The Quest of the Sancgreall

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The Quest of the Sancgreall


O Rood of God! Dear God, transpierced on Rood! 
O bitter cry of "Eloi! Eloi!" sent
In agony, through all the wandering worlds!
While fiends in nether hell kept jubilee,
And seraphs, up in heaven, shed teers that left 
A nebulous splendour in the skies for aye.
O Rood of God! O Blood of God! that dropped
Into the cup, by faithful hands upheld,
The sacred Sancgreall, borne, for many an age,
Through Christendom, a blessing to the lands, 
Till lost in Britain, in the night of time!


THE QUEST OF THE SANCGREAL.


I. THE VOW.

IN the siege perilous sat Sir Galahad;—
Sir Galahad, the flower of knights, the pure;— 
Sir Galahad, that kneeling at the cross,
In Carlisle Minster, on All-hallow-eve,
Was caught up, in the spirit, or the flesh,
And heard the "Holy, Holy, Holy!" sung,
By angel and archangel round the throne;
And, poised upon the topmost golden stair,
Felt as 'twere fannings of the eternal pains,
And drank the odour of the blooms of heaven.

In the siege perilous sat Sir Galahad;— 
A dreamy splendour hovered in his eyes,
As though far down the vista of the years,
Beyond the cloud of conflict, shock of fate,
He saw the issue and the end of all.

In that great conclave, solemn was the talk
And sorrowful—of wrong triumphant, power
Unsanctified, and loss inseparable.
"Thrice sacred Sancgreall!" Arthur said, and drooped
His forehead in his palms—"would God, once more 
We might behold thee, though but for a sign
Of benediction, and a hope new-born
To cheer the darkness of these evil days!"
'Twas twilight, but no sooner had the king 
Ceased speaking, than athwart the gathering gloom,—
O miracle! a sudden glory broke,
And flushed each upturned and transfigured face,
With rosy radiance. And the knights were 'ware
That, circled with a halo, in their midst,
The Sancgreall floated, draped and muffled up
In samite white as snow;—one moment seen,
No more—then fell the black and bitter night,
And the keen east wind whistled o'er the wold. 

The bitter night! a night of June! a night
Of joy celestial! fragrance on the air
Of mead flowers, honey-sweet; birds on each bough,
Merle, mavis, nightingale, a maze of song;
Stars, in the lucid ether, big as moons,
And missioned angels, between earth and heaven,
Ascending and descending, to the chime
Of harps and crystal voices interfused!

So seemed it to the knights, as each one sat 
Silent, by beatific dreams possessed;
So seemed it to Sir Galahad—in his eyes
The mystic splendour burned with deeper flame.
Long pondered he;—at length, with resonant voice,
He spake: "My Lord, King Arthur, and you, knights
Peerless, my brothers of the Table Round,
Bear witness!—Foremost wrong to be redressed,
I seek the sacred Sancgreall through the world. 
Never, my Mary mother and the saints,
Will I forgo this quest,—ne'er tread these courts
Again, till cleansed from sin, mine eyes have seen
The holy cup unveiled, and o'er my lips
Hath passed the savour of the Blood of God!
Who joins me in my vow?"—Uprose they all,
By one high impulse moved; assenting shouts, 
Eager, impetuous, passed from lip to lip,
Throughout the circuit of the Table Round. 
"Ours be thy vow! By Mary mother, too,
We'll seek the sovran Sancgreall through the world!"

But Arthur pensive sat—forbid, by ties
Of kingship, to espouse that pious quest,
And whelmed with grief, that, through the knightly pact,
Widowed of all its chivalry, his throne 
Would stand a mark for traitors, or be left
To hirelings for defence. Nor he, alone,
Grieved inly; from a lattice in the wall,
A white face, dabbled o'er with tears, looked down—
Queen Guenevere's—and fixed Sir Lancelot, 
And pierced him with a glance of keen reproach.

Thus, moody and perplexed, the king broke up
The council, and the knights dispersed to make
Confession, and seek shrift, and so to rest;
But through the night, in vision, they beheld
The Sancgreall floating in its rosy cloud,
Ringed round with sworded angels, a white host
Innumerous, that flocked downward, by a stair
Of pearl and opal, from the gate of heaven.

But there were eyes that closed not, eyes that saw
The wan moon struggle with the storm, the stars
Wane in their courses. In each silken bower,
By queen (ah! evil heart!) and courtly dame,
And damsel, in her seventeen summers' sheen,
Soft spells were woven, and subtle cantrips planned,
To snare men's souls. O white caressing arms!
O golden tresses, showered on breasts of snow!
O voices like the ring-dove's!—these the lures
To loose each recreant bond-slave from his vow,
Despite the saints. . . . . Vain hope! for long ere dawn,
Prescient of tender trouble on the air, 
The knightly troop stole forth, and two by two
Defiling, pricked across the upland plain,
And clomb the ridge, and vanished in the mist.

