Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, PRECEPTS OF ALFRED, by ALFRED

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

PRECEPTS OF ALFRED, by            
First Line: There sat, in the town of seaford, / full many a thane and lord
Last Line: "methinks he shall rue it sore!"
Alternate Author Name(s): Alfred The Great
Subject(s): Proverbs; Maxims; Adages

THERE sat, in the town of Seaford,
Full many a thane and lord,
Earls were there, proud in might,
And each one a gallant knight.
There Aelfric, the earl, I saw,
A wise man he, in their law;
And Alfred, too, might ye see,
Shepherd of England he,
Of English men was he king,
And of England was he darling.
His folk would he teach right well
As now ye may hear me tell,
Good counsel he gave, wise rede
How they their lives should lead.


Alfred, he ruled England
As king, with his strong right hand,
He was king, he was clerk as well --
God's Word he loved right well.
Very wise was he in rede,
And wary, too, in his deed:
Wisest was he of men
Who dwelt in England then.


Quoth Alfred, England's king,
For Englishmen's profiting:
"An ye, my folk so dear,
The words of your lord would hear,
Guide ye aright he could
And teach ye things wise and good --
How ye in this world may share
Worship and honour fair,
And yet save your soul, I wis,
And get ye to Christ in bliss."
(Wise was the counselling
Spoken by Alfred the king --)
"Mildly I'ld 'monish here
Ye all, my friends so dear,
(Both rich and poor are ye,
Yet all ye my folk shall be,)
I would that all men here
Our Lord Christ fitly fear,
Love Him, withouten strife,
For He is the Lord of Life;
He is One God in Three,
Good o'er all Goodness He --
Joy, o'er all Joyfulness --
Bliss, o'er all earthly Bliss.
A Man among men shall He be,
The mildest of Masters He;
As Father, this folk He'll guide,
As Comforter, Help provide,
Righteous His Governing --
And so Mighty is He as King
That lack He shall never know --
Nor shall he his will forego
Who fitting honour alway
To God in this world doth pay."


Thus quoth Alfred the king,
For Englishmen's profiting:
"His crown may no king wear
'Neath Christ, nor rule fitly bear,
Save that he learned be
In book-lore, cunningly,
So that his wits, all five,
May thro' his knowledge thrive.
In letters he versed must be,
That he himself may see
How he his land should school,
And hold it in lawful rule."


Thus quoth Alfred the king:
"The earl and the atheling
Under the king they be,
To rule the land lawfully.
The clerk, I ween, and the knight,
Judgment shall give aright,
Equal to poor and rich,
The judgment, for all and each.
For e'en as a man doth sow
That crop, I ween, must he mow,
And each man's doom to his door
Returneth, evermore."


Thus quoth Alfred the king:
"The knight shall this service bring,
To stand upon watch and ward
Wary, the land to guard;
With hunger and harness prest,
That so the Church may have rest,
And the churl abide in peace
To gather his land's increase.
In such wise to sow his seed,
In such wise to mow his mead,
In such wise his plough to drive,
That all men therefrom may thrive.
This is the law of the knight --
See that he hold it aright!"


Thus quoth Alfred the king:
"The man who in youth doth bring
Good will to his fostering,
Is fain to learn wisdom and wit,
And the lore that in books be writ,
I trow in old age, that he
A right good teacher shall be.
But he who in youth doth prove
That for learning he hath small love,
Careth naught for wisdom and wit,
And the lore that in books be writ;
That which he lacked in his youth
His old age shall rue, for sooth.
For old age cometh apace,
And sickness he needs must face,
And his hopes, that full high had been,
To loss are they turned, I ween.
In such wise do they him betray,
In such wise vanish away."


Thus quoth Alfred the king:
"Weal is a worthless thing
Save Wisdom with it it bring;
For tho' a man have and hold
Seventy acres, all told,
And tho' those acres were sown
With good red gold alone,
And that gold should grow, I ween,
As groweth the grass so green,
That man shall, for all his share
Of wealth, none the better fare,
Save friends for himself he win
Ere ever his toil begin;
For naught but a stone is gold
Save a wise man have it in hold."


Thus quoth Alfred the king:
"Youth, be thou 'ware of this thing;
Yield not to sorrowing
Tho' the lot that to thee may fall
Pleasure thee not at all;
And tho' thou shalt hold far less
Than the goods thou would'st fain possess.
For God may give, an He will,
Good, in the stead of Ill,
Weal in the stead of Woe --
Well is he who doth find it so."


Thus quoth Alfred the king,
For Englishmen's profiting: --
"A hard task it is to row
When the salt sea doth 'gainst thee flow;
So is it to labour and toil
If ill fortune thine efforts foil.
He who, in the days of his youth,
So striveth that he, in truth,
May win this world's wealth alway
And so, in his old age, may
Rest, and enjoy his ease,
And eke, with his goods' increase,
Serve God, ere he hence shall go,
His toil he doth well bestow!"


