopers and thanemen
Hid in their houses with hearts that were thankful,
Shunning to shame her; the sheen-bright twain
Edith entitled, each famous in
Legend and lay of lands numberless,
High-hearted, sweet-mooded, song-famous maidens,
Honored of England. Not e'er hath been told me
Of any more goodly and gracious in spirit,
More eminent folk-queen, than Edith the gold-adorned
Peace-weaver pure, who passed the wild-dashing
Ocean-ways angry to Otto the mighty's
Spacious dominions, splendid and far-famed,
Where, gleaming with jewels, the gem-brilliant maiden,
Sweetest of virgins, sister of Athelstan,
Was Otto the atheling's honored, distinguished,
Dear lovèd wife, till death departed them,
Till she laid down her life-joys. Then the Lord's dear virgin,
Edith the pure, angel-white, holy
Handmaid of Heaven, whose heart in her childhood
Turned from the tawdry trifles and honors
Of rank and of riches, resting, abiding
In God and His glory; gladly forsaking
The wealth and the worhip of a well-lovèd daughter
Of an earthly king, to earn the proud title
Of a child of God, great, almighty
Ruler of heaven. -- Hengist discoursed, then;
The crafty, cunning, clever war-hero,
Earl of the Anglians, opened his word-treasure,
Spake to the king then: "Come now, I beg thee,
Lord of the Kentmen; look with thine eyes on the
Beauteous buildings and brave liegemen-thanes
Of Hengist and Horsa. High heavenward
We have builded a beauteous beer-hall and palace,
Of halls handsomest heroes e'er revel in,
Splendid, spacious, sparkling with rarest
Jewels and gems, joy-hall of heroes;
Come thou and see it." Soon, then, Vortigern,
Folk-lord of Albion, fared with the hero
O'er the waters of Wantsum to the wassailing-building,
Mead-hall resplendent: men of that era
Not ever had seen, nor even had heard of
Hall-building grander. Glad was Hengist,
The artful and eager earl of the mainland
Was merry in mood, then; he minded to win him
No little of land from the lecherous, treacherous
King of the Kentmen. The clever, eagle-eyed
Earlmen of Thanet, thanemen of Hengist,
Watched the two folk-lords; well might they reckon
That Hengist and Horsa and heroes that gladly
Served them as liegemen not long would content them
With land of the island out in the waters,
But early would ask for acres unnumbered
And Kent as a kingdom. Came, then, the twain,
Hengist and Vortigern, the hall-building seeking,
Joy of the Jutemen. Jewel-bedighted,
Gold-adorned, gleaming, the glorious building,
Hall of good heroes, high in the ether rose
Spacious and splendid, sparkling, glimmering
Wide o'er the water-ways. Well 't was builded,
Fastened most firmly. Folk of that era
Not e'er had beheld, not ever had heard of
Building so beautiful, beer-hall and palace
So high under heaven. Hugely 't was fashioned;
Sturdy and stout it stood in the borough
Delightsome to liegemen; late and early the
Thanemen of Thanet thither did hie them
For gifts and for glee. Glad, bright-hearted,
Feasted the earlmen: ale-vessels clattered,
Beer was abundant; blithe were the heroes,
Sorrow they knew not. -- Ne'er had Vortigern
In all of Albion, in east or in west,
In north or in south, seen or heard tell of
Mead-hall so mighty. The muscle and skill
And brawn of great builders had bravely, stoutly
Fashioned and finished it, fairest, strongest of
Halls under heaven. Hengist and Vortigern
Entered then in; up on the dais
Side by side, then, sat the two folk-lords,
Land-rulers friendly. Faithful they yet were
Each to the other: what after should happen
Only Wyrd the wise wist in her counsels;
She told it to none. Troopers of Hengist,
Dearest of hearth-friends, hastened to benchward:
Lief and loyal liegemen and vassals
Of the far-famed, eminent folk-lord of Thanet
Bent to the benches; beakers clanged, then,
Platters clattered, crackled and rattled,
The hall resounded; heroes a-laughing
Drained, then, their beakers. Boastingly, Hengist,
Lord of the island, opened his word-hoard,
Spake after custom: "Kinsmen, liegemen,
Thanemen of Thanet, thanks offer I
Odin and Thor for all they have granted
Me and the heroes that hither followed me
O'er the waves westward. Well I remember
The days of my youth: no younker on earth was
More daring and doughty. Down from the north
O'er the seas sailed I southward, westward,
Greedy of glory; greatly I thirsted
For fame 'mid the races. My father gave me then
Homeralaf1, handsome, splendid old
Ring-sword radiant, richest of weapons,
Hugest and heaviest of hand-works of giants
Of ages of yore. I easily brandished it,
Fame-deeds performing, fought as a hero in
