The Youth of Sir Arthour

* Uther, Pendragon

** "Not so, my Lord, I am too much i' the Sun."-Hamlet

 

 
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The Youth of Sir Arthour

When Uther over Merrie England reigned,   *
A mighty Duke of Cornwall, long held war
Against Pendragon, so was Uther hite;
And he was named, The Duke of Tintagel.
Then Uther, unto Cornwall sent Ambassadors —
To Cornwall, where men said, "The World doth End."
This Uther, charged the Duke to bring with him
A ladie, — fair was she, and passing wise;
Whom much he loved — and she was called Igraine.

So, when the Duke and his fair wife had come
Unto the King, in pomp and power great,
The King, full glad of heart and mad with lust,
Desired her, looking on her greedily;
As looks the forest lion on his prey,
But she was passing virtuous and loved
Her lord alone. She scorned the Monarch's love,
As an unholy thing. The sacrament
Of marriage venerating piously.

Then, to the Duke she said, "My much loved lord,
This worthless King wills to dishonour me —
Aye, not for worship he us twain hath summoned;
But shame to bring, dear lord, on me and thee."
"Dear husband, take my counsel and depart
With me from this vile court's iniquity !
In dead of night we'll ride, through forest glade,
To our own castle, from the king to hide.
The full moon riseth, at the set o' sun
Let us depart, and, through the shady wood,
Steal out." With her wise counsel did her lord
Accord full well-None knowing their intent,
Without attendants, fared they on their way.

And, in the morn, King Uther sent for them,
That they their fast might break; by goodly cheer
Of meat and wine and fruit, to be refreshed.
A servant came, and bending very low,
Said, "O, my Lord the King, thy guests have flown!"
The King was wrath: first mighty oaths he swore,
Then called upon his Privy Counsellors;
And told them bluntly how the birds had flown.

By these advised he sent unto the Duke
This message: "Duke of Tintagel, know now —
Know that thou hast let loose the dogs o' war!
Go garnish thee and stuff thy castle well
With wine and food and fodder for thy steeds.
For, were thy puney Castle even as high
As Snowden, whose high crest is capped with clouds,
I'll root thee from it, as a gardener
Doth dig the wily rat, with iron spade,
From out his hole. For know thee, this is War!"

In Cornwall, had this Uther Castles tall;
They "Terrible" were named and "Tintagel."
Then, with his wife Igraine, to Tintagel
He hied, "We twain will here be safe from ill."
The King had many tents, where warrior bands
May rested be, hath pitched on Cornish land.
But e'er, with dotage, all the night and day,
Of the fair Igraine, he dreamëd constantly.
Then fell he sick and was to death anigh;
Grim death doth come alike to Churl and King.
To whom comes Ulfus, a most noble Knight,
And lo! the noble Knight went questioning, —
"Wherefore, O King! in such a sorry a plight
Hast thou a-fallen? I prithee, tell to me."
To whom the king thus weary answerëd,
"For anger and love of Fair Igraine,
I am oppressëd by a raging pain."
Quoth Ulfus, "Thou shalt soon of pain be free;
For Merlin will I now bring unto thee."

This Merlin was well versed in Magic lore;
And by the stars could destiny foretell:
Time's hoursglass he could stop, its sands could stay.
This cunning rogue, by power of grammarie.
He counsellëd to king, that he might fit
Th' advice to the desire, and often ill
He counsellëd, this knave unscrupulously.

But out of evil, by Divine decree
Doth good arise; therefore he was not hindered
By God, to Uther this advice to give:

"An' thou dost swear to me a sacred oath
That me, in all things, whether good or ill,
Thou wilt obey, by magic, I'll give thee
The fair Igraine, the Count Pendragon's wife."

The King, by Priest was sworn, at Altar kneeling.
Then Merlin was rejoiced: "For now," cried he,
"Igraine thou'llt have; and she shall bear to thee
A son, whom thou must give, my lord, to me."
To this the King assents. When months had flown,
Came there a King to rule o'er all the land
Of England: and this King was Arthour named.

How that, by guile and by false treachery
Igraine was won, the French Romances tell.
But two years thence, King Uther being dead,
E'en, as the poet Virgil very truly said,
"A wayward and a variable thing
Is woman"; so she'll be, while time doth last.
This fair Igraine, a very little while,
Her first lord mourned the Duke of Tintagel;
For she was fickle, as all women are.

It fell upon a day, that Queen Igraine
Conceived and bare a son; then Merlin came —
A wily Necromancer, in whose mind,
Grew plots and schemes, like salads in a shower,
By Merlin's counsel in his lusty youth,
King Arthour knew the lovely wife of Lot
The King of Orkney. But he did not ween
She was his sister; and for this foul crime
Of incest, cursed of God, he ne'er achieved
The Holy Graile, which purity doth gain.
The Good Knight Mallory, in verse hath told:
The true tale; how the sacred Table Round
Was broken; but a later poet wrote
That sin of Guinevere brought fire and flame,
Red ruin and the breaking up of laws.
The facts were otherwise — Fair Guinevere
And Launcelot were ever lovers true:
"They were true lovers," said Sir Mallory,
"Wherefore," he adds, "they came to a good end."

