King Arthur: Book 12 of 12

[blood through Gwynedd’s chiefs] This prediction refers to the marriage of the daughter of Griffith ap Llewellyn (Prince of Gwynedd, or North Wales, whose name and fate are not unfamiliar to those who have read the romance of "Harold, the Last of the Saxon Kings") with Fleance. From that marriage descended the Stuarts, and indeed the reigning family of Great Britain.

Father of the Slain, Valfader.—Odin.

Faul is indeed the name of one of the malignant Powers peculiarly dreaded by the Saxons,—a name that I cannot discover to have been known to the other branches of the Great Teuton Family.

[Flaming Sword] "And the last Fire-God, and the Flaming Sword," i. e., Surtur the genius, who dwells in the region of fire (Muspelheim), whose flaming sword shall vanquish the gods themselves in the last day. (PROSE EDDA.)

[Genius] Whether or not the Fairy of Great Britain and Ireland be of Celtic or Pictish origin, in the rude shape she assumes in the simplest legends;—so soon as she appears in the romance of that later period in which Arthur was the popular hero, she betrays unequivocal evidence of her identity with the Persian Peri. The Genius is still more obviously the creation of the East.

Gladsheim, Heaven; Walhalla, ("the Hall of the Chosen,") did not exclude brave foes who fell in battle.
  Harold’s disdain of the notions of the Saxon Priesthood when they oppose his own purpose or offend his native humanity, is in accordance with many anecdotes of the fierce followers of Odin, who, like the heroes of the Iliad, are at one time represented as submissively respectful to soothsayer and omen,—and, at another, as haughtily scornful of both.
  In the distinctions, however, between the manly belief of Harold and the more servile superstition of Crida, it is intended to intimate the qualities and impressions from which the Christian religion would make its earliest proselytes. We must remember, that it was not very long after the date, which the establishment of the Mercian kingdom fixes to the events of this poem, that the various kings of the Heptarchy were converted.

"Her sisters tremble," &c., that is, the other two Fates (The Present and Past) tremble at the Well of Life.

The Scin Læca, or shining corpse, that was seen before the bautasten, or burial-stone of a dead hero, was supposed to possess prophetic powers, and to guard the treasures of the grave.

[lineage] According to Welch genealogists Arthur left no son; and I must therefore invite the believer in Merlin’s prophecy, to suppose that it was by a daughter that Arthur’s line was continued, and the royalty of Britain restored to the Cymrian kings, through the House of Tudor.

Managarm, the Monster Wolf (symbolically, WAR). "He will be filled with the blood of men who draw near their end," &c. (PROSE EDDA.)

Muspell, Fire; Muspelheim, the region of Fire, the final destroyer.

Vingolf. Literally, "the Abode of Friends;" the name for the place in which the heavenly goddesses assemble.

[Wild Wales] "Their Lord they shall praise,
                            And their language they shall preserve;
                        Their land they shall lose,
                            Except Wild Wales!”
                                           PROPHECY OF TALIESSIN.
 
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King Arthur: Book 12 of 12

ARGUMENT.
 
Preliminary Stanzas—Scene returns to Carduel—A day has passed since the retreat of the Saxons into their encampment—The Cymrians take advantage of the enemy’s inactivity, to introduce supplies into the famished city—Watch all that day, and far into the following night, is kept round the corpse of Caradoc—Before dawn, the burial takes place—The Prophet by the grave of the Bard—Merlin’s address to the Cymrians, whom he dismisses to the walls, in announcing the renewed assault of the Saxons—Merlin then demands a sacrifice from Lancelot—gives commissions to the two sons of Faul the Aleman, and to Faul himself—The scene changes to the Temple Fortress of the Saxons—The superstitious panic of the heathen hosts at their late defeat—The magic divinations of the Runic priests—The magnetic trance of the chosen Soothsayer—The Oracle he utters—He demands the blood of a Christian maid—The pause of the priests and the Pagan king—The abrupt entrance of Genevieve—Crida’s joy—The priests demand the Victim—Genevieve’s Christian faith is evinced by the Cross which the Nun had hung round her neck—Crida’s reply to the priests—They dismiss one of their number to inflame the army, and so insure the sacrifice—The priests lead the Victim to the Altar, and begin their hymn, as the Soothsayer wakes from his trance—The interruption and the compact—Crida goes from the temple to the summit of the tower without—The invading march of the Saxon troops under Harold described—The light from the Dragon Keep—The Saxons scale the walls, and disappear within the town—The irruption of flames from the fleet—The dismay of that part of the army that had remained in the camp—The flames are seen by the rest of the heathen army in the streets of Carduel—The approach of the Northmen under Gawaine—The light on the Dragon Keep changes its hue into blood-red, and the Prophet appears on the height of the Tower—The retreat of the Saxons from the city—The joy of the Chief Priest—The time demanded by the compact has expired—He summons Crida to complete the sacrifice—Crida’s answer—The Priest rushes back into the Temple—The offering is bound to the Altar—Faul! the gleam of the enchanted glaive—The appearance of Arthur—The War takes its last stand within the heathen temple—Crida and the Teuton kings—Arthur meets Crida hand to hand—Meanwhile Harold saves the Gonfanon, and follows the bands under his lead to the river side—He addresses them, re-forms their ranks, and leads them to the brow of the hill—His embassy to Arthur—The various groups in the heathen temple described—Harold’s speech—Arthur’s reply—Merlin’s prophetic addresses to the chiefs of the two races—The End.

I.
FLOW on, flow on, fair Fable’s happy stream,
   Vocal for aye with Eld’s first music-chaunt,
Where, mirrored far adown the crystal, gleam
   The golden domes of Carduel and Romaunt;
Still one last look on Knighthood’s peerless ring;—
On moonlit Dream-land and the Dragon King!—

II.
Detain me yet among the lovely throng
   Of forms ideal, thou melodious spell!
Still, to the circle of enchanted song,
   Charm the high Mage of Druid parable;
The Fairy, bard-led from her Caspian Sea,
And Genius, lured from caves in Araby!
 
III.
Tho’ me, less fair if less familiar ways,
   Sought in the paths by earlier steps untrod,
Allure;—yet ever, in the enchanted maze,
   The flowers afar perfume the virgin sod;
Do but one leaf in fairy gardens cull,
And round thee opens all the Beautiful!
 
IV.
Alas! the sunsets of our Northern main
   Soon lose the tints Hesperian Fancy weaves;
Soon the sweet river feels the icy chain,
   And haunted forests shed their murmurous leaves;
The bough must wither, and the bird depart,
And winter freeze the world—as life the heart!
 
V.
A day had passed since first the Saxons fled
   Before the Christian, and their war lay still;
From morn to eve the Cymrian riders spread
   Where flocks yet graze on some remoter hill,
Pale, on the walls, fast-sinking Famine waits,
When hark, the droves come lowing thro’ the gates!
 
VI.
Yet still, the corpse of Caradoc around,
   All day, and far into the watch of night,
The grateful victors guard the sacred ground;
   But in that hour when all his race of light
Leace Eos lone in heaven,—earth’s hollow breast
Oped to the dawn-star and the singer’s rest.
 
VII.
Now, ere they lowered the corpse, with noiseless tread
   Still as a sudden shadow, Merlin came
Thro’ the armed crowd; and paused before the dead,
   And, looking on the face, thrice called the name.
Then, hushed, thro’ all an awed compassion ran,
And all gave way to the old quiet man.
 
VIII.
For Cymri knew that of her children none
   Had, like the singer, loved the lonely sage;
All felt, that there a father called a son
   Out from that dreariest void,—bereavëd age;
Forgot the dread renown, the mystic art,
And saw but sacred there—the human heart!
 
IX.
And thrice the old man kist the lips that smiled,
   And thrice he called the name,—then to the grave,
Hushed as the nurse that bears a sleeping child
   To its still mother’s breast,—the form he gave:
With tender hand composed the solemn rest,
And laid the harp upon the silent breast.
 
X.
And then he sate him down, a little space
   From the dark couch, and so, of none took heed;
But lifting to the twilight skies his face,
   That secret soul which never man could read,
Far, as the soul it missed, from human breath,
Rose—where Thought rises when it follows Death!
 
