John the Valiant
The blistering sun in the midsummer sky
Beats down on the shepherd boy from on high.
No need for the sun to be blazing above,
Inside him, the shepherd is burning with love.
With fiery young love his heart is blazing.
At the edge of the village his sheep are grazing.
Past the edge of the village they're grazing all over,
While he lolls on his sheepskin cloak in the clover.
A sea of bright flowers spreads wide around him,
But it isn't the colourful flowers that astound him:
A stone's throw off, where a brook flows, there,
His gaze is fixed in a steady stare.
And it isn't fixed on the brook's bright swirl,
But on what's in the brook, a blonde-headed girl,
Fair-haired, and one of the slenderest,
With long golden braids and rounded breast.
Up over her knees her skirt is hooked
While she scrubs her wash in the fresh, clear brook;
And her two pretty knees peep into sight
To Johnny Grain o' Corn's great delight.
Yes, the shepherd lolling there in the grass
Is Johnny Grain o' Corn, and the lass
Who's scrubbing her laundry in the stream
Is Nelly, the pearl of johnny's dream.
"Iluska - Nelly - my dear heart's pearl!"
This is how Johnny cried out to his girl:
"In the whole wide world, you can take my word,
You're the only one who makes me feel like a lord."
"Smile up at me with your sloe-eyed look,
Let me give you a hug, come out of the brook;
For a moment, just give your laundry the slip,
And I'll plant my soul on your rosy lip!"
"I'd gladly come out, Johnny dear, you know,
I have to get on with my washing, though,
Hurry-hurry, or catch it from - someone or other -
You know I'm a stepchild, and you know my stepmother."
The beautiful Nell answered him with a smile,
While she scrubbed away at her laundry pile.
But Johnny jumped up from his sheepskin coat,
Moved closer, and coaxed her on this note:
"Come out, my dove! Come up, my pigeon!
A hug and a kiss won't take but a smidgeon;
Besides, your stepmother's nowhere near,
Don't leave your sweetheart languishing here."
With his blandishments he coaxed her out,
With his two hands clasped her waist about,
And he kissed her mouth: one time? a hundred?
Only He who knows all things could get them numbered.
The day raced ahead, and was nearly done,
The brook swirls blazed with the evening sun.
Nell's cruel stepmother's rage grew strong:
"Where's that girl loitering so long."
This was the thought of that wicked stepmother,
And she brooded until she came out with another:
(I won't tell how she cackled with glee to hatch it)
"I'll sniff out what she's up to. If she's loafing, she'll catch it!"
And catch it you will, little orphan Nell!
The witch is behind you, a fiend from hell;
Her big mouth is gaping, she's ready to scream,
To startle you out of love's languorous dream:
"You trashy trollop! You shameless slut!
You worthless hussy! You stink of smut!
You steal the daylight, may God forsake you...
Just look at you lying there... the Devil take you -"
"Enough of that guff, you shut your mouth or
I'll shut it for you, you hear me, Mother.
You dare make my Nelly so much as squeak,
And the rest of your teeth will drop out of your cheek."
Thus growled the brave guardian of the flock
As he shielded his sweetheart who shivered in shock,
After which, with a glare of menacing anger
He held forth as follows, the bold haranguer:
"If you don't want your house to go up in flames,
Stop shaming this orphan with filthy names.
She's been slaving and toiling till she's practically dead,
And yet all you feed her is dried-up bread."
"Now get up and go, Nell, you've still got your tongue,
Come and tell me at once if she's treating you wrong -
And you! Don't go nosing in other folks' sinning,
You didn't sleep on spotless linen."
Johnny Grain o' Corn grabbed up his sheepskin cloak,
And quick-stepped off to hunt for his flock.
To his great alarm as he searched all around,
Only one or two sheep lay dotting the ground.
When the setting sun softly was touching the land,
Johnny had only half of his flock in hand.
The other half seemed to have come to grief:
Carried off by either a wolf or a thief.
Whatever had happened, they were utterly gone;
It was fruitless to search, or go carrying on.
Now what should he do. As he made up his mind,
He herded on home the few sheep he could find.
"Now you'll catch it, Johnny... you're in the wrong!"
He gloomily mumbled, shuffling along.
"Your master's star must be an unlucky one,
What next?... Who knows? May God's will be done."
So he thought, but for more thinking it was too late;
The flock had arrived at his master's gate.
Outside it his hot-tempered master stood
To count off the sheep, as he always would.
"I tell you, there's no need to count them, Master!
And there's no use denying we've met with disaster;
I'm sorry, I can't do a thing, it's my fault,"
Johnny Grain o' Corn's words slowly came to a halt.
To those words Johnny's master made this response,
Seizing his moustache and twirling it once:
"Don't fool around, Johnny, I don't like a joke;
You know, I'm one fellow you shouldn't provoke."
When he found that it wasn't a joke that he had,
Johnny's master then nearly went stark staring mad;
He roared, Johnny's master, a wild cry and hue:
"A pitchfork, a pitchfork!... I'll run him right through!"
"Ay-yi, oh you bandit! ay-yi, gallows prize!
I hope that a raven pecks out your eyes!...
I kept you, I fattened you up like a goose!
What I fattened you up for's a hangman's noose."
"Clear out of here, don't let me see you again!"
Johnny's master poured out these words in his pain;
Then seizing a stackpole he suddenly sped
After Johnny with stackpole raised high overhead.
Johnny Grain o' Corn ran from him, shot out of sight,
Though no one could say that he fled out of fright,
Brawny lad that he was, he'd fight twenty young men,
Though his years weren't much closer to twenty than ten.
The reason he ran away was that he saw
His master's great fury was backed by the law;
If it came to a scuffle, too, how could he baste him,
Who was half his own father, the man who had raised him.
So he ran till his master had run out of breath;
Then he trudged along, halted, and trudged on like death,
To the right, to the left; why's he walking this way.
Don't ask Johnny, his head's in complete disarray.
When the brook made a looking glass of its water,
In whose surface a thousand stars were a-glitter,
Johnny was standing at the foot of Nell's yard;
Though to tell how he'd come to it would have been hard.
He paused, and he drew out his cherished flute,
And started to whisper his saddest tune through it;
The dew, as it settled on bushes and grass,
Might have been the stars weeping for Johnny, alas.
Nell had dropped off to sleep at the front of the porch
Where in summertime she used to lie on her couch.
The tune woke her up, she threw back the bedcover,
And leapt up to rush down and see her dear lover.
But the way Johnny looked could provide her no cheer,
And what she came out with gave words to her fear:
"Oh Johnny, my darling, what's wrong? Why so white,
Like the pale waning moon on a sad autumn night?"
"Oh, Nelly love! How could I help but look white,
When your lovely face soon will be torn from my sight..."
"Johnny, what are you saying? You terrify me:
For Heaven's sake, don't talk like that, let it be!"
"It's the last time I'll see you, my heart's only spring!
It's the last time you'll hear my unhappy flute sing;
It's the last time I'll clasp you," he said with a sigh,
"This is farewell for ever, our final goodbye!"
Now the wretched boy had to relate all the rest,
He laid his head down on his love's sobbing breast,
He held her tight, turning away from her face:
So the girl wouldn't see how his own tears raced.
"Now then, darling Nelly! Now then, my sweet rose!
Fare thee well, don't forget me as time comes and goes.
When you see a dried weedstalk being chased by the wind,
May your lover in exile come into your mind."
"Now then, darling Johnny, leave, leave if you must!
The good Lord be with you each footstep, I trust.
When you see a crushed flower that has been dropped behind,
May your languishing sweetheart come into your mind."
They tugged loose from each other, like a leaf from a branch;
A chill wintry shiver made both their hearts blanch.
Poor Nelly let fall many tears as she grieved,
Which Johnny wiped off with his wide-flowing sleeve.
Then he left; and he cared not a whit for what came to him,
Whatever, wherever, all was the same to him.
Near him the sheep-herding boys piped and whistled,
The cattle bells clattered... but he never listened.
The village by now was some distance from him,
The flames of the shepherds' fires glowed faint and dim;
When he halted a last time to take a look back,
The steeple glowered down on him, ghostly and black.