Many a far-land. Men of the southland
Often did seek to sieze, grapple my
Far-famous weapon: I fiercely resisted them,
And dealt them their death-blows. I dared as a stripling on
Countless adventures. Vortigern, the Kentman,
Heard of my fame in his far-away island
Off in the ocean: the excellent folk-lord
Was glad when he saw me sail to his land
To fight with his foemen. I have fought with the dreaded,
Hated and horrible hordes that are pouring in
Down from the north, the numberless, slumberless,
Pitiless Picts, painted demon-like,
And the merciless Scots: we merrily scattered them
Back to their caverns. I carved, slivered them With Homeralaf1: he helped me cheerfully,
Brave-hearted battle-sword." The boasting of Hengist
Pleased the good earlmen; exultingly laughed they,
Their shields shaking, shouted sonorously;
They loved the good leader who had led them to battle
O'er land and o'er sea, and said to each other
That neither south nor north, in the circuit of waters,
Was there better or braver battle-folk leader
Than Hengist, earth-famous ocean-king, land-chief,
Ruler of races. I rarely have heard of
Gifts goodlier given by liegelord
To excellent earlmen 'neath arch of the heavens
Than Hengist the good one gave to his earls in the
Banqueting-building. The bountiful liegelord,
Mighty men-ruler, commanded his thanes, then,
Jewels to fetch there, gems in abundance,
The red-gold ring, the radiant, glittering
Collar and bracelet; and for battle-equipments
The burnished and beautiful byrnie and helmet
And chased-handle chain-sword, choicest of weapons.
Fain and freely, the folk-lord of Thanet
Lavished his gifts on liegemen and kinsmen
With abundance of bounty: the brave-hearted earl was
Beloved of his thanemen. The lord of the Kentmen
Was meetly remembered, as men of that day were
Mindful of etiquette. The island-chief bade them,
Brave battle-leader, bear to king Vortigern
The gold-twisted torque he had torn from the neck of a
Prince of the Picts that he pierced in the battle
And slivered in slices. Soon, the bright-gleaming,
Radiant, wreathèd, rich-carvèd jewel
His neck encircled: serpents of gold
Clasped the bright collar. -- Then the queenly Rowena
Entered the building: the elf-lovely maiden
Glittered and glimmered with gold-work resplendent
And rings the richest, and her robe sparkled with
Gems and jewels. Joyously, hero-thanes
Marked the dear maiden, as, mindful of etiquette,
On to the dais the daughter of Hengist
Stately proceeded, stood near her father,
Dearest of daughters. The decorous-mooded,
Beautiful virgin bore in her hand, then,
The choicest of chalices, chased, embellished
With gravings of gold, goodly and precious
Heirloom of ages, all over engraven with
Writings of rune, radiant, sheen-bright
Ale-cup of old. The excellent maiden,
Most lovely of ladies, her lip-treasure opened,
Spake with decorum: "Quaff this beaker,
Leader belovèd, liegelord, chieftain
Of battle-thanes brave. Be thou forever
Honored of earthmen while ocean surroundeth
The blustering bluffs." The beaker he took, then,
Far-famous hero, held to his lips
And lustily drank of the luscious and mellow,
Honey-sweet liquor; handed the bumper, then,
Back to the maiden, the mead-cup of heroes
Again to the gold-adorned, gracious, belovèd
Lady Rowena. Went she, anon,
Where the excellent-mooded earlmen of Hengist,
Kinsmen-comrades, were quaffing joyously
Bumpers and beakers, bare the bright cup to
All the dear earlmen elder and younger,
Greater and lesser, graciously tendered it
To one and to all: they each tasted, then,
Drank of the mead-cup. The dear-lovèd lady,
Fair maid of Anglia, early proceeded,
Stately advanced, where Vortigern ogling her
Sat on the dais, said to the folk-king,
"Wes hael2, O King!" handed the cup to
The liegelord of Albion: answered the Kentman,
"Drinc hael2, drinc hael2," and heartily drank of
The luscious, delicious, liquor of heroes
That frothy and flaky foamed in the silvery,
Beautiful beaker. The bowl quaffed he,
And kissed the most comely, queenly of maidens,
The lovely, illustrious lady Rowena,
Would fain possess the fair-haired, sweet-mouthed,
Dear-lovèd damsel, daughter of Hengist,
Not long to delay (he little remembered
The wife he was wedded to), wished not to tarry,
Longed for the lady, lecherous, treacherous
Beast-king of Kentmen. Crafty, artful,
Hengist of Anglia, eagle-eyed folk-leader,
Laughed in his spirit: he sped well in the
Snare he had set for the simple, lecherous
Lord of the Kentmen. He looked at the king, then,
Beer-fuddled, simpering, saw how he ogled the
