King Arthur: Book 8 of 12

Astrild, the Cupid of the Northern Mythology.

[Baltic] The more proper word for the Baltic, viz., the Eastern Sea, would probably convey to the English ear, a notion contrary to that which is intended, and therefore the familiar word in the text is selected, though strictly speaking, the name of the Baltic does not appear to have been given to that Ocean before the twelfth century.

FENRIS, the Demon Wolf, Son of Asa-Lok.

Herman-Saul (or Saule) often corruptly written Irminsula, Armensula, &c., the name of the celebrated Teuton Idol representing an armed warrior on a column, destroyed by Charlemagne A.D. 772. According to some it means literally the column of Herman, i.e., the leader—the War-God. Others, however, have supposed the name to be rather Jörmun-Saul, the great or Universal Column, and so the name is rendered in the Latin translation, “Universalis Columna.”

The MEAD-MONTH, June.

[seid] Magic.

[skoinophagous] Id est “rope-eating”—a compound adjective borrowed from such Greek as Sir Gawaine might have learned at the then flourishing college of Caerleon.
 
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King Arthur: Book 8 of 12

ARGUMENT.

Lancelot continues to watch for Arthur till the eve of the following day, when a Damsel approaches the Lake—Lancelot’s discreet behaviour thereon, and how the Knight and the Damsel converse—The Damsel tells her tale—Upon her leaving Lancelot, the fairy ring commands the Knight to desert his watch, and follow the Maiden—The story returns to Arthur, who, wandering by the sea-shore, perceives a Bark with the Raven flag of the sea-kings—The Dove enjoins him to enter it—The Ship is deserted, and he waits the return of the Crew—Sleep falls upon him—The consoling Vision of Æglè—What befalls Arthur on waking—Meanwhile Sir Gawaine pursues his voyage to the Shrine of Freya, at which he is to be sacrificed—How the Hound came to bear him company—Sir Gawaine argues with the Viking on the inutility of roasting him—The Viking defends that measure upon philosophical and liberal principles, and silences Gawaine—The Ship arrives at its destination—Gawaine is conducted to the Shrine of Freya—The Statue of the Goddess described—Gawaine’s remarks thereon, and how he is refuted and enlightened by the Chief Priest—Sir Gawaine is bound, and in reply to his natural curiosity, the Priest explains how he and the Dog are to be roasted and devoured—The sagacious proceedings of the Dog—Sir Gawaine fails in teaching the Dog the duty of Fraternization—The Priest re-enters, and Sir Gawaine, with much satisfaction, gets the best of the Argument—Concluding Stanzas to Nature.
 
I.
LONE by the lake reclined young Lancelot—
   Night passed, the noonday slept on wave and plain;
Lone by the lake watched patient Lancelot;
   Like Faith assured that Love returns again.
Noon glided on to eve; when from the brake
Brushed a light step, and paused beside the lake.
 
II.
How lovely to the margin of the wave
   The shy-eyed Virgin came! and, all unwitting
The unseen Knight, to the frank sunbeam gave
   Her sunny hair—its snooded braids unknitting;
And, fearless, as by her own well the nymph,
Sleeked the loose tresses, mirrored in the lymph.
 
III.
And, playful now, the sandal silks unbound,
   Oft from the cool fresh wave with coy retreat
Shrinking,—and glancing with arch looks around,
   The crystal gleameth with her ivory feet.
Like floating swan-plumes, or the leaves that quiver
Form water-lilies, under Himera’s river.
 
IV.
Ah happy Knight, unscathed, such charms espying,
   As brought but death to the profane of yore,
When Dian’s maids to angry quivers flying
   Pierced the bold heart presuming to adore!
Ah happy Knight, unguest in thy retreat,
Envying the waves that kiss those starry feet!
 
V.
But worthy of his bliss, the loyal Knight
   Pure from all felon thoughts as Knights should be,
 Revering, angered at his own delight,
   The lone, unconscious, guardless modesty,
Rose, yet unseen, and to the copse hard by
Stole with quick footstep, and averted eye.
 
VI.
But as one tremour of the summer boughs
   Scares the shy fawn, so with that faintest sound
The Virgin starts, and back from rosy brows
   Flings wide the showering gold; and all around
Casts the swift trouble of her looks, to see
The white plume glisten through the rustling tree.
 
