The False Knight's Tragedy

A poem by John Clare

A false knight wooed a maiden poor,
And his high halls left he
To stoop in at her cottage door,
When night left none to see.

And, well-a-day, it is a tale
For pity too severe--
A tale would melt the sternest eye,
And wake the deafest ear.

He stole her heart, he stole her love,
'T was all the wealth she had;
Her truth and fame likewise stole he,

* * * *

And they rode on, and they rode on;
Far on this pair did ride,
Till the maiden's heart with fear and love
Beat quick against her side.

And on they rode till rocks grew high.
"Sir Knight, what have we here?"
"Unsaddle, maid, for here we stop:"
And death's tongue smote her ear.

Some ruffian rude she took him now,
And wished she'd barred the door,
Nor was it one that she could read
Of having heard before.

"Thou art not my true love," she said,
"But some rude robber loon;
He'd take me from the saddle bow,
Nor leave me to get down."

"I ne'er was your true love," said he,
"For I'm more bold than true;
Though I'm the knight that came at dark
To kiss and toy with you."

"I know you're not my love," said she,
"That came at night and wooed;
Although ye try and mock his speech
His way was ne'er so rude.

He ne'er said word but called me dear,
And dear he is to me:
Ye spake as ye ne'er knew the word,
Rude ruffian as ye be.

Ye never was my knight, I trow,
Ye pay me no regard,
But he would take my arm in his
If we but went a yard."

"No matter whose true love I am;
I'm more than true to you,
For I'll ne'er wed a shepherd wench,--
Although I came to woo."

And on to the rock's top they walked,
Till they stood o'er the salt sea's brim.
"And there," said he, "'s your bridal bed,
Where you may sink or swim."

A moonbeam shone upon his face,
The maid sunk at his feet,
For 't was her own false love she saw,
That once so fond did greet.

"And did ye promise love for this?
Is the grave my priest to be?
And did ye bring this silken dress
To wed me with the sea?"

"O never mind your dress," quoth he,
'T is well to dress for sea:
Mermaids will love to see you fine;
Your bridesmaids they will be."

"O let me cast this gown away,
It's brought no good to me,
And if my mother greets my clay
Too wretched will she be.

For she, for my sad sake, would keep
This guilty bridal dress,
To break and tell her bursting heart
She had a daughter less."

So off she threw her bridal gown,
Likewise her gold clasped shoon:
His looks frowned hard as any stone,
Hers pale turned as the moon.

"O false, false knight you've wrapped me warm
Ere I was cold before,
And now you strip me unto death,
Although I'm out of door.

O dash away those thistles rude,
That crowd about the shore;
They'll wound my tender feet, that ne'er
Went barefoot thus before.

O dash those stinging nettles down,
And cut away the brier,
For deep they wound those lily arms
Which you did once admire."

And he nor briers nor thistles cut,
Although she grieved full sore,
And he nor shed one single tear,
Nor kiss took evermore.

She shrieked--and sank, and is at rest,
All in the deep, deep sea;
And home in base and scornful pride,
With haunted heart, rode he.

Now o'er that rock there hangs a tree,
And chains do creak thereon;
And in those chains his memory hangs,
Though all beside is gone.

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