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Rank Origin: Lambton Worm (56* d) Lyr Add: THE WORME OF LAMBTON 17 Jul 01


This ballad comes from 'The Book of Ballads - Ancient and modern,' published in London by Virtue, Spalding, and Co. No publication date. It gives the story in some detail, though perhaps a bit to long to sing. The notes below accompany the ballad.

[This ballad is taken from 'The Local Historian's Table-book,' where it is given as 'revised by the author,' the Rev J. Watson, having, apparently, been first published in 'Tait's Edinburgh Magazine.' It is founded upon a 'family legend,' current in the county of Durham, 'the authority of which,' says Mr. Brockett, in his 'Glossary of North Country Words,' 'the inhabitants will not allow to be questioned.' 'The lapse of three centuries,' he adds, 'has so completely enveloped in obscurity the particular details, that it is impossible to give a narration which could in any degree be considered as complete.' In the Table-book, however, is given a 'history,' said to have been 'gleaned with much patient and laborious investigation, from the viva voce narrations of sundry of the elders of both sexes on the banks of the Wear, in the immediate neighbourhood of the scene of action.' This 'history' is almost identical with the story of the ballad; the allusions in which will be found explained in the notes. With regard to the origin of the Legend, which has been 'preserved and repeated almost without variation for centuries,' it is conjectured in the 'Table-book' to have 'arisen from the circumstance of an invasion from a foreign foe, some successful chieftain, with well-disciplined bands, destroying and laying waste with fire and sword, whose advance over unequal ground would convey to the fears of the peasantry the appearance of a rolling serpent; and the power of re-uniting is readily accounted for by the ordinary evolutions of military tactics. And by the knight's 'destroying this legion by his single arm,' is supposed to be signified that he was 'the head and chief in the onslaught.']


THE WORME OF LAMBTON

THE SINNING.

It is the joyful Easter morn,
And the bells ring loud and clear,
Sounding the holy day of rest
Through the quiet vale of Wear.

Forth at its sound, from his stately hall,
Hath the Lord of Lambton come,
With knight and squire, in rich attire,
Page, seneschal, and groom.

The white-hair'd peasant and his dame
Have left their woodland cot:
Children of toil and poverty,
Their cares and toil forgot.

And buxom youth and bashful maid,
In holiday array,
Thro' verdant glade and greenwood shade,
To Brigford bend their way.

And soon within its sacred dome
Their wandering steps are stayed;
The bell is rung, the mass is sung,
And the solemn prayer is prayed.

But why did Lambton's youthful heir
Not mingle with the throng?
And why did he not bend his knee,
Nor join in the holy song?

Oh, Lambton's heir is a wicked man!
Alike in word and deed;
He makes a jest of psalm and priest,
Of the Ave and the Creed.

He loves the fight; he loves the chase;
He loves each kind of sin;
But the holy church, from year to year,
He is not found within.

And Lambton's heir, at the matin prayer,
Or the vesper, is not seen;
And on this day of rest and peace
He hath donned his coat of green;

And with his creel slung on his back,
His light rod in his hand,
Down by the side of the shady Wear
He took his lonely stand.

There was no sound but the rushing stream;
The little birds were still,
As if they knew that Lambton's heir
Was doing a deed of ill.

Many a salmon and speckled trout
Through the quiet waters glide;
But they all sought the deepest pools,
Their golden scales to hide.

The soft west wind just rippled the brook,
And the clouds flew gently by,
And gleamed the sun,—'twas a lovely day
To the eager fisher's eye.

He threw his line, of the costly twine,
Across the gentle stream;
Upon its top the dun-flies drop
Lightly as childhood's dream.

Again, again—but all in vain,
In the shallow or the deep;
No trout rose to his cunning bait;
He heard no salmon leap.

And now he wandered east the stream,
And now he wandered west;
He sought each bank or hanging bush
Which fishes love the best.

But vain was all his skilful art;
Vain was each deep disguise;
Vain was alike the varied bait,
And vain the mimic flies.

When, tired and vexed, the castle bell
Rung out the hour of dine,
"Now," said the Lambton's youthful heir,
"A weary lot is mine.

"For six long hours, this April morn,
My line in vain I've cast;
But one more throw, come weal come wo,
For this shall be the last."

He took from his bag a maggot worm,
That bait of high renown;
His line is wheeled quickly through the air,
Then sunk in the water down.

When he drew it out, his ready hand
With no quivering motion shook,
For neither salmon, trout nor ged,
Had fastened on his hook.

But a little thing, a strange formed thing,
Like a piece of muddy weed;
But like no fish that swims the stream,
Nor ought that crawls the mead.

'Twas scarce an inch and a half in length,
Its colour the darkest green;
And on its rough and scaly back
Two little fins were seen.

