Book of Old Ballads
Selected by Beverly Nichols
Part 5 out of 5
Each narrow cell in which we dwell
Is a foul and dark latrine,
And the fetid breath of living Death
Chokes up each grated screen,
And all, but Lust, is turned to dust
In humanity's machine.
The brackish water that we drink
Creeps with a loathsome slime,
And the bitter bread they weigh in scales
Is full of chalk and lime,
And Sleep will not lie down, but walks
Wild-eyed, and cries to Time.
* * * * *
But though lean Hunger and green Thirst
Like asp with adder fight,
We have little care of prison fare,
For what chills and kills outright
Is that every stone one lifts by day
Becomes one's heart by night.
With midnight always in one's heart,
And twilight in one's cell,
We turn the crank, or tear the rope,
Each in his separate Hell,
And the silence is more awful far
Than the sound of a brazen bell.
And never a human voice comes near
To speak a gentle word:
And the eye that watches through the door
Is pitiless and hard:
And by all forgot, we rot and rot,
With soul and body marred.
And thus we rust Life's iron chain
Degraded and alone:
And some men curse and some men weep,
And some men make no moan:
But God's eternal Laws are kind
And break the heart of stone.
And every human heart that breaks,
In prison-cell or yard,
Is as that broken box that gave
Its treasure to the Lord,
And filled the unclean leper's house
With the scent of costliest nard.
Ah! happy they whose hearts can break
And peace of pardon win!
How else man may make straight his plan
And cleanse his soul from Sin?
How else but through a broken heart
May Lord Christ enter in?
* * * * *
And he of the swollen purple throat,
And the stark and staring eyes,
Waits for the holy hands that took
The Thief to Paradise;
And a broken and a contrite heart
The Lord will not despise.
The man in red who reads the Law
Gave him three weeks of life,
Three little weeks in which to heal His soul of his soul's strife,
And cleanse from every blot of blood
The hand that held the knife.
And with tears of blood he cleansed the hand,
The hand that held the steel:
For only blood can wipe out blood,
And only tears can heal:
And the crimson stain that was of Cain
Became Christ's snow-white seal.
In Reading gaol by Reading town
There is a pit of shame,
And in it lies a wretched man
Eaten by teeth of flame,
In a burning winding-sheet he lies,
And his grave has got no name.
And there, till Christ call forth the dead,
In silence let him lie:
No need to waste the foolish tear,
Or heave the windy sigh:
The man had killed the thing he loved,
And so he had to die.
And all men kill the thing they love,
By all let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!
_From "Percy's Reliques"--Volume I._
THE FROLICKSOME DUKE
Printed from a black-letter copy in the Pepys Collection.
This ballad is given from two versions, one in the Percy folio
manuscript, and of considerable antiquity. The original version was
probably written at the end of the fifteenth century.
ROBIN HOOD AND GUY OF GISBORNE
One of the earliest known ballads about Robin Hood--from the Percy folio
KING COPHETUA AND THE BEGGAR MAID
This ballad is printed from Richard Johnson's _Crown Garland of
Goulden Roses,_ 1612.
THE FRIAR OF ORDERS GRAY
This ballad is composed of innumerable small fragments of ancient
ballads found throughout the plays of Shakespeare, which Thomas Percy
formed into one.
Given from the Percy folio manuscript, with some additional stanzas
added by Thomas Percy to complete the story.
A Scottish ballad--this version was printed at Glasgow in 1755 by Robert
and Andrew Foulis. It has been enlarged with several stanzas, recovered
from a fragment of the same ballad, from the Percy folio manuscript.
THE BALLAD OF CHEVY CHACE
From the Percy folio manuscript, amended by two or three others printed
in black-letter. Written about the time of Elizabeth.
SIR LANCELOT DU LAKE
Given from a printed copy, corrected in part by an extract from the
Percy folio manuscript.
THE CHILD OF ELLE
Partly from the Percy folio manuscript, with several additional stanzas
by Percy as the original copy was defective and mutilated.
