The Legend of the Sangrale forms a part of the romances relating to Arthur, and, like some other chivalric tales, unites a deep allegory with extravagant adventures and characters. The Sangrale, a chalice supposed to be a relic of peculiar sanctity, having appeared to the Knights of the Round Table at one of their annual feasts, most of them vowed to seek it for a year; but as the relic was only visible to persons of unworldly spirits, few of them succeeded in finding it. Some of the numerous adventures are of great significance. I have here attempted to connect and versify two or three.
The publication of Tennyson's last noble poem since the first edition of this trifle, may have given it an air of presumption, which induces me to add, that it was printed for the amusement of those young people who have some curiosity about the early English romances, and few means of gratifying it.
It was the solemn feast of Pentecost,
And with King Arthur at the Table Round,
So was their wont, two hundred knights assembled.
For a whole year, dispersed afar they roamed;
Some in the crowded battle proved their swords,
And hurled the Saxon from the English shores;
Some rather loved the tournaments and sports,
Loitered at court, and hunted with the ladies;
But most, alone, or else by twos and threes,
Sought high adventures up and down the land,
In deserts wild, and forests dim, enchanted.
For in these old days, still in lonely towers
Lurked many a giant, bloodthirsty and grim,
Or fell magician, blasting all around,
Or heathen robber-knight, invincible.
How glorious was that mighty fellowship!
Down the dim waste of ages echo still
Vibrations of the harps of old that sang
Of Arthur's Knights, the stars of chivalry,
And of the glittering galaxy that shone
In that renowned incomparable ring.
Alas for earthly glory -- even now
The touch-stone came to try, among them all
Which were the priceless jewels that within
Were pure and true -- as brilliant outwardly. --
It came -- to shiver all that noble band,
The high adventure of the Holy Grale.
Thus as they sat, an old man entered,
Robed in black garments, grave and ven'rable;
He led a young knight clad in scarlet arms;
His dark hair shadowing a blooming face,
Yet grave beyond his years. -- "Sir king," began
The aged sire, "I crave for this fair knight
His right and due: place at the Table Round.
Of royal race he comes, and yesterday A.
Was dubbed a knight by Lancelot du Lac."
Then, as the king assented, he advanced
To where, by Lancelot's side, the Perilous Seat
For ever covered with white samnite stood --
(For no man, but, he wished to challenge death,
Chose there his place) -- and raised the samnite fair,
And there beneath in golden letters gleamed,
"This is the place of Good Sir Galahad." B.
Thus, while they marvelled how by one so young
The perils of that wondrous place were dared,
Low thunder, rolling from the distance, came
Louder and louder -- till with heavy crash
All the carved doors flew open; and the hall
Shook earthquake tost -- then rose a gentle light,
Not like the ray of torches, moon, or sun;
It dawned and brightened with a mystic lustre,
Softened the faces stern of warriors old,
Haggard with toil, and seamed by many wars;
While fairer through it many a fair face shone,
And some, its halo playing round their brows,
Seemed brightening into angels; then was sight
Lost in a flood of golden radiancy.
Speechless and breathless all the warriors sat,
Each in a solitude of vivid light.
Sweet music, as of voices chanting near,
Rose circling clear, in fervid aspiration,
And died away in tender harmonies.
And, borne by hands unseen, they all beheld
A chalice with a light veil over it --
The Holy Grale glide through the lighted hall.
In some short space the vision bright was gone,
The wondrous light departed; suddenly
From 'mid the dazzled knights Sir Gawain rose,
And said, as ever hot impetuous,
"Fair sirs, great marvels have we seen to-day,
The Holy Grale we happy men have seen,
Which some deemed lost for ever to this earth.
Yet this there lacked; all veiled the relic shone --
We had not toiled or striven for the sight.
But here before you all, I make a vow,
That from to-morrow I will take the quest,
A twelvemonth and a day at least, to seek
A clearer vision of the Holy Grale,
So Heaven me help, Amen." Anon there rose,
With a tumultuous murmur all around,
The knights in ringing mail -- their right hands stretched,
On all sides echoing back the solemn vow.
Gallant Sir Lionel has spoken it,
Gay Dinadam has ta'en the earnest pledge,
And Bors de Ganis, mild and resolute,
Hath said it, and Sir Percevale de Gailles,
So sweetly grave, has breathed it like a prayer,
And Galahad, still in a blissful trance,
Murmurs the solemn words with downcast eyes,
And with them rose there many many more.
Aghast King Arthur watched; but when arose,
With joyous grace, the brave Sir Lancelot,
He started from his royal seat, and cried,
"Hold, hold, Sir Knight, stay thou at least by me!
Alas! what has my nephew Gawain done;
Shattered the goodliest fellowship of knights,
And broke the glory of the Table Round."
To whom thus Lancelot -- "Lament not, Sire,
Sir Gawain has but spoke the thought of all.
Remember how, a score of years agone,
Nacian the hermit prophesied that when
The San Grale came, this band should be dissolved.
'Tis better thus than dwindling by degrees,
To sink in smoke and ashes like a torch;
Better to die in striving for perfection."
All through the streets of Camelot that day,
From rich and poor rose dole and lamentation;
Bereft of all its flower was the land.
But chief round Lancelot the people thronged,
And kissed his stirrups, and implorèd him
For their sakes to return -- their shield and sword.
For all the knights in long procession rode
To a last tourney on the river bank,
And a last service in the minster choir.
Then, taking arms and horses, forth they rode,
Past many a balcony, where ladies sat
Gazing through heavy tears upon their lords;
Past many a lattice, whence a sign was waved
To some young knight up-glancing; yet they were
Graver than errant knights are wont to be,
For the good priest of Salisbury told how none
But holy men the adventure could achieve.
A twelvemonth and a day had past -- anon
The knights came riding in on every side.
Some had met no adventures; gross and dim
Their minds, and weighed to earth, invisible
Were spiritual things to them; and others came
Wounded and conquered by mysterious foes,
Punished through cherished sins and evil pride.
By twos and threes they gathered for awhile,
Though many a champion brave returned no more.
But when the year was past, still roamed afar,
'Mid strange adventures, Lancelot du Lac,
Sir Percevale, Sir Bors, Sir Galahad, --
And speak we now of how these warriors sped.
Of what Sir Lancelot encountered one day in a forest.
Oh for a vision of the forests old,
The marvellous woods of former times, when still
A sea of tossing branches waved and rolled
Far over vale and champlain, moor and hill;
There in the wilderness all track was lost,
And seldom peaceful men the awful shadows crossed.
Yet it was pleasant early to arise
From heathery couch beside some rivulet,
When the first sunbeams flushed the pearly skies,
And grass with dewy sparkles glittered wet;
A thousand wild birds from the coppice singing,
And all the solitude with life and joy out-ringing.
And pleasant in the heat of noon reclining,
Where deep and cool the shades lie all around,
And sunny streaks, like scattered emeralds shining,
Gleam 'mid the dark green shadows on the ground,
Where nothing save the insect's hum is heard,
And softly rustling leaves the wind has stirred.
Or in some open glade to breathe more free,
To urge the proud steed into fleet career,
And sweep past sunny knoll and scattered tree,
And shy upstarting herds of fallow deer;
When in the west, behind the forest fringe,
Linger the sunset clouds with red and golden tinge.
But in the calm night, when the moonbeams shone
With silver sparkle down the tangles deep,
How silent was the forest then, and lone;
Far, far away, men in their dwellings sleep --
For miles and miles the rustling woodlands lie,
In dim mysterious darkness, 'neath the starry sky.
Perchance the wanderer found, ere darkness fell,
A sandall'd hermit strolling through the wood,
Seeking, around his little cross-signed cell,
The herbs and simples for his daily food;
Or some rough for'ster bold might give him cheer,
Who dwelt amid the wilds to hunt the fallow deer.
And there were lonely abbeys far away
From all the outer world's bewildering noise,
And convents still -- where nuns, in black and grey,
In solitude sought high unearthly joys; --
But oftener far the mossy thicket gave
A harbourage to travellers lone and brave.
Dread forms, and beautiful, the woods are haunting,
Strange divers travellers wander too and fro:
Here meet two errant knights for glory panting,
Shout a defiance -- rush as foe on foe;
Shiver their spears to prove their chivalry,
And then with fair salute ride courteous by.
Here comes a damsel-errant pacing slow,
Pensive and fair, upon some mission high;
And there a troop of sturdy woodmen go,
Or some old blear-eyed witch halts mumbling by;
An uncouth dwarf darts out with yell and leap,
Or evil sorcerer pale, through thickets rank doth creep.
All bright with song and sunshine laughs the morn,
The fresh breeze shakes the dew from bower and tree:
An armed knight, on a stately charger borne,
O'er the long bending grass rides listlessly.
No path he chooses, for the jewelled rein
Lies on the unguided courser's shining mane.
