The Death of Sir Launcelot

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The Death of Sir Launcelot

from: Songs and Satires (Pp. 149 - 155)  1916

Sir Launcelot had fled to France
For the peace of Guinevere,
And many a noble knight was slain,
And Arthur lay on his bier.

Sir Launcelot took ship from France
And sailed across the sea.
He rode seven days through fair England
Till he came to Almesbury.

Then spake Sir Bors to Launcelot:
The old time is at end;
You have no more in England's realm
In east nor west a friend.

You have no friend in all England
Sith Mordred's war hath been,
And Queen Guinevere became a nun
To heal her soul of sin.

Sir Launcelot answered never a word
But rode to the west countree
Until through the forest he saw a light
That shone from a nunnery.

Sir Launcelot entered the cloister,
And the queen fell down in a swoon.
Oh blessed Jesu, saith the queen,
For thy mother's love, a boon.

Go hence, Sir Launcelot, saith the queen,
And let me win God's grace.
My heavy heart serves me no more
To look upon thy face.

Through you was wrought King Arthur's death,
Through you great war and wrake.
Leave me alone, let me bleed,
Pass by for Jesu's sake.

Then fare you well, saith Launcelot,
Sweet Madam, fare you well.
And sythen you have left the world
No more in the world I dwell.

Then up rose sad Sir Launcelot
And rode by wold and mere
Until he came to a hermitage
Where bode Sir Bedivere.

And there he put a habit on
And there did pray and fast.
And when Sir Bedivere told him all
His heart for sorrow brast.

How that Sir Mordred, traitorous knight
Betrayed his King and sire;
And how King Arthur wounded, died
Broken in heart's desire.

And so Sir Launcelot penance made,
And worked at servile toil;
And prayed the Bishop of Canterbury
His sins for to assoil.

His shield went clattering on the wall
To a dolorous wail of wind;
His casque was rust, his mantle dust
With spider webs entwined.

His listless horses left alone
Went cropping where they would,
To see the noblest knight of the world
Upon his sorrow brood.

Anon a Vision came in his sleep,
And thrice the Vision saith:
Go thou to Almesbury for thy sin,
Where lieth the queen in death.

Sir Launcelot cometh to Almesbury
And knelt by the dead queen's bier;
Oh none may know, moaned Launcelot,
What sorrow lieth here.

What love, what honor, what defeat
What hope of the Holy Grail.
The moon looked through the latticed glass
On the queen's face cold and pale.

Sir Launcelot kissed the ceréd cloth,
And none could stay his woe,
Her hair lay back from the oval brow,
And her nose was clear as snow.

They wrapped her body in cloth of Raines,
They put her in webs of lead.
They coffined her in white marble,
And sang a mass for the dead.

Sir Launcelot and seven knights
Bore torches around the bier.
They scattered myrrh and frankincense
On the corpse of Guinevere.

They put her in earth by King Arthur
To the chant of a doleful tune.
They heaped the earth on Guinevere
And Launcelot fell in a swoon.

Sir Launcelot went to the hermitage
Some Grace of God to find;
But never he ate, and never he drank
And there he sickened and dwined.

Sir Launcelot lay in a painful bed,
And spake with a dreary steven;
Sir Bishop, I pray you shrive my soul
And make it clean for heaven.

The Bishop houseled Sir Launcelot,
The Bishop kept watch and ward.
Bury me, saith Sir Launcelot,
In the earth of Joyous Guard.

Three candles burned the whole night through
Till the red dawn looked in the room.
And the white, white soul of Launcelot
Strove with a black, black doom.

I see the old witch Dame Brisen,
And Elaine so straight and tall--
Nay, saith the Bishop of Canterbury,
The shadows dance on the wall.

I see long hands of dead women,
They clutch for my soul eftsoon;
Nay, saith the Bishop of Canterbury,
'Tis the drifting light of the moon.

I see three angels, saith he,
Before a silver urn.
Nay, saith the Bishop of Canterbury,
The candles do but burn.

I see a cloth of red samite
O'er the holy vessels spread.
Nay, saith the Bishop of Canterbury,
The great dawn groweth red.

I see all the torches of the world
Shine in the room so clear.
Nay, saith the bishop of Canterbury,
The white dawn draweth near.

Sweet lady, I behold the face
Of thy dear son, our Lord,
Nay, saith the Bishop of Canterbury,
The sun shines on your sword.

Sir Galahad outstretcheth hands
And taketh me ere I fail--
Sir Launcelot's body lay in death
As his soul found the Holy Grail.

They laid his body in the quire
Upon a purple pall.
He was the meekest, gentlest knight
That ever ate in hall.

He was the kingliest, goodliest knight
That ever England roved,
The truest lover of sinful man
That ever woman loved.

I pray you all, fair gentlemen,
Pray for his soul and mine.
He lived to lose the heart he loved
And drink but bitter wine.

He wrought a woe he knew not of,
He failed his fondest quest,
Now sing a psalter, read a prayer
May all souls find their rest.
Amen.