Robin Hood: A Fragment

by Caroline Bowles Southey and Robert Southey


This Internet edition of the Southeys' collaborative epic fragment—addressing the earliest youth of Robin Hood—is based on the 1847 Edinburgh edition of William Blackwood and Sons.

This page is part of a larger effort at reclaiming and making available the many lost and unremembered epic poems by women, and is provided for educational and research purposes by Jeremy M. Downes, Department of English, Auburn University. Editing and commentary copyright © 2010. Suggestions and responses are welcomed.

Caroline Bowles Southey

The image of Caroline Bowles is drawn from the Robin Hood Project at the University of Rochester.

Southey, Carolines Bowles, 1786-1854 and Southey, Robert, 1774-1843. Robin Hood: A Fragment. By the late Robert Southey, and Caroline Southey: With other Fragments and Poems by R. S. & C. S.





ROBIN HOOD: A Fragment.



No grave befits him but the hearts of men.

Browne, Britannia's Pastorals, Fifth Song.

                                          It was gone
Quite underground; as flowers depart
To see their mother root when they have blown;
      Where they together
      All the hard weather,
Dead to the world, keep house unknown.

George Herbert.

The richest jewel in all the heavenly treasure,
That ever yet unto the earth was shown,
Is perfect concord,—the only perfect pleasure
That wretched earth-born men have ever known;
For many hearts it doth confound in one,
That whatso one doth speak, or will, or do,
With one consent they all agree thereto.

Sir J. Davies. Orchestra.


[Attributed to Robert Southey]


Happy , the adage saith, that Bride

Upon whose nuptial day

The sun shines fairly forth;—

That Corpse upon whose bier

The rains of heaven descend. 5

O! Emma! fairest, loveliest of thy sex!

O! Lady!—heavenly-minded as high born,

That faith was shaken by thy fate

In Loxley's pleasant bowers,

And throughout Sherwood's groves and greenwood glades, 10

And all along the winding banks of Trent.



For sure, if ever on a marriage day

Approving angels smiled

Upon their happy charge,

'Twas when her willing hand 15

Was to Lord William given.

The noble to the noble—blooming youth

To manhood in its comeliness and prime:

Beauty to manliness and worth to worth;

The gentle to the brave— 20

The generous to the good.



Yet not a sunbeam that May morning pierced

The dense and heavy canopy of clouds

Which poured their drenching stores continuous down.

Amid the thickest shade 25

The deer sought shelter—not a vernal song

Rose from the cheerless groves.—

Loxley's loud bells, which should have sent

Their sweet and merry music far and wide

Throughout all Sherwood on that joyful day, 30

Flung with vain effort then their jubilant peal

To the deaf storm that scatter'd it.

The wind alone was heard,

And in its intervals, the heavy rain

Incessant pattering on the leafy woods. 35



Alas! the Lady Emma's passing bell

Was heard when May returned!

And when through Loxley's gate

She on her bier was borne,

The deer were sporting in the sunny glades; 40

Birds warbled—streams were sparkling—new-born flowers

Diffused their fragrance on the breath of Spring.

There was joy in the air,

There was joy in the woods,

There was joy in the waters, 45

Joy everywhere but in the heart of man.



Doubly was that vain adage thus disproved;

Doubly to all who knew

The gentle lady, happy in her lord

Even to the height of wedded blessedness: 50

And then so holy in her life,

So meek of heart—so bountiful of hand,

That oft it had been said,

With sad presageful feeling all too true,

Heaven would not leave that angel long 55

In this unworthy world.



A mournful day for Sherwood,—ne'er till then

Had that old forest seen

A grief so general, since the oaks

From immemorial time had shadowed it; 60

A mournful day for Loxley's pleasant bowers

Now to be left forlorn!