XI.
And swells and falls in gusts the funeral dirge
   As hollow falls the mould, or swells the mound;
And (Cymri’s warlike wont) upon the verge,
   The orbëd shields are placed in rows around;
Now o’er the dead, grass waves;—the rite is done;
And a new grave shall greet a rising sun.
 
XII.
Then slowly turned, and calmly moved, the sage,
   On the Bard’s grave his stand the Prophet took.
High o’er the crowd, in all his pomp of age
   August, a glory brightened from his look;
Hope flashed in eyes illumined from his own,
Bright, as if there some sure redemption shone.
 
XIII.
Thus spoke the Seer: “Hosannah to the brave;
   Reverence the richest heirlooms of your land;
Reverence the mound of every hero’s grave;
   Reverence the faith which arms the swordless hand;
Reverence the martyr conquering where he bleeds;
And praise no song which prompts not noble deeds!
 
XIV.
“Cymrians, the sun yon towers will scarcely gild,
   Ere war will scale them.   Here, your task is o’er.
Your walls your camp, your streets your battle-field;
   Each house a fortress!—One strong effort more
For God, for Freedom—for your shrines and homes!
After the Martyr the Deliverer comes.”
 
XV.
He ceased; and such the reverence of the crowd,
   No lip presumed to question.   Wonder hushed
Its curious guess, and only Hope aloud
   Spoke in the dauntless shout: each cheek was flushed;
Each eye was bright;—each heart beat high; and all
Ranged in due ranks, resought the shattered wall:
 
XVI.
Save only four, whom to that holy spot
   The Prophet’s whisper stayed:—of these, the one
Of knightly port and arms, was Lancelot;
   But in the ruder three, with garments won
From the wild beast,—long haired, large limbed, agen
See Rhine’s strong sons, the convert Alemen!
 
XVII.
When these alone remained beside the mound,
   The Prophet drew apart the Paladin,
And said, “What time, feud, worse than famine, found
   The Cymrian race, like some lost child of sin
That courts, yet cowers from, death;—serene thro’ all
The jarring factions of the maddening hall,
 
XVIII.
“Thou didst in vain breathe high rebuke to pride,
   With words sublimely proud.   ‘No post the man
Ennobles;—man the post! did He who died
   To crown in death the end His birth began,
Assume the sceptre when the cross He braved?
Did He wear purple in the world He saved?  
 
XIX.
“‘Ye clamour which is worthiest of command,—
   Place me, whose fathers led the hosts of Gaul,
Amongst the meanest children of your land;
   Let me owe nothing to my fathers,—all
To such high deeds as raised, ere kings were known,
The boldest savage to the earliest throne!’
 
XX.
“But none did heed thee, and in scornful grief
   Went thy still footsteps from the raging hall,
Where by the altars of the bright Belief
   That spans this cloud-world when its sun-showers fall,
She, thine in heaven, at least, assured to be,
Prayed not for safety but for death with thee.
 
XXI.
“There, by the altar, did ye join your hands,
   And in your vow, scorning malignant Time,
Ye plighted two immortals! in those bands
   Hope still wove flowers,—but earth was not their clime;
Then to the breach alone, resigned, consoled,
Went Gaul’s young hero.—Art thou now less bold?
 
XXII.
“Thy smile replies!   Know, while we speak, the King
   Is on the march; each moment that delays
The foeman, speeds the conqueror on its wing;
   If, till the hour is ripe, the Saxon stays
His rush, then idly wastes it on our wall,
Not ours the homes that burn, the shrines that fall!
 
XXIII.
“But that delay vouchsafed not—comes in vain
   The bright achiever of enchanted powers;
He comes a king,—no people but the slain,
   And his throne sinks amidst his crashing towers,
This is not all; for him, the morn is rife
With one dire curse that threatens more than life;
 
XXIV.
“A curse which, launched, will wither every leaf
   In victory’s crown, chill youth itself to age:
Here magic fails—for over love and grief
   There is no glamour in the brazen page.
Born of the mind, o’er mind extends mine art;—
Beyond its circle beats the human heart!—
 
XXV.
“Delay the hour—save Carduel for thy king;
   Avert the curse; from misery save thy brother!”
“Thrice welcome Death,” cried Lancelot, “could it bring
   The bliss to bless mine Arthur!   As the mother
Lives in her child, the planet in the sky,
Thought in the soul, in Arthur so live I.”
 
XXVI.
“Prepare,” the Seer replied, “be firm!—and yield
   The maid thou lovëst to her Saxon sire.”
Like a man lightning-stricken, Lancelot reeled,
   And as if blinded by intolerant fire,
Covered his face with his convulsive hand,
And groaned aloud, “What woe dost thou demand?

XXVII.
"Yield her! and wherefore? Cruel as thou art!
   Can Cymri's king or Carduel's destiny
Need the lone offering of a loving heart,
   Nothing to kings and states, but all to me?"
"Son," said the prophet, "Can the human eye
Trace by what wave light quivers from the sky;
 
XXVIII.
“Explore some thought whose utterance shakes the earth
   Along the airy galleries of the brain;
Or can the human judgment gauge the worth
   Of the least link in Fate’s harmonious chain?
Here doubt is cowardice—here trust is brave;
Doubt, and desert thy king;—believe and save.”
 
XXIX.
Then Lancelot fixed his keen eyes on the sage,
   And said, “Am I the sacrifice, or she?
Risks she no danger from the heathen’s rage,
   She, the new Christian?”—“Danger more with thee!
Will blazing roofs and trampled altars yield
A shelter surer than her father’s shield?
 
XXX.
“If mortal schemes may foil the threatening hour,
   Thy heart’s reward shall crown thine honour’s test;
And the same fates that crush the heathen power
   Restore the Christian to the conqueror’s breast;
Yea, the same lights that gild the nuptial shrine
Of Arthur, shed a beam as blest on thine!”
 
XXXI.
“I trust and I submit,” said Lancelot,
   With pale firm lip. “Go thou—I dare not—I!
Say, if I yield, that I abandon not;
   Her form may leave a desert to my eye,
But here—but here!”—No more his lips could say,
He smote his bleeding heart, and went his way!
 
XXXII.
The Enchanter, thoughtful, turned, and on the grave
   His look relaxing fell.—“Ah, child, lost child!
To thy young life no youth harmonious gave
   Music; no love thine exquisite griefs beguiled;
Thy soul’s deep ocean hid its priceless pearl;—
And he is loved, and yet repines! O churl!”
 
XXXIII.
And murmuring thus, he saw below the mound
   The stoic brows of the stern Alemen,
Their gaunt limbs strewn supine along the ground,
   Still as gorged lions couched before the den,
After the feast; their life no medium knows,
Here, headlong conflict, there, inert repose!
 
XXXIV.
“Which of these feet could overtake the roe?
   Which of these arms could grapple with the bear?”
“My first-born,” answered Faul, “outstrips the roe;
   My youngest crushes in his grasp the bear.”
“Thou, then, the swift one, gird thy loins, and rise;
See o’er the lowland where the vapour lies,
 
XXXV.
“Far to the right, a mist from Sabra’s wave;
   Amidst that haze explore a creek rush-grown,
Screened from the waters less remote, which lave
   The Saxon’s anchored barks, and near a lone
Grey crag where bitterns boom; within that creek
Gleams thro’ green boughs a galley’s brazen peak;
 
XXXVI.
“This gained, demand the chief, a Christian knight,
   The bear’s rough mantle o’er his rusted mail;
Tell him from me, to tarry till a light
   Burst from the Dragon keep;—then crowd his sail,
Fire his own ship—and, blazing to the bay,
Cleave thro’ yon fleet his red destroying way;
 
XXXVII.
“No arduous feat: the galleys are unmanned,
   Moored each to each; let fire consume them all!
Then, the shore won, lead hitherwards the band
   Between the Saxon camp and Cymrian wall.
What next behoves, the time itself will show,
Here counsel ceases;—there, ye find the foe!”
 
XXXVIII.
Heard the wild youth, and no reply made he,
   But braced his belt and griped his spear, and straight
As the bird flies, he flew.   “My son, to thee,”
   Next said the Prophet, “a more urgent fate
And a more perilous duty are consigned;
Mark, the strong arm requires the watchful mind.
 
