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February 26, 2024

The Ballad of a Poor Man's Reward

By Hamish McGee

The Ballad of a Poor Man's Reward


The moon shines bright, on us all each night,
As we sleep, safe in our beds.
May we receive rewards, that the Lord accords,
Befitting our hearts and heads.

* * *

My throat did thirst, when I heard it first,
In God's Holy Chapel as I sat.
There was no doubt, the verdict about,
For the message out they spat.

"He's sure to hang!" had cried the gang,
When the verdict first came to me.
My heart fell fast, sank to the dark.
As I pondered his memory.

I recall it still, my mind, my will,
I felt great pain within.
I knew this man, had held his hand,
I knew he had not sinned.

I knew his part, from the very start,
My vigil again commenced.
On feet I stood, with a heavy mood,
His mortality I so sensed.

That Magistrate, he now of late,
He said he knew the truth.
He cast his eye, and condemned to die,
That sad and fearful youth.

To the gaol I went, whence he was sent,
Fast beat my sorry heart.
They held him there, 'though I declare,
He loved his dear sweetheart.

In his cell we met, I ne'er will forget,
The look upon his face.
No sign of fear, nor yet a tear,
But pleading God's Good Grace.

The prison guard, with face so scarred,
He laughed to see us pray.
He shook the chains, and to that refrain,
We passed that awful day.

I asked of him, his soul to win,
To tell me all and true.
With truthful eyes, he asked me why,
He must drink that bitter brew.

I could not say, to him that day,
Why God had decreed it so.
Why God's Right Hand, in all that land,
Had laid him there so low.

Of Him I implored, to me afford,
The means to have him freed.
But 'though I prayed, my fears arrayed,
He yet did not accede.

The damsel had died, he knew not why,
He found her there that day.
Her life was gone, 'neath the dying sun,
In the ground she now decayed.

So the young man cried, for his love had died,
He knew not who did the deed.
His conscience was clear, 'though filled with fear,
But none his voice would heed.

Then on his own, with aching bones,
He stared up at the sky.
Curiosity stirred, a thought occurred,
As to how he now should die.

I thought to stay, his grief that day --
The least I thought to do.
But my words paled, in that terrible gaol,
I dare not say, "Adieu."

Think not on death, but count each breath,
A gift from God above.
For life is dear, that much is clear,
'Tis proof of God's Great Love.

As I left him there, I saw him stare,
At the sky as it turned to black.
In his prison cell, where he would dwell,
His soul with pain was wracked.

To home I went, filled with torment,
I could not forget his face.
And on bended knee, I saw three trees,
The symbol of God's Good Grace.

For on those trees, were crucified three,
Two thousand years ago.
What did it mean? To me it seemed,
I was destined not to know.

My dreadful dreams, were wracked it seems,
With several lasting doubts.
Some evil ghouls, took me for fool,
And tore my soul about.

In fear I woke, sweat on me broke,
I shivered there in the cold.
'Though safe at home, I had there none,
To whom my doubts be bold.

On the morrow I went, with goodly intent,
To see that Magistrate.
But he would not heed, me or my deed,
And so did me berate.

I pleaded then, Take up thine pen,
You still can change the sentence.
But his heart was stone, he bid me gone,
No sign there of repentance.

I knew not why, he had to die,
There seemed no sense at all.
But as Satan knew, the Good Lord true,
The effector of Man's Great Fall.

But of what use, his life to lose,
I asked of Him again.
As reply came none, the deed soon done,
By those wicked, wicked men.

To the Chapel I went; their enmity earned,
I sought to ask of my Lord.
Why must this be? I asked of He.
I prayed He stay His Sword.

Throughout that night, my soul alight,
I sought to understand.
This man was wronged, did not belong,
In Satan's Evil Hand.

But 'though I prayed, the Good Lord made,
No sign that I could see.
And so I arose, on the morrow's throes:
That place I chose to leave.

