King Arthur: Book 2 of 12

A cathedral church at which Arthur was crowned, and of which Dubricius was arch prelate, already existed at Caerleon, according to the venerable authorities consulted rather by poets than historians.

The EDELINGS were the nobles of the Teutonic races; the GOW or GAU, the district composed of the union of clans (MARCHA), which had its own independent administration, and chose its parliament of delegates (called Graven); and the LITI (whence the modern German word, LEUTE), were the subject population.
 
Gwyn-ab-Nudd, the king of the fairies. He is, also, sometimes less pleasingly delineated, as the king of the infernal regions; the Welch Pluto—much the same as, in the chivalric romance writers, Proserpine is sometimes made the queen of the fairies.

Harold is so familiar to us as a Saxon name, that it has been used as such without scruple; but, in strictness, it is a Scandinavian name, introduced into England by the Danes.
 
The Hirlas, or drinking-horn, (made of the horn of a buffalo, enriched either with gold or silver), was not a vessel peculiar to the Welch; the Scandinavian nations also used it. The Hirlas Song of Owen, Prince of Powys, is familiar to all lovers of Welch literature; the best translation of which I am aware is to be found in the notes to Southey's Madoc.

Mel Ynys, the Isle of Honey (sometimes Vel Ynys, with a more disputed signification), one of the old Welch names for England.
 
[Trojan Brut] Caradoc's version of the descent of Brut differs somewhat from that of Geoffrey of Monmouth, but perhaps it is quite as true. According to Geoffrey, Brut is great-grandson to Æneas, and therefore not expelled from"flaming Troy." Caradoc follows his own (no doubt authentic) legends, also, as to the aboriginal population of the island, which, according to Geoffrey, were giants, not devils. The cursory and contemptuous way in which that delicious Romance writer speaks of these poor giants is inimitable—"Albion à nemine, exceptis paucis gigantibus inhabitabatur."—"Albion was inhabited by nobody—except, indeed, a few giants!"

[witch] MOURGE, or MORGANA (historically ANNA), was Arthur's sister.
 
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King Arthur: Book 2 of 12

ARGUMENT.

Introductory reflections—Arthur's absence—The deliberations of the three friends—Merlin seeks them—The trial of the enchanted forest—Merlin's soliloquy by the fountain—The return of the knights from the forest—Merlin's selection of the one permitted to join the King—The narrative returns to Arthur—The strange guide allotted to him—He crosses the sea, and arrives at the court of the Vandal—Ludovick, the Vandal King, described—His wily questions—Arthur's answers—The Vandal seeks his friend Astutio—Arthur leaves the court—Conference between Astutio and Ludovick—Astutio's profound statesmanship and subtle schemes—The Ambassador from Mercia—His address to Ludovick—The Saxons pursue Arthur—Meanwhile the Cymrian King arrives at the sea-shore—Description of the caves that intercept his progress—He turns inland—The Idol-shrine—The wolf and the priest.
 
I.
SWIFT on the dial shifts the restless shade,
   With each new ray by each new moment won,—
So, when we vanish, does our memory fade
   From hearts reflecting but a present sun;
The tree of life renews each fallen leaf,
And its own comfort lurks in every grief.
 
II.
Doth absence part—"the absent will return,"
   Whispers bland Hope;—but is that absence death?
Doth joy seem buried in the lover’s urn,
   And sorrow ended only with thy breath?
Let but a year, perchance a month, be fled,
And joy survives—’tis sorrow that is dead.
 
III.
In street and mart still plies the busy craft;
   Still Beauty trims for stealthy steps the bower;
By lips as gay the Hirlas horn is quaft;
   To the dark bourne still flies as fast the hour,
As when the many drew delight from one;
And Arthur’s smile was as to flowers the sun.
 
IV.
Thrice blest, O King, that on thy royal head
   Fall the night-dews; that the broad-spreading beech
Curtains thy sleep; that in the paths of dread,
   Lonely, thou wanderest,—so thy steps may reach
The only shore that grows the amaranth tree,
Whose wreaths keep fresh in mortal memory.
 
V.
All is forgot save Poetry; or whether
   Haunting Time's river from the vocal reeds,
Or linked not less in human souls together
   With ends which make the poetry of deeds;
For either poetry alike can shine—
From Hector's valour as from Homer’s line.
 
VI.
Yet let me wrong ye not, ye faithful three,
   Gawaine, and Carodoc, and Lancelot;
Gawaine's light lip had lost its laughing glee,
   And gentle Caradoc had half forgot
That famous epic which his muse had hit on,
Of Trojan Brut—from whom the name of Briton.
 