From the far foldings of the hills, anon
A wailing peal of many trumpets bore
Their farewell to the heart of Camelot.

Ho! for the Sancgreall, blessed Blood of God!


THE snowdrop pierced the snow; with belts of fire,
The crocus lit the borders: Spring o'erran
The earth, fleet-footed, till the whitethorn bush
Broke into milky blossom of the May.
Queen Guenevere, with absent eyes, and cheeks
Love-pallid, placed her pleasance to and fro,
And twisted posies of red gilly-flowers,
Pansies and purple-globed anemones,
Then tossed them from her in a storm of sighs. 

One morn, when summer verged on its decline,
A straggling cavalcade of pilgrims passed,
Foot-sore, beneath the walls of Camelot;
A woeful crew! riddled by wind and storm,
Mere rags and relics of humanity,
A vision of dry bones. These, one and all,
She questioned, and with cracked and blistered lips, 
They babbled of strange lands and savage men,
Of shrines in the deep Orient, home of God—
Of dungeons and disasters, racks and chains—
But of Sir Lancelot tidings had they none.
So with cold thanks she sped them on their way,
And laughed a vacant laugh to see them flit,
A string of scarecrows, through the yellowing corn. 

Then swarthy reapers thronged the harvest fields,—
The sickle glittered in the sun; the shocks
Stood berry-brown; and to each homestead came,—
Because a sense of plenty filled the air,—
Barefooted monks, with pouches open-mouthed,
Alms-begging for the needs of Mother Church;
A sheaf of lilies for St Cunegunde,
Or annual levying of St Peter's pence.
Such, from her lattice leaning, Guenevere
Would beckon, and, into greedy hands upheld,
Drop royal dole, and to their garrulous talk,
With hungry ears give head;—a whining tale
Of hardships dire, and sharp monastic rule; 
Short commons, ceaseless trampings to and fro,
Penance by day, and Sathanas and his imps
Harrying their souls in purgatorial dreams.
Yea . . . many cities had they seen, and men,
But nought observed . . . it was a weary world!
(Glib down their gullets gurgled the red wine—)
Knights, maybe, by the score—a roystering rout!—
But of Sir Lancelot tidings had they none . . . 
'Twixt Salve! and Pax vobiscum! nought but this.

So evermore the months drew to a close;
The apple ripened to its ruddy prime;
The pear dropped, golden, in the orchard grass;
Athwart the gusty sky long flights of storks,
With whirl of wing and noisy clap of beak,
Passed southward . . . still no tindings, and the queen,
At midnight, kneeling in her oratory,
A mea culpa! quivering on her lip,
A MEA MAXIMA CULPA! heard the bells 
Roll forth their brazen clangour o'er the world,
Ring out the old years, welcome in the New. 


FOUR times the year revolved, ere, one by one,
King Arthur's errant knights to Camelot
Returned . . . in happless plight. Spectral their steeds,
As Death's in the Apocalypse—their helms
Cloven—defaced the blason of their shields;
Into the palace, through byeways, they slunk
And hid themselves, a leprosy in their blood
Of loathing, and a deep disgust of life.
Grievous their tale of unaccomplished quest;
Of warfare with invincible powers—earth, heaven,
Banded against them, and the fiends of hell
In ambush at each step; demoniac dreams,
Witcheries without a name, and worse than all,
A glamour of the senses, vehement
And irresistible, that drew them on,—
As the great loadstone mountain draws the bark,—
To isles of syrens on the summer seas.
There, damning joys—the wine-cup at the lip,
The limbs slow moving in the Bacchic dance,
And "Evöe! Evöe!" on the silver airs . . . 
Oh! Knightly honour tarnished! horror! shame!
So vengeful is high Heaven of holy task
Approached with hands impure and sinful will!

