The High History of Good Sir Palamedes the Saracen Knight and of his Following of the Questing Beast

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The High History of Good Sir Palamedes the Saracen Knight and of his Following of the Questing Beast

TO ALLAN BENNETT
   "Bhikkhu Ananda Metteyya"
my good knight comrade in the Quest, I dedicate this
imperfect account of it, in some small recognition of
     his suggestion of its form.
MANDALAY, November 1905
ARGUMENT    i. Sir Palamede, the Saracen knight, riding on the shore of Syria, findeth his father's corpse, around which an albatross circleth. He approveth the vengeance of his peers.
   ii. On the shore of Arabia he findeth his mother in the embrace of a loathly negro beneath blue pavilions. Her he slayeth, and burneth all that encampment.
   iii. Sir Palamede is besieged in his castle by Severn mouth, and his wife and son are slain.
   iv. Hearing that his fall is to be but the prelude to an attack on Camelot, he maketh a desperate night sortie, and will traverse the wilds of Wales.
   v. At the end of his resources among the Welsh mountains, he is compelled to put to death his only remaining child. By this sacrifice he saves the world of chivalry.
   vi. He having become in holy hermit, a certain dwarf, splendidly clothed, cometh to Arthur's court, bearing tidings of a Questing Beast. The knights fail to lift him, this being the test of worthiness.
   vii. Lancelot findeth him upon Scawfell, clothed in his white beard. He returneth, and, touching the dwarf but with his finger, hurleth him to the heaven.
   viii. Sir Pa1amede, riding forth on the quest, seeth a Druid worship the sun upon Stonehenge. He rideth eastward, and findeth the sun setting in the west. Furious he taketh a Viking ship, and by sword and whip fareth seaward.
   ix. Coming to India, he leameth that It glittereth. Vainly fighting the waves, the leaves, and the snows, he is swept in the Himalayas by an avalanche into a valley where dwell certain ascetics, who pelt him with their eyeballs.
   x. Seeking It as Majesty, he chaseth an elephant in the Indian jungle. The elephant escapeth; but he, led to Trichinopoli by an Indian lad, seeth an elephant forced to dance ungainly before the Mahalingam.
   xi. A Scythian sage declareth that It transcendeth Reason. Therefore Sir Palamede unreasonably decapitateth him.
   xii. An ancient hag prateth of It as Evangelical. Her he heweth in pieces.
   xiii. At Naples he thinketh of the Beast as author of Evil, because Free of Will. The Beast, starting up, is slain by him with a poisoned arrow; but at the moment of Its death It is reborn from the knight's own belly.
   xiv. At Rome he meeteth a red robber in a Hat, who speaketh nobly of It as of a king-dove-lamb. He chaseth and slayeth it; it proveth to be but a child's toy.
   xv. In a Tuscan grove he findeth, from the antics of a Satyr, that the Gods still dwell with men. Mistaking orgasm for ecstasy, he is found ridiculous.
   xvi. Baiting for It with gilded corn in a moonlit vale of Spain, he findeth the bait stolen by vermin.
   xvii. In Crete a metaphysician weaveth a labyrinth. Sir Palamede compelleth him to pursue the quarry in this same fashion. Running like hippogriffs, they plunge over the precipice; and the hermit, dead, appears but a mangy ass. Sir Palamede, sore wounded, is born by fishers to an hut.
   xviii. Sir Palamede noteth the swiftness of the Beast. He therefore climbeth many mountains of the Alps. Yet can he not catch It; It outrunneth him easily, and at last, stumbling, he falleth.
   xix. Among the dunes of Brittany he findeth a witch dancing and conjuring, until she disappeareth in a blaze of light. He then learneth music, from a vile girl, until he is as skilful as Orpheus. In Paris he playeth in a public place. The people, at first throwing him coins, soon desert him to follow a foolish Egyptian wizard. No Beast cometh to his call.
   xx. He argueth out that there can be but one Beast. Following single tracks, he at length findeth the quarry, but on pursuit It eludeth him by multiplying itself. This on the wide plains of France.
   xxi. He gathereth an army sufficient to chase the whole herd. In England's midst they rush upon them; but the herd join together, leading on the knights, who at length rush together into a mêlée, wherein all but Sir Palamede are slain, while the Beast, as ever, standeth aloof, laughing.
   xxii. He argueth Its existence from design of the Cosmos, noting that Its tracks form a geometrical figure. But seeth that this depends upon his sense of geometry; and is therefore no proof. Meditating upon this likeness to himself—Its subjectivity, in short—he seeth It in the Blue Lake. Thither plunging, all is shattered.
   xxiii. Seeking It in shrines he findeth but a money-box; while they that helped him (as they said) in his search, but robbed him.
   xxiv. Arguing Its obscurity, he seeketh It within the bowels of Etna, cutting off all avenues of sense. His own thoughts pursue him into madness.
   xxv. Upon the Pacific Ocean, he, thinking that It is not-Self, throweth himself into the sea. But the Beast setteth him ashore.
   xxvi. Rowed by Kanakas to Japan, he praiseth the stability of Fuji-Yama. But, an earthquake arising, the pilgrims are swallowed up.
   xxvii. Upon the Yang-tze-kiang he contemplateth immortal change. Yet, perceiving that the changes themselves constitute stability, he is again baulked, and biddeth his men bear him to Egypt.
   xxviii. In an Egyptian temple he hath performed the Bloody Sacrifice, and cursed Osiris. Himself suffering that curse, he is still far from the Attainment.
   xxix. In the land of Egypt he performeth many miracles. But from the statue of Memnon issueth the questing, and he is recalled from that illusion.
   xxx. Upon the plains of Chaldea he descendeth into the bowels of the earth, where he beholdeth the Visible Image of the Soul of Nature for the Beast. Yet Earth belcheth him forth.
   xxi. In a slum city he converseth with a Rationalist. Learning nothing, nor even hearing the Beast, he goeth forth to cleanse himself.
   xxxii. Seeking to imitate the Beast, he goeth on all-fours, questing horribly. The townsmen cage him for a lunatic. Nor can he imitate the elusiveness of the Beast. Yet at one note of that questing the prison is shattered, and sir Palamede rusheth forth free.
   xxxiii. Sir Palamede hath gone to the shores of the Middle Sea to restore his health. There he practiseth devotion to the Beast, and becometh maudlin and sentimental. His knaves mocking him, he beateth one sore; from whose belly issueth the questing.
   xxxiv. Being retired into an hermitage in Fenland, he traverseth space upon the back of an eagle. He knoweth all things—save only It. And incontinent beseecheth the agle to set him down again.
   xxxv. He lectureth upon metaphysics—for he is now totally insane—to many learned monks of Cantabrig. They applaud him and detain him, though he hath heard the questing and would away. But so feeble is he that he fleeth by night.
   xxxvi. It hath often happened to Sir Palamede that he is haunted by a shadow, the which he may not recognise. But at last, in a sunlit wood, this is discovered to be a certain hunchback, who doubteth whether there be at all any Beast or any quest, or if he whole life of Sir Palamede be not a vain illusion. Him, without seeking to conquer with words, he slayeth incontinent.
   xxxvii. In a cave by the sea, feeding on limpets and roots, Sir Palamede abideth, sick unto death. Himseemeth the Beast questeth within his own bowels: he is the Beast. Standing up, that he may enjoy the reward, he findeth another answer to the riddle. Yet abideth in the quest.
   xxxviii. Sir Palamede is confronted by a stranger knight, whose arms are identical with his (Sir Palamede's) own, as also his features. This knight mocketh Sir Palamede for an impudent pretender, and impersonator of the chosen knight. Sir Palamede in all humility alloweth that there is no proof possible; and offereth ordeal of battle, in which the stranger is slain. Sir Palamede heweth him into the smallest dust without pity.
   xxxix. In a green valley he obtaineth the vision of Pan. Thereby he regaineth all that he had expended of strength and youth; is gladdened thereat, for he now devoteth gain his life to the quest; yet more utterly cast down than ever, for that this supreme ision is not the Beast.
   xl. Upon the loftiest summit of a great mountain he perceiveth Naught. Even this is, however, not the Beast.
   xli. Returning to Camelot to announce his failure, he maketh entrance into the King's hall, whence he started out upon the quest. The Beast cometh nestling to him. All the knights attain the quest. The voice of Christ is heard: "Well done." He sayeth that each failure is a step in the Path. The poet prayeth success therein for himself and his readers.

I
SIR PALAMEDE the Saracen
   Rode by the marge of many a sea:
He had slain a thousand evil men
   And set a thousand ladies free.

Armed to the teeth, the glittering knight
   Galloped along the sounding shore,
His silver arms one lake of light,
   Their clash one symphony of war.

How still the blue enamoured sea
   Lay in the blaze of Syria's noon!
The eternal roll eternally
   Beat out its monotonic tune.

Sir Palamede the Saracen
   A dreadful vision here espied,
A sight abhorred of gods, and men,
   Between the limits of the tide.

The dead man's tongue was torn away;
   The dead man's throat was slit across;
There flapped upon the putrid prey
   A carrion, screaming albatross.

So halted he his horse, and bent
   To catch remembrance from the eyes
That stared to God, whose ardour sent
   His radiance from the ruthless skies.

Then like a statue still he sate;
   Nor quivered nerve, nor muscle stirred;
While round them flapped insatiate
   The fell, abominable bird.

But coldest horror drave the light
   From knightly eyes. How pale thy bloom,
Thy blood, O brow whereon the night
   Sits like a serpent on a tomb!

For Palamede those eyes beheld
   The iron image of his own;
On those dead brows a fate he spelled
   To strike a Gorgon into stone.

He knew his father. Still he sate,
   Nor quivered nerve, nor muscle stirred;
While round them flapped insatiate
   The fell, abominable bird.

The knight approves the justice done,
   And pays with that his rowels' debt;
While yet the forehead of the son
   Stands beaded with an icy sweat.

God's angel, standing sinister,
   Unfurls this scroll—a sable stain:
"Who wins the spur shall ply the spur
   Upon his proper heart and brain."

He gave the sign of malison
   On traitor knights and perjured men;
And ever by the sea rode on
   Sir Palamede the Saracen.