Thus quoth Alfred the king:
"Full many shall think a thing
In which be small profiting;
A man counteth on length of days
But ill Fate him full oft betrays,
For even as he doth find
His life be most to his mind,
That life is he forced to leave
Altho' he full sore may grieve.
For there groweth no herb so good
In meadow, I ween, nor wood,
That the life of a man it may
Prolong to an endless day.
And no man the hour doth know
When he from this world must go;
None knoweth the way of his end,
Or whither he hence shall wend.
The Lord of all Power, I wot,
He casteth and ruleth, our lot,
And God, He alone, doth know
When we from this life must go."


Thus quoth Alfred the king,
For every man's profiting:
"If so be that thou silver and gold,
And the wealth of this world, shalt hold,
Beware lest it so betide
That thy profiting turn to pride.
'T is not from thy sire thou dost own
Thy wealth, 't is from God a loan,
In the hour that His Will is so
Therefrom must we surely go;
This life of ours must we quit
And all that we hold, to wit,
And our foes shall seize and hold
What once to our lot was told,
The treasure we needs must leave --
For us shall they little grieve!"


Thus quoth Alfred the king:
"See not over much trust thou bring
In the tide that floweth fair --
If treasure shall be thy share,
If thou hast money, and more,
Of gold and silver a store,
Yet all may crumble to naught,
To dust may thy wealth be brought --
God liveth, nor waxeth old --
Many a man, for his gold,
Hath won him God's Wrath alway,
And for his silver, such pay
That his soul he at last hath lost --
In such wise must he pay the cost
That 't were better for him, I ween,
If born he had never been."


Thus quoth Alfred the king:
"My folk, give me hearkening;
Since yours it shall be, the need,
I will give unto ye good rede.
Wit and Wisdom, believe me well,
Do all other things excel,
He safe and secure may sit
Who for comrades hath Wisdom and Wit.
For tho' riches may flit away
His Wisdom shall with him stay,
And never that man shall perish
Who Wisdom as friend shall cherish,
But harm shall he from him hold
The while his life-days be told."


Thus quoth Alfred the king:
"An thou goest sorrowing
Then speak it not loud nor low,
But whisper thy saddle-bow,
And ride thence singing away --
So that the folk may say,
(Who little thy thoughts can tell,)
'This life, it pleaseth him well!'
For if sorrow draw to thee near
And thy foeman thereof shall hear
Tho' he pity thee much to thy face
To thy back he will mock thee apace.
Thy grief to a man may'st tell
Who in sooth may wish thee full well,
While another will hear thee complain
And wish thee as much woe again!
Thy sorrow hide well in thine heart
For so it shall bring thee less smart;
The servant should never be told
What the master's heart doth hold."


Thus quoth Alfred the king,
For the husband's profiting:
"An thou seekest a wife, beware;
Choose her not for her face so fair,
Nor for gold, nor for other thing
That she unto thee may bring.
But mark well what her ways may be
For needs must she shew them thee;
He who chooseth wealth, I trow,
Oft findeth evil enow;
And oft, with a face full fair,
Hath he frailty for his share.
Woe to him who an evil wife
Bringeth to share his life,
I ween he shall little thrive
In his time, who shall evil wive.
For she worketh him here on earth
Sorrow in place of mirth;
And many a man doth sing
When his bride he doth homeward bring,
Did he know what he brought, in truth,
He had wept, for sorrow and ruth!"


Thus quoth Alfred the king,
For the husband's profiting:
"See thou be never so mad,
Tho' the wine-cup make thee glad,
As to tell thy wife, loud or still,
All that is in thy will.
For if it should so fall out
That thy foemen were round about,
And that thou had'st made her wroth
With thy words, then, by my troth,
Never, for living thing,
Thou could'st her to silence bring,
Upbraid thee, she would alway,
Thine ill fortune to all display.
Word-mad is woman, I ween,
Her tongue aye too swift hath been,
And rule it, she never may
Tho' such were her will alway!"


Thus quoth Alfred the king,
For the husband's profiting:
"Leisure and pride, alway,
Oft lead a young wife astray;
So that oft she the thing hath done
That were better if left undone.
And yet, I think me, 't were light
Vice and evil to put to flight,
Were she willing to toil and sweat,
And her hand to labour set;
Tho' 't is ill to bow, in the end
The tree breaks that will not bend.
The cat learneth to mouse, I ween,
Where the mother her guide hath been.
But woe to the man who shall let
His wife the mastery get!
For never shall he be heard,
Nor be lord o'er his will and word;
With him shall she sternly deal,
To his woe, and not to his weal,
Of gladness is he forlorn
Whom his wife doth hold in scorn;
As an apple is fair to see
When the taste thereof sour shall be,
So with woman it doth befall --
She is fair in her father's hall,
Sweet to a man's embrace --
And yet she doth bring disgrace.
So full many men there be
Who a-horse be goodly to see,
Yet as friends are worth naught to thee --
Haughty are they upon steed,
And worthless in hour of need."


