The Fatal Horse.

A poem by William Hayley

Of creatures that to man attend,
His pastime, or his wealth;
The Horse we cherish as a friend,
To sickness and to health.

Bless them, who shield a steed from woe.
By age from toil releas'd!
And hated be the proud, who shew
No mercy to their beast!

A wretch once doom'd, tho' rich and strong,
His faithful horse to bleed,
But tell his fate, my moral song,
For that atrocious deed!

An antient knight, of Kentish race;
Of his athletic frame
Prone to indulge the passions base,
Sir Geoffrin his name,

Against a priest indulg'd his rage,
Who charitably good,
To shield a widow's helpless age,
His avarice withstood.

With abject choler fierce and hot,
The knight perforce would gain,
And blend her little garden plot,
With his superb domain.

The priest, who, on that very ground,
To soothe his wrath would strive,
In frantic passion's fit he bound,
And buried him alive!

The wretch was seiz'd with shame and fear,
Tho' he his crime would boast:
When suddenly he chanc'd to hear,
His king lay off the coast!

'Twas gallant Harold, in that day,
Elate with regal power;
Becalm'd his stately vessel lay,
Near Geoffrin's high tower.

The royal mercy to surprize,
He now resolves with speed;
"Haste, hither bring," he wildly cries,
"My strongest favourite steed."

It was a steed of noblest kind,
In spirit and in limb,
On which the desp'rate knight design'd
To the king's ship to swim!

Now by the swelling ocean's side,
He mounts his courser brave!
Spurs him with domineering pride,
And plunges in the wave!

Us'd to his bold caprices oft,
And equal to his weight,
The courser toss'd his mane aloft,
And swam with breast elate.

The knight now flourishes his sword,
As near the ship he draws;
The wond'rous sight strikes all on board,
Who throng to find the cause:

The sailors round their sov'reign croud,
Who on the vessels stern,
Now hails the knight's approach aloud,
Eager, his aim to learn.

"Provok'd by villains, one I slew,
And own him rashly slain;
Hence to thy clemency I flew,
My pardon to obtain!"

"Now by St. George, thou vent'rous knight,
Thy steed has nobly done;
Swim back, and pardon make thee light,
Thy pardon he has won!"

The knight now with a joyous spring
His horse's neck embrac'd;
Then blessing thrice his gracious king,
He steer'd him back in haste.

Now, as he touch'd his native sand,
And near his castle gate,
He saw the weeping widow stand,
And mock'd her mournful state.

"Woman, thy threats touch me no more,
I ride on safety's wing;
My brave horse brings me safe to shore,
With pardon from my king!"

"Kings seem to grant what God denies,
Trust my prophetic breath,"
(So the indignant dame replies)
"That horse shall prove thy death!"

She spoke, and with a voice so keen,
It search'd his inmost soul,
And caus'd a storm of fearful spleen,
Thro' his dark brain to roll

Half credulous, half wildly brave,
Now doubt, now rage prevails:
He stood like a black suspended wave,
Struck by two adverse gales.

A doubt by superstition nurst,
Made all just thoughts recede;
Frantic he wav'd his sword, and pierc'd
His life-preserving steed!

"Thy prophecies I thus destroy,"
He cried, "thou wretched crone;
Threats on my days no more employ,
But tremble for thy own."

Striding away, his steed he left
In his pure blood to roll,
He quickly, of all aid bereft,
Breath'd out his nobler soul.

The boastful knight, now gay with pride
By his successful crimes,
Floating on folly's golden tide,
Prosper'd in stormy times.

Ungrateful both to man and beast
His sovereign he betray'd,
And lent, ere Harold's empire ceas'd,
The Norman treacherous aid.

The Norman tyrant much carest
This proud and abject slave,
And lands, by worthier lords possest,
For his base succour gave.

Now years, since that eventful hour,
In which his courser bled,
Had pour'd increase of wealth, and pow'r
On his aspiring head.

As near, with much enlarged estate,
To his domain he drew;
He chanc'd, before his castle gate,
A signal scene to view.

The scene his war-steel'd nerves could shock,
Seated on mossy stones
The widow, leaning 'gainst a rock,
Wept o'er his horse's bones.

Enrag'd from his new steed he vaults,
Quick with his foot to spurn
These bones, that bid his bloody faults
To his base mind return.

The head, now bleach'd, his proud foot strikes
With such indignant speed,
The bone its fierce aggressor spikes;
It is his turn to bleed.

The trivial wound the wrathful knight
Disdains to search with care.
But soon he finds, the wound tho' slight,
Death lurks in ambush there.

Now to his bed of sorrow bound,
By penitential pain,
He seems, by this heart-reaching wound,
A purer mind to gain.

Near to his couch he bids, with care,
The widow to be brought,
And speaks to her, with soften'd air,
His self-correcting thought.

"True prophetess! I feel thee now;
So God my crimes forgive,
As I with thee true concord vow:
In comfort may'st thou live."

"Behold upon this charter'd scroll,
A pictur'd cottage stand,
I give it thee, with all my soul,
And its adjacent land."

"The only rent I will assume,
Be this. At close of day,
Sit thou, with pity, on my tomb,
And for my spirit pray!"

"That tomb be rais'd by sculpture's aid,
To warn men from my guilt;
My horse's head beside me laid,
Whose blood I basely spilt!"

He spoke, he died, the tomb was made,
His statue look'd to Heaven!
And daily then the widow pray'd,
His crimes might be forgiven!

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