VII.
As by some conscious instinct of the fear
   He caused, the Knight turns back his reverent gaze;
And in soft accents, tuned to Lady’s ear
   In gentle courts, her purposed flight delays;
So nobly timid in his look and tone
As if the power to harm were all her own.
 
VIII.
“Lady, and liege, O fly not thus thy slave;
   If he offend, unwitting the offence,
For safer not upon the unsullying wave
   Doth thy pure image rest, than Innocence
On the clear thoughts of noble men!” He said;
And low with downcast lids, replied the maid.
 
IX.
[O, from those lips how strangely musical
   Sounds the loathed language of the Saxon foe!]
“Tho’ on mine ear the Cymrian accents fall,
   And in my speech, O Cymrian, thou wilt know
The Daughter of the Saxon; marvel not,
That less I fear thee in this lonely spot,
 
X.
“Than hadst thou spoken in my mother-tongue,
   Or worn the aspect of my father-race.”
Here to her eyes some tearful memory sprung,
   And youth’s glad sunshine vanished from her face;
Like the changed sky the gleams of April leave,
Or the quick coming of an Indian eve.
 
XI.
Moved, yet emboldened by that mild distress,
   Near the fair shape the gentle Cymrian drew,
Bent o’er the hand his pity dared to press,
   And soothed the sorrow ere the cause he knew;
Frank were those times of trustful Chevisaunce.
And Hearts when guileless open to a glance.
 
XII.
So see them seated by the haunted lake,
   She on the grassy bank, her sylvan throne,
He at her feet—and out from every brake
   The Forest-Angels singing:—all alone
With Nature and the Beautiful—and Youth
Pure in each soul as, in her fountain, Truth!
 
XIII.
And thus her tale the Teuton maid begun:
   “Daughter of Harold, Mercia’s Earl, am I.
Small need to tell to Knighthood’s Christian son
   What creed of wrath the Saxons sanctify.
With songs first chaunted in some thunder-field,
Stern nurses rocked me in my father’s shield.
 
XIV.
“Motherless both,—my playmate, sole and sweet,
   Years—sex, the same, was Crida’s youngest child,—
Crida, the Mercian Ealder-King—our feet
   Roved the same pastures when the  Mead-month smiled;
By the same hearth we paled to Saga runes,
When wolves descending howled to icy moons.
 
XV.
“As side by side, two osiers o’er a stream,
   When air is still, with separate foliage bend,
But let a breezelet blow, and straight they seem
   With trembling branches into one to blend,
So grow our natures,—when in calm, apart,
But, in each care, commingling, heart to heart.
 
XVI.
“Her soul was bright and tranquil as a bird
   That hangs in golden noon with silent wing,
And mine, more earthly, gay, and quickly stirred
   Did, like the gossamer, float light, to cling
To each frail blossom,—weaving idle dreams
Where’er on dew-drops play’d the morning beams.
 
XVII.
“Thus into youths we grew, when Crida bore
   Home from fierce wars a British Woman-slave,
A lofty captive, who her sorrow wore
   As Queens a mantle; yet not proud, tho’ grave,
And grave as if with pity for the foe,
Too high for anger, too resigned for woe.
 
XVIII.
“Much moved our young hearts that majestic face,
   And much we schemed to soothe the sense of thrall.
She learned to love us,—let our love replace
   That she had lost,—and thanked her God for all,
Evën for chains and bondage:—awed we heard,
And found the secret in the Gospel Word.
 
XIX.
“Thus, Cymrian, we were Christians. First, the salve
   Taught that bright soul whose shadow fell on mine;
Thus we were Christians;—but, as thro’ the cave
   Flow hidden river-springs, the Faith Divine
We dared not give to day—in stealth we sung
Hymns to the Cymrian’s God, in Cymri’s tongue,
 
XX.
“And for our earlier names of heathen sound,
   We did such names as saints have borne, receive;
One name in truth, tho’ with a varying sound;
   Genevra I—and she sweet Genevieve,—
Words that escaped from other ears, unknown,
But spoke as if heaven-whispered to our own.
 
XXI.
“Soon with thy creed we learned thy race to love,
   Listening high tales of Arthur’s peerless fame,
But most such themes did my sweet playmate move;
   To her the creed endeared the champion’s name,
With angel thoughts surrounded Christ’s young chief,
And gave to glory haloes from Belief.
 
