Song of the Singer
Adam D. Cooper
Tales have been told of towering hills,
of hardy heroes and holy quests,
of unkindly kings, quick to judge,
of gems that bejewel gentle ladies,
of lovers' love, and the love of God.
Now listen if you like to this little lay,
for I truly tell a tale of such themes.
When spring had sprouted, spreading new life,
to a lord and his lady a lass was born.
Wealthy and wise was this worthy lord
and fúlly fáir his faithful wife,
and the girl they were given o'er gold they prized.
She grew as the green tree grows by the stream
and thus came to be courteous, comely and wise.
Reports of her purity and peerless beauty
were listened to in lands and lorddoms far.
So sundry suitors sought her hand.
Proud princes from palaces lofty,
noble knights that knew of honour,
and lords that lacked ladies, but little besides,
all left for the land of that lovely maiden.
Though wishing to woo her and win her hand,
not one of those worthies waked her love.
For in that glorious green of the growing spring,
when bright newborn brooks break through the land,
a sorrowless singer, who sought but a roof,
happened to reach that ruler's hall.
Songs he could sing in sundry tongues
of gladness great and the glory of God,
and the sorrow and sadness that sullies our world.
He told these tales to the tunes of his harp
in melodies meet, sometimes mournful and slow,
but great and glad and glowing at others.
Of that age-old art, all honoured him master.
When she saw him sing as they sat at table
and listened to his lay that he lovingly sang,
that lady loved him, though lowly his birth,
though spear nor sword nor spurs had he won,
though penny in his pocket nor purse he owned;
40 for to lordly or lowly love is impartial.
When his song was ceased the singer saw her
and the gaze she gave him his good heart pierced.
No longer would he live in listlessness.
He woke to a world of wonder and sorrow.
A path of pain, but peerless joy
to follow henceforth his fate had become.
He was put on this path, for he picked it not.
But a second he saw her, for she suddenly went,
and he followed her footsteps as by fairy enchanted
to a garden where grass and growing plants
stood under stars, straight and serene.
The woman walked there, wistfully thinking,
in gown of green, girded with silver.
Though quaking, he came, conquering fear.
Preferring to face her, a fool though he seem,
than to wonder and wish while he walked the earth,
what words the woman would have said.
So he fell at her feet fervently crying
"Loveliest of ladies, this lowly forgive!"
But she smiled on the singer and said to him "Nay,
for failure nor fault do I find in your boldness.
But kneel to me not, for are not we both born
of Adam and Eve, our ancient parents?
I would fain we were friends and fear breeds distance."
And walked without want, wanderer and maid.
And so spring to summer swiftly passed
when green and gold grow entwined
and fair bloom flowers on the flourishing vine.
The two I have told of attached became,
for their friendship was fated to be followed by love.
And as they wandered and walked through the ways of the garden
he vowed to be faithful and devoted to her,
and her alone of ladies to love or to kiss.
To her fair formed finger he fixed a gem
--an heirloom old, his only wealth.
It blazed, brilliant, bright as flames,
when it seized the sunlight in its smooth-cut facets.
Thus in love their lives were elated with joy.
But as his daughter dwelt in undarkened joy
that lórd lónged that she a lover might choose.
For many a man that to marry had wished
were wanting to wend their way back home.
Princes were impatient with passiveness now.
Knights had need in the next months to journey.
Long-suffering lords to leave soon were planning.
So finally her father that fair maid summoned
and "Dearest daughter, dó you not know
that I wish you one of these worthies would choose
to marry and be made man and wife?"
he said to her seeking to swiften her choice.
Then his daughter breathed deeply, for doom she knew,
be it foul or fair, had fallen at last,
"My lord and life-giver, whom I love full well,
I would fain fulfill my father's will,
and already have rightly wrought my choice.
Then, smiling satisfied, he said aloud,
"On both of you be the blessing of God!
And may the man who would marry my marvelous daughter
come forward before me that his face I might see!"
When summoned, the singer stepped steadily forth,
No attendants or train trailed behind him,
No royal robes or rich adornment
attired him, though tall and tough-built his body,
neath the cloak that kept him from cold and rain,
and keen his countenance, comely to behold.
