Sir Launcelot's Slumber

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Sir Launcelot's Slumber

The golden sunshine gemm'd the stream,
     Where drooping lilies shadows made;
The willow-branches touch'd the wave,
     As though they woo'd their own cool shade;
A Sabbath stillness fill'd the air;
     The very insects ceased their tones;
Only the waters rippling by
     Made music round gray, sunken stones.

The river-road was hot and dry;
     Beyond, a broad, green meadow lay,
Wherein was set a single tree,
     Whose ripening fruit perfumed the way;
Its clustering leaves and laden limbs
     Darken'd below the grassy plain,
While o'er its gnarl'd and rugged roots
     Nature a mossy cloak had lain.

Adown the scorch'd and pebbled road
     Sir Launcelot came this summer morn
With glittering hauberk, glaives of steel,
     And lance upon his saddle borne.
He left the pathway, cross'd the field,
     And 'neath the spreading apple-tree
Unarm'd his weary, mail-clad steed,
     And let him roam the pasture free.

Unloosing then his visor'd casque,
     Upon the sward he downward laid,
His helm for pillow, and his hand
     Clasping the pommel of his blade.
Thus slumber'd he at noontide hour,
     The bravest knight in all the world,
With stalwart form and sunburn'd brow,
     Where, all untrain'd, the brown hair curl'd.

And as, perchance, in daring dreams,
     He spent the rapture of a kiss
On Guinevere's red, dewy lips,
     And felt their softness cling to his,
Four lovely queens, on four white mules,
     Rode slowly through the meadow green,
O'er whom four knights on lifted spears
     Bore canopy of silken sheen.

And as they wended on their way,
     Sudden there burst upon their sight,
Dreaming beneath the golden fruit,
     This vision of a sleeping knight.
And, gathering round his grassy couch,
     In earnest whispers spoke each dame,
Disputing which could love him most,
     And which the captive's self should claim.

But Morgan Le Fay, of Gore the Queen,
     A ladye subtle, proud, and wise,
Then wrought a spell of glamour old,
     That bound the poppies on his eyes,
Until within her castle near
     Their knights had borne him o'er the field,
His hand still clasp'd upon his sword,
     And he outstretch'd on his own shield.

And there she woke him from the spell;
     And, when the morrow's sun was bright,
All richly dress'd, the four fair queens
     Assail'd the heart of this brave knight, --
King Arthur's sister, false Le Fay,
     The Ladye of the North Countrie,
Eastland's proud queen, and she who ruled
     The isles upon a distant sea.

But still the pleasure of his dream
     Thrill'd through Sir Launcelot's waking hour;
Before the image of his love
     All other charms had lost their power;
And so he hearken'd not their speech,
     Or answer'd them with careless tone,
Till each, enraged, withdrew her suit,
     And left him with his thoughts alone.

There is no cause like this on earth
     To rouse a woman's slumbering ire,
To turn her fondest love to hate,
     And kindle pride's enduring fire:
Crush her, condemn, insult, abuse,
     She ne'er forsakes, and still loves on,
But scorn, neglect, and passion's slave,
     She vengeance seeks, her patience gone!

And so they kept Sir Launcelot there
     A prisoner, many a weary day,
Rust gathering on his armor bright,
     He chafing at his idle stay.
But never once, in word or deed,
     His sworn allegiance shook or swerved;
At Guinevere's fair shrine alone
     He worshipp'd still, and Arthur served.

But when the queens relax'd a while
     Their constant watch and steadfast guard,
Forth to his olden freedom then,
     Through twelve strong locks, twelve gates close-barr'd,
A damsel guided him once more,
     To battle for her father's sake;
And boldly was that promise kept
     By good Sir Launcelot of the Lake.