The year is passed, and unachieved the Quest
Baffled, defeated, shall he now return?
Fain would he oft, and yet with sad unrest,
Still does his heart for clearer visions burn.
There floats before a glorious gueredon,
He dares not yet renounce, but still must labour on.
Now through the mazy boughs come laughter gay,
And gentle voices -- lo, an open dell,
Wherein a troop of peasant maidens stray,
And fill their pitchers at a bubbling well;
The brimming water drops in silver showers
O'er shoulders white, and bright heads crowned with flowers.
One slender maiden runs to Lancelot,
And holds to him a cup of water clear:
"Drink, noble sir," she says, "for there is not
So pure a fount as this one far or near;
Late was it dark and poisoned, haunted only
By evil sprites and brewing witches lonely,
Until a young knight, who through all the land
Rides like a guardian angel, wandered here,
Stretched o'er the wave his pure and gentle hand,
Watched, fought beside it, through the long night drear,
And freed the water from polluting spell,
So now we name the fount Sir Galahad's well."
"Sir Galahad, my son," the warrior said,
"When rode he hence, and which way did he turn?" --
"Three days ago he rode," replied the maid,
"Westward, beyond that plain of waving fern."
With blithe salute Sir Lancelot forward sped,
For vainly he for long had sought Sir Galahad.
Long in the woodlands cool his way has lain,
Now noon was glowing in the sultry sky,
And he has reached a wide and grassy plain,
A stately bannered castle towered on high;
Around it, silk pavilions bright and gay
Glittered like meadow flowers beneath the granite grey.
Full in the midst the guarded lists were set,
The mêlée wild was surging to and fro;
With thundering crash, like waves the champions met,
Recoiled all shattered, like the ebb-tide's flow,
Leaving the sand bestrewn with wounded men,
While the fierce trumpet-peal rang out the charge again.
In sable velvet rode a hundred knights,
In whitest silken surcoats were their foes;
Judge ye how Lancelot's heart, in warm delight,
Beat higher as the battle tumult rose;
Then as the white victorious seemed to be,
He thought to join the black, to advance his chivalry.
Down swept he, charging from the wooded height,
As stoops the falcon on the heronry;
Across the lists he darts like flashing light,
Unhorsed behind him half the white knights lie.
Fresh spears to him the active squires are bringing,
And with the stranger's praise the field is ringing.
"Brave lance! good sword!" the applauding people call,
"Oh hardihood and courtesy well blended."
For still he fought the mightiest of them all,
And spared the young, the weary men defended,
Until triumphantly his steed he wheeled
And sought a foe in vain -- the master of the field.
Then spurring from the castle archway near,
A white knight on a slender courser shot.
He leaped the barrier in his swift career,
And couched his spear against Sir Lancelot.
And sore it did that matchless knight astound,
To see the foe ride on, while he rolled on the ground.
For years and years he had unconquered been,
And 'twas no spirit wrought him this despite;
No spell or magic, for it was, I ween,
A courteous tourney and an earthly knight,
And all the vanquished white knights shouted glad,
"Ha, to the rescue, brave Sir Galahad!"
Sir Lancelot by them is prisoner ta'en;
For, vanquished, he might tilt no more that day.
Sir Galahad leapt the barrier tall again,
And rode into the circling wood away.
The white knights said to Lancelot courteously,
"We joy to see you, Sir, in this our company."
The jousts were o'er; Sir Lancelot departed,
Along the track where Galahad late did pass,
He rode bewildered on and heavy-hearted;
Young verdant beech-trees canopied the grass,
The sunbeams shimmered through the branches deep,
The wood seemed, in the sultry afternoon, asleep.
He laid him down beneath a chestnut tree,
Gazed on the blue sky through the branches peering,
Until he slept -- but still he seemed to see
The jousting champions, hither, thither veering;
Still fought he fiercely on the black knights' side,
And ever in his heart longed with the white to ride.
Weird and unearthly did the black knights seem,
Their hollow laughter sad, his spirit daunted;
And struggling through the anguish of his dream,
Old faces half forgot his memory haunted;
Sir Breance and Sir Tarquin bold were there,
Two evil knights he slew, now at his side they glare.
And many fallen men that formerly
In wrongful quarrel had lost sinful lives,
Thrust onward, foin and lash with yelling cry.
In vain to leave the grisly band he strives,
Strives to the white knights' ordered ranks to press,
Who stand in shining arms, all might and gentleness.
His charger stood, as rooted to the ground,
He 'lighted down, and strove on foot to pass;
He felt as though with crushing fetters bound,
And cast his shield and hauberk on the grass.
Armour and weapons has he flung aside,
And, a defenceless man, has gained the white knights' side.
They stretch their hands, and say with welcome glad,
"We joy to see thee in our company,
Though for thy darker hours in penance sad,
Thou must throw strength, and power, and honour by,
Soon in the darkness shall the morning beam;" --
And then he woke, and found it was a dream.
He rose and mounted, thoughtfully he rode,
Nor marked the lengthening shadows as he passed;
Gay in the cooler air the charger trod,
And stopped before a lowly door at last.
The knight alighted by a little cell,
Wherein, a lone recluse, a virgin pure did dwell.
Far in the forest depths her chapel stood,
All of rough wood and moss, a rustic shrine,
Through the slim western lancet poured a flood
Of reddest sunbeams on the face divine,
And black robes, of the gentle nun, who there
Passed all her days in lonely praise and prayer,
And on the brave Sir Lancelot du Lake,
Who towered all brilliant by the virgin pale,
For not a stately movement could he make,
But light shook sparkling from his jewelled mail;
Some two-and-twenty years of wandering fight,
Had braced, not worn, the strength of that most glorious knight.
Majestic ever in the lordly crowd,
Well was he named of Arthur's court the flower,
His head was backward tossed, alert and proud,
His full bright eye had depths of love and power;
The black curls to his shoulders broad descended.
In manhood's summer glory, grace and strength were blended.
But the recluse most solemnly 'gan say, C
"And art thou searching for the Holy Grale,
Strong as thou art, and brilliant and gay,
In this high emprise thou art weak and frail,
And women soft and boys may conquer thee,
Thou the invincible in earthly chivalry.
"The light world mingles with thy solemn thoughts,
The gay world laughs from thine unchastened eye,
And visions of her giddiest, wildest sports,
Follow thee to the forest sanctuary.
Yet art thou favoured; angels for a space
Shall haunt thee ere they find their resting-place.
"Ah, mayest thou follow thither; leave me now."
Sir Lancelot has waved a courteous greeting,
And ridden westward in the sunset glow,
Thinking of what befell at that strange meeting,
How Galahad had won from him degree,
How he no more the matchless knight could be.
Thus, as he rode, the evening tints had faded,
The stars gleamed shyly from the darkening grey;
Tall dismal pines the roughening pathway shaded,
Wild shapeless shadows underneath them lay;
Sometimes a glimmer through the darkness thrilled,
Or busy whispers all the silence filled.
In fearless confidence rode Lancelot,
Armed at all points, and on his trusty steed;
Fierce foes, enchantments dread, he feared them not,
Sword, hand, and heart ne'er failed him at his need.
Downward the path he followed led him ever,
Until he stood beside a rushing river.
Steep rocky banks o'erhung the whirling stream,
The inky waves came hurrying into sight
In broken foam, shone with a sudden gleam,
Then swept away, as if in wild affright
Of some drear ghastly presence brooding o'er
The desolate forest, and rank weedy shore.
But the good horse has stemmed the rapid tide,
And Lancelot's heart with hope of fight beats high;
An armed horseman on the other side
He thinks amid the darkness to descry;
Gigantic, dim, and shadowy does he seem,
Like some reflection in a wavering stream.
Past flew the form, the long spear couched for battle,
Touched Lancelot's horse, and then was seen no more.
The armèd charger fell with heavy rattle,
Then stiller seemed the silence than before.
Sir Lancelot strove to raise him, but in vain,
By that fell touch the noble steed was slain.
All night he wandered through the forest drear:
Oh, with what joy he felt the morning breeze,
Saw the grey daylight in the sky appear,
Brightening behind the stunted birchen trees.
The wood was opening now, and suddenly
He saw beneath him spread the gleaming, misty sea.
Night and its evil images were gone,
Freshness and strength in the sea murmur spoke;
He clambered down the cliffs, and stood anon,
Where the low tide-wave on the shingle broke;
A thousand sea-birds rose with clamorous cry,
And whirled into the reddening morning sky.
A little ship was floating near the shore,
The knight swam out to her and entered there
There was no rudder, and no sail nor oar,
There was no master, and no mariner;
But of provisioning a goodly store,
And a rich bed with samnite covered o'er.
Sir Lancelot raised the silk -- a perfume rare,
As of frankincense, hovered all around;
Low heavenly music trembled on the air,
More felt than heard was the unearthly sound;
And there, her fair hands crossed upon her breast,
A saintly maiden seemed to take her rest.