II
BEHOLD! Arabia's burning shore
   Rings to the hoofs of many a steed.
Lord of a legion rides to war
   The indomitable Palamede.

The Paynim fly; his troops delight
   In murder of many a myriad men,
Following exultant into fight
   Sir Palamede the Saracen.

Forward he spurs; his armour gleams;
   Then on his haunches rears the steed;
Above the lordly silk there streams
   The pennon of Sir Palamede!

Aflame, a bridegroom to his spouse,
   He rides to meet with galliard grace
Some scion of his holy house,
   Or germane to his royal race.

But oh! the eyes of shame! Beneath
   The tall pavilion's sapphire shade
There sport a band with wand and wreath,
   Languorous boy and laughing maid.

And in the centre is a sight
   Of hateful love and shameless shame:
A recreant Abyssinian knight
   Sports grossly with a wanton dame.

How black and swinish is the knave!
   His hellish grunt, his bestial grin;
Her trilling laugh, her gesture suave,
   The cool sweat swimming on her skin!

She looks and laughs upon the knight,
   Then turns to buss the blubber mouth,
Draining the dregs of that black blight
   Of wine to ease their double drouth!

God! what a glance! Sir Palamede
   Is stricken by the sword of fate:
His mother it is in very deed
   That gleeful goes the goatish gait.

His mother it his, that pure and pale
   Cried in the pangs that gave him birth;
The holy image he would veil
   From aught the tiniest taint of earth.

She knows him, and black fears bedim
   Those eyes; she offers to his gaze
The blue-veined breasts that suckled him
   In childhood's sweet and solemn days.

Weeping she bares the holy womb!
   Shrieks out the mother's last appeal
And reads irrevocable doom
   In those dread eyes of ice and steel.

He winds his horn: his warriors pour
   In thousands on the fenceless foe;
The sunset stains their hideous war
   With crimson bars of after-glow.

He winds his horn: the night-stars leap
   To light; upspring the sisters seven;
While answering flames illume the deep,
   The blue pavilions blaze to heaven.

Silent and stern the northward way
   They ride; alone before his men
Staggers through black to rose and grey
   Sir Palamede the Saracen.

III
THERE is a rock by Severn-mouth
   Whereon a mighty castle stands,
Fronting the blue impassive South
   And looking over lordly lands.

Oh! high above the envious sea
   This fortress dominates the tides;
There, ill at heart, the chivalry
   Of strong Sir Palamede abides.

Now comes irruption from the folk
   That live by murder: day by day
The good knight strikes his deadly stroke;
   The vultures claw the attended prey.

But day by day the heathen hordes
   Gather from dreadful lands afar,
A myriad myriad bows and swords,
   As clouds that blot the morning star.

Soon by an arrow from the sea
   The Lady of Palamede is slain;
His son, in sally fighting free,
   Is struck through burgonet and brain.

But day by day the foes increase,
   Though day by day their thousands fall:.
Laughs the unshaken fortalice;
   The good knights laugh no more at all.

Grimmer than heathen hordes can scowl,
   The spectre hunger rages there;
He passes like a midnight owl,
   Hooting his heraldry, despair.

The knights and squires of Palamede
   Stalk pale and lean through court and hall;
Though sharp and swift the archers speed
   Their yardlong arrows from the wall.

Their numbers thin; their strength decays;
   Their fate is written plain to read:
These are the dread deciduous days
   Of iron-souled Sir Palamede.

He hears the horrid laugh that rings
   From camp to camp at night; he hears
The cruel mouths of murderous kings
   Laugh out one menace that he fears.

No sooner shall the heroes die
   Than, ere their flesh begin to rot,
The heathen turns his raving eye
   To Caerlon and Camelot.

King Arthur in ignoble sloth
   Is sunk, and dalliance with his dame,
Forgetful of his knightly oath,
   And careless of his kingly name.

Befooled and cuckolded, the king
   Is yet the king, the king most high;
And on his life the hinges swing
   That close the door of chivalry.

Sblood! shall it sink, and rise no more,
   That blaze of Time, when men were men?
That is thy question, warrior
   Sir Palamede the Saracen!

IV
NOW, with two score of men in life
   And one fair babe, Sir Palamede
Resolves one last heroic strife,
   Attempts forlorn a desperate deed.

At dead of night, a moonless night,
   A night of winter storm, they sail
In dancing dragons to the fight
   With man and sea, with ghoul and gale.

Whom God shall spare, ride, ride! (so springs
   The iron order). Let him fly
On honour's steed with honour's wings
   To warn the king, lest honour die!

Then to the fury of the blast
   Their fury adds a dreadful sting:
The fatal die is surely cast.
   To save the king—to save the king!

Hail! horror of the midnight surge!
   The storms of death, the lashing gust,
The doubtful gleam of swords that urge
   Hot laughter with high-leaping lust!

Though one by one the heroes fall,
   Their desperate way they slowly win,
And knightly cry and comrade-call
   Rise high above the savage din.

Now, now they land, a dwindling crew;
   Now, now fresh armies hem them round.
They cleave their blood-bought avenue,
   And cluster on the upper ground.

Ah! but dawn's dreadful front uprears!
   The tall towers blaze, to illume the fight;
While many a myriad heathen spears
   March northward at the earliest light.

Falls thy last comrade at thy feet,
   O lordly-souled Sir Palamede?
Tearing the savage froin his seat,
   He leaps upon a coal-black steed.

He gallops raging through the press:
   The affrighted heathen fear his eye.
There madness gleams, there masterless
   The whirling sword shrieks shrill and high.

They shrink, he gallops. Closely clings
   The child slung at his waist; and he
Heeds nought, but gallops wide, and sings
   Wild war-songs, chants of gramarye!

Sir Palamede the Saracen
   Rides like a centaur mad with war;
He sabres many a million men,
   And tramples many a million more!

Before him lies the untravelled land
   Where never a human soul is known,
A desert by a wizard banned,
   A soulless wilderness of stone.

Nor grass, nor corn, delight the vales;
   Nor beast, nor bird, span space. Immense,
Black rain, grey mist, white wrath of gales,
   Fill the dread armoury of sense.

Nor shines the sun; nor moon, nor star
   Their subtle light at all display;
Nor day, nor night, dispute the scaur:
   All's one intolerable grey.

Black llyns, grey rocks, white hills of snow!
   No flower, no colour: life is not.
This is no way for men to go
   From Severn-mouth to Camelot.

Despair, the world upon his speed,
   Drive (like a lion from his den
Whom hunger hunts) the man at need,
   Sir Palamede the Saracen.

V
SIR PALAMEDE the Saracen
   Hath cast his sword and arms aside.
To save the world of goodly men,
   He sets his teeth to ride—to ride!

Three days: the black horse drops and dies.
   The trappings furnish them a fire,
The beast a meal. With dreadful eyes
   Stare into death the child, the sire.

Six days: the gaunt and gallant knight
   Sees hateful visions in the day.
Where are the antient speed and might
   Were wont to animate that clay?

Nine days; they stumble on; no more,
   His strength avails to bear the child.
Still hangs the mist, and still before
   Yawns the immeasurable wild.

Twelve days: the end. Afar he spies
   The mountains stooping to the plain;
A little splash of sunlight lies.
   Beyond the everlasting rain.

His strength is done; he cannot stir.
   The child complains—how feebly now!
His eyes are blank; he looks at her;
   The cold sweat gathers on his brow.

To save the world—three days away!
   His life in knighthood's life is furled,
And knighthood's life in his—to-day!—
   His darling staked against the world!

Will he die there, his task undone?
   Or dare he live, at such a cost?
He cries against the impassive sun:
   The world is dim, is all but lost.

Then, with the bitterness of death
   Cutting his soul, his fingers clench
The piteous passage of her breath.
   The dews of horror rise and drench

Sir Palamede the Saracen.
   Then, rising from the hideous meal,
He plunges to the land of men
   With nerves renewed and limbs of steel.

Who is the naked man tbat rides
   Yon tameless stallion on the plain,
His face like Hell's? What fury guides
   The maniac beast without a rein?

Who is the naked man that spurs
   A charger into Camelot,
His face like Christ's? What glory stirs
   The air around him, do ye wot?

Sir Arthur arms him, makes array
   Of seven times ten thousand men,
And bids them follow and obey
   Sir Palamede the Saracen.

VI
SIR PALAMEDE the Saracen
   The earth from murder hath released,
Is hidden from the eyes of men.

Sir Arthur sits again at feast.
   The holy order burns with zeal:
Its fame revives from west to east.

Now, following Fortune's whirling wheel,
   There comes a dwarf to Arthur's hall,
All cased in damascenèd steel.

A sceptre and a golden ball
   He bears, and on his head a crown;
But on his shoulders drapes a pall

Of velvet flowing sably dqwn
   Above his vest of cramoisie.
Now doth the king of high renown

Demand of him his dignity.
   Whereat the dwarf begins to tell
A quest of loftiest chivalry.

Quod he: "By Goddes holy spell,
   So high a venture was not known,
Nor so divine a miracle.

A certain beast there runs alone,
   That ever in his belly sounds
A hugeous cry, a monster moan,

As if a thirty couple hounds
   Quested within him. Now God saith
(I swear it by His holy wounds

And by His lamentable death,
   And by His holy Mother's face!),
That he shall know the Beauteous Breath

And taste the Goodly Gift of Grace
   Who shall achieve this marvel quest."
Then Arthur sterte up from his place,

And sterte up boldly all the rest,
   And sware to seek this goodly thing.
But now the dwarf doth beat his breast,

And speak on this wise to the king.
   That he should worthy knight be found
Who with his hands the dwarf should bring

By might one span from off the ground.
   Whereat they jeer, the dwarf so small,
The knights so strong: the walls resound

With laughter rattling round the hall.
   But Arthur first essays the deed,
And may not budge the dwarf at all.