XXXIX.
“Thou hast to pass the Saxon sentinels;
   Thou hast to thread the Saxon hosts alone;
Many are there whom thy far Rhine expels
   His swarming war-hive,—and their tongue thine own;
Take from yon Teuton dead the mailed disguise,
Thy speech shall dupe their ears, thy garb their eyes;
 
XL.
“The watch-pass ‘Vingolf’ wins thee thro’ the van,
   The rest shall danger to thy sense inspire,
And that quick light in the hard sloth of man
   Coiled, till sharp need strike forth the sudden fire.
The encampment traversed, where the woods behind
Slope their green gloom, thy stealthy pathway wind;
 
XLI.
“Keep to one leftward track, amidst the chase
   Cleared for the hunter’s sport in happier days;
Till, scarce a mile from the last tent, a space
   Clasping grey crommell stones, will close the maze.
There, in the centre of that Druid ring,
Armed men will stand around the Cymrian King:—
 
XLII.
“Tell him to set upon the tallest pine
   Keen watch, and wait, until from Carduel’s tower,
High o’er the wood, a starry light shall shine;
   Not that the signal, tho’ it nears the hour,
But when the light shall change its hues, and form
One orb blood-dyed, as sunsets red with storm;
 
XLIII.
“Then, while the foe their camp unguarded leave,
   And round our walls their tides tempestuous roll,
To yon wood pile, the Saxon fortress, cleave;
   Be Odin’s Idol the Deliverer’s goal.
Say to the King, ‘In that funereal fane
Complete thy mission, and thy guide regain!’”
 
XLIV.
While spoke the seer, the Teuton’s garb of mail
   The son of Faul had donned, and bending now,
He kist his father’s cheek.—“And if I fail,”
   He murmured, “leave thy blessing on my brow,
My father!”   Then the convert of the wild
Looked up to Heaven, and mutely blessed his child.
 
XLV.
“Thou, under flag of Truce,” to Faul, then said
   The Prophet Sage—“wilt to Earl Harold’s tent
Conduct his child;—and in that mission aid
   Thine Arthur more than all the warriors lent
By Rhine or Baltic to his hour of need—
Or, if thou fail, leave him forlorn indeed.
 
XLVI.
“Scarcely will Harold have embraced his child
   Ere both will hasten to the Heathen fane
About with Christian blood to be defiled;
   Follow, with stealthy steps, the Saxon Thane,
Midst the fierce passions and the motley throng
Unheeded, glide the impious floors along;
 
XLVII.
And, safely screened the Idol God behind,
   Keep watch, with unseen hand on secret dart,
Till, when for sacrifice the butchers bind
   The victim,—do as tells thee thine own heart.
Be patient, wary, not in vain be brave;
And when thou strikëst, only strike to save.”
 
XLVIII.
To Crida’s camp the swift song rushing flies;
   Round Odin’s shrine wild priests, rune-mutterïng,
Task the weird omens hateful to the skies;
   Pale by the idol stands the grey-haired king;
And, from without, the unquiet armament
Booms, in hoarse surge, its chafing discontent.
 
XLIX.
For in defeat—when first that multitude
   Shrunk from a foe, and fled the Cymrian sword,—
The pride of man the wrath of gods had viewed;
   Religious horror smote the palsied horde;
The field refused, till priest, and seid, and charm,
Explore the offence, and wrath divine disarm.
 
L.
All day, all night, glared fires, dark-red and dull
   With mystic gums, before the Teuton god,
And waved o’er runes which Mimer’s trunkless skull
   Had whispered Odin—the Diviner’s rod;
And rank with herbs which baleful odours breathed,
The bubbling hell-juice in the caldron seethed.
 
LI.
Now tow’rds that hour when into coverts dank
   Slinks back the wolf; when to her callow brood
Veers, thro’ still boughs, the owl; when from the bank
   The glow-worm wanes; when heaviest droops the wood,
Ere the faint twitter of the earliest lark,—
Ere dawn creeps chill and timorous thro’ the dark;
 
LII.
About that hour, of all the dreariest,
   A flame leaps up from the dull fire’s repose,
And shoots weird sparks along the runes, imprest
   On stone and elm-bark, ranged in ninefold rows;
The purpling seid the vine’s deep flush assumes,
And the strong venom coils in maddening fumes.
 
LIII.
Pale grew the elect Diviner’s haggard brows;
   Swelled the large veins, and writhed the foaming lips;
And as some swart and fateful planet grows
   Athwart the disk to which it brings eclipse;
So that strange Pythian madness whose control
Seems half to light and half efface the soul,
 
LIV.
Broke from the horror of his glaring look;
   His breath that died in hollow gusts away;
Seized by the grasp of unseen tempests, shook
   To its rackt base the spirit-house of clay;
Till the dark Power made firm the crushing spell;
And from the man burst forth the voice of hell.
 
LV.
“The god—the god! lo, on his throne he reels!
   Under his knit brows glow his wrathful eyes!
At his dread feet a spectral Valkyr kneels,
   And shrouds her face!   And cloud is in the skies,
And neither sun nor star, nor day nor night,
But in the sky a steadfast Cross of Light!
 
LVI.
“The god—the god! hide, hide me from his gaze!
   Its awful anger burns into the brain!
Spare me, O spare me!   Speak, thy child obeys!
   What rites appease thee, Father of the Slain?
What direful omen do these signs foreshow?
What victim ask’st thou?   Speak; the blood shall flow!”
 
LVII.
Sunk the Possest One—writhing with wild throes;
   And one appalling silence dusked the place,
As with a demon’s wing. Anon, arose,
   Calm as a ghost, the soothsayer: form and face
Rigid with iron sleep; and hollow fell
From stonelike lips the hateful oracle.
 
LVIII.
“A cloud, where Nornas nurse the thunder, lowers,
   A curse is cleaving to the Teuton race;
 Before the Cross the stricken Valkyr cowers;
   The Herr-god trembles on his columned base;
A virgin’s loss aroused the Teuton strife;
A virgin’s love hath charmed the Avenger’s life;
 
LIX.
“A virgin’s blood alone averts the doom;
   Revives the Valkyr, and preserves the god.
Whet the quick steel—she comes, she comes, for whom
   The runes glowed blood-red to the soothsayer’s rod!
O king, whose wrath the Odin-born arrayed,
Regain the lost, and yield the Christian maid!”

LX.
As if that voice had quickened some dead thing
   To give it utterance, so, when ceased the sound,
The dull eye fixed, and the faint shuddering
   Stirred all the frame; then sudden on the ground
Fell heavily the lumpish inert clay,
From which the demon noiseless rushed away.
 
LXI.
Then the grey priests and the grey king creep near
   The corpselike man; and sit them mutely down
In the still fire’s red vapourous atmosphere;
   The bubbling caldron sings and simmers on;
And thro’ the reeks that from the poison rise,
Looks the wolf’s blood-lust from those cruel eyes.
 
LXII.
So sat they, musing fell;—when hark, a shout
   Rang loud from rank to rank, re-echoing deep;
Hark to the tramp of multitudes without;
   Near and more near the thickening tumults sweep;
King Crida wrathful rose; “What steps profane
Thy secret thresholds, Father of the Slain?”
 
LXIII.
Frowning he strode along the lurid floors,
   And loud, and loud the invading footsteps ring;
His hand impetuous flings apart the doors:—
   “Who dare insult the god, and brave the king?”
Swift thro’ the throng a bright-haired vision came;
Those stern lips falter with a daughter’s name!
 
LXIV.
Those hands uplifted, or to curse or smite,
   Fold o’er a daughter’s head their tremulous joy!
Oh, to the natural worship of delight,
   How came the monstrous dogma—to destroy?
Sure, Heaven foreshowed its gospel to the wild
In earth’s first bond—the father and the child!
 
LXV.
While words yet failed the bliss of that embrace,
   The muttering priests, unmoved, each other eyed;
Then to the threshold came their measured pace:—
   “Depart, Profane,” their Pagan pontiff cried,
“Depart, Profane, too near your steps have trod
To altars darkened with an angry God.
 