Had someone stood near him, what they would have heard
Was him heave a huge sigh without saying a word;
A flock of white cranes overhead cleaved the sky,
But they couldn't hear, they were flying too high.
So he trudged along, trudged as the still night grew late,
On his neck hung his sheepskin cloak's rustling weight;
Though the weight of the cloak may have been in his head,
Since the poor fellow's heart was as heavy as lead.
When the sun rose, dismissing the moon with its motion,
The moor around him lay flat as an ocean;
From where the sun rose to its point of descending
The straight level plain stretched for ever, unending.
Not a flower, not a tree, not a bush could be seen,
Dew sparkled like stars on the sparse, skimpy green;
Away to one side where the early sun beamed,
With a border of reeds, a little lake gleamed.
At the edge of this pond in the clumps of green reed,
A long-legged heron stalked after its feed,
A kingfisher darted about on the pond,
Diving down with sharp wings, and flitting beyond.
Poor Johnny trudged on, his black shadow behind him,
Though he didn't need shadows and clouds to remind him;
The bright sun had broken through over the plain,
But a dark night of nights in his heart still remained.
When the sun had ascended the sky to its height,
Johnny thought, "Why, it's time to be having a bite."
He'd had nothing since lunchtime the morning before,
And could hardly stand up on his legs any more.
So he plopped himself down and pulled out for a snack
The last scrap of bacon he'd stuffed in his pack.
The blue sky, the bright sun gazed on him... below,
The eyes of a fairy mirage were a-glow.
When he'd eaten his little light lunch with good cheer,
He grew thirsty, and down to the pond he drew near,
At the shoreline he plunged his hat in it brim first,
And by that means he slaked his phenomenal thirst.
He hadn't walked far from the edge of the pond
When drowsiness over his eyes waved its wand;
With his head on a molehill, he flopped at full length,
So a good nap could bring back his dwindling strength.
He dreamed he was back at his village and farm,
His Nelly lay sleeping on his faithful arm,
As he leaned down to kiss his dear girl where she lay,
A huge thunderclap chased his sweet dream away.
He gazed around, far and wide over the moor;
And he saw starting up a great heavenly war.
This great war in heaven had sprung up as fast
As Johnny's own sorrowful lot had been cast.
The wide earth had put on its clothing of black,
The sky boomed appallingly, lightning bolts cracked;
All at once the clouds opened their gutters and poured,
While the pond water spewed up thick bubbles and roared.
Johnny steadied his long shepherd's crook under him,
And then he bent downward his big hat's broad brim,
His great shaggy cloak he had flipped inside out
Like a tent, while he watched the wild thundercloud spout.
But the storm that had suddenly piled up so high,
Just as suddenly now had fled out of the sky.
The clouds flew away on the wings of a breeze,
And a many-hued rainbow arched over the east.
Johnny shook all the drops off his great sheepskin coat,
And as soon as he shook it, set out on his road.
When the weary old sun settled down for the night,
Johnny Grain o' Corn's two legs still held him upright.
His legs walked him into the heart of a wood,
Straight into the dark heart of a thick, green wood;
A raven was digging the eyes of some carrion
And greeted him grimly with its croaky clarion.
But the woods and the raven didn't trouble his mind,
Johnny Grain o' Corn went his own way, quite resigned;
In the heart of the woods on his shadowy path
The moon laid down for him a bright yellow swath.
The clock was beginning to strike twelve - midnight,
When Johnny's eye noticed a flicker of light.
As he cautiously neared it, he saw that the spark
Shone out from a window in the woods' deepest dark.
Johnny shrewdly concluded what this sight could mean:
"This light must be burning in an old wayside inn; -
The good Lord be thanked! - it can't be denied.
I'll step in for the night, and I'll rest up inside."
Our Johnny was wrong, though, an inn's what it wasn't,
What it was, was the den of some bandits, a dozen.
And the house wasn't standing there empty: those bandits,
All armed to the teeth, were inside it and manned it.
Night, bandits, and pistols, and axes to batter...
If you add it all up, this was no laughing matter;
But our Johnny's brave heart was in the right place,
So he stepped in among them - with fear? not a trace.
He said something like this by way of a greeting:
"May Almighty God grant good luck to this meeting!"
At his speech, though, the bandits all leapt to their weapons,
And rushed up to Johnny, when out boomed their captain:
"You man of ill fortune, who are you, so bold
As to dare to set foot on our dwelling's threshold.
Are your parents still living? Do you have a wife?
If you do, they will see you no more in this life."
But our Johnny's heart didn't start thumping more hasty,
Nor did his complexion turn sickly and pasty;
To the chief of the bandits' rough challenge, instead,
In a voice with no tremble or tremor he said:
"Whoever loves life would have reason to fear,
He would act very wisely to stay out of here.
But my life is cheap, so worthless, in fact,
I can step in among you with courage intact."
"So permit me to live, if you think that is right,
And allow me to sleep here in safety tonight;
If that's not what you want, you can beat me to death,
For I shall not defend my contemptible breath."
He said this so calmly, awaiting unfazed
What would come, that the twelve bandits goggled, amazed,
Then the captain responded with these words, no other:
I'll tell you one thing, boy - no, make that two, brother,
"You're a brave lad, you are, by a gallant saint led!
And to be a great bandit, by God, you've been bred.
You can spit on your life, and your death you can twit...
We want you to join us... let's shake hands on it!"
"Robbing, looting, and killing, for us are a joke,
And the prize of this fine joke is loot in the poke.
This barrel holds silver - that, gold, do you see....
Well, lad, will you sign up with our company."
Strange notions were forming inside Johnny's head,
So, making believe to be merry he said:
"I will be your companion - shake hands on it now!
It's the one shining hour of my dark life - and how!"
"Well, to make it more shining," the captain replied,
"Let's drink to it, men, we've got nothing to hide;
From the cellars of priests we've brought lots of good wine up,
Let's stare to the bottom of each hefty wine cup!"
So they stared to the bottom of each hefty bottle,
And the brains were soon sunk to the depths in each noddle;
Except for our Johnny, who kept a tight lip,
When they urged him to swill, he took just a wee sip.
The wine dusted sleep on each pillager's eye...
This was all Johnny wished, as he sat waiting by.
To the right and the left all the bandits had tipped,
Johnny looked at them snoring and here's what he quipped:
"Nighty-night!... Nothing's going to wake you up until
The trumpets of Judgement Day blow loud and shrill!
There were plenty of people whose candles you blew out,
I send an eternal night in to snuff you out."
"To the treasure vats now! I will stuff my pack well,
And carry it home to you, my darling Nell!
You'll no longer be your vile stepmother's slave,
I shall make you my own... whom the will of God gave."
"In the heart of the village I'll build us a house,
And take you my bride in your ribbons and bows;
There we two will happily lead our plain lives,
Like Adam and Eve up in Paradise."
"O God my creator! What a foul thing to say!
I'd be cursed like the bandits to bear this away.
Every chunk of their treasure has blood clinging to it,
To get rich and be happy on that. - Can I do it."
"No, no. I won't touch it... In a flash it's forgotten.
My conscience has not yet turned totally rotten.-
Dear beautiful Nell, keep on bearing your burden,
And trust to the Lord your hard life as an orphan!"
When Johnny had finished declaring these vows,
With a flickering candle he stepped from the house,
At each of its corners he lighted the roof,
And the angry flames fanned and flared up with a 'whoof!'
The thatch all caught fire in the blink of an eye,
And the red tongue of flame bolted straight for the sky,
A murky veil covered the sky's open vault,
And the shining full moon was darkened and palled.
Such an uncanny landscape then came into sight
That it startled the owls and the bats into flight;
Their spreading wings swooshed, like a quick rising breeze,
And startled the calm of the wood's canopies.
The earliest rays of the rising sun shone
On the smouldering ruins, and bending far down,
Through a scorched, broken window peered into the lair,
And the bandits' charred skeletons gave back its stare.
Johnny'd been to the Back of Beyond, and by then
He gave scarcely a thought to the dead bandits' den;
Now in front of him suddenly something was gleaming,
Some weapons, off which the sun's arrows were beaming.
Magnificent hussars approached him, astride
Magnificent steeds, shining swords by their sides;
Each proud charger was shaking its delicate mane
And stamping and neighing in noble disdain.