VII.
And thou, calm Lancelot; but there I hold;
  The calm have griefs which grief alone can guess;
And so we leave whate'er he felt untold;
   Light steps profane the heart's deep loneliness.
In the world’s story Love yet fills the page,
But Friendship’s date closed with the Hero age.
 
VIII.
Much, their sole comfort, much conversed the three
   Upon their absent Arthur; what the cause
Of his self-exile, and its ends, could be;
   Much did they ponder, hesitate, and pause
In high debate, if loyal love might still
Pursue his wanderings, though against his will.
 
IX.
But first the awe which kings command, restrained;
   And next the ignorance of the path and goal;
So, thus for weeks they communed and remained;
   Till o'er the woods a mellower verdure stole;
The bell-flower clothed the river-banks; the moon
Stood in the breathless firmament of June;
 
X.
When, as one twilight—near the forest-mount
   They sate, and heard the vesper bell afar
Swing from the dim Cathedral, and the fount
   Hymn low its own sweet music to the star
Lone in the west—upon the sward was thrown
A sudden shadow stiller than their own.
 
XI.
They turned, beheld their Cymri's mighty seer,
   Majestic Merlin, and with reverence rose;
"Knights," said the soothsayer, smiling, "be of cheer
   If yet, alone thro’ toil and danger, goes
Your King, one comrade of his faithful three
Fate now permits—the choice with Fate must be.
 
XII.
"Enter the forest—each his several way;
   Return as dies in air the vesper chime;
The fiend the forest-populace obey
   Hath not o'er mortals empire in the time
When holy sounds the wings of Heaven invite;
And prayer hangs charm-like on the wheels of Night.
 
XIII.
"What seen, what heard, mark mindful, and relate;
   Here will I tarry till your steps return."
Ne'er leapt the captive from the prison grate
   With livelier gladness to the smiles of morn,
Than sprang those rivals to the forest gloom,
And its dark arms closed round them like a tomb.
 
XIV.
Before the fount, with thought-o'ershadowed brow,
   The prophet stood, and bent a wistful eye
Along its starlit shimmer;—"Ev’n as now,"
   He murmured, "didst thou lift thyself on high,
O symbol of my soul, and make thy course
One upward struggle to thy mountain source—
 
XV.
"When first, a musing boy, I stood beside
   Thy sparkling showers, and asked my restless heart
What secrets Nature to the herd denied
   But might to earnest hierophant impart;
Then, in the boundless space, around and o'er,
Thought whispered—'Rise, O seeker, and explore:
 
XVI.
"'Can every leaf a teeming world contain?
   Can every globule gird a countless race,
Yet one death-slumber, in its dreamless reign,
   Clasp all the illumed magnificence of space?
Life crowd a grain, from air's vast realms effaced,
The leaf a world—the firmament a waste?'
 
XVII.
"And while Thought whispered, from thy shining spring
   Murmured the glorious answer—‘Soul of Man,
Let the fount teach thee, and its struggle bring
   Truth to thy yearnings!—whither I began
Thither I tend; my law is to aspire:
Spirit thy source, be spirit thy desire.'
 
XVIII.
"And I have made the life of spirit mine;
   And, on the margin of my mortal grave,
My soul, already in an air divine
   Ev’n in its terrors,—starlit, seeks to cleave
Up to the height on which its source must be—
And falls again, in earthward showers, like thee.
 
XIX.
"System on system climbing, sphere on sphere,
   Upward for ever, ever, evermore,
Can all eternity not bring more near?
   Is it in vain that I have sought to soar?
Vain as the Has been, is the long To be?
Type of my soul, O fountain, answer me!"
 
XX.
And while he spoke, behold the night's soft flowers,
   Scentless at day, awoke, and bloomed, and breathed;
Fed by the falling of the fountain's showers,
   Round its green marge the grateful garland wreathed;
The fount might fail its source on high to gain—
But ask the blossom if it soared in vain!
 
XXI.
The prophet marked, and, on his mighty brow,
   Thought grew resigned; serene, though mournful still.
Now ceased the vesper, and the branches now
   Stirred on the margin of the forest hill—
And Gawaine came into the starlit space—
Slow was his step, and sullen was his face.
 
XXII.
"What saw, what heard my son?"—"The sky and wood,
   The crisping leaves by winds of winter spared."
A livelier footstep gained the fount—and stood,
   Blithe in the starlight, Caradoc the bard;
The prophet smiled on that fair face—akin
Poet and prophet—"Child of Song, begin."
 
