The Thief And Cordelier. A Ballad

A poem by Matthew Prior

To the tune of King John and the Abbot of Canterbury.

Who has e'er been at Paris must needs know the Greve,
The fatal retreat of th' unfortunate brave,
Where honour and justice most oddly contribute
To ease heroes' pains by a halter and gibbet.
Derry down, down, hey derry down.

There death breaks the shackles which force had put on,
And the hangman completes what the judge but begun;
There the Squire of the Pad and the Knight of the Post
Find their pains no more baulk'd and their hopes no more cross'd.
Derry down, down, hey derry down.

Great claims are there made, and great secrets are known,
And the king, and the law, and the thief, has his own;
But my hearers cry out, What a deuce dost thou ail?
Cut off thy reflections, and give us thy tale.
Derry down, down, hey derry down.

'Twas there then in civil respect to harsh laws,
And for want of false witness to back a bad cause,
A Norman, though late, was obliged to appear,
And who to assist but a grave cordelier?
Derry down, down, hey derry down.

The Squire, whose good grace was to open the scene,
Seem'd not in great haste that the show should begin,
Now fitted the halter, now traversed the cart,
And often took leave, but was loath to depart.
Derry down, down, hey derry down.

What frightens you thus, my good son? says the priest?
You murder'd, are sorry, and have been confest.
O Father! my sorrow will scarce save my bacon,
For 'twas not that I murder'd but that I was taken.
Derry down, down, hey derry down.

Pough! pr'ythee ne'er trouble thy head with such fancies;
Rely on the aid you shall have from Saint Francis;
If the money you promis'd be brought to the chest,
You have only to die, let the Church do the rest.
Derry down, down, hey derry down.

And what will folks say if they see you afraid?
It reflects upon me as I knew not my trade:
Courage, Friend, for to-day is your period of sorrow,
And things will go better believe me to-morrow.
Derry down, down, hey derry down.

To-morrow, our hero reply'd, in a fright,
He that's hang'd before noon ought to think of to-night;
Tell your beads, quoth the priest, and be fairly truss'd up,
For you surely to-night shall in Paradise sup.
Derry down, down, hey derry down.

Alas! quoth the Squire, howe'er sumptuous the treat,
Parbleu! I shall have little stomach to eat;
I should therefore esteem it great favour and grace
Would you be so kind as to go in my place.
Derry down, down, hey derry down.

That I would, quoth the Father, and thank you to boot,
But our actions, you know, with our must suit;
The feast I proposed to you I cannot taste,
For this night, by our Order, is marked for a fast.
Derry down, down, hey derry down.

Then turning about to the hangman, he said,
Despatch me, I pr'ythee, this troublesome blade,
For thy cord and my cord both equally tie,
And we live by the gold for which other men die.
Derry down, down, hey derry down.

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