As he saw them draw near him in all of their pride,
Johnny felt his heart swell up to bursting inside,
For here's what he thought: "If they only would take me,
A soldier indeed I gladly would make me!"
With the horses on top of him nearly he heard
Their leader yell out at him this warning word:
"Fellow countryman, watch it! You'll step on your head...
What the devil so fills you with sorrow and dread."
Johnny answered the captain in one pleading breath:
"I'm an exile who wanders the world till my death;
If you'd let me join up with your worships, I think
I could stare down the sun with never a blink."
Said the officer: "Think again, friend, if you will!
We're not going to a party, we're marching to kill.
The Turks have attacked the good people of France;
To the aid of the Frenchmen we make our advance."
"Well sir, war won't make me the least little bit sad;
Set me onto a saddle and horse, I'll be glad -
Since, if I can't kill someone, my sorrow will kill me,
Fighting's the life work that most will fulfill me."
"It's true, I could only ride donkeys to date,
Since the lot of a sheep-herder's been my hard fate.
But a Magyar I am, God made us for the horse,
And made horses and saddles for Magyars, of course."
Johnny spoke a great deal as he let his tongue fly,
But he gave away more with his glittering eye;
It's no wonder the leader should quickly contrive it
(He took such a liking) to make him a private.
You'd have to invent some quite elegant speeches,
To tell how Johnny felt in his bright scarlet breeches,
And how, when he'd slipped on his hussar's red jacket,
He flashed his sword up at the sun, trying to hack it.
His bold steed was kicking up stars with its shoes,
As it bucked and reared, hoping to bounce Johnny loose,
But he sat on it firm as a post, and so tough
An earthquake could never have shaken him off.
His soldier companions soon held him in awe,
When his strength and his handsome appearance they saw,
In whatever direction they marched and took quarters,
When they left, tears were shed by the whole region's daughters.
But none of these young women mattered to Johnny,
Not one of them ever appeared really bonny,
Though he travelled through many a land, truth to tell,
He nowhere found one girl the equal of Nell.
Now slowly, now quickly, they marched in formation,
Till they came to the heart of the Tartary nation;
But here a great peril awaited: towards
Them, the dog-headed Tartars advanced in their hordes.
The dog-headed Tartars' commander-in-chief
Barked out to the Magyars his challenge in brief:
"Do you think you can stand against us and survive.
Don't you know that it's man-flesh on which we thrive."
At this the poor Magyars were shaking with fear,
As they saw many thousands of Tartars draw near;
They were lucky that into that countryside came
The Saracen King, of benevolent fame.
He instantly sprang to the Magyars' defence,
Since he'd taken a journey through Hungary once,
And the friendly, good-hearted Hungarians then
Had seemed to that king the most decent of men.
The Saracen had not forgotten it since,
Which is why he stepped up to the fierce Tartar prince,
And with these kindly words he attempted to bend
To the cause of the Magyars his good Tartar friend:
"Dear friend of mine, pray, meet these soldiers in peace,
They will do you no injury, none in the least,
The Hungarian people are well known to me,
Please grant me this favour and let them pass free."
"Well, I'll do it, but only for you, friend, alone,"
The head Tartar said in a mollified tone,
And what's more, wrote a safe conduct pass for their group,
So that no one would trouble the brave Magyar troop.
It is true that they met with no fuss or disorder,
But still they rejoiced when they came to the border,
Why wouldn't they? Tartar land's too poor to dig,
Yielding nothing to chew on but bear meat and fig.
The hills and the hollows of Tartar terrain
For a long time gazed after our troop's little train,
Indeed they were now well inside Italy,
In its shadowy forests of dark rosemary.
Here nothing unusual needs to be told,
Except how they battled against the fierce cold,
Since Italy's always in winter's harsh vice;
Our soldiers were marching on sheer snow and ice.
All the same, though, the Magyars by nature are tough,
Whatever the chill, they were hardy enough;
And they thought of this trick: when it got a bit colder,
Each dismounted and carried his horse on his shoulder.
They arrived in the land of the Poles in this fashion,
And from Poland they rode to the Indian nation;
France is the nearest of India's neighbours,
Though to travel between them's the hardest of labours.
In India's heart you climb hill after hill,
And these hills pile up higher and higher, until
By the time that you reach the two countries' frontier,
Up as high as the heavens the mountain peaks rear.
At that height how the soldiers' sweat rolled off,
And their capes and neckerchiefs, they did doff...
How on earth could they help it? The sun, so they said,
Hung just one hour's hard marching overhead.
They had nothing at all for their rations but air,
Stacked so thick that they could bite into it there.
And their drink was peculiar, it must be allowed:
When thirsty, they squeezed water out of a cloud.
At last they had climbed to the top of the crest;
It was so hot that travelling by night was the best.
But the going was slow for our gallant Magyars:
Why? Their horses kept stumbling over the stars.
In the midst of the stars, as they shuffled along,
Johnny Grain o' Corn pondered both hard and strong:
"They say, when a star slips and falls from the sky,
The person on earth whose it is - has to die."
"How lucky you are, my poor Nelly's stepmother,
That I can't tell one star up here from another;
You would torture my dove not a single hour more -
Since I'd kick your detestable star to the floor."
A little while later they had to descend,
As the mountain range gradually sank to an end,
And the terrible heat now began to subside,
The further they marched through the French countryside.
The land of the French is both splendid and grand,
Quite a paradise really, a true Promised Land,
Which the Turks had long coveted, whose whole intent
Was to ravage and pillage wherever they went.
When the Magyars arrived in the country, that day
The Turks were hard at it, plundering away,
They were burgling many a precious church treasure,
And draining each wine cellar dry at their pleasure.
You could see the flames flaring from many a town,
Whoever they faced, with their swords they cut down,
They routed the French King from his great chateau,
And they captured his dear only daughter also.
That is how our men came on the sovereign of France,
Up and down he was wandering in his wide lands;
The Hungarian hussars, when they saw the King's fate,
Let fall tears of compassion for his sorry state.
The fugitive King said to them without airs:
"So, my friends, isn't this a sad state of affairs.
My treasures once vied with the treasures of Darius,
And now I am tried with vexations so various."
The officer answered encouragingly:
"Chin up, your royal French Majesty!
We'll make these Ottomans dance a jig,
Who've chased the King of France like a pig."
"Tonight we must take a good rest and recoup,
The journey was long, we're a weary troop;
Tomorrow, as sure as the sun shall rise,
We will recapture your territoires."
"But what of my daughter, my darling daughter.
The vizier of the Turks has caught her...
Where will I find her." The French King was quaking;
"Whoever retrieves her, she's yours for the taking."
The Magyars were stirred to a buzz by this speech,
And hope was aroused in the heartstrings of each.
This became the resolve in every man's eye:
"I shall carry her back to her father or die."
Johnny Grain o' Corn may have been wholly alone
In ignoring this offer the French King made known;
For Johnny's attention was hard to compel:
His thoughts were filled up with his beautiful Nell.
The sun, as it will do, rose out of the night,
Though it won't often rise to behold such a sight
As now it beheld what the day brought to birth,
All at once, when it paused on the rim of the earth.
The troopers' loud trumpet call piercingly rang out,
At its shrill proclamation the soldiers all sprang out;
They ground a keen edge on their sabres of steel,
And they hurriedly saddled their horses with zeal.
The French King insisted on his royal right
To march with the soldiers along to the fight;
But the hussars' commander was canny and wise,
And offered the King this hard-headed advice:
"Your Majesty, no! It is better you stay,
Your arm is too weak to be raised in the fray;
I know, time has left you with plenty of grit,
But what use, when your strength has departed from it."
"You may trust your affairs to us and to God;
I'll wager, by sunset myself and my squad
Will have driven the foe from the lands that you own,
And Your Highness will sit once again on your throne."
The Magyars leapt onto their steeds at his order,
And started to hunt out the Turkish marauder;
They didn't search long till they came on their corps,
And by means of an envoy at once declared war.
The envoy returned, the bugle call sounded,
And the terrible uproar of battle resounded:
Steel clanged against steel, while a wild yell and shout
Were the fierce battle cry that the Magyars sent out.