XXIII.
"I saw a glowworm light his fairy lamp,
   Close where a little torrent forced its way
Through broad-leaved water-sedge, and alder damp;
   Above the glowworm, from some lower spray
Of the near mountain-ash, the silver song
Of night's sweet chorister came clear and strong;
 
XXIV.
"No thrilling note of melancholy wail;
   Ne'er pour'd the thrush more musical delight
Through noon-day laurels, than that nightingale
   In the lone forest to the ear of Night—
Ev’n as the light web by Arachnè spun,
From bough to bough suspended in the sun,
 
XXV.
"Ensnares the heedless insect,—so, methought
   Midway in air my soul arrested hung
In the melodious meshes; never aught
   To mortal lute was so divinely sung!
Surely, O prophet, these the sound and sign,
Which make the lot, the search determines, mine."
 
XXVI.
"O self-deceit of man!" the soothsayer sighed,
   "The worm but lent its funeral torch the ray;
The night-bird's joy but hailed the fatal guide,
   In the bright glimmer, to its thoughtless prey.
And thou, bold-eyed one—in the forest, what
Met thy firm footstep?"—Out spoke Lancelot—
 
XXVII.
"I pierced the forest till a pool I reached,
   Ne' er marked before—a dark yet lucid wave;
High from a blasted oak the night-owl screeched,
   An otter crept from out its water-cave,
The owl grew silent when it heard my tread—
The otter marked my shadow, and it fled.
 
XXVIII.
"This is all I saw, and all I heard."—"Rejoice!"
   The Enchanter cried, "for thee the omens smile;
On thee propitious Fate hath fixed the choice;
   And thou the comrade in the glorious toil.
In death the gentle bard but music heard;
But death gave way when life's firm soldier stirred.
 
XXIX.
"Forth ride, a dauntless champion, with the morn;
   But let the night the champion nerve with prayer;
Higher and higher from the heron borne,
   Wheels thy brave falcon to the heavenliest air,
Poises his wings, far towering o'er the foe,
And hangs aloft, before he swoops below.
 
XXX.
"Man, let the falcon teach thee!—Now, from land
   To land thy guide, receive this crystal ring;
See, in the crystal moves a fairy hand,
   Still, where it moveth, moves the wandering King—
Or east, or north, or south, or west, where'er
Points the sure hand, thine onward path be there!"
 
XXXI.
"Thine hour comes soon, young Gawaine! to the port
   The light heart boundeth o'er the stormiest wave;
And thou, fair favourite in Gwyn-ab-Nudd's court,
   Whom fairies realms in every fancy gave;
Fear not from glory exiled long to be,
What toil to others, Nature brings to thee."

XXXII.
Thus with kind word, well chosen, unto each
   Spoke the benign enchanter; and the twain,
Less favoured, heart and comfort from his speech
   Hopeful conceived; the prophet up the plain,
Gathering weird simples, passed—to Carduel they;
And song escapes to Arthur's lonely way,
 
XXXIII.
On tow’rds the ocean-shore (for thus the seer
   Enjoined)—the royal knight, deep musing rode;
Winding green margins, till more near and near
   Unto the deep the exulting river flowed.
Here too a guide, when reached the mightier wave,
The heedful promise of the prophet gave.
 
XXXIV.
Where the sea flashes on the argent sands,
   Soars from a lonely rock a snow-white dove;
Nor bird more beauteous to immortal lands
   Bore Psychè rescued side by side with Love.
Ev’n as some thought which, pure of earthly taint,
Springs from the chaste heart of a virgin saint,
 
XXXV.
It hovers in the heaven, and from its wings
   Shakes the clear dewdrops of unsullying seas;
Then circling gently in slow-measured rings,
   Nearer and nearer to its goal it flees,
And drooping, fearless, on that noble breast,
Murmuring low joy, it coos itself to rest.
 
XXXVI.
The grateful King, with many a soothing word,
   And bland caress, the guileless trust repaid;
When, gently sliding from his hand, the bird
   Went fluttering where the hollow headlands made
A boat's small harbour; Arthur from the chain
Released the raft,—it shot along the main.
 
XXXVII.
Now in that boat, beneath the eyes of heaven,
   Floated the three, the steed, the bird, the man;
To favouring winds the little sail was given;
   The shore failed gradual, dwindling to a span;
The steed bent wistful o'er the watery realm;
And the white dove perched tranquil at the helm.
 
XXXVIII.
Haply by fisherman, its owner, left,
   Within the boat were rude provisions stored;
The yellow harvest from the wild bee reft,
   Bread, roots, dried fish; the luxuries of a board
Health spreads for toil; while skins and flasks of reed
Yield these the water, those the strengthening mead.
 
