In order to review the corresponding "Catholic Great Book Study Guide" by Julie Collorafi (Guadalupe Press, available from Catholic Heritage Curricula)
I haven't tackled the study guide yet, but I'm halfway through the ballad and I'm totally loving it (and I don't consider myself to be very poetically inclined).
It is written in the form of an epic poem - the sort that would have been performed aloud to an audience in days gone by.
The story is about King Alfred battling the Danes in 878. It is an interesting mix of history, legend, and allegory. I'm especially enjoying the mix of truth and beauty in many "nuggets" of wisdom within the ballad. I keep reading passages aloud to my daughter (we will be studying it more throughly together next year) and she likes it too.
Here are a few samples...
"The men of the East may spell the stars,
And times and triumphs mark,
But the men signed of the cross of Christ
Go gaily in the dark. " (230)
[I first came across this quote in Shadow of the Bear by Regina Doman.]
"When God put man in a garden
He girt him with a sword,
And sent him forth a free knight
That might betray his lord;
He brake Him and betrayed Him,
And fast and far he fell,
Till you and I may stretch our necks and burn our beards in hell.
But though I lie on the floor of the world,
With the seven sins for rods,
I would rather fall with Adam
Than rise with all your gods." (305-310)
"That on you is fallen the shadow,
And not upon the Name;
That though we scatter and though we fly,
And you hang over us like the sky,
You are more tired of victory,
Than we are tired of shame." (330)
"Our monks go robed in rain and snow,
But the heart of flame therein,
But you go clothed in feasts and flames,
When all is ice within;
Nor shall all iron dooms make dumb
Men wondering ceaselessly,
If it be not better to fast for joy
Than feast for misery." (350-355)
"Therefore your end is on you,
Is on you and your kings,
Not for a fire in Ely fen,
Not that your gods are nine or ten,
But because it is only Christian men
Guard even heathen things.
For our God hath blessed creation,
Calling it good. I know
What spirit with whom you blindly band
Hath blessed destruction with his hand;
Yet by God's death the stars shall stand
And the small apples grow." (370-375)