At Pentecost, complete the tale of knights,
Save four, the head and empiry of them all,
Sir Percevall, Sir Galahad and his sire,
Sir Lancelot of the Lake, and rough Sir Bors.
Of these no trace, or tidings, save a breath
Of rumour, coming no man knew from whence;
Fantastic tales of barks, beneath the moon,
Beheld on mountain tarns, mailed shapes aboard,
And a weird woman, with a steadfast face,
Steering 'gainst wind and wave;—of giants slain,
And cruel customs of primeval date
Abolished;—dungeons ransacked, captives freed;
And one, an aged anchorite of the hills,
Had seen, 'twas whispered, in his midnight watch,
A stately knight climb the precipitous pass,
That leads to steep Tingagel and the sea.
Snow-white his steed, snow-white his armour all,
From helm to heel;—his visage pale, but pure
As holy angel's—all the orbs of heaven
Broke into twofold splendour as he came.
He scaled the steep—the curtain of the mist
Shimmered like silver, as he entered in,
And from the perilous summits, pealed a cry
Reverberate,—echoed back by cliff and scaur—
"HO! FOR THE SANCGREALL, BLESSED BLOOD OF GOD!"


II. THE LEGEND OF KING EVELAKE.

A LEGEND of King Evelake, Paynim Lord
Of Sarras, in the spiritual place,
And why Sir Galahad rode without his shield.

Joseph of Arimathea,—that just man,
Whose eyes beheld the Passion of our Lord,
Who laid His body in his own new tomb,—
Dwelt at Jerusalem, within the walls. 
With almsgiving and pious deeds and prayer,
He followed humbly in his Master's steps,
And waited for His kingdom that should come.
But when the Roman thraldom crushed the land,
And dungeons gaped, and evermore the scourge
Fell heavy, Joseph girded up his loins,
And fled to the hill-country, till he came 
To Saras, a great city on a rock,
That glittered like a diamond all a-blaze,
And glowed with purple of the setting sun.

But round the gates, behold a rebel host;
Tents pitched,—long lines and squares of serried spears,
And Evelake and his captains on the wall,
With ordered arms and implements of war,
And soothsayers and priests in grave debate.
A vision came to Joseph as he gazed,
A dream vouchsafed of God, and he was told
Of all things, what to do, and what to say.
Unchallenged through the rebel ranks he passed,
And the grim warder, at the city gate,
Opened and let him in. King Evelake turned,
Sudden, and saw a stranger at his side,
Meek-faced, but this dread message on his lips:—
"Michael, archangel of the most high God,
Vicegerent of His judgments amongst men,
To Evelake, Paynim Lord of Sarras, saith:—
Because thy sins are grievous, and the blood
Of just men crieth against thee from the ground,
The books are opened and the sentences writ.
It is decreed, O king, that thou, and all
Thy counsellors and mighty men of war,
Shall be cut off and perish utterly,
As agag was cut off, and Amalek,
Og, and the proud hosts of Sennacherib,
If ere to-morrow's dawn, thou hast not spurned
Mahound, and laid thine heart at Jesu's feet."

Then the king's countenance changed, and he withdrew
Into his sacred chamber, and that night
With Joseph held discourse; and Joseph prayed,
And zealously expounded all the law,
And prophets, and with vehement sweat of brow,
And travail of the spirit, and tears of blood,
Wrestled with hell for the poor sinner's soul;
Till, one by one, the motes of error passed
From Evelake's eyes, and all the crusts of sin
Dropped off and left him like a man new-born;
And ere the first gold arrow of the day
Shot upward, with a contrite cry he fell
Prone, and his forehead in the dust, abjured
Mahound, and laid his heart at Jesu's feet.
And Joseph raised him up, and they two knelt
Together, and gave thanks to Christ the Lord.

Then Joseph took a buckler from the wall,
Of triple hide, with Maccabean brass
O'relapped, and traced upon its open field
A mystic sign—and gave it to the king.
"And when the armies of Mahound," quoth he,
"Press round with their spears and bear thee down,
Hold high this sacred shield before them all,
And God, that fought for Israel, and ground
Its foes to dust, shall smite them hip and thigh."

So Evelake, with his mighty men of war,
His spearmen and his footmen in array,
Swept through the city gates—and lo! the sun
Hung crimson in the skies, and all the land 
Lay reeking-red, as bathed in seas of blood.
With blare of trumpets, and a stormy clash
Of cymbals, the two hosts, in headlong charge,
Met, and the rebel cohorts broke the van
Of Evelake's guards, and with tumultuous press
Beset the king, and strove to bear him down.
But he, in rush of onset, having won
A clear space round him with his worling blade,
Raised high his shield, and steady faced the foe.
God of Sabaoth! down dropped spear and glaive;
The ringing war-cries died into a wail
Of horror, for each soldier of Mahound 
Saw on the blazing disk a bloody cross,
And nailed upon the cross, a man, a GOD,
With blasting eyes, that scathed them like a flame,
Withered their eye-balls, filled their hearts with fear;
And some, bereft of reason, raved and wept;
The rest, with groans for mercy, in the dust
Grovelled—till Evelake's heart was touched with ruth,
And hiding 'neath his scarf the sacred shield,
He passed from rank to rank, and bade the host
Disperse, and seek their homes, and sin no more.
And they, submissive, went, and from the plain
Melted that mighty armament, as melts
The splendour and the havock of a dream.