In confused haze, I wandered dazed,
For sleep my body cried.
But on I went, where'er I was sent,
Respite, my body denied.

To the prison I walked, and there I talked,
With the Governor of that place.
I sought to persuade, the sentence delay,
As I looked him in the face.

The Governor was as small, as a tree is tall,
And yet of such wicked intent.
He often would delight, in another man's plight,
When to the gallows he went.

'Though I pleaded with him, it was his whim,
He laughed at my request.
Great pleasure he took, all else forsook,
Such men I could detest.

Naught could I say, naught would him sway,
He determined to do his worst.
I begged of him, his soul to win,
But all he did was curse.

I could not keep, that youth from sleep,
The type we all must embrace.
For the Governor was sure, he did me assure,
He scoffed at the Good Lord's Grace.

So I asked once more, his sneer I deplored,
To give this man some peace.
All he required, was a fiddle by his side,
To help his turmoil cease.

In gesture grand, he waved his hand,
He dismissed me with a grin.
My wish he granted, as inanely he chanted,
This man so filled with sin.

So to home went I, 'neath a darkening sky,
I fetched mine own violin.
The grey clouds now, seemed angry somehow,
As I met that man of sin.

He took the bow, and the fiddle also,
He looked at me with disgust.
Then both we made, where the poor lad laid,
Into his cell I thrust.

Away the lad turned, as we returned,
I saw him lying there.
His back to us, as the fiddle thrust,
To that innocent youth so fair.

The Governor's glee, was plain to see,
He revelled in his pain.
My heart beat fast; aside I cast,
The young man's fetters and chains.

I begged of him, release his limbs,
That he may play some tune.
I prayed to the Lord, compassion afford,
And grant me but this boon.

So the chains came off, as the Governor scoffed,
He had no heart or soul.
He laughed out loud, that man so proud,
As we stood there in that hole.

The Governor departed, to the youth I started,
I took up my good violin.
On his feet he stood, as well he could;
He seemed so sad within.

From the floor below, I picked the bow,
I gave it in his hand.
And the instrument too, my faith renewed,
As we two alone did stand.

I smiled a smile, and all the while,
I prayed the Lord look down.
He looked at me, his hands now free,
His eyes fell to the ground.

I thought I spied, tears in his eyes,
He stared then at the dark.
I sought to say, some words assuage,
The agony of his heart.

He did not say, any word that day,
It seemed an age did by.
As the moon arose, our meeting closed,
To home I need then fly.

I walked away, from him that day,
I felt his burden within.
My emotions rent, to home I went,
When I heard him play a hymn.

I thanked the Lord, my courage restored,
Hope then filled my heart.
In better mood, the night I viewed,
To home I did then start.

As I reached the air, I heard him there,
Still he played so clearly.
I listened then, to that good man,
The music he loved so dearly.

It seemed I heard, the Lord's own words,
As I stood there in a dream.
That Angelic sound, did me surround,
In Heaven I was it seemed.

The Choirs on High, did smile and sigh,
To hear such a wondrous melody.
Above the clouds, that Heavenly crowd,
Listened to that music intently.

But as I did delight, in the fading light,
The music was curtailed.
I heard a scream, to me it seemed,
My efforts had all failed.

I knew it then, those wicked men,
They stilled that music divine.
For him I feared, as the moon disappeared.
I heard the Church bells chime.

Go back I thought, as fears I fought,
I sought to know his fate.
But entry denied, I begged and cried,
To see that youth of late.

At home I tried, my Cross beside,
To make some sense of it all.
Why would they end, the music suspend?
What did that youth befall?

That night my sleep, in terror was steeped
With visions of ghosts and ghouls.
In anguish I woke, God's will invoked,
Keep safe from Satan's tools.

Some disaster did befall, still I recall,
The memory oh so sharp.
That goodly youth, I knew the truth,
Was consigned to deepest dark.

On waking then, I recalled those men,
With hate and spite so filled.
Their greatest delight, in darkest night,
To see men's dreams were killed.