KING EDWARD IV AND THE TANNER OF TAM WORTH
The text in this ballad is selected from two copies in black-letter. One
in the Bodleian Library, printed at London by John Danter in 1596. The
other copy, without date, is from the Pepys Collection.
SIR PATRICK SPENS
Printed from two manuscript copies transmitted from Scotland. It is
possible that this ballad is founded on historical fact.
An old Scottish ballad--from a manuscript copy transmitted from
KING LEIR AND HIS THREE DAUGHTERS
Version from an old copy in the _Golden Garland,_ black-letter,
entitled _A lamentable Song of the Death of King Lear and his Three
THE GABERLUNZIE MAN
This ballad is said to have been written by King James V of Scotland.
_From "Percy's Reliques"--Volume II._
THE KNIGHT AND SHEPHERD'S DAUGHTER
Printed from an old black-letter copy, with some corrections.
KING JOHN AND THE ABBOT OF CANTERBURY
This ballad was abridged and modernized in the time of James I from one
much older, entitled _King John and the Bishop of Canterbury._ The
version given here is from an ancient black-letter copy.
BARBARA ALLEN'S CRUELTY
Given, with some corrections, from an old black-letter copy, entitled
_Barbara Alien's Cruelty, or the Young Man's Tragedy._
The version of this ballad given here is from four ancient copies in
black-letter: two of them in the Pepys' Library. It is by Thomas Delone.
First printed in 1612.
THE BOY AND THE MANTLE
This is a revised and modernized version of a very old ballad.
THE HEIR OF LINNE
Given from the Percy folio manuscript, with several additional stanzas
supplied by Thomas Percy.
SIR ANDREW BARTON
This ballad is from the Percy folio manuscript with additions and
amendments from an ancient black-letter copy in the Pepys' Collection.
It was written probably at the end of the sixteenth century.
THE BEGGAR'S DAUGHTER OF BEDNALL GREEN
Given from the Percy folio manuscript, with a few additions and
alterations from two ancient printed copies.
BRAVE LORD WILLOUGHBEY
Given from an old black-letter copy.
THE SPANISH LADY'S LOVE
The version of an ancient black-letter copy, edited in part from the
Percy folio manuscript.
The version of this ballad given here was printed at Glasgow in 1755.
Since this date sixteen additional verses have been discovered and added
to the original ballad.
From the Percy folio manuscript, with corrections.
THE BAILIFF'S DAUGHTER OF ISLINGTON
From an ancient black-letter copy in the Pepys' Collection.
By Sir Walter Raleigh. This poem is from a scarce miscellany entitled
_Davison's Poems, or a poeticall Rapsodie divided into sixe books ...
the 4th impression newly corrected and augmented and put into a forme
more pleasing to the reader._ Lond. 1621.
_From "English and Scottish Ballads."_
From a manuscript at Abbotsford in the Sir Walter Scott Collection,
_Scotch Ballads, Materials for Border Minstrelsy._
THOMAS THE RHYMER
_Scotch Ballads, Materials for Border Minstrelsy,_ No. 97,
Abbotsford. From the Sir Walter Scott Collection. Communicated to Sir
Walter by Mrs. Christiana Greenwood, London, May 27th, 1806.
Taken from the Jamieson-Brown manuscript, 1783.
From a transcript of No. 13 of William Tytler's Brown manuscript.
THE EARL OF MAR'S DAUGHTER
From Buchan's _Ballads of the North of Scotland,_ 1828.
From Motherwell's manuscript, 1825 and after.
THE THREE RAVENS
_Melismate. Musicall Phansies. Fitting the Court, Cittie and Country
Humours._ London, 1611. (T. Ravenscroft.)
THE WIFE OF USHER'S WELL
Printed from _Ministrelsy of the Scottish Border_, 1802.
* * * * *
By Rudyard Kipling.
JOHN BROWN'S BODY
IT'S A LONG WAY TO TIPPERARY
By Jack Judge and Harry Williams.
THE BALLAD OF READING GAOL
By Oscar Wilde.
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