William Morris Archive

Contents: Chapters 2 3 8


When he had done, another began in something of the same strain, but singing more of a song than a story ballad; and thus much I remember of it:

The Sheriff is made a mighty lord,
Of goodly gold he hath enow,
And many a sergeant girt with sword;
But forth will we and bend the bow.
We shall bend the bow on the lily lea
Betwixt the thorn and the oaken tree.
With stone and lime is the burg wall built,
And pit and prison are stark and strong,
And many a true man there is spilt,
And many a right man doomed by wrong.
So forth shall we and bend the bow
And the king’s writ never the road shall know.
Now yeomen walk ye warily,
And heed ye the houses where ye go,
For as fair and as fine as they may be,
Lest behind your heels the door clap to.
Fare forth with the bow to the lily lea
Betwixt the thorn and the oaken tree.
Now bills and bows I and out a–gate!
And turn about on the lily lea!
And though their company be great
The grey–goose wing shall set us free.
Now bent is the bow in the green abode
And the king’s writ knoweth not the road.
So over the mead and over the hithe,
And away to the wild–wood wend we forth;
There dwell we yeomen bold and blithe
Where the Sheriff’s word is nought of worth.
Bent is the bow on the lily lea
Betwixt the thorn and the oaken tree.

But here the song dropped suddenly, and one of the men held up his hand as who would say, Hist! Then through the open window came the sound of another song, gradually swelling as though sung by men on the march. This time the melody was a piece of the plain–song of the church, familiar enough to me to bring back to my mind the great arches of some cathedral in France and the canons singing in the choir.


Above the heads of the crowd, and now slowly working towards the cross, was a banner on a high–raised cross–pole, a picture of a man and woman half–clad in skins of beasts seen against a background of green trees, the man holding a spade and the woman a distaff and spindle rudely done enough, but yet with a certain spirit and much meaning; and underneath this symbol of the early world and man’s first contest with nature were the written words:

When Adam delved and Eve span
Who was then the gentleman?

The banner came on and through the crowd, which at last opened where we stood for its passage, and the banner–bearer turned and faced the throng and stood on the first step of the cross beside me.


The folk and guests there had already shaken themselves down since our departure, and were gotten to be reasonably merry it seemed; for one of the guests, he who had spoken of France before, had fallen to singing a ballad of the war to a wild and melancholy tune. I remember the first rhymes of it, which I heard as I turned away my head and we moved on toward the church:

“On a fair field of France
We fought on a morning
So lovely as it lieth
Along by the water.
There was many a lord there
Mowed men in the medley,
‘Midst the banners of the barons
And bold men of the knighthood,
And spearmen and sergeants
And shooters of the shaft.”
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