Rest -- for all care, and strife, and toil were over;
Calmer she was than life can ever be;
The parted spirit still seemed near to hover,
The face so shone with joy and victory.
You saw it ere you marked her beauty rare,
Though she was lovely, even passing fair.
Bright errant damoisels had Lancelot seen,
Shy, yet confiding, ride through forests dim;
Sweet timid maidens who had ever been
Caged in grey dismal towers, till freed by him;
Stately enchantresses, whose beauty bright
Shone all too brilliant for mortal sight.
And she, that loveliest sorceress, whose spell
Was earthly, yet for earth too glorious far,
Even now, alas! remembered all too well
His queenly lady-love and guiding star;
None had o'er Lancelot the marvellous power
Of that mild beauteous face, in the calm morning hour.
The gay court and its snares, the battle strife,
And all the changeful tumult of the throng,
And passing glories of his stirring life,
Seemed to some far-off distance to belong.
A new world dawned around, and in his breast,
Where all was peace, serenity, and rest.
He turned to go, but saw the wizard boat
Was swiftly gliding through the rippling sea;
The coast was looming in the blue remote,
The western ocean opened wide and free;
And Lancelot, with eager joy elate,
Some high and strange adventure 'gan to await.
How Sir Lancelot, Sir Galahad, and Sir Percevale, sailed together in a ship.
Where evermore the restless ocean raves
To the calm solemn sky, he sails for long --
Sees but the world of countless, tossing waves,
Hears but the murmur of their ceaseless song.
At last the shallop gains a rocky shore,
And Lancelot is lonely now no more.
For, like an apparition of St. George,
Descended on some lonely wave-worn shrine,
A young knight stood within the rocky gorge.
Anon he hurried down the steep incline,
With open visor, lightly sprang on board,
Kissed Lancelot's hand, and said, "My father and my lord."
"Welcome," he said, "my son, Sir Galahad,
So young in years, so old in fame and glory;
Loved when we met before, e'er Nacian had
Revealed to me thy birth and lineage story.
He told me I should be surpassed by one --
I joy to think it is my gallant son."
So day by day, upon the ocean free,
Sailed the strange bark, unsteered and unattended;
So night by night, upon a lonely sea,
The setting sun in flaming gold descended.
Oh happy days, by peace and honour blest,
Whether in calm and sunshine, bright they rest.
Or the fierce storm-wind drives the magic boat
Far over misty seas, uncrossed, unknown;
Or near dark-caverned island rocks they float,
Where dragons grim with scaly glitter shone,
That fought with them upon the desert shore:
And ever son and father loved each other more.
Sir Galahad was wont to sing alone,
Ever as came the church's office time;
And solemn as the pealing organ tone,
The wide sea rolled a mighty under-chime;
"Beware, my knightly son," Sir Lancelot said,
"See thou art not a priestly hermit made."
"Alas!" said Galahad, "thou gentle knight,
My life is passing fast, so let me sing.
Methinks faint music echoes from the light,
Methinks with mine far sweeter voices ring;
Earth, sky, and ocean, all are praises giving,
Can I be silent -- dead among the living?"
"I ever fear to lose thee," Lancelot said,
"Thou seemest to me half beatified;
The powers of ill before thee shrink dismayed;
Sooth spake the hermit Nacian ere he died:
'Thou art assured from all things foul and bad,
There are so many angels round thee, Galahad.'"
"There was an angel once," Sir Galahad cried,
"Now she has passed within the golden gates;
And see, how lovely as the day she died,
Her fair form for the vow's fulfilment waits
Only beneath the Sangrale shrine to rest.
List to the story of the maiden blest."
Dim in the blue sky hung the day-lit moon,
A glassy plain all round the waters lay;
Becalmed, the ship was floating in the noon,
Her white sails kindled in the sea a ray;
The sea-birds on the ripples seemed asleep,
Their shadows shimmered, lengthening from the deep.
But in the clear sea was a wondrous life,
A thousand strange shapes glancing to and fro,
In lazy harmony or maddening strife,
Floating above or sinking deep below.
Strange living flowers, of form and colour rare,
And arrowy fish, and uncouth beasts were there.
"They fight," said Galahad, "they live and die,
None care for them, their low unheeded fate:
So earthly kingdoms, powers, and hopes sweep by,
And others come with the same pride elate;
All in the same wild race to one death hurled,
How like this world, this most unstable world.
"Happy the calm recluse in cloister low,
Hid from her empty joys and giddy train;
Happy the knight, bound by a holy vow
To bear him bravely, conquer, and refrain;
Happy the maiden in whose gentle sprite
Blends warrior fire with calm of anchorite.
"With brave Sir Bors, and Percevale de Gailles,
I rode and wandered all the sweet spring-tide;
By land and sea we sought the Holy Grale,
And this fair ladye, ever by our side,
Sister to Percevale, hight Eleänor,
And daughter of the good King Pellionor."
"We were a band of brothers sworn, and she, our ladye queen;
Ah, never more such sunny days shall dawn for me I ween.
All dangers had we conquered well, till in an evil hour,
One gloomy eve we halted late, beneath a huge grey tower;
Then rattled out a rabble rout, of churl, and squire, and knight --
They charged upon the damoisel, with sudden fierce despite;
And had not we, with swords flung free, made swift and deadly play,
Before our eyes they soon had borne fair Eleanor away.
"They craved a truce and parley soon, told how before us stood
That famous castle called, 'the Castle of the Maidens' Blood.'
Their ladye queen, for years had been, sick of a sore disease;
The prophecies of Merlin wise, said nought could give her ease,
Save bathing in a maiden's blood, a royal maiden pure,
And thus must many gentlewomen, death from them endure.
In wait they lay, to take and slay, all maids of high degree,
They trusted one among them might, a true king's daughter be.
Around us then their army drew, and waited for the day,
As I have seen the stealthy wolves prowl round the traveller's way;
The white fangs gleam on every side, but still the cowardly pack
Slink in the blackest shadows round, and dare not to attack.
But Eleanora glided forth, when darkest was the night,
Nor listening foe, nor sentinel, could hear her footstep light;
Within the dismal gateway of the fortalice she went,
And in the dawn we saw her on the old grey battlement.
"'Approach,' she said, 'my brothers, all is peace and mercy now,
No unassoilzied men shall die, no blood for me shall flow;
I, a good king's virgin daughter, I shall end this weary strife,
I will save the hapless maidens, they shall freely have my life.'
Vain were words and lamentations, grief that rose into despair --
She bled, that lovely maiden, she died before us there,
And, dying, spoke -- 'Around me fair angelic visions glow;
The Sangrale, that I sought so long, I see before me now.
Then lay me in our ship again, I know that I shall sail
On an easy, easy pilgrimage, to the shrine of the Holy Grale, --
There bury me, my brother, for my wanderings there shall cease,
And thou and Galahad by my side, shall early rest in peace.'
"We bore the beauteous corse away, all through the armèd host,
And found our long-lost ship again, hard by the sandy coast;
We laid her there with tender care, and went with heavy thought,
A queen's life and a sullen peace, too dearly were they bought.
We turned to the tower again, and found a chapel there,
Within stood many maidens' tombs, of marble white and fair;
A fearful storm was raging in the darkness all around,
The lightning blazed, the crashing of the thunder shook the ground.
The maidens' blood, the maidens' blood, was crying from the tomb,
Calling aloud, on that castle proud, a speedy terrible doom;
For I saw the levin strike it, while ghastly shrieks arose,
And crashed into the whirling flame the fortress of our foes.
"We issued forth as morning broke, the storm had died away,
But 'neath a cloud of sulph'rous smoke, the tower in ruins lay;
And some among the ashes moved, their faces pale with dread,
And drew from under heavy stones the dying and the dead.
We worked with them till noon was high, then rode into the wood,
And left for aye that dismal place, cursed by the maidens' blood;
But when the shore we reached, the magic ship had sailed away,
And we felt that each must follow thence his solitary way.
With sad embrace, and lingering pace, we parted on the shore,
And after many wanderings I saw that ship once more,
And met thee here, Sir Launcelot, here miss we nothing, save
The gentle champion Percevale, and Bors our kinsman brave."
"Certes," said Launcelot, "most gloriously
The quest was ended by that maiden meek
For she has won the great reality,
But shadowed by the Sangrale that we seek;
And many a life that here seems wrecked and broken,
Is of heroic strife and victory the token."
He ceasèd, for the plash of oars they hear,
See a light bark swift to their vessel glide;
A fisher rowed, an armèd knight stood near,
And lightly clambered up the vessel side;
And Lancelot cried, 'Sir Percevale, my brother;"
Nor can I tell what joy each had of the other.
He was the son of Pellionor the king,
But chose the knightly helm before the crown;
Upon the deck his clashing weapons ring,
As, glad to rest in peace, he casts them down;
Armour, and shield, and weapons all were black,
Since foully murdered fell, his brother Lamorac.
