Now that the herd is in the barn,
And now that the flock is in the fold,
Then huddle close and I’ll spin you a yarn,
The one my father told.
And he was taught by his in turn,
And he by his, the self-same airs
That someday your own kids will learn
When you tell them, and they tell theirs.
Sometimes, late at night,
Out on the plains, or on the road,
When the bats are in full flight
To the singing of the toad,
There can be heard the gallop
Of a lonely charger wild,
Through the ups of York and Salop
And the downs of Kent and Fylde
There’s those who claim they’ve seen him,
And they claim he rides a grey,
A snow-white grey so gleaming
That the very stars give way.
A king, they say, with bow and crown,
And horseshoes of cold steel –
And ev’rywhere those hooves stomp down,
The people come to heel.
Though some say he’s not invading
Through our castles, towns and huts,
But rather the land he’s raiding
Is our throats, and veins and guts –
Riding, riding, ever onwards,
There is no defence –
Though some may call him Conquest,
And others Pestilence.
But many will say No!, he rides a chestnut
When he roams abroad,
And he wears a shining breastplate,
And he holds a tempered sword –
And he is War, yet not invasion,
But a people one upon another,
Year-on-year, at any provocation,
Brother killing brother.
But fighting is fighting, and always near
To the likes of us who are called on to bleed,
And arrow or sword, it’s the same old fear
When facing down the next stampede.
Or maybe a few who see this horseman
Get to then escape to tell –
Yet whether Mongol, Moor, or Norseman,
All those roads lead straight to Hell.
Still, I have also heard it told by folks
That the horse is jettest black,
And gaunt enough that each rib pokes,
With scarcely strength for saddle or pack –
But its passenger can’t weigh much, at least,
He’s spindly as his balancing scales –
Clearly the lord of the Famine, not the feast
As he measures out losses from frosts and gales.
Then others say his is the best-fed mount
In any town it passes,
Glossy like the fur-coat of a count
Against their threadbare nags and asses.
And the dirt where its hoofprints have trodden is barren now,
The only thing growing is the drought –
The fields are always so shy of the plough
When Famine goes riding out.
Yet the final vision of our phantom knight
Is the strangest of all they claim to have seen,
When robed in black, or robed in white,
On a pale steed – maybe dun, yet maybe green.
Some say a skeleton, devoid of flesh,
And what does he carry ? An hourglass of time ?
A downturned torch, or a flail to thresh ?
Or a sickle to scythe the stalks in their prime ?
And they give him a name, they call him Death.
But surely all these versions are that –
So death by what ? Perhaps from a poisoned breath,
Or the slurry from the mines, or rancid fat ?
Maybe our souls aren’t chaff to the miller,
But the smoke in the lung and the acid on the stone –
Pollution, that’s the next big killer –
And surely worth a horseman all of its own.
So light all the candles and ring all the bells,
To ward off the Silent Divider,
And warn them in Wigan and Walsall and Wells
Of the grizzled new face of the Rider.
From Wetherby weavers to Tintagel Tin,
From the tar-pits of Derby to Sunderland soot,
So each time we breathe we invite the rogue in
And his fingers leave shadows wherever they’re put.
Then listen, my children, listen for his hoofbeat,
Listen as he slowly yet surely destroys
By dogging the trudging of your own two feet
In the choke and the grime and the constant noise.
His other visions are horrors of our past,
But it’s in our future that we all must die,
And the fourth of the horsemen will take us at the last
As he kicks up the dust as he’s riding by.
I suppose Pollution should cover the mass-deaths by human-caused tragedies, while Pestilence cover those from other living things while Famine has the natural disasters gig. This would mean that a plague of locusts is definitely one for Pestilence, while Famine would deal with meteor impacts. But don’t even get me started on green horses…