John Crowe Ransom


The friar had said his paternosters duly 
And scourged his limbs, and afterwards would have slept; 
But with much riddling his head became unruly, 
He arose, from the quiet monastery he crept. 

Dawn lightened the place where the battle had been won. 
The people were dead -- it is easy he thought to die -- 
These dead remained, but the living all were gone, 
Gone with the wailing trumps of victory. 

The dead men wore no raiment against the air, 
Bartholomew's men had spoiled them where they fell; 
In defeat the heroes' bodies were whitely bare, 
The field was white like meads of asphodel. 

Not all were white; some gory and fabulous 
Whom the sword had pierced and then the grey wolf eaten; 
But the brother reasoned that heroes' flesh was thus.
Flesh fails, and the postured bones lie weather-beaten. 

The lords of chivalry lay prone and shattered. 
The gentle and the bodyguard of yeomen; 
Bartholomew's stroke went home -- but little it mattered, 
Bartholomew went to be stricken of other foemen.

Beneath the blue ogive of the firmament 
Was a dead warrior, clutching whose mighty knees 
Was a leman, who with her flame had warmed his tent, 
For him enduring all men's pleasantries. 

Close by the sable stream that purged the plain 
Lay the white stallion and his rider thrown, 
The great beast had spilled there his little brain, 
And the little groin of the knight was spilled by a stone. 

The youth possessed him then of a crooked blade 
Deep in the belly of a lugubrious wight; 
He fingered it well, and it was cunningly made; 
But strange apparatus was if for a Carmelite. 

He sat upon a hill and bowed his head 
As under a riddle, and in deep surmise 
So still that he likened himself unto those dead 
Whom the kites of Heaven solicited with sweet cries.