Friday, August 25, 2017

The Eve of Crécy

On August 26, 1346, Edward III of England and Philip VI of France fought a battle near Crécy in northern France. Edward was seriously outnumbered, but he had the superior weapon: the English longbow, with which a skilled archer could shoot nine arrows while the opposing crossbowman was lucky to get five bolts off.

And yes, I know this is the 25th, not the 26th. This is my excuse to post a poem by William Morris that is romantic, sentimental, would probably never make the anthologies today....but I like it. And the speaker in the poem is an impoverished French knight hoping that the battle to come will repair his fortunes.

The Eve of Crécy
By William Morris

Gold on her head, and gold on her feet,
And gold where the hems of her kirtle meet,
And a golden girdle round my sweet;
Ah! qu'elle est belle La Marguerite.

Margaret's maids are fair to see,
Freshly dress'd and pleasantly;
Margaret's hair falls down to her knee;
Ah! qu'elle est belle La Marguerite.

If I were rich I would kiss her feet;
I would kiss the place where the gold hems meet,
And the golden kirtle round my sweet:
Ah! qu'elle est belle La Marguerite.

Ah me! I have never touch'd her hand;
When the arrière-ban goes through the land,
Six basnets under my pennon stand;
Ah! qu'elle est belle La Marguerite.

And many an one grins under his hood:
Sir Lambert du Bois, with all his men good,
Has neither food nor firewood;
Ah! qu'elle est belle la Marguerite.

If I were rich I would kiss her feet,
And the golden girdle of my sweet,
And thereabouts where the gold hems meet;
Ah! qu'elle est belle La Marguerite.

Yet even now it is good to think,
While my few poor varlets grumble and drink
In my desolate hall, where the fires sink,--
Ah! qu'elle est belle La Marguerite,--

Of Margaret sitting glorious there,
In glory of gold and glory of hair,
And glory of glorious face most fair;
Ah! qu'elle est belle La Marguerite.

Likewise to-night I make good cheer,
Because this battle draweth near:
For what have I to lose or fear?
Ah! qu'elle est belle La Marguerite.

For, look you, my horse is good to prance
A right fair measure in this war-dance,
Before the eyes of Philip of France;
Ah! qu'elle est belle La Marguerite.

And sometime it may hap, perdie,
While my new towers stand up three and three,
And my hall gets painted fair to see--
Ah! qu'elle est belle La Marguerite--

That folks may say: Times change, by the rood,
For Lambert, banneret of the wood,
Has heaps of food and firewood;
Ah! qu'elle est belle La Marguerite.

Poor Sir Lambert: Edward won.

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