As Evelake back to Sarras city rode,
A sound of hallelujahs filled the air,
Symphonious, by invisible angels sung;
And a white dove, descending from a cloud,
With sunny wings flew round him all the way.
Before the palace Joseph met the king,
Gave benediction and the kiss of peace,
And, joyful, they praised God for His good work.
But ere the feast was spread, the wine was poured,
In state, from street to street, the monarch passed,
Struck down the images of false Mahound,
And shut, with his own hands, the temple doors.

And all night long, above the sleeping town,
The white dove hovered, in a silver haze,
Nor ceased the hallelujahs until dawn.


IN Christian Sarras, Joseph tarried long;
Tilled the good soil, nurtured the fruitful seed,
And garnered noble harvests for the Lord.
But when his task grew light—no waste uncleared,
No field but nodded with the golden grain,
He paused, and by supernal promptings urged,
To preach the faith in lands beyond the sea,
To all his faithful folk he bade farewell,
Blessed them in God and Christ, and went his way.
And evelake, our of love and pious zeal,
Went with him, and his son reigned in his stead.
No worldly pelf they took, save pilgrim staff
And scrip, nor weapon, save the sacred shield. 
Six days and nights through sandy tracts they toiled,
But on the seventh, the Sabbath of the Lord,
Resting, they felt the breath of the salt breeze,
And heard the hollow murmur of the main.

     *     *     *     *     *     *


IN Lyonesse, amongst the pleasant woods
Of Britain, in the Abbey of St John,
Lay Joseph, full of years and of good works,
Waiting the final summons of his Lord.
Beside him, with crossed palms, King Evelake knelt,
Himself white-haired,—received his last behests,
And fixed on his wan face regretful eyes;
For strong their bond of brotherhood in Christ—
Much had they undergone and overcome
Together—much, glory to Him! achieved;—
And now the inevitable hour drew nigh
Of severance—unto one, the rest, the palm,
The "Enter, good and faithful servant! thine
The glory and the gladness of thy Lord!"
And to the other, the world's weary ways,
Made wearier by an unaccustomed cross.
While joseph lay, white-visaged, on his bed,
He saw the summer night break out in stars,
Myriads on myriads, as if God were there,
With all the hosts and hierarchies of heaven;
And through the open lattice floated in
The Sancgreall, haloed in its rosy cloud,
and Joseph's thirst was quenched, and he was fed;
And all his pain went from him, and he sunk
The Nunc Dimittis loud, as one that lies
Upon the threshold of a happy place,
Full fain the door should ope and let him in.
But last, he bade his friend convey the shield
To Nacien, abbot of that holy house,
To be stored up in trust, till one should come,
Tenth in descent of kingship, Galahad,
A faithful knight and pure, ordained to win
Much worship, and achieve a sacred quest.—
His should the shield be, and no other man's.

Then Joseph kissed King Evelake on the cheek,
And turned him to the wall and fell asleep,
And was not, for God took him.—Blessed be God!

This legend to Sir Galahad Merlin told,
And through the broomy knowes, blithe as a bird,
He rode to try the adventure of the shield.


III. THE LEGEND OF THE SHIELD.

Exurgat Deus! Be the lawless hands 
Palsied, that touch the ark, unwashed of sin!

