Week 37: The Two Maidens, by G.K.Chesterton

The Two Maidens

‘Robin loved Our Dear Lady
And for doubt of deadly sin
Would never hurt a company
That any woman was in’

– Old Ballad of Robin Hood

The wind had taken the tree-tops
Upon Sherwood, the noble wood,
Two maidens met in the windy ways
Held speech of Robin Hood.

And the first maid to the second said,
‘He keeps not tryst today’.
And the second said to the first maiden,
‘Mayhap he is far away.’

And far away on the upland
The last trees broke in the sky
As they brought him out of grey Kirkleas
To bend his bow and die.

High on the moors above Kirkleas
The mighty thief lay slain,
The woman that had struck him down
He would not strike again.

And the maid cried as the high wind
In the broken tree-top cries,
‘They have taken him out of the good greenwood
And I know not where he lies.

‘The world is a wind that passes
And valour is in vain
And the tallest trees are broken
And the bravest men are slain.

‘Deep in the nettles of a ditch
He may die as a dog dies
Or on the gallows, to be the game
Of the lawyers and the lies.

‘The wood is full of wicked thieves,
Of robbers wild and strong,
But though he walked the gallows way
Of him I had no wrong.

‘Because he scorned to do me scathe
I walked forth clean and free
And I call my name Maid Marian
Because he honoured me.’

‘I too am only a simple maid,
Our stories are the same.
As your green gown to my blue gown
Your name is like my name.

‘The world is full of wicked men,
Of robbers rich and strong,
To plot against my maiden fame,
But of him I had no wrong.

‘And because he scorned to do me scathe
I have travelled many a mile
To bring you a word out of his mouth
To lift your face and smile.

‘He is not dead in the ditch-nettles
Or on the gallows-tree;
But a great king has taken him
To ride with his chivalry.

‘And made him a master of bowmen
For the memory of the day
When one that died at the king’s right hand
Was a thief on the king’s highway.

‘And I have travelled many a mile
From a city beyond the sea
To give you news of your true-love
Because he honoured me.

G.K.Chesterton

Sometimes about a poet’s work the head may say ‘This won’t quite do’ but the heart goes its own way regardless. I feel this way about the wildly romantic but oddly compelling figure of G.K.Chesterton, whose long narrative poem about Alfred the Great,‘The Ballad of the White Horse’, was the first poem I ever loved. This shorter piece puts the unique Chestertonian spin on another staple of the English imagination. I find the stately restraint of its metric fascinating.

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2 thoughts on “Week 37: The Two Maidens, by G.K.Chesterton

    • ‘Thanks for the comment. Yes, this poem is a bit of a mystery to me too. I came across it, must be about thirty years ago, in an anthology I got from the library; I couldn’t swear to it but the anthologist may have been W.H.Auden. I didn’t know the poem at all – it wasn’t in my copy of Chesterton’s ‘Collected Poems’ – but I duly copied it out longhand for my private collection. I’ve never seen it anywhere else, nor seen it referred to, nor found the book again. If we have any Chesterton experts out there who can supply more details I’d love to hear from them.’

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