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James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

July 6

Cœur de Lion at the Bier of His Father

By Felicia Dorothea Hemans (1793–1835)

  • Henry II. of England, died July 6, 1189, during a rebellion headed by his sons John and Richard. The latter, surnamed Cœur de Lion, succeeded to the throne.

  • TORCHES were blazing clear,

    Hymns pealing deep and slow,

    Where a king lay stately on his bier

    In the church at Fontevraud.

    Banners of battle o’er him hung,

    And warriors slept beneath,

    And light, as noon’s broad light was flung

    On the settled face of death.

    On the settled face of death

    A strong and ruddy glare,

    Though dimm’d at times by the censer’s breath,

    Yet it fell still brightest there:

    As if each deeply furrow’d trace

    Of earthly years to show,—

    Alas! that sceptred mortal’s race

    Had surely closed in woe!

    The marble floor was swept

    By many a long dark stole,

    As the kneeling priests, round him that slept,

    Sang mass for the parted soul:

    And solemn were the strains they pour’d

    Through the stillness of the night,

    With the cross above, and the crown and sword,

    And the silent king in sight.

    There was heard a heavy clang,

    As of steel-girt men the tread,

    And the tombs and the hollow pavement rang

    With a sounding thrill of dread;

    And the holy chant was hush’d awhile,

    As, by the torch’s flame,

    A gleam of arms up the sweeping aisle,

    With a mail-clad leader came.

    He came with haughty look,

    An eagle-glance and clear;

    But his proud heart through its breastplate shook,

    When he stood beside the bier!

    He stood there still with a drooping brow,

    And clasped hands o’er it raised;—

    For his father lay before him low,

    It was Cœur de Lion gazed!

    And silently he strove

    With the workings of his breast;

    But there’s more in late repentant love

    Than steel may keep suppress’d!

    And his tears brake forth, at last, like rain,—

    Men held their breath in awe,

    For his face was seen by his warrior train,

    And he reck’d not that they saw.

    He look’d upon the dead,

    And sorrow seem’d to lie,

    A weight of sorrow, even like lead,

    Pale on the fast-shut eye.

    He stoop’d—and kiss’d the frozen cheek

    And the heavy hand of clay,

    Till bursting words—yet all too weak—

    Gave his soul’s passion way.

    “Oh, father! is it vain,

    This late remorse and deep?

    Speak to me, father! once again,

    I weep—behold, I weep!

    Alas! my guilty pride and ire!

    Were but this work undone,

    I would give England’s crown, my sire!

    To hear thee bless thy son.

    “Speak to me! mighty grief

    Ere now the dust hath stirr’d!

    Hear me, but hear me!—father, chief,

    My king! I must be heard!—

    Hush’d, hush’d—how is it that I call,

    And that thou answerest not?

    When was it thus, woe, woe for all

    The love my soul forgot!

    “Thy silver hairs I see,

    So still, so sadly bright!

    And father, father! but for me,

    They had not been so white!

    I bore thee down, high heart! at last,

    No longer could’st thou strive;—

    Oh! for one moment of the past,

    To kneel and say—‘forgive!’

    “Thou wert the noblest king,

    On royal throne ere seen;

    And thou didst wear in knightly ring,

    Of all, the stateliest mein;

    And thou didst prove, where spears are proved,

    In war, the bravest heart—

    Oh! ever the renown’d and loved

    Thou wert—and there thou art!

    “Thou that my boyhood’s guide

    Didst take fond joy to be!—

    The times I’ve sported at thy side,

    And climb’d thy parent knee!

    And there before the blessed shrine,

    My sire! I see thee lie,—

    How will that sad still face of thine

    Look on me till I die!”