Two knights rode down the glades of Lyonesse—
It was midsummer and the leafy prime—
Sir Galahad, one, blue-eyed, with lips that smiled,
As in a dream of bliss, unwittingly;
And one, Sir Galheron of Table Round,
A son of Anak, huge, colossus-limbed,
A slayer of Philistines, a king
Of roysterers and ribalds, without ruth,
Or any graces of chivalry, though not
Unloved by creatures of the soulless sort.
To this swart champion fame had brought the tale
Of Joseph's shield, its perils and its spells;
And bent on proving wizards' cantrips vain,
In war with thews and sinews, he besought
Sir Galahad, with a blustering courtesy,
Three days and nights to let him wear the shield,
In ordeal, for his worship and renown.
And Galahad, with a voice that seemed to sink 
Earthward, from heights of interstellar air,
Assented; so by woodland paths they rode
Together, while the thickets thrilled with song.
Above Sir Galahad, from bough to bough,
Flitted the nightingale, and piped and trilled
The wren lit on his shoulder, carolling
As in its nest; the rabbit and her young 
Sported beside him, and the squirrel ran
Before his courser's hoofs, and leaped and frisked:
But o'er Sir Galheron flapped the raven's wing, 
Its croak and caw the only song he heard.
'Twas idlesse in the abbey of St John;
From chapel, crypt, and cell the brothers flocked;
Like starlings in a reed-bed, loud their clack,
Loquacious; court and cloister were astir,
Hall and refectory humming like a hive.
But one, the monk Anselmus, of them all
The oldest, grayest, sternest, stood apart,
And beat his breast, and muttered with grim lips,
"I hear the raven's croak, the tramp of doom!"
Wide open swung the lattice in the wind,
And down the woodland lawns Anselmus saw
Sir Galahad and Sir Galheron ride abreast,
Into the abbey meads, and in their rear,
A Shadow on the shadow of a steed.

Before the abbey gate, the knights drew rein,
And to the thronging brotherhood, made known
Their errand—and Anselmus, with the look
Of one, that, sudden, meets death face to face,
And through his marrow feels a mortal chill,
Brought forth the shield. A weird and antique arm!
As Galahad, with wonder, eyed its dints
And bosses, falling in a trance, he heard
The thunders of old mattles roll o'erhead,—
Thunders of Maccabean fights—the roar
Of Judah's lion leaping on his prey.
The Orient spread its solemn wastes abroad,
Before him, as in vision; he beheld
Hot plains, that shimmered under skies of brass—
The havock of great hosts, the charge, the fight,
Crowns reft, and kingly raiment red with blood.

Meanwhile, Sir Galheron, to his saddle-bow
Stooping, impatient, held out eager hands:
To whom Anselmus stern—"Sir Knight, forbear!
Fatal this arm to all unshrived of sin—
Fatal to youth, fool-hardy, ill-advised,
In whose hot blood the harlotry of life
Runs riot, by no pious vow subdued,
The best and purest knight in all the world
Shall wear the shield, no other—'tis decreed."
Like bull of Basan roared Sir Galheron—
"Nor best, nor worst am I, but by my troth, 
Three days and nights I'll wear it, though the fiend
Spring up to say me nay!"—He snatched the shield,
He spurred his steed, and down the rocky road
Rushed headlong, hid in hurricanes of dust.
Whereat Sir Galahad, waking from his trance,
Was 'ware of things familiar,—saw once more
The abbey and its gables all a-glow,—
The oaks of Lyonnesse in their leafy prime.

The level sunbeams carpeted the sward,
With golden tissue; in a burning haze,
The western hills glowed, molten and intense,
As copper at a seven-fold furnace heat,
And in the east hung wan the gibbous moon.
By twos and threes along the slopes, the monks
Dispersing, fell to question and debate;
Some wagering for Sir Galheron's strength of arm—
These were the sturdy younglings of the flock—
And some for Joseph, and his magic, made
Potent, by seal and sanction of the Church.
Sir Galahad, like a statue on his steed,
Sat by the abbey gate, intent, as one
That looks for the fateful issue near at hand.

     *     *     *     *     *


SIR GALHERON pricked along the lanes, and sung
A song of merrimake and mad carouse;—
Beneath an oak, he saw an eerie maid,
That smiling sat and tressed her yellow hair,
And bade him tarry, for the night was nigh. 
"Oh! tarry, tarry!—they that say me nay,
Come back no more, Sir Knight, come back no more!" 
And the wind whispered to the woods "no more!"
And Echo took it up, "no more, no more!"
Through all her fluted caves and hollow hills.
Sir Galheron winked his eye and twitched his beard,
And thrice looked back—the eerie maid was fair—
Then drowned her pleading with his song, and passed.

He left the lanes—through woodland dells he rode—
Amonst the ferns he met a fairy queen,
A fairy queen, with crown of gold—a queen, 
That to a dulcimer sang, sweet and low,
A lay of Faëry; as with chains of silk,
It bound the knight and would not let him go.
It told of pain and peril in the world;
It told of love and rest in greenwood shade—
Of love and joy and feast and fairy wine.
"Oh! tarry, tarry!" like a bird she sung—
"Oh! tarry, tarry!—they that say me nay,
Come back no more, Sir Knight, come back no more!"
And the wind murmured down the glens "no more!"
And Echo took it up, "no more, no more!"
Through all her fluted caves and hollow hills.
Sir Galheron struggled with his falling sense—
A subtle torpor weighed his eyelids down;—
He shook it off—he broke the elfin spell—
He drowned her pleading with a mocking laugh,
A cruel laugh, and spurred his steed, and passed.

