portrait of Rudyard KiplingRudyard Kipling

Norman and Saxon

Subtitled "A.D. 1100", these verses not only have the delightful rhythms that Kipling was so good at but stirs memories of the glorious days of Robin Hood and Ivanhoe. It was written as a set for C. R. L. Fletcher's A History of England.

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'My son,' said the Norman Baron,
   'I am dying, and you will be heir
To all the broad acres in England
   that William gave me for my share
When we conquered the Saxon at Hastings,
   and a nice little handful it is.
But before you go over to rule it
   I want you to understand this:

'The Saxon is not like us Normans.
   His manners are not so polite.
But he never means anything serious
   till he talks about justice and right.
When he stands like an ox in the furrow
   with his sullen set eyes on your own,
And grumbles, "This isn't fair dealing,"
   my son, leave the Saxon alone.

'You can horsewhip your Gascony archers,
   or torture your Picardy spears;
But don't try that game on the Saxon;
   you'll have the whole brood round your ears.
From the richest old Thane in the county
   to the poorest chained serf in the field,
They'll be at you and on you like hornets,
   and, if you are wise, you will yield.

'But first you must master their language,
   their dialect, proverbs and songs.
Don't trust any clerk to interpret
   when they come with the tale of their wrongs.
Let them know that you know what they're saying;
   let them feel that you know what to say.
Yes, even when you want to go hunting,
   hear 'em out if it takes you all day.

'They'll drink every hour of the daylight
   and poach every hour of the dark.
It's the sport not the rabbits they're after
   (we've plenty of game in the park).
Don't hang them or cut off their fingers.
   That's wasteful as well as unkind,
For a hard-bitten, South-country poacher
   makes the best man-at-arms you can find.

'Appear with your wife and the children
   at their weddings and funerals and feasts.
Be polite but not friendly to Bishops;
   be good to all poor parish priests.
Say "we," "us," and "ours" when you're talking,
   instead of "you fellows" and "I."
Don't ride over seeds; keep your temper;
   and never you tell 'em a lie!'

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