Ballad of Launcelot and Elaine

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Ballad of Launcelot and Elaine

from: Songs and Satires  1916

It was a hermit on Whitsunday
That came to the Table Round.
"King Arthur, wit ye by what Knight
May the Holy Grail be found?"

"By never a Knight that liveth now;
By none that feasteth here."
King Arthur marveled when he said,
"He shall be got this year."

Then uprose brave Sir Launcelot
And there did mount his steed,
And hastened to a pleasant town
That stood in knightly need.

Where many people him acclaimed,
He passed the Corbin pounte,
And there he saw a fairer tower
Than ever was his wont.

And in that tower for many years
A dolorous lady lay,
Whom Queen Northgalis had bewitched,
And also Queen le Fay.

And Launcelot loosed her from those pains,
And there a dragon slew.
Then came King Pelles out and said,
"Your name, brave Knight and true?"

"My name is Pelles, wit ye well,
And King of the far country;
And I, Sir Knight, am cousin nigh
To Joseph of Armathie."

"I am Sir Launcelot du Lake."
And then they clung them fast;
And yede into the castle hall
To take the king's repast.

Anon there cometh in a dove
By the window's open fold,
And in her mouth was a rich censer,
That shone like Ophir gold.

And therewithal was such a savor
As bloweth over sea
From a land of many colored flowers
And trees of spicery.

And therewithal was meat and drink,
And a damsel passing fair,
Betwixt her hands of tulip-white,
A golden cup did bear.

"O Jesu," said Sir Launcelot,
"What may this marvel mean?"
"That is," said Pelles, "richest thing
That any man hath seen."

"O Jesu," said Sir Launcelot,
"What may this sight avail?"
"Now wit ye well," said King Pelles,
"That was the Holy Grail."

Then by this sign King Pelles knew
Elaine his fair daughter
Should lie with Launcelot that night,
And Launcelot with her.

And that this twain should get a child
Before the night should fail,
Who would be named Sir Galahad,
And find the Holy Grail.

Then cometh one hight Dame Brisen
With Pelles to confer,
"Now, wit ye well, Sir Launcelot
Loveth but Guinevere."

"But if ye keep him well in hand,
The while I work my charms,
The maid Elaine, ere spring of morn,
Shall lie within his arms."

Dame Brisen was the subtlest witch
That was that time in life;
She was as if Beelzebub
Had taken her to wife.

Then did she cause one known of face
To Launcelot to bring,
As if it came from Guinevere,
Her wonted signet ring.

"By Holy Rood, thou comest true,
For well I know thy face.
Where is my lady?" asked the Knight,
"There in the Castle Case?"

"'Tis five leagues scarcely from this hall,"
Up spoke that man of guile.
"I go this hour," said Launcelot,
"Though it were fifty mile."

Then sped Dame Brisen to the king
And whispered, "An we thrive,
Elaine must reach the Castle Case
Ere Launcelot arrive."

Elaine stole forth with twenty knights
And a goodly company.
Sir Launcelot rode fast behind,
Queen Guinevere to see.

Anon he reached the castle door.
Oh! fond and well deceived.
And there it seemed the queen's own train
Sir Launcelot received.

"Where is the queen?" quoth Launcelot,
For I am sore bestead,"
"Have not such haste," said Dame Brisen,
"The queen is now in bed."

"Then lead me thither," saith he,
"And cease this jape of thine."
"Now sit thee down," said Dame Brisen,
"And have a cup of wine."

"For wit ye not that many eyes
Upon you here have stared;
Now have a cup of wine until
All things may be prepared."

Elaine lay in a fair chamber,
'Twixt linen sweet and clene.
Dame Brisen all the windows stopped,
That no day might be seen.

Dame Brisen fetched a cup of wine
And Launcelot drank thereof.
"No more of flagons," saith he,
"For I am mad for love."

Dame Brisen took Sir Launcelot
Where lay the maid Elaine.
Sir Launcelot entered the bed chamber
The queen's love for to gain.

Sir Launcelot kissed the maid Elaine,
And her cheeks and brows did burn;
And then they lay in other's arms
Until the morn's underne.

Anon Sir Launcelot arose
And toward the window groped,
And then he saw the maid Elaine
When he the window oped.

"Ah, traitoress," saith Launcelot,
And then he gat his sword,
"That I should live so long and now
Become a knight abhorred."

"False traitoress," saith Launcelot,
And then he shook the steel.
Elaine skipped naked from the bed
And 'fore the knight did kneel.

"I am King Pelles own daughter
And thou art Launcelot,
The greatest knight of all the world.
This hour we have begot."

"Oh, traitoress Brisen," cried the knight,
"Oh, charmed cup of wine;
That I this treasonous thing should do
For treasures such as thine."

"Have mercy," saith maid Elaine,
"Thy child is in my womb."
Thereat the morning's silvern light
Flooded the bridal room.

That light it was a benison;
It seemed a holy boon,
As when behind a wrack of cloud
Shineth the summer moon.

And in the eyes of maid Elaine
Looked forth so sweet a faith,
Sir Launcelot took his glittering sword,
And thrust it in the sheath.

"So God me help, I spare thy life,
But I am wretch and thrall,
If any let my sword to make
Dame Brisen's head to fall."

"So have thy will of her," she said,
"But do to me but good;
For thou hast had my fairest flower,
Which is my maidenhood."

"And we have done the will of God,
And the will of God is best."
Sir Launcelot lifted the maid Elaine
And hid her on his breast.

Anon there cometh in a dove,
By the window's open fold,
And in her mouth was a rich censer
That shone like beaten gold.

And therewithal was such savor,
As bloweth over sea,
From a land of many colored flowers,
And trees of spicery.

And therewithal was meat and drink,
And a damsel passing fair,
Betwixt her hands of silver white
A golden cup did bear.

"O Jesu," said Sir Launcelot,
"What may this marvel mean?"
"That is," she said, "the richest thing
That any man hath seen."

"O Jesu," said Sir Launcelot,
"What may this sight avail?"
"Now wit ye well," said maid Elaine,
"This is the Holy Grail."

And then a nimbus light hung o'er
Her brow so fair and meek;
And turned to orient pearls the tears
That glistered down her cheek.

And a sound of music passing sweet
Went in and out again.
Sir Launcelot made the sign of the cross,
And knelt to maid Elaine.

"Name him whatever name thou wilt,
But be his sword and mail
Thrice tempered 'gainst a wayward world,
That lost the Holy Grail."

Sir Launcelot sadly took his leave
And rode against the morn.
And when the time was fully come
Sir Galahad was born.

Also he was from Jesu Christ,
Our Lord, the eighth degree;
Likewise the greatest knight this world
May ever hope to see.
Additional Information:
Originally published in Smart Set (Sept. 1915).