He left the wood—he struck across the plain,
A stormy gloom encompassed him about;
A horror of great darkness filled his soul.
He saw the phantom of a loathly knight,
That rode towards him, without tramp of steed;
A giant knight, black-armoured and black-plumed,
Portentous, looming through a lurid mist.
Fear seized him—palsied grew his mighty arm,
His heart turned ice—they met in full career;
Sir Galheron's lance was splintered by the shock,
As a reed splinters 'gainst a granite crag;
The black knight smote Sir Galheron on the helm
A mortal stroke, that crushed through mail and brain,
And dashed the son of Anak in the dust.
Then broke the storm; a nether darkness fell
On all things, and a mighty rushing wind
Drave its fierce pinion through the woods and wailed.

Sir Galahad heard strange voices on the blast,
That sung a ditty, all of death and dole:—
"He comes no more! ah! never, never more!
We bade him tarry, but he rode away—
He spurned our love, he mocked our spells and passed—
He comes no more! ah! never, never more!"
And from each nook and folding of the wood,
And from the cloisters, like a tolling bell,
Echoed that dreary wail, "No more, no more!"

The storm grew fainter with its finished work,
And through the rack the drifting moonlight showed
A phantom knight, black-armoured and black-plumed,
That towards Sir Galahad, with no tramp of steed,
Rode stately, and Sir Galahad saw him come.
He crossed himself—nor lance, nor glaive he grasped;
He stilled his staking pulses with a prayer.
The phantom lowered before him, like a mist
That holds the ice-wind in its livid folds;
June withered to December in its shade;
It stooped its crest; it stretched out shadowy arms;
It hung round Galahad's neck the sacred shield
And vanished. Lo! the shield was white as snow,
Save where a bloody cross glared in the midst,
Fresh, as just shaped from blessèd martyr's veins.

Then Galahad saw that solemn sight of old,
Vouchsafed to Joseph in his dying hour;
He saw the summer night break out in stars,
Myriads on myriads, as if God were there,
With all the hosts and hierarchies of heaven.
Celestial odours floated on the air,
Celestial savours cheered his fainting sense;
He ate of angels' food and he was filled.
And in silence, with the falling dew,
Came down a voice that said, "Fair Knight of Christ!
The end is nigh—be faithful to the end!"

All night, before the altar, Galahad knelt
In vigil, but at sunrise rode away.

So ends the adventure of the enchanted shield.


IV. THE LEGEND OF THE SYREN ISLES.

"WOE for Sir Lancelot!" the Kelpy sung,
The sleek-haired Kelpy, lurking in the reeds:—
"Woe for Sir Lancelot! his cheek is wan!—
His cheek is wan—his eyes are sad and wild—
Cruel fiend hath caught him in her thrall—
Woe for Sir Lancelot!" the Kelpy sung.
And the Nix, peering through the bulrush beds,
The stealthy Nix, with ivory forehead fair,
Crooned drearily—"Ah me! Sir Galahad!
A cloud is on his brow—his heart is changed—
A cruel fiend hath bound him in her thrall—
Ah me! the noble knight!" . . . And down the stream,
The shallop floated, to a sleepy tune
Of lapping water and of soughing wind,
Sir Lancelot and Sir Galahad lost in dreams,
And at the stern, half-seen beneath the moon,
A woman crouching, weird, with steadfast face,
And eyes inscrutable as stars of heaven.
From under beechen boughs they drifted on
Into the marshland and the deathly fog,
That swathed them, as a cerement swathes the corpse.
They heard the muffled clang of convent bells,
From valleys, inland, and the dying drone
Of voices,—in æternum Domine!
But prone they lay—nor crossed themselves, nor said
So much as Ave Mary! or Amen!
Motionless sat the shadow at the helm—
And steered them on, through fen and fallow tracts,
Pasture and plain and limitless expanse
Of windy waste, till, widening to the main,
The river ran in shallows, or was caught
In weedy pools, and swerving from its course,
The shallop shuddered with a grating keel.
Then seemed it to Sir Galahad, in his dream,
A woman's cry crept curdling o'er the wave,
Wild, inarticulate—crept o'er pool and bay,
And winding creek, and gully of the shore;
Sobbed 'mid the sedges—round the boulders wailed
And whimpered, wandering up and wandering down.
And ere it ceased, the stagnant stream began
To plash and whirl and dimple;—now an arm,
And now a dripping head, and now a foot,
Flashed up and frisked and flirted in the moon;
The water grew alive with elfin fry,
Quaint atomies, with fins and flapping tails,
That piped a reedy music, out of tune;
Kelpy and Nix, and all their kith and kin,
Came at the summons, and a lovely throng
Of creatures, lissome-limbed and lithe, that shed
A sea-green glory round them as they swam.
All these swarmed round the shallop, and at a sign
From her that steered, made clear a path through beds
Of osiers, and the tangled undergrowth,
And drove it o'er the shallows and the sands.
The questing monk, belated on his way,
Heard wondrous sounds that night—redoubling peals
Of elfin-laughter, and a rhythmic chant,
Eerie and exquisite, that took his breath
With rapture, floating seaward with the stream.