They dug in their spurs for all they were worth,
And their steeds' iron shoes drummed so hard on the earth
That the earth's heart was quaking down deep in its fold,
Out of fear of the storm that this clamour foretold.
A seven-tailed pasha was the Turkish vizier,
With a belly as big as a barrel of beer;
His nose was rose-red from draughts without number,
And stuck out from his cheeks like a ripened cucumber.
Well, this pot-bellied vizier of the Turkish troops
At the battle call gathered his men into groups;
But his well-ordered squads halted dead in their tracks,
At the first of the Magyar hussars' attacks.
These attacks were the real thing, not children's play,
And suddenly terrible chaos held sway,
The Turks were perspiring with blood in their sweat,
Which turned the green battlefield ruddy and wet.
Hi-dee-ho, what a job! Our men piled them up deep,
Till the corpses of Turks made a mountainous heap,
But the big-bellied pasha gave out a huge bellow,
And levelled his weapon at Johnny, poor fellow.
Johnny Grain o' Corn didn't take this as a jest,
At the great Turkish pasha with these words he pressed:
"Halt, brother! You've far too much bulk for one man;
I'm going to make two out of you if I can."
And he acted then just as he said he would do,
The poor Turkish pasha was cloven in two,
Right and left from their sweat-bedecked steed they were hurled
And in this way both halves took their leave of this world.
When the timorous Turkish troops saw this, they wheeled,
And yelling, 'Retreat!' the men took to their heels,
And they ran and they ran and might be on the run
To this day, if the hussars had not chased them down.
But catch them they did, and they swept like a mower,
The heads fell before them, like poppies in flower.
One single horse galloped away at full speed;
Johnny Grain o' Corn chased after him on his steed.
Well, the son of the pasha was galloping there,
Holding something so white on his lap and so fair.
That whiteness in fact was the Princess of France,
Who knew nothing of this, in a faint like a trance.
Johnny galloped until he pulled up alongside,
"Halt, by my faith!" was the challenge he cried.
"Or I'll open a gate in your bodily shell
Through which your damned soul can go gallop to hell."
But the son of the pasha would never have stopped,
Had the horse underneath him not suddenly dropped,
It crashed to the ground, and gave up its last breath.
The pasha's son pleaded then, frightened to death:
"Have mercy, have mercy, magnanimous knight!
If nothing else moves you, consider my plight;
I'm a young fellow still, life has so much to give...
Take all my possessions, but allow me to live!"
"You can keep your possessions, you cowardly knave!
You're not worth my hand sending you into the grave.
And take this word home, if you're not too afraid,
Let them know how the sons of marauders are paid."
Johnny swung from his horse, to the Princess advanced,
And into her beautiful blue eyes he glanced,
Which the Princess in safety had opened up wide,
To his questioning gaze now she softly replied:
"My dear liberator! I don't know who you are,
I can tell you, my gratitude, though, will go far.
I'd do anything for you, for saving my life,
If you feel so inclined, you can make me your wife."
Not water but blood in our Johnny's veins flows,
In his heart an enormous great tussle arose;
But his heart's mighty tussle he was able to quell,
By bringing to mind his dear sweetheart - his Nell.
So he spoke with great kindliness to the Princess:
"My dear, we shall do what we ought, nothing less:
We must talk to your father before we decide."
And he chose to walk back with the girl, not to ride.
Johnny Grain o' Corn and the French King's daughter
At dusk drew near to the field of slaughter.
The setting sun with its lingering beam
Cast a blood-red eye on the doleful scene.
It gazed out on nothing but death grim and red,
As a black flock of ravens settled down on the dead;
It could take no delight from such scenery,
So it plunged away into the depths of the sea.
There was a large pond by the battleground,
In which crystal-clear water had always been found.
It had now turned all ruddy, since the Magyar men
Had washed off the Turks' blood in it by then.
After all of the troops had washed themselves clean,
They escorted the King back to his demesne;
The chateau wasn't far from that bloody affair...
And so they escorted the French King there.
The army had barely marched in the chateau,
When brave Johnny Grain o' Corn reached it also.
Beside him the gem of a princess stood,
Like a sparkling rainbow before a dark cloud.
When the old King beheld his dear daughter restored,
He trembled, embracing the child he adored.
And he uttered the following speech only after
Kissing her warmly, and giddy with laughter:
"Now every delight I could wish for's at hand;
Have somebody run, and strike up the band,
Call the cook to prepare his best dishes for dinner,
And set one before every stout-hearted winner."
"Your Highness! No need for the cook to be called,"
A voice right beside the King then bawled,
"In my slap-dash fashion I'm fixing them all,
And we'll serve them all up in the next-door hall."
The cook's message sounded remarkably cheering
To the hearty Hungarian hussars' hearing;
And they didn't wait to be twice implored,
But sat themselves down to the groaning board.
As roughly as they had handled the Turks,
They now laid into the cook's good works;
No wonder, they'd built up such appetites
In that slaughteryard, these courageous knights.
As the wine jug was slaking their daylong drought,
From the mouth of the French King this order came out:
"Pray lend me your ears, noble knights of great fame,
It's a matter of moment I now will proclaim."
The Magyar hussars paid the closest attention
To whatever it was that the King would now mention;
He swallowed one draught, then clearing his throat,
He broke the long silence on this note:
"First tell us your story, who you are, and from where,
Courageous young knight, who has rescued my heir."
"Johnny Grain o' Corn is my honest name;
It sounds a bit rustic, but I feel no shame."
Johnny Grain o' Corn made this modest response,
Then the King spoke out plainly to pronounce:
"I christen you otherwise; from this day on,
Let the name you are known by, be Valiant John."
"My good John the Valiant, I'm deep in your debt:
Because you have rescued my darling pet,
Take this girl as your wife, please make her your own,
And along with her, please take my royal throne."
"On this royal throne I have long had to sit,
I've grown old, and my hair has turned grey on it.
These kingly concerns are a wearisome weight,
Which I now find good reason to abdicate."
"I shall settle the glittering crown on your head,
For this glittering crown I ask nothing instead,
But a room in the castle to be reserved,
Where the rest of my days may be preserved."
The King delivered his speech, thus phrased,
Which the hussars all listened to, greatly amazed.
John the Valiant, however, in humblest style
Replied to him gratefully and without guile:
"I thank you profoundly for your kind intentions,
To merit them, though, I have no pretensions;
At the same time I must not fail to proffer,
That I cannot accept your kingly offer."
"I would need to relate you a burdensome tale,
Why your kindness can be of so little avail;
But I fear you good people would find it a bore,
A consequence which I would truly abhor."
"You can trust that we'll listen, son, you can speak out;
It's a whole pack of nonsense you're worried about."
With the kindly French monarch thus urging him on,
What's written here now comes from Valiant John:
"How to begin, then.... Well, first, how it came
Johnny Grain o' Corn happens to be my name.
Among the kernels of corn they found me,
And so with the name Grain of Corn they crowned me."
"It was a farmer's good-hearted wife -
How often she told me the tale of my life -
In the cornfield one day she was looking around,
When she noticed a baby that lay on the ground."
"That was me in the field, screaming hard with alarm,
So she pitied my lot, picked me up in her arm,
And this was her thought, walking home from the field:
'I could raise the poor thing, since I don't have a child.'"
"What she had was a bad-tempered husband, a beast,
Who didn't find me to his taste in the least,
Hey, when he caught a glimpse of me there at his hearth,
He began hurling curse-words for all he was worth."
"The good woman said, doing her best to appease:
'Let up on that anger, old man, if you please.
Suppose I had left him to lie like a clod,
Could I hope to receive any mercy from God.'"
"'Later on he'll be useful and well worth his keep,
You've a very large farmstead, with oxen and sheep,
When the poor little fellow shoots up a bit higher,
You'll have no need for shepherds or farmhands to hire.'"
"By some means, she forced him to yield his consent;
But I always was someone he seemed to resent.
If my chores weren't all finished in orderly fashion,
A thorough good whipping was my dinner ration."
"In time, between beatings and work, I grew tall,
Though my portion of pleasures was dreadfully small;
It consisted, in fact, of a girl who lived there
In the village, sweet Nelly with long golden hair."