To the gaol I sped, so filled with dread,
The sentence would soon be done.
By that youth's side, I would abide,
'Til he at last was gone.

When I arrived, I did contrive,
To ascertain the truth.
What had ensued, what bitter feud,
Had befallen this poor youth?

In his cell I saw, the Governor's law,
As fiddle lay shattered around.
Red, black and bruised, the youth accused,
Lay broken on the ground.

I looked at those men, in that despicable den,
They laughed to see my expression.
For naught they cared; at me they stared,
Bereft of all compassion.

I thought to curse, and do them worse,
But the Lord did stay my hand.
To the youth I turned, 'though my anger burned,
He soon would be of the land.

For that whole day, with him I stayed,
In prayer and deep contemplation.
Of the Lord I beseeched, safe him keep,
To grant him His Salvation.

No word said he, to them or me,
Still silent remained that boy.
No fear he showed, to the guards I loathed,
They could not him destroy.

Then came the hour, I saw them lour,
The guards did savour their duty.
They bound his hands, with sinful bands,
And covered his innocent beauty.

To the gallows they led, from his final bed,
They took him to his death.
A rope they hung, from which he swung,
Denied life's precious breath.

I shuddered to see, hanging from that tree,
His body suspended there.
I prayed to the Lord, and his Heavenly Horde,
To received this youth so fair.

But the night was down, a gale blew round,
They left his body to swing.
I begged of them, those wicked, wicked men,
As the wind did howl and sing.

I sought to release, that his shame might cease,
The body of that boy.
But those wicked men, cursed me again,
My plight did give them joy.

But their elation cut short, as ended their sport.
Lightening flashed all around.
They screamed in fear, the thunder to hear,
As they hastened o'er the ground.

In the gaol they hid, the storm amid,
They ran for dread and fear.
For it was said, that the souls of the dead,
Were drawing ever near.

But I stayed there, with that youth so fair,
His body limp and dead.
I screamed for aid -- no difference it made,
As I freed his noble head.

As I struggled there, I did despair,
I thought to rescue the dead.
For shelter I made, but my memory fades,
For the gallows fell upon my head.

The moon hid his face, from God's Good Grace,
For evil that night was content.
As the wind did howl, and demons did prowl,
Angels did lament.

There came a wail, through the roaring gale,
A desperate, unnatural sound.
To all it seemed, like a ghastly dream,
That filled the air around.

For Death did spy, with his dark eyes,
But still some distance yet.
He did not advance, but yet his trance,
Did make him frown and fret.

In my oblivious state, I was left to fate,
The storm was lost to me.
But in my head, I thought me dead,
And lost to eternity.

The Angels on High, flew from the sky,
They came and looked at me.
In silence then they, the Lord obeyed,
They set his spirit free.

They loosed his bands, and freed his hands,
They brought him to his feet.
His face now glowed, the Lord's love flowed,
The Angels' task complete.

They left us then, we two men,
He looked at me and smiled.
He bade me well, as down I fell,
Before that goodly child.

I closed my eyes, and thought to rise,
But first I said a prayer.
The Lord be praised, the dead He raised,
As I knelt before Him there.

It seemed I heard, a sacred word,
I thought I heard His name.
My eyes opened wide, my tears were dried,
I felt no more ashamed.

Beside the gallow, in a shelter hollow,
I looked around to see.
The ground was strewn, 'neath the failing moon,
The storm was far from me.

I shook my head: I was not dead,
The Angels had surely saved me.
Those servants of God, my merciful Lord,
My troubled soul set free.

The youth now gone, his life was done,
My thoughts turned to my home.
Along the road, each step I trod,
I wished no more to roam.

Throughout that day, his fate did weigh,
Upon my heart and mind.
And all night long, I heard his song,
No peace could I find.

The moon shone bright, on the dead that night,
As they lay still in their graves.
And all so pale, with a deadly wail,
They rose above their staves.

