That Far River:
Selected Poems of
Theodore Goodridge Roberts

Edited by Martin Ware





IV: Expectans Equito: Poems of Romance



 

Sir Gervus


How dainty he was and debonair,
From his yellow boots to his powdered hair,
Wearing with ease and wondrous grace
Sashes of silk and frills of lace,
And patches of rouge on his maiden face.
5

He left bad debts in London town
For tons of sweets and sights of the clown,
And the barber’s score and the tailor’s bill
Mounted up like a beetling hill;
Only the fencer was paid for his skill.
10

Some people could not o’erlook his faults,
His dainty ways and his smelling salts,
But Marjorie wept when he rode away
With jangling spurs and trappings gay
On a plunging gelding of dappled grey.
15

So dainty he was and debonair,
With a foppish way to smile and swear;
But they said that his heart had the proper ring,
And his slender sword was the proper thing,
That day he fought for his fickle king.
20

His burly pikemen, when drinking, tell
Of the way that their dainty leader fell;
Neck and crop over his gelding lay,
But he scrambled out so the pikemen say,
And cut down the lancer who barred his way.
25

Marjorie wept;—but some were afraid
That now his debts would never be paid;
For he was dead, the last of his race,
With red blood dried on his maiden face
And a long wound gaping beneath his lace.
30

U.M.                                          
                                          1886, U.M.
[Page 55]  

 


 

The Old Cavalier


All day by the warmth of the fire
    That gilded rafter and beam,
The old man nodded and woke,
    And followed his fitful dream.

The round, white face of the clock
5

    Stared out of the dusky gloom;
Strange shadows bent across
    The tapestries of the room.

Behind the Western hills
    The warrior sun sent down,  
10

And the gray towers took on
    His blood red battle-crown.

Outside, on the terrace and lawn
    The shades of the yew-trees sprawled,
The pale moon hung in the firs,
15
    Somebody galloped and called.

But the old man gazed and dreamed;
    While God in the shadows there,
Barred the doors of the Now,
    And the rooms of the Then laid bare;
20

Till the dreamer stood once more
    At her shrine and knelt at her feet,
And knew that the world was good
    And his manner of loving complete.

The years of their comrade life
25

    Came back to his wrinkled brain;
He watched her eyes love-filled,
    And kissed her forehead again. [Page 56]

And her hair like the harvest spoil,
    And her lips than wine more red;
30

Then the awful day when the nurse
    Told him his love lay dead.

The boy, with its mother’s smile
    Came into his shattered heart,
Blithe and brave and true,
35
    Of his very being a part;

‘Till a month ago, or an age,
    The stripling galloped away
To shout for his Church and King,
    And cut and thrust in the fray.
40

The oak door swung on its hinge;
    Three soldiers entered the room,
The old man leaped to his feet
    And peered through the flickering gloom.

He lifted his thin old hands,
45
    “God bless you, my dutiful son,
Is the good king back on his throne,
    And the devilish mob undone?”

A trooper stamped with his foot:
    “A curse on your old grey head;
50
“Your papist king is in jail,
    And your dutiful son is dead.”

The old man fell by the fire
    That reddened rafter and beam.
His brave soul slipped through the shadows
55

    And followed his broken dream.


Can. Mag.                                  
                               1899, Can. Mag.

[Page 57]

 


 

The Chase


Down the long lanes of Arcadie
My lady canters merrily;
The grain is bleaching in the sun,
    The russet hickories confer,
And mounted on old Cheveron
5
    With laughing call I follow her.

The maples stand in flaming red,
The sturdy brakes are sere and dead;
But still my lady canters on
    Through field and wood and busy town,
10
And mounted on old Cheveron
    I try to ride her down.

Through the long lanes of Arcadie
The crickets skip and chirp to me;
My lady’s just ’round yonder bend,
15
    Methinks I hear her call to me—
Methinks our chase is at an end
    Through these long lanes of Arcadie!

Nay, still she canters down the lane
With floating skirt and loosened rein.
20
We’ve travelled all this summer land,
    And still we mount and gallop on;
Sometimes she turns and waves her hand,
    A challenge to old Cheveron.

Through all this land of Arcadie
25
She leads old Cheveron and me,
And how her good mount stands it so
    Is really more than I can see;
The valleys now are white with snow,
    Yet still we ride through Arcadie. [Page 58]
30


    Old Cheveron has cast his shoes!
    The Chase is up, my Lady Muse!


