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