Sonnets of Arthurian Cornwall: Tintagel

Print

Sonnets of Arthurian Cornwall: Tintagel

TINTAGEL, huge rock-royal, glad was I
    That only here and there a crumbling wall,
    Hard to distinguish from the natural,
Still stood upon thy summit. Worthily
Could feudal palace-keep scarce occupy
    Such site; and how would newer buildings pall
    Where every rood was stamped historical,
Or fancy-tinged, or steeped in legendry?
    Dismantled, one can picture on the isle
       A shadowy Arthur washed up from the bay,
    And rear upon its front a stately pile
       Of marble as kings reared them in the day,
    Ere time had taught the Briton to neglect
    The lesson of the Roman Architect.                             

                   II.

Arthur and Ysolde, Uther and Ygraine,
     Tristram and Mark!--on moon-enchanted nights
     At murk mid-dark, or when the island's heights
Peer dimly through a veil of spray and rain
Driven by the western gales--ye live again.
     What wilder than this huge rock, ringed with bights
     Precipice walled and reefy, for the fights
Of Uther and the Cornish Duke, both fain
     For Arthur's mother? Not in fairy-land
        Have they in summer stillness such a cove
     With ferny caverns nooked and soft with sand
        To take a stranded babe. And hate and love,--
     Queen Ysolde's love for Tristram, and Mark's hate--
     Thy smooth brow and dark chasms illustrate.                              

                    III.

I saw thee first late on a summer eve,
   Too dusky to distinguish the low block
   Of wall fast mingling with the native rock,
  So dusky that I could not well perceive
   The vast ravine the elements did leave,
       When the great drawbridge fell, before the shock
       Of giant storms or those strong dwarfs who mock
     Adamant--mists which melt and frosts which cleave.
         Only the mount loomed black against the sky
             And at my feet slow heavy breakers roared,
         The while I trampled, musing wistfully,
             The stunted gorse and sea-pinks of the sward
         Upon the windy height, whereon still stands
         The church first founded there by Saxon hands.                               

                    IV.

Next morn I clomb the mount to seek the well
     And all but vanished earthworks. Those were there
     When Uther's savage war-cry rent the air;
Those and the mount itself alone could tell,
Had they but tongues, where such a hero fell,
     And such a gallant prince won such a fair,
     And how Queen Ysolde of the raven hair
Held the stout knight, Sir Tristram, in her spell.
     The month was August and the morn was grand
         With all that makes an August morning dear
     To rain-vexed England; light the west wind chased
          The ripples on the bay; the sky was clear,
     The sun shone bright, the air was warm and dry:
     And Nature held the keep of days gone by.