Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE GREENWOOD SHRIFT; GEORGE III AND A DYING WOMAN IN WINDSOR FOREST, by ROBERT SOUTHEY



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THE GREENWOOD SHRIFT; GEORGE III AND A DYING WOMAN IN WINDSOR FOREST, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Outstretched beneath the leafy shade
Last Line: Knelt their anointed king.
Subject(s): England; George Iii, King Of England (1738-1820); Religion; Windsor Forest, England; English; Theology


OUTSTRETCHED beneath the leafy shade
Of Windsor forest's deepest glade,
A dying woman lay;
Three little children round her stood,
And there went up from the greenwood
A woful wail that day.
"O mother!" was the mingled cry,
"O mother, mother! do not die,
And leave us all alone."
"My blessed babes!" she tried to say,
But the faint accents died away
In a low sobbing moan.
And then, life struggled hard with death,
And fast and strong she drew her breath,
And up she raised her head;
And, peering through the deep wood maze
With a long, sharp, unearthly gaze,
"Will she not come?" she said.
Just then, the parting boughs between,
A little maid's light form was seen,
All breathless with her speed;
And, following close, a man came on
(A portly man to look upon),
Who led a panting steed.
"Mother!" the little maiden cried,
Or e'er she reached the woman's side,
And kissed her clay-cold cheek, --
"I have not idled in the town,
But long went wandering up and down,
The minister to seek.
"They told me here, they told me there, --
I think they mocked me everywhere;
And when I found his home,
And begged him on my bended knee
To bring his book and come with me,
Mother! he would not come.
"I told him how you dying lay,
And could not go in peace away
Without the minister;
I begged him, for dear Christ his sake,
But O, my heart was fit to break, --
Mother! he would not stir.
"So, though my tears were blinding me,
I ran back, fast as fast could be,
To come again to you;
And here -- close by -- this squire I met,
Who asked (so mild) what made me fret;
And when I told him true, --
"'I will go with you, child,' he said,
'God sends me to this dying bed,' --
Mother, he's here, hard by."
While thus the little maiden spoke,
The man, his back against an oak,
Looked on with glistening eye.
The bridle on his neck hung free,
With quivering flank and trembling knee,
Pressed close his bonny bay;
A statelier man, a statelier steed,
Never on greensward paced, I rede,
Than those stood there that day.
So, while the little maiden spoke,
The man, his back against an oak,
Looked on with glistening eye
And folded arms, and in his look
Something that, like a sermon-book,
Preached, -- " All is vanity."
But when the dying woman's face
Turned toward him with a wishful gaze,
He stepped to where she lay;
And, kneeling down, bent over her,
Saying, "I am a minister,
My sister! let us pray!"
And well, withouten book or stole,
(God's words were printed on his soul!)
Into the dying ear
He breathed, as 't were an angel's strain,
The things that unto life pertain,
And death's dark shadows clear.
He spoke of sinners' lost estate,
In Christ renewed, regenerate, --
Of God's most blest decrees
That not single soul should die
Who turns repentant, with the cry
"Be merciful to me."
He spoke of trouble, pain, and toil,
Endured but for a little while
In patience, faith, and love, --
Sure, in God's own good time, to be
Exchanged for an eternity
Of happiness above.
Then, as the spirit ebbed away,
He raised his hands and eyes to pray
That peaceful it might pass;
And then -- the orphans' sobs alone
Were heard, and they knelt, every one,
Close round on the green grass.
Such was the sight their wandering eyes
Beheld, in heart-struck, mute surprise,
Who reined their coursers back,
Just as they found the long astray,
Who, in the heat of chase that day,
Had wandered from their track.
But each man reined his pawing steed,
And lighted down, as if agreed,
In silence at his side;
And there, uncovered all, they stood, --
It was a wholesome sight and good
That day for mortal pride.
For of the noblest of the land
Was that deep-hushed, bareheaded band;
And, central in the ring,
By that dead pauper on the ground,
Her ragged orphans clinging round,
Knelt their anointed king.




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