Then Lancelot sware by Goddes reed,
   And pulled so strong his muscle burst,
His nose and mouth brake out a-bleed;

Nor moved he thus the dwarf. From first
   To last the envious knights essayed,
And all their malice had the worst,

Till strong Sir Bors his prowess played—
   And all his might availèd nought.
Now once Sir Bors had been betrayed

To Paynim; him in traitrise caught
   They bound to four strong stallion steers,
To tear asunder, as they thought,

The paladin of Arthur's peers;
   But he, a-bending, breaks the spine
Of three, and on the fourth he rears

His bulk, and rides away. Divine
   The wonder when the giant fails
To stir the fatuous dwarf, malign

Who smiles! But Bors on Arthur rails
   That never a knight is worth but one.
"By Goddes death" (quod he), "what ails

Us marsh-lights to forget the sun?
   There is one man of mortal men
Worthy to win this benison,

Sir Palamede the Saracen."
   Then went the applauding murmur round:
Sir Lancelot girt him there and then

To ride to that enchanted ground
   Where amid timeless snows the den
Of Palamedes might be found.

VII
BEHOLD Sir Lancelot of the Lake
   Breasting the stony screes: behold
How breath must fail and muscle ache

Before he reach the icy fold
   That Palamede the Saracen
Within its hermitage may hold.

At last he cometh to a den
   Perched high upon the savage scaur,
Remote from every haunt of men,

From every haunt of life afar.
   There doth he find Sir Palamede
Sitting as steadfast as a star.

Scarcely he knew the knight indeed,
   For he was compassed in a beard
White as the streams of snow that feed

The lake of Gods and men
   That sitteth upon Caucasus.
So muttered he a darkling weird,

And smote his bosom murderous.
   His nails like eagles' claws were grown;
His eyes were wild and dull; but thus

Sir Lancelot spake: "Thy deeds atone
   By knightly devoir!" He returned
That "While the land was overgrown

With giant, fiend, and ogre burned
   My sword; but now the Paynim bars
Are broke, and men to virtue turned:

Therefore I sit upon the scars
   Amid my beard, even as the sun
Sits in the company of the stars!"

Then Lancelot bade this deed be done,
   The achievement of the Questing Beast.
Which when he spoke that holy one

Rose up, and gat him to the east
   With Lancelot; when as they drew
Unto the palace and the feast.

He put his littlest finger to
   The dwarf, who rose to upper air,
Piercing the far eternal blue

Beyond the reach of song or prayer.
   Then did Sir Palamed amend
His nakedness, his horrent hair,

His nails, and made his penance end,
   Clothing himself in steel and gold,
Arming himself, his life to spend

In vigil cold and wandering bold,
   Disdaining song and dalliance soft,
Seeking one purpose to behold,

And holding ever that aloft,
   Nor fearing God, nor heeding men.
So thus his hermit habit doffed
   Sir Palamede the Saracen.

VIII
KNOW ye where Druid dolmens rise
   In Wessex on the widow plain?
Thither Sir Palamedes plies

The spur, and shakes the rattling rein.
   He questions all men of the Beast.
None answer. Is the quest in vain?

With oaken crown there comes a priest
   In samite robes, with hazel wand,
And worships at the gilded East.

Ay! thither ride! The dawn beyond
   Must run the quarry of his quest.
He rode as he were wood or fond,

Until at night behoves him rest.
   —He saw the gilding far behind
Out on the hills toward the West!

With aimless fury hot and blind
   He flung himon a Viking ship.
He slew the rover, and inclinded

The seamen to his stinging whip.
   Accurs'd of God, despising men,
Thy reckless oars in ocean dip,
   Sir Palamede the Saracen!

IX
SIR PALAMEDE the Saracen
   Sailed ever with a favouring wind
Unto the smooth and swarthy men

That haunt the evil shore of Hind:
   He queried eager of the quest.
"Ay! Ay!" their cunning sages grinned:

"It shines! It shines! Guess thou the rest!
   For naught but this our Rishis know."
Sir Palamede his way addressed

Unto the woods: they blaze and glow;
   His lance stabs many a shining blade,
His sword lays many a flower low

That glittering gladdened in the glade.
   He wrote himself a wanton ass,
And to the sea his traces laid,

Where, many a wavelet on the glass
   His prowess knows. But deep and deep
His futile feet in fury pass,

Until one billow curls to leap,
   And flings him breathless on the shore
Half drowned. O fool! his God's asleep,

His armour in illusion's war.
   Itself illusion, all his might
And courage vain. Yet ardours pour

Through every artery. The knight
   Scales the Himalaya's frozen sides,
Crowned with illimitable light

And there in constant war abides,
   Smiting the spangles of the snow;
Smiting until the vernal tides

Of earth leap high; the steady flow
   Of sunlight splits the icy walls:
They slide, they hurl the knight below.

Sir Palamede the mighty falls
   Into an hollow where there dwelt
A bearded crew of monachals

Asleep in various visions spelt
   By mystic symbols unto men.
But when a foreigner they smelt

They drive him from their holy den,
   And, with their glittering eyeballs pelt
Sir Palamede the Saracen.

X
NOW findeth he, as all alone
   He moves about the burning East,
The mighty trail of some unknown,
   But surely some majestic beast.

So followeth he the forest ways,
   Remembering his knightly oath,
And through the hot and dripping days
   Ploughs through the tangled undergrowth.

Sir Palamede the Saracen
   Came on a forest pool at length,
Remote rom any mart of men,
   Where there disported in his strength

The lone and lordly elephant.
   Sir Palamede his forehead beat.
"O amorous! O militant!
   O lord of this arboreal seat!"

Thus worshipped he, and stalking stole
   Into the Presence: he emerged.
The scent awakes the uneasy soul
   Of that Majestic One: upsurged

The monster from the oozy bed,
   And bounded through the crashing glades.
—But now a staring savage head
   Lurks at him through the forest shades.

This was a naked Indian,
   Who led within the city gate
The fooled and disappointed man,
   Already broken by his fate.

Here were the brazen towers, and here
   The sculptured rocks, the marble shrine
Where to a tall black stone they rear
   The altars due to the divine.

The God they deem in sensual joy
   Absorbed, and silken dalliance:
To please his leisure hours a boy
   Compels an elephant to dance.

So majesty to ridicule
   Is turned. To other climes and men
Makes off that strong, persistent fool
   Sir Palamede the Saracen.

XI
SIR PALAMEDE the Saracen
   Hath hied him to an holy man,
Sith he alone of mortal men

Can help him, if a mortal can.
    (So tell him all the Scythian folk.)
Wherefore he makes a caravan,

And finds him. When his prayers invoke
   The holy knowledge, saith the sage:
"This Beast is he of whom there spoke

The prophets of the Golden Age:
    'Mark! all that mind is, he is not.'"
Sir Palamede in bitter rage

Sterte up: "Is this the fool, 'Od wot,
   To see the like of whom I came
From castellated Camelot?"

The sage with eyes of burning flame
   Cried: "Is it not a miracle?
Ay! for with folly travelleth shame,

And thereto at the end is Hell.
   Believe! And why believe? Because
It is a thing impossible."

Sir Palamede his pulses pause.
    "It is not possible" (quod he)
"That Palamede is wroth, and draws

His sword, decapitating thee.
   By parity of argument
This deed of blood must surely be."

With that he suddenly besprent
   All Scythia with the sage's blood,
And laughing in his woe he went

Unto a further field and flood,
   Aye guided by that wizard's head,
That like a windy moon did scud

Before him, winking eyes of red
   And snapping jaws of white: but then
What cared for living or for dead
   Sir Palamede the Saracen?

XII
SIR PALAMEDE the Saracen
   Follows the Head to gloomy haIls
   Of sterile hate, with icy waIls.
A woman clucking like a hen
   Answers his lordly bugle-caIls.

She rees him an ungainly rede
   Of ghosts and virgins, doves and wombs,
   Of roods and prophecies and tombs—
Old pagan fables run to seed!
   Sir Palamede with fury fumes.

So doth the Head that jabbers fast
   Against that woman's tangled tale.
    (God's patience at the end must fail!)
Out sweeps the sword—the blade hath passed
   Through all her scraggy farthingale.

"This chatter lends to Thought a zest"
    (Quod he), "but I am all for Act.
   Sit here, until your Talk hath cracked
The addled egg in Nature's nest!"
   With that he fled the dismal tract.

He was so sick and ill at ease
   And hot against his fellow men,
   He thought to end his purpose then—
Nay! let him seek new lands and seas,
   Sir Palamede the Saracen!

XIII
SIR PALAMEDE is come anon
   Into a blue delicious bay.
A mountain towers thereupon,
Wherein some fiend of ages gone

Is whelmed by God, yet from his breast
   Spits up the flame, and ashes grey.
Hereby Sir Palamede his quest
Pursues withouten let or rest.

Seeing the evil mountain be,
   Remembering all his evil years,
He knows the Questing Beast runs free—
Author of Evil, then, is he!

Whereat immediate resounds
   The noise he hath sought so long: appears
There quest a thirty couple hounds
Within its belly as it bounds.

Lifting his eyes, he sees at last
   The beast he seeks: 'tis like an hart.
Ever it courseth far and fast.
Sir Palamede is sore aghast,

But plucking up his will, doth launch
   A mighty poison-dippèd dart:
It fareth ever sure and staunch,
And smiteth him upon the haunch.

Then as Sir Palamede overhauls
   The stricken quarry, slack it droops,
Staggers, and final down it falls.
Triumph! Gape wide, ye golden walls!

Lift up your everlasting doors,
   O gates of Camelot! See, he swoops
Down on the prey! The life-blood pours:
The poison works: the breath implores

Its livelong debt from heart and brain.
   Alas! poor stag, thy day is done!
The gallant lungs gasp loud in vain:
Thy life is spilt upon the plain.

Sir Palamede is stricken numb
   As one who, gazing on the sun,
Sees blackness gather. Blank and dumb,
The good knight sees a thin breath come

Out of his proper mouth, and dart
   Over the plain: he seeth it
Sure by some black magician art
Shape ever closer like an hart:

While such a questing there resounds
   As God had loosed the very Pit,
Or as a thirty couple hounds
Are in its belly as it bounds!

Full sick at heart, I ween, was then
   The loyal knight, the weak of wit,
The butt of lewd and puny men,
Sir Palamede the Saracen.