XXII.
“Not long our teacher did survive, to guide
   Our feet, delighted in the new-found ways;
Smiling on us—and on the cross—she died,
   And vanished in her grave our infant days;
We grew to woman when we learned to grieve,
And Childhood left the eyes of Genevieve.
 
“Oft, ev’n from me, musing she stole away,
   Where thick the woodland girt the ruined hall
Of Cymrian kings, forgotten;—thro’ the day
   Still as the lonely nightingale midst all
The joyous choir that drown her murmur:—So
Mused Crida’s daughter on the Saxon’s foe.
 
XXIV.
“Alas! alas!—sad moons have waned since then!—
   One fatal morn her forest haunt she sought
Nor thence returned; whether by lawless men
   Captured, or flying, of her own free thought,
From heathen shrines abhorred;—all search was vain,
Ne’er to our eyes that smile brought light again.”
 
XXV.
Here paused the maid, and tears gushed forth anew,
   Ere faltering words rewove the tale once more;
“Roused from his woe, the wrathful Crida flew
   To Thor’s dark priests, and Woden’s wizard lore.
Tasked was each rune that sways the demon hosts,
And the strong seid compelled revealing ghosts.
 
XXVI.
“And answered priest and rune, and the pale Dead,
   ‘That in the fate of her, the Thor-descended,
The Gods of Cymri wove a mystic thread,
   With Arthur’s life and Cymri’s glory blended,
And Dragon-Kings, ordained in future years,
To seize the birthright of the Saxon spears.
 
XXVII.
“ ‘By Arthur’s death, and Carduel’s towers o’erthrown,
   Could Thor and Crida yet the web unweave,
Protect the Saxon’s threatened gods;—alone
   Regain the lost one, and exulting leave
To Hengist’s race the ocean-girt abodes,
Till the Last Twilight darken round the Gods.’
 
XXVIII.
“This heard and this believed, the direful King
   Convenes his Eorl-born and prepares his powers,
Unfolds the omens, and the tasks they bring,
   And guides the Valkyrs to the Cymrian towers.
Dreadest in war—and wisest in the hall,
Stands my great Sire—the Saxon’s Herman-Saul.

XXIX.
“He, to secure allies beyond the sea,
   Departs—but first,—for well he loved his child,—
He drew me to his breast, and tenderly
   Chiding my tears, he spoke, and speaking smiled,
‘Whate’er betides thy father or thy land,
Far from our dangers Astrild woos thy hand.
 
XXX.
“‘Beorn, the bold son of Sweyn, the Göthland king,
   Whose ocean war-steeds on the Baltic deeps
Range their blue pasture—for thy love shall bring
   As marriage-gifts, to Cymri’s mountain-keeps
Arm’d men and thunder. Happy is the maid,
Whose charms lure armies to her Country’s aid.’
 
XXXI.
“What, while I heard, my terror and my woe!
   Was I, the votary of the Christian God,
Doomed to become the helpmate of His foe!
   For ne’er o’er blazing altars Slaughter trod,
Redder with blood of saints remorseless slain,
Than Beorn, the Incarnate Fenris of the main.
 
XXXII.
Yet than such nuptials more I feared the frown
   Of my dread father;—motionless I stood,
Rigid in horror, mutely bending down
   The eyes that dared not weep.—So Solitude
Found me, a thing made soulless by despair,
Till tears gave way, and with tears flowed prayer.”
 
XXXIII.
Again Genevra paused: and beautiful,
   As Art hath imaged Faith—looked up to heaven,
With eyes that glistening smiled. Along the lull
   Of air, waves sighed—the winds of stealing Even
Murmured, birds sung, the leaflet rustling stirred;
The voice just hushed was all the listener heard.
 
XXXIV.
The maid resumed—“Scarce did my Sire return,
   To loose the War-fiends on the Cymrian foe,
Than came the raven galley sent by Beorn,
   For the pale partner of his realms of snow;
Shuddering, recoiling, forth I stole at night,
To the wide forest with wild thoughts of flight.
 
XXXV.
“I reached the ruined halls wherein so oft
   Lost Genevieve had mused lone hours away,
When halting wistful there, a strange and soft
   Slumber fell o’er me, or, more sooth to say,
A slumber not, but rather on my soul
A life-dream, clear as hermit-visions, stole.
 