T.C.V.                                                
                               1900, T.C.V.

 


 

Sir Ector to the Dead Knight


“I dare say,” said Sir Ector, “thou, sir Launcelot, there thou liest, that thou were never matched of earthly knyght’s hand.” —Sir Thomas Malory.


The hills are dark, the woods are cold today,
Sir Launcelot, since your soul has passed away,
Leaving the sword dead iron, the body clay.

Who now will show us, sir (that you are dead),
The brave, great path a Christian knight must tread?
5

Ah, Launcelot, in what press of noble knights
Found you your equal?  By its truest lights
The wide land knew you master of stark fights.

The whole land knew you courtliest of those
That filled the lists with clangor of their blows.
10

Empty those lists!  Stilled now the crashing din
That drowned the trumpets when you thundered in;
Now, when you may not rise, they prate of sin!

The woods are dark, full sad the trampled field,
That Launcelot rides no more with covered shield.
15

Astride your hose, in burnished armor dressed—
With sword at side and naked spear in rest,
An awful knight, you fought for those distressed—

Invincible, unpitying as Fate! W
ho lives, that felt the wonder of your hate? [Page 59]
20

To the long halls where ladies sat at meat
You came, with laughing eyes and quiet feet,
Kind with the helpless, gentle with the sweet.

And now, Sir Launcelot, do they note at all
Your empty seat half down the merry hall?
25

If in high Heaven, for good knights and true,
A court is held beneath the arches blue,
To some high siege the saints will beckon you.

Ah, Sir, I trow that you grace braver field
The while I bide to guard the fallen shield!
30

Ind.
                                                                                          1901, Ind

 


 

Palamides at the Well


“What may this mean?” said Sir Palamides.  And this he said to himself: “Ah, Palamides, Palamides, why art thou diffaded, thou that was wont be called one of the fairest knights of the world?  I will no more lead this life, for I love that I may never get nor receive.” 
Sir Thomas Malory


Come sleep, come death, come gray oblivion,
And blind mine eyes to all these courts and wars,
What quest have I—what guerdon to be won
This side forgetfulness and Christ’s high stars?

Dance, little leaves, above this sylvan well,
5
Heart-free of man’s quest and the knightly field,
Where, ’neath the proud plume frets the sullen hell,
And torn dreams faint behind the blazing shield.

Beauty must fail of great desire unprayed,
And strength run out like spilled wine on the board.      
10
And courage, uninspired yet unafraid,
Dons, without valor, casque and shield and sword. [Page 60]

So many jousts—such worship for Her sake!
What counts it now that I am strong and fair,
Where long spears bend and swords whirl up and break,
15
When my great love faints, listless, on the air?

The little knights win love, and I but fame!
Clowns on spent chargers find the heart’s desire,
While through the crashing lists I bear her name—
Unthanked, unloved—to still my spirit’s fire.

 

20


Ah, Isoud, Isoud, of the brows alight,
The small, proud head, the scorning eyes agleam,
As Tristram wears your guerdon in the fight,
So do I flaunt it down the lists of dream.

Come sleep, come death, end here the worthless quest.
25

End here the strength, the valor and the grace.
Let these glad leaves drift deep across my breast,
And Arthur’s Christ bring peace to heart and face.


Lit.                                                                      
 1903, Literary World

 


 

Expectans Equito


“Expectans equito.”  Glad the tidings
    Of these brave words as I spurred afield.
With hope in the waiting and joy in the riding,
    What had to-morrow at heart to yield?

Bright was the shield my fathers gave me.
5
    Light was my heart as I rode along.
With faith and hope and a dream to save me,
    Waiting and riding were like a song.

Camps and courts and gilded cities;
    Revel and war and the clanging chase; [Page 61]
10
God’s round world, with its joys and pities;
    And over my valour a bending face.

“Expectans equito.”  Read it, Princess!
    These brave words are my wild heart’s clue.
Battles may pass and leave me broken,
15

    But waiting and riding will win to you.


L.B.                                                           
                             1903, Ind.

 


 

Riding Song


Let us ride together
    (Blowing mane and hair)
Careless of the weather,
    Miles ahead of care.
Ring of hoof and snaffle—
5
    Swing of waist and hip—
Trotting down the twisted road,
    With the world let slip.

Let us laugh together,
    (Merry as of old)
10
To the creak of leather
    And the morning’s gold.
Break into a canter,
    Shout to bank and tree,
Rocking down the waking trail—
15
    Steady hand and knee.