A mournful day for Lindsey and for Kyme,

For Huntingdon; for all Fitzhood's domains

A day of evil and abiding woe. 65



The cradle had been dressed;

Alas! the mother's bier hath been required.—

The gossips who had there

For happiest office met

With busy pride convened in joyful hour.— 70

The guests who had been bidden there

To glad festivity,

Repass in funeral train,

(True mourners they) the melancholy gate;

And for the pancakes which officious joy 75

Made ready, never doubting such event,

The arval bread is doled.



Woe for that hospitable hall;

Woe for the vassals of Fitzhood's domains,

So envied late, as in their lord 80

Above all vassals blest,—

Their lord, the just, the bountiful, the good,

Is lost to them this day!

Earl William, when the Lady Emma died,

Died to the world:—He buries in her grave 85

His earthly hopes and fears—

His earthly cares and ties he casts away—

The hour which hath bereaved Fitzhood

Hath widowed many a wife,

And many a child doth it leave fatherless. 90



For when Earl William found

That prayers and vows availed not to arrest

The inevitable hour;

He with a virile effort, self-controlled,

Closed like a miser's treasure, in his heart, 95

That grief of griefs.—His tears,

As if their springs were dry, forbore to flow—

His countenance was changed:

Its anguish and its agony intense

Had passed away; nor these alone.— 100

The wonted radiance which enlightens it,

The sunshine of the soul,

The warm benevolence,

Delighting to diffuse

Its own redundant happiness 105

Which there for ever shone:—

All were departed thence; and in their stead

A cold and fixed serenity like death

Had set its stamp severe.



Earl William, when the rites are done, 110

Sets forth upon his journey to defend

The holy Sepulchre!

Short was the notice which was sent abroad

Throughout the forest—"follow him who list."

They who are ready, with their lord 115

Will from the church begin their pilgrimage.

They who remain to set

Their house in order, at the post

Will join him with what speed they may.



With less alacrity 120

The summons of their dread liege lord the king

Would there have been obeyed

Than that sad invitation was, by Knight,

And Squire, and Serving-man,

And simple Forester. 125

Oh! call not men ungrateful, if sometimes

A monster of ingratitude is found!

The crime is monstrous—men and beasts

Bear witness it is so; for not alone

Speaking humanity disowns the stain; 130

Even the dumb world doth manifest

That uncontaminate nature hath no part

In the abhorred offence.



This day's example proved

That grateful love esteems 135

No sacrifice too painful—none too great.

With prompt, unhesitating faith, not then

Repining, nor hereafter to repent.

Wives in their youth were left,

And parents in their age, 140

And children who required a father's care:

Last blessings were received,

And last embraces given,

And last adieus were breathed from bleeding hearts.



Behold the strange procession move along, 145

A mix'd and mournful train!

First the cross-bearer comes,

Lifting the standard of our faith on high,—

Memorial of our Lord, in whose dear name,

In sure and certain hope, 150

The dead are laid to rest.

The white-robed choristers came next,

Singing the funeral psalm,

With solemn intonation sad and sweet.

How pale and dim a flame 155

The yellow wax emits,

Where the tall tapers two and two are borne,

Less by their light descried

Than by their transient smoke,

Which, fleeting as the breath of mortal life, 160

Melts in the air, and is for ever gone.



Then on the bier, in serecloths swathed

And grave-clothes garmented,

Comes what was late the human tabernacle

Of that immortal spirit, whom perhaps 165

A sense of earthly love

Saddens in heaven that hour;—

A poor forsaken tenement of clay,

Yet in its ruins to be reverenced still

With human feelings and religious awe, 170

And natural piety.



A pitiable sight,

Behind the mother's bier,

Weeping, as well she may, the nurse

Bears in his chrysome robe the new-born babe: 175

Sweetly he sleeps the while,

Insensate as that mother's lifeless clay.

On either hand, in funeral pomp,

The escutcheons of De Vere and Beauchamp spread

Their mournful blazonry; 180

Behind, for war displayed,

The banner of Fitzhood!

