The Northern Way

Song and Legend From the Middle Ages

German Literature

Page 10

There was but hope bore him along;

Even yet to hope he was full fain

That gold might help him back again

Thither whence God had cast him out.

Ah! weak to strive and little stout

'Gainst Heaven the strength that he possessed.

North and south and east and west,

Far and wide from every side,

Mediciners well proved and tried

Came to him at the voice of his woe;

But, mused and pondered they ever so,

They could but say, for all their care,

That he must be content to bear

The burthen of the anger of God;

For him there was no other road.

Already was his heart nigh down

When yet to him one chance was shown;

For in Salerno dwelt, folk said,

A leach who still might lend him aid,

Albeit unto his body's cure,

All such had been as nought before.

Earl Henry visits the leach in Salerno whom he implores to tell him the means by which he may be healed.

Quoth the leach, "Then know them what they are;

Yet still all hope must stand afar.

Truly if the cure for your care

Might be gotten anyway anywhere,

Did it hide in the furthest parts of earth,

This-wise I had not sent you forth.

But all my knowledge hath none avail;

There is but one thing would not fail:

An innocent virgin for to find,

Chaste, and modest, and pure in mind,

Who to save you from death might choose

Her own young body's life to lose;

The heart's blood of the excellent maid---

That and nought else can be your aid.

But there is none will be won thereby

For the love of another's life to die.

"'T was then poor Henry knew indeed

That from his ill he might not be freed,

Sith that no woman he might win

Of her own will to act herein.

Thus got he but an ill return

For the journey he made unto Salerne,

And the hope he had upon that day

Was snatched from him and rent away.

Homeward he hied him back: full fain

With limbs in the dust he would have lain.

Of his substance---lands and riches both---

He rid himself; even as one doth

Who the breath of the last life of his hope

Once and forever hath rendered up.

To his friends he gave and to the poor,

Unto God praying evermore

The spirit that was in him to save,

And make his bed soft in the grave.

What still remained aside he set

For Holy Church's benefit.

Of all that heretofore was his

Nought held he for himself, I wis,

Save one small house with byre and field;

There from the world he lived concealed,---

There lived he, and awaited Death,

Who being awaited, lingereth.

Pity and ruth his troubles found

Alway through all the country round.

Who heard him named, had sorrow deep

And for his piteous sake would weep.

The poor man who tilled Earl Henry's field had a daughter, a sweet and tender maiden who, out of love for Henry and a heart of Christ-like pity, at last offers herself to die for him. After a struggle Henry accepts the sacrifice. But when he knows it is about to be made his heart rises against it and he refuses to permit it. At this the maiden is much grieved. She takes it as a token that she is not pure enough to be offered for him. She prays for a sign that she may hope to become wholly cleansed. In answer to this prayer Earl Henry is one night cleansed of the leprosy. He then joyfully takes the maiden for his bride and leads her before his kinsman and nobles for their consent.

"Then," quoth the Earl, "hearken me this.

The damozel who standeth here,---

And whom I embrace, being most dear,---

She it is unto whom I owe

The grace it hath pleased God to bestow.

He saw the simple spirited

Earnestness of the holy maid,

And even in guerdon of her truth

Gave me back the joys of my youth,

Which seemed to be lost beyond all doubt,

And therefore I have chosen her out

To wed with me knowing her free.

I think that God will let this be.

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