And seaward, like an arrow, shot the bark;
The seething water rustled round its prow;
The silver water glittered in its wake;
The stars spun round and round; the chalky flats
Broke, gradual, into beetling cliff and crag,
And soon Sir Galahad, in his drowse, was 'ware
Dim headlands loomed magestical through mist,
And the salt billows flecked him with their foam.

Then rose that mystic cry anew, and swept,
Shrill, o'er the darksome waves and through the depths—
Till, from the under-world, surged up the brood
Of Ocean, the great sea-snake, coil on coil,
The kraken, demon-eyed and hundred-armed,
The sea-wolf and narwhal, mermaids and men—
A ghastly crew of scaled and slimy things—
With hiss, and hollo, and wild shriek they came,—
Dashing the spray in moon-bows overhead,—
And huddled, interlaced, with one combined 
Impulsion, snout and fin and fold and tail,
They sent the shallop skimming through the foam,
Into the distance, fleet as shooting star.
 

"Woe for Sir Galahad!" wailed the Nix, and "Woe,
Woe for the noble knights!" the Kelpy sung.

A haze slid down the headlands o'er the main—
A blinding haze, that blotted out the stars;
The shallop clove it, as a kestrel cleaves
The gloaming, hieing homeward to its nest.
A whirlwind wrenched the air, and swooping, made
Mad havoc of the sea, but wind and wave
The shallop stemmed, as stems an angry swan
The blasts and billows of its native tarn.
From out the foam, a jagged and hideous reef
Rose horrent—range on range of splintered crag.
With serpentine, swift motion, in and out,
And to and fro, betwixt the deadly saws,
The shallop fitted, and the reef was past.
But in its rear, a mighty mountain wall
Towered absolute—no outlet—on its brow
A blackness—smooth its shining front as steel.
Then roared the kraken, and the great sea-snake,
Uncoiling, clanked his jaws and hissed in ire.
Bubbled the thick shoal-water with the plunge
Of furious limb—with swish of tail and fin,
And the swart merman yelled beneath the moon.
But at the helm, the shadow, swaying, sung
A song of glamour, stern, that sank through rock,
And water, to the deep root of the world.
A shiver shook the air—the sea leaped up;
And tossed its crest and shrieked in mad affright;
Shuddered the mighty mountain wall; its frong
Grew blurred with cracks and ruinous fissures, rent
From base to battlement, and the loathly crew,
Cheered by the din and downfall and dismay,
Renewed their toil;—with sharp, impetuous stroke,
The shallop smit the rock—a narrow cleft
Opened, grew wider, gaped—the bark shot through—
And lo! the roseate morning in the heavens
Flushing the splendours of the syren seas!

Up sprang Sir Lancelot, his face a-blaze,
Compassed with glory: at his feet he saw
A white-limbed maiden, fair, as lily grown
In a God's garden. On her shoulders bare,
And ivory breast half-veiled, the sunshine fell 
Gracious and golden,—laughed in her blue eyes,
And dallied in the dimples of her cheek.
With subtle smile she drew Sir Lancelot down
Beside her knee, and whispered in his ear—
Pointed with level finger to the land,
And thrilled him with the passion of her glance.
And through the web of her delightsome hair,
That shimmered o'er his forehead and his face,
And through the murmurous music of her speech,
He saw the lawny islets stud the sea,
Like bowers of beauty, with their blossoming woods,
And white-faced temples in the cedarn shade;
He saw the sheeny pastures netted o'er
With silver brooks; and faint and far away,
Transluscent in the crystal morning air,
Myriads of mountain peaks magnificent,
Rose-tinted, pearl, opal, and amethyst,
Lifted, like gemmed tiaras, up to heaven.

