Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, A BALLAD, SHEWING HOW AN OLD WOMAN RODE DOUBLE AND WHO RODE BEFORE HER, by ROBERT SOUTHEY



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A BALLAD, SHEWING HOW AN OLD WOMAN RODE DOUBLE AND WHO RODE BEFORE HER, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: The raven croak'd as she sat at her meal
Last Line: Started and screamed with fear.
Variant Title(s): The Old Woman Of Berkeley
Subject(s): Devil; Exorcism; Old Age; Prayer; Sin; Singing & Singers; Women; Satan; Mephistopheles; Lucifer; Beelzebub


FROM A STORY RELATED BY OLAUS MAGNUS.

THE raven croak'd as she sat at her meal,
And the old woman knew what he said,
And she grew pale at the raven's tale,
And sicken'd and went to her bed.

Now fetch me my children, and fetch them with speed,
The old woman of Berkeley said,
The monk my son, and my daughter the nun,
Bid them hasten, or I shall be dead.

The monk her son, and her daughter the nun,
Their way to Berkeley went,
And they have brought with pious thought
The holy sacrament.

The old woman shriek'd as they entered her door.
'Twas fearful her shrieks to hear,
Now take the sacrament away
For mercy, my children dear!

Her lip it trembled with agony,
The sweat ran down her brow,
I have tortures in store for evermore,
Oh! spare me my children now!

Away they sent the sacrament,
The fit it left her weak,
She look'd at her children with ghastly eyes
And faintly struggled to speak.

All kind of sin I have rioted in,
And the judgment now must be,
But I secured my children's souls,
Oh! pray my children for me.

I have suck'd the breath of sleeping babes,
The fiends have been my slaves,
I have nointed myself with infant's fat,
And feasted on rifled graves.

And the Devil will fetch me now in fire
My witchcrafts to atone,
And I who have rifled the dead man's grave
Shall never have rest in my own.

Bless I intreat my winding sheet,
My children I beg of you!
And with holy water sprinkle my shroud,
And sprinkle my coffin too.

And let me be chain'd in my coffin of stone,
And fasten it strong I implore
With iron bars, and with three chains
Chain it to the church floor.

And bless the chains and sprinkle them,
And let fifty priests stand round,
Who night and day the mass may say
Where I lie on the ground.

And see that fifty choristers
Beside the bier attend me,
And day and night by the taper's light
With holy hymns defend me.

Let the church bells all both great and small
Be toll'd by night and day,
To drive from thence the fiends who come
To bear my body away.

And ever have the church door barr'd
After the even song,
And I beseech you, children dear,
Let the bars and bolts be strong.

And let this be three days and nights
My wretched corpse to save,
Keep me so long from the fiendish throng
And then I may rest in my grave.

The old woman of Berkeley laid her down,
And her eyes grew deadly dim,
Short came her breath and the struggle of death
Did loosen every limb

They blessed the old woman's winding sheet
With rites and prayers due,
With holy water they sprinkled her shroud
And they sprinkled her coffin too.

And they chain'd her in her coffin of stone,
And with iron barr'd it down,
And in the church with three strong chains
They chain'd it to the ground.

And they blest the chains and sprinkled them,
And fifty priests stood round,
By night and day the mass to say
Where she lay on the ground.

And fifty sacred choristers
Beside the bier attend her,
Who day and night by the taper's light
Should with holy hymns defend her.

To see the priests and choristers
It was a goodly sight
Each holding, as it were a staff,
A taper burning bright.

And the church bells all, both great and small,
Did toll so loud and long,
And they have barr'd the church door hard,
After the even song.

And the first night the tapers' light
Burnt steadily and clear,
But they without a hideous rout
Of angry fiends could hear;

A hideous roar at the church door,
Like a long thunder peal,
And the priests they pray'd and the choristers sung
Louder in fearful zeal.

Loud toll'd the bell, the priests pray'd well,
The tapers they burnt bright,
The monk her son, and her daughter the nun,
They told their beads all night.

The cock he crew, away they flew,
The fiends from the herald of day,
And undisturb'd the choristers sing,
And the fifty priests they pray.

The second night the tapers' light
Burnt dismally and blue,
And every one saw his neighbour's face
Like a dead man's face to view.

And yells and cries without arise
That the stoutest heart might shock,
And a deafening roar like a cataract pouring
Over a mountain rock.

The monk and nun they told their beads,
As fast as they could tell,
And aye as louder grew the noise
The faster went the bell.

Louder and louder the choristers sung
As they trembled more and more,
And the fifty priests pray'd to Heaven for aid,–
They never had pray'd so before.

The cock he crew, away they flew
The fiends from the herald of day,
And undisturb'd the choristers sing,
And the fifty priests they pray.

The third night came, and the tapers' flame
A hideous stench did make,
And they burnt as though they had been dipt
In the burning brimstone lake.

And the loud commotion, like the rushing of ocean,
Grew momently more and more,
And strokes as of a battering ram
Did shake the strong church door,

The bellmen they for very fear
Could toll the bell no longer,
And still as louder grew the strokes
Their fear it grew the stronger.

The monk and nun forgot their beads,
They fell on the ground dismay'd,
There was not a single saint in heaven
Whom they did not call to aid.

And the choristers' song, that late was so strong,
Grew a quaver of consternation,
For the church did rock, as an earthquake shock
Uplifted its foundation.

And a sound was heard like the trumpet's blast
That shall one day wake the dead,
The strong church door could bear no more,
And the bolts and the bars they fled.

And the tapers' light was extinguish'd quite,
And the choristers faintly sung,
And the priests dismay'd, panted and pray'd
Till fear froze every tongue.

And in he came with eyes of flame
The devil to fetch the dead,
And all the church with his presence glow'd
Like a fiery furnace red.

He laid his hand on the iron chains,
And like flax they moulder'd asunder,
And the coffin lid that was barr'd so firm
He burst with his voice of thunder.

And he bade the Old Woman of Berkeley rise
And come with her master away,
And the cold sweat stood on the cold cold corpse,
At the voice she was forced to obey.

She rose on her feet in her winding sheet,
Her dead flesh quiver'd with fear,
And a groan like that which the old woman gave
Never did mortal hear.

She follow'd the fiend to the church door,
There stood a black horse there,
His breath was red like furnace smoke,
His eyes like a meteor's glare.

The fiend he flung her on the horse,
And he leapt up before,
And away like the lightning's speed they went,
And she was seen no more.

They saw her no more, but her cries and shrieks
For four miles round they could hear,
And children at rest at their mother's breast,
Started and screamed with fear.





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