A Dorsetshire Legend

George Walter Thornbury

THORKILL and Thorston from Jutland came

To torture us Saxons with sword and flame,

To strip our homesteads and thorps and crofts,

To burn our barns and hovels and lofts,

To fell our kine and slay our deer,

To strip the orchard and drag the mere,

To butcher our sheep and reap our corn,

To fire our coverts of fern and thorn,

Driving the wolves and boars in bands

To raven and prey on our Saxon lands.—

We had watched for their galleys day and night,

From sunrise until beacon-light;

But still the sea lay level and dead,

And never a sail came round the Head.—

We watched in vain till one autumn day,

When a woolly fog that northward lay

Sullenly rose, and the broad gray sea

Sparkled and danced in the full bright sun

(The shadows were purple as they could be):

Then stealing round by Worbarrow Bay,

Past Lulworth Cove and the White Swyre Head,

The black sails came, and every one

When they saw the sight turned pale as the dead.


The black sails spread in a long curved line,

Like a shoal of dog-fish, or rather of sharks,

When, chasing the porpoise in the moonshine,

They leave behind them a drift of sparks.

Those coal-black sails bore slowly on,

Past Kingsland Bay and Osmington,

By the white cliff of Bindon Hill,

Past Kimmeridge and Gad Cliff Mill;—

Then with a bolder, fiercer swoop

Bore down the Danish robber troop,

Skimming around St. Adhelm’s Head,

With its chantry chapel and its rocks

Stained green and brown by tempest shocks,

And its undercliff all moss and heather,

And ivy cable and green fern feather,

And steered straight on for Studland Bay,

Where all our Saxon treasure lay.


Their sails, as black as a starless night,

Came moving on with a sullen might;

Rows of gleaming shields there hung

Over the gunwales, in order slung;

And the broad black banners fluttered and flapped

Like raven’s pinions, as dipped and lapped

The Norsemen’s galleys; their axes shone.—

Every Dane had a hauberk on,

Glittering gold; how each robber lord

Waved in the air his threatening sword!—

One long swift rush through surf and foam,

And they leapt ere the rolling waves had gone,

On our Saxon shore, their new-found home.

With a clash of collars and targe and spear,

With a laughing shout and a rolling cheer,

Like wolf-hounds when the wolf ’s at bay

Those bearded warriors leapt ashore

(If there was one there were forty score),

And dragged their galleys with fierce uproar

To where our fishing-vessels lay:

Who dare resist? Woe worth the day!

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