Sir Eltor was a worthy knight and true
A lord of lands in England, and in Wales
Merlin had borne him destined to be King
Arthour, a tiny babe in swaddling clothes.
And to Sir Eltour's wife, the babe was given.
On her own breast, the ladie nourished him,
As her own babe; with all a mother's love.
He, deeming her his mother, loved her well,
And equal love unto Lord Eltor gave.
A holy priest him christened sacredly:
Destined for noble deeds; but not to gain
The Holy Graile, which only for the pure
Achieved may be; but Arthour once had sinned.
'Twas in Saint Paul's Churchyard, at Matin time,
That good Sir Kay, who Arthour's brother was,
A great stone saw and it was wonderful.
He, in his father's house had lost his sword;
Then thought he, "Peradventure I may draw
This sword to take mine's place." A marble stone
Stood by an altar high; and in the stone
And anvil rose, of steel, a full foot high —
Then marvellëd the people mightily,
Upon the sword was written all in gold:
"Who so shall pull this sword from out this stone,
Is righteous born: To rule as England's King."
Then the Archbishop, who was standing by,
Said, "Get ye in the Church, and pray to God,
That none may touch the sword, till prayer be done."
The Masses done, the Lords assembled there
Went out to view the sword, and when they saw
The scripture, some essayed the sword to draw,
But none might move it, "Here there is not one,"
Th' Archbishop said, "who shall the sword achieve;
But doubt not; God will make the right one known,
Who, drawing out the sword, shall be the King.
Let us purvey ten trusty knights of fame
The sword to guard!" Thus the Archbishop said.

Then was there let a cry o'er all the land,
That every Knight right valiantly should try
To win the sword and rule o'er England fair.
On New Year's Day, the Barons of the realm,
Let make a Tournament, where all the Knights,
E'en such as would might Joust, with tourney play,
As on a New Year's Day, the Barons rode,
A great assembly, to the tented field;
And so it happened that Sir Ector rode
Unto the jousts, and with him rode Sir Kay,
His son, with him his nourished brother was,
Young Arthour: but Sir Kay his sword had lost.

"I pray thee Arthour, brother mine," said Kay,
"Ride to our father's house and fetch my sword."
And Arthour answered, "Aye, right willingly!"
But coming home he found an empty house;
For all were gone, the jousting bouts to see.

Then was young Arthour wrath, and "Now," said he,
"I'll ride to Saint Paul's churchyard speedily,
And take the sword that sticketh to the stone."
But when into the churchyard he had gone,
No Knights were there; for still they were at joust.
Lightly he handleth the sword at first;
Then fiercer pulls until the stubborn blade
Came out so swiftly that he with it fell
Backward and on the earth is grovelling lain.
Then to his brother Kay the sword he gives,
"Oh!" cried Sir Ector, "By the Lord, who lives
In Heaven, thou my son shall surely be
A King to rule o'er England's destiny!"
Right glad was Kay. To him Sir Ector said, —
"I pray thee, tell me how ye gat this sword?"
"Sir," said Sir Kay, "I'll tell thee, in a word:
My brother Arthour, brought this blade to me."
"Yea!" Arthour cried, "Here, to this stone came I
And tugged and strained, with ardour mightily,
Till easily I drew the sword." Then said
Sir Ector, "Found ye Knights about the stone?"

"Nay," Arthour said, "Of Knights there was not one."
"Now," cried Sir Ector, "Well I understand,
"Ye must be King and rule o'er all the land."

"Wherefore," said Arthour meekly, "for what cause?"
"Because," quoth Ector, "God will have it so."
"For there should never man this sword have drawn,
But he shall reign as King o'er all this land.
Let me see thee again the sword assay."

Quoth Arthour, "Sir, this is no mastery."
He thrust it in the stone where it had been.
Said Ector to Sir Kay, "The sword assay."
But Ector, though he tugged with might and main,
Failed utterly, "Now, Arthour, you assay."
And Arthour, that bright blade, full easily
Withdraweth from the stone and therewithal
Sir Ector bowed and at his feet must fall
Likewise Sir Kay, both kneeled upon the earth.
But Arthour said, "Dear Sire, and brother mine,
Why kneel ye to me — being of my blood?"
Then Ector told him truly of his birth:
How Uther and Igraine his parents were;
And, how by will of Merlin, he was brought
Unto Sir Ector, to be guarded well;
How Ector's noble lady, on her breast,
Nourished the child, and how King Uther died.
Then clouds of sorrow over Arthour spread.
And, standing in the sun, for shame he said,
"The sun doth blind mine eyes. I do not weep.  **
Thou art my father, in the sight of God;
For in my youth thou never did'st apply
To me the chastening rod — my spirit high
To crush. My mother dear — of mothers all
The best and most beloved. I can recall
A thousand tender memories of ye twain.
But, since o'er merry England I must reign,
Whate'er ye shall desire of me I do!"

Then Ector, "I will ask no more of thee,
Than that you make Sir Kay, thy foster brother,
The Seneschal of all your lands." "Agreed!"
Cried Arthour, "Noble father, it is done."

Then he continued, "All my strength I owe
To thee, who taught me to excel in games.
With bat and balls, in tennis courts to play;
To hunt the deer, to chase the bristling boar;
With horsehair line and angle in my hand,
To snare the speckled trout and scaly salmon
From out a river; and with baying hounds,
Whose notes are as the peal of sonorous bells;
Aye, every sport that makes for manliness.
You taught me too, in joust and tourney game,
With shock of spear to unhorse full many a Knight."
He spake and then was silent, being grieved
For all the greatness that awaited him,
Thus Arthour came to reign upon a throne.