Lancelot

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Lancelot

                          LANCELOT

Very long and hot it was,
The dry light on the dry grass,
The set noon on lakes of glass,
   All that summer time;
And the great woods burnt and brown,
With dry tendrils dropping down,
And the sky's white rampart thrown
On the bare wall of a town,
   Round breadths of oak and lime.
Thro' the woods I rode and rode,
No prayer of mine clomb up to God;
Sharp leaves crackled on the road
Where my horse the heaviest trode,
   Over leaves and grass.
Thro' the sad boughs rent on high
Naked burnt the great blind sky;
Yet I did not pray to die,
   For no pain that was.
Here and there some colour was
Hidden in the muffled grass,
Some late flower that one might pass,
Or else a brown, smooth beech-mast was,
   Or carven acorn cup.
And birds sang, and could not long,
For a trouble in their song:
All things there did suffer wrong,
   All but I who rode along.
Now I grow so tired of this,
I would give much gold to kiss
One leaf of those primroses
That grow here when the green spring is
   Whereof their life is made.
Under moon and under star
I have ridden fast and far
Where the deep leaves thickest are
   In the huddled shade.

I cannot see what I shall do.

Now the day drops angrily,
Leaves a red stain on the sea,
And fierce light on field and tree,
   Red as any brand.
A great slumber takes me round
In this place of sleepy sound;
Surely now the gift is found
   And ready to my hand.
For there is left me nothing new
And none rides with me riding through
These brown wood walks so straight and few
   For many nights and days.
And men say that I shall not win,
Tho' the chosen for all my sin;
The sleepy beams crawl out and in
Under the branches rare and thin
   Where thro' I ride always.
                                              (He sleeps.)

                         THE ANGEL

Lo, the air begins to move
Like a heart that beats with love
All about thee and above,
For the hope it whispers of
   But a little while.
A great love has healed his heart,
The shut eyelids move and start,
The shut lips are breathed apart
   In a sleepy smile.

                         LANCELOT

Ah! dear Christ, this thing I see
Is too wonderful for me,
If I think indeed to be
   In Thy very grace.
Clear flame shivers all about,
But the bright ark alters not,
Borne upright where angels doubt;
The blessed maiden looketh out
White, with barèd face and throat
   Leaned into the dark.
On her hair's faint light and shade
A large aureole is laid,
All about the tresses weighed.

                         THE ANGEL

This is what thou wert to find.
Lo, the thin flames blown behind
Tremble in the blowing wind
As loose hair that girls unbind
In a woody place.

                         LANCELOT

Ah, sweet Lord that art my Lord,
Thy light is sharp as any sword;
My heart is strainèd as a cord
   That a child may break.
Evenwise each side her head
So they stand, the blessed maid,
   The angels and the ark.

It were strange if I should see
Sweet new things for love of Thee;
For such hope was not to be;
Yet hast Thou had ruth on me
   For my sorrow's sake.
I tremble, but I cannot weep,
I fear so much I am asleep;
Round the faces ranged and steep
A thin splendour seems to creep
Thro' the night so dear and deep,
Seems to stir as leaves that dip
   In a lilied lake.

Ah, sweet Lord that died on rood,
Of old time Thy word hath stood
And we saw it very good;
Yet is this Thy happy blood
   I was not to see.

                         THE ANGEL

Where she standeth in the night
Clasped about with solemn light,
Clothed upon with samite bright.
The blessed maiden very white,
This is all the happy sight
   That I may bring for thee.

                         LANCELOT

Over me the glory smites,
Sharp and level as the lights
Spear-shap'd on solemn winter nights
   That strike from shade to shade;
Only all the inner place
(Ah, my Lord, is this Thy grace?)
Shineth as a happy face
In a clear and golden space
   That itself hath made.
Is this love that I may win,
Love of mine for all my sin?
The straight flames flicker out and in,
   Tho' they never fade.
But the light of that strange place
(Lord, I thank Thee for Thy grace!)
Thro' the lights of moving space
Trembles like a living face
   Whereon some pain is laid.

                         THE ANGEL

Turn thine eyes against the light,
Where the spearèd splendours smite
Round the ark, most close and white;
This is given me to-night
   For the love of thee.

                         LANCELOT

All the wonder shown above
(Lord, I praise Thee for Thy love!)
Thro' the lights that mix and move
Like blown feathers of a dove
   Stirreth, strange to see;
And midway the solemn place
(As my soul were full of grace)
Leaning hither, the clear Face
   Seemeth to bless me.

                         THE ANGEL

Points of sharp light star the ground;
Thro' the wind is blown a sound
As of singing voices round
   Over the dark land.
Christ the Lord is fair and crowned,
Whose pure blood, in bitter swound,
Droppèd from the holy wound;
Surely now the gift is found
   And ready to thy hand.