"Very soon the grave swallowed her dear loving mother,
And soon after, her father had married another;
But her father died too, before she was full grown;
She was left with her stepmother all on her own."
"This dear little maid was my only delight,
The rose in my thicket of thorns, day and night.
How completely I loved her, I thought her so fair!
The villagers dubbed us 'the orphan pair'"
"As a boy then, whenever I saw her walk by -
Well, I wouldn't swap that sight for custard pie;
And when Sundays came round, how I used to rejoice,
As we romped with the rest of the girls and the boys."
"When I'd grown up a little, though still just a sprout,
My heart was beginning to fidget about!
And how did I feel, when I gave her a kiss.
Let the world fall to pieces if I can have this!"
"Her stepmother wronged her, though, time after time...
May the good Lord above not forgive her that crime!
Who knows how much else Nelly might have been pained in,
If my threats hadn't kept her stepmother reined in."
"My taskmaster bossed me around like a slave;
Then one terrible day we laid into her grave
The good woman who'd found me, and who, I declare,
In every way showed me a true mother's care."
"My heart is like steel, yesterday or tomorrow
You'll seldom find me giving way to my sorrow,
But onto my dear foster mother's fresh mound
Like a shower of rain my tears tumbled down."
"Nelly too - ah, her hair like a golden sheaf -
She burst into weeping from unfeigned grief;
No wonder! The good soul departed to God
Had favoured the poor girl, the best that she could."
"It wasn't just once that she'd said, 'You wait!
You two will be wed; I will set the date;
Such a beautiful couple you two will be,
None lovelier!... Children, just wait and see!'"
"So of course we kept waiting and waiting, sadly;
And I swear that she would have seen to it gladly,
(Because she had always been true to her word)
If she hadn't gone down to the underworld."
"Even then, after that, once my mother had died,
And our hopes had been utterly cast aside:
All the same, amidst all of this hopelessness
We loved one another not one jot less."
"But the Lord was not willing to alter our plight,
And he left us not even this mournful delight.
One evening it happened my flock went astray,
And for that my harsh master chased me away."
"I said my farewells to dear Nelly, my dove,
And I dragged myself into a world without love.
In exile I walked to the ends of the earth,
Till I threw in my lot for a soldier's berth."
"I didn't ask her, when we said our farewells,
Not to offer her heart to anyone else,
And she never asked me to stay faithful too -
We both knew we never could be untrue."
"And so, pretty Princess, count me out of your life;
If I cannot have Nelly to be my dear wife,
No one else in this world shall I ever possess,
Though death leaves me alive, from forgetfulness."
When the whole of John's history thus had been told,
His listeners' hearts were by no means left cold;
The Princess' cheeks shone with blotches and smears
As the sorrow and pity welled up through her tears.
In reply the King uttered these words to our John:
"Well, of course I won't force you to marry her, son;
But there's something, in thanks, I should now like to give,
Which I hope that you will not refuse to receive."
At that the King opened his treasure-house door;
A servant stepped forth whom the King had sent for,
And he filled an enormous sack full up with gold:
Such a treasure John never before did behold.
"All right now, John the Valiant," said the King regally,
"Here's a little reward for your great bravery.
Take this sackful of gold, drag the whole thing away,
And buy happiness with it for your fiancée."
"I'd ask - but I know that you couldn't remain,
You're longing to coo with your dove once again,
So set off on your road, but let your friends stay,
Let them rest here a few days in pleasure and play."
As the King had commanded, so then it was done,
For he did long to bill and coo, our Valiant John.
He took a fond leave of the King's pretty daughter;
Then he boarded a galley at the edge of the water.
The King and the troops walked him down to the ship,
And all of them wished him a prosperous trip,
And their eyes gazed on after his watery trail,
Till the distance concealed him in its misty veil.
Once John boarded ship, and the galley set forth,
In its billowing sails a breeze puffed from the north;
John's thoughts raced on faster ahead of the prow,
With nothing whatever to hinder them now.
John's thoughts, as they raced on, were forming like this:
"Hey, Nelly, fair angel, my soul's only bliss!
Do you feel any hint of your oncoming pleasure?
Your bridegroom is heading home, laden with treasure."
"I'm at last homeward bound, so when all's said and done,
After so many struggles, we two may be one,
We'll be happy and rich, I'll be under the thumb
Of no master, however hard-hearted and glum."
"I confess that my squire didn't treat me just so;
All the same, I am willing to let the past go.
He's the reason behind my good luck, truth to tell;
As soon as I'm home, I'll reward him as well."
These ideas of John's he kept thinking a lot,
While the galley went scudding along like a shot;
It was still quite some distance from fair Hungary,
Because France, from that land, lies far over the sea.
Late one day John the Valiant walked out on the deck
And at twilight was strolling along, up and back.
Not to him but the deckhands the helmsman then said:
"There'll be wind, lads, most likely: the horizon is red."
John the Valiant, though, paid little heed to these words;
Overhead he saw flying a flock of large birds;
It was turning to autumn: the storks in this band
Could have only come winging from his native land.
With tenderest longing he gazed up at them,
As if they were bringing good tidings to him,
Good tidings of Nelly, his beautiful Nell,
And the long-lost homeland he loved so well.
The next morning fulfilled the horizon's forecast,
And a gale sprang up suddenly, no puny blast.
The ocean was sobbing at the wild waves crashing
And yelped at the whip of the fierce winds lashing.
The boatmen all feared they should soon come to harm,
As will commonly happen in such a loud storm.
They were straining their sinews, but all was in vain,
They had nowhere to flee on the billowing main.
Dark clouds were collecting, the whole world turned black,
The thunderstorm gave out a gigantic 'CRACK!'
The lightning went zigzagging, falling all scattered;
With one bolt, the vessel was splintered and shattered.
A flotsam of boat bits was strewn on the foam,
With the bodies of men who would never sail home.
And Valiant John's fortune, what was it that day.
Did the merciless waves sweep him also away?
Oh, death was not far from him either, and -
Then Heaven extended a helping hand,
A miraculous craft to carry him off,
So he wouldn't be buried in the ocean's deep trough.
He was tossed by the water up higher than high,
Till the crest touched a cloud fringe that hung from the sky;
John the Valiant attempted a desperate snatch
At the cloud with both hands and - hurrah! made a catch!
When he'd caught it, he clung tight and wouldn't let go,
But wriggled there, dangling suspended below
Until he and the cloud had arrived at the coast,
Where he stepped on the peak that towered up uppermost.
He rendered his 'thank-you's to God right away,
Who had spared him to live for at least one more day;
And he had no regrets for his treasure forsaken,
Since his own treasured life had escaped from being taken.
When he gazed all around at the rock-littered crest,
He saw nothing of note but a griffin's nest.
The griffin was feeding her brood on the shelf:
Then a scheme in John's brain began hatching itself.
He stole up to the nest, and the bird didn't blink,
And he jumped on the griffin's back quick as a wink,
He dug his sharp spurs in her flanks, and he steered
Over hollows and hills on his charger so weird.
Oh, thrown him down headlong the griffin would have,
Yes, dashed him to pieces, if she only could have,
But brave John the Valiant, he just wouldn't let her,
And he clung to her waist and her neck all the better.
Over how many countries she'd crossed? Heaven knows.
When suddenly, just as the bright sun arose:
Well, the very first ray of the glittering dawn
Straight onto John's village's steeple shone.
Lord, how John was delighted at such a surprise,
So delighted the teardrops came into his eyes;
But as for the griffin, she was monstrously tired -
And was drooping to earth, which was what John desired.
She drifted down, drifting at last to a stop,
Out of breath, poor thing, on a little hilltop;
John dismounted, and leaving her there to her lot,
Off he walked, altogether wrapped up in his plot.
"I don't bring you treasure, I don't bring you gold,
But I bring you my faithful heart as of old,
And Nelly, my darling, I hope that will do!
I know you've been waiting as faithfully, too."
Thus he thought as he walked, while the village drew near,
And a clatter of carts assailed his ear,
A clatter of carts and a booming of casks,
As the people prepared for the grape-harvest tasks.
To the grape-harvest workers he paid no attention,
Nor did they find this newcomer worthy of mention;
So on down the length of the village he stepped
Towards the house which he knew was where Nelly had slept.