That banner which when last

Earl William hung in Loxley's hall on high,

His happy heart had breathed 185

A silent prayer to heaven

It might hang idly there,

Till after many a year had filled

Its inoffensive course;

Some duteous hand might then 190

Suspend it o'er his hearse.



A pious hope—an honourable pride!

For wheresoever in the field

Those bands engrailed were seen,

Sure token had they given; 195

That on that side the rightful cause was found—

Sure confidence that all

Which worth and knightly prowess might achieve,

Would that day there be done.

Fair promise and success 200

Against all vantages;

And if such vantage made all valour vain,

Even then a never-failing pledge

Of honour and renown.



So Trent had witnessed on that famous day, 205

When thro' his high-swoln stream

The standard-bearer bore his precious charge,

Exulting in such office; while his steed

Breasting with ample chest

The rapid waters, eyed the bank in hope, 210

And with straightforward effort won

Aslant his fearless way.

Quailed at that unexpected sight,

The embattled enemy

Renewed their charge, like men subdued in soul; 215

And Lincoln, from its rescued walls,

Beheld the brave Usurper beaten down.



So Test had witnessed in an hour,

When Fortune turned away her face unjust:

And Wilton, when again 220

To the right cause she gave the meed

Of Victory well deserved:

For whensoe'er to fields of civil strife,

Gloucester the wise, the prudent, and the good,

Went forth, by fatal circumstance compelled, 225

There was that banner seen;

A sure support in need,

Then Huntingdon was found;

In peace or war, in weal or woe,

The noble Robert's trust 230

In that tried friend was placed:

Brethren in soul they were, whom kindred worth

Had heart to heart allied.



Alas! that banner heretofore

Had gone forth cheerfully; 235

Boldly displayed with hope it had gone forth

With willing hearts, and hands alert,

And glad fidelity;

And thoughts of that dear happiness,

Which, when the fight was done, 240

Awaited its return.

In funeral silence now it passed the gate,

Where loud hurrahs, with joyful augury,

Were wont to usher it:

And for the clarion's voice, which should have breathed 245

Anticipant of victory,

Its spirit-stirring note,

The deep-toned dirge was heard before—

The horsemen's pace behind—

 With regular foot-fall slow; 250

And from the woods around,

The descant blithe of blackbird and of thrush,

And woodlark's louder, livelier, richer strain;

An unpremeditated concert wild

Of joyous natural sounds; 255

Which gave to human grief

A keener edge that hour.



Full six score spears hath Sherwood sent:

Thirty have joined from Lindsey and from Kyme;

The rest are on the way, 260

And with the men of Huntingdon,

Will on the march fall in.

Young Ingelram is there, for whom

Lilias is left to mourn,

And deem her gentle heart 265

Unhappily bestowed

On one who, at the will of his liege lord,

Hath left it now to break.

High-minded youth! he bears that grief

As deeply rooted in his own; 270

Nor will it cease to rankle there,

Till, yielding to the fatal force

Of fell disease, by Syrian suns induced,

He sinks, his strength subdued;

And from his dying lips 275

The name of that beloved maid is heard,

In his last aspirations, breathed to Heaven.



Not with less sacrifice

The good Sir Gilbert goes—

Better will he endure the hour, 280

When, like a lion taken in the toils,

The Saracens will close their victims in,

And from all sides against the Christian dog,

Sure of its stroke, the scimitar descends;—

Better will he endure 285

That hour of brave despair,

Of faithful hope and death;

Than when upon Idonea's lips this morn

He prest a parting kiss,

And o'er his only Boy 290

(A three years' darling) breathed,

With anguish ill subdued,

His valediction in a last embrace.



Look now at Reginald!

There is no heaviness upon his brow; 295

No sorrow in that reckless eye;

No trouble in that sensual countenance;

No bodings in that hard and hollow heart:

He, when he breaks away from natural ties,

Not more obstruction feels 300

Than what, upon a still autumnal day,

The stag perceives upon his antlered crest,

From threads of gossamer,

That spread and float along the tangled sky;

Even the parental tears that fell for him 305

Will presently be dried.