XXXIX.
Five days, five nights, still onward, onward o'er
   Light-swelling waves, bounded the bark its way;
At last the sun set reddening on a shore;
   Walls on the cliff, and war-ships in the bay;
While from bright towers, o'erlooking sea and plain,
The Leopard-banners told the Vandal's reign.
 
XL.
Amid those shifting royalties, the North
   Poured from its teeming breast, in tumult driven,
Now to, now fro, as thunder-clouds sent forth
   To darken, burst,—and, bursting, clear the heaven;
Ere yet the Nomad nations found repose,
And order dawned as Charlemain arose;
 
XLI.
Amidst that ferment of fierce races, won
  To yonder shores a wandering Vandal horde,
Whose chief exchanged his war-tent for a throne,
   And shaped a sceptre from a conqueror’s sword;
His sons, expelled by rude intestine broil,
Sought that worst wilderness—the Stranger's soil.
 
XLII.
A distant kinsman, Ludovick his name,
   Reigned in their stead, a king of sage repute;
His youth had wasted some rich seeds on fame;
   His age, grown wiser, only planted—fruit.
War stormed the state, and civil discord rent,
He shunned the tempest till its wrath was spent.
 
XLIII.
Safe in serener lands he passed his prime;
   But mused not vainly on the strife afar:
Returned, he watched—the husbandman of time—
   The second harvest of rebellious war;
Cajoled the Edelings, fixed the fickle Gau,
And to the Leute promised equal law:
 
XLIV.
The moment came, disorder split the realm;
   Too stern the ruler, or too feebly stern;
The supple kinsman slided to the helm,
   And trimmed the rudder with a dexterous turn;
A turn so dexterous, that it served to fling
Both over board—the people and the king.
 
XLV.
The captain's post repaid the pilot's task,
   He seized the ship as he had cleared the prow;
Drop we the metaphor as he the mask:
   And, while his gaping Vandals wondered how,
Behold the patriot to the despot grown,
Filched from the fight, and juggled to the throne!
 
XLVI.
And bland in words was wily Ludovick!
   Much did he promise, nought did he fulfil;
The trickster Fortune loves the hands that trick,
   And smiled approving on her conjuror's skill!
The promised freedom vanished in a tax,
And bays, turned briars, scourged bewildered backs,
 
XLVII.
Soon is the landing of the stranger knight
   Known at the court; and graciously the king
Gives to his guest the hospitable rite;
   Heralds the tromp, and harpers wake the string;
Rich robes of miniver the mail replace,
And the bright banquet sparkles on the daïs.
 
XLVIII.
Where on the wall the cloth, gold-woven, glowed,
   Beside his chair of state, the Vandal lord
Made room for that fair stranger, as he strode,
   With a king's footstep, to the kingly board.
In robes so nobly worn, the wise old man
Saw some great soul, which cunning whispered "scan."
 
XLIX.
A portly presence had the realm-deceiver;
   An eye urbane, a people-catching smile,
A brow, of webs the everlasting weaver,
   Where jovial frankness masked the serious guile;
Each word, well aimed, he feathered with a jest,
And, unsuspected, shot into the breast.
 
L.
Gaily he welcomed Arthur to the feast,
   And pressed the goblet, which unties the tongue;
As the bowl circled so his speech increast,
   And chose such flatteries as seduce the young;
Seeming in each kind question more to blend
The fondling father with the anxious friend.
 
LI.
If frank the prince, esteem him not the less;
   The soul of knighthood loves the truth of man;
The boons he sought 'twas needful to suppress,
   Not mask the seeker; so the prince began—
"Arthur my name, from Mel Ynys I come,
And the steep homes of Cymri's Christendom.
 
LII.
"Five days ago, in Carduel's halls a king,
   A pilgrim knight, now under foreign skies;
I seek such fame as gallant deeds can bring,
   And take from danger what delight denies;
Lore from experience, thought from toil to gain,
And learn as man how best as king to reign."
 
LIII.
The Vandal smiled, and praised the high design;
   Then, careless, questioned of the Cymrian land:
"Was earth propitious to the corn and vine?
   Was the sun genial?—were the breezes bland?
Did gold and gem the mountain mines conceal?"
"Our soil bears manhood, and our mountains steel,"
 
LIV.
Answered the Briton; "And where these are found,
   All plains yield harvests, and all mines yield gold."
Next asked the Vandal, "What might be the bound
   Of Cymri's realm, and what its strongest hold?"
"Its bound where might without a wrong can gain;
Its hold a people that abhors the chain!"
 