At the porch door, he lifted his hand, but it faltered;
In his breast, how his breath nearly stopped, and then altered;
At last, he threw open the door, but in place
Of his Nelly a stranger stared into his face.
"Perhaps it's the wrong house I've come to", he thought,
And he reached for the handle to pull the door shut...
"Who is it you're looking for?" she enquired kindly,
A trim thing, to John who stood gaping there blindly.
Whom he looked for, John told her, who he was who'd come back...
"Oh my, John! Your face is so sunburned and cracked!
Good heavens, I never would recognise -'
The young woman blurted in total surprise.
"Come in, though, come in - you're welcome, God bless,
Come in, we've got lots to talk over, I guess."
She ushered John in, sat him down on a seat,
And carried on thus, sitting close by his feet:
"You don't know me? You don't think you've seen me before?
You know me - the little girl living next door
Who was always at Nelly's house, in and out..." "Well,
Don't stop, go on, tell me now - where is Nell?
Cutting her words off, John perseveres,
And the young woman's eyes grow misty with tears.
"Where is Nelly, where?" she had to respond;
"Ah, poor Uncle Johnny!... She's gone under the ground."
Good thing John was sitting, for his sickened feeling,
If he'd been on his feet, would have toppled him reeling;
With his fist clenched he clawed at his breast for relief,
As if he were trying to rip out his grief.
There he sat for a while, not just silent but numb,
Waking out of a dream, till a few words could come:
"Tell the truth, she got married. I wouldn't care.
Better here with a husband than down under there"
"Then at least I could glimpse her from time to time,
That bittersweet recompense still would be mine."
But he saw from the look in the young woman's eye
What she'd told him before had not been a lie.
John lowered his head to the table and cried,
Many tears began flowing from deep down inside,
Any words he could speak were fragmented and brief,
As his voice kept being broken apart by his grief.
"Why didn't the clamour of battle claim me?
Why didn't I find my grave in the sea?
Why, why do I live in this world, tell me why?
If such torments and lightning bolts strike from the sky?"
His sorrow at last grew too weary to weep,
Worn out from hard labour, it dropped off to sleep.
"And how - what's the reason my dearest one's dead?"
He asked the young woman. And here's what she said:
"The poor creature suffered from many a woe;
Her stepmother broke her with many a blow,
But that wicked old witch didn't have the last laugh,
She hobbled away on a beggar's staff."
"Nelly talked about you to her very last day,
Uncle Johnny. The last words we heard her to say
Were: 'Johnny, I pray that the good Lord may bless you.
I hope in the next world I still may caress you.'"
Saying this, she took leave of this vale of tears;
"Her burial site is a short way from here.
A large crowd of village folk walked there to see;
And all who attended wept copiously."
The kindly young woman then, at his request,
Led John to his Nelly's place of rest,
After which she departed and left him alone,
Where he sank on her dear, mournful grave with a groan.
He remembered the bountiful days that had been,
When the flame in Nell's heart still burned bright and clean,
In her heart and her face - which were both now stone cold
In the cold, cold earth, withering into the mould.
The bright sun was sinking with its rosy rays,
And a pallid moon moving in took the sun's place,
On the grey autumn twilight it woefully gave,
As John stumbled away from his darling one's grave.
But first he turned back. On the burial mound
A simple red rosebush sprang out of the ground,
He plucked but a single bud, pausing to pray
It would lend him its aid on his difficult way:
"Orphan bud, you were nourished by Nelly's sweet dust,
On my wanderings be a true friend I can trust;
I will wander, wander, to the ends of the earth,
Till I come to the longed-for day of my death."
Two way-fellows stood by our John from the start:
One the great grief which gnawed at his heart,
The other, thrust into its scabbard, his blade,
Rust eating it out from Turkish blood.
He had wandered with these over mountain and plain,
While he watched the moon frequently wax and wane,
And the winter earth change into fresh spring dress,
When he muttered these words to his sorrowfulness:
"Will you never grow tired of your unceasing labour,
You, Grief, who remain my insatiable neighbour!
You don't kill me, you torture me day after day;
Go and find somewhere else a more suitable prey."
"I know it's not you who will bring me my death,
I know someone else must release my last breath.
So I turn to that someone: Adversities, you!
Maybe you will deliver the death that I woo."
John was thinking these thoughts as he waved off his grief.
Now and then it flew back, but its visits were brief,
It would vanish again (since his heart springs were dry),
Leaving only one tear on the lash of each eye.
At last the tears too faded into the distance,
And he dragged himself wearily through his existence,
Till one day he came to a dark forest, dragging,
And as he dragged in there, he noticed a wagon.
The wagon he noticed belonged to a potter,
It was mired to the axle in deep muddy water;
The potter, poor fellow, kept whipping his beast,
The wagon just grunted: "I won't budge in the least."
"God give you good day," John the Valiant sang out;
The potter glared rudely at him in a pout,
And ill-manneredly said with enormous vexation:
"Not for me... for the devil it's good, and his nation."
"Aren't we in a bad mood?" John answered him back.
"Yes we are, when this roadway is such a bog track.
I've been goading my horse through it ever since dawn;
But that wagon just sits there, as if it's glued down."
"I will lend you a hand... but first tell me, indeed,
If I follow that highway, just where will it lead?"
John the Valiant enquired, indicating a road
That slashed across off to the right through the wood.
"You mean that one there? That's no road to be followed,
You'll vanish forever... in a gulp you'll be swallowed;
Great giants live there in that territory,
No one ever came back who crossed over to see."
"As for that," John replied, "best let me be the judge.
Now as for your wagon, I'll give it a nudge."
Saying this, and then grappling the end of the rod,
As if joking, he wrenched the cart free from the mud.
The potter had very big eyes, a huge maw,
But they all were too small to display his great awe;
By the time he came to, to express gratitude,
John the Valiant was well on his way through the wood.
John the Valiant marched on, and shortly he neared
The Land of the Giants, so dreaded and feared.
A galloping brook flowed alongside the border:
Though to call it a river would be quite in order.
By the brook stood the Giant Land guard in his place;
For Valiant John ever to stare in his face,
He'd have needed to lift his head over the people,
As if he could gaze eye-to-eye at a steeple.
The giants' guard spotting him quickly turned grim,
And he boomed out a thunderous challenge to him:
"What's that in the grass, a man moving about?
My sole's itchy - halt! or I'll stamp you right out."
But just as the giant was starting to tread,
John held his sharp sword straight up over his head,
The big awkward booby stepped on it and yelled:
As he grabbed for his foot, in the brook he was felled.
"Just about where I wanted him to, he's reclined,"
Was the thought that came instantly into John's mind;
And as soon as he'd thought it, he started to sprint
And crossed over the water on top of the giant.
The giant could never quite manage to stand
All the while John was nearing the opposite strand;
When he reached it, he slashed with his sword, made a hack
In the sentry's neck all the way through to the back.
The giants' guard never did get to his feet,
The duties assigned him he couldn't complete;
There came over his eyes an eclipse of the sun,
Which he waited and waited in vain to be done.
The brook's water galloped right over his body;
The surges his blood had dyed rolled along ruddy -
And what about John, sturdy fortune or brittle?
Well, we'll hear about that, if we wait just a little.
John made his way on and on into the wood;
Many times in amazement he halted and stood,
Since on everyday journeys he never would see
The marvels he glimpsed in the giants' country.
This land had a great stand of timber so tall,
Valiant John couldn't see to the treetops at all.
Besides that, the leaves of the trees were so wide
One could serve as a coat you'd fit snugly inside.
The mosquitoes here grew so enormously big,
You could sell them elsewhere as oxen or pigs.
From hacking and hewing John's sabre grew warm,
But they still kept on buzzing around in a swarm.
Not to mention the crows!... What a sight to be seen!
Far away on a treetop he noticed one preen,
It must have been two miles away, he allowed,
Yet so huge that it looked like a heavy black cloud.
John walked through this region extremely amazed,
When before him a thick shadow blackly upraised.
What was it that suddenly loomed over him.
The Giant King's castle all darkened and dim.
I tell you no lie, but its gate was so hulking,
That, that... well, I can't even tell you how bulking,
Yet you'd have to agree that it must have been tall;
The Giant King couldn't build anything small.