XIV
NORTHWARD the good knight gallops fast,
   Resolved to seek his foe at home,
When rose that Vision of the past,
   The royal battlements of Rome,
   A ruined city, and a dome.

There in the broken Forum sat
   A red-robed robber in a Hat.
"Whither away, Sir Knight, so fey?'
   "Priest, for the dove on Ararat
   I could not, nor I will not, stay!"

"I know thy quest. Seek on in vain
   A golden hart with silver horns!
Life springeth out of divers pains.
   What crown the King of Kings adorns?
   A crown of gems? A crown of thorns!

The Questing Beast is like a king
   In face, and hath a pigeon's wing
And claw; its body is one fleece
   Of bloody white, a lamb's in spring.
   Enough. Sir Knight, I give thee peace."

The knight spurs on, and soon espies
   A monster coursing on the plain.
He hears the horrid questing rise
   And thunder in his weary brain.
   This time, to slay it or be slain!

Too easy task! The charger gains
   Stride after stride with little pains
Upon the lumbering, flapping thing.
   He stabs the lamb, and splits the brains
   Of that majestic-seeming king.

He clips the wing and pares the claw—
   What turns to laughter all his joy,
To wondering ribaldry his awe?
   The beast's a mere mechanic toy,
   Fit to amuse an idle boy!

XV
SIR PALAMEDE the Saracen
   Hath come to an umbrageous land
Where nymphs abide, and Pagan men.
   The Gods are nigh, say they, at hand.
How warm a throb from Venus stirs
The pulses of her worshippers!

Nor shall the Tuscan God be found
   Reluctant from the altar-stone:
His perfume shall delight the ground,
   His presence to his folk be known
In darkling grove and glimmering shrine—
O ply the kiss and pour the wine!

Sir Palamede is fairly come
   Into a place of glowing bowers,
Where all the Voice of Time is dumb:
   Before an altar crowned with flowers
He seeth a satyr fondly dote
And languish on a swan-soft goat.

Then he in mid-caress desires
   The ear of strong Sir Palamede.
"We burn," quoth he, "no futile fires,
   Nor play upon an idle reed,
Nor penance vain, nor fatuous prayers—
The Gods are ours, and we are theirs."

Sir Palamedes plucks the pipe
   The satyr tends, and blows a trill
So, soft and warm, so red and ripe,
   That echo answers from the hill
In eager and voluptuous strain,
While grows upon the sounding plain

A gallop, and a questing turned
   To one profound melodious bay.
Sir Palamede with pleasure burned,
   And bowed him to the idol grey
That on the altar sneered and leered
With loose red lips behind his beard.

Sir Palamedes and the Beast
   Are woven in a web of gold
Until the gilding of the East
   Burns on the wanton-smiling wold:
And still Sir Palamede believed
His holy quest to be achieved!

But now the dawn from glowing gates
   Floods all the land: with snarling lip
The Beast stands off and cachinnates
   That stings the good knight like a whip,
As suddenly Hell's own disgust
Eats up the joy he had of lust.

The brutal glee his folly took
   For holy joy breaks down his brain.
Off bolts the Beast: the earth is shook
   As out a questing roars again,
As if a thirty couple hounds
Are in its belly as it bounds!

The peasants gather to deride
   The knight: creation joins in mirth.
Ashamed and scorned on every side,
   There gallops, hateful to the earth,
The laughing-stock of beasts and men,
Sir Palamede the Saracen.

XVI
WHERE shafts of moonlight splash the vale,
   Beside a stream there sits and strains
Sir Palamede, with passion pale,

And haggard from his broken brains.
   Yet eagerly he watches still
A mossy mound where dainty grains

Of gilded corn their beauty spill
   To tempt the quarry to the range
Of Palamede his archer skill.

All night he sits, with ardour strange
   And hope new-fledged. A gambler born
Aye thinks the luck one day must change,

Though sense and skill he laughs to scorn.
   So now there rush a thousand rats
In sable silence on the corn.

They sport their square or shovel hats,
   A squeaking, tooth-bare brotherhood,
Innumerable as summer gnats

Buzzing some streamlet through a wood.
   Sir Palamede grows mighty wroth,
And mutters maledictions rude,

Seeing his quarry far and loth
   And thieves despoiling all the bait.
Now, careless of the knightly oath,

The sun pours down his eastern gate.
   The chase is over: see ye then,
Coursing afar, afoam at fate,
   Sir Palamede the Saracen!

XVII
SIR PALAMEDE hath told the tale
   Of this misfortune to a sage,
How all his ventures nought avail,

And all his hopes dissolve in rage.
   "Now by thine holy beard," quoth he,
"And by thy venerable age

I charge thee this my riddle ree."
   Then said that gentle eremite:
"This task is easy unto me!

Know then the Questing Beast aright!
   One is the Beast, the Questing one:
And one with one is two, Sir Knight!

Yet these are one in two, and none
   Disjoins their substance (mark me well!),
Confounds their persons. Rightly run

Their attributes: immeasurable,
   Incomprehensibundable,
Unspeakable, inaudible,

Intangible, ingustable,
   Insensitive to human smell,
Invariable, implacable,

Invincible, insciable,
   Irrationapsychicable,
Inequilegijurable,

Immamemimomummable.
   Such is its nature: without parts,
Places, or persons, plumes, or pell,

Having nor lungs nor lights nor hearts,
   But two in one and one in two.
Be he accursèd that disparts

Them now, or seemeth so to do!
   Him will I pile the curses on;
Him will I hang, or saw him through,

Or burn with fire, who doubts upon
   This doctrine, hotototon spells
The holy word otototon"

The poor Sir Palamedes quells
   His rising spleen; he doubts his ears.
"How may I catch the Beast?" he yells.

The smiling sage rebukes his fears:
    "'Tis easier than all, Sir Knight!
By simple faith the Beast appears.

By simple faith, not heathen might,
   Catch him, and thus achieve the quest!"
Then quoth that melancholy wight:

"I will believe!" The hermit blessed
   His convert: on the horizon
Appears the Beast. "To thee the rest!"

He cries, to urge the good knight on.
   But no! Sir Palamedes grips
The hermit by the woebegone

Beard of him; then away he rips,
   Wood as a maniac, to the West,
Where down the sun in splendour slips,

And where the quarry of the quest
   Canters. They run like hippogriffs!
Like men pursued, or swine possessed,

Over the dizzy Cretan cliffs
   They smash. And lo! it comes to pass
He sees in no dim hieroglyphs,

In knowledge easy to amass,
   This hermit (while he drew his breath)
Once dead is like a mangy ass.

Bruised, broken, but not bound to death,
   He calls some passing fishermen
To bear him. Presently he saith :

"Bear me to some remotest den
   To heal me of my ills immense;
For now hath neither might nor sense
   Sir Palamede the Saracen."

XVIII
SIR PALAMEDES for a space
   Deliberates on his rustic bed.
"I lack the quarry's awful pace"

(Quod he); "my limbs are slack as lead."
   So, as he gets his strength, he seeks
The castles where the pennons red

Of dawn illume their dreadful peaks.
   There dragons stretch their horrid coils
Adown the winding clefts and creeks:

From hideous mouths their venom boils.
   But Palamede their fury 'scapes,
Their malice by his valour foils,

Climbing aloft by bays and capes
   Of rock and ice, encounters oft
The loathly sprites, the misty shapes

Of monster brutes that lurk aloft.
   O! well he works: his youth returns,
His heart revives: despair is doffed

And eager hope in brilliance bums
   Within the circle of his brows
As fast he flies, the snow he spurns.

Ah! what a youth and strength he vows
   To the achievement of the quest!
And now the horrid height allows

His mastery: day by day from crest
   To crest he hastens: faster fly
His feet: his body knows not rest,

Until with magic speed they ply
   Like oars the snowy waves, surpass
In one day's march the galaxy

Of Europe's starry mountain mass.
    "Now," quoth he, "let me find the quest!"
The Beast sterte up. Sir Knight, alas!

Day after day they race, nor rest
   Till seven days were fairly done.
Then doth the Questing Marvel crest

The ridge: the knight is well outrun.
   Now, adding laughter to its din,
Like some lewd comet at the sun,

Around the panting paladin
   It runs with all its splendid speed.
Yet, knowing that he may not win,

He strains and strives in very deed,
   So that at last a boulder trips
The hero, that he bursts a-bleed,

And sanguine from his bearded lips
   The torrent of his being breaks.
The Beast is gone: the hero slips

Down to the valley: he forsakes
   The fond idea (every bone
In all his body burns and aches)

By speed to attain the dear Unknown,
   By force to achieve the great Beyond.
Yet from that brain may spring full-grown
   Another folly just as fond.

XIX
THE knight hath found a naked girl
   Among the dunes of Breton sand.
She spinneth in a mystic whirl,

And hath a bagpipe in her hand,
   Wherefrom she draweth dismal groans,
The while her maddening saraband

She plies, and with discordant tones
   Desires a certain devil-grace.
She gathers wreckage-wood, and bones

Of seamen, jetsam of the place,
   And builds therewith a fire, wherein
She dances, bounding into space

Like an inflated ass's skin.
   She raves, and reels, and yells, and whirls
So that the tears of toil begin

To dew her breasts with ardent pearls.
   Nor doth she mitigate her dance,
The bagpipe ever louder skirls,

Until the shapes of death advance
   And gather round her, shrieking loud
And wailing o'er the wide expanse.

Of sand, the gibbering, mewing crowd.
   Like cats, and apes, they gather close,
Till, like the horror of a cloud

Wrapping the flaming sun with rose,
   They hide her from the hero's sight.
Then doth he muse thereat morose,

When in one wild cascade of light
   The pageant breaks, and thunder roars:
Down flaps the loathly wing of night.

He sees the lonely Breton shores
   Lapped in the levin: then his eyes
See how she shrieking soars and soars

Into the starless, stormy skies.
   Well! well! this lesson will he learn,
How music's mellowing artifice

May bid the breast of nature burn
   And call the gods from star and shrine.
So now his sounding courses turn

To find an instrument divine
   Whereon he may pursue his quest.
How glitter green his gleeful eyne

When, where the mice and lice infest
   A filthy hovel, lies a wench
Bearing a baby at her breast,

Drunk and debauched, one solid stench,
   But carrying a silver lute.
'Boardeth her, nor doth baulk nor blench,

And long abideth brute by brute
   Amid the unsavoury denizens,
Until his melodies uproot

The oaks, lure lions from their dens,
   Turn rivers back, and still the spleen
Of serpents and of Saracens.