LXVI.
“Dire are the omens!   Skulda rides the clouds,
   Her sisters tremble at the Urdar spring;
The hour demands us—shun the veil that shrouds
   The priests, the god, the victim, and the king.”
Shuddering, the crowds retreat, and whispering low,
Spread the contagious terrors where they go.
 
LXVII.
Then the stern Elders came to Crida’s side,
   And from their lockt embrace unclasped his hands:
“Lo,” said their chieftain, “ how the gods provide
   Themselves the offering which the shrine demands!
By Odin’s son be Odin’s voice obeyed;
The lost is found—behold, and yield the maid!”
 
LXVIII.
As when some hermit saint, in the old day
   Of the soul’s giant war with Solitude,
From some bright dream which rapt his life away
   Amidst the spheres—unclosed his eyes, and viewed,
‘Twixt sleep and waking, vaguely horrible,
The grisly tempter of the gothic hell;
 
LXIX.
So, on the father’s bliss abruptly broke
   The dreadful memory of his dismal god;
And his eyes pleading ere his terrors spoke,
   Looked round the brows of that foul brotherhood.
Then his big voice came weak and strangely mild,
“What mean those words?—why glare ye on my child?
 
LXX.
“Do ye not know her? Elders, she is mine,—
   My flesh, my blood, mine age’s youngest-born!
Why are ye mute? Why point to yonder shrine?
   Ay,”—and here, haughty with the joy of scorn,
He raised his front.—“Ay, be the voice obeyed!
Priests, ye forget,—it was a Christian maid!”
 
LXXI.
He ceased, and laughed aloud, as humbled fell
   Those greedy looks, and mutteringly replied
Faint voices, “True, so said the Oracle!”
   When the arch Elder, with an eager stride
Reached child and sire, and cried, “See Crida, there,
On the maid’s breast the cross that Christians wear!”
 
LXXII.
Those looks, those voices, thrilled thro’ Genevieve,
   With fears as yet vague, shapeless, undefined;
“Father,” she murmured, “Father, let us leave
   These dismal precincts; how those eyes unkind
Freeze to my soul; sweet father, let us go;
My heart to thine would speak! why frown’st thou so?”
 
LXXIII.
“Tear from thy breast that sign, unhappy one!
   Sign to thy country’s wrathful gods accurst!
Back, priests of Odin, I am Odin’s son,
   And she my daughter; in my war-shield nurst,
Reared at your altars! Trample down the sign,
O child, and say—the Saxon’s God is mine!”
 
LXXIV.
Infant, who came to bid a war relent,
   And rob ambition of its carnage-prize,
Is it on thee those sombre brows are bent,
   For thee the death-greed in those ravening eyes,
Thy task undone, thy gentle prayer unspoken?
Ay, press the cross: it is the martyr’s token!
 
LXXV.
She prest the cross with one firm faithful hand,
   While one—(that trembled!)—claspt her father’s knees;
As clings a wretch, who sinks in sight of land,
   To reeds swept with him down the whirling seas,
And murmured, “Pardon; Him whose agony
Was earth’s salvation, I may not deny!
 
LXXVI.
“Him who gave God the name I give to thee,
   ‘FATHER,’—in Him, in Christ, is my belief!”
Then Crida turned unto the priests,—“Ye see,”
   Smiling, he said, “that I have done with grief:
Behold the victim! be the God obeyed!
The son of Odin dooms the Christian maid!”
 
LXXVII.
He said, and from his robe he wrenched the hand,
   And, where the gloom was darkest, stalked away.
But whispering low, still pause the hellish band;
   And dread lest Nature yet redeem the prey,
And deem it wise against such chance to arm
The priesthood’s puissance with the host’s alarm;
 
LXXVIII.
To bruit abroad the dark oracular threats,
   From which the Virgin’s blood alone can save;
Gird with infuriate fears the murtherous nets,
   And plant an army to secure a grave;
The whispers cease—the doors one gleam of day
Give—and then close;—the blood-hound slinks away.
 
LXXIX.
Around the victim—where, with wandering hand,
   Thro’ her blind tears, she seems to search thro’ space,
For him who had forsaken,—circling stand
   The solemn butchers; calm in every face
And death in every heart; till from the belt
Stretched one lean hand and grasped her where she knelt.
 
LXXX.
And her wild shriek went forth and smote the shrine,
   Which echoed, shrilling back the sharp despair,
Thro’ the waste gaps between the shafts of pine
   To the unseen father’s ear. Before the glare
Of the weird fire, the sacrifice they chain
To stones imprest with rune and shamble-stain.
 
LXXXI.
Then wait—for so their formal rites compel—
   Till from the trance that still his senses seals,
Awakes the soothsayer of the oracle;
   At length with tortured spasms, and slowly, steals
Back the reluctant life—slow as it creeps
To one hard-rescued from the drowning deeps.
 
LXXXII.
And when from dim, uncertain, swimming eyes
   The gaunt long fingers put the shaggy hair,
And on the priests, the shrine, the sacrifice,
   Dwelt the fixed sternness of the glassy stare,
Before the god they led the demon-man,
And, circling round the two, their hymn began.
 
LXXXIII.
So rapt in their remorseless ecstacy,
   They did not hear the quick steps at the door,
Nor that loud knock, nor that impatient cry;
   Till shook,—till crashed, the portals on the floor,—
Crashed to the strong hand of the fiery thane;
And Harold’s stride came clanging up the fane.—
 
LXXXIV.
But from his side bounded a shape as light
   As forms that glide thro’ Elfheim’s limber air;
Swift to the shrine—where on those robes of white
   The gloomy hell-fires scowled their sullen glare,
Thro’ the death-chaunting choir,—Genevra prest,
And bowed her head upon the victim’s breast;
 
LXXXV.
And cried, “With thee, with thee, to live or die,
   With thee, my Genevieve!” the Elders raised
Their hands in wrath, when from as stern an eye
   And brow erect as theirs, they shrunk amazed—
And Harold spoke, “Ye priests of Odin, hear!
Your gods are mine, their voices I revere.
 
LXXXVI.
“Voices in the winds, in groves, in hollow caves,
   Oracular dream, or runic galdra sought;
But ages ere from Don’s ancestral waves
   Such wizard signs the Scythian Odin brought,
A voice that needs no priesthood’s sacred art,
Some earlier God placed in the human heart.
 
LXXXVII.
“I bow to charms that doom embattled walls;
   To dreams revealing no unworthy foe;
A warrior’s god in Glory’s clarion calls,
   Where war-steeds snort, and hurtling standards flow;
But when weak women for strong men must die,
My Man’s proud nature gives your Gods the lie!
 
LXXXVIII.
“If,—not yon seer by fumes and dreams beguiled,
   But, Odin’s self stood where his image stands,
Against the god I would protect my child!
   Ha, Crida!—come!—thy child in chains!—those hands
Lifted to smite!—and thou, whose kingly bann
Arms nations,—wake, O statue, into man!”
 
LXXXIX.
For from his lair, and to his liegeman’s side
   Had Crida listening strode: When ceased the Thane,
His voice, comprest and tremulous, replied,—
   “The life thou plead’st for doth these shrines profane,
In Odin’s son a father lives no more;
Yon maid adores the God our foes adore.”
 
XC.
“And I—and I, stern king!”—Genevra cries,
   “Her God is mine, and if that faith is crime,
Be just—and take a twofold sacrifice!”
“Cease,” cried the Thane,—“is this, ye Powers, a time
For kings and chiefs to lean on idle blades,—
Our leaders dreamers, and our victims maids?
 
XCI.
“Be varying gods by varying tribes addrest,
   I scorn no gods whom worthy foes adore;
Brave was the arm that humbled Harold’s crest,
   And large the heart that did his child restore.
To all the valiant, Gladsheim’s Halls unclose;
In Heaven the comrades were on Earth the foes.
 
XCII.
“And if our Gods are wrath, what wonder, when
   Their traitor priests creep whispering coward fears;
Unnerve the arms and rot the hearts of men,
   And filch the conquest from victorious spears,—
Yes, reverend Elders, one such priest I found,
And cheered my bandogs on the meaner hound!”
 
