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The Demon of the Gibbet

by
Fitz-James O'Brien

[Death
playing a cornet, from The English Dance of Death by Thomas Rowlandson]

There was no west, there was no east,
No star abroad for eyes to see;
And Norman spurred his jaded beast
Hard by the terrible gallows-tree.

"O, Norman, haste across this waste,—
For something seems to follow me!"
"Cheer up, dear Maud, for, thanked be God,
We nigh have passed the gallows tree!"

He kissed her lip: then—spur and whip!
And fast they fled across the lea.
But vain the heel, the rowel steel,—
For something leaped from the gallows-tree!

"Give me your cloak, your knightly cloak,
That wrapped you oft beyond the sea!
The wind is bold, my bones are old,
And I am cold on the gallows-tree!"

"O holy God! O dearest Maud,
Quick, quick, some prayers—the best that be!
A bony hand my neck has spanned,
And tears my knightly cloak from me!"

"Give me your wine,—the red, red wine,
That in a flask hangs by your knee!
Ten summers burst on me accurst,
And I am athirst on the gallows-tree!"

"O Maud, my life, my loving wife!
Have you no prayer to set us free?
My belt unclasps,—a demon grasps,
And drags my wine-flask from my knee!"

"Give me your bride, your bonnie bride,
That left her nest with you to flee!
O she hath flown to be my own,
For I'm alone on the gallows-tree!"

"Cling closer, Maud, and trust in God!
Cling close!—Ah, heaven, she slips from me!"
A prayer, a groan, and he alone
Rode on that night from the gallows-tree.

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