XXXVI.
“I saw an aged and majestic form,
   Robed in the spotless weeds thy Druids wear,
I heard a voice deep as when coming storm
   Sends its first murmur though the heaving air:
‘Return,’—it said—‘return, and dare the sea,
The Eye that sleeps not looks from heaven on thee.’
 
XXXVII.
“The form was gone, the voice was hushed, and grief
   Fled from my heart; I trusted, and obeyed;
Weak still, my weakness leant on my belief;
   I saw the sails unfurl, the headlands fade;
I saw my father, last upon the strand,
Veiling proud sorrow with his iron hand.
 
XXXVIII.
“Swift through the ocean clove the flashing prows,
   And half the dreaded course was glided o’er,
When, as the wolves, which night and winter rouse
   In cavernous lairs, from seas without a shore
Clouds swept the skies; and the swift hurricane
Rushed from the North along the maddening main.
 
XXXIX.
“Startled from sleep upon the verge of doom,
   With wild cry, shrilling thro’ the wilder blast,
Uprose the seamen, ghostlike thro’ the gloom,
   Hurrying and helpless; while the sail-less mast
Now lightning-wreathed, now indistinct and pale,
Bowed, or, rebounding, groaned against the gale,
 
XL.
“And crashed at last;—its sullen thunder drowned
   In the great storm that snapt it. Over all
Swept the long surges, and a gurgling sound
   Told where some wretch, that strove in vain to call
For aid, where all were aidless, thro’ the spray
Emerging, gasped, and then was whirled away.
 
XLI.
“But I, who ever wore upon my heart
   The symbol cross of Him who had walked the seas,
Bowed o’er that sign my head; and prayed apart:
   When through the darkness, on his crawling knees,
Crept to my side the chief, and crouched him there,
Mild as an infant, listening to my prayer,
 
XLII.
“And, clinging to my robes; ‘Thee have I seen,’
   Faltering he said, ‘when round thee coiled the blue
Lightning, and rushed the billow-swoop, serene
   And, scatheless smiling; surely then I knew
That, strong in charms or runes that guard and save,
Thou mock’st the whirlwind and the roaring grave:
 
XLIII.
“‘Shield us, young Vala, from the wrath of Ran,
   And calm the raging Helheim of the deep.’
As from a voice within, I answered, ‘Man,
   Nor rune nor charm locks into mortal sleep
The Present God; by Faith all ills are braved;
Trust in that God; adore Him, and be saved.’
 
XLIV.
“Then, pliant to my will, the ghastly crew
   Crept round the cross, amid the howling dark—
Dark, save when swift and sharp, and griding thro’
   The cloud-mass, clove the lightning, and the bark
Flashed like a floating hell; Low by that sign
All knelt, and voices hollow-chimed to mine.
 
XLV.
“Thus as we prayed, lo, opened all the Heaven,
   With one long stedfast splendour—calmly o’er
The God-Cross resting: then the clouds were riven
   And the rains fell; the whirlwind hushed its roar,
And the smoothed billows on the ocean’s breast,
As on a mother’s, sighing, sunk to rest.
 
XLVI.
“So came the dawn: o’er the new Christian fold,
   Glad as the Heavenly Shepherd, smiled the sun;
Then to those grateful hearts my tale I told,
   The heathen bonds the Christian maid should shun,
And prayed in turn their aid my soul to save
From doom more dismal than a sinless grave.
 
XLVII.
“They, with one shout, proclaim their law my will,
   And veer the prow from northern snows afar,
Soon gentler winds the murmuring canvas fill,
   Fair floats the bark where guides the western star,
From coast to cast we passed, and peaceful sailed
Into lone creeks, by yon blue mountains veiled.
 
XLVIII.
“Here all wide-scattered up the inward land
   For stores and water, range the blithesome crew;
Lured by the smiling shores, one gentler band
   I joined awhile, then left them, to pursue
Mine own glad fancies, where the brooklet clear
Shot singing onwards to the sunlit mere.
 
XLIX.
“And so we chanced to meet!” She ceased, and bent
   Down the fresh rose-hues of her eloquent cheek;
Ere Lancelot spoke, the startled echo sent
   Loud shouts reverberate, lengthening, plain to peak;
The sounds proclaim the savage followers near,
And straight the rose-hues pale,—but not from fear.
 
