Alfred: The Opera that spawned Rule Britannia

" Britons, proceed, the subject Deep command, Awe with your navies every hostile land. In vain their threats, their armies all in vain: They rule the balanc'd world, who rule the main."...


Below is the final scene of the opera, the dramatic scene bookmarks the singing of the Ode Rule Britannia so reveals some great context.


English King, Alfred the Great has just won a great battle, and returns to the island village of Athelneu: his hiding place, and the makeshift fortress from which he staged his resistance war against the great heathen Danish army...




...VILLAGE OF ATHELNEY

CORIN, EMMA, kneeling to ALFRED.

ALFRED. Rise, my honest shepherd. I came to thee a peasant, not a prince: And, what exalts a king o'er other men, Stript of the toys of royalty? Yet more, Thy rural entertainment was sincere, Plain, hospitable, kind: such as, I hope, Will ever mark the manners of this nation. You friendly lodg'd me, when by all deserted: And shall have ample recompense.


CORIN. One boon,Is all I crave.

ALFRED. Good shepherd, speak thy wish.

CORIN. Permission, in your wars, to serve your Grace: For tho here lost in solitary shades, A simple swain, I bear an English heart: A heart that burns with rage to see those Danes, Those foreign ruffians, those inhuman pirates, Oft our inferiors prov'd, thus lord it o'er us.

ALFRED. Brave countryman, come on. 'Tis such as thou, Who from affection serve, and free-born zeal, To guard whate'er is dear and sacred to them, That are a king's best honor and defence.

EMMA sings the following song:


1. If those, who live in shepherd's bower,

Press not the rich and stately bed: The new-mown hay and breathing flower

A softer couch beneath them spread.

2. If those, who sit at shepherd's board,

Soothe not their taste by wanton art;

hey take what Nature's gifts afford,

And take it with a chearful heart.

3. If those, who drain the shepherd's bowl,

No high and sparkling wines can boast;

With wholesome cups they chear the soul,

And crown them with the village toast.


4. If those, who join in shepherd's sport,

Gay-dancing on the daizy'd ground,

Have not the splendor of a court; Yet Love adorns the merry round.


END




BACK TO SCENE:


ALFRED.

My lov'd ELTRUDA! thou shalt here remain, With gentle EMMA, and this reverend Hermit. Ye silver streams, that murmuring wind around This dusky spot, to you I trust my all! O close around her, woods! for her, ye vales, Throw forth your flowers, your softest lap diffuse! And Thou! whose secret and expansive hand Moves all the springs of this vast universe: Whose government astonishes; who here, In a few hours, beyond our utmost hope, Beyond our thought, yet doubting, hast clear'd up The storm of fate: preserve what thy kind will, Thy bountiful appointment, makes so dear To human hearts! preserve my queen and children! Preserve the hopes of England! while I go To finish thy great work, and save my country.

ELTRUDA. Go, pay the debt of honor to the public. If ever woman, ALFRED, lov'd her husband More fondly than herself, I claim that virtue, That heart-felt happiness. Yet, by our loves I swear, that in a glorious death with thee I rather would be wrapt, than live long years To charm thee from the rugged paths of honor: So much I think thee born for beauteous deeds, And the bright course of glory.

ALFRED.

Matchless woman! Love, at thy voice, is kindled to ambition. Be this my dearest triumph, to approve me A husband worthy of the best ELTRUDA!

HERMIT. Behold, my Lord, our venerable Bard, Aged and blind, him whom the Muses favour. Yet ere you go, in our lov'd country's praise, That noblest theme, hear what his rapture breathes: CUE. AN ODE: RULE BRITANNIA 1. When Britain first, at heaven's command,

Arose from out the azure main; This was the charter of the land, And guardian Angels sung this strain:

"Rule Britannia, rule the waves; "Britons never will be slaves."

2. The nations, not so blest as thee, Must, in their turns, to tyrants fall:

While thou shalt flourish great and free,

The dread and envy of them all. "Rule, Britannia, rule the waves: "Britons never will be slaves.

3. Still more majestic shalt thou rise, More dreadful, from each foreign stroke:

As the loud blast that tears the skies,

Serves but to root thy native oak. "Rule, Britannia, rule the waves: "Britons never will be slaves.

4. Thee haughty tyrants ne'er shall tame:

All their attempts to bend thee down,

Will but arrouse thy generous flame;

But work their woe, and thy renown.

"Rule, Britannia, rule the waves: "Britons never will be slaves.

5. To thee belongs the rural reign; Thy cities shall with commerce shine:

All thine shall be the subject main,

And every shore it circles thine.

"Rule, Britannia, rule the waves: "Britons never will be slaves.

6. The Muses, still with freedom found, Shall to thy happy coast repair: Blest isle! with matchless beauty crown'd, And manly hearts to guard the fair. "Rule, Britannia, rule the waves: "Britons never will be slaves.

END





BACK TO SCENE:

HERMIT.

ALFRED, go forth! lead on the radiant years, To thee reveal'd in vision.—Lo! they rise! Lo! patriots, heroes, sages, croud to birth: And bards to sing them in immortal verse!

I see thy commerce, Britain, grasp the world: All nations serve thee; every foreign flood, Subjected, pays its tribute to the Thames. Thither the golden South obedient pours


His sunny treasures: thither the soft East Her spices, delicacies, gentle gifts: And thither his rough trade the stormy North. See, where beyond the vast Atlantic surge, By boldest keels untouch'd, a dreadful space!


Shores, yet unfound, arise! in youthful prime, With towering forests, mighty rivers crown'd! These stoop to Britain's thunder. This new world, Shook to its centre, trembles at her name: And there, her sons, with aim exalted, sow The seeds of rising empire, arts, and arms. Britons, proceed, the subject Deep command, Awe with your navies every hostile land. In vain their threats, their armies all in vain: They rule the balanc'd world, who rule the main.

The END.

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