Thus quoth Alfred the king:
"I rede thee for profiting
That thou be not too swift to heed
Thy wife's counsel, nor follow her rede:
For so that she wroth may be
For word or deed, verily,
She weepeth for angry mood
More oft than for reason good.
She maketh plaint, loud, and still,
But that she may have her will;
She weepeth some other while
Because she would thee beguile;
Solomon saith indeed
That women give evil rede,
Would'st thou her counsel follow
She bringeth thee swift to sorrow.
And as the old song doth say:
'Bubbles rise swift, and swift pass away';
And 't was said by the folk of old:
'Women's counsel is counsel cold.'
And that man doth come to ill
Who is led by a woman's will.
But that a good woman, God wot,
Is a good thing, I doubt it not;
Well for him, who, from out all other,
Shall choose her, and ne'er another."


Thus quoth Alfred the king,
For every man's profiting:
"Full many a man, in thought,
Hath that which small good hath wrought,
That he hath a friend for his share
In the man who speaketh him fair; --
To his face, he doth give him praise,
To his back, he maligneth his ways.
But his wealth, an the truth be told,
A man may the longer hold
If he ever to trust be slow
Where speech doth more swiftly flow.
Then believe not everything
Which thou hearest men to sing,
For of soft speech many shall be
Who would lightly do ill to thee;
Nor canst thou lightly conceive
In what wise he will thee deceive."


Thus quoth Alfred the king,
For every man's profiting:
"By wise saws a man waxeth wise;
With himself, too, his wisdom lies,
For by falsehood, he winneth hate,
And by ill deeds, a worthless state.
For the grasping hand alway
The head must oft forfeit pay.
Keep thee from falsehood's rede,
And shun every evil deed,
And so, where'er thou shalt dwell,
The folk, they shall love thee well.
And of thy neighbour take heed,
For he may be good at need.
If to market or church thou shalt fare
Make to thee friends everywhere;
Whether rich, whether poor, they be,
Of all alike, verily.
Then steadfast and sure thy seat
For abiding, an seem thee meet,
Or secure shalt thou journey still
Thro' the land, an it be thy will."


Thus quoth Alfred the king.
For every man's profiting:
"The wealth that this world hath brought
I ween, it shall turn to naught,
And the treasure a man doth hold
Shall melt into muck and mould.
And our life shall be swiftly past,
But a little space shall it last.
For e'en an it did betide
That a man ruled the world so wide
Yea, and all joys might win
Of the joys that be here within,
Yet neither for gladness nor gold
His life might he longer hold,
But all must be forfeited
When but a few years be sped.
And then shall this earthly bliss
Be turned to bale I wis,
Save that we bend us still
To follow and work Christ's Will.
Now bethink us, and take good heed
Our life in such wise to lead
As Christ in His Word doth tell;
For so may we hope full well
To be honoured by Him alway.
For thus doth Solomon say:
'The man who doth well below
Hereafter reward shall know.'
He leaveth his life behind,
And fareth, reward to find."


Thus quoth Alfred the king,
For every man's profiting:
"I rede thee be ne'er so bold
As to wrangle against a scold;
Nor chide 'gainst a foolish tale
For error shall aye prevail.
And ne'er, an thou wouldst not rue,
Begin to tell tidings new;
And at every freeman's board
Be thou sparing of thy word.
The wise man his task hath done
With few words, and may much have won;
A fool's bolt full soon is shot, --
And I hold him a fool, God wot,
Who sayeth all in his will
When his profit were to be still.
A tongue breaketh bones full oft
Tho' itself be boneless and soft!"


Thus quoth Alfred the king:
"The wise child bliss shall bring
To his father; if so it be
That a bairn be born to thee,
The while he be young and small
Teach him good customs all;
Then, as he shall wax, and grow,
He shall turn his mind thereunto;
And the better shall be his worth
The while he abide on earth.
But if thou shalt let him go
In this world, to and fro,
Ever, both loud and still,
Working but his own will,
Then as the years o'er him roll
Thou shalt him no more control
Than thou rulest death; I trow,
That shall bring thee grief enow --
Oft shall he thy word transgress,
And bring thee to heaviness.
'T were better for thee, I ween,
That born he had never been;
For better an unborn child
Than a son unruly and wild.
The man who the rod doth spare
And letteth his young child fare
In such wise that it beareth the rule,
And he may not teach it, nor school,
When he cometh to years so hoar
Methinks he shall rue it sore!"

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