L.
Slowly Genevra rose, and her sweet eyes
   Raised to the Knight’s, frankly and mournfully;
“Farewell,” she said, “the wingëd moment flies
   Who shall say whither?—if this meeting be
Our last as first, O Christian warrior, take
The Saxon’s greeting for the Christian’s sake.
 
LI.
“And if, returning to thy periled land,
   In the hot fray thy sword confront my Sire,
Strike not;—remember me!” On her fair hand
   The Cymrian seals his lips; wild thoughts inspire
Words which the lips may speak not:—but what truth
Lies hid when youth reflects its soul on youth?
 
LII.
Reluctant turns Genevra, lingering turns,
   And up the hill, oft pausing, languid wends.
As infant flame thro’ humid fuel burns,
   In Lancelot’s heart with honour, love contends;
Longs to pursue, regain, and cry, “Where’er
Thou wanderest, lead me; Paradise is there!”
 
LIII.
But the lost Arthur!—at that thought, the strength
   Of duty nerved the loyal sentinel:
So by the lake watched Lancelot;—at length
   Upon the ring his looks, in drooping, fell,
And see, the hand, no more in dull repose,
Points to the path in which Genevra goes!
 
LIV.
Amazed, and wrathful at his own delight,
   He doubts, he hopes, he moves, and still the ring
Repeats the sweet command, and bids the Knight
   Pursue the Maid as if to find the King.
Yielding, at last, though half remorseful still,
The Cymrian follows up the twilight hill.
 
LV.
Meanwhile along the beach of the wide sea,
   Wandered the dove-led Arthur,—needful food,
The Mænad’s fruits from many a purple tree
   Flushed for the vintage, gave; with musing mood,
Lonely he strays till Æthra sees again
Her starry children smiling on the main.
 
LVI.
Around him then, curved grey the hollow creek;
   Before, a ship lay still with furlëd sail;
A gilded serpent glittered from the beak,
   Along the keel encoiled with lengthening trail;
Black from the flag-mast, with impatient wings
Soared the dread Raven of the Runic kings.
 
LVII.
Here paused the Wanderer, for here flew the dove;
   Circling around the ship, then hovering o’er;
But on the deck, no watch, no pilot move,
   Life-void the vessel as the lonely shore.
Far on the sand-beach drawn, a boat he spied,
And with strong hand he launched it on the tide.
 
LVIII.
Gaining the bark, still not a human eye
   Peers through the noiseless solitary shrouds;
So, for the crew’s return, all patiently
   He sate him down, and watched the phantom clouds
Flit to and fro, where, o’er the slopes afar
Reign storm-girt Arcas, and the Mother Star.
 
LIX.
Thus sleep stole o’er him, mercy-hallowed sleep,
   His own loved Æglè, lovelier than of old,
O lovelier far—shone from the azure deep—
   And, like the angel dying saints behold,
Bent o’er his brow, and with ambrosial kiss
Breathed on his soul her own pure spirit-bliss.
 
LX.
“Never more grieve for me,” the Vision said,
   “Behold how beautiful thy bride is now!
Who to yon Heaven from heathen Hades led
   Me, thine Immortal? Mourner, it was thou!
Why shouldst thou mourn? In the empyreal clime
We know no severance, for we own no time.
 
LXI.
“Our present clasps each moment of the past
   That had a joy akin to joys in heaven,
The only memories here that cannot last
   Are those of sorrows dead and sins forgiven.
With me not yet—I ever am with thee,
Thy presence flows through my eternity.
 
LXII.
“Think but of me as one re-born in heaven
   And watching o’er thee with a spirit’s love,—
Seeking to breathe into each bloom yet given
   Unto thine eye, sweets from the bowers above;
Think that each ray which makes thy world more bright
Comes as a message from my halls of light;
 
LXIII.
“That, in each blessing, we, pure spirits, bind
   Those who survive us in a closer chain;
In all that glads we feel ourselves enshrined;
   In all that loves, our love but lives again.”
Anew she kist his brow, and at her smile
Night and Creation brightened! He, the while,
 
LXIV.
Stretched his vain arms, and clasped the mocking air,
   And from the rapture woke!—All fiercely round
Groupe savage forms, amidst the lurid glare
   Of lifted torches, red; fierce tongues resound,
Discordant clamouring hoarse—as birds of prey
Scared by man’s footstep in some desolate bay.
 