Thus then equipped, he quits the quean,
   And in a city fair and wide
Calls up with music wild and keen

The Questing Marvel to his side.
   Then do the sportful city folk
About his lonely stance abide:

Making their holiday, they joke
   The melancholy ass: they throw
Their clattering coppers in his poke.

So day and night they come and go,
   But never comes the Questing Beast,
Nor doth that laughing people know

How agony's unleavening yeast
   Stirs Palamede. Anon they tire,
And follow an Egyptian priest

Who boasts him master of the fire
   To draw down lightning, and invoke
The gods upon a sandal pyre,

And bring up devils in the smoke.
   Sir Palamede is all alone,
Wrapped in his misery like a cloak,

Despairing now to charm the Unknown.
   So arms and horse he takes again.
Sir Palamede hath overthrown

The jesters. Now the country men,
   Stupidly staring, see at noon
Sir Palamede the Saracen

A-riding like an harvest moon
   In silver arms, with glittering lance,
With plumed helm, and wingèd shoon,
   Athwart the admiring land of France.

XX
SIR PALAMEDE hath reasoned out
Beyond the shadow of a doubt
   That this his Questing Beast is one;
For were it Beasts, he must suppose
An earlier Beast to father those.
   So all the tracks of herds that run

Into the forest he discards,
And only turns his dark regards
   On single prints, on marks unique.
Sir Palamede doth now attain
Unto a wide and grassy plain,
   Whereon he spies the thing to seek.

Thereat he putteth spur to horse
And runneth him a random course,
   The Beast a-questing aye before.
But praise to good Sir Palamede!
'Hath gotten him a fairy steed
   Alike for venery and for war,

So that in little drawing near
The quarry, lifteth up his spear
   To run him of his malice through.
With that the Beast hopes no escape,
Dissolveth all his lordly shape,
   Splitteth him sudden into two.

Sir Palamede in fury runs
Unto the nearer beast, that shuns
   The shock, and splits, and splits again,
Until the baffled warrior sees
A myriad myriad swarms of these
   A-questing over all the plain.

The good knight reins his charger in.
"Now, by the faith of Paladin!
   The subtle quest at last I ken."
Rides off to Camelot to plight
The faith of many a noble knight,
   Sir Palamede the Saracen.

XXI
NOW doth Sir Palamede advance
The lord of many a sword and lance.
   In merrie England's summer sun
Their shields and arms a-glittering glance

And laugh upon the mossy mead.
Now winds the horn of Palamede,
   As far upon the horizon
He spies the Questing Beast a-feed.

With loyal craft and honest guile
They spread their ranks for many a mile.
   For when the Beast hath heard the horn
He practiseth his ancient wile,

And many a myriad beasts invade
The stillness of that armèd glade.
   Now every knight to rest hath borne
His lance, and given the accolade,

And run upon a beast: but they
Slip from the fatal point away
   And course about, confusing all
That gallant concourse all the day,

Leading them ever to a vale
With hugeous cry and monster wail.
   Then suddenly their voices fall,
And in the park's resounding pale

Only the clamour of the chase
Is heard: oh! to the centre race
   The unsuspicious knights: but he
The Questing Beast his former face

Of unity resumes: the course
Of warriors shocks with man and horse.
   In mutual madness swift to see
They shatter with unbridled force

One on another: down they go
Swift in stupendous overthrow.
   Out sword! out lance! Cuirass and helm
Splinter beneath the knightly blow.

They storm, they charge, they hack and hew,
They rush and wheel the press athrough.
   The weight, the murder, overwhelm
One, two, and all. Nor silence knew

His empire till Sir Palamede
(The last) upon his fairy steed
   Struck down his brother; then at once
Fell silence on the bloody mead,

Until the questing rose again.
For there, on that ensanguine plain
   Standeth a-laughing at the dunce
The single Beast they had not slain.

There, with his friends and followers dead,
His brother smitten through the head,
   Himself sore wounded in the thigh,
Weepeth upon the deed of dread,

Alone among his murdered men,
The champion fool, as fools were then,
   Utterly broken, like to die,
Sir Palamede the Saracen.

XXII
SIR PALAMEDE his wits doth rally,
   Nursing his wound beside a lake
Within an admirable valley,

Whose walls their thirst on heaven slake,
   And in the moonlight mystical
Their countless spears of silver shake.

Thus reasons he: "In each and all
   Fyttes of this quest the quarry's track
Is wondrous geometrical.

In spire and whorl twists out and back
   The hart with fair symmetric line.
And lo! the grain of wit I lack—

This Beast is Master of Design.
   So studying each twisted print
In this mirific mind of mine,

My heart may happen on a hint."
   Thus as the seeker after gold
Eagerly chases grain or glint,

The knight at last wins to behold
   The full conception. Breathless-blue
The fair lake's mirror crystal-cold

Wherein he gazes, keen to view
   The vast Design therein, to chase
The Beast to his last avenue.

Then—O thou gosling scant of grace!
   The dream breaks, and Sir Palamede
Wakes to the glass of his fool's face!

"Ah, 'sdeath!" (quod he), "by thought and deed
   This brute forever mocketh me.
The lance is made a broken reed,

The brain is but a barren tree—
   For all the beautiful Design
Is but mine own geometry!"

With that his wrath brake out like wine.
   He plunged his body in, and shattered
The whole delusion asinine.

All the false water-nymphs that flattered
   He killed with his resounding curse—
O fool of God! as if it mattered!

So, nothing better, rather worse,
   Out of the blue bliss of the pool
Came dripping that inveterate fool!

XXIII
NOW still he holdeth argument:
    "So grand a Beast must house him well;
Hence, now beseemeth me frequent
   Cathedral, palace, citadel."

So, riding fast among the flowers
   Far off, a Gothic spire he spies,
That like a gladiator towers
   Its spear-sharp splendour to the skies.

The people cluster round, acclaim:
    "Sir Knight, good knight, thy quest is won.
Here dwells the Beast in orient flame,
   Spring-sweet, and swifter than the sun!"

Sir Palamede the Saracen
   Spurs to the shrine, afire to win
The end; and all the urgent men
   Throng with him eloquently in.

Sir Palamede his vizor drops;
   He lays his loyal lance in rest;
He drives the rowels home—he stops!
   Faugh! but a black-mouthed money-chest!

He turns—the friendly folk are gone,
   Gone with his sumpter-mules and train
Beyond the infinite horizon
   Of all he hopes to see again!

His brain befooled, his pocket picked—
   How the Beast cachinnated then,
Far from that doleful derelict
   Sir Palamede the Saracen!

XXIV
"ONE thing at least" (quoth Palamede),
    "Beyond dispute my soul can see:
This Questing Beast that mocks my need
   Dwelleth in deep obscurity."

So delveth he a darksome hole
   Within the bowels of Etna dense,
Closing the harbor of his soul
   To all the pirate-ships of sense.

And now the questing of the Beast
   Rolls in his very self, and high
Leaps his whole heart in fiery feast
   On the expected ecstasy.

But echoing from the central roar
   Reverberates many a mournful moan,
And shapes more mystic than before
   Baffle its formless monotone!

Ah! mocks him many a myriad vision,
   Warring within him masterless,
Turning devotion to derision,
   Beatitude to beastliness.

They swarm, they grow, they multiply;
   The strong knight's brain goes all a-swim,
Paced by that maddening minstrelsy,
   Those dog-like demons hunting him.

The last bar breaks; the steel will snaps;
   The black hordes riot in his brain;
A thousand threatening thunder-claps
   Smite him—insane—insane—insane!

His muscles roar with senseless rage;
   The pale knight staggers, deathly sick;
Reels to the light that sorry sage,
   Sir Palamede the Lunatick.

XXV
A SAVAGE sea without a sail,
   Grey gulphs and green a-glittering,
Rare snow that floats—a vestal veil
   Upon the forehead of the spring.

Here in a plunging galleon
   Sir Palamede, a listless drone,
Drifts desperately on—and on—
   And on—with heart and eyes of stone.

The deep-scarred brain of him is healed
   With wind and sea and star and sun,
The assoiling grace that God revealed
   For gree and bounteous benison.

Ah! still he trusts the recreant brain,
   Thrown in a thousand tourney-justs;
Still he raves on in reason-strain
   With senseless "oughts" and fatuous "musts."

"All the delusions" (argueth
   The ass), "all uproars, surely rise
From that curst Me whose name is Death,
   Whereas the Questing Beast belies

The Me with Thou; then swift the quest
   To slay the Me should hook the Thou."
With that he crossed him, brow and breast,
   And flung his body from the prow.

An end? Alas! on silver sand
   Open his eyes; the surf-rings roar.
What snorts there, swimming from the land?
   The Beast that brought him to the shore!

"O Beast!" quoth purple Palamede,
    "A monster strange as Thou am I.
I could not live before, indeed;
   And now I cannot even die!

Who chose me, of the Table Round
   By miracle acclaimed the chief?
Here, waterlogged and muscle-bound,
   Marooned upon a coral reef!"

XXVI
SIR PALAMEDE the Saracen
   Hath gotten him a swift canoe,
Paddled by stalwart South Sea men.

They cleave the oily breasts of blue,
   Straining toward the westering disk
Of the tall sun; they battle through

Those weary days; the wind is brisk;
   The stars are clear; the moon is high.
Now, even as a white basilisk

That slayeth all men with his eye,
   Stands up before them tapering
The cone of speechless sanctity.

Up, up its slopes the pilgrims swing,
   Chanting their pagan gramarye
Unto the dread volcano-king.

"Now, then, by Goddes reed!" quod he,
    "Behold the secret of my quest
In this far-famed stability!