Sir Lancelot laughed beneath the syren's spell—
Sir Lancelot laughed to feel her dresses dance
On cheek and chin, with motion of the tide;
His face was haggard, but a love-light burned
Under his eyelids from a heart on fire. 
By the smooth margin of the nearest isle
A troop of sportive nymphs beheld them come,—
A rosy rout, that dabbled in the surf,
Or shrieking, chased each other, fleet and slim
As Atalanta, o'er the shining sands.
They hailed Sir Lancelot, beckoning from afar,
And pointing to the blue, transparent deep,
Lured him to swim. Sir Lancelot leaped and swam,
Still laughing, as he battled with the spray;
Then fifty frolic creatures, with a flash
Like a snow-avalanche, plunged, and met the knight
Midway, and cheering, drew him slowly on;
A darksome waif, wreathed round with gleaming heads,
And overlaced with supple, sensuous arms,
He reached the shore—there, loud the girlish glee,
And kind the greeting; with embrace and kiss 
They bade him welcome to the happy isles—
Unbraced his armour, severed strap and tag,
Then dallied with his hair and beard,
And marvelled at the stature of the man,
And at his sinewy strength of chest and arm.

Passive, the knight went whereso'er they would.
They led him through the boskage of the shore,
And through the winding vales and odorous woods,
Till faint their frolic grew, and faint the chime
Of laughter and of song. They led him on
To festal bowers—to strange, forbidden rites—
To joys accursed. Ah me! Sir Lancelot,
The Knight of Christ! gone, gone, for ever gone!

     ________________________


Meanwhile, Sir Galahad, leaning 'gainst the mast,
Gazed, with astonished eyes and wavering mind.
From the blue gorges of the hills a voice
Came to him: "Bid thy sire farewell, farewell,
Sir Galahad; thou shalt see thy sire no more!"
But he, unheeding, heard; the luscious air
Rained sweetness on him, and his senses swam.
Soothly, the wizard woman touched his hand—
Transfigured she—for when their glances met,
Sir Galahad fell a-tremble;—he beheld 
The pure, pale fiace of a belovèd maid,
His best-belovèd in the years that were—
Isonde, the Flower of Lyonnesse, his betrothed,
Snatched from him by the Norsemen in a raid,
Ere yet his beard was grown;—Isonde, the child,
His playmate on the broomy hills of home,
That decked his steed with ribbons, or the red 
Ash-berries, and, when winter winds piped loud,
Rode by his side to see the wolf at bay.
"Isonde!" he basped—she nestled in his arms—
And, "Galahad, good my brother," soft she said,
"Oh! is it well with the? oh! is it well?"
She said—"the Norsemen held me in their bonds—
A weary time, ah me! a weary time! 
They brought me chains of gold and starry crowns,—
They brought me walrus tusks and furry coats,
And piles of frosty apples from the woods;—
But oh! the weary time, the weary time!
Three vikings wooed me ever, morn and eve.—
Fierce as their blasts, and salt as their sea-foam;—
Civil their speeches, but they held me fast—
O weary time!" she said, "O weary time!
Last night a blessèd angel loosed my bonds,
Bade me go forth and seek my love afar,
And guide him to a land of joy and peace—
And I am here,—O Galahad," soft she said,—
"Say, is it well with the—say, is it well?"

He held her folded in his fond embrace,
As by the grassy marge the shallop stayed;
And they could hear the woodlands ring with song,
And see the glens and glades flush out with flowers.
Lightly to shore the agile maiden sprang;
But he, in act to follow, paused, for lo!
From out a neighbouring copse, a snow-white bird
Fluttered, as chased by hawk, and, snaring, shrieked,
And shrieked anew, till all the welkin rang.
He turned to track its flight,—sweet Mother of God!
What vision fixed him! Pale, in the deep sky,
Angels innumerous, shining tier on tier,
That circled upward, heavenward, higher and higher;
And, floating in their midst, half-seen, half-hid
By flicker of white vane, the rosy cloud
That round the Sancgreall burned at Camelot!
Sir Galahad watched their flitting, and was 'ware
The while they vanished, melting in the blue,
Each angel face looked down on him from heaven,
And every face was sad. He burst in sobs;—
He staggered, conscience-stricken, and from depths
Of agony and shame and self-contempt,
He uttered such a cry as must have reached
To GOD THE FATHER, for a sudden night
Fell on the golden land and sapphire sea,—
And he dropped stark and senseless on the deck,
Nor heard the winnowing of the angelic wings,
Nor saw the shining multitude descend,
And ring the shallop round, and drive it far,
Far to blue reaches of the northern seas.

But when his swoon was o'er, Sir Galahad knew
A gracious savour lingered on his lip,
A sense of peace and pardon filled his soul.