inspired by “The Lady of Shalott” by Tennyson

Part I

The forests loom at Nottinghamshire.
The river oaks still aiming higher,
Surround the field where from the byre
The cattle trample through the briar
____Down to the surly water.
The gristmill stands along the shore
As barefoot on the sawdust floor,
Whisking shadows out the door
____Runs Nell, the miller’s daughter.

Among the fields of wheat and barley
The farmers gather long and early
With sinewed hands both veined and gnarly
The sheaves of grains now tied securely
____In wagons drawn to the Idle’s water
That flows to keep the millstone grinding,
The gentle current now reminding
All who enter of the blinding
____Beauty of the miller’s daughter.

Around the stone the men are straining,
Attentive to the grist and graining,
But Nell’s alert to one in training
And when she sees his strength is waning
____She brings the cup of water.
The young lad whom her father’s teaching,
In spite of what the miller‘s preaching,
Abides in hope, his heart beseeching
____The love of the miller’s daughter.

Part II.

King John, ensconced in Nottingham Castle,
Celebrating season’s wassail,
Listens to his liege and vassal
Praise her beauty, fair and facile
____Maiden of the lovely water.
A rainbow rises for an omen.
The king decides to send his yeomen,
The sheriff and the royal bowmen,
____To fetch the miller’s daughter.

Outside the black crow sounds a warning,
Spreads like wildfire through the morning,
A song that sets the fields aburning,
Echoing the hoofbeats churning
____onward toward the murky water.
The sheriff with his armor gleaming,
Urging on his horsemen teeming,
All the while his mind is scheming
____To capture the miller’s daughter.

The crow is joined in raucous chorus,
The horsemen bursting from the forest,
Their bearded faces dark and onerous,
Foul as the dark clouds building over us,
____Black as the fetid water.
Before the crow can leave the gorse,
Nell, seated on an empty horse,
Is prisoner of a fiendish force.
____Pray for the miller’s daughter.

Part III.

Upstream at Hartford ferry crossing,
The vessel heaves, the river tossing,
From the north the storm accosting
The shores in throes exhausting,
____Roils the turgid water.
From the south the hoof beats clatter
Like the magpie’s endless chatter,
Now covered in the furrowed splatter,
____Rides the miller’s daughter

Onto the solid oaken flooring,
Surrounded by her captors, roaring.
“Cast off” the sheriff shouts ignoring
The ferryman, in fear deploring
____The rising of the water,
Who only does what he is bidden,
No stranger to the danger hidden
Off-shore, to where the barge is ridden.
____Beware, the miller’s daughter.

Halfway there the ferry, keening,
Astride the whirlpool’s wild careening,
The faces of the yeomen greening,
No time for godly intervening
____To tame the raging water.
With a final frantic reaching,
The ferry’s hull athwart is breaching,
The king’s men cleave the river, screeching,
____Along with the miller’s daughter.

Part IV.

From the tree top calls the raven,
The image in his eye engraven
Of sheriff, archers, yeomen craven,
Struggling to reach the haven
____Of the far side of the water.
All are safe save one who’s chosen
To remain immersed in river frozen,
Surging southward toward the ocean
____Flows Nell, the miller’s daughter.

Downstream a boy is watching, chaste,
The conquering of his fear embraced,
Through his belt a rope enlaced,
Held by the miller’s helpers placed
____Behind as he knifes the water.
The young man knows he has one chance,
To subdivide the wide expanse,
Swim until he joins the dance,
____To waltz the miller’s daughter.

Astride the boil, the maiden, coping,
Resists the river’s constant groping,
Inside her breast her strong heart hoping,
Flies toward the boy, enwrapped in roping,
____Closing through the water.
At last the dance of lurch and leaper,
Ne’er was there a happier reaper,
The young fish in his net’s a keeper.
____He’s caught the miller’s daughter.

 

 

Writing for a quarter century but just recently self-publishing, Bob McAfee is a retired software consultant who lives near Boston and has published “Book 1 Mysteries / New Poems by Bob McAfee” 2017, “Book 2 Enchantments / New Poems by Bob McAfee” 2018, “Book 3 Caprices / Limericks and Nonsense Rhymes by Bob McAfee” 2019, all available through Harvard Bookstore in soft cover for $10 or free at bob-mcafee.com.


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3 Responses

  1. C.B. Anderson

    Bob,

    This was a very ambitious undertaking, which flowed as steadily as the waters described within it, but I wonder whether the modern corrupted imagination can take it all in. Though, it would be fair to say that there are readers of this site whose imagination remains uncorrupted. What I especially liked was your willingness to employ not-quite-perfect rhymes here and there — they are more charming than alarming — but I hope that you will allow that this hearkening back to old styles is a pleasant diversion and not some new trend paving the way to new poetic futures. Your technique, throughout, was excellent.

    Reply
  2. Dan Davis

    Hello Bob,

    Thank you so much for this lovely piece. I have a love of the old forms and for telling tales through poetry. Though I am not new to writing poetry, I am certainly still young and I do not have much experience. I have been looking for a website or club where I could find others who also share a love of this kind of poetry. Yours is the first that I have read on this website and I just wanted to let you know that you have inspired and intrigued a young aspiring poet. I do not need fame or to make money off of poetry. I just love it, and given what I’ve read here, I think I have found a place where others love it in the way I do. Thank you.

    Reply
  3. James A. Tweedie

    Bob, I, too, wish to thank you for a fine poem in which you have woven a great story into the fabric. Along with complimenting you on the fine poem, I want to also thank you for resisting what must have been a great temptation to put an exclamation point at the end of the final line!!!
    To Dan, I believe that if you search the SCP archives you will find some other fine story-poems lurking. I also encourage you to share some of your own.

    Reply

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