If Lord Byron had written "The Passing of Arthur"

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If Lord Byron had written "The Passing of Arthur"

from: Tricks of the Trade (Pp. 71 - 77)  1917

So all day long the noise of battle rolled
    Among the mountains by the western sea,
Till, when the bell for evening service tolled,
    Each side had swiped the other utterly;
And, looking round, Sir Bedivere the bold
    Said, "Sire there's no one left but you and me;
I'm game to lay a million to a fiver
That, save for us, there is not one survivor."

"Quite likely," answered Arthur, "and I'm sure
    That I have been so hammered by these swine
To-morrow's sun will find us yet one fewer.
    I prithee take me to yon lonely shrine
Where I may rest and dine. There is no cure
    For men with sixty-seven wounds like mine."
So Bedivere did very firmly grapple
His arm, and led him to the Baptist Chapel.

There he lay down, and by him burned like flame
    His sword Excalibur: its massy hilt
Crusted with blazing gems that never came
    From mortal mines; its blade, inlaid and gilt
And graved with many a necromantic name,
    Still dabbled with the blood the king had spilt.
Which touching, Arthur said, "Sir Bedivere,
Please take this brand and throw him in the mere."

Bold Bedivere sprang back like one distraught,
    Or like a snail when tapped upon the shell,
Was this the peerless prince for whom he'd fought,
    A man who'd drop his cheque-book down a well?
Surely he must have dreamt the words, he thought.
    Had the king spoken? Was it possible
To give so lunatic a proposal credit?...
And yet the king undoubtedly had said it.

He said it again in accents full serene:
    "Go to the lake and throw this weapon in it,
And then come back and tell me what you've seen.
    The business should not take you half a minute.
Off now. I say precisely what I mean."
    "Right, sire!" But, sotto voce, "What a sin it
Would be, what criminal improvidence
To waste an arme blanche of such excellence!"

But Arthur's voice broke through his meditation,
    "Why this delay? I thought I said 'at once'?"
"Yes, sire," said he, and, with a salutation
    Walked off reflecting, "How this fighting blunts
One's wits. In any other situation
    I should have guessed - 'twere obvious to a dunce
That this all comes from Merlin's precious offices,
Why could he not confine himself to prophecies?"

Bearing the brand, across the rocks he went
    And now and then a hot impatient word
Witnessed the stress of inner argument.
    "Curse it," he mused, "a really sumptuous sword
Is just the very one accoutrement
    I never have been able to afford;
This beautiful, this incomparable Excalibur
Would nicely suit a warrior of my calibre.

"Could anything be madder than to hurl in
    This stupid lake a sword as good as new,
Merely because that hoary humbug Merlin
   Suggested that would be the thing to do?
A bigger liar never came from Berlin,
   I won't be baulked by guff and bugaboo;
The old impostor's lake may call in vain for it
I'll stick it in a hole and come again for it."

So, having safely stowed away the sword
   And marked the place with several large stones
Sir Bedivere returned to his liege lord
   And, with a studious frankness in his tones,
Stated that he had dropped it overboard;
    But Arthur only greeted him with groans:
"My Bedivere," he said, "I may be dying,
But even dead I'd spot such barefaced lying.

"It's rather rough upon a dying man
   that his last dying orders should be flouted.
Time was when if you'd thus deranged my plan
   I should have said, 'Regard yourself as outed,
I'll find some other gentleman who can.'
   Now I must take what comes, that's all about it...
My strength is failing fast, it's very cold here.
Come, pull yourself together, be a soldier.

"Once more I must insist you are to lift
   Excalibur and hurl him in the mere.
Don't hang about now. You had better shift
   For all you're worth, or when you come back here
The chances are you'll find your master stiffed."
   Whereat the agonized Sir Bedivere,
His "Yes, Sire," broken by a noisy sob,
Went off once more on his distasteful job.

But as he walked the inner voice did say:
   "I quite agree with 'Render unto Caesar,'
But nothing's said of throwing things away
   When a man's king's an old delirious geezer,
You don't meet swords like this one every day.
   Jewels and filigree as fine as these are
Should surely be preserved in a museum
That our posterity may come and see 'em.

"A work of Art's a thing one holds in trust,
   One has no right to throw it in a lake,
Such Vandalism would arouse disgust
   In every Englishman who claims to take
An interest in Art. Oh, no, I must
   Delude my monarch for my country's sake;
Obedience in such a case, in fact,
Were patently an anti-social act.

"It is not pleasant to deceive my king,
   I had much rather humour his caprice,
But, if I tell him I have thrown the thing,
   And, thinking that the truth, he dies in peace,
Surely the poets of our race will sing
   (Unless they are the most pedantic geese)
The praises of the knight who lied to save
This precious weapon from a watery grave."

He reached the margin of the lake and there
   Until a decent interval had passed
Lingered, the sword once more safe in its lair.
   Then to his anxious monarch hurried fast,
And, putting on a still more candid air,
   Assured the king the brand had gone at last.
But Arthur, not deceived by any means,
Icily said: "Tell that to the marines.

"Sir Bedivere, this conduct won't enhance
   Your reputation as a man of honour.
If you had dared to lead me such a dance
   A week ago you would have been a goner.
Listen to me! I give you one more chance;
   And, if you fail again, I swear upon our
Old oath of fealty to the Table Round
I shall jump up and fell you to the ground."

So that sad soul went off alone once more.
   Rebellion frowned no longer on his face;
His spirit was broken; when he reached the shore
   He wormed the sword out of its hiding-place,
Excalibur, that man's eye should see no more,
   And, fearing still a further lapse from grace,
Shut his eyes tight against that matchless jewel
And, desperately hissing, "This is cruel,"

Swung it far back; and then, with mighty sweep,
   Hove it to southward as he had been bade.
And, as it fell, an arm did suddenly leap
   Out of the moonlit wave, in samite clad,
And grasped the sword and drew it to the deep.
   And all was still; and Bedivere, who had
No nerve at all left now, exclaimed, "My Hat!
I'll never want another job like that!"

Thus Bedivere at least performed his vow.
   And Arthur, when the warrior bore in sight,
Read his success upon his gloomy brow.
   "Done it at last," he murmured, "that's all right.
Well, Bedivere, and what has happened now?"
   Demanded he; and the disconsolate knight
In a harsh bitter voice replied, "Oh, damn it all,
I saw a mystic arm, clothed in white samite all."

"Quite right," said Arthur, "better late than never;
   Now, if you please, you'll take me for a ride,
Put me upon your back and then endeavour
   To run top-speed unto the waterside.
Come, stir your stumps, you must be pretty clever,
   Or otherwise I fear I shall have died
Before you've landed me upon the jetty,
And then the programme's spoilt: which were a pity."

What followed after this (although my trade is
   Romantic verse) is quite beyond my lay.
For automobile barges, full of ladies
   Singing and weeping, never came my way.
Though, for that matter, I was once in Cadiz -
   But never mind. It will suffice to say
That in his final act our old friend Malory
   Was obviously playing to the gallery.