The sunset glittered on the threads of gold
Through his brown hair enwoven, and the while
Of strange adventures and fierce fights he told,
And showed to them afar a desert isle
That paled and melted in the distance blue; —
As the breeze rose, the light ship onward flew.
"See in the distance, faint and far, yon line of mountain land,
They charged me as an errant knight, to watch beside the strand;
It was haunted by a champion, a dread unearthly foe,
And often, on this holy quest, he wrought our warriors woe:
By flame-bright mail, and sable shield, that champion you may know.
"A sound of music gently stole across the silver sea,
And a stately galley glided o'er the waters towards me,
With golden oars around her, and black sails in the air,
And the waves beneath her rippled to the song of the marinere.
High on the carvèd galley deck, a radiant ladye stood,
Her sweet and stately beauty reflected in the flood;
I thought how men of olden time, who saw that beauty bright,
Would have knelt down and worshipped her, as sea-born Aphrodite.
"She touched the land, the barren sand seemed gold beneath her feet,
The sunshine seemed more beautiful, the summer air more sweet;
Out from the vessel thronged apace her busy glittering train,
And soon a bright pavilion rose upon the arid plain;
A dainty banquet sparkled there beneath the purple shade,
And then the ladye saw me, and a sign to me she made;
A strange enchantment filled my soul -- I whispered in my pride,
None call in vain for Percevale, and hurried to her side.
"I gazed into her wondrous eyes; ere many words were spoken,
I had tasted of her dainty cheer, my fasting vow was broken;
I dared not to gainsay her, and I pledged her in the wine,
And as I drank, more gloriously her beauty seemed to shine.
She said an exiled princess she wandered o'er the main,
She had lost her lands and subjects, she had but her faithful train;
She would lead me to the haunt of my long-sought enemy;
Would I fight for her and love her, and cross with her the sea.
To fight for her! my heart and arm were thrilling at the thought,
And love her! ah, these gentle tones, they were with magic fraught.
"The peaceful stars were shining now so calmly in the gloom,
But in the tent the lamps flared dim, through clouds of rich perfume.
The music as in triumph rose, and swelled to wilder strains,
The fell wine in the beakers foamed, and glowed through all my veins,
I flung myself upon my knee, and cast all thought away,
But kissed her hand, and prayed that she would love me thus for aye.
"She drooped her fair head on my breast, and said in softest tone,
'Swear only ever mine to be, mine own love, mine alone.'
As trembling I turned to speak, I saw my cross-hilt sword
Unsheathed and gleaming lying there, upon the dark green sward.
The cross-hilt sword -- my knightly word -- it all rushed back to me,
The Sangrale quest, the vision blest, the subtle enemy;
A recreant and disloyal man, false to my solemn vow,
What hollow phantom haunted me, what snare beset me now!
"I started up and crossed myself, aloud in anguish prayed,
In whirling tumult circled all, in black and dizzy shade,
Pavilion, train, had vanished; but from the distance borne,
Came shrieks as souls in torment, and laughs as fiends in scorn.
I saw that unblest ship again, and strange forms thronged her side,
Round her mast the cold night blast, sobbed and wailed and sighed,
And roared and battered dismally her sails so black and wide.
The water burnt in pale blue flame behind her and before,
A form gigantic undefined was dimly hovering o'er;
Above the ship in lurid light, against the dark night sky,
I saw him
with his sable shield, the demon enemy.
"It seemed a host of evil powers -- so wild the tumult came --
Had burst from their dark prison-house, and flashed abroad in flame;
All night upon the lonely shore, there raged a hideous strife,
And still I fought with failing strength, for honour and for life;
Until the purple light of dawn, stole o'er the glimmering sea,
And fast before the blessed morn, the ghastly shadows flee.
"There came an aged fisherman, and took me to his care,
For many days I tossed and raved, with burning fever there;
To day I sat upon the shore, and saw far far away
A ship, methought the blessed ship in which my sister lay;
With joy I saw she waited me, no breeze the ripple curled;
Methinks she sails like Holy Church, all through this restless world.
We know not how her way is steered, her wondrous course is sped,
But still she bears to one high goal, the living and the dead."
"Thou hast won worship brave Sir Percevale,"
Sir Lancelot said, "not so it fares with me,
Vainly I wander over hill and dale,
And vainly wander half our chivalrie.
Hector, my brother, and Sir Gawain late
I met, for long adventures did they wait.
"Without a glorious chance a year they pined;
Thus spoke to us a hermit, grave and sad,
'Ye all seek that which ye shall never find,
Save Percevale, and Bors, and Galahad.
I know it, but a craving deep unrest
Urges me forth upon a hopeless quest,
"And so I wander still." "Ride on fair knight,"
Said Percevale, "and honour be thy meed;
Methinks for thee that longed-for hidden light
Shall flash from worldly toil and glorious deeds.
Fiercer is Hector than his greater brother,
A ruthless blood-stained murderer is the other.
"Close to his fierce and guilty soul shall cleave
The blood of innocence for evermore;
Shall Gawain ever holy quest achieve?
Forbid my slaughtered father Pellionor;
And Lamorac my matchless brother slain,
So foully by him and his brethren twain.
"I would have given all on this side heaven
To have been with him, fighting by his side,
When with his streaming wounds and mail all riven,
Six full-armed ruffians hours he defied,
For, lion like, he fought them all combined,
Till Mordred's coward dagger stabbed him from behind.
"Sir Mordred has his life for Arthur's sake,
Sir Gawain his for thine; yet it may be
That with his falsest heart, Knight of the Lake,
He may survive to be a curse to thee.
It is enough that now he is thy friend,
Though dim forbodings tell me of that end.
"Leave Gawain," said Sir Lancelot, "for now
He is my friend whatever he may be,
Still art thou that same vision-seer I trow,
As when at Arthur's Table, next to me,
Thou satest first, a stripling from the west,
Tell us how seems to thee the present quest."
"Sir Lancelot, I may hardly tell,
The glorious joy that thrilled me through,
When the heavenly radiance fell
Streaming from the Holy Grale,
At the feast in all our view;
Too bright it was for aught below,
When the music dying low
Hardly breathed for ecstasy,
Then I felt that even so,
In the music and the glow,
I should pass away and die.
Of all the knights, I only saw,
Dimly through the haze, Sir Bors,
And Sir Galahad by my side,
In the radiance glorified.
Then I felt the three should meet,
Far away beyond the sea;
Dangers, prisons, and defeat,
Must we suffer manfully;
Great adventures, high and sweet,
Might by us achieved be:
And then methinks the end!
A holy minster, fair and blest,
Where Galahad and I might rest,
Won the triumph, found the quest,
May heaven fulfilment send!
"In the tournament next day,
I drew a little space away,
Sir Lancelot, to see thee ride,
I marked thee in the hurtling fray,
Dash through the lists from side to side.
All the surging warrior crowd
Seemed but as the thunder cloud;
Thou the lightning darting past,
More than mortal splendour o'er thee,
Horse and rider fell before thee;
And above the trumpet blast,
Battle noises, wild and hot,
Pealing o'er the tumult loud,
Came the shoutings of the crowd, --
'Lancelot, Sir Lancelot.'
"Queen Guinevere on high the while,
Saw the tourney raging under,
I marked the summer of her smile,
Warming thee to battle thunder;
Pleased, the king to her 'gan say,
'Lancelot makes marvellous play,'
But she heard him not
For the shoutings of the crowd,
And all around the echo loud,
Of Lancelot, Sir Lancelot.
Then a mist before me came,
And I saw a future fray,
Like a bright destroying flame,
Saw thee cleave thy deadly way,
Circled by thy noble race,
Leader of an army fair; --
Yet how changed thy courteous grace,
Sadness, anguish, on thy face,
And indifference of despair.
Former comrades, tried and dear,
Rushed upon thy fatal spear,
Writhed in mortal throes;
On thee still did Arthur look,
All the light his face forsook,
Ah that glance I scarce might brook,
Spoke of mortal foes;
All my heart with horror shook,
And the mist arose.
Again I saw the blithe tourney,
And rushed into the tumult gay,
And strove to drive the thought away;
O Lancelot, my friend,
Thou brother to my brother slain,
Beware of proud and fierce Gawain,
Beware of this world's pleasures vain,
Bethink thee of the end.
"On the morrow, when I stood
In the minster chancel shade,
Where thrice fifty champions good
Stood in gleaming mail arrayed --
(Ah! how glorious seemed the knights;
Sunbeams from the eastern lights,
Many coloured o'er them played.)
As I watched thee standing there,
I saw no more the multitude;
The high cathedral arches fair
Seemed shrinking to a chapel rude,
Such as in woodland solitude
Some simple hermit -- sage and good --
Builds for his lonely prayer.