For all these Paynim knights may rest
   In the black bliss they struggle to."
But from the earth's full-flowered breast

Brake the blind roar of earthquake through,
   Tearing the belly of its mother,
Engulphing all that heathen crew,

That cried and cursed on one another.
   Aghast he standeth, Palamede!
For twinned with Earthquake laughs her brother

The Questing Beast. As Goddes reed
   Sweats blood for sin, so now the heart
Of the good knight begins to bleed.

Of all the ruinous shafts that dart
   Within his liver, this hath plied
The most intolerable smart.

"By Goddes wounds!" the good knight cried,
   "What is this quest, grown daily dafter,
Where nothing—nothing—may abide?

Westward!" They fly, but rolling after
   Echoes the Beast's unsatisfied
And inextinguishable laughter!

XXVII
SIR PALAMEDE goes aching on
    (Pox of despair's dread interdict!)
Aye to the western horizon,

Still meditating, sharp and strict,
   Upon the changes of the earth,
Its towers and temples derelict,

The ready ruin of its mirth,
   The flowers, the fruits, the leaves that fall,
The joy of life, its growing girth—

And nothing as the end of all.
   Yea, even as the Yang-tze rolled
Its rapids past him, so the wall

Of things brake down; his eyes behold
   The mighty Beast serenely couched
Upon its breast of burnished gold.

"Ah! by Christ's blood!" (his soul avouched),
    "Nothing but change (but change!) abides.
Death lurks, a leopard curled and crouched,

In all the seasons and the tides.
   But ah! the more it changed and changed"—
(The good knight laughed to split his sides!)

"What? Is the soul of things deranged?
   The more it changed, and rippled through
Its changes, and still changed, and changed,

The liker to itself it grew.
   Bear me," he cried, "to purge my bile
To the old land of Hormakhu,

That I may sit and curse awhile
   At all these follies fond that pen
My quest about—on, on to Nile!

Tread tenderly, my merry men!
   For nothing is so void and vile
As Palamede the Saracen."

XXVIII
SIR PALAMEDE the Saracen
   Hath clad him in a sable robe;
Hath curses, writ by holy men
   From all the gardens of the globe.

He standeth at an altar-stone;
   The blood drips from the slain babe's throat;
His chant rolls in a magick moan;
   His head bows to the crownèd goat.

His wand makes curves and spires in air;
   The smoke of incense curls and quivers;
His eyes fix in a glass-cold stare;
   The land of Egypt rocks and shivers!

"Lo! by thy Gods, O God, I vow
   To burn the authentic bones and blood
Of curst Osiris even now
   To the dark Nile's upsurging flood!

I cast thee down, oh crowned and throned!
   To black Amennti's void profane.
Until mine anger be atoned
   Thou shalt not ever rise again."

With firm red lips and square black beard:
Osiris in his strength appeared.

He made the sign that saveth men
On Palamede the Saracen.

'Hath hushed his conjuration grim:
The curse comes back to sleep with him.

'Hath fallen himself to that profane
Whence none might ever rise again.

Dread torture racks him; all his bones
Get voice to utter forth his groans.

The very poison of his blood
Joins in that cry's soul-shaking flood.

For many a chiliad counted well
His soul stayed in its proper Hell.

Then, when Sir Palamedes came
   Back to himself, the shrine was dark.
Cold was the incense, dead the flame;
   The slain babe lay there black and stark.

What of the Beast? What of the quest?
   More blind the quest, the Beast more dim.
Even now its laughter is suppressed
   While his own demons mock at him!

O thou most desperate dupe that Hell's
   Malice can make of mortal men!
Meddle no more with magick spells,
   Sir Palamede the Saracen!

XXIX
HA! but the good knight, striding forth
   From Set's abominable shrine,
Pursues the quest with bitter wrath,
   So that his words flow out like wine.

And lo! the soul that heareth them
   Is straightway healed of suffering.
His fame runs through the land of Khem:
   They flock, the peasant and the king.

There he works many a miracle:
   The blind see, and the cripples walk;
Lepers grow clean; sick folk grow well ;
   The deaf men hear, the dumb men talk.

He casts out devils with a word;
   Circleth his wand, and dead men rise.
No such a wonder hath been heard
   Since Christ our God's sweet sacrifice.

"Now, by the glad blood of our Lord!"
   Quoth Palamede, "my heart is light.
I am the chosen harpsichord
   Whereon God playeth; the perfect knight,

The saint of Mary"—there he stayed,
   For out of Memnon's singing stone
So fierce a questing barked and brayed,
   It turned his laughter to a groan.

His vow forgot, his task undone,
   His soul whipped in God's bitter school!
(He moaned a mighty malison!)
   The perfect knight? The perfect fool!

"Now, by God's wounds!" quoth he, "my strength
   Is burnt out to a pest of pains.
Let me fling off my curse at length
   In old Chaldea's starry plains!

Thou blessèd Jesus, foully nailed
   Unto the cruel Calvary tree,
Look on my soul's poor fort assailed
   By all the hosts of devilry!

Is there no medicine but death
   That shall avail me in my place;
That I may know the Beauteous Breath
   And taste the Goodly Gift of Grace?

Keep Thou yet firm this trembling leaf
   My soul, dear God Who died for men;
Yea! for that sinner-soul the chief,
   Sir Palamede the Saracen!"

XXX
STARRED is the blackness of the sky;
   Wide is the sweep of the cold plain
Where good Sir Palamede doth lie,
   Keen on the Beast-slot once again.

All day he rode; all night he lay
   With eyes wide open to the stars,
Seeking in many a secret way
   The key to unlock his prison bars.

Beneath him, hark! the marvel sounds!
   The Beast that questeth horribly.
As if a thirty couple hounds
   Are in his belly questeth he.

Beneath him? Heareth he aright?
   He leaps to's feet—a wonder shews:
Steep dips a stairway from the light
   To what obscurity God knows.

Still never a tremor shakes his soul
    (God praise thee, knight of adamant!);
He plunges to that gruesome goal
   Firm as an old bull-elephant!

The broad stair winds; he follows it;
   Dark is the way; the air is blind;
Black, black the blackness of the pit,
   The light long blotted out behind!

His sword sweeps out; his keen glance peers
   For some shape glimmering through the gloom:
Naught, naught in all that void appears;
   More still, more silent than the tomb!

Yet now the good knight is aware
   Of some black force, of some dread throne,
Waiting beneath that awful stair,
   Beneath that pit of slippery stone.

Yea! though he sees not anything,
   Nor hears, his subtle sense is 'ware
That, lackeyed by the devil-king,
   The Beast—the Questing Beast—is there!

So though his heart beats close with fear,
   Though horror grips his throat, he goes,
Goes on to meet it, spear to spear,
   As good knight should, to face his foes.

Nay! but the end is come. Black earth
   Belches that peerless Paladin
Up from her gulphs—untimely birth!
   —Her horror could not hold him in!

White as a corpse; the hero hails
   The dawn, that night of fear still shaking
His body. All death's doubt assails
   Him. Was it sleep or was it waking?

"By God, I care not, I!" (quod he).
   "Or wake or sleep, or live or dead,
I will pursue this mystery.
   So help me Grace of Godlihead!"

Ay! with thy wasted limbs pursue
   That subtle Beast home to his den!
Who knows but thou mayst win athrough,
   Sir Palamede the Saracen?

XXXI
FROM God's sweet air Sir Palamede
   Hath come unto a demon bog,
A city where but rats may breed

In sewer-stench and fetid fog.
   Within its heart pale phantoms crawl.
Breathless with foolish haste they jog

And jostle, all for naught! They scrawl
   Vain things all night that they disown
Ere day. They call and bawl and squall

Hoarse cries; they moan, they groan. A stone
   Hath better sense! And these among
A cabbage-headed god they own,

With wandering eye and jabbering tongue.
   He, rotting in that grimy sewer
And charnel-house of death and dung,

Shrieks: "How the air is sweet and pure !
   Give me the entrails of a frog
And I will teach thee! Lo! the lure

Of light! How lucent is the fog!
   How noble is my cabbage-head!
How sweetly fragrant is the bog!"

"God's wounds!" (Sir Palamedes said),
   "What have I done to earn this portion?
Must I, the clean knight born and bred,

Sup with this filthy toad-abortion?"
   Nathless he stayed with him awhile,
Lest by disdain his mental torsion

Slip back, or miss the serene smile
   Should crown his quest; for (as one saith)
The unknown may lurk within the vile.

So he who sought the Beauteous Breath,
   Desired the Goodly Gift of Grace,
Went equal into life and death.

But oh! the foulness of his face!
   Not here was anything of worth;
He turned his back upon the place,

Sought the blue sky and the green earth,
   Ay! and the lustral sea to cleanse
That filth that stank about his girth,

The sores and scabs, the warts and wens,
   The nameless vermin he had gathered
In those insufferable dens,

The foul diseases he had fathered.
    So now the quest slips from his brain:
"First (Christ!) let me be clean again!"

XXXII
"HA!" cries the knight, "may patient toil
Of brain dissolve this cruel coil!
   In Afric they that chase the ostrich
Clothe them with feathers, subtly foil

Its vigilance, come close, then dart
Its death upon it. Brave my heart!
   Do thus!" And so the knight disguises
Himself, on hands and knees doth start

His hunt, goes questing up and down.
So in the fields the peasant clown
   Flies, shrieking, from that dreadful figure.
But when he came to any town

They caged him for a lunatic.
Quod he: "Would God I had the trick!
   The beast escaped from my devices;
I will the same. The bars are thick,

But I am strong." He wrenched in vain;
Then—what is this? What wild, sharp strain
   Smites on the air? The prison smashes.
Hark! 'tis the Questing Beast again!

Then as he rushes forth the note
Roars from that Beast's malignant throat
   With laughter, laughter, laughter, laughter!
The wits of Palamedes float

In ecstasy of shame and rage.
"O Thou!" exclaims the baffled sage;
   "How should I match Thee? Yet, I will so,
Though Doomisday devour the Age.

Weeping, and beating on his breast,
Gnashing his teeth, he still confessed
   The might of the dread oath that bound him:
He would not yet give up the quest.

"Nay! while I am," quoth he, "though Hell
Engulph me, though God mock me well,
   I follow as I sware; I follow,
Though it be unattainable.