It had a long and pointed snout,
Like the mouth of the slimy eel,
And its white and loosely hanging jaws,
Twelve pin-like teeth reveal.

It had sharp claws upon its feet,
Short ears upon its head,
A jointed tail, and quick bright eyes,
That gleamed of a fiery red.

"Art thou the prize," said the weary wight,
"For which I have spent my time;
For which I have toil'd till the hour of noon,
Since rang the matin chime?"

From the side of the dell, a crystal well
Sends its waters bubbling by;
"Rest there, thou ugly tiny elf,
Either to live or die."

He threw it in, and when next he came,
He saw, to his surprise,
It was a foot and a half in length;
It had grown so much in size.
And its wings were long, far-stretched and strong,
And redder were its eyes.


THE CURSE.

But Lambton's heir is an altered man;
At the church on bended knee,
Three times a day he was wont to pray;
And now he's beyond the sea.

He has done penance for his sins,
He has drank of a sainted well,
He has joined the band from the Holy Land
To chase the Infidel.

Where host met host, and strife raged most,
His sword flashed high and bright;
Where force met force, he winged his course,
The foremost in the fight.

Where he saw on high th' Oriflamme fly,
His onward path he bore;
And the Paynim Knight, and the Saracen,
Lay weltering in their gore.

Or in the joust, or tournament,
Of all that valiant band,
When, with lance in rest, he forward prest,
Who could the shock withstand?

Pure was his fame, unstained his shield;
A merciful man was he;
The friend of the weak, he raised not his hand
'Gainst a fallen enemy.

Thus on the plains of Palestine
He gained a mighty name,
And, full of honour and renown,
To the home of his childhood came.

But when he came to his father's lands,
No cattle were grazing there;
The grass in the mead was unmown and rough,
And the fields untilled and bare.

And when he came to his father's hall,
He wondered what might ail;
His sire but coolly welcomed him,
And his sisters' cheeks were pale.

"I come from the fight," said the Red-Cross Knight;
"I in savage lands did roam:
But where'er it be, they welcome me,
Save in my own loved home.

"Now why, now why, this frozen cheer?
What is it that may ail?
Why tremble thus my father dear?—
My sister, why so pale?"

"Oh, sad and woful has been our lot,
Whilst thou wast far away;
For a mighty dragon hath hither come
And taken up its stay;
At night or morn it sleepeth not,
But watcheth for its prey.

"'Tis ten cloth yards in length; its hue
Is of the darkest green;
And, on its rough and scaly back,
Two strong black wings are seen.

"It hath a long and pointed snout,
Like the mighty crocodile;
And, from its grinning jaws, stand out
Its teeth in horrid file.

"It hath on each round and webbed foot
Four sharp and hooked claws;
And its jointed tail, with heavy trail,
Over the ground it draws.

"It hath two rough and hairy ears
Upon its bony head;
Its eyes shine like the winter sun,
Fearful, and darkly red.

Its roar is loud as the cannon's sound,
But shorter, and more shrill;
It rolls, with many a heavy bound,
Onward from hill to hill.

"And each morn, at the matin chime,
It seeks the lovely Wear;
And, at the noontide bell,
It gorges its fill, then seeks the hill
Where springs the crystal well.

"No knight has e'er returned who dared
The monster to assail.
Though he struck off an ear or limb,
Or lopt its jointed tail,
Its severed limbs again unite,
Strong as the iron mail.

"My horses, and sheep, and all my kine,
The ravenous beast hath killed;
With oxen and deer, from far and near,
Its hungry maw is filled.
'Tis hence the mead is unmown and long,
And the corn fields are untilled.

"My son, to hail thee here in health
My very heart is glad;
But thou hast heard our tale—and say,
Canst thou wonder that we're sad?"


THE ASSOILING

And sorrowful was Lambton's heir:
"My sinful act," said he,
"This curse hath on the country brought:
Be it mine to set it free."

Deep in the dell, in a ruined hut,
Far from the homes of men,
There dwelt a witch the peasants called
Old Elspat of the Glen.

'Twas a dark night, and the stormy wind
Howled with a hollow moan,
As through tangled copsewood, bush, and briar,
He sought the aged crone.

She sat on a low and three-legged stool,
Beside a dying fire;
As he lifted the latch she stirred the brands,
And the smoky flames blazed higher.

She was a woman weak and old,
Her form was bent and thin;
And on her lean and shrivelled hand,
She rested her pointed chin.

He entered with fear, that dauntless man,
And spake of all his need:
He gave her gold; he asked her aid,
How best he might succeed.

