Friday, May 31, 2019

‘The Land of the Four Trees’

When the land was sunk
In heathen darkness,
One holy hermit
Wandered about
On his two bare feet,
Speaking words of truth.
But so tormenting
Was his speech to the souls
Of his hearers
That they laid him flat
And bound him fast,
Each hand and foot,
To four wooden posts,
And flayed the flesh
From off his bones
Till life left his body.

But the holiness of God
That had dwelt within him
Did not depart at his death,
But remained, and overflowed
In such a measure
That the posts that held
The outstretched limbs
Of the martyr
Received life once more
And grew to great height
In the sight of all.
And their being was changed,
As all then shone,
Leaf and branch and bough,
With a light, whether day or night,
Of clear crystal brightness
That showered the land
For many miles around.
And they were now
Continually with flower
And fruit:  The former
Putting forth a fragrance sweeter
Than any had smelled before;
The latter, as soon was known
By the folk, imparted healing
To those who ate thereof.

All who beheld
How this scene of slaughter
Had become so fair and lovely
Were overawed.
The king of that land
Was so struck with wonder
That he straightway
Cast aside and cursed
His heathen gods
And embraced the God
Of the hermit.
All those present
Could do no less,
And ere long the whole land
Was teeming with these
New faithful folk.

That king soon built
A costly shrine
In the midst of the Four Trees
And laid the holy body
Within it himself,
And after a kiss
And many prostrations,
Beseeched his prayers
For his kingdom,
His family,
And for his own self.
From then on did he
And his sons after him
For many generations
Rule the people
From a throne that stood
Before the brightness
Of the Four Trees.
And in all matters,
Small or great or ‘tween,
The priest of God,
Who served at the martyr’s shrine,
Was ever his counsellor.
The king likewise
Never failed to defend
That holy place from any
Who would dare profane it.
And the whole life of that land
Became woven through and round
The shrine of the hermit
And the life-bearing Trees,
To which throngs of pilgrims
Flowed unceasingly.

Yet, after many years had passed,
After many bairn-teams had grown
Accustomed to the blessings
Bestowed on them by God
Through the hermit and his Trees -
Deliverance from enemies,
Abundance of crop and cow,
Birth of ruddy children multiplied -
Their fervor waned,
Their faith-heat cooled,
And indifference
Began to reign.
And no longer
Were men willing to serve
As priests at the shrine
Or at any temple of God.

So when merchants
Came seeking seamen
For their journeys,
A host went away with them.
And one of the Four Trees
Became blighted and died.

And when teachers
Of other faiths and dogmas
Appeared in the land,
No few followed after them.
And one of the Four Trees
Became blighted and died.

And when disciples
Of the old heathen gods
Came out of hiding
And bade the people
Return to the old ways
Of their forebears,
Lo, many did so.
And one of the Four Trees
Became blighted and died.

And when rationalists
Came and said that
All gods are false
But man and his desires,
They too gathered men as spoils.
And the last of the Four Trees
Became blighted and died.

In those days the king
Was old and weary with age.
Long and white was his beard,
And despair weighed down
His hoary head
With a weight far greater
Than his golden,
Jewel-bestudded crown.
And when the light
From the last of the Four Trees
Ceased to shine, he let out
A deep sigh, and drew breath no more.

Then Heaven’s Master,
In sorrow at these acts,
Bade the earth to hide
The martyr’s body in her breast.

And though the sun still rose,
And the moon her monthly cycle kept,
And the stars wheeled across the nighttime sky,
No one understood what deep darkness
Had o’ertaken the land once more.


Holy Ælfred the Great, King of England, South Patron, pray for us sinners at the Souð, unworthy though we are!

Anathema to the Union!