Poetry April 1954

The Priest's Curse on Dancing

"Dance for a year and a day!" he cried
When we danced in the chantry of church
And before his altar and down the nave,
Leaping like fish in a wave,
And danced out the door and over the dead
While he stood there calling his curse—
"Dance for a year and a day!" he said.
"Dance till you die!" and some of us did.

Joan who was the priest's own daughter,
With hair unbound, with dancing eyes,
Led us through England and over the water
Until we landed at Champayne Fair,
And for a year danced there
Happy as people in Paradise,
While rich and poor paid on the drum
To see the scandal in Christendom.

No cloak nor shore wore thin that year,
Nor needed we eat or drink or sleep,
But with legs of iron and lungs of leather
We went in every weather
To the same tune and the single step
And the curse of the priest who kept us there,
And then those French put up a tent
Around and over us as we went.

Now Joan and some others are buried there
Thigh deep in the labyrinth of the dance,
Who trod their grave in the merry year,
Leaping like fish in a weir.
The other of us by curse or chance
Cried from the pit for cane and crutch
To steady our quivering legs to church,
For the flesh dances on out of sense.

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