Sweetest of maidens. Said, then, Hengist
Wihtgils's son (war-heroes hearkened,
Liegemen-thanes listened): "Lord of the Kentmen,
Good king Vortigern, the kissing of maidens
Is a crime in the lands that lie o'er the waters,
Off to the east of you. Earls of the mainland
Might mulct thee heavily, save haply the honor
Of kissing a king should count as atoning
For lapse in the law. The lady Rowena
Shall early be off to her own dear fatherland,
Far o'er the flood-deeps, where folk-law shieldeth her
From high and from low." Loud, vehemently,
The king of the Kentmen cried, then, to Hengist
(Eager his love was): "Earl of the Saxons,
Give me the gracious, goodly, beautiful
Rowena to wife; and I well will requite thee,
Liegelord of Thanet. There are left me a-many
Other good islands off in the waters
For excellent earlmen." Answered, then, Hengist,
Artful, crafty one: "Nay,
I will not barter
My heart's dear jewel for hundreds of islands
Off in the waters. My word hath been given
A prince of the Frisians, a folk-lord eminent,
Who hath wished her to wife as a weaver-of-peace
'Twixt Frisians and Anglians. My honor is plighted,
I swore on my sword." So spake Hengist, then,
Most artful of athelings: eager, vehement
Vortigern cried then: "Kent is the fairest
Of lands under heaven. Let the dear maiden,
Gracious, winsome, gladden and cheer me
As my beauteous bride, and I blithely will grant thee
This kingdom and country to keep and govern
Forever and ever: aid me in holding
What yet shall remain to me." Yelled, then, Hengist
(The guest-building groaned): "Good is the promise,
Take care that thou keep it. Kent, then, is mine, now,
To have and to hold. Haste with the maiden
West over Wantsum: my word hath been given,
Freya hath heard me. I will help thee to conquer
Thy fell-mooded foemen." Forth, quickly then
Vortigern led the virgin belovèd,
The peerless, precious princess Rowena,
Delayed not nor lingered: his love was so eager
He cared not for kingdoms. The carles of the Anglicans
Reveled in riot, carousing, shouting,
Bellowed like oxen while bucklers and lances
Were banging and clanging. A brave battle-thane
Who sat at the feet of the folk-lord of Thanet
Held in his hand a horn brimming with
Earl-cheering ale, urged the dear heroes
To hearken and hear him: "Health to the mighty
Odin and Thor and all the good gods that
Help the brave hero; and health, wealth to the
Great-grandson of Odin, eminent, far-famous
Hengist of Kentland." Cups, bumpers were
Drained to the drop. They drank lustily,
Shouting gustily: good was the mead, then,
Heroes were happy. The harp's sweet music,
Clear song of the singer, swelled to the welkin,
Joy-wood of heroes. A henchman-ministrel,
Gleeman of Hengist, heartily sounded his
Liegelord's praises, as lightly he struck the
Sweetest of melodies. The mead-building echoed
With mirth and with music, the merry, melodious
Lay the gleeman. Gladly liegemen
Heard of their folk-lord's far-famous, mighty
Deeds of renown; how his name was dreaded
In all earth-regions, where ocean with billows
Washes the shingly shores and the edges
Of lands without number. The lord of the Anglians,
Hengist the hero, his harp-strings touched, then,
Glee-wood of heroes; gay-mooded sang
In measure and melody. The merry, glad-hearted
Liegemen of Hengist lifted their voices
In tumultuous chime, marking the rime
With clanging and clanking and clatter of lances,
Brave-hearted thanemen. Blithely sang he,
The giver of rings gustily chanted,
Offspring of Odin, eminent folk-leader:
"Hail, ye good heroes, henchmen, kinsmen,
Liegemen belovèd! The land of the Kentmen
Is eager to greet you: go and possess it
Forever and ever. To Odin and Thor
And all the good gods that guided us hitherward,
The thanks of us all ever be rendered,
Gods of the northland; but glory forever
To Homeralaf1, belovèd, faithful
Heirloom of ages:
I will e'er give him
Thanks and praises, for he proved in the battle
Most mighty of helpers. Hear when I tell you
That 't was my dear sword that safely hath brought us
Through thick and through thin: thank him forever,
Best of all battle-swords." The banquet was over,
Feasting was finished: folk-earls of Thanet
Hastened then homeward, the hall-building left,
Excellent ale-hall. They early were ready
To cross ov'er the current, where Kent in the westward,
Of lands liefest, longed for good heroes
To earn and possess her and ever to bless her.



FOOTNOTES

1 Homeralaf The final a in this word in the original text has a macron above it.
2hael The ae in this word in the original text has a macron above it.