Monday, September 24, 2012

Poem of the Week: The Ballad of the White Horse

I thought I would post the Ballad of the White Horse for a poem this week. 
I found this poem quite interesting knowing that J.R.R Tolkien had based his 
Riders of Rohan on the Anglo-Saxons. In a short clip in the extended movie 
of the Return of the King you catch a glimpse of a white horse carved 
into a hill. We see Theoden ride past it with his riders. 
The white horse is based off of the Uffington White Horse (picture shown
above). The Uffington White Horse is a highly stylized prehistoric hill 
figure, 374 feet long, formed from deep trenches filled with crushed 
white chalk. The figure is situated on the upper slopes of White 
Horse Hill in the English civil parish of Uffington. The hill forms 
a part of the scarp of the Berkshire Downs and overlooks the Vale of
White Horse (name for the Uffington horse).
Studies have shown the horse to date between 1400 and 600 BC.

The Ballad of the White Horse by G. K. Chesterton is about the 
idealized exploits of the Saxon King Alfred the Great, it was published 
in 1911. Written in ballad form, the work is usually considered one 
of the last great traditional epic poems ever written in the English 
language. Here are two quotes from the poem, if you would like to read
the whole thing you can find it here.
 "Before the gods that made the gods
          Had seen their sunrise pass,
          The White Horse of the White Horse Vale
          Was cut out of the grass.

          Before the gods that made the gods
          Had drunk at dawn their fill,
          The White Horse of the White Horse Vale
          Was hoary on the hill.

          Age beyond age on British land,
          Aeons on aeons gone,
          Was peace and war in western hills,
          And the White Horse looked on.

          For the White Horse knew England
          When there was none to know;
          He saw the first oar break or bend,
          He saw heaven fall and the world end,
          O God, how long ago."

          "And it fell in the days of Alfred,
          In the days of his repose,
          That as old customs in his sight
          Were a straight road and a steady light,
          He bade them keep the White Horse white
          As the first plume of the snows.

          And right to the red torchlight,
          From the trouble of morning grey,
          They stripped the White Horse of the grass
          As they strip it to this day."

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