He knelt now knowing how near was fate,
yet carrying himself calmly as a king could be proud of.
"Lord I ask leave, for love of your daughter,
to serve you till my soul is sent to the Lord
and to offer you all that my efforts shall yield.
For this doom is dealt and ordained by God,
that alone of all ladies shall I love your daughter
and of men she shall marry this minstrel lowly.
May the goodness of God and his grace move you
to accept myself as your servant and son.
But may God forgive your grave offense
if you defy the fate His finger wrote."
Thus humbly he offered and asked for her hand.
But her father found fault with that fair one's choice
little did he like the lowly appearance
of the simple singer, his assuming words.
And anger and arrogance entered his heart.
so he said to the singer insultingly:
"My lands you shall leave, you lowborn churl!
For your brash boldness and brazen deeds
and your dealings with my daughter today must end!
And if ever you enter my acres again
you will learn the length of a lordly wrath!
So after bearing a beating for your boorish speech
go hence from here by the hastiest way!"
thus wrapped up in wrath the ruler stormed out
and, grabbed by guards, that good man was taken.
But he left his lady with these loving words:
"I shall love while I live! Love never ends!"
As they went away the woman was left,
woefully weeping the way things had gone
and as wanderer was whipped he wept as well,
not for welts that were weightily whipped on his back,
but solely for sorrow of being sent from his love,
cruelly cut from the keeper of his heart.
In this sorrowful state they sent him forth,
and as he left that land the leaves were falling.
Day after day of dolour he journeyed
through wild wasteland in wind wet with rain
--a hungry hunter heart-sore and cold.
No tunes tinkled from the traveler's harp,
he sent forth no song to soar through the air.
In his heavy heart hope was stifled.
He no longer believed in the Lord's deliverance.
But though he loathed his life, love of his lady
never left him but led him, for love endures.
Now the rest of the ruler who had wronged the singer
was torturously troubled by tremors of guilt
and in the dark before dawn his dream was strange:
In a fáir forest he fared, it seemed
of tall trees with twined with vines
whose leaves gave light like liquid gold,
in their branching boughs birds were singing
and, growing with the grass, on the ground were flowers
of red as rich as running blood.
And lo! in the leaf-light a lady was standing
nearly tall as the trees, she towered above him
and whiter than wool were her well-woven robes.
Far fairer than the fairest found on earth,
yet stern as steel and stubborn as stone
was her fearless face, fair and hard.
And her hair hung from her head to the ground,
where her feet were fixed firm and unshod.
And behold! in her hand she holds a sword,
of sun-bright silver and swift as lightning
and in the other the ancient and accurate balance
where the souls of sinners by the savior are judged.
Her noble name is known as Justice.
In her majesty no man, who is mortal may stand.
Thus the lord was laid low and the lady declaimed:
"Woe! O woe! You worldly man!
To bríght coins bound and burnished gold!
God appóinted you prínce, gave you the privilege to judge,
and with rightness to rule your realm and men.
But you boldly abused this blessing of God
with insult and injury the innocent judging
and dealing pain to your pure daughter.
Woe! O woe! You worldly man!
You shall learn that the Lord is Lord of lords!"
As she said this the scene that he saw around him
was burning and blazing with bright white fire
and by the time she had told these terrible words
ashes alone were all that was left.
He did not doubt then that death and darkness
had fallen his fate from the fairness of God.
But suddenly it seemed that he saw a light
in the distance, through the darkness, drawing closer.
For the sister of Justice, that solemn maid,
was walking where the wood at one time had stood.
But as her sister was strong, slight was this maid,
fair as the first but not fearfully so,
and white as the garment worn by her sister
was her lovely gown of gilded lace.
And behold! in her hands is the holy cross
on which Christ was killed for the crimes of mankind
and which won for our world God's wondrous grace.
Down her fáir fáce are flowing tears
for our world which is wasted with the woes of sin.
The maid is called Mercy that met him there.
She lifted him up where he lay in ash
and began to give him God's good news:
"Strife and destruction storm around you.
The daylight dwindles and darkness grows.
But repent of your pride you poor, poor man
and God may forgive you your grave offense.
