The Miller's Daughter
Inspired by "The Lady of Shalott" by Tennyson

Part I

The forests loom at Nottinghamshire.
The river oaks still aiming higher,
Surround the field where from the byre
The cattle trample through the briar
	Down to the surly water.
The gristmill stands along the shore
As barefoot on the sawdust floor,
Whisking shadows out the door
	Runs Nell, the miller's daughter.

Among the fields of wheat and barley
The farmers gather long and early
With sinewed hands both veined and gnarly
The sheaves of grains now tied securely
	In wagons drawn to the Idle's water 
That flows to keep the millstone grinding,
The gentle current now reminding
All who enter of the blinding
	Beauty of the miller's daughter.

Around the stone the men are straining,
Attentive to the grist and graining,
But Nell's alert to one in training
And when she sees his strength is waning
	She brings the cup of water.
The young lad whom her father's teaching,
In spite of what the miller's preaching,
Abides in hope, his heart beseeching
	The love of the miller's daughter.

Part II.

King John, ensconced in Nottingham Castle,
Celebrating season's wassail,
Listens to his liege and vassal 
Praise her beauty, fair and facile
	Maiden of the lovely water.
A rainbow rises for an omen.
The king decides to send his yeomen,
The sheriff and the royal bowmen,
	To fetch the miller's daughter.

Outside the black crow sounds a warning,
Spreads like wildfire through the morning,
A song that sets the fields aburning,
Echoing the hoofbeats churning
	onward toward the murky water.
The sheriff with his armor gleaming,
Urging on his horsemen teeming,
All the while his mind is scheming 
	To capture the miller's daughter.

The crow is joined in raucous chorus,
The horsemen bursting from the forest,
Their bearded faces dark and onerous,
Foul as the dark clouds building over us,
	Black as the fetid water.
Before the crow can leave the gorse,
Nell, seated on an empty horse,
Is prisoner of a fiendish force.
	Pray for the miller's daughter.

Part III.

Upstream at Hartford ferry crossing,
The vessel heaves, the river tossing,
From the north the storm accosting
The shores in throes exhausting,
	Roils the turgid water.
From the south the hoof beats clatter
Like the magpie's endless chatter,
Now covered in the furrowed splatter,
	Rides the miller's daughter 

Onto the solid oaken flooring,
Surrounded by her captors, roaring.
"Cast off" the sheriff shouts ignoring
The ferryman, in fear deploring
	The rising of the water, 
Who only does what he is bidden,
No stranger to the danger hidden
Off-shore, to where the barge is ridden.
	Beware, the miller's daughter.

Halfway there the ferry, keening,
Astride the whirlpool's wild careening,
The faces of the yeomen greening,
No time for godly intervening
	To tame the raging water.
With a final frantic reaching,
The ferry's hull athwart is breaching,
The king's men cleave the river, screeching,
	Along with the miller's daughter.

Part  IV.

From the tree top calls the raven,
The image in his eye engraven
Of sheriff, archers, yeomen craven,
Struggling to reach the haven
	Of the far side of the water.
All are safe save one who's chosen
To remain immersed in river frozen,
Surging southward toward the ocean
	Flows Nell, the miller's daughter.

Downstream a boy is watching, chaste,
The conquering of his fear embraced,
Through his belt a rope enlaced,
Held by the miller's helpers placed
	Behind as he knifes the water.
The young man knows he has one chance,
To subdivide the wide expanse,
Swim until he joins the dance,
	To waltz the miller's daughter.

Astride the boil, the maiden, coping,
Resists the river's constant groping,
Inside her breast her strong heart hoping,
Flies toward the boy, enwrapped in roping,
	Closing through the water.
At last the dance of lurch and leaper,
Ne'er was there a happier reaper,
The young fish in his net's a keeper.
	He's caught the miller's daughter. 
(First published in Society of Classical Poets Journal - 2020)

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The Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse

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