LXV.
Mild thro’ the throng a bright-haired Virgin came,
   And the roar hushed;—while to the Virgin’s breast
Soft-cooing fled the Dove. His own great name
   Rang thro’ the ranks behind; quick footsteps prest—
As thro’ arm’d lines a warrior—to the spot,
And to the King knelt radiant Lancelot.
 
LXVI.
Here for a while the wild and fickle song
   Leaves the crowned Seeker of the Silver Shield;
Thy fates, O Gawaine, done to grievous wrong
   By the black guide perfidious, be revealed,
Nearing, poor Knight, the Cannibalian shrine,
Where Freya scents thee, and prepares to dine.
 
LXVII.
Left by a bride, and outraged by a raven,
   One friend still shared the injured captive’s lot;
For, as the vessel left the Cymrian haven,
   The faithful hound, whom he had half forgot,
Swam to the ship, clombe, up the sides, on board,
Snarled at the Danes, and nestled by its lord.
 
LXVIII.
The hirsute Captain, not displeased to see a
   New bonne bouche added to the destined roast
His floating larder had prepared for Freya,
   Welcomed the dog, as Charon might a ghost;
Allowed the beast to share his master’s platter,
And daily eyed them both,—and thought them fatter!
 
LXIX.
Ev’n in such straits, the Knight of golden tongue
   Confronts his foe with arguings just and sage,
Whether in pearls from deeps Druidic strung,
   Or linked synthetic from the Stagirite’s page,
Labouring to show him how absurd the notion,
That roasting Gawaine would affect the Ocean.
 
LXX.
But that enlightened tho’ unlearnëd man,
   Posed all the lore Druidical or Attic;
“One truth,” quoth he, “instructs the Sons of Ran,
   (A seaman race are always democratic)
That truth once known, all else is worthless lumber:
‘THE GREATEST PLEASURE OF THE GREATEST NUMBER.’
 
LXXI.
“No pleasure like a Christian roasted slowly,
   To Odin’s greatest number can be given;
The will of freemen to the gods is holy;
   The People’s voice must be the voice of Heaven.
On selfish principles you chafe at capture,
But what are private pangs to public rapture?
 
LXXII.
“You doubt that giving you as food for Freya
   Will have much marked effect upon the seas;
Let’s grant you right:—all pleasure’s in idea;
   If thousands think it, you the thousands please.
Your private interests must not be the guide,
When interests clash majorities decide.”
 
LXXIII.
Those doctrines, wise, and worthy of the race
   From whose free notions modern freedom flows,
Bore with such force of reasoning on the case,
   They left the Knight dumbfounded at the close;
Foiled in the weapons which he most had boasted,
He felt sound logic proved he should be roasted.
 
LXXIV.
Discreetly waving farther conversations,
   He, henceforth, silent lived his little hour;
Indulged at times such soothing meditations,
   As, “Flesh is grass,”—and “Life is but a flower.”
For men, like swans, have strains most edifying,
They never think of till the time for dying,
 
LXXV.
And now at last, the fatal voyage o’er,
   Sir Gawaine hears the joyous shout of “Land!”
Two Vikings lead him courteously on shore:
   A crowd as courteous wait him on the strand.
Fifes, viols, trumpets braying, screaming, strumming,
Flatter his ears, and compliment his coming.
 
LXXVI.
Right on the shore the gracious temple stands,
   Formed like a ship, and builded but of log;
Tither at once the hospitable bands
   Lead the grave Knight and unsuspicious dog,
Which, greatly pleased to walk on land once more,
Swells with unprescient bark the tuneful roar.
 
LXXVII.
Six Priests and one tall Priestess clothed in white,
   Advance—and meet them at the porch divine;
With sev’n loud shrieks, they pounce upon the Knight,
   Whisked by the Priests behind the inmost shrine,
While the tall Priestess asks the congregation
To come at dawn to witness the oblation.
 
LXXVIII.
Tho’ somewhat vexed at this so brief delay—
   Yet as the rite, in truth, required preparing,
The flock obedient took themselves away;—
   Meanwhile the Knight was on the Idol staring,
Not without wonder at the tastes terrestrial
Which in that image hailed a shape celestial.
 