                         LANCELOT

Lo, between me and the light
Grows a shadow on my sight,
A soft shade to left and right,
   Branchèd as a tree.
Green the leaves that stir between,
And the buds are lithe and green,
And against it seems to lean
One in stature as the Queen
   That I prayed to see.
Ah, what evil thing is this?
For she hath no lips to kiss,
And no brows of balm and bliss
   Bended over me.
For between me and the shine
Grows a face that is not mine,
On each curve and tender line
And each tress drawn straight and fine
   As it used to be.

                         THE ANGEL

This is Guenevere the Queen.

                         LANCELOT

For the face that comes between
Is like one that I have seen
   In the days that were.
Nay, this new thing shall not be.
Is it her own face I see
Thro' the smooth leaves of the tree,
   Sad and very fair?
All the wonder that I see
Fades and flutters over me
Till I know not what things be
   As I seemed to know.
But I see so fair she is,
I repent me not in this;
And to kiss her but one kiss
I would count it for my bliss
   To be troubled so,
For she leans against it straight,
Leans against it all her weight,
All her shapeliness and state;
And the apples golden-great
   Shine about her there.
Light creeps round her as she stands,
Round her face and round her hands,
Fainter light than dying brands
When day fills the eastern lands
   And the moon is low.
And her eyes in some old dream
Woven thro' with shade and gleam
Stare against me till I seem
To be hidden in a dream,
To be drowned in a deep stream
   Of her dropping hair.
That is Guenevere the Queen.
Now I know not what they mean,
Those close leaves that grow so green,
Those large fruits that burn between,
   Each a laugh new lit.
Now I know not what they were,
The light fires that trembled there
Sharp and thin in the soft air,
Nor the faces dumb and fair,
Nor the happy singing near;
But I seem to see her hair
   And the light on it.
Day by day and hour by hour
Grew her white face like a flower,
Palest where the day grew lower
   On the fiery sea.
Always sate I, watching her,
By her carven gilded chair,
Full of wonder and great fear
If one long lock of her hair
In the soft wind sink or stir,
   Fallen to her knee.
All about her face and head
The flat sunset overspread
Like an aureole of red,
Stained as drops from wounds that bled
   In some bitter fight.
All the tender shapen head
Dimly blurred with golden red,
And the thin face, as I said,
Drawn and white as snows wind-shed
On the green place of the dead
   In a windy night.
Coloured flakes of stormy fire
Clomb the rent clouds high and higher,
And the wind like a great lyre
   Sounded vague and loud.
And the sunset lines that flee
On the flats of fiery sea
Far below us, her and me,
Were as golden red to see
As the heaped hair on her knee
   Or as the coloured cloud.
So we sat in love and fear,
And no faces came anear,
And no voices touched our ear
But of angels singing clear
Out of all the sunset drear
   Round us and above.
And she listened; and a light
Shivered upward in my sight
Thro' her set face, sad and white;
Till I hid mine eyes for fright
   And for very love.
Drear and void the sunset was
On stained flats of fire and glass
Where she saw the angels pass
   That I could not see:
For none eyes but hers might pierce
Thro' the colours vague and fierce
That a sunset weaves and wears;
Downward slipt the long thin tears
As she turned and sang this verse
That she made for me.

'Eastward under skies that dip
As to touch the water's lip,
Pass, my ship, with sails that drip
     Not with dew, nor with rain.
Thro' the morning float and pass
From the shores of flower and grass,
Thro' a space of golden glass
     Stained with a blood-red stain.
Evil ship on evil sea,
Bear him back again to me
Till I see what secrets be
     Hidden in all this pain.'


Then she spake not, neither stirred,
But I shook for that one word
With the pain of that I heard
   That she spake of me.
For the ship that seemed to pass
Thro' the sea of fiery glass,
That strange ship mine own soul was
   And my life the sea.
And the sin that I had done
In the fierce time that was gone
When I slew her knight alone
Face to face with the red sun
   Setting in the west.
And my soul began to see
All the ill she had of me
When I bore her to the sea
   From her place of rest.
Yet I loved her long and well;
Yea, my tongue would tire to tell
All the love that her befell,
And the slow speech faint and fail
   Ere the love was told.
Now she dwelleth by me here,
In my castle builded fair;
But no crown of mine will wear
That I thought to keep for her,
And on her beloved hair
   Lay the royal gold.
And her face grows grey and long
And harsh breaths come thro' her song
And her heart is worn with wrong,
   As is plain to see.
Should I die, no help it were
Now men say she is not fair,
For the pain she seems to wear
In grey cheeks and waning hair;
All my love avails not her,
   And she loves not me.
Vain was the prayer I prayed alway,
Where in evil case I lay,
That she might love me one day
   As the manner is;
Vain the prayer that I have prayed,
That, lying between light and shade,
I that loved her as I said,
I that never kissed a maid,
   I might have her kiss.
Additional Information:
Poem originally written c.1860.