XCIII.
“Be dumb, blasphemer,” cried the Pontiff seer,
   “Depart, or dread the vengeance of the shrine:
Depart, or armies from these floors shall hear
   How chiefs can mock what nations deem divine;
Then, let her Christian faith thy daughter boast,
And brave the answer of the Teuton host!”
 
XCIV.
A paler hue shot o’er the hardy face
   Of the great Earl, as thus the Elder spoke;
But calm he answered, “Summon Odin’s race;
   On me and mine the Teuton’s wrath invoke!
Let shuddering fathers learn what priests can dream,
And warriors judge if I their Gods blaspheme!
 
XCV.
“But peace, and hearken.—To the king I speak:—
   With mine own lithsmen, and such willing aid
As Harold’s tromps arouse,—yon walls I seek;
   Be Cymri’s throne the ransom of the maid.
On Carduel’s wall, if Saxon standards wave,
Let Odin’s arms the needless victim save!
 
XCVI.
“Grant me till noon to prove what men are worth,
   Who serve the War-God by the warlike deed;
Refuse me this, King Crida, and henceforth
   Let chiefs more prized the Mercian armies lead;
For I, blunt Harold, join no cause with those
Who, wolves for victims, are as hares to foes!”
 
XCVII.
Scornful he ceased, and leaned upon his sword;
   Whispering, the Priests, and silent, Crida, stood.
A living Thor to that barbarian horde
   Was the bold Thane,—and ev’n the men of blood
Felt Harold’s loss amid the host’s dismay
Would rend the clasp that linked the wild array.
 
XCVIII.
At length out spoke the priestly chief, “The gods
   Endure the boasts, to bow the pride, of men;
The Well of Wisdom sinks in Hell’s abode;
   The Læca shines beside the bautasten,
And truth too oft illumes the eyes that scorned
In the death-flash from which in vain it warned.
 
XCIX.
“Be the delay the pride of man demands
   Vouchsafed, the nothingness of man to show!
The gods unsoftened, march thy futile bands:
   Till noon we spare the victim;—seek the foe!
But when with equal shadows rest the sun—
The altar reddens, or the walls are won!”
 
C.
“So be it,” the Thane replied, and sternly smiled;
   Then towards the sister-twain, with pitying brow,
Whispering he came,—“Fair friend of Harold’s child,
   Let our own gods at least be with thee now;
Pray that the Asas bless the Teuton strife,
And guide the swords that strike for thy sweet life.”
 
CI.
“Alas!” cried Genevieve, “Christ came to save,
   Not slay: He taught the weakest how to die;
For me, for me, a nation glut the grave!
   That nation Christ’s, and—No, the victim I!
Not now for life, my father, see me kneel,
But one kind look,—and then, how blunt the steel!”
 
CII.
And Crida moved not! Moist were Harold’s eyes;
   Bending, he whispered in Genevra’s ear,
“Thy presence is her safety! Time denies
   All words but these;—hope in the brave; revere
The gods they serve;—by acts our faith we test;
The holiest gods are where the men are best.”
 
CIII.
“With this he turned, “Ye priests,” he called aloud,
   “On every head within these walls, I set
Dread weregeld for the compact; blood for blood!”
   Then o’er his brows he closed his bassinet,
Shook the black terrors of his shadowy plume,
And his armed stride was lost amidst the gloom,—
 
CIV.
And still poor Genevieve with mournful eyes
   Gazed on the father, whose averted brows
Had more of darkness for her soul than lies
   Under the lids of death. The murmurous
Priests circled round her, muttering direful prayer
By their fierce shrine, and reddened with its glare.
 
CV.
And still the king stood statue-like apart,
   With arms beneath his mantle’s regal fold,
Lockt o’er the beatings of his human heart,
   Till, with one bound the human heart controlled
The Kingly pride; those arms he tossed on high
And Nature conquered in the Father’s cry:
 
CVI.
Over the kneeling form swept his grey hair;
   On the soft upturned eyes prest his wild kiss;
And then recoiling with a livid stare,
   He faced the priests, and muttered, “Dotage this!
Crida is old,—come—come,” and from the ring
Beckoned their chief, and went forth tottering.
 
CVII.
Out of the fane, up where the stair of pine
   Wound to the summit of the camp’s rough tower,
King Crida passed. On moving armour shine
   The healthful beams of the fresh morning hour;
He hears the barb’s shrill neigh,—the clarion’s swell,
And half his armies march to Carduel.
 
CVIII.
Far in the van, like Odin’s fatal bird
   Winged for its feast, sails Harold’s raven plume.
Now, from the city’s heart a shout is heard,
   Wall, bastion, tower, their steel-clad life resume;
Far shout! faint forms! yet seem they loud and clear
To that strained eyeball and that feverish ear.
 
CIX.
But not on hosts that march by Harold’s side,
   Gazed the stern priest, who stood with Crida there;
On sullen gloomy groupes—discattered wide,
   Grudging the conflict they refused to share,
Or seated round rude tents and pilëd spears,
Circling the mutter of rebellious fears;
 
CX.
Or, near the temple fort, with folded arms
   On their broad breasts, waiting the deed of blood;
On these he gazed—to gloat on the alarms
   That made him monarch of that multitude!
Not one man there had pity in his eye.
And the priest smiled,—then turned to watch the sky.
 
CXI.
And the sky deepened, and the time rushed on.
   And Crida sees the ladders on the wall;
And dust-clouds gather round his gonfanon;
   And thro’ the dust-clouds glittering, rise and fall
The meteor lights of helms, and shields, and glaives;
Up o’er the rampires mount the labouring waves;
 
CXII.
And joyous rings the Saxon’s battle shout;
   And Cymri’s angel cry wails like despair;
And from the Dragon Keep a light shines out,
   Calm as a single star in tortured air,
To whose high peace, aloof from storms, in vain
Looks a lost navy from the violent main.
 
CXIII.
Now on the nearest wall the Pale Horse stands;
   Now from the wall the Pale Horse lightens down;
And flash and vanish, file on file, the bands
   Into the rent heart of the howling town;
And the Priest paling frowned upon the sun,
Though the sky deepened and the time rushed on.
 
CXIV.
When, from the camp around the fane, there rose
   Ineffable cries of wonder, wrath, and fear,
With some strange light that scares the sunshine, glows
   O’er Sabra’s waves the crimsoned atmosphere,
And dun from out the widening, widening glare,
Like Hela’s serpents, smoke-reeks wind thro’ air.
 
CXV.
Forth looks the king, appalled; and, where his masts
   Soar from the verge of the far forest-land,
He hears the crackling, as when vernal blasts
   Shiver Groninga’s pines—“Lo, the same hand,”
Cried the fierce priest, “which swayed the soothsayer’s rod,
Writes now the last runes of thine angry god!”
 
CXVI.
And here and there, and eddying to and fro,
   Confused, distraught, pale thousands spread the plain;
Some snatch their arms in haste and yelling go
   Where the fleets burn; some creep around the fane
Like herds for shelter; prone on earth lie some
Shrieking, “The Twilight of the Gods hath come!”
 
CXVII.
And the great glare hath reddened o’er the town,
   And seems the strife it gildeth to appall;
Flock back dim straggling Saxons, gazing down
   The lurid valleys from the jaggëd wall,
Still as, on Cuthite towers, Chaldæn seers,
When some red portent flamed into the spheres.
 
CXVIII.
And now from brake and copse—from combe and dell,
   Gleams break;—steel flashes;—helms on helms arise;
Faint heard at first,—now near, now thunderous,—swell
   Cymrian commixed with with Baltic battle-cries;
And, loud alike in each,—exulting came
War’s noblest music—a Deliverer’s name.
 
CXIX.
“Arthur!—Woe, Saxons!—Arthur is at hand!”
   And while within the city raged the fight,
On, unresisted, Gawaine leads his band,
   As Merlin’s signal had enjoined the knight.
And now the beacon on the Dragon keep
Springs from pale lustre into hues blood-deep.
 
CXX.
And on that tower stood forth a lonely man;
   Full on his form the beacon-glory fell;
And joy revived each shrinking Cymrian;
   There, the still Prophet watched o’er Carduel!
Back o’er the walls, and back thro’ gate and breach,
Now ebbs the war, like billows from the beach.
 
