Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
France: Vols. IX–X. 1876–79.



By Ballads of Brittany

  • Translated by Tom Taylor
  • A great battle is recorded in history as having been fought in the tenth century near Kerloän, a village on the coast of Leon, between the Norsemen and the Bretons under Ewen the Great. The Normans were driven to their ships, but carried off some prisoners; among them the hero of this ballad, Bran, the grandson of a still greater chieftain of the same name, often mentioned in the Breton chronicles. Near Kerloän there is still a hamlet called after him, Kervran, or Bran’s Hold.

  • I.
    SORE wounded lies the good knight Bran

    On the foughten field of Kerloän.

    On Kerloän field, hard by the shore,

    Lieth the grandson of Bran-Vor.

    Maugre our Bretons won the day,

    He ’s bound and o’er sea borne away.

    Borne over sea, shut up, alone,

    In donjon-tower he made his moan.

    “My kin they shout for joy, but I,

    Sore wounded, on my bed must lie.

    “O, where shall I find a post to bear

    A letter unto my mother dear?”

    A post has been found, and in this wise ran

    The orders of the good knight Bran,—

    “Now busk thee, busk thee in masquing weed,

    A beggar’s gown were safe at need.

    “And take this signet-ring o’ me,

    This ring of gold, for a token to be.

    “To the land of Leon when thou shalt fare,

    This ring to my lady mother bear.

    “And if she come with my ransom-fee,

    Hoist a white flag, that I may see.

    “And if she come not, O dule and woe?

    Hoist a black flag, that I may know.”

    When the messenger came to the land of Leon,

    The noble dame to supper had gone.

    To supper was set, with her kinsmen all,—

    The merry minstrels, they harped in hall.

    “Fair fall thee, noble chatelan,

    I bring this ring from thy fair son Bran.

    “His ring of gold, and a letter thereon,—

    Behoves you read it, and read anon.”

    “My merry minstrels, your harping give o’er,

    With a heavy grief my heart is sore.

    “No time for harping is this, God wot;

    My son lies bound, and I knew it not.

    “To-night make me a good ship yare,

    That to-morrow I over sea may fare.”

    The morrow morn, from off his bed,

    The good knight Bran to his warder said,—

    “Warder, warder, look out and see

    Is there no ship upon the sea?”

    “Now nay, Sir Knight, naught never see I,

    But it be the great sea and the sky.”

    The good knight Bran, at mid of day,

    Again to the warder he ’gan say,—

    “Warder, warder, look out and see,

    Is there no ship upon the sea?”

    “Now nay, Sir Knight, I see naught, I trow,

    But the sea-mews flying to and fro.”

    The good knight Bran, at the set of day,

    Again to the warder he ’gan say,—

    “Warder, warder, look out and see,

    Is there no ship upon the sea?”

    Outspake the warder, full of guile,

    And smiled on him a cruel smile,—

    “A ship I see, far, far away,

    And the winds about it lash the spray.”

    “What flag? what flag blows out to sight?”

    Is ’t of the black? is ’t of the white?”

    “Sir Knight, if rightly I discern,

    ’T is black,—I swear by the brands that burn.”

    The woful knight, when this he heard,

    Thereafter never uttered word.

    He turned his pale face to the wall,

    And shivered as they that in fever fall.

    The lady, as ever she leaped to land,

    Bespoke the townsfolk upon the strand,—

    “What here has happed? what means this thing,

    That thus I hear the church-bells ring?”

    An aged man, that the ladye heard,

    Made answer straight upon the word,—

    “One we had here in hold, a knight,

    Is dead, so late as yesternight.”

    Scarce spoke were the words of that old man,

    Distraught to the tower the ladye ran.

    O, fast flowed her tears, as fast she flew,

    With her thin white hairs all loose that blew,

    That the townsfolk marvelled much to see

    An aged ladye, of high degree,

    A stranger ladye, in wail and woe,

    And mourning, through their streets to go,

    That each bespoke other, as by she ran,

    “What ladye is this? what kith and clan?”

    To the high tower foot when she won her way,

    The porter the weeping dame ’gan pray:

    “Draw bolt, draw bar, and let me in,—

    My son, my son! that to him I win!”

    He hath drawn the bar, and the bolt hath sprung:

    On her son’s dead body herself she flung.

    And in her arms she clasped him amain,

    And from that embrace never rose again.

    On the battle-field of Kerloän

    There grows a tree looks o’er the lan’;

    There grows an oak in the place of stour,

    Where the Saxons fled from Ewen-Vor.

    Upon this oak, when the moon shines bright,

    The birds they gather from the night.

    Sea-mews, pied black and white are there,

    On every forehead a blood-speck clear.

    With them a corbie, ash-gray for eld,

    And a young crow aye at her side beheld.

    Wayworn seem the twain, with wings that dreep,

    As birds that flight o’er sea must keep.

    So sweetly sing these birds, and clear,

    The great sea stills its waves to hear,

    And aye their songs one burden hold,

    All save the young crow’s and the corbie’s old.

    And this is ever the crow’s sore cry,—

    “Sing, little birds, sing merrily.

    “Sing, birds o’ the land, in merry strain,

    You died not far from your own Bretayne.”