The King's Task

(Traffics and Discoveries)





AFTER the sack of the City, when Rome was sunk to a name,
In the years that the Lights were darkened, or ever aint. Wilfrid came,
Low on the borders of Britain, the ancient poets sing,
Between the Cliff and the Forest there ruled a Saxon King.

Stubborn all were his people, a stark and a jealous hordeó
Not to be schooled by the cudgel, scarce to be cowed by the sword;
Blithe to turn at their pleasure, bitter to cross in their mood,
And set on the ways of their choosing as the hogs of Andred's Wood.

They made them laws in the Witan, the laws of flaying and fineó
Folkland, common, and pannage, the theft and the track of kineó
Statutes of tun and of market for the fish and the malt and the mealó
The tax on the Bramber packhorse and the tax on the Hastings keel.

Over the graves of the Druids and overer the wreck of Rome,
Rudely but deeply they bedded the plinth of the days to come.
Behind the feet of the Legions and before the Northman's ire,
Rudely but greatly begat they the body of state and of shire.
Rudely but greatly they laboured, and their labour stands till now,
If we trace on our ancient headlands the twist of their eight-ox plough.