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~ Historical & Classical Poetry ~

The Song of the little Baltung A.D. 395

A harper came over the Danube so wide,
And he came into Alaric's hall,
And he sang the song of the little Baltung
To him and his heroes all.

How the old old Balt and the young young Balt
Rode out of Caucaland,
With the royal elephant's trunk on helm
And the royal lance in hand.

Thuringer heroes, counts and knights,
Pricked proud in their meinie;
For they were away to the great Kaiser,
In Byzant beside the sea.

And when they came to the Danube so wide
They shouted from off the shore,
'Come over, come over, ye Roman slaves,
And ferry your masters o'er.'

And when they came to Adrian's burgh,
With its towers so smooth and high,
'Come out, come out, ye Roman knaves,
And see your lords ride by.'

But when they came lo the long long walls
That stretch from sea to sea,
That old old Balt let down his chin,
And a thoughtful man grew he.

'Oh oft have I scoffed at brave Fridigern,
But never will I scoff more,
If these be the walls which kept him out
From the Micklegard there on the shore.'

Then out there came the great Kaiser,
With twice ten thousand men;
But never a Thuring was coward enough
To wish himself home again.

'Bow down, thou rebel, old Athanarich,
And beg thy life this day;
The Kaiser is lord of all the world,
And who dare say him nay?'

'I never came out of Caucaland
To beg for less nor more;
But to see the pride of the great Kaiser,
In his Micklegard here by the shore.

'I never came out of Caucaland
To bow to mortal wight,
But to shake the hand of the great Kaiser,
And God defend my right.'

He shook his hand, that cunning Kaiser,
And he kissed him courteouslie,
And he has ridden with Athanarich
That wonder-town to see.

He showed him his walls of marble white--
A mile o'erhead they shone;
Quoth the Balt, 'Who would leap into that garden,
King Siegfried's boots must own.'

He showed him his engines of arsmetrick
And his wells of quenchless flame,
And his flying rocks, that guarded his walls
From all that against him came.

He showed him his temples and pillared halls,
And his streets of houses high;
And his watch-towers tall, where his star-gazers
Sit reading the signs of the sky.

He showed him his ships with their hundred oars,
And their sides like a castle wall,
That fetch home the plunder of all the world,
At the Kaiser's beck and call.

He showed him all nations of every tongue
That are bred beneath the sun,
How they flowed together in Micklegard street
As the brooks flow all into one.

He showed him the shops of the china ware,
And of silk and sendal also,
And he showed him the baths and the waterpipes
On arches aloft that go.

He showed him ostrich and unicorn,
Ape, lion, and tiger keen;
And elephants wise roared 'Hail Kaiser!'
As though they had Christians been.

He showed him the hoards of the dragons and trolls,
Rare jewels and heaps of gold--
'Hast thou seen, in all thy hundred years,
Such as these, thou king so old?'

Now that cunning Kaiser was a scholar wise,
And could of gramarye,
And he cast a spell on that old old Balt,
Till lowly and meek spake he.

'Oh oft have I heard of the Micklegard,
What I held for chapmen's lies;
But now do I know of the Micklegard,
By the sight of mine own eyes.

'Woden in Valhalla,
But thou on earth art God;
And he that dare withstand thee, Kaiser,
On his own head lies his blood.'

Then out and spake that little Baltung,
Rode at the king's right knee,
Quoth 'Fridigern slew false Kaiser Valens,
And he died like you or me.'

'And who art thou, thou pretty bold boy,
Rides at the king's right knee?'
'Oh I am the Baltung, boy Alaric,
And as good a man as thee.'

'As good as me, thou pretty bold boy,
With down upon thy chin?'
'Oh a spae-wife laid a doom on me,
The best of thy realm to win.'

'If thou be so fierce, thou little wolf cub
Or ever thy teeth be grown;
Then I must guard my two young sons
Lest they should lose their own.'

'Oh, it's I will guard your two lither lads,
In their burgh beside the sea,
And it's I will prove true man to them
If they will prove true to me.

'But it's you must warn your two lither lads,
And warn them bitterly,
That if I shall find them two false Kaisers,
High hanged they both shall be.'

Now they are gone into the Kaiser's palace
To eat the peacock fine,
And they are gone into the Kaiser's palace
To drink the good Greek wine.

The Kaiser alone, and the old old Balt,
They sat at the cedar board;
And round them served on the bended knee
Full many a Roman lord.

'What ails thee, what ails thee, friend Athanarich?
What makes thee look so pale?'
'I fear I am poisoned, thou cunning Kaiser,
For I feel my heart-strings fail.

'Oh would I had kept that great great oath
I swore by the horse's head,
I would never set foot on Roman ground
Till the day that I lay dead.

'Oh would I were home in Caucaland,
To hear my harpers play,
And to drink my last of the nut-brown ale,
While I gave the gold rings away.

'Oh would I were home in Caucaland,
To hear the Gothmen's horn,
And watch the waggons, and brown brood mares
And the tents where I was born.

'But now I must die between four stone walls
In Byzant beside the sea:
And as thou shalt deal with my little Baltung,
So God shall deal with thee.'

The Kaiser he purged himself with oaths,
And he buried him royally,
And he set on his barrow an idol of gold,
Where all Romans must bow the knee.

And now the Goths are the Kaiser's men,
And guard him with lance and sword,
And the little Baltung is his sworn son-at-arms,
And eats at the Kaiser's board,

And the Kaiser's two sons are two false white lads
That a clerk may beat with cane.
The clerk that should beat that little Baltung
Would never sing mass again.

Oh the gates of Rome they are steel without,
And beaten gold within:
But they shall fly wide to the little Baltung
With the down upon his chin.

Oh the fairest flower in the Kaiser's garden
Is Rome and Italian land:
But it all shall fall to the little Baltung
When he shall take lance in hand.

And when he is parting the plunder of Rome,
He shall pay for this song of mine,
Neither maiden nor land, neither jewel nor gold,
But one cup of Italian wine.

Charles Kingsley, 1864

(*1819  1875, English clergyman, university professor, historian, and novelist)

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