The Dirge Of Offa

Michael Horneythorne Ball
Language: English


« This ballad is supposed to be written by Mordrid, chief of the bards, in the reign of Edwin, king of Northumberland, whose son Offa was slain in the battle of Hatfield Wood, near Doncaster, a.D. 633. It concludes with the words of the bard. Rapin says, on Hatfield Wood a bloody battle was fought between Ceadwalla, king of the Britons, and Penda, the Pagan king of Mercia, against Edwin, the first Christian king of Northumberland, in which Edwin and Offrido his eldest son were slain. »

From : The Ballads and Songs of Yorkshire, transcribed from private manuscripts, rare broadsides and scarce publications, by C.J. Davison Ingledew, London, Bell and Daldy, 1860.

Tra i numerosi e particolari libriccini in mio possesso relativi alla « balladry » angloscozzese, vi è quest’oltremodo rara collezione di ballate dello Yorkshire recuperata fortunosamente dalle dismissioni della biblioteca del British Council di Roma. Sfortunatamente, l’opera è concentrata sui testi e dà scarsissime indicazioni sulle melodie delle ballate. « The Dirge of Offa », scritta da un pastore anglicano nel 1782, nel pieno della « ballatite » britannica preromantica inaugurata dal famoso vescovo sir Thomas Percy la quale portò dritta alle « Lyrical Ballads » di Wordsworth e Coleridge, vero fondamento del Romanticismo, narra di un episodio che riporta agli albori della civiltà anglosassone ed alla fine di quella britanna. La battaglia di Hatfield Wood, presso Doncaster, combattuta nell’anno 633, vide la sconfitta del re britanno Ceadwalla, e del suo alleato pagano Penda, re di Mercia, ad opera di Edwin (Eadwine), il primo re cristiano di Northumbria. Nella battaglia caddero lo stesso Edwin, suo figlio maggiore Offrido e Offa, figlio di Mordrid, bardo maggiore della corte. La ballata apre la collezione (pp. 1-3). [RV]
See my son, my Offa, dies !
He who could chase his father’s foes !
Where shall the king now close his eyes ?
Where but in the tomb of woes.

‘Tis there thy stony couch is laid,
And there the wearied king may rest –
But will not Penda’s threats invade
The quiet of the monarch’s breast ?

No –my son shall quell his rage –
What have I said ? – ah me, undone ;
Ne’er shall the parent’s snowy age
Recall the tender name of son !

O would that I for thee had died,
Nor liv’d to wail thy piteous case !
Who dar’d defy those looks of pride,
That mark the chiefs of Wyba’s race !

But, O my son, I little knew
What pow’r was in that arm of might !
That weeds of such a baleful hue
The laurel’s beauteous wreath should blight !

Yes, my son, the shaft that thee
Transfix’d, hath drawn thy father’s fate !
O how will Hengist weep to see
The woes that on his line await !

To see my Offa’s latest pangs,
As wild in death he bites the shore !
A savage wolf, with bloody fangs,
The lamb’s unspotted bosom tore !

Who never knew to give offence,
But to revenge his father’s wrong !-
Some abler arm convey him hence
And bear a father’s love along !

Alas ! this tongue is all too weak
The last sad duties to perform !
These feeble arms their task forsake !
Else should they rise in wrathful storm.

Against the ruthless rebel’s head
Who dared such laurels to destroy ;
To bid each virtue’s hope lie dead !
And crush a parent’s only joy !

Inter him by yon ivy tow’r,
And raise the note of deepest dole !
Ne’er should a friend in deathful hour,
Forget the chief of gen’rous soul :

And o’er the grave erect a stone,
His worth and lineage high to tell :
And, by the faithful cross be shown
That in the faith of Christ he fell !

Hail ! valiant chiefs of Hatfield Wood !
Ne’er may your blooming honours cease !
That with unequal strength withstood
Th’invader of your country’s peace.

Now, round this head let darkness fall !
Descend, ye shafts of thund’rous hail !
Ne’er shall be said, in Edwy’s hall
That troubled ghost was heard to wail ! –

Then, with his feeble arm, the fire
Into the thickest battle flies,
To die, was all the chief’s desire ;
Oppress’d with wounds and grief, he dies.

And let the future soul of rhime,
If chance he cons of Edwy’s praise,
As high his quiv’ring fingers climb,
Record, that Mordrid pour’d the lays !

Contributed by Riccardo Venturi - 2006/12/8 - 22:54

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