The White Horse of Wharfdale
O sisters: hasten we on our way—
The Wharf is wide and strong!
Our father alone in his hall will say,
“My daughters linger long.”
“Nay, tarry awhile in the yellow moon light,
And each shall see her own true knight.
For now in her boat of an acorn-shell
The fairy queen may be,
She dives in a water-spider’s bell
To keep her revelry:
We’ll drop a thistle’s beard in the tide—
’Twill serve for bridles when fairies ride;
And she who shall first their White Horse see
Shall be the heiress of Bethmeslie.”
Then Jeannette spoke with her eyes of light—
“O if I had fairy power,
I weuld change this elm to a gallant knight,
And this grey rock to a bower:
Our dwelling should be behind a screen
Of blossoming alders and laurustine;
Our hives should tempt the wild bees all,
And the swallows love our eaves,
For the eglantine should tuft our wall,
And cover their nests with leaves:
The spindle’s wool should lie unspun,
And our lambs lie safe in the summer-sun,
While the merry bells ring for my knight and me,
Farewell to the halls of Bethmeslie!”
Then Annot shook her golden hair—
“If I had power and will,
These rocks should change to marble rare,
And the oaks should leave the hill,
To build a dome of prouder height
Than ever yet rose in the morning light.
And every one of these slender reeds
Should be a page in green,
To lead and deck my berry-brown steeds,
And call my greyhounds in:
These lilies all should be ladies gay,
To weave the pearls for my silk array,
And none but a princely knight shall see
Smiles in the lady of Bethmeslie.”
Then softly said their sister May—
“I would ask neither spell nor wand;
For better I prize this white rose-spray
Pluck’d by my father’s hand:
And little I heed the knight to see
Who seeks the heiress of Bethmeslie!
Yet would I give one of these roses white
If the fairy-queen would ride
Safe o’er this flood ere the dead of night,
And bear us by her side.
And then with her winglet her lift the latch
Of my father’s gate, and his slumbers watch,
And touch his eyes with her glow-worm-gleams.
Till he sees and blesses us in his dreams.”
The night-winds howl’d o’er Bolton Strid,
The flood was dark and drear,
But through it swam the fairy-queen’s steed
The lady May to bear :
And that milk-white steed was seen to skim
Like a flash of the moon on the water’s brim:
The morning came, and the winds were tame,
The flood slept on the shore;
But the sisters three of Bethmeslie
Return’d to its hall no more.
Now under the shade of its ruin’d wall
A thorn grows lonely, bare, and tall.
And there is a weak and weeping weed
Seems on its rugged stem to feed:
The shepherds sit in the green recess,
And call them Pride and Idleness,
But there is the root of a white rose-tree
Still blooms at the gate of Bethmeslie.
Woe to the maid that on morn of May
Shall see that White Horse rise!
The hope of her heart shall pass away
As the foam of his nostril flies,
Unless to her father’s knee she brings
The white rose-tree’s first offerings.—
There is no dew from summer-skies
Has power like the drop from a father’s eyes;
And if on her cheek that tear of bliss
Shall mingle with his holy kiss,
The bloom of her cheek shall blessed be
As the Fairy’s rose of Bethmeslie.
- Coleridge and Rogers have made this Strid famous, and the White Horse is still expected to rise on the Wharf near it, when travellers are drowning. ↩