Many a hero's glittering sword
Decks the convent chapel low;
Banners, wont to float abroad,
Droop o'er quiet graves below;
As to wandering birds -- the nest --
As to wave-worn ships -- the haven,
So to us the cloister rest,
After life's wild storm is given,
There as trophies consecrate,
Often war-worn men
Blood-stained weapons dedicate;
Lancelot, wilt read thy fate
As I read it then?"
"Thou gentle son of good King Pellionor,
Strange are thy visions," Lancelot began,
"What, I a foe to Arthur -- nevermore.
Nor think I, while I am a living man,
To hang my sword upon some abbey wall,
To rust in darkness, let what may befall.
"Methinks that I could ne'er be blest
Within the cloistered walls,
But rather, as of old, would rest
In twilight water halls;
Where never sounded battle strife,
Nor din of toil or care;
For all the griefs of mortal life
Are gone -- forgotten there.
"Deep in the Bretagne forest-lands
The enchanted lake doth lie;
And there the fairy palace stands,
Where all my youth went by.
Beneath the towers, all the day,
We heard the water swell
Sometimes from very far away
Sounds of the real world fell:
The trumpet proud, or the bugle gay,
Or the sound of a chapel bell.
"The damsel of the lake alone
Ruled us with gentle hand;
When Hector, Bors, and I were grown,
She left us on the strand.
Then o'er the isle the waters spread,
The palace sunk below,
And far beneath the waves, 'tis said,
Its turrets glitter now.
And still, whene'er I listen long,
These wavelets to mine ear,
Bring fragments of the strange old song,
That once we used to hear.
"But as each year more earnestly
Our higher parts we play;
The freakish lights of fancy die
Before a brighter day.
And seldom now can dreamy chimes
Of elfin music break,
The sterner thoughts of later times
With memories of the lake.
"Oh! for those woodlands free,
For I am weary of the barren sea!
As if uneasily for rest repining,
It moans and murmurs ever ceaselessly.
Oh! for the long green aisles of branches twining;
The silver lakes amid the woodlands shining;
The thickets where the slender deer are straying;
The groves where knights and ladies ride a-maying;
The wild adventures and the trackless ways
The forest far above all other things I praise."
"Bright is the greenwood," Percevale replied,
"But ah! to me a higher glory breathes,
Where, in my native land, the purple heaths,
Bounded by blue hills, lengthen far and wide;
The grey mists clothe the precipice's side;
And dwellings of a people, free and bold,
Who in their rocky fastnesses defied
The pride of Rome, and back the legions rolled,
And yet shall hurl the Saxon from their mountain hold."
The Galahad answered, "Ay, thou Knight of Wales,
So may it be; but I will praise the sea,
While through the darkening waves our vessel sails,
That break in moonlit sparkles on our lee.
Doth it not mirror still the heavenly sky,
Undimmed by shadows of a changeful world;
Are not its waves, in glorious unity,
Lulled to a child-like rest, or in wild billows whirled?
Do not the countless water drops, that ever
Through earth's dark caves and mountain hollows roam,
Hasten, through purling brook and rushing river,
Back to the sea -- their home?
Their home where all earth's changes cease to be,
The rest of perfect life, the wide and ancient sea!"
How Sir Galahad, Sir Percevale, and Sir Bors achieved the quest, and Sir Lancelot returned to Camelot.
The summer glided by, and autumn came;
Then it befell, one bright October day,
When sea and sky in sunset seemed to flame,
The vessel came into a rocky bay;
Upon the shore there stood a cross of stone,
Behind, a forest rustled, hoar and lone.
A knight in silver mail was standing by;
He held a white horse on the sun-bright shore;
"Come forth, Sir Galahad," he said on high,
"For thou shalt see thy father hence no more,
Until is come the dreadful day of doom;"
And then he sought the wood and vanished in the gloom.
"Farewell, my noble Lord Sir Lancelot,"
Sir Galahad said, "Well wot I, I must go
I pray you, sir, henceforth forget me not,
Nor how unstable is this world of woe;
Sir Percevale farewell -- we meet again:"
He passed the shallow sea -- the shore he did regain,
Waved them a greeting, where the golden weed
By tidal waves upon the shore lay piled,
Then mounted on the pawing snowy steed,
And rode away into the forest wild;
The last red rays upon his armour darted,
And twilight fell around as he departed.
For days and days, and many a weary mile,
Alone he rode, until one starry night
He gained a river, where a little isle
Rose dark amid the current's dancing light
He spurred his steed into the eddying flood
And soon upon the island rock he stood.
Beneath, the brown and shrivelled leaves were lying,
All stiff and silvery in the keen hoar frost,
While from the trees above, the rest hung dying,
Like shattered pennons in some battle lost,
Waving o'er warriors fallen in the fray,
And there in truth a tomb beneath the branches lay.
Up-crashing from beside the marble fair,
A man in armour started into light,
You would have thought the warrior slumbering there,
Had come with spectral war to haunt the night,
For the long sword is quivering in his hand,
Though clear his full voice rings, "Thou unknown warrior stand."
"Art thou not Bors de Ganis, Claudus' son?"
Sir Galahad said, "thrice welcome then to me,
Knowest thou the victory is all but won,
And that we soon the Holy Grale shall see?
This island rock, this tomb I see again,
Tell that the end is near; and victory we shall gain."
"My gentle cousin Galahad is it thou?
And thinkest thou that we shall win at last,
For two long years I've sought and wandered now,
Through deserts lone and forests wild and vast;
Nor know I in what country now we roam;"
"King Pelles land," said Galahad, "and my home.
"But a day's journey hence my grandsire old, D
The maimed king Pelles called, is wont to dwell,
Not far from thence within a castle hold,
The Holy Grale is kept and guarded well;
None can find entrance to that solemn place,
Save they who long have toiled to win that grace."
"Then knowest thou Galahad who lies here alone?
No trace of him I ween doth now remain,
Forgotten even his name, for on the stone
Is written, 'To the memory of the Slain.
How slain, and when; can this alone be told?
Perchance of some great hero of the days of old."
"To the memory of the slain!
Idle words how oft and strange,
E'er their broken swords are rusted,
Or the leaves above them change.
"Here and there their names may linger,
Treasured by the faithful-hearted,
Here and there some gentle mourner,
Lives in soul with the departed.
"But in the tide of surging life,
Their comrades sweep away,
And who remembers, 'mid the din,
The slain of yesterday.
"Think not the world will miss her sons,
Laid in the cold grave's keeping,
The wars, the loves, the toils go on,
The sowing and the reaping;
The morning will as sweetly wake,
When thou art ever sleeping.
"Here and there, amid the ages,
Is the light of history thrown
On some form sublime heroic,
Every heart has made its own.
"What to him is fame or glory,
In his rest beyond the skies,
Whether mortals, poor and erring,
Still his name and memory prize?
"What to him, if even they honour,
Not the man that was in truth,
But the fiction of the poet,
Or the bright ideal of youth?
"While I live, in deeds heroic
I would ever toil and shine;
When I die, my part is over,
And the future I resign.
"It is nothing to me further,
Whether then for evermore,
My name should sound and echo,
Until time itself be o'er.
"Chosen, lighted as a beacon,
To illumine lands unknown,
Decked by loving art with beauty,
And with splendour not my own.
"Or whether from the morrow
Of my entrance to the tomb,
I should sleep by all forgotten,
Till the dreadful day of doom.
"I know that He who guided me,
Guides not the world in vain,
Enough of light, from heroes gone,
Shall in the earth remain,
To fire the living present
With the memory of the slain.
"Sir Amys and Sir Amyot died, some score of years ago,
The two brave brothers in this tomb repose forgotten now.
There lived a wizard champion then, and Garlion he hight,
Sir Amyot long had sworn the death, of that most evil knight;
But spells of magic guarded him, no steel could work him harm,
Till Amyot won in Noraway, a sword of mystic charm.
There, in the olden mountains still, the grey dwarfs toiling pour
In burning streams, for weapons strange, the fiery hissing ore;
And in their glowing caverns, they had forged the wizard steel,
Until the lightest wound it gave, could never never heal.
King Pelles held high festival, on St. Sylvester's night,
And by his side sat Garlion, the evil wizard knight;
When sudden Amyot enters, and strides to Garlion's place,
The harpers all are silent, when they have seen his face.
Then blood and red wine mingle, and swords and axes jar,
And all the din of carousal, is changed to the clash of war.
Sir Amyot slew Sir Garlion, fled to the altar stair,
But foremost of his warriors, King Pelles met him there,
Where the figure of Sebastian, with calmly folded hands,
Beside our ladye's altar, arrow-pierced and bleeding stands.
The king has drawn in anger, the king's good sword is sure,
But Amyot's weapon strikes him, and the wound can never cure;
And as the maimed king ever since, that wound he must endure.
Sir Amyot in the tumult fled, he rode for many a mile,
Disguised and weary, reached this stream, and thought to win the isle;
But there an armed man kept the ford, and bade him fight or stay,
And maddened by the hot pursuit, he brooked of no delay.