LV.
The Vandal mused, and thought the answer shrewd,
   But little suited to the listeners by;
So turned the subject, nor again renewed
   Sharp questions blunted by such bold reply.
Now ceased the banquet; to a chamber spread,
With fragrant heath, his guest the Vandal led.
 
LVI.
With his own hand unclasped the mantle's fold,
  And took his leave in blessings without number;
Bade every angel shelter from the cold,
   And every saint watch sleepless o'er the slumber;
Then his own chamber sought, and racked his breast
To find some use to which to put the guest.
 
LVII.
Three days did Arthur sojourn in that court,
   And much he marvelled how that warlike race
Bowed to a chief, whom never knightly sport,
   The gallant tourney, or the glowing chace
Allured; and least those glory-lighted dyes
Which make Death lovely in a warrior's eyes.
 
LVIII.
Yet, midst his marvel, much the Cymrian sees
   For king to imitate and sage to praise;
Splendour and thrift in nicely poised degrees,
   Caution that guards, and promptness that dismays,
The mild demeanour that excludes not awe,
And patient purpose steadfast as a law.
 
LIX.
On his part, Arthur in such estimation
   Did the host hold, that he proposed to take
A father's charge of his forsaken nation.
   "He loved not meddling, but for Arthur's sake,
Would leave his own, his guest's affairs to mind."
An offer Arthur thankfully declined.
 
LX.
Much grieved the Vandal "that he just had given
   His last unwedded daughter to a Frank,
But still he had a wifeless son, thank heaven!
   Not yet provisioned as beseemed his rank,
And one of Arthur's sisters—" Uther's son
Smiled, and replied—"Sir king, I have but one,
 
LXI.
"Borne by my mother to her former lord;
   Not young"—"Alack! youth cannot last like riches."
"Not fair."—"Then youth is less to be deplored."
   "A witch."—"All women till they're wed are witches!
Wived to my son, the witch will soon be steady!"
"Wived to your son?—she is a wife already!"
 
LXII.
O baseless dreams of man! The king stood mute!
   That son, of all his house the favourite flower,
How had he sought to force it into fruit,
   And graft the slip upon a lusty dower!
And this sole sister of a king so rich,
A wife already!—Saints consume the witch!
 
LXIII.
With brow deject, the mournful Vandal took
   Occasion prompt to leave his royal guest,
And sought a friend who served him, as a book
   Read in our illness, in our health dismist;
For seldom did the Vandal condescend
To that poor drudge which monarchs call a friend!
 
LXIV.
And yet Astutio was a man of worth
   Before the brain had reasoned out the heart;
But now he learned to look upon the earth
   As peddling hucksters look upon the mart;
Took souls for wares, and conscience for a till;
And damned his fame to serve his master's will.
 
LXV.
Much lore he had in men, and states, and things,
   And kept his memory mapped in prim precision,
With histories, laws, and pedigrees of kings,
   And moral saws, which ran through each division,
All neatly colour'd with appropriate hue—
The histories black, the morals heavenly blue.
 
LXVI.
But state-craft, mainly, was his pride and boast;
   "The golden medium" was his guiding star,
Which means "move on until you're uppermost,
   And then things can't be better than they are!
Brief, in two rules he summed the ends of man—
"Keep all you have, and try for all you can!"
 
LXVII.
While these conferred, fair Arthur wistfully
   Looked from the lattice of his stately room;
The rainbow spanned the ocean of the sky;
   Sunshine and cloud, the glory and the gloom,
Like grief and joy from light's same sources given;—
Tears weave with smiles to form the bridge to heaven:
 
LXVIII.
As such, perchance, his thought, the snow-white dove,
   Which at the threshold of the Vandal's towers
Had left his side, came circling from above,
   Athwart the rainbow and the sparkling showers,
Flew through the open lattice, paused, and sprung
Where on the wall the abandoned armour hung;
 
LXIX.
Hovered above the lance, the mail, the crest,
   Then back to Arthur, and with querulous cries,
Pecked at the clasp that bound the flowing vest,
   Chiding his dalliance from the armed emprize,
So Arthur deemed; and soon from head to heel
Blazed War's dread statue, sculptured from the steel.
 
LXX.
Then through the doorway flew the wingëd guide,
   Skimmed the long gallery, shunned the thronging hall,
And, through deserted posterns, led the stride
   Of its armed follower to the charger's stall;
Loud neighed the destrier at the welcome clang,
And drowsy horseboys into service sprang.
 
