achievement
non sibi sed toti

Classics Teaching Resources



Roman Britain - Aftermath


We who live in England use roads the Romans made.
Pots and coins may surface beneath our garden spade.
Excavate a car-park and find a Roman town;
What they left remains here, not many inches down.
But the hopes, ambitions, loves and hates and fears,
Are they lost for ever, down the fading years?
Where we lesser mortals find them past our reach,
Poets have imagined, given those spirits speech.


David Parsons, May 2004

On other pages:

Invasion
Soldiers
Landscapes
Hadrian's Wall
Living
Leaving
Aftermath
Now and Then
On this page:

The King's Task by Rudyard Kipling
The Pirates by Rudyard Kipling

The King's Task


Enlarged from "Traffics and Discoveries"
by Rudyard Kipling

After the sack of the City, when Rome was sunk to a name,
In the years that the lights were darkened,  or ever St. 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 from cottar to overlord --
Not to be cowed by the cudgel, scarce to be schooled by the sword;                      
Quick to turn at their pleasure, cruel to cross in their mood,
And set on paths of their choosing as the hogs of Andred's Wood.
Laws they made in the Witan -- the laws of flaying and fine --
Common, loppage and pannage, the theft and the track of kine --
Statutes of tun and of market for the fish and the malt and the meal --
The tax on the Bramber packhorse and the tax on the Hastings keel.
Over the graves of the Druids and under the wreck of Rome,
Rudely but surely they bedded the plinth of the days to come.
Behind the feet of the Legions and before the Norseman's ire
Rudely but greatly begat they the framing of State and Shire.
Rudely but deeply they laboured, and their labour stands till now,
If we trace on our ancient headlands the twist of their eight-ox plough....
There came a king from Hamtun, by Bosenham he came,
He filled Use with slaughter, and Lewes he gave to flame.
He smote while they sat in the Witan -- sudden he smote and sore,
That his fleet was gathered at Selsea ere they mustered at Cymen's Ore.
Blithe went the Saxons to battle, by down and wood and mere,
But thrice the acorns ripened ere the western mark was clear.
Thrice was the beechmast gathered, and the Beltane fires burned
Thrice, and the beeves were salted thrice ere the host returned.
They drove that king from Hamtun, by Bosenham o'erthrown,
Our of Rugnor to Wilton they made his land their own.
Camps they builded at Gilling, at Basing and Alresford,
But wrath abode in the Saxons from cottar to overlord.
Wrath at the weary war-game, at the foe that snapped and ran,
Wolf-wise feigning and flying, and wolf-wise snatching his man.
Wrath for their spears unready, their levies new to the blade --
Shame for the helpless sieges and the scornful ambuscade.
At hearth and tavern and market, wherever the tale was told,
Shame and wrath had the Saxons because of their boasts of old.
And some would drink and deny it, and some would pray and atone;
But the most part, after their anger, avouched that the sin was their own.
Wherefore, girding together, up to the Witan they came,
And as they had shouldered their bucklers so did they shoulder their blame;
(For that was the wont of the Saxons, the ancient poets sing),
And first they spoke in the Witan and then they spoke to the King:
"Edward King of the Saxons, thou knowest from sire to son,
"One is the King and his People -- in gain and ungain one.
"Count we the gain together. With doubtings and spread dismays
"We have broken a foolish people -- but after many days.
"Count we the loss together. Warlocks hampered our arms.
"We were tricked as by magic, we were turned as by charms.
"We went down to the battle and the road was plain to keep,
"But our angry eyes were holden, and we struck as they strike in sleep --
"Men new shaken from slumber, sweating with eyes a-stare
"Little blows uncertain, dealt on the useless air.
"Also a vision betrayed us and a lying tale made bold,
"That we looked to hold what we had not and to have what we did not hold:
That a shield should give us shelter -- that a sword should give us power --
A shield snatched up at a venture and a hilt scarce handled an hour:
"That being rich in the open, we should be strong in the close --
"And the Gods would sell us a cunning for the day that we met our foes.
"This was the work of wizards, but not with our foe they bide,
"In our own camp we took them, and their names are Sloth and Pride.
"Our pride was before the battle, our sloth ere we lifted spear:
"But hid in the heart of the people, as the fever hides in the mere:
"Waiting only the war-game, the heat of the strife to rise
"As the ague fumes round Oxeney when the rotting reed-bed dries.              
"But now we are purged of that fever -- cleansed by the letting of blood,
"Something leaner of body -- something keener of mood.
"And the men new -- freed from the levies return to the fields again,
"Matching a hundred battles, cottar and lord and thane;
"And they talk loud in the temples where the ancient war- gods are;
"They thumb and mock and belittle the holy harness of war.
"They jest at the sacred chariots, the robes and the gilded staff.
"These things fill them with laughter, they lean on their spears and laugh.
"The men grown old in the war-game, hither and thither they range --
"And scorn and laughter together are sire and dam of change;
"And change may be good or evil -- but we know not what it will bring;
"Therefore our King must teach us. That is thy task, O King!"

The Pirates in England

Saxon Invasion, A.D. 400-600

by Rudyard Kipling


    When Rome was rotten-ripe to her fall,
      And the sceptre passed from her hand,
    The pestilent Picts leaped over the wall
      To harry the English land.

    The little dark men of the mountain and waste,
      So quick to laughter and tears,
    They came panting with hate and haste
      For the loot of five hundred years.

    They killed the trader, they sacked the shops,
      They ruined temple and town--
    They swept like wolves through the standing crops
      Crying that Rome was down.

    They wiped out all that they could find
      Of beauty and strength and worth,
    But they could not wipe out the Viking's Wind
      That brings the ships from the North.

    They could not wipe out the North-East gales
      Nor what those gales set free--
    The pirate ships with their close-reefed sails,
      Leaping from sea to sea.

    They had forgotten the shield-hung hull
      Seen nearer and more plain,
    Dipping into the troughs like a gull,
      And gull-like rising again--

    The painted eyes that glare and frown 
      In the high snake-headed stem,
    Searching the beach while her sail comes down,
      They had forgotten them!

    There was no Count of the Saxon Shore
      To meet her hand to hand,
    As she took the beach with a grind and a roar,
      And the pirates rushed inland!

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