He drew the sword of vengeance, smote the warrior to the ground,
But the hardy knight in falling, gave to him a deadly wound;
They raised the blood-stained visors -- and then they knew each other,
As Amys and Sir Amyot -- as brother slain by brother.
The ladye of the castle near, came down with all her train,
She washed their wounds, and tended them, but all was done in vain;
They prayed her of her gentleness, that she would lay them there
Together in the island, in a tomb of marble fair;
Nor write their names so glorious, nor their end of grief and pain,
But trace above them only, 'To the memory of the Slain.
Then Merlin set, in jasper red, the sword that did the harm,
And told how he that drew it thence, had power above its charm.
I am the son of Elene, king Pelles' daughter fair,
And the evil sword of vengeance, is the falchion that I wear."
"At Camelot I saw thee win that sword,"
Sir Bors replied, "when first thou camest thither;
All the gay knights rode dashing through the ford
To see the marvel floating down the river --
The sword in jasper set, that thou alone,
Sir Galahad, could'st draw from out the stone."
"Yes, thus was broke for aye the vengeful spell,
Forgiven in the grave the two knights rest.
The end is coming -- all is ending well;
The maimed king waits for me, his dearest guest;
My whole heart thrills with dawning happiness;
The day is breaking now -- so forward let us press."
They rode until October's sun was low,
Through red and golden woods the rays were slanting,
When hark! they hear the cheery bugle blow,
And forward sweep the deer -- the stag-hounds panting;
The green-clad hunters dashing on apace,
And all the sylvan frolic of the chase.
But as before the errant-knights they pass,
A gay acclaim bursts forth from all the band;
High bound the curbed-in chargers on the grass,
The ladies rein their steeds with gentler hand,
And all the woodland echoes ring back glad:
"High welcome to the Haute Prince Galahad."
Some galloped on across the meadow land
To the fair palace of the maimèd king;
The rest all gaily rode on either hand,
Their prince and lord in triumph home to bring.
The peasants from the harvest, homeward wending,
Join the gay throng, the choral voices blending.
"Let the royal trumpets loudly
Far and wide their music fling;
For our happy warriors proudly
Ride to meet our future king.
Minstrels glad thy triumph grace,
Mighty lords and ladies bright;
Worthy son of Pelles' race,
Art thou, Galahad, glorious knight.
"And the church-bells clearly ringing,
O'er the fields of ripened wheat,
Shepherd youths and maidens singing,
Princess Elene's true son greet.
For beneath this gentle lord,
Peace and joy shall ever reign;
Guarded by his powerful sword,
The golden age shall come again.
"Lutes and harpstrings sweetly thrilling,
As the loud notes die away,
All the heart with longing filling,
Sigh the thought we fain would say.
Where is she, the maiden peerless,
Who shall reign the happy queen
Of a heart so pure and fearless --
Shines afar her beauty's sheen?
Or blooms she here, the fairest flower,
Beneath his native skies?
And rides she now, in forest bower,
With violet drooping eyes?"
"Fair may the sun shine on this pleasant land,"
Sir Galahad said, "but here we dare not stay;
Earth and her fleeting joys behind us stand,
And on through toils and danger leads our way;
In sun-lit fields the fragile flowerets shine,
Who seeks th' enduring gems, must tread the darksome mine.
"High visions of the glory yet to be,
The chosen champions of the Sangrale bless,
Call us across the deep and silent sea,
Call us beyond the barren wilderness;
O'er this world's night a radiant halo shed,
That cheers our toilsome way -- but rest is for the dead."
Hushed was the song -- but still the music rolled,
Mixed with the trampling of a thousand steeds;
With glittering lights and colours manifold,
The gorgeous train sweeps o'er the gleaming meads.
They reach a stately palace on the lea,
Beneath its towers moans the restless twilight sea.
And all the palace windows glowed with light;
Without, a hundred torches cast their glare
Far o'er the meadows through the frosty night;
A hundred warriors thronged the castle stair,
And when the errant-knights dismounted had,
Loud, and yet louder pealed, "Welcome, Sir Galahad!"
The silver trumpets sound a shivering blast,
As the two champions pace the marble floor,
Down the long lighted hall, until at last
A couch of cloth of gold they stand before;
Above, the figure of Sebastian stands,
All arrow-pierced, with calmly folded hands.
And there the maimed King Pelles was reclining
In scarlet vesture -- on his silver hair
A jewel-flashing coronet was shining:
Long for this hour the king had waited there;
Mild and majestic was the old man's look,
As Galahad, kneeling down, his wan hand took.
"Thou hast returned, my son, and all is well --
I knew that thou could'st die, but could'st not fail;
And thou hast broke the sword of vengeance spell,
And thou shalt lead me to the Holy Grale;
'Tis over -- the long penance I have done,
For shielding from high justice evil Garlion."
All in the palace held high festival,
In joyous pleasaunce sped the night away;
More bright than daylight shone the crowded hall,
Far o'er the cold sea beamed the torches' ray;
It glimmered faintly, where the magic bark
Dashed from her gliding prow the waters dark.
There two knights gazed upon the ruddy light,
And listened for the fitful music strain
That stole into the silence of the night,
Amid the pauses of the wind and rain;
And darker seemed the tossing sea before,
And sadder moaned the wind, where music breathed no more.
Long at the dark coast gazes Lancelot:
"Listen, Sir Percevale, my dearest friend,
Old thoughts and old adventures, half forgot,
Are thronging o'er me, and together blend;
This is the country of the Fair Elene,
The land that, since my youth, I long have sought in vain.
"For that palace in the meadow
Brings my first youth back to me,
And a radiant spirit-shadow
Flits across my memory;
Full a score of years are past,
Since I saw that palace last.
"Down the river, silver-flowing,
Sounds of laugh and song were borne;
In the wide fields, sunset glowing,
Were the reapers gathering corn.
'Mid the waving corn, the maiden
Dealt out shares to poor and old,
Who were passing, homeward laden
With the sheaves of drooping gold.
Like some saint, in pictured story,
Gleaming from a golden ground,
Stood she, in the sunset glory,
With the yellow corn around.
Young she was, and fair and gay,
Smilingly she saw me come,
And pointed to an old man grey,
Who scarce might bear his load away:
'Thou, Sir Knight, shall take it home,
Penance meet, for wandering near
Our harvest home with sword and spear.'
"I alighted down, and tied
The wheat upon my charger's back;
She walked onward by my side.
As the prancing steed I tried
Gently down the path to guide,
Still the sheaves fell on our track;
Then the damoiselle and I,
Laughing, piled them up again;
Till the old man's hut is nigh,
And the palace court we gain;
(For she was a princess high,
And she hight the Fair Elene.)
"There, upon a couch of gold,
Costly silks by gems festooned,
Princess Elene's father old,
Maimed King Pelles I behold,
Lying with a ghastly wound;
Nought can cure him, Merlin told,
Till the Holy Grale is found.
"Christmas tide had come that year,
I again was wandering near;
Deep in snow my war-horse trode,
Leafless branches o'er my road
Wove across the darkening sky
A frosty silver tracery.
Then an abbey dim I past,
Chapel windows all a-glow,
Oriels fair, and trefoils cast,
Traced in light upon the snow."
"The bells were ringing sweetly, and they drew me ever nigher;
The monks were singing compline, as I stepped within the quire,
Amid them Elene's brother stood, a knight in armour clear,
And when the chaunt was hushed, the prior bade him and me draw near."
"A high adventure to achieve, Sir Lancelot, thou art sent,
For if a champion came ere morn, I promised my consent;
Two good knights must the emprise take, the first to death is fated:
All day the prince, Sir Meliot, the second has awaited.
For Morgue, the dark enchantress, beheld with jealous pain, E
How lovelier bloomed and lovelier, our princess Fair Elene;
In fierce despite she seized her, and now the captive dwells
In the ruined manor guarded by weird and deadly spells;
Who enters first, to rescue her must through their might be slain,
And a hardy knight must go with him, or all is done in vain:
Sir Meliot gives his life away, with free and open hand,
And thou shalt bring her back to us -- the princess of the land.
He only prays, if thou shouldst come victorious from the quest,
Upon thy sword to swear to him, to grant his last request."
"Next day Sir Meliot went, and on the morrow,
Athwart the forest, many a mile I rode;
At eve I came into a tangled hollow,
Rank thickets hoar, where man had never trode;
Through the dead leaves the snakes went rustling by,
And strange birds flapping, rose with long and mournful cry.
"I left my horse, and forced a passage through,
And sudden stood beneath an iron gate;
The ruined manor rose before my view,
'Twas silent, lichen-hoar, and desolate:
Wide open stood the rusty hingèd door,
I entered in, the darkness to explore.
"The sky through many a broken lattice gleamed,
Through many a gaping cleft the light did glare;
All silence, dust, and emptiness it seemed.
