The Three Horses by George MacDonald

What shall I be?–I will be a knight
Walled up in armour black,
With a sword of sharpness, a hammer of might.
And a spear that will not crack–
So black, so blank, no glimmer of light
Will betray my darkling track.

Saddle my coal-black steed, my men,
Fittest for sunless work;
Old Night is steaming from her den,
And her children gather and lurk;
Bad things are creeping from the fen,
And sliding down the murk.

Let him go!–let him go! Let him plunge!–Keep away!
He’s a foal of the third seal’s brood!
Gaunt with armour, in grim array
Of poitrel and frontlet-hood,
Let him go, a living castle, away–
Right for the evil wood.

I and Ravenwing on the course,
Heavy in fighting gear–
Woe to the thing that checks our force,
That meets us in career!
Giant, enchanter, devil, or worse–
What cares the couched spear!

Slow through the trees zigzag I ride.
See! the goblins!–to and fro!
From the skull of the dark, on either side,
See the eyes of a dragon glow!
From the thickets the silent serpents glide–
I pass them, I let them go;

For somewhere in the evil night
A little one cries alone;
An aged knight, outnumbered in fight,
But for me will be stricken prone;
A lady with terror is staring white,
For her champion is overthrown.

The child in my arms, to my hauberk prest,
Like a trembling bird will cling;
I will cover him over, in iron nest,
With my shield, my one steel wing,
And bear him home to his mother’s breast,
A radiant, rescued thing.

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Spur in flank, and lance in rest,
On the old knight’s foes I flash;
The caitiffs I scatter to east and west
With clang and hurtle and crash;
Leave them the law, as knaves learn it best,
In bruise, and breach, and gash.

The lady I lift on my panting steed;
On the pommel she holds my mace;
Hand on bridle I gently lead
The horse at a gentle pace;
The thickets with martel-axe I heed,
For the wood is an evil place.

What treasure is there in manly might
That hid in the bosom lies!
Who for the crying will not fight
Had better be he that cries!
A man is a knight that loves the right
And mounts for it till he dies.

Alas, ’tis a dream of ages hoar!
In the fens no dragons won;
No giants from moated castles roar;
Through the forest wide roadways run;
Of all the deeds they did of yore
Not one is left to be done!

If I should saddle old Ravenwing
And hie me out at night,
Scared little birds away would spring
An ill-shot arrow’s flight:
The idle fancy away I fling,
Now I will dream aright!

Let a youth bridle Twilight, my dapple-gray,
With broad rein and snaffle bit;
He must bring him round at break of day
When the shadows begin to flit,
When the darkness begins to dream away,
And the owls begin to sit.

Ungraithed in plate or mail I go,
With only my sword–gray-blue
Like the scythe of the dawning come to mow
The night-sprung shadows anew
From the gates of the east, that, fair and slow,
Maid Morning may walk through.

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I seek no forest with darkness grim,
To the open land I ride;
Low light, from the broad horizon’s brim,
Lies wet on the flowing tide,
And mottles with shadows dun and dim
The mountain’s rugged side.

Steadily, hasteless, o’er valley and hill.
O’er the moor, along the beach,
We ride, nor slacken our pace until
Some city of men we reach;
There, in the market, my horse stands still,
And I lift my voice and preach.

Wealth and poverty, age and youth
Around me gather and throng;
I tell them of justice, of wisdom, of truth,
Of mercy, and law, and wrong;
My words are moulded by right and ruth
To a solemn-chanted song.

They bring me questions which would be scanned,
That strife may be forgot;
Swerves my balance to neither hand,
The poor I favour no jot;
If a man withstand, out sweeps my brand.
I slay him upon the spot.

But what if my eye have in it a beam
And therefore spy his mote?
Righteousness only, wisdom supreme
Can tell the sheep from the goat!
Not thus I dream a wise man’s dream,
Not thus take Wrong by the throat!

Lead Twilight home. I dare not kill;
The sword myself would scare.–
When the sun looks over the eastern hill,
Bring out my snow-white mare:
One labour is left which no one will
Deny me the right to share!

Take heed, my men, from crest to heel
Snow-white have no speck;
No curb, no bit her mouth must feel,
No tightening rein her neck;
No saddle-girth drawn with buckle of steel
Shall her mighty breathing check!

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Lay on her a cloth of silver sheen,
Bring me a robe of white;
Wherever we go we must be seen
By the shining of our light–
A glistening splendour in forest green,
A star on the mountain-height.

With jar and shudder the gates unclose;
Out in the sun she leaps!
A unit of light and power she goes
Levelling vales and steeps:
The wind around her eddies and blows,
Before and behind her sleeps.

Oh joy, oh joy to ride the world
And glad, good tidings bear!
A flag of peace on the winds unfurled
Is the mane of my shining mare:
To the sound of her hoofs, lo, the dead stars hurled
Quivering adown the air!

Oh, the sun and the wind! Oh, the life and the love!
Where the serpent swung all day
The loud dove coos to the silent dove;
Where the web-winged dragon lay
In its hole beneath, on the rock above
Merry-tongued children play.

With eyes of light the maidens look up
As they sit in the summer heat
Twining green blade with golden cup–
They see, and they rise to their feet;
I call aloud, for I must not stop,
“Good tidings, my sisters sweet!”

For mine is a message of holy mirth
To city and land of corn;
Of praise for heaviness, plenty for dearth,
For darkness a shining morn:
Clap hands, ye billows; be glad, O earth,
For a child, a child is born!

Lo, even the just shall live by faith!
None argue of mine and thine!
Old Self shall die an ecstatic death
And be born a thing divine,
For God’s own being and God’s own breath
Shall be its bread and wine.

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Ambition shall vanish, and Love be king,
And Pride to his darkness hie;
Yea, for very love of a living thing
A man would forget and die,
If very love were not the spring
Whence life springs endlessly!

The myrtle shall grow where grew the thorn;
Earth shall be young as heaven;
The heart with remorse or anger torn
Shall weep like a summer even;
For to us a child, a child is born,
Unto us a son is given!

Lord, with thy message I dare not ride!
I am a fool, a beast!
The little ones only from thy side
Go forth to publish thy feast!
And I, where but sons and daughters abide,
Would have walked about, a priest!

Take Snow-white back to her glimmering stall;
There let her stand and feed!–
I am overweening, ambitious, small,
A creature of pride and greed!
Let me wash the hoofs, let me be the thrall,
Jesus, of thy white steed!

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