So John walked up thinking, "I've seen the outside,
Let's go in and inspect," and he swung the gate wide,
And not worrying whether they'd meet him with malice,
He strode through the door of the gigantic palace.
Now I tell you he saw something strange! Eating buns
Sat the King and his God-knows-how-many big sons.
But the buns that they lunched on - you'll never guess what
Were pure rocks! Did you guess it? I rather think not.
At the time John the Valiant stepped in with that bunch,
He didn't much want to partake of their lunch;
But the giants' kind, generous-hearted old King
Very prettily made him this lunch offering:
"Since you're already here, come and have some lunch too,
If you won't munch our rocks, later on we'll munch you;
Here, take one, or else (if you follow my reasoning)
We'll crumble your body on our lunch for seasoning."
The Giant King did not say this in a way
That suggested to John that he meant it in play;
So John answered, in terms of complete willingness:
"I'm not really used to such food, I confess;
"But if that's what you've got, I'll accept it, why not.
I shall join you for lunch (and I won't eat a lot),
Only one thing I beg, something easy to do,
Would you break off a little wee chunk I can chew."
The King broke a bit off, of roughly five pounds
And all through the castle his challenge resounds:
"There, take that, for noodles this wee lump will do well,
And next course we'll give you a dumpling, so chew well."
"You can chew well yourself, have a horrible day!
But I bet this will make your teeth crack and give way!"
John shouted straight up in a voice far from soft -
With his right hand he hurtled the rock high aloft.
Against the King's forehead the stone thudded so,
That his brains splattered out and about from the blow.
"You asked me to join you for rock lunch, haw-haw,"
Said John laughing hard, "Let it stick in your craw!"
Now the rest of the giants were shaking with grief
At the pitiful death of the poor Giant Chief.
They burst into sorrowful weepings and wails...
One pair of their teardrops would fill up two pails.
To our bold John the Valiant the eldest implored:
"Have mercy, have mercy, our master and lord!
We accept thee as King, whom we'll willingly serve,
We shall be thy true serfs if our lives thou'lt preserve!"
"What our brother hath said is our common desire,
Please do us no harm, for thy serfs we are, sire!"
The rest of the giants beseeched our John thus,
"As thy own serfs for ever, Lord, please receive us."
John the Valiant replied: "Yes, I shall now receive,
With one stipulation, the service you give.
Since I cannot stay here, I must be on my way,
I'll leave one of your number as king in my sway."
"Whichever it is, though, to me's all the same.
But I have one demand of you, one future claim:
If ever my fortunes should run me in trouble,
When I call, you'll appear at my side on the double."
"Take, merciful master, this whistle with thee,
And wherever thou summon'st thy serfs, there we'll be"
The eldest of giants said this, and anon
He handed the whistle to our Valiant John.
Valiant John shoved the whistle deep into his pack,
On his latest great triumph now turning his back,
And amid many shouts for good luck on the road
Away from the Land of the Giants he strode.
How much of the next year in walking he spent
Isn't certain, but this is: the further he went,
The darker before him the world came to be,
Till he suddenly saw he could no longer see.
"Have my eyes lost their sight, has the sun's lamp burned out?"
Was the thought that John started to wonder about.
But he hadn't gone blind, nor had day turned to night,
For this land was the Country of Darkness, all right.
Not a star shone by night, nor the sun shone by day;
John the Valiant went cautiously groping his way,
Now and then something fluttered high over his head,
A sound like the rustling of wings, he'd have said.
But it wasn't the rustling of wings in the air,
It was witches on broomsticks who were flying up there.
For this Country of Darkness belonged to the witches,
For ages they'd ruled with their brooms and their switches.
The fine ladies here hold their national gathering,
At the last stroke of midnight they ride up a-lathering.
From all over the nation they meet here together
In the heart of their darkness, whatever the weather.
They all were ensconced in a bottomless cavern,
In the middle a bright fire blazed under a cauldron.
John the Valiant caught sight of the fire when the door
Had been opened, which he then hurried towards.
By the time John the Valiant had reached it, though, all
Of the witches had gathered inside of their hall.
To the keyhole on tiptoe he silently went,
And his eye witnessed many an eerie event.
The place was abuzz with a flock of old hags.
In the massive great cauldron they tossed rats and frogs,
Grass that grew by a gallows, and blood-red geraniums,
Cats' tails, and black snakes, and human craniums.
Who could list them all off, rank and file, the whole crew?
Yet John figured out, in a second or two,
What this cavern must be, was a witches' den.
And a clever idea occurred to him then.
He reached for his satchel, to pull out his whistle,
That his giants might come with their sinew and gristle,
But his hand caught on something; to find out the cause
He examined it closer, and felt what it was.
It was brooms that were laid in a stack side by side,
On which the witch-women had ridden their ride.
He bundles them up and he drags them off far,
So the witches won't readily find where they are.
Then John blew his whistle as loud as could be,
And the giants flew to him immediately.
"Break the door in, and quickly, my lads! Go ahead!"
John commanded, and quickly they did what he said.
Then the legion of witches all sallied abroad;
Pandemonium reigned as they cackled and cawed;
They searched for their broomsticks with desperate eye,
But they couldn't locate them, and so couldn't fly.
The giants weren't loafing while that was going on,
For each of them snatched up a witch, one by one,
And they slammed them to earth with such furious wrath,
They were flattened like pancakes all over the path.
The most notable part of the business was this,
Every time that a witch was snuffed out (with a hiss),
The obscurity partially disappeared,
And slowly the Country of Darkness was cleared.
It was almost entirely light in the region,
And the turn of the very last witch of the legion...
And whom did John recognise in this last witch.
Well - his Nelly's stepmother, that heartless old bitch.
"Wait a bit!" John cried out. "This one I'd like to slam,"
And he lifted her out of his giant-serf's palm,
But the witch slipped free from his grasp, and hey -
With a swoosh! she's running, and well away.
"Oh blast her, dash after her, quickly, boy, run!"
John yelled to a giant, the handiest one.
The giant obeyed, and he instantly plucked her,
And high aloft into the air he chucked her.
This explains how that witch was found, flattened and dead,
On Valiant John's village's border, they said;
And since everyone hated that creature, and loathed her,
Even crows wouldn't dig through the tatters that clothed her.
The Country of Darkness was freed from its doom,
As sunlight replaced its perpetual gloom,
John had a big fire laid, with plenty of tinder,
On which every broomstick was burnt to a cinder.
To his giant-serfs Valiant John then bade goodbye,
Reminding them they'd pledged him their fealty.
They promised that they would remain honour-bright,
And they left to the left while John left to the right.
My good John the Valiant went wandering on,
The grief in his heart had now healed and was gone,
When he glanced at the rose on his breast on the morrow,
He no longer felt so oppressed by his sorrow.
The rose was fixed there, hanging freshly with grace,
Which he'd plucked from his Nelly's burial place,
And it still held a sweetness that Valiant John felt,
When musing he gazed at its petals, or smelt.
One day he was walking. The sun had declined,
Spreading a rosy-red sunset behind;
The red sunset also was soon lost to sight,
Replaced by the waning moon's yellowy light.
Valiant John kept on walking; when the moon too descended,
He halted in darkness, his strength nearly ended,
And he lowered his head on a mound, spiritless,
So the night might assuage his immense weariness.
Where he'd tumbled, he slept, and though he didn't see,
He was resting in peace in a cemetery:
A churchyard, a graveyard, but sadly decayed,
Whose headstones resisted the ruin time made.
When the terrible moment of midnight arrived,
The mouth of each grave-mound yawned suddenly wide,
And the pallid ghosts clad in their linen-white sheeting
From the throats of the graves came upwardly fleeting.
Right away they all started to dance, and they sang,
So the earth underneath their feet trembled and rang;
Neither singing nor dancing can waken, it seems,
John the Valiant, asleep and wrapped up in his dreams.
At that point a ghost caught a glimpse of our fellow,
"A live man, a human!" it raised a great bellow,
"Let's catch him up, carry him off! Who's so brave,
That he dares to step into the Land of the Grave."