As I went up the dim and mouldering stair,
Nought heard I save my footstep on the floor,
And then the sudden clang of closing iron door.
"The echoes pealed in long reverberation:
I listened, breathless, till they all had died
Amid the silence and the desolation,
And then the fastened door in vain I tried;
I was a prisoner in a tower high,
The dead Sir Meliot on the blood-stained floor lay nigh.
"The night and morning passed, and came again,
Fasting, I watched, with straining eye and ear;
Then round the tower swept a lovely strain
Of harps and viols, and voices singing near,
Upon that drear abode, as if to tell
Of happy worlds without, the music fell.
"They chaunted of the hero days of old,
And heathen names, harmonious and strange,
In stately rising music they extolled;
Still rang the burden, after every change,
'The beautiful we follow, and we praise,
To beauty manifold our songs we raise.
"'And thou, thou wandering knight, amid the gloom,
Come forth with us into the sunny glory:
Come to the lands where fairer flowers bloom,
Dear southern lands of wondrous Grecian story;
Where islands, purple-cliffed and sea-embraced,
In lonely beauty shine, like jewels silver chased.
"'Come to the forests where the Dryads shy,
In deepest shadow glance along the fern,
Where Neriads with calm and beauteous eye
Droop pensive o'er the murmuring river urn;
Come to the seas where Triton horns are blowing,
And chariots dolphin-drawn are o'er the blue waves going.
"'Here, after dreary years of toil and pain,
Old age you find, and death, that hideous thing;
There, in the Isle of Avalon, there reign
Perpetual youth, perpetual love and spring;
Come then where all is beauty, joy, and rest,
Come to the glorious Islands of the Blest.'
"Now the door opens, singing maidens press,
A lustrous band, within the prison room,
Amid them Morgue, the great enchantress,
Majestic stands in all her magic bloom.
'What cravest thou, Sir Knight, in my domain?' --
I said, 'Deliverance for the fair Elene.'
"'It shall be so; yet grant me one request,
If not, she dies, and thou shalt ne'er be free;
Come then with me, and be for ever blest,
In those far happy isles beyond the sea.'
And as I answered, 'Never, lady, never!' --
'Then shalt thou be my prisoner for ever.'
"'Then sing no more,' I said, 'those idle songs
Of dreamy southern beauty and delight;
Winning high worship and redressing wrongs,
I love to roam the world, an errant knight;
There is a nobler, a more glorious beauty,
It shines for me in honour, faith, and duty.
"'Life is no pastime saddening into age,
Nor death the hideous monster they have feigned;
Life is the battle and the pilgrimage,
And death the victory, the shrine attained;
And now, Morgane, I warn thee, keep thee well,
For I defy thee and thy mightiest spell.'
"Again she spoke: 'Though most unworthy, thou
Art knight of Great King Arthur's Table Round;
Go with this squire then, fetch the maiden, -- now
Depart, nor ever more near me be found.
Beneath the Grecian tomb the prison lies;
Thou mayst repent thee of thy dainty prize.'
"Through vaulted passages, down winding stair,
My silent guide I followed, till we gained
A ruined temple open to the air;
With fading frescoes still the walls were stained;
Still columns rose of southern Grecian form,
While through the temple swept the northern winter storm.
"Full in the midst a marble tomb I found;
As if in frolic triumph over death,
Above, below, carved nymphs a wild dance wound,
With hands enlaced, and floating flower-wreath;
The snow-flakes, coldly drifting on the tomb,
Mocked the still dancers and the flowers' stony bloom.
"The place had such a weird unhallowed look,
I crossed myself, and strove to raise the stone;
Nor was it hard to move -- the fastening shook, --
I turned for aid, the gloomy squire was gone;
What matter, soon the princess, fair Elene,
Clung smiling to my side, and saw the light again.
"Out through the blinding snow we hurried fast,
White as the whirling snowdrift was her hue;
But ere the tangled thicket we had passed,
An armèd rabble brust upon our view;
I strove the maiden by my side to shield,
And backed against a tree, for I would never yield.
"Anon when I was breathless, spent, and bleeding,
Fair Elene called me, and I turned me round,
And she my own good warrior-steed was leading,
Lured from afar by well-known battle sound;
Lightly I mounted with the slender maiden,
And the swift steed dashed onward, double laden.
"Far from the ghastly place we rode for hours,
The night had fallen, the howling storm was laid;
Gently we paced beneath a castle's towers,
For, hurt and bleeding, there I hoped for aid;
But ere it came, I sank upon the heath,
Half fainting, from my horse, as wounded to the death.
"Then sudden, on my darkening eyes, a glow
Dawned where the castle rose upon the height;
The long rays brightened o'er the glittering snow,
Till all around was bathed in mystic light;
Then came a lovely child, a censer swinging,
And then three virgins white, a golden chalice bringing.
"Entranced I gazed upon the vision blest,
Even as I gazed methought my life returned;
New strength and vigour glowed within my breast,
With rapt and happy thankfulness I burned;
Sir Percevale, it was the Holy Grale,
Ah, to my purer youth, it shone without a veil.
"The holy vision past, I know not how,
I felt that I could mount my steed again,
And with the damoiselle I pacèd slow,
Until the abbey cloisters we regain;
The lighted chapel was for Christmas drest
And all the brotherhood to meet us prest.
"The good monks tended me with skilful care,
Ere many days my wounds were healed again;
They read Sir Meliot's will -- 't was written there
That I should wed his sister, faire Elene.
So she became my bride, that gentle May,
Alas, my heart was ever far away.
"But in that palace till the summer tide
We dwelt -- and then I wandered forth again,
Seeking adventurous chances did I ride,
Nor ever more beheld the faire Elene;
When winter came, they told me she was dead;
She was the mother of Sir Galahad.
"I never found again that palace bright,
And Galahad lived and grew; I knew him not
Until the noble youth I made a knight,
In the old abbey down by Camelot."
"Alas," said Percevale, "that this should be,
O would faire Elene reigned, thy wife in Britany.
"Yon brazier, in the fitful night breeze flaring,
Obscures the lustre of a thousand stars,
And so round thee a dazzling spell is glaring,
That blinds thine eyes, and all thy future mars.
Oh cast it from thee, what though darkness come,
The pure far lights of heaven are brightest in the gloom."
Beneath the high dark rocks the vessel glides,
The waves leap up into the moonlight clear,
And break in silvery sparkles on their sides;
Then suddenly the two companions hear,
All solemnly across the water swell,
A deep melodious toll, as of a minster bell.
And then they were aware how, on the height,
A stately wide-spread castle towered high,
In darkness all, no window gleamed with light,
In silence all, beneath a silent sky;
And Lancelot whispered to Sir Percevale,
"Beneath these towers it was I saw the Holy Grale!"
The vessel stopped beneath a rocky stair,
Lashed by the waves, and wreathed with dripping weed,
With glowing hopes the knights have landed there,
And up the narrow rough-hewn steps they speed,
Till they arrive where two dread lions keep
For ever watch beside the pathway steep.
The Welch knight signed the cross, and forward strode,
The lions couched against Sir Lancelot,
He drew his sword, and thought to clear the road;
Then said a clear voice by him, "Trust thou not
In earthly strength, thy carnal weapons leave,
Oh thou of evil faith and poor belief."
He crossed himself, and back the lions went,
And then he was aware, how close above
A little child stood, white and innocent,
And beckoned him to come with looks of love;
But mouldered, ruined, seemed the dizzy stair,
Though Percevale sped on as if he trod on air.
"Child, the smooth rocks are hanging o'er the waves,
Nor steps nor pathway can I farther see;" --
"Knight, many down below have found their graves,
But take my hand, and ever follow me."
And so with toil and care they upwards go,
The greedy leaping waves toss their white crests below.
Now through a narrow postern leads the way,
The knights within pace down a lofty hall,
The fretted moonbeams, with a silver ray,
Through dark fantastic window traceries fall;
Then the deep bell tolled forth the hour of lauds,
And on the silence stole faint music chords.
And still the fair child glided on before,
Until they reached an ante-chapel dark;
He paused beside a low arched closèd door,
And Percevale said, low and solemn, "Hark!
Angelic songs are ringing from the light,
The hour is come, the Sangrale is in sight.
"Hear'st thou how sweetly peals that holy hymn,
A thousand voices chaunting in the skies." --
"Ah, Percevale, the light is far and dim,
I only hear the moaning storm-wind rise." --
"Farewell, Sir Lancelot, for now I go,
Farewell, mine own true friend, we meet no more below."
There is a burst of music and of light,
Wide open flies the massive chapel door,
Far rolls the chaunt triumphant through the night;
And when the gloom and silence fall once more,
Sir Percevale is gone, and Lancelot tries
In vain to enter, and in anguish cries, --
"Without, without; ah, leave me not without,
Leave me not here beneath this awful ban,
Here in this night of dark remorse and doubt,
A sad, a lonely, a world-weary man!