Nay, more! Because I may not win,
Is't worth man's work to enter in!"
   The Infinite with mighty passion
Hath caught my spirit in a gin.

Come! since I may not imitate
The Beast, at least I work and wait.
   We shall discover soon or late
Which is the master—I or Fate!"

XXXIII
SIR PALAMEDE the Saracen
   Hath passed unto the tideless sea,
      That the keen whisper of the wind
May bring him that which never men
   Knew—on the quest, the quest, rides he!
      So long to seek, so far to find!

So weary was the knight; his limbs
   Were slack as new-slain dove's; his knees
      No longer gripped the charger rude.
Listless, he aches; his purpose swims
   Exhausted in the oily seas
      Of laxity and lassitude.

The soul subsides; its serious motion
   Still throbs; by habit, not by will.
      And all his lust to win the quest
Is but a passive-mild devotion.
    (Ay! soon the blood shall run right chill
      —And is not death the Lord of Rest?)

There as he basks upon the cliff
   He yearns toward the Beast; his eyes
      Are moist with love; his lips are fain
To breathe fond prayers; and (marry!) if
   Man's soul were measured by his sighs
      He need not linger to attain.

Nay! while the Beast squats there, above
   Him, smiling on him; as he vows
      Wonderful deeds and fruitless flowers,
He grows so maudlin in his love
   That even the knaves of his own house
      Mock at him in their merry hours.

"God's death!" raged Palamede, not wroth
   But irritated, "laugh ye so?
      Am I a jape for scullions?"
His curse came in a flaky froth.
   He seized a club, with blow on blow
      Breaking the knave's unreverent sconce!

"Thou mock the Questing Beast I chase,
   The Questing Beast I love? 'Od's wounds!"
      Then sudden from the slave there brake
A cachinnation scant of grace,
   As if a thirty couple hounds
      Were in his belly! Knight, awake!

Ah! well he woke! His love and scorn
   Grapple in death-throe at his throat.
       "Lead me away" (quoth he), "my men!
Woe, woe is me was ever born
   So blind a bat, so gross a goat,
      As Palamede the Saracen!"

XXXIV
SIR PALAMEDE the Saracen
   Hath hid him in an hermit's cell
Upon an island in the fen

Of that lone land where Druids dwell.
   There came an eagle from the height
And bade him mount. From dale to dell

They sank and soared. Last to the light
   Of the great sun himself they flew,
Piercing the borders of the night,

Passing the irremeable blue.
   Far into space beyond the stars
At last they came. And there he knew

All the blind reasonable bars
   Broken, and all the emotions stilled,
And all the stains and all the scars

Left him; so like a child he thrilled
   With utmost knowledge; all his soul
With perfect sense and sight fulfilled,

Touched the extreme, the giant goal!
   Yea! all things in that hour transcended,
All power in his sublime control,

All felt, all thought, all comprehended—
    "How is it, then, the quest" (he saith)
"Is not—at last!—achieved and ended?

Why taste I not the Bounteous Breath,
   Receive the Goodly Gift of Grace?
Now, kind king-eagle (by God's death!),

Restore me to mine ancient place!
   I am advantaged nothing then!"
Then swooped he from the Byss of Space,

And set the knight amid the fen.
   "God!" quoth Sir Palamede, "that I
Who have won nine should fail at ten!

   I set my all upon the die:
   There is no further trick to try.
Call trice accursed above men
Sir Palamede the Saracen!"

XXXV
"YEA! quoth the knight, "I rede the spell.
This Beast is the Unknowable.
I seek in Heaven, I seek in Hell;

Ever he mocks me. Yet, methinks,
I have the riddle of the Sphinx.
For were I keener than the lynx

I should not see within my mind
One thought that is not in its kind
In sooth That Beast that lurks behind:

And in my quest his questing seems
The authentic echo of my dreams,
The proper thesis of my themes!

I.know him? Still he answers: No!
I know him not? Maybe—and lo!
He is the one sole thing I know!

Nay! who knows not is different
From him that knows. Then be content;
Thou canst not alter the event!

Ah! what conclusion subtly draws
From out this chaos of mad laws?
Am I, the effect, as I, the cause?

Nay, the brain reels beneath its swell
Of pompous thoughts. Enough to tell
That He is known Unknowable!"

Thus did that knightly Saracen
In Cantabrig's miasmal fen
Lecture to many learned men.

So clamorous was their applause—
"His mind" (said they) "is free of flaws:
The Veil of God is thin as gauze!"—

That almost they had dulled or drowned
The laughter (in its belly bound)
Of that dread Beast he had not found.

Nathless—although he would away—
They forced the lack-luck knight to stay
And lecture many a weary day.

Verily, almost he had caught
The infection of their costive thought,
And brought his loyal quest to naught.

It was by night that Palamede
Ran from that mildewed, mouldy breed,
Moth-eaten dullards run to seed!

How weak Sir Palamedes grows!
We hear no more of bouts and blows!
His weapons are his ten good toes!

He that was Arthur's peer, good knight
Proven in many a foughten fight,
Flees like a felon in the night!

Ay! this thy quest is past the ken
Of thee and of all mortal men,
Sir Palamede the Saracen!

XXXVI
OFT, as Sir Palamedes went
   Upon the quest, he was aware
O some vast shadow subtly blent
   With his own shadow in the air.

It had no shape, no voice had it
   Wherewith to daunt the eye or ear;
Yet all the horror of the pit
   Clad it with all the arms of fear.

Moreover, though he sought to scan
   Some feature, though he listened long,
No shape of God or fiend or man,
   No whisper, groan, shriek, scream, or song

Gave him to know it. Now it chanced
   One day Sir Palamedes rode
Through a great wood whose leafage danced
   In the thin sunlight as it flowed

From heaven. He halted in a glade,
   Bade his horse crop the tender grass;
Put off his armour, softly laid
   Himself to sleep till noon should pass.

He woke. Before him stands and grins
   A motley hunchback. "Knave!" quoth he,
"Hast seen the Beast? The quest that wins
   The loftiest prize of chivalry?"

"Sir Knight," he answers, "hast thou seen
   Aught of that Beast? How knowest thou, then,
That it is ever or hath been,
   Sir Palamede the Saracen?"

Sir Palamede was well awake.
    "Nay! I deliberate deep and long,
Yet find no answer fit to make
   To thee. The weak beats down the strong;

The fool's cap shames the helm. But thou!
   I know thee for the shade that haunts
My way, sets shame upon my brow,
   My purpose dims, my courage daunts

Then, since the thinker must be dumb,
   At least the knight may knightly act:
The wisest monk in Christendom
   May have his skull broke by a fact."

With that, as a snake strikes, his sword
   Leapt burning to the burning blue;
And fell, one swift, assured award,
   Stabbing that hunchback through and through.

Straight he dissolved, a voiceless shade.
    "Or scotched or slain," the knight said then,
"What odds? Keep bright and sharp thy blade,
   Sir Palamede the Saracen!"

XXXVII
SIR PALAMEDE is sick to death!
   The staring eyen, the haggard face!
God grant to him the Beauteous Breath!
   God send the Goodly Gift of Grace!

There is a white cave by the sea
   Wherein the knight is hid away.
Just ere the night falls, spieth he
   The sun's last shaft flicker astray.

All day is dark. There, there he mourns
   His wasted years, his purpose faint.
A million whips, a million scorns
   Make the knight flinch, and stain the saint.

For now! what hath he left? He feeds
   On limpets and wild roots. What odds?
There is no need a mortal needs
   Who hath loosed man's hope to grasp at God's!

How his head swims! At night what stirs
   Above the faint wash of the tide,
And rare sea-birds whose winging whirrs
   About the cliffs? Now good betide!

God save thee, woeful Palamede!
   The questing of the Beast is loud
Within thy ear. By Goddes reed,
   Thou hast won the tilt from all the crowd!

Within thy proper bowels it sounds
   Mighty and musical at need,
As if a thirty couple hounds
   Quested within thee, Palamede!

Now, then, he grasps the desperate truth
   He hath toiled these many years to see,
Hath wasted strength, hath wasted youth—
   He was the Beast; the Beast was he!

He rises from the cave of death
   Runs to the sea with shining face
To know at last the Bounteous Breath,
   To taste the Goodly Gift of Grace.

Ah! Palamede, thou hast mistook!
   Thou art the butt of all confusion!
Not to be written in my book
   Is this most drastic disillusion!

So weak and ill was he, I doubt
   If he might hear the royal feast
Of laughter that came rolling out
   Afar from that elusive Beast.

Yet, those white lips were snapped, like steel
   Upon the ankles of a slave!
That body broken on the wheel
   Of Time suppressed the groan it gave!

"Not there, not here, my quest!" he cried.
   "Not thus! Not now! Do how and when
Matter? I am, and I abide,
   Sir Palamede the Saracen!"

XXXVIII
SIR PALAMEDE of great renown
   Rode through the land upon the quest,
His sword loose and his vizor down,
   His buckler braced, his lance in rest.

Now, then, God save thee, Palamede!
   Who courseth yonder on the field?
Those silver arms, that sable steed,
   The sun and rose upon his shield?

The strange knight spurs to him. Disdain
   Curls the proud lip as he uplifts
His vizor. "Come, an end! In vain,
   Sir Fox, thy thousand turns and shifts!"

Sir Palamede was white with fear
   Lord Christ! those features were his own;
His own that voice so icy clear
   That cuts him, cuts him to the bone.

"False knight! false knight!" the stranger cried.
   "Thou bastard dog, Sir Palamede?
I am the good knight fain to ride
   Upon the Questing Beast at need.

Thief of my arms, my crest, my quest,
   My name, now meetest thou thy shame.
See, with this whip I lash thee back,
   Back to the kennel whence there came

So false a hound." "Good knight, in sooth,"
   Answered Sir Palamede, "not I
Presume to assert the idlest truth;
   And here, by this good ear and eye,

I grant thou art Sir Palamede.
   But—try the first and final test
If thou or I be he. Take heed!"
   He backed his horse, covered his breast,

Drove his spurs home, and rode upon
   That knight. His lance-head fairly struck
The barred strength of his morion,
   And rolled the stranger in the muck.