CXXI.
Along the battlements swift crests arise,
   Swift followed by avenging, smiting brands,
And fear and flight are in the Saxon cries!
   The portals vomit bands on hurtling bands;
And lo, wide streaming o’er the helms,—again
The Pale Horse flings on angry winds its mane!
 
CXXII.
And facing still the foe, but backward borne
   By his own men, towers high one kingliest chief;
Deep thro’ the distance rolls his shout of scorn,
   And the grand anguish of a hero’s grief.
Bounded the Priest!—“The Gods are heard at last!—
Proud Harold flieth;—and the noon is past!
 
CXXIII.
“Come, Crida, come!” Up as from heavy sleep
   The grey-haired giant raised his awful head;
As, after calmest waters, the swift leap
   Of the strong torrent rushes to its bed,—
So the new passion seized and changed the form,
As if the lull had braced it for the storm.
 
CXXIV.
No grief was in the iron of that brow;
   Age cramped no sinew in that mighty arm;
“Go,” he said, sternly, “where it fits thee, thou:
Thy post with Odin—mine with Managarm!
Let priests avert the dangers kings must dare;
My shrine yon Standard, and my Children—there!
 
CXXV.
So from the height he swept—as doth a cloud
   That brings a tempest when it sinks below;
Swift strides a chief amidst the jarring crowd;
   Swift in stern ranks the rent disorders grow;
Swift, as in sails becalmed swells forth the wind,
The wide mass quickens with the one strong mind.
 
CXXVI.
Meanwhile the victim, to the Demon vowed,
   Knelt; every thought winged for the Angel goal,
And ev’n the terror which the form had bowed
   Seemed but to brace the firmness of the soul.
Self was forgotten, and the human fear
Breathed prayer for others to the Eternal Ear.
 
CXXVII.
Up leapt the solemn priests from dull repose:
   The fires were fanned as with a sudden wind;
While shrieking loud, “Hark, hark, the conquering foes!
   Haste, haste, the victim to the altar bind!”—
Rushed to the shrine the haggard Slaughter-Chief.—
As the strong gusts that whirl the fallen leaf
 
CXXVIII.
I’ the month when wolves descend, the barbarous hands
   Plunge on the prey of their delirious wrath,
Wrenched from Genevra’s clasp;—Lo, where she stands,
   On earth no anchor,—is she less like Faith?
The same smile firmly sad, the same calm eye,
The same meek strength;—strength to forgive and die!
 
CXXIX.
“Hear us, O Odin, in this last despair!
   Hear us, and save!” the Pontiff called aloud;
“By the Child’s blood we shed, thy children spare!”
   And the knife glittered o’er the breast that bowed.
Dropped blade;—fell priest!—blood chokes a gurgling groan;
Blood,—blood not Christian, dyes the altar stone!
 
CXXX.
Deep in the DOOMER’S breast it sank—the dart;
   As if from Fate it came invisibly;
Where is the hand?—from what dark hush shall start
   Foeman or fiend?—no shape appalls the eye,
No sound the ear;—ice-locked each coward breath,
The Power the Deathsman called, hath heard him—Death!
 
CXXXI.
While yet the stupor stuns the circle there,
   Fierce shrieks—loud feet—come rushing thro’ the doors;
Women with outstretched arms and tossing hair,
   And flying warriors, shake the solemn floors;
Thick as the birds storm-driven on the decks
Of some lone ship—the last an ocean wrecks.
 
CXXXII.
And where on tumult, tumult whirled and roared,
   Came cries, “The fires around us and behind,
And the last Fire-God, and the Flaming Sword!
   And from without, like that destroying wind
In which the world shall perish, grides and sweeps
VICTORY—swift-cleaving thro’ the battle-deeps!—
 
CXXXIII.
VICTORY, by shouts of terrible rapture known,
   Thro’ crashing ranks it drives in iron rain;
Borne on the wings of fire it blazes on;
   It halts its storm before the fortress fane;
And thro’ the doors, and thro’ the chinks of pine,
Flames its red breath upon the paling shrine.
 
CXXXIV.
Roused to their demon courage by the dread
   Of the wild hour, the priests a voice have found;
To pious horror show their sacred dead,
   Invoke the vengeance, and explore the ground;
When, like the fiend in monkish legends known,
Sprang a grim image on the altar stone!
 
CXXXV.
The wolf’s hide bristled on the shaggy breast,
   Over the brows, the forest buffalo
With horn impending armed the horrid crest,
   From which the swart eye sent its savage glow,
Long shall the Saxon dreams that shape recall,
And ghastly legends teem with tales of FAUL!
 
CXXXVI.
Down from the altar to the victim’s side,
   While yet shrunk back the priests—the savage leapt,
And with quick steel gashed the strong cords that tied;
   When round them both the rallying vengeance swept;
Raised every arm;—O joy!—the enchanted glaive
Shines o’er the threshold! is there time to save?
 
CXXXVII.
Whirls thro’ the air a torch,—it flies—it falls
   Into the centre of the murderous throng;
Dread herald of dread steps! the conscious halls
   Quake where the falchion flames and fleets along;
Thro’ crowd on crowd behold the falchion cleave!—
The Silver Shield rests over Genevieve!
 
CXXXVIII.
Bright as the shape that smote the Assyrian,
   The fulgent splendor from the arms divine
Paled the hell-fires round God’s elected Man,
   And burst like Truth upon the demon-shrine.
Among the thousands stood the Conquering One,
Still, lone, and unresisted as a sun!
 
CXXXIX.
Now thro’ the doors, commingling side by side,
   Saxon and Cymrian struggle hand in hand;
For there the war, in its fast ebbing tide,
   Flings its last prey—there, Crida takes his stand;
There his co-monarchs hail a funeral pyre
That opes Walhalla from the grave of fire.
 
CXL.
And as a tiger, swept adown a flood
   With meaner beasts, that dyes the howling water
Which whirls it onward, with a waste of blood;
   And gripes a stay with fangs that leave the slaughter,—
So where halts Crida, groans and falls a foe—
And deep in gore his steps receding go.
 
CXLI.
And his large sword has made in reeking air
   Broad space thro’ which,—around the golden ring
That crownlike clasps the sweep of his grey hair—
   Shine the tall elms of many a Teuton king,
Ymrick, mild air of Hengist’s giant race,
And Ælla ruthless with an angel’s face,
 
CXLII.
Eldrid enthroned o’er Britain’s lordliest river,
   And Sibert, honoured in Northumbrian homes;
And many a sire whose stubborn soul for ever
   Shadows the field where England’s thunder comes.
High o’er them all his front grey Crida rears,
As some old oak whose crest a forest clears:
 
CXLIII.
High o’er them all, that front fierce Arthur sees,
   And knows the arch invader of the land.
Swift, thro’ the chiefs—swift path his falchion frees;
   Corpse falls on corpse before the avenger’s hand;
For fair haired Ælla, Cantia’s maids shall wail,
Hurled o’er the dead, rings Eldrid’s crashing mail;
 
CXLIV.
His follower’s arms stunn’d Sibert’s might receive,
   And from the death-blow snatch their bleeding lord;
And now behold, O fearful Genevieve,
   O’er thy doomed father shines the charmëd sword!
And shaking, as it shone, the glorious blade,
The hand for very wrath the death delayed.
 
CXLV.
“At last, at last we meet, on Cymri’s soil;
   And foot to foot!   Destroyer of my shrines,
And murderer of my people!   Ay, recoil
   Before the doom thy quailing soul divines!
Ay—turn thine eyes,—nor hosts nor flight can save!
Thy foe is Arthur—and these halls thy grave!”
 
CXLVI.
“Flight,” laughed the king, whose glance had wandered round,
   Where thro’ the throng had pierced a woman’s cry,
“Flight for a chief, by Saxon warriors crowned,
   And from a Walloon!—this is my reply!”
And, ere completed the last scornful word,
Upheaved with both hands lightened down his sword:
 
CXLVII.
Full on the gem the iron drives its course,
   And shattering clinks in splinters on the floor;
The foot unsteadied by the blow’s spent force,
   Slides on the smoothness of the soil of gore;
Gore, quench the blood-thirst! guard, O soil, the guest!
For Freedom’s heel is on the Invader’s breast.
 