LXXI.
Though threatened danger well the prince divined,
   He deemed it churlish in ungracious haste
Thus to depart, nor thank a host so kind;
   But when the step the courteous thought retraced,
With breast and wing the dove opposed his way,
And warned with scaring scream the rash delay;
 
LXXII.
The King reluctant yields. Now in the court
   Paws with impatient hoof the barded steed;
Now yawn the sombre portals of the fort;
   Creaks the hoarse drawbridge;—now the walls are freed.
Thro' dun woods hanging o'er the ocean tide,
Glimmers the steel, and gleams the angel-guide.
 
LXXIII.
An opening glade upon the headland's brow
   Sudden admits the ocean and the day.
Lo! the waves cleft before the gilded prow,
   Where the tall war-ship, towering, sweeps to bay.
Why starts the King?—High over mast and sail
The Saxon Horse rides ghastly in the gale!
 
LXXIV.
Grateful to heaven, and heaven's plumed messenger,
   He raised his reverent eyes, then shook the rein:
Bounded the barb, disdainful of the spur,
   Cleared the steep cliff, and scoured along the plain.
Still, while he sped, the swifter wings that lead
Seemed to rebuke for sloth the swiftening steed.
 
LXXV.
Nor cause unmeet for grateful thought, I ween,
   Had the good King; nor vainly warned the bird,
Nor idly fled the steed; as shall be seen,
   If, where the Vandal and his friend conferred,
Awhile our path retracing, we relate
What craft deems guiltless when the craft of state.
 
LXXVI.
"Sire," quoth Astutio, "well I comprehend
   Your cause for grief; the seedsman breaks the ground
For the new plant; new thrones that would extend
   Their roots, must loosen all the earth around;
For trees and thrones no rule than this more true,
What most disturbs the old best serves the new.
 
LXXVII.
"Thus all ways wise to push your princely son
   Under the soil of Cymri's ancient stem;
And if the ground the thriving plant had won,
   What prudent man will plants that thrive, condemn?
Sir, in your move a master hand is seen,
Your pawn so well-played might have caught a queen."
 
LXXVIII.
"And now checkmate!" the wretched sire exclaims,
   With watering eyes, and mouth that watered too.
"Nay," quoth the sage; "a match means many games.
   Replace the pieces, and begin anew."
"You want this Cymrian's crown—the want is just."—
"But how to get it?"—"Sir, with ease, I trust.
 
LXXIX.
"The witch is married—better that than burn;—
   A well-known text—to witches not applied—
But let that pass:—great sir to Anglia turn,
   And mate your Vandal with a Saxon bride.
Her dower,"—Cried Ludovick, "The dower's the thing!"
"The lands and sceptre of the Cymrian King."
 
LXXX.
Then to that anxious sire the learnëd man
   Bared the large purpose latent in his speech;
O'er Britain's gloomy history glibly ran;
   Anglia's new kingdom, he described them each;
But most himself to Mercia he addresses,
For Mercia's king, great man, hath two princesses.
 
LXXXI.
Long on this glowing theme enlarged the sage,
   And turned, returned, and turned it o'er again;
Thus when a mercer would your greed engage
   In some fair silk, or cloth of comely grain,
He spreads it out,—upholds it to the sun—
Strokes and restrokes it, and the pelf is won!
 
LXXXII.
He showed the Saxon hungering to devour
   The last unconquered realm the Cymrian boasts;
He dwelt at length on Mercia's gathering power,
   Swelled, year by year, from Elbe's unfailing hosts;
Then proved how Mercia scarcely could retain
Beneath the sceptre what the sword might gain;
 
LXXXIII.
"For Mercia's vales from Cymri's hills are far,
   And Mercian warriors hard to keep afield;
And men fresh conquered stormy subjects are;
   What can't be held 't is no great loss to yield;
And still the Saxon might secure his end,
If where the foe had reigned he left a friend.
 
LXXXIV.
"Nay, what so politic in Mercia's king
   As on that throne a son-in-law to place?"
While thus they saw their birds upon the wing
   Ere hatched the egg,—as is the common case—
With large capacious minds, the natural heirs
Of that vast property—the things not theirs;
 
LXXXV.
In comes a herald—comes with startling news:
   A Saxon chief has anchored in the bay,
From Mercia's king ambassador, and sues
   The royal audience ere the close of day.
The wise old men upon each other stare.
"While monarchs counsel, thus the saints prepare."
 
LXXXVI.
Murmured Astutio with a pious smile.
   "Admit the noble Saxon," quoth the king.
The two laugh out, and rub their palms, the while
   The herald speeds the ambassador to bring;
And soon a chief, fair-haired, erect, and tall,
With train and trumpet, strides along the hall.
 
