The race is not to the swift, Nor the fight to the strong – Though underdogs lose nine in ten, And the weak last half as long. The race is won by the winner, And the winner is usually fast – The Hare can snooze for the afternoon, But the Tortoise still comes last.
The point is not to the smug, Nor the sting to the sharp – And morals will lose us nine in ten Whenever the pious harp. The ears are won by the joker, Who flatters more than he smarts – The North Wind can bluster all he likes, But the Sun will warm our hearts.
A child is born tonight, this night, Afar across the sea, Whose birth shall spark the world alight To unforeseen degree. A child is born tonight, this night, Within a distant land, Whose birth shall end all ancient rite, And all we understand.
And a thousand saints shall nurse And a thousand laws shall spring, And a thousand tyrants reign, And a thousand choirs sing, And a thousand penitents Sigh a thousand lonely pleas, As a thousand preachers preach Of a thousand heresies, And a thousand wars shall rage, As a thousand martyrs die, And a thousand hopes be dashed As a thousand others fly.
With our pious hearts aflame, We each and all shall stake a claim, Invoking but a single name: A child is born, You know his name, A child is born, You know his name, A child is born, You know his name, And joy or shame, There’s nothing now shall ever be the same.
A child is born tonight, this night, Afar from you and I, Whose birth shall bless and birth shall blight The lowest to the high. A child is born tonight, this night, Within another town, Whose birth shall bring a holy might, To challenge ev’ry crown.
And a thousand kings shall curse, And a thousand laymen pray, And a thousand goats shall graze And a thousand sheep shall stray, And a thousand cripples grasp For a thousand holy cures, As a thousand sinners fall To a thousand tempters’ lures. And a thousand signs are gleaned Of a thousand things to come, As a thousand trumpets bray And a thousand drummers drum.
With our precious hearts aflame, We each and all shall spread his fame, Invoking but a single name: A child is born, You know his name, A child is born, You know his name, A child is born, You know his name, And joy or shame, There’s nothing now shall ever be the same.
A child is born tonight, this night, Afar from what is now, Whose birth shall calm and birth shall fright And shake our ev’ry bough. A child is born tonight, this night, Within this bitter cold, Whose birth shall tell and life recite, And ever hence be told.
And a thousand lords shall leap, And a thousand ladies dance, And a thousand pilgrims trek, And a thousand scribes advance, And a thousand starving mouths Beg a thousand crusts of bread, As a thousand mourners mourn For a thousand others dead, And a thousand children born To a thousand av’rage folk Are a thousand times instilled With the thousand words he spoke.
Let our fervent hearts acclaim, As each and all come join the game, Invoking but a single name: A child is born, You know his name, A child is born, You know his name, A child is born, You know his name, And joy or shame, There’s nothing now shall ever be the same.
I wanted to write something more ambiguous in its religious outlook which could be sung by everyone without frightening the horses. And although it is far from certain that there ever was an actual human (non-miracle working, non-resurrecting) upon which a whole new religion later sprang, if there were then this is his song.
Turning the soil is Autumn work, Ploughing, forking, hoeing the loam, Breaking it up before it freezes, Driving the moles from their home. Airing the worms out, harvesting stones, And mining the black to bury the brown, Dredging the roots up, combing the waves in, Leaving the fields quite upside-down.
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...
I lived the life I lived because I found myself alive with life to spare. I sang the songs I sang because The songs were short, and cheap, and ev’rywhere. I did the things I did because The things I did were needing to be done. I trod the path I trod because I had to tread a path, and here was one.
Reapers sweep the scythe And sheafers bush the sheaf – Gathering the harvest, Gathering the grain – Threshers thresh the flail To tear the seed from leaf – Gathering the harvest, Holding off the rain – Winnow-women winnow, And siever-maidens sieve, Prizing out the pearls That the golden ears give – For to the corn we’re born, And by the wheat we live. Bringing home the harvest down the lane.
Once it took a village, And ev’ry boy to spare – Gathering the harvest, Stooked and ricked and mown – Now it takes machines, With no use for man or mare – Gathering the harvest, Gathered to the bone – Children of the corn And cottage-kitchen wives Are spared the broken backs And spared the broken lives, With Summers never shorn By the sweeping Reaper’s scythes – So bring us home the harvest on your own.
When the cuckoo changes its tune, it’s June, The month with the longest afternoon, When the golden hour will last an hour, And the floral clocks are forever in flower – It’s hardly worth the daisies to close When a good night’s sleep is barely a doze, And the nightingales must rush their glee Till the sparrows fart at the crack of three.