The Ballad of Glastonbury

1 The magnificent views from the Quantock hills above Nether Stowey, where this poem was written, embrace the whole of the moor district of Somersetshire, with the bare hills and wooded capes which bound this singular tract of country, and the Tor of Glastonbury and Mendip hills in the distance.


The Ballad of Glastonbury

by: Henry Alford (Author)
from: The Poetical Works (Pp. 32 - 43)  1852


        Glastonbury, anciently called Avalon, is a place much celebrated both in tradition and history. It was here, according to old legends, when the neighboring moors were covered by the sea, that St. Joseph of Arimathea landed, and built the first church in England. It was here that the glorious king Arthur was buried, with the inscription:   Hic jacet Arturus, rex quondam, rexque futurus.

It was here that the scarcely less glorious King Alfred took sancturary, and hence that he went into voluntary obscurity when the Danes invaded England. Here also was built that magnificent abbey, whose riches and hospitality were known to all Christendom. Its last abbot was murdered on the Tor-hill by order of Henry the Eighth, and the building was sacrificed to the misguided fury of the Reformation. The very ruins are now fast perishing.
        The Quantock Hills, alluded to in the following poem, are in the autumn profusely covered with the mingled blossoms of heath and furze.


[The prospect of the western plains.]

The hills have on their royal robes
        Of purple and of gold,
And over their tops the autumn clouds
        In heaps are onward rolled;
Below them spreads the fairest plain
        That British eye may see--
From Quantock to the Mendip range,
        A broad expanse and free.1


[An invocation of Time, to open the days past.]

As from those barriers, grey and vast,
        Rolled off the morning mist,
Leaving the eyesight unrestrained
        To wander where it list,
So roll, thou ancient chronicler,
        The ages' mist away;
Give me an hour of vision clear,
        A dream of the former day.


[A vision is vouchsafed.]

At once the flood of the Severn sea
        Flowed over half the plain,
And a hundred capes, with huts and trees,
        Above the flood remain:
'T is water here and water there,
        And the lordly Parret's way
Hath never a trace on its pathless face--
        As in the former day.


[The ship of St. Joseph, and how it sped.]

Of shining sails that thronged that stream
        There resteth never a one;
But a little ship to that inland sea
        Comes bounding in alone;
With stretch of sail and tug of oar
        It comes full merrily,
And the sailors chant, as they pass the shore,
        Tibi gloria Domine.


'Nights and days on the watery ways
        Our vessel hath slidden on,
Our arms have never tired of toil,
        Our stores have long been done;
Sweet Jesus hath sped us over the wave,
        By coasts and along the sea,
And we sing, as we pass each rising land,
        Tibi gloria Domine.


'Sweet Jesus hath work for us to do
        In a land of promise fair;
Our vessel is steered by an angel-hand
        Until it bring us there:
To our Captain given, a sign from heaven
        Our token true shall be;
And we sing, as we wait for the Promise-sign,
        Tibi gloria Domine.


[The sign of promise is given to him;]

'When a dark green hill shall spire aloft
        Into the pure blue sky,
Most like to Tabor's holy mount
        Of vision blest and high;
Straight to that hill our bounding prow
        Unguided shall pass and free;
Sweet Jesus hath spoken, and we believe;
        Tibi gloria Domine'


[And fulfilled.]

Thus far they sung, and at once a shout
        Peeled upward loud and clear;
For, lo! the vessel onward ran
        With never a hand to steer;
And full in sight that Promise-hill
        Towered up into the sky,
Most like to Tabor's holy mount
        Of vision blest and high.


Now raise the song, ye faithful crew,
        Let all the uplands hear;
It fitteth Salvation's messengers
        To be of joyous cheer;
For Avalon isle ye make the while,
        By angel-pilot's hand;
Right onward for that pointed hill,