LXXIX.
Full thirty ells in height—the goddess stood
   Based on a column of the bones of men,
Daubed was her face with clots of human blood,
   Her jaws as wide, as is a tiger’s den;
With giant fangs as strong and huge as those
That cranch the reeds, thro’ which the sea-horse goes.
 
LXXX.
“Right reverend Sir,” quoth he of golden tongue,
   “A most majestic gentlewoman this!
Is it the Freya whom your scalds have sung
   Goddess of love and sweet connubial bliss?—
If so—despite her very noble carriage,
Her charms are scarce what youth desires in marriage.”
 
LXXXI.
“Stranger,” said one who seemed the hierarch-priest—
   “In that sublime, symbolical creation,
The outward image but conveys the last
   Of Freya’s claims on human veneration—
But—thine own heart if Love hath ever glowed in,—
Thou’lt own that Love is quite as fierce as Odin!
 
LXXXII.
“Hence, as the cause of full one half our quarrels,
   Freya with Odin shares the rites of blood;—
In this—thou see’st a hidden depth of morals,
   But by the vulgar little understood;—
We do not roast thee in an idle frolic;
But as a type mysterious and symbolic.”
 
LXXXIII.
The hierarch motions to the priests around,
   They bind the victim to the Statue’s base,
Then, to the Knight they link the wondering hound,
   Some three yards distant—looking face to face.
“One word,” said Gawaine—“ere your worships quit us,
“How is it meant that Freya is to eat us?”
 
LXXXIV.
“Stranger,” replied the priest—“albeit we hold
   Such questions idle, and perhaps profane;
Yet much the wise will pardon to the bold—
   When what they ask ’tis easy to explain—
Still typing Truth, and shaped with sacred art,
We place a furnace in the statue’s heart:
 
LXXXV.
“That furnace heated by mechanic laws
   Which gods to priests for godlike ends permit,
We lay the victim bound across the jaws,
   And let him slowly turn upon a spit;
The jaws—(when done to what we think their liking)
Close;—all is over:—the effect is striking.”
 
LXXXVI.
At that recital made in tone complacent
   The frozen Knight stared speechless and aghast,
Stared on those jaws to which he was subjacent,
   And felt the grinders cranch on their repast.
Meanwhile the Priest said—“Keep your spirits up,
And ere I go, say when you’d like to sup?”
 
LXXXVII.
“Sup!” faltered out the melancholy Knight,
   “Sup! pious Sir—no trouble there, I pray!
Good tho’ I grant my natural appetite,
   The thought of Freya’s takes it all away:
As for the dog—poor, unenlightened glutton,
Blind to the future,—let him have his mutton.”
 
LXXXVIII.
’Tis night: behold the dog and man alone!
   The man hath said his thirtieth noster pater,
The dog has supped, and, having picked his bone,
   (The meat was salted) feels a wish for water,
Puts out in vain a reconnoitring paw,
Feels the cord, smells it, and begins to gnaw.
 
LXXIX.
Abashed Philosophy, that dog survey!
   Thou call’st on freemen—bah! expand thy scope!
Aide-toi toi-même, et Dieu t’aidera!’
   Doth thraldom bind thee?—gnaw thyself the rope.—
Whatever Laws, and Kings, and States may be;
Wise men in earnest can be always free.
 
XC.
By a dim lamp upon the altar stone
   Sir Gawaine marked the inventive work canine;
“Cords bind us both—the dog has gnawed his own;
   O Dog skoinophagous—a tooth for mine!—
And both may scape that too-refining Goddess
Who roasts to types what Nature meant for bodies.”
 
XCI.
Sir Gawaine calls the emancipated hound,
   And strives to show his own illegal ties;
Explaining how free dogs, themselves unbound,
   With all who would be free should fraternise—
The dog looked puzzled, licked the fettered hand,
Pricked up his ears—but would not understand.
 
XCII.
The unhappy Knight perceived the hope was o’er,
   And did again to fate his soul resign;
When hark! a footstep—and behold! once more
   Appears the Hierarch of the fatal shrine;
The dog his growl at Gawaine’s whisper ceast,
And dog and Knight, both silent, watched the priest.
 
XCII.
The subtle captive saw with much content
   No sacred comrades had that reverend man;
Beneath a load of sacred charcoal bent,
   The Priest approached; when Gawaine thus began:
“It shames me much to see you thus bent double,
And feel myself the cause of so much trouble.
 