LXXXVII.
Upon his wrist a falcon, bell'd, he bore,
   Leashed at his heels six blood-hounds grimly stalked;
A broad round shield was slung his breast before;
   The floors reclanged with armour as he walked;
He gained the daïs; his standard-bearer spread
Broadly the banner o'er his helmëd head;
 
LXXXVIII.
And thrice the tromp his blazoned herald woke,
   And hailed Earl Harold from the Mercian king.
Full on the Vandal gazed the earl, and spoke:
   "Greeting from Crida, Woden's heir, I bring,
And these plain words;—'The Saxon's steel is bare,
Red harvests wait it—will the Vandal share?
 
LXXXIX.
"'Hengist first chased the Briton from the vale;
   Crida would hound the Briton from the hill;
Stern hands have loosed the Pale Horse on the gale;
   The Horse shall halt not till the winds are still.
Be ours your foeman,—be your foeman shown,
And we in turn will smite them as our own.
 
XC.
"'We need allies—in you allies we call;
   Your shores oppose the Cymrian's mountain sway;
Your armëd men stand idle in your hall;
   Your vessels rot within your crowded bay:
Send three full squadrons to the Mercian bands—
Send seven tall war-ships to the Cymrian lands.
 
XCI.
"'If this you grant, as,—from the old renown
   Of Vandal valour,—Saxon men believe,
Our arms will solve all question to your crown;
   If not, the heirs you banish we receive;
But one rude maxim Saxon bluntness knows—
We serve our friends, who are not friends are foes.
 
XCII.
"'Thus speaks King Crida.’" Not the manner much
   Of that brief speech wise Ludovick admired;
But still the matter did so nearly touch
   The great state objects recently desired,
That, with a smile, he gulped resentment down,
And trimmed the hook that angled for a crown.
 
XCIII.
Fair words he gave, and friendly hints of aid,
   And prayed the envoy in his halls to rest;
And more, in truth, to please the earl had said,
   But that the sojourn of the earlier guest
(For not the parting of the Cymrian known)
Forbade his heart too broadly to be shown.
 
XCIV.
But ere a long and oily speech had closed,
   Astutio, who the hall, when it begun,
Had left, to seek the prince, (whom he proposed,
   If yet the tidings to his ear had won
Of his foe's envoy, by some smooth pretext
To lull) came back with visage much perplext—
 
XCV.
And whispered Ludovick—"The King has fled!"
   The Vandal stammered, stared; but versed in all
The quick resources of a wily head,
   That out of evil still a good could call,
He did but pause, with more effect to wing
The stone that chance had fitted to his sling.
 
XCVI.
"Saxon," he said, "thus far we had premised,
   And if still wavering, not our heart in fault.
Three days ago, the Cymrian king, disguised,
   First drank our cup, and tasted of our salt,
And hence our zeal to aid you we represt,
Least men should say, 'the Vandal wronged his guest.'
 
XCVII.
"Lo, while we speak, the saints the bond release;
   Arthur but now hath left us—we are free."
"Arthur—the Cymrian!" cried the envoy. "Peace;
   In deeds, not words, men’s love the Saxons see:
Left you! and whither? But a word I need—
To launch my blood-hounds and to guide my steed."
 
XCVIII.
Dumb sate the Vandal, dumb with fear and shame,
   No slave to virtue, but its shade, was he;
A tower of strength is in an honest name—
   'T is wise to seem what oft 't is dull to be!
A kingly host a kingly guest betray!
The chafing Saxon brooked not that delay—
 
XCIX.
But turned his sparkling eyes behind, and saw
   His knights and squires with zeal as fierce inflamed,
And out he spoke—"The hospitable law
   We will not trench, whate'er the guest had claimed
Let the host yield; forgive, that, hotly stirred,
His course I questioned; I retract the word:
 
C.
"If on your hearth he stands, protect; within
   Your realm if wandering, guard him as you may;
This hearth not ours, nor this our realm;—no sin
   To chace our foeman, whatsoe'er his way;
Up spear—forth sword! to selle each Saxon man—
Unleash the war-hounds—stay us those who can!"
 
CI.
Loud rang the armëd tumult in the hall;
   Rushed to the doors the Saxon's fiery band!
Yelled the gaunt blood-hounds loosened from the thrall;
   Steeds neighed; leapt forth the falchion to the hand;
Low on the earth the blood-hounds tracked the scent,
And where they guided there the hunters went.
 
