1930s

“Ballade”

(Upon certain advice offered by H. R. H. the Prince of Wales in the course of an address, delivered in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, on Tuesday, 12th May 1931)

Whilom, as Albion’s annals teach,
A king, with fulsome flattery sated,
Planted his throne down on the beach
’Fore all his courtiers congregated
And there the sea he sounded rated,
Bidding its waves no farther creep
And—But this tale is antiquated:
Goods must be modern, bright, and cheap.

He jested—still, the joke made sense!
But what if one in like high station
Should strive with serious eloquence
To stem a vaster inundation—
A world adrift—a drowning nation—
Serious? ’Twere safer, Sir, to keep
To saxophones and aviation:
Goods must be modern, bright, and cheap.

Your father’s subjects cry for bread:
You fling the stone of Competition,
Bidding them gnaw their chains instead!
Your people perish, void of vision!
Your Royal Touch! Divine Physician!
Shepherd of England’s wandering sheep,
What answer to our mute petition?
“Goods must be modern, bright, and cheap.”

Envoi

Prince, when the time comes to seek entry
Where Uther’s Son and Alfred sleep,
Fear nothing! Tell the startled sentry:
“Goods must be modern, bright, and cheap.”

Note: This poem was probably written in 1931, is annotated “Printed in The New Age,” and is transcribed from the typescript at the Bodleian Library (Barfield Papers, Dep. c. 1105). The poem’s line “Goods must be modern, bright, and cheap” is from a news article included with the typescript of “Ballade.”

“The Village Dance”

Not eight-o’clock, and still the door
Opens and shuts, and more come in
To stand and watch the empty floor,
Waiting for someone to begin.
Men cluster: women line the wall.
The vicar hopes to fill the hall.

Sedately severed, half and half,
Here, an inert black cloud of men
Murmurs, with now and then a laugh,
While opposite, like sun and rain,
Chattering women and restless girls
Rustle their silk, and toss their curls.

Masterly miser-prodigal,
So careful of that careless show!
Indeed the vicar’s filled the hall,
As Eve her glass an hour ago—
Childlike, most serious when at play—
With the mystery of her array.

Eva! cloud-shadows on the sea
And forest-fringes snaring light
In larches’ lace embroidery,
And the blue ether’s mothering height—
Wheeling glances of flashing wings—
Eva, all forms of living things!

Eva! all curves of wave and dune
And light, their various adorning,
Thy happy partner clasps high noon,
Eva, and dances with the morning
And holds the sunset in his arms—
And only knows that scent has charms.

And she—they breathe upon her hair,
The stars and planets in their spheres,
This universe of fire and air
With Earth’s enormous tale of years—
And she knows nothing, save her doubt:
He’ll kiss me if the lights go out!

Past nine-o’clock, and now the door
Opens no more. No more come in.
The ready couples take the floor
Soon as the saxophones begin.
A splendid dance! The best of all!
How well the vicar’s filled the hall!

Their faces say: We dreamers are,
Ever revolving two and two,
Asleep we seek our proper star,
Awake we know not what we do!

’Till, as each couple passes by,
Something grows solid to the eye

Between, above them, and around,
Hanging heavily, like a pall,
Down from the rafters to the ground?
Dear God, the vicar’s filled the hall
More than he knows—How dense they lie,
Clouds of unconscious destiny!

For there danced fifty tranquil years,
And here five minutes in the hay,
And there, alas, a lifetime’s tears—
The angel with her clod of clay,
And over these a ghostly tree
Spreads foliage which they cannot see,

Whose very topmost twig of all
When, forty generations on,
I and the vicar and his hall
And all these dancing feet are gone,
May be some glorious prophet’s birth,
A box of ointment broke on earth.

High up, their bells in heaven chime;
The dreaming ringers far below
Hear nothing, but the band keeps time,
And time keeps on, and on they go,
Turning, like double stars, each one
A dark or light companion.

Until at last the creeping hand
Has come full circle on the wall:
Will someone step and stop the band?
The vicar wants to clear the hall.
To clear the hall! My dear, last Spring
We danced till—hush! God save the King!

Note: This poem was first published in The London Mercury (June 1931).
Copyright © 1997 — Owen Barfield Literary Estate.       Return to Top.