Martin Robertson

Now and Then

A Ballad
from the Greek

That time we started drinking

early on Saturday

and went on over Sunday

and never stopped all day.

Monday morning early

we found the drink was out

—the Captain had to pick on me

to fetch another lot.

I didn’t know the way, though

—a stranger in these parts.

The roads I took turned into lanes,

lanes dwindled into paths,

and where should the path bring me to

but a church in a churchyard?

A little church, with few graves

lying close together

—brothers and cousins, I suppose,

sticking by one another,

but one was at a distance,

separately made.

Before I even saw it

I trod right on the head,

and then I heard the dead man

how he groaned, and said

“Are you a Turk?  Trample me then,

foul me if you’re a Jew,

but if you’re of my own blood

let me speak with you.”

“You’re dead and laid into your grave

and yet you speak and groan.

Is it the earth that weighs on you,

that and your heavy stone?”

“It’s not the earth that weighs on me

nor yet my heavy stone.

Was there nowhere for you to tread

but on my head alone?

Wasn’t I a lad too once,

as likely as they come?

Hadn’t I my ten-palm sword

and my fathom gun?

A likely lad, a bonny fighter

by nights without a moon.

Three nights and days together

two-score Turks I killed,

and two-score more took prisoner

fighting in the hills.

But then the sword broke in my hand,

the steel snapped clean in two.

A Turkish dog came riding,

his scimitar he drew,

he swung it high to strike me

—I caught and held it high,

but he pulled out his pistol

and laid me where I lie.

Friend, you’re a christened man,

weep for me, weep for me.”