XCIV.
“Doth Freya’s kitchen, ventrical and holy,
   Afford no meaner scullion to prepare
The festive rites?—on you depends it wholly
   To heat the oven and to dress the fare?”
“To hands less pure are given the outward things,
To Hierarchs only, the interior springs,”
 
XCV.
Replied the Priest—“and till my task is o’er
   All else intruding, wrath divine incur.”
Sir Gawaine heard and not a sentence more
   Sir Gawaine said, than—“Up and seize him, Sir,”
Sprung at the word, the dog; and in a trice
Griped the Priest’s throat and locked it like a vice.
 
XCVI.
“Pardon, my sacred friend,” then quoth the Knight,
   “You are not strangled from an idle frolic,
When bit the biter, you’ll confess the bite
   Is full of sense, mordacious but symbolic;
In roasting men, O culinary brother,
Learn this grand truth—‘one turn deserves another!’ ”
 
XCVII.
Extremely pleased, the oratoric Knight
   Regained the vantage he had lost so long,
For sore, till then, he had been his just despite
   That Northern wit should foil his golden tongue.
Now, in debate how proud was his condition,
The opponent posed and by his own position!
 
XCVIII.
Therefore, with more than his habitual breeding,
   Resumed benignantly the bland Gawaine,
While much the Priest against the dog’s proceeding
   With stifling gasps protested, but in vain—
“Friend—(softly, dog; so—ho!) thou must confess
Our selfish interests bid us coalesce.—
 
XCIX.
“Unknit these cords; and, once unloosed the knot,
   I pledge my troth to call the hound away,
If thou accede—a show of hands! if not
   That dog at least I fear must have his day.”
High in the air, both hands at once appear!
“Carried, nem. con.,—Dog, fetch him,—gently, here!”
 
C.
Not without much persuasion yields the hound!
   Loosens the throat, to gripe the sacred vest.
“Priest,” quoth Gawaine, “remember, but a sound,
   And straight the dog—let fancy sketch the rest!”
The Priest, by fancy too dismayed already,
Fumbles the knot with fingers far from steady.
 
CI.
Hoarse, while he fumbles, growls the dog suspicious,
   Not liking such close contact to his Lord;
The best of friends are sometimes too officious,
   And grudge all help save that themselves afford.
His hands set free, the Knight assists the Priest,
And, finis, funis, stands at last releast.
 
CII.
True to his word—and party coalitions,
   The Knight then kicks aside the dog, of course;
Salutes the foe, and states the new conditions
   The facts connected with the times enforce;
All coalitions in themselves denote
That State-Metempsychosis—change of coat!
 
CIII.
“Ergo,” quoth Gawaine,—“first, the sacred cloak;
   Next, when two parties but concur pro temp.,
Their joint opinions only should be spoke
   By that which has most cause to fear the hemp.
Wherefore, my friend, this scar supplies the gag
To keep the cat symbolic—in the bag!—”
 
CIV.
So said, so done, before the Priest was able
   To prove his counter interest in the case,
The Knight had bound him with the victim’s cable,
   Closed up his mouth and covered his face,
His sacred vest with hands profane had taken,
And left him that which Gawaine had forsaken.
 
CV.
Then boldly out into the blissful air
   Sir Gawaine stept! How solemn-sweet was Night!
With Ocean’s heart of music heaving there,
   Under its starry robe!—and all the might
Of rock and shore, and islet deluge-riven,
Distinctly dark against the lustrous heaven!
 
CVI.
Calm lay the large rude Nature of the North,
   Glad as when first the stars rejoicing sang,
And fresh as when from kindling Chaos forth,
   A thought of God, the young Creation sprang;
When man in all the present Father found,
And for the Temple, paused and looked around!
 
CVII.
Nature, thou earliest gospel of the wise,
   Thou never-silent hymner unto God;
Thou Angel-ladder lost amid the skies,
   Tho’ at the foot we dream upon the sod;
To thee the Priesthood of the Lyre belong—
They hear Religion and reply in Song.
 
CVIII.
If he hath held thy worship undefiled
   Through all the sins and sorrows of his youth,
Let the Man echo what he heard as Child
   From the far hill-tops of melodious Truth,
Leaving on troubled hearts some lingering tone
Sweet with the solace thou hast given his own!