Reginald leaves no loves;

Bears with him no regret—

No fond remembrance, and no sad presage—

Nor doth one generous hope, 310

Nor one religious aspiration, stir

Within his worthless breast:

For he unto himself is all in all.

So he may find his fill

Of animal content, 315

He cares not where or how.

As little it imports

How, where, or when the inevitable hour

May overtake him, nor if worms at home,

Sea sharks, or Syrian dogs, 320

Jackalls and vultures share their fitting prey.



And this too, might of Ulpho have been said;

And this too of himself—

Self-judged—did Ulpho deem.

Born with an iron frame, 325

His heart had, in the mould

Of that obdurate age,

Received its impress. War had seemed to him

Man's proper element,

The one sole business not to be disdained— 330

The only pastime worthy of pursuit.

Nor when, beneath the Leech's hand he lay,

And felt the smart of wine

Within his open wounds,

And saw, for so it seemed, the face of death, 335

Did that sharp discipline

Abate the fiery fever of his mind.

But cooler years had overtaken him,

And imperceptibly

The example of Earl William's lovely life 340

Had sunk into his heart,

Like gentle rain upon an herb whose root

Retains the sap of life,—

Green when its leaves have withered with long drought;

And when he willingly obeyed 345

This day's unhappy call,

'Twas with a hope that, in the Holy War,

He might atone for deeds,

Which, when they rose again

Within his secret soul, 350

At every visitation wore

A bloodier, blacker hue.—

There went not in Earl William's company

A wiser, nor a sadder man that day.



With what a different mien 355

Did Hereward bestride his stately steed!

The cloud that overcast his countenance

Is but a passing grief,

The livery of the hour.

Tears he hath shed upon his sister's neck, 360

Upon his mother's knees,

When, kneeling, he received

Her blessing, dutifully felt,

And from a soul which found

Support in piety, 365

Devoutly, painfully, and firmly given.

Tears he hath shed when girding on

His honoured father's sword,

Which on the wall had hung,

A mournful relic, Test's fatal day, 370

Whereon his father fell.

And when the old hearth-dog

Fawned round his parting steps,

And lifted an imploring look of love,

Tears had burst forth and freely flown. 375

Yet in those eyes thus dimmed

Heroic hope was seen,

And youthful aspiration; for this day

 Fulfils his heart's desire.

Soon shall he now behold 380

Strange countries, and the pomp of glorious war;

Soon on the misbelievers shall he prove

His spirit not degenerate: in the joy

Of faith shall kiss the Holy Sepulchre,

And offering there the accepted sacrifice 385

Of his accomplished vow,

Return—so he anticipates—to hang

Once more upon the wall his father's sword,

Thrice-hallowed then, and over it the palm

To Christian merits due and knightly worth. 390



[Attributed to Caroline Bowles Southey]



Majestically slow

The sun goes down in glory —

The full-orbed autumn sun;

From battlement to basement,

From flanking tower to flanking tower, 5

The long-ranged windows of a noble hall

Fling back the flamy splendour.

Wave above wave below,

Orange, and green, and gold,

Russet and crimson, 10

Like an embroidered zone, ancestral woods,

Close round on all sides:

Those again begirt

In wavy undulations of all hues

To the horizon's verge by the deep forest. 15



The holy stillness of the hour,

The hush of human life,

Lets the low voice be heard —

The low, sweet, solemn voice

Of the deep woods — 20

Its mystical murmuring

Now swelling into choral harmony —

Rich, full, exultant;

In tremulous whispers next,

Sinking away, 25

A spiritual undertone,

Till the cooing of the woodpigeon

Is heard alone;

And the going in the tree-tops,

Like the sound of the sea 30

And the tinkling of many streamlets.