CII.
Amazed the Vandal with his friend debates
   What course were best in such extremes to choose;
Nicely they weigh;—the Saxons pass the gates:
   Finely refine;—the chace its prey pursues.
And while the chace pursues, to him, whose way
The dove directs, well pleased, returns the lay.
 
CIII.
Twilight was on the earth, when paused the King
   Lone by the beach of far-resounding seas;
Rock upon rock, behind, a Titan ring,
   Closed round a gorge o'erhung with breathless trees,
A horror of still umbrage; and, before,
Wave-hollowed caves arched, ruinous, the shore.
 
CIV.
Column and vault, and seaweed-dripping domes,
   Long vistas opening through the streets of dark,
Seemed like a city's skeleton; the homes
   Of giant races vanished since the ark
Rested on Ararat: from side to side
Moaned the locked waves that ebb not with the tide.
 
CV.
Here, path forbid; where, lengthening up the land,
   The deep gorge stretches to a night of pine,
Veer the white wings; and there the slackened hand
   Guides the tired steed; deeplier the shades decline;
Dulled with each step into the darker gloom
Follows the ocean's hollow-sounding boom.
 
CVI.
Sudden starts back the steed, with bristling mane
   And nostrils snorting fear; from out the shade
Loom the vast columns of a roofless fane,
   Meet for some god whom savage man hath made:
A mighty pine-torch on the altar glowed
And lit the goddess of the grim abode—
 
CVII.
So that the lurid idol, from its throne,
   Glared on the wanderer with a stony eye;
The King breathed quick the Christian orison,
   Spurred the scared barb, and passed abhorrent, by—
Nor marked a figure on the floor reclined;
It watched, it rose, it crept, it dogged behind.
 
CVIII.
Three days, three nights, within that dismal shrine,
   Had couched that man, and hungered for his prey.
Chieftain and priest of hordes that from the Rhine
   Had tracked in carnage thitherwards their way;
Fell souls that still maintained their rights of yore,
And hideous altars rank with human gore.
 
CIX.
By monstrous Oracles a coming foe,
   Whose steps appal his gods, hath been foretold;
The fane must fall unless the blood shall flow;
   Therefore three days, three nights, he watched;—behold
At last the death-torch of the blazing pine
Darts on the foe the lightning of the shrine.
 
CX.
Stealthily on, amidst the brushwood, crept
   With practised foot, and unrelaxing eye,
The steadfast Murder;—where the still leaf slept
   The still leaf stirred not: as it glided by
The mosses gave no echo: not a breath!
Nature was hushed as if in league with Death.
 
CXI.
As moved the man, so, on the opposing side
   Of the deep gorge, with purpose like his own,
Did steps as noiseless to the blood-feast glide;
   And as the man before his idol's throne
Had watched,—so watched, since daylight left the air,
A giant wolf within its leafy lair.
 
CXII.
Whether the blaze allured, or hunger stung,
   There still had cowered and crouched the beast of prey:
With lurid eyes unwinking, spell-bound, clung
   To the near ridge that faced the torchlit way;
As the steed passed, it rose: On either side,
Here glides the wild beast, there the man doth glide.
 
CXIII.
But, all unconscious of the double foe,
   Paused Arthur, where his resting-place the dove
Seemed to select,—his couch a mound below;
   A bowering beech his canopy above:
From his mailed harness he the steed released,
And left it, reinless, to its herbage feast;
 
CXIV.
Then from his brow the helmet he unbraced,
   And from his breast the hauberk's heavy load;
On the tree's stem the trophied arms he placed,
   And, ere to rest the wearied limbs bestowed,
Thrice signed the cross the fiends of night to scare,
And guarded helpless sleep with potent prayer.
 
CXV.
Then on the moss-grown couch he laid him down,
   Fearless of night, and hopeful for the morn:
On Sleep's soft lap the head without a crown
   Forgot the gilded trouble it had worn;
Slumbered the King—the browsing charger strayed—
The dove, unsleeping, watched amidst the shade.
 
CXVI.
And now, on either hand the dreaming King,
   Death halts to strike: the crouchëd wild beast, here,
From the close crag prepares its hungry spring;
   There, from the thicket creeping, near and near,
Steals the wild man, and listens for a sound—
Then, with clutcht knife, draws back for his grim bound.
 
CXVII.
But what befell? O thou, whose gentle heart
   Lists, scornful not, this unfamiliar rhyme;
If, as thy steps to busier life depart,
   Still in thine ear rings low the haunting chime,
When leisure suits once more forsake the throng,
Call childhood back, and re-demand the song.