CXLVIII.
When, swift beneath the flashing of the blade,
   When, swift before the bosom of the foe,
She sprang, she came, she knelt,—the guardian maid!
   And, startling vengeance from the righteous blow,
Cried, “Spare, Oh spare, this sacred life to me,
A father’s life!—I would have died for thee!”
 
CXLIX.
While thus within, the Christian God prevails,
   Without the idol temple, fast and far,
Like rolling storm-wrecks, shattered by the gales,
   Fly the dark fragments of the Heathen War,
Where thro’ the fires that flash from camp to wave,
Escape the land that locks them in its grave?
 
CL.
When by the Hecla of their burning fleet
   Dismayed amidst the marts of Carduel,
The Saxons rushed without the walls to meet
   The Viking’s swords, which their mad terrors swell
Into a host—assaulted, rear and van,
Scarce smote the foe before the flight began.
 
CLI.
In vain were Harold’s voice, and name, and deeds,
   Unnerved by omen, priest, and shapeless fear,
And less by man than their own barbarous creeds
   Appalled,—a God in every shout they hear,
And in their blazing barks behold unfurled,
The wings of Muspell to consume the world.
 
CLII.
Yet still awhile the heart of the great Thane,
   And the stout few that gird the gonfanon,
Build a steel bulwark on the midmost plain,
   That stems all Cymri,—so Despair fights on.
When from the camp the new volcanoes spring,
With sword and fire he comes,—the Dragon King!
 
CLIII.
Then all, save Harold, shriek to Hope farewell;
   Melts the last barrier; through the clearing space,
On tow’rds the camp the Cymrian chiefs compel
   Their ardent followers from the tempting chace;
Thro’ Crida’s ranks to Arthur’s side they gain,
And blend two streams in one resistless main.
 
CLIV.
True to his charge as chief, mid all disdain
   Of recreant lithsmen—Harold’s iron soul
Sees the storm sweep beyond it o’er the plain;
   And loft duties, yet on earth, controul
The yearnings for Walhalla:—Where the day
Paled to the burning ships—he towered away.
 
CLV.
And with him, mournful, drooping, rent and torn,
   But captive not—the Pale Horse dragged its mane,
Beside the fire-reflecting waves, forlorn,
   As ghosts that gaze on Phlegethon—the Thane
Saw listless leaning o’er the silent coasts,
The spectral wrecks of what at morn were hosts.
 
CLVI.
Tears rushed to burning eyes, and choked awhile
   The trumpet music of his manly voice,
At length he spoke: “And are ye then so vile!
   A death of straw!   Is that the Teuton’s choice?
By all our gods, I hail that reddening sky,
And bless the burning fleets which flight deny!
 
CLVII.
“Lo, yet the thunder clothes the charger’s mane,
   As when it crested Hengist’s helmet crown!
What ye have lost—an hour can yet regain;
   Life has no path so short as to renown!
Shrunk if your ranks,—when first on Albion’s shore
Your sires carved kingdoms, were their numbers more?
 
CLVIII.
“If not your valour, let your terrors speak.
   Where fly?—what path can lead ye from the foes?
Where hide?—what cavern will not vengeance seek?
   What shun ye?   Death?—Death smites you in repose!
Back to your king; from Hela snatch the brave—
We best escape, when most we scorn, the grave.”
 
CLIX.
Roused by the words, tho’ half reluctant still,
   The listless ranks re-form their slow array,
Sullen but stern they labour up the hill,
   And gain the brow!—In smouldering embers lay
The castled camp, and slanting sunbeams shed
Light o’er the victors—quiet o’er the dead.
 
CLX.
Hushed was the roar of war—the conquered ground
   Waved with the glitter of the Cymrian spears;
The temple fort the Dragon standard crowned;
   And Christian anthems pealed on Pagan ears;
The Mercian halts his band—their front surveys;
No fierce eye kindles to his fiery gaze.
 
CLXI.
One dull, disheartened, but not dastard gloom
   Clouds every brow,—like men compelled to die,
Who see no hope that can elude the doom,
   Prepared to fall but powerless to defy.
Not those the ranks, yon ardent hosts to face!
The Hour had conquered earth’s all-conquering race.
 
CLXII.
The leader paused, and into artful show,
   Doubling the numbers with extended wing,
“Here halt,” he said, “to yonder hosts I go
   With terms of peace or war to Cymri’s king.”
He turned, and tow’rds the Victor’s bright array,
With tromp and herald, strode his bitter way.
 
CLXIII.
Before the signs to war’s sublime belief
   Sacred, the host disparts its hushing wave.
Moved by the sight of that renownëd chief,
   Joy stills the shout that might insult the brave;
And princeliest guides the stately foeman bring,
Where Odin’s temple shrines the Christian king.
 
CLXIV.
The North’s fierce idol, rolled in pools of blood,
   Lies crushed before the Cross of Nazareth.
Crouched on the splintered fragments of their god,
   Silent as clouds from which the tempest’s breath
Has gone,—the butchers of the priesthood rest.—
Each heavy brow bent o’er each stony breast.
 
CLXV.
Apart, the guards of Cymri stand around
   The haught repose of captive Teuton kings;
With eyes disdainful of the chains that bound,
   And fronts superb—as if defeat but flings
A kinglier grandeur over fallen power:—
So suns shine larger in their setting hour.
 
CLXVI.
From these remote, unchained, unguarded, leant
   On the gnarled pillar of the fort of pine,
The Saturn of the Titan armament,
   His looks averted from the altered shrine
Whence iron Doom the Antique Faith has hurled,
For that new Jove who dawns upon the world.
 
CLXVII.
And one broad hand concealed the monarch’s face;
   And one lay calm on the low-bended head
Of the forgiving child, whose young embrace
   Clasped that grey wreck of Empire!   All had fled
The heart of pride:—Thrones, hosts, the gods! yea all
That scaled the heaven, strewed Hades with their fall:
 
CLXVIII.
But Natural Love, the household melody,
   Steals through the dearth,—resettling on the breast;
The bird returning with the silenced sky,
   Sings in the ruin, and rebuilds its nest.
Home came the Soother that the storm exiled,—
And Crida’s hand lay calm upon his child.
 
CLXIX.
Beside her sister-saint, Genevra kneeleth,
   Mourning her father’s in her Country’s woes;
And near her, hushing iron footsteps, stealeth
   The noblest knight the wondrous Table knows,—
Whispering low comfort into thrilling ears—
When Harold’s plume floats up the flash of spears.
 
CLXX.
But the proud Earl, with warning hand and eye,
   Repells the yearning arms, the eager start;
Man amidst men, his haughty thoughts deny
   To foes the triumph o’er his father’s heart;
Quickly he turned—where shone amidst his ring
Of subject planets, the Hyperion King.
 
CLXXI.
There Tristan graceful—Agrafayn uncouth,
   And Owaine comely with the battle-scar,
And Geraint’s lofty age, to venturous youth
   Glory and guide, as to proud ships a star,
And Gawaine, sobered to his gravest smile,
Lean on the spears that lighten through the pile.
 
CLXXII.
There stood the stoic Alemen sedate,
   Blocks hewn from man, which love with life inspired;
There, by the Cross, from eyes serene with Fate,
   Looked into space the Mage; and carnage-tired,
On Ægis shields, like Jove’s still’d thunders, lay
Thine ocean giants, Scandinavia!
 
CLXXIII.
But lo, the front, where conquest’s auriole
   Shone, as round Genius marching at the van
Of nations;—where the victories of the soul
   Stamped Nature’s masterpiece, perfected Man:
Fair as young Honour’s vision of a king
Fit for bold hearts to serve, free lips to sing!
 
CLXXIV.
So stood the Christian Prince in Odin’s hall,
   Gathering, in one, Renown’s converging rays;
But, in the hour of triumph, turn, from all
   War’s victor pomp, his memory and his gaze;
Miss that last boon the mission should achieve,
And rest where droops the dove-like Genevieve.
 
CLXXV.
Now at the sight of Mercia’s haughty lord,
   A loftier grandeur calms yet more his brow;
And leaning lightly on his sheathless sword,
   Listening he stood, while spoke the Earl:—“I bow
Not to war’s fortune, but the victor’s fame;
Thine is so large it shields thy foes from shame.
 