"Now, by God's death!" quoth Palamede,
   His sword at work, "I will not leave
So much of thee as God might feed
   His sparrows with. As I believe

The sweet Christ's mercy shall avail,
   So will I not have aught for thee;
Since every bone of thee may rail
   Against me, crying treachery

Thou hast lied. I am the chosen knight
   To slay the Questing Beast for men;
I am the loyal son of light,
   Sir Palamede the Saracen!

Thou wast the subtlest fiend that yet
   Hath crossed my path. To say thee nay
I dare not, but my sword is wet
   With thy knave's blood, and with thy clay

Fouled! Dost thou think to resurrect?
   O sweet Lord Christ that savest men!
From all such fiends do thou protect
   Me, Palamede the Saracen!"

XXXIX
GREEN and Grecian is the valley,
   Shepherd lads and shepherd lasses
      Dancing in a ring
Merrily and musically.
   How their happiness surpasses
      The mere thrill of spring!

"Come" (they cry), "Sir Knight, put by
   All that weight of shining armour!
Here's a posy, here's a garland, here's a chain of daisies!
   Here's a charmer! There's a charmer!
Praise the God that crazes men, the God that raises
   All our lives to ecstasy!"

Sir Palamedes was too wise
   To mock their gentle wooing;
He smiles into their sparkling eyes
   While they his armour are undoing.
"For who" (quoth he) "may say that this
Is not the mystery I miss?"

Soon he is gathered in the dance,
   And smothered in the flowers.
A boy's laugh and a maiden's glance
   Are sweet as paramours!
Stay! is there naught some wanton wight
May do to excite the glamoured knight?

Yea! the song takes a sea-wild swell ;
   The dance moves in a mystic web;
Strange lights abound and terrible;
   The life that flowed is out at ebb.

The lights are gone; the night is come;
   The lads and lasses sink, awaiting
Some climax—oh, how tense and dumb
   The expectant hush intoxicating!
Hush! the heart's beat! Across the moor
Some dreadful god rides fast, be sure!

The listening Palamede bites through
   His thin white lips—what hoofs are those?
Are they the Quest? How still and blue
   The sky is! Hush—God knows—God knows!

Then on a sudden in the midst of them
   Is a swart god, from hoof to girdle a goat,
Upon his brow the twelve-star diadem
   And the King's Collar fastened on his throat.

Thrill upon thrill courseth through Palamede.
   Life, life, pure life is bubbling in his blood.
All youth comes back, all strength, all joy indeed
   Flaming within that throbbing spirit-flood!
Yet was his heart immeasurably sad,
For that no questing in his ear he had.

Nay! he saw all. He saw the Curse
   That wrapped in ruin the World primæval.
He saw the unborn Universe,
   And all its gods coeval.
He saw, and was, all things at once
   In Him that is; he was the stars,
The moons, the meteors, the suns,
   All in one net of triune bars;
Inextricably one, inevitably one,
   Immeasurable, immutable, immense
Beyond all the wonder that his soul had won
   By sense, in spite of sense, and beyond sense.
"Praise God!" quoth Palamede, "by this
I attain the uttermost of bliss. . . .

God's wounds! but that I never sought.
   The Questing Beast I sware to attain
And all this miracle is naught.
   Off on my travels once again!

I keep my youth regained to foil
Old Time that took me in his toil.
I keep my strength regained to chase
   The Beast that mocks me now as then
Dear Christ! I pray Thee of Thy grace
Take pity on the forlorn case
   Of Palamede the Saracen!"

XL
SIR PALAMEDE the Saracen
   Hath seen the All; his mind is set
To pass beyond that great Amen.

Far hath he wandered; still to fret
   His soul against that Soul. He breaches
The rhododendron forest-net,

His body bloody with its leeches.
   Sternly he travelleth the crest
Of a great mountain, far that reaches

Toward the King-snows; the rains molest
   The knight, white wastes updriven of wind
In sheets, in torrents, fiend-possessed,

Up from the steaming plains of Ind.
   They cut his flesh, they chill his bones:
Yet he feels naught; his mind is pinned

To that one point where all the thrones
   Join to one lion-head of rock,
Towering above all crests and cones

That crouch like jackals. Stress and shock
   Move Palamede no more. Like Fate
He moves with silent speed. They flock,

The Gods, to watch him. Now abate
   His pulses; he threads through the vale,
And turns him to the mighty gate,

The glacier. Oh, the flowers that scale
   Those sun-kissed heights! The snows that crown
The quartz ravines! The clouds that veil

The awful slopes! Dear God! look down
   And see this petty man move on,
Relentless as Thine own renown,

Careless of praise or orison,
   Simply determined. Wilt Thou launch
(This knight's presumptuous head upon)

The devastating avalanche?
   He knows too much, and cares too little!
His wound is more than Death can staunch.

He can avoid, though by one tittle,
   Thy surest shaft! And now the knight,
Breasting the crags, may laugh and whittle

Away the demon-club whose might
   Threatened him. Now he leaves the spur;
And eager, with a boy's delight,

Treads the impending glacier.
   Now, now he strikes the steep black ice
That leads to the last neck. By Her

That bore the Lord, by what device
   May he pass there? Yet still he moves,
Ardent and steady, as if the price

Of death were less than life approves,
   As if on eagles' wings he mounted,
Or as on angels' wings—or love's!

So, all the journey he discounted,
   Holding the goal. Supreme he stood
Upon the summit; dreams uncounted,

Worlds of sublime beatitude!
   He passed beyond. The All he hath touched,
And dropped to vile desuetude.

What lay beyond? What star unsmutched
   By being? His poor fingers fumble,
And all the Naught their ardour clutched,

Like all the rest, begins to crumble.
   Where is the Beast? His bliss exceeded
All that bards sing of or priests mumble;

No man, no God, hath known what he did.
   Only this baulked him—that he lacked
Exactly the one thing he needed.

"Faugh!" cried the knight. "Thought, word, and act
   Confirm me. I have proved the quest
Impossible. I break the pact.

Back to the gilded halls, confessed
   A recreant! Achieved or not,
This task hath earned a foison—rest.

In Caerlon and Camelot
   Let me embrace my fellow-men!
To buss the wenches, pass the pot,
Is now the enviable lot
   Of Palamede the Saracen!"

XLI
SIR ARTHUR sits again at feast
   Within the high and holy hall
Of Camelot. From West to East

The Table Round hath burst the thrall
   Of Paynimrie. The goodliest gree
Sits on the gay knights, one and all;

Till Arthur: "Of your chivalry,
   Knights, let us drink the happiness
Of the one knight we lack" (quoth he) ;

"For surely in some sore distress
   May be Sir Palamede." Then they
Rose as one man in glad liesse

To honour that great health. "God's way
   Is not as man's" (quoth Lancelot).
"Yet, may God send him back this day,

His quest achieved, to Camelot!"
   "Amen!" they cried, and raised the bowl;
When—the wind rose, a blast as hot

As the simoom, and forth did roll
   A sudden thunder. Still they stood.
Then came a bugle-blast. The soul

Of each knight stirred. With vigour rude,
   The blast tore down the tapestry
That hid the door. All ashen-hued

The knights laid hand to sword. But he
    (Sir Palamedes) in the gap
Was found—God knoweth—bitterly

Weeping. Cried Arthur: "Strange the hap!
   My knight, my dearest knight, my friend!
What gift had Fortune in her lap

Like thee? Embrace me!" "Rather rend
   Your garments, if you love me, sire!"
(Quod he). "I am come unto the end.

All mine intent and my desire,
   My quest, mine oath—all, all is done.
Burn them with me in fatal fire!

For I have failed. All ways, each one
   I strove in, mocked me. If I quailed
Or shirked, God knows. I have not won:

That and no more I know. I failed."
   King Arthur fell a-weeping. Then
Merlin uprose, his face unveiled;

Thrice cried he piteously then
   Upon our Lord. Then shook his head
Sir Palamede the Saracen,

As knowing nothing might bestead,
   When lo! there rose a monster moan,
A hugeous cry, a questing dread,

As if (God's death!) there coursed alone
   The Beast, within whose belly sounds
That marvellous music monotone

As if a thirty couple hounds
   Quested within him. Now, by Christ
And by His pitiful five wounds!—

Even as a lover to his tryst,
   That Beast came questing in the hall,
One flame of gold and amethyst,

Bodily seen then of them all.
   Then came he to Sir Palamede
Nestling to him, as sweet and small

As a young babe clings at its need
   To the white bosom of its mother,
As Christ clung to the gibbet-reed!

Then every knight turned to his brother,
   Sobbing and sighing for great gladness;
And, as they looked on one another,

Surely there stole a subtle madness
   Into their veins, more strong than death:
For all the roots of sin and sadness

Were plucked. As a flower perisheth,
   So all sin died. And in that place
All they did know the Beauteous Breath

And taste the Goodly Gift of Grace
   Then fell the night. Above the baying
Of the great Beast, that was the bass

To all the harps of Heaven a-playing,
   There came a solemn voice (not one
But was upon his knees in praying

And glorifying God). The Son
   Of God Himself—men thought—spoke then.
"Arise! brave soldier, thou hast won

The quest not given to mortal men.
   Arise! Sir Palamede Adept,
Christian, and no more Saracen!

On wake or sleeping, wise, inept,
   Still thou didst seek. Those foolish ways
On which thy folly stumbled, leapt,

All led to the one goal. Now praise
   Thy Lord that He hath brought thee through
To win the quest!" The good knight lays

His hand upon the Beast. Then blew
   Each angel on his trumpet, then
All Heaven resounded that it knew

Sir Palamede the Saracen
   Was master! Through the domes of death,
Through all the mighty realms of men

And spirits breathed the Beauteous Breath:
   They taste the Goodly Gift of Grace.
—Now 'tis the chronicler that saith:

Our Saviour grant in little space
   That also I, even I, be blest
Thus, though so evil is my case—

Let them that read my rime attest
   The same sweet unction in my pen—
That writes in pure blood of my breast;

For that I figure unto men
   The story of my proper quest
   As thine, first Eastern in the West,
Sir Palamede the Saracen!