They feign would know, to whom bestow,
The right to deadly retribution.
And so convened, those deadly fiends,
All subjects of execution.

Those ghostly souls, did state their goals,
They all did wish for right.
They did their worst: they cried and cursed,
In purgatorial plight.

One said he killed, his master skilled,
When building a mighty hall.
He would deny, his guilt belie,
His action to recall.

Another did state, he robbed his mate,
Of his money and his breath.
He feign would say, his crime allay,
He did not cause his death.

And yet another, had killed his mother,
She who gave him birth.
In a drunken state, he denied that date,
And lay back in the earth.

Still one more, had lain in store,
For his lover's one true love.
He stabbed at him, his love to win,
And thought no more thereof.

And so they said, those souls all dead,
Their crimes were all laid bare.
Each made his claim -- another was blamed,
Their truths they all did swear.

But this lad arose, from amidst all those,
He hung his head in shame.
He said he knew, his love was true,
He dared not speak her name.

'Though he did not kill, with remorse was filled,
And still he bore the blame.
He had left her there, with naught but prayer,
To seek fortune and fame.

From his sojourn, he would return,
He told her and departed.
But luck he had none, his silver gone,
For home and love he started.

But with her husband gone, she was undone,
She had begged him then to stay.
But he had no skill, to do his will,
And so he went that day.

She could not persuade, and so he bade,
His wife a sad farewell.
When he earned some coin, they would rejoin,
And together then would dwell.

On his return, he feared she'd spurn,
His protestations of love.
Her name he called, but found her sprawled,
Her soul was in Heaven above.

So long she cried, slow death she died,
So oft she recalled him part.
But her love was away: he would not stay,
So she died of a broken heart.

In his heart he knew, he had been untrue,
He surely caused her demise.
There was naught to do, but accept the truth,
And dry his tearful eyes.

He wept to discover, the death of his lover,
As he cried there o'er his wife.
He wept and wept, beside her he kept,
'Though utterly bereft of life.

Then a band of men, did hear again,
His cry of utter anguish.
Him they caught, to the Magistrate brought:
Consigned in gaol to languish.

The moon hid its light, behind clouds that night,
As it drifted high over the gaol.
That silver sphere, declined to appear,
Its face still, silver and pale.

As dark the sky grew, the whole prison crew,
Ran off to hide their sins.
But the Good Lord true, knew of that crew,
And the gaol they hid within.

Within that place, concealing their disgrace,
The guards all feared the gale.
Outside it raged, a battle there waged,
As the building it assailed.

But that boy deceased, his spirit released,
Came fast to my domicile.
To me he told, of those bodies cold,
And where I should me conceal.

The spirits of the dead, that town would tread,
In search of their revenge.
Those wicked men, would be dead then,
Their deaths would be avenged.

Day by day, in light I stayed,
For fear of those apparitions.
Night after night, by candle light,
In fear of ghastly visions.

I dared not stray, from my home by day,
By night I dared not sleep.
The town discerned, the dead returned,
How then to safe keep?

In the gaol grounds, in its compound,
The dead were all called out.
From so many graves, came forth those knaves,
And so they danced about.

But the spirit of that boy, the dead did deploy,
He commanded them to obey.
He they sent, the guards to torment,
And so they did away.

Those poor dead souls, searched that vile hole,
Looking for those men.
Round the gaol they flew, that deathly crew,
In search of their revenge.

And throughout the town, the citizens did frown,
As the dead displayed their power.
Their strange, weird song, as they roamed along,
Rang as the town was scoured.

One gaoler's heart, succumbed to their art,
Another was frozen by fear.
Some lost their minds, to asylums consigned,
When the dead did reappear.

But that young boy's ghost, did his utmost.
To the Governor first he went.
And cowering there, filled with despair,
To Hell that man was sent.

The Governor pleaded, his cries unheeded,
On his knees he prayed for aid.
For compassion he cried, but mercy denied,
For the door he then fast made.

