The Tavern Tales: Prologue

 

SEE where the dusty highroad winds along
From London unto distant York, its line
Like some gigantic ribbon laid upon
The folds and creases of the countryside,
Now disappearing on a far hill tip.
There on the highway went a motley throng
Of lordly folk, of prelates, merchants, knaves,
Coaches and highwaymen, waggons and wains.
And where the road came through a winding vale
A group of cottages with nut-brown thatch
Proclaimed a village. There the ivied church
Stood with a vicarage. The smithy, school,
And tavern made the scene almost complete.
Across the meadows and within a park
The manor of the local squire was set.
Farther and set apart, with house and barns,
Stood in their tillèd acres little farms.
The school disgorged its children, to their homes
They ran on eager feet, though lingered some
At the smith’s open door to see the sparks
Fly upward from the furnace, and to hear
The ring of iron as the hammer fell
Upon the white-hot horse-shoes. When the dusk
Crept over field and hill the furnace glow
Cast a bright beam across the village street,
And it was matched by yet another ray
That shone out from the tavern’s window pane.
There gathered every evening when the toil
That kept men busy all the day was done.
In friendly intercourse the labourers,
The cottage-dwellers and the travellers,
The Squire himself, oft-times the Vicar too;
And over reeking pipe and foaming mug
In raftered parlour many a tale was spun.
There high degrees and low were well combined
And social differences were cast aside.
All found a common level, all were men,
And he who had a tale commanded all
And had his audience of rich and poor.