"Clothe thee," said she, "in armour bright,
In mail of glittering sheen,
All studded o'er, behind and before,
With razors sharp and keen:

"And take in thy hand the trusty brand
Which thou bore beyond the sea;
And make to the Virgin a solemn vow,
If she grant thee victory,
What meets thee first, when the strife is o'er,
Her offering shall be."

He went to the fight, in armour bright
Equipped from head to heel;
His gorget closed, and his vizor shut,
He seemed a form of steel.

But with razor blades, all sharp and keen,
The mail was studded o'er;
And his long tried and trusty brand
In his greaved hand he bore.

He made to the Virgin a solemn vow,
If she granted victory,
What met him first on his homeward path
Her sacrifice should be.

He told his sire, when he heard the horn,
To slip his favourite hound;
"'Twill quickly seek its master's side
At the accustomed sound."

Forward he trod, with measured step,
To meet his foe, alone,
While the first beams of the morning sun
On his massy armour shone.

The monster slept on an island crag,
Lulled by the rustling Wear,
Which eddy'd turbid at the base
Though elsewhere smooth and clear.

It lay in repose; its wings were flat,
Its ears fell on its head,
Its legs stretched out and drooped its snout,
But its eyes were fiery red.

Little feared he, that armed knight,
As he left the rocky shore;
And in his hand prepared for fight,
His unsheathed sword he bore.

As he plunged in, the water's splash
The monster startling hears;
It spread its wings, and the valley rings,
Like the clash of a thousand spears.

It bristled up its scaly back,
Curled high its jointed tail,
And ready stood with grinning teeth,
The hero to assail;

Then sprung at the knight with all its might,
And its foamy teeth it gnashed;
With its jointed tail, like a thrasher's flail,
The flinty rocks it lashed.

But quick of eye, and swift of foot,
He guarded the attack;
And dealt his brand with skilful hand
Upon the dragon's back.

Again, again, at the knight it flew;
The fight was long and sore:
He bravely stood, nor dropped his sword
Till he could strike no more.

It rose on high, and darkened the sky,
Then with a hideous yell,
A moment winnowed th' air with its wings,
And down like a mountain fell.

He stood prepared for the falling blow,
But mournful was his fate:
Awhile he reeled, then, staggering, fell
Beneath the monster's weight.

And round about its prostrate foe
Its fearful length it rolled,
And clasped him close, till his armour cracked
Within its scaly fold.

But pierced by the blades, from body and breast,
Fast did the red blood pour;
Cut by the blades, piece fell by piece,
And quivered in the gore.

Piece fell by piece, foot fell by foot:
No more is the river clear,
But stained with blood, as the severed limbs
Rolled down the rushing Wear.

Piece fell by piece, and inch by inch,
From the body and the tail;
But the head still hung by the gory teeth
Tight fastened in the mail.

It panted long, and fast it breathed,
With many a bitter groan;
Its eyes grew dim, it loosed its hold,
And fell like a lifeless stone.

Then loud he blew on his bugle-horn,
The blast of victory;
From rock to rock the sound was borne,
By Echo, glad and free;
For, burdened long by the dragon's roar,
She joy'd in her liberty.

But not his hound, with gladdened bound,
Comes leaping at the call;
With feelings dire, he sees his sire
Rush from his ancient hall.

Oh! what can equal a father's love,
When harm to his son he fears;
'Tis stronger than a sister's sigh,
More deep than a mother's tears.

When Lambton's anxious listening lord,
Heard the bugle notes so wild,
He thought no more of his plighted word,
But ran to clasp his child.

"Strange is my lot," said the luckless wight;
"How sorrow and joy combine!
When high in fame to my home I came,
My kindred did weep and pine.

"This morn my triumph sees, and sees
Dishonour light on me:
For I had vowed to the Holy Maid,
If she gave me victory,
What first I met, when the fight was o'er,
Her offering should be.

"I thought to have slain my gallant hound,
Beneath my unwilling knife:
But I cannot raise my hand on him
Who gave my being life!"

And heavy and sorrowful was his heart,
And he hath gone again
To seek advice of the wise woman,
Old Elspat of the Glen.

"Since thy solemn vow is unfulfilled,
Though greater be thy fame,
Thou must a lofty chapel build
To the Virgin Mary's name.

"On nine generations of thy race
A heavy curse shall fall:
They may die in the fight, or in the chase,
But not in their native hall."

He builded there a chapel fair,
And rich endowment made,
Where morn and eve, by cowled monk,
In sable garb arrayed,
The bell was rung, the mass was sung,
And the solemn prayer was said.


L'ENVOY.

Such is the tale which, in ages past,
On the dreary winter's eve,
In baron's hall, the harper blind,
In wildest strain, would weave;
Till the peasants, trembling, nearer crept,
And each strange event believe.