And the ghosts all swooped up to John there in the dark,
And they formed up around him at once in an arc,
And they reached out to snatch him, but - then the cock crows,
At which ghosts all vanish, as everyone knows.
John also woke up at the crow of the cock,
The piercing cold made his frame shiver and knock;
Across the graves' grasses a bitter wind flowed,
He stood up on his feet and set off on his road.
On the top of a mountain our Valiant John paced,
With the light of the dawn shining onto his face -
Magnificent splendour, in crimsons and golds -
And he stopped short, to marvel at all the world holds.
The morning star, drooping in its dying fall,
Its pallid ray glinting scarcely at all,
Dropped fading away, like a prayer swiftly flown,
As the sun stepped up splendidly onto its throne.
The sun rose up gleaming from a golden coach, and
Gazed down kindly on the calm, flat ocean,
Which, still half asleep, as it seemed to be,
Filled up the expanse to infinity.
The sea didn't stir, but some small speckled fish
On its level back playfully frisked and swished,
And their bright scaly bodies, when the sun's rays glimmered,
With the brilliance of glistening diamonds, shimmered.
The hut of a fisherman stood by the sea;
He was old, and his white beard reached down to his knee,
This fisher was giving his net a wide cast
When Valiant John walked up beside him and asked:
"If I begged you politely, old man, for a ride,
Would you ferry me over to the other side.
I'd pay you, with pleasure, whatever your fee,
But I'm all out of money; could you take me for free."
"If you had some, I wouldn't accept any money,"
The kind old man answered him placidly, "Sonny,
The depths of the ocean at all times are rife
With the little I need to sustain my bare life."
"But what brings you here, would you tell me that, please,
That's why I can't take you, whatever you'd spend,
This ocean extends on and on without end."
"It's the Magical Sea?" John exclaimed with a shout,
"What that's like, I always have longed to find out;
And I shall go across, like the down of a thistle.
There's another way, though... I can blow on my whistle."
So he blew on his whistle. The instant it shrilled,
The blank space before him a giant now filled.
"Are you able to wade the whole width of this sea?"
John the Valiant enquired. "If you are, carry me."
"Can I wade it?" the giant laughed, "I'll say I can;
Take your seat on my shoulder, sire, there's a good man.
Now grab hold of my hair, and you really should hold it."
And he'd already started, as fast as I've told it.
The giant transported his King, Valiant John,
Half a mile at each stride, as his long legs strode on;
He bore him for three weeks at breathtaking speed,
But the opposite shore seemed to always recede.
All at once in the faraway bluey-grey haze
Something broke through the mist and attracted John's gaze.
He cried out, "Land ahoy! Look, there's the far side!"
"No, that's only an island," his bearer replied.
John asked him: "What sort of an island, then, is it?"
"It's Fairyland, master - no place for a visit.
Fairyland; where the world comes to a close,
Beyond it, the Sea into Nothingness flows."
"So drop me there now, my dependable elf,
Since I very much want to see that for myself."
"I can take you along there," the giant told him,
"But your life will be menaced by dangers so grim" -
"Getting in isn't terribly easy to do,
There are horrible monsters waiting for you..."
"Never mind about that, you just take me there, set me in;
Then it remains to be seen if they let me in."
John commanded his giant-serf thus to obey,
And no further objections were placed in his way,
But he carried him there, set him down on the shore,
And back to his homeland he headed once more.
At the first gate to Fairyland, standing on guard
He saw three dreadful bears with claws half a yard.
The hand-to-claw combat left John out of breath,
But all three of the bears were united in death.
Valiant John told himself, "That's enough for one day,"
As he sat down to rest from the furious fray.
"For a while, on this bench I will take a short breather,
Tomorrow's the next gate - which won't stop me, either."
And just what he planned, he proceeded to do,
The second gate, next day, he drew nearer to.
But here he found something more fierce on his plate,
Here three savage lions stood guard at the gate.
So he rolled up his sleeves; on the wild beasts he dashed
With vigour and vim, and his bright sword now flashed;
They defended themselves with might and with main,
But despite that, the three savage lions were slain.
Immensely fired up by this triumph was John,
So, unlike the day before, he pressed straight on,
And wiping away a thick layer of sweat,
He drew near to the third gate and there he was met -
Heaven's sakes! he was met by the gruesomest guard;
At the mere sight of him all your blood would freeze hard.
For an oversized dragon was in charge of this gate;
He could swallow six oxen, his mouth was so great.
In the matter of bravery John held his place,
And a clever brain wasn't left out, in his case,
He could see that his sword wouldn't conquer this sentry,
So he sought for another approach to gain entry.
The dragon-snake opened its gigantic maw,
To grind John in pieces and bits with its jaw;
And what did John do with this problem, just mull it?
No, he sprang at once into the dragon's great gullet!
In the dragon's midsection he searched for the heart,
And he hit on it, plunged his sword into that part.
The dragon forthwith sprawled his limbs far and wide,
And groaning the last of his broken life, died.
Hey, it gave John the Valiant no cause to say thanks
To be drilling a hole through the dragon's thick flank.
But he finally drilled it, and out he crawled, and -
And he opened the gate, and beheld - Fairyland!
News of winter is wafted to Fairyland - never.
They bask in the splendour of springtime for ever;
No sunrise, no sunset - no sunlight is shed,
Dawn plays there unendingly, rosy and red.
In that countryside, each fairy girl and her boy
Unacquainted with death live purely for joy;
Food and drink are two needs that they know nothing of,
They subsist on the honey-sweet kisses of love.
Although grief never touches them, many a sight
Makes the fairies' eyes blur with tears of delight;
Each tear is drawn into the folds of the earth,
And from that womb a diamond is brought to its birth.
The blonde fairy girls thread the yellowy strands
Of their hair one by one down under the lands;
These threads turn to gold ore, the glittering treasure
Which earth's treasure-hunters discover with pleasure.
The young fairy children spin rainbows up there
From the radiant beams in the eyes of the fair;
When a rainbow's been spun to a suitable size,
It is hung in the vault of the overcast skies.
The fairies have couches constructed of flowers,
Which, drunk with delight, they loll on for hours;
With its fragrant aroma the billowy air
Rocks them softly to sleep on their flower-couches there.
And yet, of the world in their sweet dreams displayed,
Fairyland in itself is only a shade.
When a youth first embraces a girl in our world,
This dream is the rapture in which they are whirled.
When Valiant John entered the fairies' country,
Every thing his eye fell on, he marvelled to see.
But the rosy-hued brightness so dazzled his sight,
That he scarcely dared glance to the left or the right.
Meeting John, did the fairies fly off out of fear?
No: gentle as children they kindly drew near,
Tender and charming the words that they said,
As further on into the island they led.
When poor John the Valiant surveyed the whole scene,
He came to, as if waking out of a dream:
Despair cast him down in his heart's deepest well,
As he sadly remembered his dear-beloved Nell.
"Alas, in this country where love blooms full-blown,
Through the rest of my life shall I walk all alone.
Wherever I look, every couple I see
Shows that happiness hides itself only from me!"
A lake, in the middle of Fairyland, stood,
John the Valiant walked down to it in his dark mood,
And the rose that had grown where his love lay at rest,
He pulled from his bosom, and thus he addressed:
"You're my very last treasure! my love's memento!
You show me the way, and that's where I will go."
And he sowed the rose into the folds of the water;
He was just on the verge of following after...
When wonder of wonders! what befell, what befell!
What befell was, the flower turned into his Nell.
Frantically into the water he sped,
And delivered the girl who'd been raised from the dead.
Since the Water of Life was what filled up this pond,
Whatever it touched, it brought back from Beyond.
By the dust that was Nelly, the rose had been fed,
And so it was she who arose from the dead.
I could deck all this out in extravagant speech,
But what Valiant John felt, my words never could reach,
As he lifted his Nell from the watery abyss,
And on long-thirsty lips there burnt the first kiss.
How lovely Nell was! All the fairy girls gazed
On her beauty adoring, delighted, amazed;
For Queen of the Fairies she was the girls' choice,
While for King it was John who was picked by the boys.
And there in the exquisite fairy folk's ring
In the lap of his Nelly, his Nell, his darling,
John the Valiant, His Highness, to this very day
Over glorious Fairyland holds happy sway.