But hark! what sonorous sound

Wakens the woodland echoes?

Again, and yet again —

That long, deep, mellow tone 35

Slow swinging thro' the motionless air. —

From yonder knoll it comes,

Where the grey gables of an ancient pile

Between the forest waves

(More sombrous there) 40

Are just discernible.

Again; — how sweetly solemn!

How soothing sweet the sound!

And hark! — a heavenlier still — a holy chaunt —

Ave Maria! 'tis the vesper bell. 45       



From the battlemented height

Of the baronial hall,

Slowly retire the sunbeams:

And where they lingering lie

(As in love loth to depart) 5

On the fair terrace underneath,

Longer and blacker fall the pointed shadows

Of the dwarfed yews, pyramidally clipt,

Each in its wrought-stone vase,

Along the heavy spiral balusters 55

At regular distance set.



What a strange stillness reigns!

No sound of life within,

No stir of life without:

The very fountain in that trellis'd flower court 60

The terrace overlooks,

Sends up from the unfailing source

Its sparkling jet no longer —

The leaden Nereid, with her empty urn

Half-buried in fallen leaves, where she lies low 65

In her green, slimy basin.



What a strange stillness reigns!

Grass grows in the vast courts,

Where, if a loosened stone falls,

Hollow reverberations ring around, 70

Like the voices of Desolation.

No hurrying to and fro of gay retainers,

No jostling claimants at the Buttery-hatch:

Hushed the great stable-yard;

No hoof-stamp in the stall, 75

No steed led forth,

No hawk in training,

Not a hound in leash;

No jingling bridles and sharp sound of spur,

And gibe and jest — loud laugh and snatch of song, 80

And call and quick command

'Mongst grooms and gallants there.

No sight nor sound

Of life or living thing;

Only at intervals, a deep-mouthed bay, 85

And the clanking of chains,

When, from his separate watch,

One mastiff answers another:

Or a cat steals along in the shadow —

Or a handmaiden crosses — just seen, and gone; 90

Or a grey-headed Servitor.



See! to their lofty eyries

The Martens are coming home:

With a strange boldness, methinks,

As in right of sole possession. 95

How they sweep round the silent walls!

And over the terrace now

Are wheeling in mad gyrations.

And hark! to that stir within —

'Tis the ringing laugh of a Baby, 100

That sweetest of human sounds.

"Wouldst thou follow the Martens, my sweet one?

My bird! wouldst thou fly away,

And leave thine old Nurse all alone?" cries a voice;

And the sound of a kiss is heard, 105

And the murmur of infant fondness,

Like the crooning of a dove.



And see, where the terrace abuts

That northern flanking tower,

From a side entrance — 110

Window and portal both —

With musical laugh and scream,

And gibberings unintelligibly sweet,

And pretty passion, scuffling the small feet,

A child comes tottering out, 115

Eagerly straining on its leading-strings,

From her upholding hand who follows close —

That old devoted woman.

And side by side, and step for step, sedate,

Serious as with that woman joined in trust, 120

Paces a noble wolf-dog, —

His grave eye

Incessant glancing at the infant Heir.



The infant Heir! — E'en so.

In those blue veins, with delicate tracery 125

Marbling the pearly fairness

Of that large open brow,

The blood of Beauchamp and Fitzhood

Flows mingled.

And this is Loxley — 130

His father's hall ancestral,

His mother's bridal bower.

And as he stretches out his little hands

Toward that butterfly,

Its airy flight, 135

As if in mockery of the vain pursuit,

Leads on his eager eye

(All reckless he,)

To where she slumbers yonder,

In that grey pile, from whence the vesper bell 140

Resounded late,

Sleeping the dreamless sleep.



Six months thrice told

Have taught those tottering feet

The first unstable steps, 145

And with a double row of pearl complete

Have lined those rosy lips,

And tuned that tongue

To stammer "Father!" with its earliest prayer.