Chased by that ghost, he screamed the most,
To the roof he made his flight.
For there on high, he was doomed to die,
With none to heed his plight.

Through the air he flew, from that terrible crew,
Their faces all aglow.
Their gleeful stare, as he clutched the air,
Falling to the ground below.

That Magistrate, did abrogate,
His mighty position high.
From the tallest height, that man of might,
To an early grave did fly.

The spirit of that boy, did his fiddle employ,
To avenge his unjust sentence.
'Though that wicked man, from him ran,
He still had no repentance.

A fiddle's sound, filled the air around,
It seemed like a spectre host.
The screeching wail, like the roaring gale,
Was heard from coast to coast.

The Magistrate's howl, that man so foul,
He plunged down to his death.
But from bad to worse, that man so cursed,
Breathed his final breath.

But before he went, to Hell was sent,
He cursed the whole, wide world.
And most of all, at his final fall,
He cursed that poor, dead girl.

No thought to repent, to Hell he went,
His body, lifeless lay.
Filled full with joy, the Devil did enjoy,
The arrival of his favourite prey.

So justice complete, the dead did retreat,
Back in their graves they slept.
But that boy now dead, to me he tread,
As safe at home I kept.

Once more he spoke, as I pulled my cloak,
Around to keep me warm.
At first I feared, as he drew near,
I thought he meant me harm.

He was at peace, his turmoil ceased,
His soul could now seek rest.
Before he would go, he wished me to know,
How much he had been blessed.

For as he died, the Reaper he spied,
But still some distance yet.
As his body swung, the gale among,
He was with calm beset.

As the Reaper advanced, he looked askance,
He saw his body there.
The wild wind howled, as the Reaper scowled:
His soul rose in the air.

As his soul rose high, into the sky,
Death stood and at him stared.
The sky turned red, like a fiery bed,
Death had that poor boy spared.

As up he rose, departing almost,
He fell into deep slumber.
As in a dream, to him it seemed,
Of life unencumbered.

He heard a voice, his heart rejoiced,
For he heard his love then speak.
To Heaven she'd gone, when her life was done,
His love she did safe keep.

For the Lord had known, how he had atoned,
For departing from his love.
And so He decreed, he could do one deed,
'Ere he went to Heaven above.

His persecutors died, he rejoined his bride,
His task on earth was done.
Satan's violin, was given him,
For his bride was once more won.

And so he did fly, beyond the night sky,
To be with his love above.
But 'ere he went, to me he sent,
The Devil's instrument of love.

He did command, into my hand,
He gave that fiddle to me.
The fires of Hell, within it dwelt,
Where none but I could see.

When it I played, the wicked were afraid,
To hear that awful sound.
But only those, whom Satan chose,
Did join him underground.

And faithful men all, would often recall,
The night the ghouls were free.
Their memory stilled, so chilled their will,
So often they came to me.

On bended knees, I heard their pleas,
They prayed to God above.
But I knew right then, of those good men,
God did them all love.

So I hid it away, the fiddle that day,
Yet still it haunts my dreams.
So to the Lord I pray, each night and day,
To end my fearful screams.

When my sins I atone, I shall stand alone,
Before my Lord on high.
But until then, like all good men,
I shall ponder how to die.

* * *


So this I say, keep watch always,
Be ever quick to forgive.
For life God gave, to cowards and the brave,
That all should happily live.

In my moments alone, if I ever bemoan,
My life upon this earth.
I think on him, whose soul did win,
In Heaven, a second birth.

Then my heart is light: I do delight,
In freedom from my strife.
With every breath, I deny dark death,
And thank God for this life.

© Hamish McGee 2017

Article © Hamish McGee. All rights reserved.
Published on 2020-03-02
1 Reader Comments
12:38:13 PM
Fabulous! What an epic tale, and what a delightfully entertaining way to present it. Well, well done.
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