Such is the tale which often yet
Around the Christmas fire,
Is told to the merry wassail group,
By some old dame or sire.

But though they tell that the crystal well
Still flows by the lovely Wear,
And that the hill is verdant still,
His listeners shew no fear.

And though he tell that of Lambton's race
Nine of them died at sea
Or in the battle, or in the chase,
They shake their heads doubtingly.

And though he say there may still be seen
The mail worn by the knight,
Tho' the blades are blunt that once were keen,
And rusted that once were bright;
They do but shake their heads the more,
And laugh at him outright.

For Knowledge to their view has spread
Her rich and varied store:
They learn and read, and take no heed
Of legendary lore.

And pure Religion hath o'er them shed
A holier heavenly ray;
And dragons and witches, and mail-clad knights,
Are vanished away;
As the creatures of darkness flee and hide,
From the light of the dawning day.

But Lambton's castle still stands by the Wear,
A tall and stately pile;
And Lambton's name is a name of might,
'Mong the mightiest of our isle.
Long may the sun of Prosperity
Upon the Lambtons smile!

THE WORME OF LAMBTON.—'Orme or Worme, is, in the ancient Norse, the generic name for serpents.' The Italian poets, Dante, ('Inferno,' c.6.22,) and Aristo, ('Orlando Furioso,' c. 46, 78,) call the infernal serpent of old, 'il gran verme,' that great worm;' and Milton, ('Paradise Lost,' Bk. ix., 1067,) makes Adam reproach Eve with having given 'ear to that false worm.' Cowper, ('Task,' Bk. vi.,) adopts the same expression:—

'No foe to man
Lurks in the serpent now; the mother sees,
And smiles to see, her infants playful hand
Strecht forth to dally with the crested worm.'

Shakespeare, too, ('Cymbeline, Act iii., Sc. 4,) speaks of slander's tongue as 'outvenoming all the worms of the Nile.' To these passages, quoted in 'The Local Historian's Table-book,' may be added the following:—Shakespeare, ('Macbeth,' Act iii., Sc. 4,) 'There the grown serpent lies: the worm that's fled,' &c. Massinger, ('Parliament of Love,' Act iv., Sc. 2.

'The sad father
That sees his son stung by a snake to death,
May with more justice stay his vengeful hand,
And let the worm escape,' &c.

'Piers Plowman,' (iii. 1. Ed. 1561,) speaks of 'Wyld wormes in woodes;' and in the old ballad of 'Alison Gross,' (Jamieson's 'Popular Ballads and Songs,' ii. 187, Ed. 1806,) that 'ugliest witch of the north countrie' turns one who would not be her 'lemman sae true' into 'an ugly worm, and gard him toddle about the tree.' The word is also used in the same sense in the ballad, entitled 'The laidly Worm of Spindlestane Heughs.'

St. 27. 'A crystal well'—'known at this day by the name of the Worm Well.'

St. 38. 'Red-cross Knight.' According to a curious entry in an old Ms. pedigree, lately in the possession of the family of Middleton, of Offerton, 'John Lambeton that slew ye worme was Knight of Rhodes and Lord of Lambeton and Wod Apilton after the dethe of fower brothers, sans esshew malle.'

St. 46. 'The Hill'—still called 'The Worm Hill, a considerable oval-shaped hill, 345 yards in circumference, and 52 in height, about a mile and a half from old Lambton Hall.'

St. 56. 'All studded oer...with razors.' 'At Lambton Castle is preserved a figure, evidently of great antiquity, which represents a knight, armed cap-a-pie, his vizor raised, and the back part of his coat of mail closely inlaid with spear blades: with his left hand he holds the head of the worm, and with his right he appears to be drawing his sword out of his throat. The worm is not represented as a reptile, but has ears, legs, and wings.'

St. 88. If popular tradition is to be trusted, 'this prediction was fulfilled, for it holds that during the period of 'the curse' none of the Lords of Lambton died in their beds. Be this as it may, nine ascending generations from Henry Lambton, of Lambton, Esq., M.P., (elder brother to the late General Lambton,) would exactly reach Sir John Lambton, Knight of Rhodes. Sir Wm. Lambton, who was Colonel of a regiment of foot in the service of Charles I., was slain at the bloody battle of Marston Moor, and his son William (his eldest son by his second wife) received his death-wound at Wakefield, at the head of a troop of dragoons, in 1643. The fulfilment of the curse was inherent in the ninth of descent, and great anxiety prevailed during his life-time, amongst the hereditary depositaries of the tradition of the county, to know if the curse would hold good to the end. He died in his chariot, crossing the New-Bridge, thus giving the last link to the chain of circumstantial tradition connected with the history of 'The Worme of Lambton.'—L. H. Table-book.


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