The Death Of William Rufus

A poem by Robert Fuller Murray

The Red King's gone a-hunting, in the woods his father made
For the tall red deer to wander through the thicket and the glade,
The King and Walter Tyrrel, Prince Henry and the rest
Are all gone out upon the sport the Red King loves the best.

Last night, when they were feasting in the royal banquet-hall,
De Breteuil told a dream he had, that evil would befall
If the King should go to-morrow to the hunting of the deer,
And while he spoke, the fiery face grew well-nigh pale to hear.

He drank until the fire came back, and all his heart was brave,
Then bade them keep such woman's tales to tell an English slave,
For he would hunt to-morrow, though a thousand dreams foretold
All the sorrow and the mischief De Breteuil's brain could hold.

So the Red King's gone a-hunting, for all that they could do,
And an arrow in the greenwood made De Breteuil's dream come true.
They said 'twas Walter Tyrrel, and so it may have been,
But there's many walk the forest when the leaves are thick and green.

There's many walk the forest, who would gladly see the sport,
When the King goes out a-hunting with the nobles of his court,
And when the nobles scatter, and the King is left alone,
There are thickets where an English slave might string his bow unknown.

The forest laws are cruel, and the time is hard as steel
To English slaves, trod down and bruised beneath the Norman heel.
Like worms they writhe, but by-and-by the Norman heel may learn
There are worms that carry poison, and that are not slow to turn.

The lords came back, by one and two, from straying far apart,
And they found the Red King lying with an arrow in his heart.
Who should have done the deed, but him by whom it first was seen?
So they said 'twas Walter Tyrrel, and so it may have been.

They cried upon Prince Henry, the brother of the King,
And he came up the greenwood, and rode into the ring.
He looked upon his brother's face, and then he turned away,
And galloped off to Winchester, where all the treasure lay.

'God strike me,' cried De Breteuil, 'but brothers' blood is thin!
And why should ours be thicker that are neither kith nor kin?'
They spurred their horses in the flank, and swiftly thence they passed,
But Walter Tyrrel lingered and forsook his liege the last.

They say it was enchantment, that fixed him to the scene,
To look upon his traitor's work, and so it may have been.
But presently he got to horse, and took the seaward way,
And all alone within the glade, in state the Red King lay.

Then a creaking cart came slowly, which a charcoal-burner drove.
He found the dead man lying, a ghastly treasure-trove;
He raised the corpse for charity, and on his wagon laid,
And so the Red King drove in state from out the forest glade.

His hair was like a yellow flame about the bloated face,
The blood had stained his tunic from the fatal arrow-place.
Not good to look upon was he, in life, nor yet when dead.
The driver of the cart drove on, and never turned his head.

When next the nobles throng at night the royal banquet-hall,
Another King will rule the feast, the drinking and the brawl,
While Walter Tyrrel walks alone upon the Norman shore,
And the Red King in the forest will chase the deer no more.

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