Canto 12: Crescent & Cross

Riding swiftly, Minaya Alvar Fanez kill’d thirty-four Moors with his sharp sword; his arm was stain’d with the blood dripping down to his elbow.

The Poem of ‘The Cid’


Alfred

Only the lords of Wessex dare defy
The victual flamboyance of the Vikings,
“Are we not Saxons?” rings a captain’s cry,
The morning chorus of the English kings;
As great a man
As ever was Pompey,
Driving his battle-plan along the old Ridgeway.

They met the Norsemen on the hill
Life’s liberties to defend,
A moment making time stand still,
Immortalies suspend –
Britain some Nordic overspill
Or war-heroic blend?
The Saxons tough the better of the fight
The Ravens breaking cloth are put to flight.

Upsrings a worthy capital
Laws writ in native tongue,
The chronicle of his struggle
Preserv’d in prose & song,
Then marries into Mercia to make his nation strong.

Winchester
892


Holy Roman Empire

Distant princes court Alfred’s grand-daughters,
Enchaunted by their dancing beauty’s youth;
Perfect as pearl, skin soft as spring-waters,
Souls hankering for virtue-verdur’d truth;
King Otho’s bride,
Edgitha, shares his reign,
Her Saxon blood allied with sacred Charlemagne.

“How yearnst I,” sighs the emperor,
“For to unite Germany,
Bind beautiful Bavaria
To blueberry Lombardy
Blend heather-scented Swabia
With sunny Saxony –
Administ’ring, with best Papal consent,
The central portions of this continent.”

Arose a sense of nationhood
Tied by Teutonic tongue,
In hall & wood, those tayles of blood,
The Niebelungen song,
Stirr’d up a spirit which the soul of Seigried soar’d among.

Germania
962


The Rise of Paris

Long since the notion struck the Parisii
To settle by the Seine, & since sublime
Lutetia prais’d each Ceasar’s victory,
This eagle’s nest amidst the mists of time
Claims Frankish throne,
As jangling jongleurs sing,
“One of our very own has been elected king!”

How many noble knights advance
Gorgeous daughters for the bride
Of Hugh Capet, the first in France,
His Parisians felt pride,
But only one lass stood a chance
As once again allied,
The blood of Charlemagne & Alfred merge,
One wedding night, abed, with mighty spurge.

“So this is life!” the pilgrim said
Upon the paths to Spain,
Those slowly tread, with fruit & bread,
Those roads thro’ Aquitaine
Upon the route… the valorous, the vocal & the vain.

France
990


Taking the Cross

From the Praetendarius of Llanfair
To the old Thesaurarius of Lille,
It seems Pope Urban’s essence moves thro’ air,
It prospers thro’ the priesthoods, keen with zeal;
Christ’s foremost knight
Tours Europe’s fidget thrones,
“Those Muslims must we fight!” rouses convictive tones.

“My brave, young hawks, open thy mind
To Heaven & His glories,
Thy quadrivium leave behind
Renege thine earthly follies,
With my bold guard of falcons bind,
Mutatis Mutandis!
Jerusalem is grieving for our grace
To free her from the Saracen embrace.”

Redemption calls, tempted afar,
Men bend on steely knee,
’Neath sacred star them bless’d, them are
The Crucesignati!
Those continental cavaliers of Christianity!

Claremont
1095


Crusaders

Impulse grown gory thro’ all Christendom,
“God wills it!” uproars the monks of Cluny,
Most voiceferous van against Islam,
Cause focus’d by Henry of Burgandy;
His brimming ships
Batter the Biscay bay…
Men land, what fervour grips these battles fought today.

As raiding parties ebb & flow
Twyx Braga & Toledo,
Reclaims, Henry, the Duoro
&, unnoposed, Oporto,
For mile-on-mile, from grand Minho
To moor-like Mondego,
Portugal is awaking, native lands
Return like saint-stigmata to the hands.

News permeates the Prophet’s world
Of this Hispanic loss,
Banners unfurl’d, blasphemies hurl’d,
As Cresent curses Cross,
Soon bloody pools must soak’d up be by spongey mountain moss.

Palestine
1097


The First Crusade

One hundred thousand claim a crucifix,
& gallop to the Gallilean hills,
All them but pawns of Papal politics,
With swords & lances, sleek dipteran quills;
A spirit shield,
Of sweet death deified,
From holy battlefields souls rise on sacred tide.

At last they capture Antioch,
Long siege of land & water,
Infidels fighting rock-by-rock,
Apocalyptic slaughter!
Depleting, daily, human stock –
War’s terminal quota;
Infernal, body-mangl’d battlefield,
Where flat hymns mingl’d as the singing peel’d.

From miracle to miracle
The city stood no chance,
A gritty yell, the citadel
To libbards, fell, of France,
Lungs bellowing, “Avanti!” “Adelante!” & “Advance!”

Jerusalem
1099


The Second Crusade

The road to Jerusalem hatch’d open,
The Templars guard it nightly, like a star,
All Europe flocking here to feel Heaven:
The desperate, the pilgrim, the bizarre;
As western ways
Encroach upon the east –
Into the desert haze the Seljuk Turks releas’d.

What good tidings prick’d Paereaus!
Pious kingdom in the sun!
“The English are victorious!”
”London delivers Lisbon!”
”The times & tides turn serious
For Allah’s talisman!”
From single stroke such optimism falls,
A shout rings out, “The Turks are at the walls.”

These rampant Mohammedians
Cut off the Holy Land
From Christians’ relief legions,
Men bleeding in the sand,
& begging Islam’s mercy, are all slaughter’d out of hand.

Dorylaeum
1147


Birth of Berlin

As rivers seek a causeway to the sea
& change their course when rocky terran strong,
Crusader States turn north for Germany
Admonishing each easy, heathen throng;
“Ye pagans proud,
Baptise or be deceas’d!”
Slavs form a rabble crowd & grovel to the east.

As curdling milk congeals to cream
Steps tentative turn to stride,
Into abandon’d forests teem
The Aryans, sky-blue eyed,
Whereby this signal, signet stream
Tween Elbe’s & Oder’s glide,
Builds up a town amidst the finny lakes,
Fair beauties flow as early morning breaks.

Knights bound for Lithuania
(They’ll convert pagans there),
Out-spill from the silviculture,
Filling a cobbl’d square,
Where, breaking fast, near morning mass, men share a battle-prayer.

Germania
1147


Jacob’s Ford

Damascus seiz’d by Sa-Lah-Din, & so
Encircling siege surrounds Crusader States:
Leprous Baldwin reacts, & acts not slow,
Building a bristling buttress at the gates;
‘An iron key,’
Wise Sa-Lah-Din believes,’
‘Unlocking it shall free Jerusalem from thieves!’

Before impregnable ramparts,
Islamic slogans crying,
A mine explodes, the battle starts,
Fine arrow storms are flying
At Templars whittl’d down in parts,
Til,’ surrender-sighing,
The fortress falls, altho’ six hours away
Baldwin sees smoke… him sinking in dismay

Calls off the march, a klutz alone,
Strategy in tatters,
His chance has blown, as stone-by-stone
Down his castle clatters,
Delightment-dappl’d Sa-Lah-Din blesses current matters.

Galilee
1179

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