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This poem tells us the story of a strong castle. The soldiers in this castle grow lazy throughout summer because they believe their enemies cannot defeat them. They provide various reasons to explain their confidence. But they are ultimately betrayed by a person on their side and easily lose to their enemies because they are so unprepared. The poem has six stanzas of five lines each that all have the rhyme scheme abaab.
All through that summer at ease we lay, And daily from the turret wall We watched the mowers in the hay And the enemy half a mile away They seemed no threat to us at all.
All through that summer the soldiers in the castle lazed around. They watched the mowers in the hay daily from the wall of the castle’s tower. Their enemy half a mile away seemed no threat to them at all. The soldiers just relaxed on their job watching other people cut hay even though they were supposed to protect the castle. They let a false sense of security come over them just because the enemy was still far away.
For what, we thought, had we to fear With our arms and provender, load on load, Our towering battlements, tier on tier, And friendly allies drawing near On every leafy summer road.
The soldiers thought that they had nothing to fear because they had load on load of arms and provender, and tier on tier of towering battlements. They were deliberately lazy because they had a lot of weapons and food and their castle was very strong. They felt safe because they had all these things to protect them from their enemies. Their friendly allies were also drawing near on every leafy summer road and this gave them more confidence.
Our gates were strong, our walls were thick, So smooth and high, no man could win A foothold there, no clever trick Could take us, have us dead or quick. Only a bird could have got in.
Their gates were strong and their walls were thick. The castle’s walls were so smooth and high that no man could find a foothold there and climb it. This means that the castle was so strong and mighty that it could not be conquered by their enemies in any way. No clever trick could take the soldiers dead or quick because only a bird could have got in.
The castle’s security was so tight that only a creature as small as a bird could have entered it. Thus, the soldiers felt that no enemies could quicky kill them as long as they were in the castle.
What could they offer us for bait? Our captain was brave and we were true.... There was a little private gate, A little wicked wicket gate. The wizened warder let them through.
The soldiers thought that their enemies could not offer them anything as bait because they were not corrupt. Their captain was brave and they were true. However, there was a little private gate in the castle. This was a little wicked wicket gate, and the old guard let their enemies in through this gate. The guard betrayed the soldiers. The soldiers’ confidence and sense of security was thus easily destroyed because of the corruption of one man. This shows us that even if one feels very comfortable and secure, one single little mistake could destroy everything.
Oh then our maze of tunneled stone Grew thin and treacherous as air. The cause was lost without a groan, The famous citadel overthrown, And all its secret galleries bare.
The maze of tunned stone, or the strong stone walls of the castle, grew thin and treacherous as air. This means that the walls could no longer protect them because of the betrayal they faced. It almost seemed as though the strong thick walls had grown as thin as air because they no longer offered the soldiers any protection.
The soldiers were so unprepared that they gave up the battle without even fighting back. Their false sense of security finally became their downfall. So, the famous citadel (fortress) was overthrown and all its secret chambers were exposed to their enemies.
How can this shameful tale be told? I will maintain until my death We could do nothing, being sold; Our only enemy was gold, And we had no arms to fight it with.
The soldiers were ashamed of how they were overpowered by their enemies and wondered how this shameful tale would be told. The poet says that he will believe until his death that there was nothing they could have done as their security was sold because of one man’s greed and wickedness. He says that their only enemy was gold and they had no arms to fight it with.
So, he puts the blame for the entire situation on the greedy and corrupt guard who betrayed them for money. The poet refuses to acknowledge that their defeat was also caused by how lazy and comfortable the soldiers had grown. If they had at least stayed cautious they could have fought back against their enemies but they simply gave up because of their laziness and unpreparedness.
The poet tells us the tale of a mighty castle and the soldiers who lived in it. However, the strong castle ultimately falls to the enemy. This happens because the soldiers are so self-assured of their bravery and the castle’s might that they forget their duty to actually guard it and be prepared for battle. The poem is therefore a lesson against overconfidence, idleness and greed.