Tintagel

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Tintagel

from: Tintagel, and Other Verses (Pp. 1 - 4)  1910

                                I

          Below, the unseen, swinging, Cornish sea
Sounded afar, as when its distant murmur
Lives faintly in a shell. From out the fog
That wreathed fantastically about the rocks
And stretched white fingers in among the clefts
A single gull screamed once – a single break.
Above the eastern moors the waning moon
Cast her cold gleam; caught in the spectral light,
Strange figures of the fog rose on the cliffs
And passed to nothingness, where vaguely huge,
Like some tall galleon lifting on the swell,
Tintagel peered gray through the drifting mist.
           Long since, up there above the wind-vexed seas,
Full in the splendour of a summer sun,
Flashing the jewelled magic of her dress,
Sate Iseult, the imperious Cornish queen;
And there below, where the full flood invades
The cave that of Tintagel forms an isle,
Her bark first grated on the Cornish strand, —
In those old times of dazed imaginings,
When all the sea-foam fashioned faery-flowers,
When she had not yet weened the sad result
Of those bright hours with Tristram in the bark,
When, a proud Irish princess, cheerily
She challenged Mark to meet her at the marge.
           Unhappy queen! Long years had gone when came
Tristram, that ill-starred knight of Lyonnesse,
Tristram, than never fairer harped and sang,
Nor never sadder loved so hopelessly.
For hark! those hurried steps upon the stair,
Clanking their message of a fierce delight,
Requite of ten years' unrewarded passion;
See, see that last embrace, those fair white arms,
Those eager fingers, and that furious kiss!
And see, behind, the coward Mark! – and hear
That one wild scream when Tristram's spirit parts!

                              II

          Once yet again they rose, like ghosts of knights,
Those strange white figures of the fog that passed
To nothingness on horses made of mist.
Arthur was there in his majestic age,
As he went forth to battles in the West;
And after him rode armed the fairest flower
Of noble knights that e'er have splintered spears
Charging the ringing lists of Camelot.
So passed they on—Sir Gawaine and Beaumains;
The Red Lawns Knight; and Mordred, foul with crime;
Sir Kay, the seneschal; Leodegrance;
And his fair daughter, Guinevere the queen,
Casting a flower to list-scarred Launcelot;
And, last of all, a triumph in his eyes,
Peerless and pure, Sir Galahad alone.

                            III

        Below, the unseen, swinging Cornish sea...
Softly a breeze blew from the western main,
And the fog vanished 'neath the rising moon.
The billows, heaving to the westering wind,
Plashed louder on the pebbles, and the gulls,
A thousand startled simultaneously,
Screamed wildly from the cliffs. High, bare, and black,
Out of the moonlit sea Tintagel stood,
Substantial, real—the work of Him who made
The void and from the void this earth and sea,
And fixed the firmament and fired the sun.
Or ever Arthur came these rocks upreared
Their battlements against this Cornish sea;
Each year twelve moons shine on these desolate moors;
And gulls have ever wheeled about these cliffs.
Into this desolation came a race
And raised a kingdom proud, and passed – and now
The same old God-built desolation reigns.
To-morrow's sun on high Tintagel's towers
Will show the ancient ruins—nothing more;
And they in time will join the pageant pale
Of figures that fare ghostly through the fog.