O poor, o pitiable, prideful man
repent and pray before passes your chance."
Then the lord looked up, loudly awakened
by voices of vandals invading his city.
He sought for his sword, swift, as was needed
and ran to the ruin to right the wrong.
But to defend his folk he found he was late.
The high hall that housed his people,
was felled by fire that left foul-smelling smoke
and ashes were everywhere over the ground.
Many of his men had been merc'lessy slain
and of the women and wives were woefully taken
and his dearest daughter was abducted as well.
Sorely smitten with sorrow and grief,
the lord was laid low, to lie in the ash,
deeply drinking his draught of woe.
and in silence he suffered his sin's guilt.
But as sunlight seeped o'er the sorrowful scene,
he looked to the light and lifted this payer:
"O Lord of lords I opposed your will.
Yet remember, o Master, your mercy still.
I ask for nothing for myself.
Take my life, my honour, wealth.
But protect my daughter --my dearest child
from being knavishly defiled
and let her come forth, free again,
free from the fetters of foul-hearted men.
I promise, o Lord: I repent of my pride
and will give the singer my daughter for bride,
and lay great gifts of gold in his hands,
and acres, even half my lands
in recompense for foolish pride.
Therefore Lord be at my side,
for I solemnly swear by the cross of my sword,
and know I shall keep my word, o Lord,
that I shall chase and harry, follow and slay
these murdering men until the day
my daughter and folk are returned to me,
and for those they've slain mercilessly
in their family's hands is the man-price paid,
or I myself in death am laid.
Cleanse from his sins your servant again
In the name of Christ, your son. Amen."
He stood up straight and strode to his folk
to muster men and march to war.
We leave that lord now to learn of his daughter,
who, with face full of fear and falling tears,
unwilling, went away. To wonder she dáred not
what féll fáte would find her soon.
The cold-hearted king, who had conquered her town
fared to his fortress with the fair maid.
Through mighty mountains he made his way
--a rough road and rocky till they reached the fort.
Hid neath a hill his hall had been built.
Sieges and assaults it had suffered since many,
yet stood stalwart as it stood first-built
--fast and firm in faithful stone.
And as she struggled and strove in distress at the gate,
there fell from her finger the flame-like ring
--sign of the singer's ceaseless love.
Unheeded, it hit the hard stone floor
and they dragged her, doleful, through the door of iron.
But though captive in the castle of a king of raiders,
she was not forced and defiled, for the Father of Grace
had listened with love to that lady's father
and heard his humble, heartfelt prayer.
Thus as the lady was locked in a lightless cell
a tired traveler, the tale-teller silenced,
who had felt fate's finger fall on him hard,
smitten by sorrows and sundry ills,
whipped by wind and whirling snow
for winter had wasted the world once green,
fiercely frosted his feet and hands
and worn and wasted his weathered cloak
till tatters alone were left to protect him;
but led by love at last he was come
to the mighty fort where the maid was fettered.
Thus unkempt he was crawling, crusted with snow,
unshaved and unsheltered, shaking with cold.
His eyes, once as eagles, were out of focus,
bloodshot and bleary; his body bony.
He fell half-fainting, but forced himself up,
stumbled six steps and stopped again,
for on the ground in his grasp was the glow of fire.
Wánting wármth in winter's chill
he stretched out his hand, and held the stone
that once was the woman's, still warm from her hand;
and lifted to his lips, he laid there a kiss.
On his face there froze his falling tears.
But then opened the entrance of underground fort
and the guards of the gate, great and strong
came forth and caught him, and carried him down.
Though the traveler was tall they towered above him
as they led him below twixt lighted torches.
Their flickering flames flashed in the gem
that lay hid his hand, held tightly
as hidden in his heart hope was blazing.
As they tramped down the tunnel he turned to God,
silently seeking the savior's help.
When gone through the gate to the great hall
before them they found the fearsome king.
Down steps of stone, he stared upon them
--A mighty man of moody face,
battle-battered, boldest of fighters.
His silver sword was a slayer of men.
It's shining sharp edge a shatterer of shields.
His buckler bore the brunt of the fight
when his bold band in battle strove.
But his spear had, unsparing, spitted men
that had done him no damage nor dealt him woe.
