The Shield

My master rode to battle today
Against his foe, a brutal man
Whose bitter jeers at my master's worth
And louder scoffs at my master's honor
Will need much blood to wash away.
So mounted he his coal-black steed,
Then sheathed his sword hard by his hand;
Last took from me, his page, his shield.

My master's shield is sturdy oak,
Its rand is sheathed in forgéd iron.
With iron too its front is faced.
Few the men could lift it even,
Fewer still could bear it briskly.
Sure as the helm that wards his wits,
Sure as the mail that bars his body,
My master's shield has long him served.

There by the oak the lightning blasted
They traded dints the long day through,
Sword strokes given, mace blows taken,
No lesser men would live to rue.
My master's foe is a hardy man,
As marked for might as feared for fury.
The light gave out before their strength,
And both withdrew to wait the morning.

When from my master's hand I took
His battered shield, I shouted loud.
Plain in the dents upon its face
I saw the visage of his foe.
Each thund'rous stroke a mark had made,
Each mighty smash had hammered hollows;
And these chance marks and hollows show
The scowling mask of my lord's cruel foe!

"Make it ready," he bid me then,
"Tomorrow will see this matter done."
So do I work till late at night,
Pounding his shield smooth again.
After the clash I will look once more,
And need no words to know the end:
If I have no face to hammer out,
His foe is dead beyond a doubt.

—California
1971 to 8/9/1999
Copyright © 1971-1999 by Green Sky Press.  All rights reserved.  Backgrounds and images are copyright by their respective authors, who retain all rights.