CLXXVI.
“Prepared for battle, proffering peace I come,
   On yonder hills eno’ of Saxon steel
Remains, to match the Cymrian Christendom;
   Not slaves with masters, men with men would deal.
We cannot leave your land, our chiefs in gyves,—
While chains gall Saxons, Saxon war survives.
 
CLXXVII.
“Our kings, our women, and our priests release,
   And in their name I pledge—no mean return—
A ransom worthy of both nations—Peace;
   Peace with the Teuton!   On your hills shall burn
No more the beacon; on your fields, no more
The steed of Hengist plunge its hoofs in gore.
 
CLXXVIII.
“Peace while this race remains—our sons, alas,
   We cannot bind—peace with the Mercian men:
This is the ransom.   Take it, and we pass
   Friends from a foeman’s soil; reject it,—then
Firm to this land we cling, as if our own,
Till the last Saxon falls, or Cymri’s throne!”
 
CLXXIX.
Abrupt upon the audience dies the voice,
   And varying passions stir the murmurous groupes;
Here, to the wiser; there, the haughtier choice:
   Youth rears its crest; but age foreboding droops;
Chiefs yearn for fame; the crowds to safety cling;
The murmurs hush, and thus replies the King:—
 
CLXXX.
“Foe, thy proud speech offends no manly ear.
   So would I speak, could our conditions change.
Peace gives no shame, where war has brought no fear;
   We fought for freedom,—we disdain revenge;
The freedom won, no cause for war remains,
And loyal Honour binds more fast than chains.
 
CLXXXI.
“The Peace thus proffered, with accustomed rites,
   Hostage and oath, confirm, ye Teuton kings,
And ye are free!   Where we, the Christians, fight,
   Our Valkyrs sail with healing on their wings;
We shed no blood but for our fatherland.—
And so, frank soldier, take this soldier’s hand.”
 
CLXXXII.
Low o’er that conquering hand, the stately foe
   Bowed the war plumed upon his raven crest;
Caught from those kingly words, one generous glow
   Chaced Hate’s last twilight from each Cymrian breast;
Humbled, the captives hear the fetters fall,
Power’s tranquil shadow—Mercy, awes them all.
 
CLXXXIII.
Dark scowl the Priests;—with vengeance Priestcraft dies;
   Slow looks, where Pride yet struggles, Crida rears;
On Crida’s child rest Arthur’s soft’ning eyes;
   And Crida’s child is weeping happy tears;
And Lancelot, closer at Genevra’s side,
Pales at the compact that may lose the bride.
 
CLXXXIV.
When from the altar by the holy rood,
   Come the deep accents of the Cymrian Mage,
Sublimely bending o’er the multitude
   Brows on which Thought took more command from age,
O’er Druid robes the beard’s broad silver streams,
As when the Vision rose on Virgin dreams.
 
CLXXXV.
“Hearken, ye, Scythia’s and Cimmeria’s sons,
   Whose sires alike by golden rivers dwelt,
When sate the Asas on their hunter thrones;
   When Orient vales rejoiced the shepherd Celt;
While EVE’S young races towards each other drawn,
Roved lingering round the Eden gates of dawn.
 
CLXXXVI.
“Still the old brother-bond in these new homes,
   After long woes, shall bind your kindred races;
Here, the same God shall find the sacred domes;
   And the same land-marks bound your resting-places,
What time, o’er realms to Heus and Thor unknown,
Both Celt and Saxon rear their common throne.
 
CLXXXVII.
“Revere the Word which the Invisible Hand
   Writes on the leaves of kingdom-dooming stars;
Thro’ Prydain’s Isle of Pines, from sea to land,
   Where yet Rome’s eagle leaves the thunder-scars,
The scepter-sword of Saxon kings shall reach,
And new-born nations speak the Teuton’s speech.
 
CLXXXVIII.
“All save thy mountain empire, Dragon King!
   All save the Cymrian’s Ararat—Wild Wales!
Here Cyrmian bards to fame and God shall sing—
   Here Cymrian freemen breathe the hardy gales,
And the same race that Heus the Guardian led,
Rise from these graves—when God awakes the dead!”
 
CXXXIX.
The Prophet paused, and all that pomp of plumes
   Bowed as the harvest which the south wind heaves,
When, while the breeze disturbs, the beam illumes,
   And blessings gladden in the trembling sheaves.
He paused, and thus renewed: “Thrice happy, ye
Founders of shrines and sires of kings to be!
 
CXC.
“Hear, Harold, type of the strong Saxon soul,
   Supple to truth, untameable by force,
Thy dauntless blood thro’ Gwynedd’s chiefs shall roll,
   Thro’ Scotland’s monarchs take its fiery course,
And flow with Arthur’s, in the later days,
Thro’ Ocean-Cæsars, either zone obeys.

CXCI.
“Man of the manly heart, reward the foe
   Who braved thy sword, and yet forbore thy breast,
Who loved thy child, yet could the love forego
   And give the sire;—thy looks supply the rest,
I read thine answer in thy generous glance!
Stand forth—bold child of Christian Chevisaunce!”
 
CXCII.
Then might ye see a sight for smiles and tears,
   Young Lancelot’s hand in Harold’s cordial grasp,
While from his breast the frank-eyed father rears
   The cheek that glows beneath the arms that clasp;
“Shrink’st thou,” he said, “from bonds by fate revealed?—
Go—rock my grandson in the Cymrian’s shield!”
 
CXCIII.
“And ye,” the solemn voice resumed, “O kings!
   Hearken, Pendragon, son of Odin, hear!
There is a mystery in the heart of things,
   Which Truth and Falsehood seek alike with fear,
To Truth from Heaven, to Falsehood breathed from hell,
Comes yet to both the unquiet oracle.
 
CXCIV.
“Not vainly, Crida, priest, and rune, and dream,
   Warned thee of fates commingling into one
The silver river and the mountain stream;
   From Odin’s daughter and Pendragon’s son,
Shall rise those kings who in remotest years
Shall grasp the birthright of the Saxon spears.
 
CXCV.
“The bright decree that seemed a curse to Fate,
   Blesses both races when fulfilled by love;
Saxon, from Arthur shall thy lineage date,
   Thine eagles, Arthur, from thy Saxon dove:
The link of peace let nuptial garlands weave,
And Cymri’s queen be Saxon Genevieve!”
 
CXCVI.
Perplexed, reluctant with the pangs of pride,
   And shadowy doubts from dark religion thrown,
Stern Crida lingering turned his face aside;
   Then rise the elders from the idol stone;
From fallen chains the kindred Teutons spring,
Low murmurs rustle round the moody king;
 
CXCVII.
On priest and warrior, while they whisper, dwells
   The searching light of that imperious eye;
Warrior and priest, the prophet word compels;
   And overmasters like a destiny—
When towards the maid the radiant conqueror drew,
And said, “Enslaver, it is mine to sue!”
 
CXCVIII.
To Crida, then, “Proud chief, I do confess
   The loftier attribute ’tis thine to boast.
The pride of kings is in the power to bless,
   The kingliest hand is that which gives the most;
Priceless the gift I ask thee to bestow,—
But doubly royal is a generous foe!”
 
CXCIX.
Then forth—subdued, yet stately, Crida came,
   And the last hold in that rude heart was won:
“Hero, thy conquest makes no more my shame,
   He shares thy glory who can call thee ‘Son!’
So may this love-knot bind and bless the lands!”
Faltering he spoke—and joined the plighted hands.
 
CC.
There flock the hosts as to a holy ground;
   There, where the dove at last may fold the wing:
His mission ended, and his labours crowned,
   Fair as in fable stands the Dragon King—
Below the Cross, and by his prophet’s side,
With Carduel’s knighthood kneeling round his bride.
 
CCI.
What gallant deeds in gentle lists were done,
   What lutes made joyaunce sweet in jasmine bowers,
Let others tell:—Slow sets the summer sun;
   Slow fall the mists, and closing, droop the flowers;
Faint in the gloaming dies the vesper bell,—
And Dream-land sleeps round golden Carduel.