For the killed he cared not --a killer from youth,
mighty but merciless, a murderer hard.
Fore this sinful soldier the singer was brought.
"Well half-dead harper, let's hear your voice.
Sing us a song ere I send you to hell!"
The singer was silent and still for a moment.
Then his lips, which too long had lacked a song
opened, and after he offered a prayer
He sang his soul as he sang before never
for experience of pain empowered his voice:
"The sun was bright, the wind was sweet,
The grass grew green about her feet.
Her hair did shine with heaven's light
That flaxen fell. Her eyes were bright.
Where lightly fell her dancing toe
did flowers bloom and berries grow.
The birds did sing to see her face,
That, peerless fair, taught nature grace.
For the flowers twined around her hair
could never as her face be fair.
Alas, my love! That were my joy!
My joy is lost in sorrow.
For I, that day, was torn away
And we met not again on the morrow.
My heart did stop, my hands did shake,
to a world of wonder I did wake.
An unseen mouth pronounced above
a fate, a gift, a newborn love.
As reborn man my heart did leap
to hear the voice that broke my sleep.
And as our fingers meet with care
the birds with music fill the air,
and as I hold your hand in hand
I know the love of God for man.
Alas, my love! That were my joy!
My joy is lost in sorrow.
For I, that day, was torn away,
and we met not again on the morrow.
The sky is dark, the wind is chill,
the cruel winter life does kill.
The flowers are withered, gone the grass
that once did kiss her feet, Alas!
For lack of her that the world did grace
the sun himself does hide his face,
the birds are silent chased away,
the night is long and dark the day.
And I alone am left to weep
for her whose love my heart does keep.
Alas, my love! That were my joy!
My joy is lost in sorrow.
For I, that day, was torn away,
and we met not again on the morrow."
The singer ceased, with sorrow bent.
But wonder of wonders! The warrior wept.
For through the song of the singer the Spirit had spoken.
Unfeigned, down his face, were flowing tears.
And whelmed with woe, he whispered softly,
"Alas for my life! Alas for my sins!"
And suddenly that soldier to the singer was kneeling,
and said, solemn, "O singer great,
what now I know, I never felt:
the sadness for sin, the sorrow of shame.
Your music has moved me, and melted my heart
and anything I own, for the asking, is yours."
The wanderer, weeping, worshipped in joy:
"That heaven has heard me and here has worked
God's be the glory, God's the praise!
Know him and kneel, but not to me.
And I ask not for anything at all, but this
if you have, in this hall, any held captive
free them, for I fear, my friends are among them.
"Your will shall be worked! and what is more
gifts of gold will go with you all.
But wait for a while worthy man
to tell me tales and talk with me,
for my heart is heavied with hateful deeds"
"Lord, I leave now, but later, soon
you will see the singer stand in your hall.
For I have an errand I am anxious to do
that will not wait a while longer."
The singer then set him in the savior's care
and left to learn how the lady had fared.
Now we learn of the lord, the lady's father
who marched through the mountains with his men about him.
Great was the gladness given to him,
when he beheld how heaven had heard his prayer.
For he met them marching down the mountain path:
his folk in a file with the fee for the slain,
led by the lady, his lovely daughter,
who stood by the singer's side in joy,
as he sang a song to the savior's glory
of the Lord's deliverance, as long ago
David the doughty had done in thanks:
"I praise you Lord of mighty love
For you have heard my prayer
You lifted me up from the depths of dark
and came to me with aid.
Give full glory to the God of grace!
Praise his name, o people!
For though his anger may last for a season
the spring of his mercy is swift.
During the night tears may endure
but joy is born at dawn.
Lord you turned my silent woe
into songs of joy.
Forever will I sing, sing your praise
and give the glory to You!"
Then wondrously, winter was wept away
in rushing rivers, roaring with joy.
The savior sent his spring to earth
and the grass again grew green and bright.
Mark, o men, the Almighty's love.
Kneel to his name. Know him for God.
He is King of kings and conquers the strong,
Lord of lords and lowers the proud,
but Lover of lovers, the lowly he lifts.
God's be the glory God's the praise!
Amen. Amen. Alleluia!