Take the life of cities
    Here’s the life for me.
’Twere a thousand pities
    Not to gallop free.
20

So we’ll ride together
    Comrade, you and I. [Page 62]
Careless of the weather,
    Letting care go by.


Winds. Mag.
(1909)                                                            1903, K.B.

 


 

The Hamadryad


Was it the wind I heard, starting the leaves a-thrill—
A wind in the golden birch, when the rest of the wood was still?
Was it the wing of a bird, high up in that leafy place,
That gleamed from the beryl dusk like the mask of a peering face?

A round moon washed the forest an indescribable blue—
5
Blue of the unfound rose, colour of dreams come true;
And there in the elfin radiance, deep in the elfin land,
Drunk with the elfin hour, my fingers enclosed her hand.

She led me by aisles of azure and floating ramparts of dream
To a tower of April sunrise set in a silver stream.
10
She led me beyond remembrance of toil and failure and fame
Back to the glory of youth and the longing that has no name.

Was it a wind I heard, starting the leaves a-thrill—
A wind in the golden birch, when the rest of the wood was still?
Was it a wing a-gleam, or her breast, in that leafy place,
15

When I opened my eyes to the dawn and felt the dew on my face?


*L.B.                                                                      
                 1905, Ind.

 


 

To Camelot


In quest of beauty I rode far,
With dreams for guide, and a falling star,
A leaping stag and a golden bee:
I found you under a wishing-tree. [Page 63]

I know the road to Camelot,
5
By leafy glade and ferny grot:
You know, by flash of song and wing,
The silver birds of which I sing.

In Beauty’s service still I ride
By grassy track and curling tide.
10

Now every wood has its wishing-tree
And every rose her golden bee.


L.B.                                                
                                        1905, Ind.

 


 

Love and the Young Knight


Said Love to the young knight,
    “I am the spur and the prize.
I am the hand of thy squire
    And the light in thy lady’s eyes.
I am the force of thy arm
5
    That is more than of sinew and bone.
I am the favour of Arthur
    Smiling down from his throne.

“I am the spirit of Christ,
    High and white as a star.
10
I am the crown of Mary,
    Outlasting the helmets of war.
I am valour and peace,
    Anger and gentleness.
I am the master of pride
15
    And servant of distress.”

Said Love to the young knight,
    “I am the humble task.
I am the high adventure
    Behind the visored mask.
20

I am the fire of faith [Page 64]
    That cools not with the years.
I am the lord of passion
    And comforter of tears.”


L.B.                                     
                                               1905, Scrib.

 


 

The Maid


Thunder of riotous hoofs over the quaking sod;
Clash of reeking squadrons, steel capped and iron shod;
The White Maid and the white horse and the flapping banner of             God.

Black hearts riding for hire and red hearts riding for fame;
The maid who rides for France and the king who rides for shame;
5

Gentlemen, fools and a saint riding in Christ’s high name.

“Dust to dust,” it is written.  Wind-scattered are lance and bow:
Dust is the Cross of Saint George and dust the banner of snow:
Dust are the bones of the king and dust the shafts of the foe.

Forgotten the young knights’ valour: Forgotten the captains’ skill:
10

Forgotten, the fear and the hate and the mailed hands raised to             kill.
Blown dust are the shields that crashed and the arrows that                     sounded so shrill.

A story from some old book, that battle of long ago—
A dream of echoes and ghosts and dust forever a-blow;
Shadows, the poor French king and the might of his English foe;
15

Shadows, the charging knights and the archers standing a-row;
But a flame in my heart and my eyes, the Maid with the banner of         snow!


L.B.                                                                                
1909, Liv. Age

[Page 65]

 


 

Jorn the Angry One


On the hills a god lies dead—
Jorn, the angry one—
With pale stars about his head,
All his rage undone.

In the East a god lies dead:
5
Centuries have gone
Since his red soul turned and fled
From a redder dawn.

On the hills a god lies dead—
Jorn, the angry one—  
10
His fearful madness spent and sped,
His senseless rage undone.

On the hills a god lies dead,
With his sword in twain.
Through the pines his mad heart fled
15
On the windy rain.

In the East a god lies dead,
All his deeds undone,
Who thought to vent his flaming hate
Upon the rising sun.
20


Compton Mag.                              
   Date unknown, Compton Mag.

[Page 66]