The Elder Knight

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The Elder Knight

from: Op. I. (Pp. 61 - 65)  1916

      I.

I have met you foot to foot, I have fought you face to face,
I have held my own against you and lost no inch of place,
    And you shall never see
    How you have broken me.

You sheathed your sword in the dawn, and you smiled with careless eyes,
Saying "Merrily struck, my son, I think you may have your prize."
    Nor saw how each hard breath
    Was painfully snatched from death.

I held my head like a rock; I offered to joust again,
Though I shook, and my palsied hand could hardly cling to the rein;
    Did you curse my insolence
    And over-confidence?

You have ridden, lusty and fresh, to the morrow's tournament;
I am buffeted, beaten, sick at the heart and spent.—
    Yet, as God my speed be
    I will fight you again if need be.

               II.

A white cloud running under the moon
   And three stars over the poplar-trees,
Night deepens into her lambent noon;
   God holds the world between His knees;
Yesterday it was washed with the rain,
But now it is clean and clear again.

Your hands were strong to buffet me,
   But, when my plume was in the dust,
Most kind for comfort verily;
   Success rides blown with restless lust;
Herein is all the peace of heaven:
To know we have failed and are forgiven.

The brown, rain-scented garden beds
   Are waiting for the next year's roses;
The poplars wag mysterious heads,
   For the pleasant secret each discloses
To his neighbour, makes them nod, and nod—
So safe is the world on the knees of God.

             III.

I have the road before me; never again
   Will I be angry at the practised thrust
That flicked my fingers from the lordly rein
   To scratch and scrabble among the rolling dust.

I never will be angry — though your spear
   Bit through the pauldron, shattered the camail,
Before I crossed a steed, through many a year
   Battle on battle taught you how to fail.

Can you remember how the morning star
   Winked through the chapel window, when the day
Called you from vigil to delights of war
   With such loud jollity, you could not pray?

Pray now, Lord Lancelot; your hands are hard
   With the rough hilts; great power is in your eyes,
Great confidence; you are not newly scarred,
   And conquer gravely now without surprise.

Pray now, my master; you have still the joy
   Of work done perfectly; remember not
The dizzying bliss that smote you when, a boy,
   You faced some better man, Lord Lancelot.

Pray now — and look not on my radiant face,
   Breaking victorious from the bloody grips—
Too young to speak in quiet prayer or praise
   For the strong laughter bubbling to my lips.

Angry? because I scarce know how to stand,
   Gasping and reeling against the gates of death,
While, with the shaft yet whole within your hand,
   You smile at me with undisordered breath?

Not I — not I that have the dawn and dew,
   Wind, and the golden shore, and silver foam —
I that here pass and bid good-bye to you —
   For I ride forward — you are going home.

Truly I am your debtor for this hour
   Of rough and tumble — debtor for some good tricks
Of tourney-craft; — yet see how, flower on flower,
   The hedgerows blossom! How the perfumes mix

Of field and forest! — I must hasten on —
   The clover scent blows like a flag unfurled;
When you are dead, or aged and alone,
   I shall be foremost knight in all the world —

My world, not yours, beneath the morning's gold,
   My hazardous world, where skies and seas are blue;
Here is my hand. Maybe, when I am old,
   I shall remember you, and pray for you.