"Of such little ones," God hath said, 150

By the mouth of his dear Son,

That their Angels do always behold him.

In the day of battle, who knows

But the prayer of his child may come

Between Earl William's head 155

And the Moslem scimitar!



For in the Holy Land he tarries yet —

The good Earl William:

For the safe rearing of his infant Boy

Confiding under God — 160

(God over all)

Whose servant and whose soldier

Doubly signed,

He doth avouch himself —

To the fond guardianship 165

Of his dead Lady's nurse,

Old faithful Cecily,

And of his venerable almoner,

Good Father Hugh;

The same who joined his hand, 170

In holy marriage vow,

With the lost Emma;

Who, at the close of the short bridal year,

Pronounced beside her grave,

With tremulous voice, 175

The sentence on all living,

"Dust to Dust:"

And, e'er the clangour of the closing vault

Through the long echoing arches

Died away, 180

Had dedicated to the Lord

The motherless innocent,

The infant Robert.



So in forsaken Loxley's halls

Sole rulers they remained; — 185

Of the deserted child

Sole guardians; —

That grey-haired Man of God,

And faithful woman old.

And with a deep devotedness of love, 190

And feudal fealty,

Ennobled by affection,

And sense of higher duty, — as of those

Who to a greater than their earthly liege-lord

Must one day give account, — 195

Did each discharge his trust,

According to the measure of his gifts,

And as befitted each

In his own proper station.



And much delighted, he, 200

That good old man,

(Learned, as good,

And as the unlearned, simple),

To share with Cicely her pious task

Of earliest teaching. 205

And when the beautiful Babe,

With hands devoutly folded palm to palm,

Held up within his own,

Murmured the first short prayer;

Or all i' th' midst, 210

With innocent irreverence broke off

Into contagious mirth;

Or with grave mimickry

Slipping his fair curled head

Into the rosary at the Father's girdle, 215

Made show to tell the beads;

Or to lie hidden

Quite lost, forsooth!

I' th' folds of his dark robe,

Then would the venerable man 220

Fall into visions oft,

Prefiguring to himself

A time when on the tablets of that mind,

So unimpressible now,

He should write precious things; 225

And with God's blessing, of one noble scion

Make a ripe scholar,

Aye — a clerk — (who knows?)

Learned as royal Beauclerc!



Good Father Hugh! 230

'Twas a right pleasant dream;

But as the little Robert throve apace,

From baby-hood to boy-hood

Making fast progress,

And of excellent parts 235

Gave promise;

Quick-witted sense and shrewdness —

Noble nature —

Gentle and generous, as brave and bold —

Loving withal, and truthful; 240

Yet, sooth to say, —

And the good Father still

Would muse perplext upon that verity, —

Small aptness shewed the boy,

And liking less 245

For serious task 'soever:

Neither at sight of horn-book,

Or lettered page so fair

Illuminated — beautiful to see —

With large red capitals, 250

Sparkled his dark blue eyes.

And evermore he failed

To count aright the numerals, all a-row

Ranged in fair order;

Whereas, strange to tell, 255

And true as strange,

Let Hubert the old huntsman but fling down

(Humouring the child)

His arrows all a-heap,

And lo! as at a glance the tale was told, 260

True to a feather.



And at his pastime in the Hall, where now

For warlike trophy scarce a spear was left

Propping the dusty banners,

Of every stag whose antlers branched around 265

He could tell every story,

True, as taught

By that old Huntsman,

Missing not a tittle.

Whereas, of daintiest legend, 270

Treating of saint, or martyr holiest,

Or sage profound,

For delectation and improvement both

Culled by the Father, and recounted oft

With persevering patience; 275

No single circumstance,

Sentence or syllable, could he retain,

Not for an hour! —

Marvelled the good man much.

"This thing," thought he, "is hard to understand;" 280

But strong in faith and hope

He kept his even course,

Casting his bread upon the waters,

To find — God willing —

After many days. 285