Oh let me yet within the chapel press,
Or die before the door of mine unworthiness!"
Even as he knelt beside the threshold stone,
They slowly dawned on him, those glorious rays;
Again a wondrous clearness round him shone,
And angel faces glimmered through the haze;
But all the vision bright he never told
That, round the Sangrale shrine, that moment did unfold.
The raving storm around the tower seemed dying,
As though a sacred hush was on the blast:
Far, far below the darksome world was lying,
Like some vain evil dream, when night is past;
A moment paused he, then a burning breath
Passed o'er him, and he fell, all powerless as in death.
He fell in the lighted chapel,
And woke on the rocks below;
He saw the dark waves leaping round,
All ridged with foamy snow.
He could not move, he could not speak --
His heart was dull as lead;
Some terror brooded over him,
Some presence chill and dread.
Scared by the howling breezes,
Skimmed the milk-white clouds,
Like a procession of phantoms
Swathed in glimmering shrouds;
And fitful gleamed the moonlight,
Or, in the darker sky,
The stars shone out, and vanished,
As they went hurrying by.
There was no hush of slumber
In all the restless night,
No calm repose of darkness,
'T was cold, and wild, and bright;
The tempest hovered and gathered,
The rush of his pinions was heard,
And the moan of the restless ocean,
Whose weltering depths were stirred.
Voices sang in the wavelets,
Wailed in the whirling breeze,
Boomed from the rocky caverns,
Whispered from rustling trees;
Clear the words were sounding,
Yet, when he listened for more,
They melted into the surges,
They died in the tempest's roar;
Then swept again from the distance,
"The Quest of the Sangrale is o'er."
Then sounded a hollow whisper,
"Where do they linger, the rest? --
A hundred and fifty chosen men
Rode out on the Sangrale Quest;
Had they been true and loyal,
They saved this falling land,
No horde of ravening foemen
Had wrenched it from their hand;
Pure hearts, and true, and valiant,
In the darkest hour can save;
The Sangrale Quest is over,
Where are the champions brave? --
'Tis over -- the sun of Britain
Sets in a sea of blood" --
"Over," in solemn chorus,
Breathes from the hoary wood.
There were screams of terrible laughter,
And clapping of viewless wings;
"Hurra! for the seething ocean
The heathen and pagan brings.
Again on the ancient altars
Gleams the sacrifice fire,
The smoke of the victim rises,
An offering to Thor and Freya.
The cross has faithless champions,
The Quest of the Sangrale is o'er" --
"Over" -- in mighty chorus,
Answered the billows' roar.
Hushed for awhile is the tempest
Over the moonlit plain,
And mortal voices are singing
A sweet monotonous strain;
Their sounds a chaunt Gregorian,
Louder and louder still,
And a procession of pilgrims
Winds up the castle hill.
Their moonlit weapons glitter
And gentle palfreys bring
Full in the midst a litter
Where rests an aged king.
They reach the strong-barred portal,
Wide flies the iron gate;
They enter, and the night without
Is doubly desolate.
The tempest's fury is loosened,
It rouses the ocean's roar;
They come, the unhallowed voices,
On every side once more.
"To-night we win another,
Beneath the castle towers;
He never, never shall enter,
For he is ours -- is ours."
Then amid the hideous clamour,
As from very far away,
Sweeter voices chaunted gently,
Of a dawning brighter day;
How, after nights of tempest,
Fairer smile the morning skies;
And from war and desolation
Purer, happier times shall rise.
Nearer the carol swept in might --
"No thrall of yours, this gentle knight,
Not yours, although his youth has fled,
Its glory tarnished by one darker spell;
Not yours, although his manhood prime has sped,
Dimmed by a flattering world he loved too well;
Though a sad evening o'er the bright life lowers,
A mournful end; it is not yours, dark powers --
Not yours, but ours."
Then fell the swoon and darkness on his eyes;
And all is changed again when he awakes,
Within a bower of tapestry he lies,
The sunshine through the rich-hued window breaks;
A silver-haired old man he sees again,
And dim remembers him, the father of Elene.
For all was rich and royal round him there --
The crimson arras, bright with jewels wrought,
Swept from the vaulted roof of carving fair,
And kneeling pages wine and spices brought;
He shakes the dark locks from his dazzled eyes,
And greets that aged king, who straight replies, --
"I am King Pelles, Lancelot, my son,
Whilom by all men styled the maimed king,
But the good knight Sir Galahad has won
At last relief for my long suffering;
A wondrous ointment near the Sangrale found,
And with his healing hand he cured my grievous wound.
"We left the Sangrale shrine four days ago,
And the three chosen champions there alone;
We found thee, Lancelot, on the rocks below,
And bore thee home henceforth to be our own;
For all my power I to thee award;
Look on the lovely realm that longs to own thee lord."
He threw the painted lattice open wide,
And shewed the champlain brightening in the dawn,
Where hamlets, towers, and woods, on every side,
Peer'd through the misty veil of autumn's morn;
"Listen, Sir Lancelot, the gifted say,
For Britain soon shall dawn an evil day.
"Thou canst not rescue, thou canst only fall
Amid the crashing ruins of the state;
Here, in our happy land, remote from all,
We live regardless of the storms of fate;
In loveliest valleys still our shepherds stray,
O'er glorious mountains roam our hunters gay.
"Stay; should the weary storm-tost marinere
Leave a fair island for a sinking wreck?
Stay then, Sir Lancelot, my hope, mine heir!" --
"Thou canst not me with such forebodings check,"
Said Lancelot, "The evil day may come,
And ruin overwhelm hearth and home --
"The swifter shall I haste to Arthur's side,
The firmer o'er him shall my shield be thrown;
If worst disaster to the land betide,
I have a life and glory of my own;
And come what may of all the ills beneath,
The latest cures the rest, and that is -- death."
"Alas! Sir Lancelot, and wilt thou go;
To-morrow thou shalt choose my fairest steed,
To-day the banquet waits, the wine shall flow;
And then farewell, and heaven be thy speed."
"Fair thanks, King Pelles, but I must not stay,
A loiterer upon my pilgrim way.
"Bring me no scarlet robe, nor bounding steed,
No banquet spread, nor frothing wine-gold pour,
Forth let me wander in my warrior weed,
Back to the castle on the hill once more;
All other thoughts to me are lost and vain,
Ere night I may see Galahad and Percevale again."
Forth wandered he, and when the evening came,
He saw these towers in sunset glory bright;
The dancing waves, beneath the radiant flame,
Shone glistening in a path of golden light:
The glorious day more glorious seemed to die,
As if the stealthy twilight, creeping westward, to defy.
But all was still and lone; no stir nor motion,
Save long-winged sea-birds circling homeward wending,
And one white sail afar upon the ocean,
And then a holy man the hill descending;
Fair greeted he Sir Lancelot as he passed,
Then paused, gazed after him, and spoke at last:
"My son, if, as I deem, thou seekest still
The Holy Grale -- know it is gone for aye;
Three chosen knights a high command fulfil,
And bear it from this sinful land away:
'Tis but an hour since their ship I blest,
And you may see her still, far in the sunny west."
Now downward on the winding castle road
There paced Sir Galahad's charger riderless;
With measured trampling, slow and proud he trode,
And stood by Lancelot with fond caress.
"Alas!" he said, and gathered up the rein,
"Is this the end -- the weary world again?
"On I must wander on my darksome way,
While they amid the light of peace can rest;
I am but a beginner in the fray,
Where they are conquerors, serene and blest.
I hear the trumpets call me from afar,
The conflict waits me in the world of men,
And strife and battle come, and blasting war,
And death itself, before we meet again."
He turned away, as early darkness fell,
And far at sea the storm-wind moaned a knell.
And as the sunbeams leave the darkening shore
So desolate, beneath the gathering night,
So the bright day of Britain's power is o'er,
The light of true religion shines no more,
But idol altar-fires gleam ruddy from the height;
And as that white-sailed bark
Lessens and lessens 'neath the evening star,
So in the gathering dark,
Honour and Chivalry have fled afar,
And all that could ennoble grim and ghastly war.
Turn thee again, nor look in hopeless sorrow;
For in the eastern skies
That sinking sun shall rise again to morrow,
And in the east a brighter dawn shall rise;
And even as the champion's bark you see
Sail down beyond the rim of glancing foam,
As she departed -- o'er the silver sea,
More strong and glorious, Chivalry shall come; --
Come with the freemen bold,
Her own true sons, from Norway's mountain-hold --
Come from the Eastern sands of gold,
With bronzed Crusaders home.
Thou they are gone -- the three --
Gone from a bloodstained and forsaken land,
Still shall in after times the country see
The spirit of that little warrior band,
Honour, self-sacrifice, and purity,
Breathe into the rudest strife the soul of Chivalry.
The chase was over, and the banquet spread
Beneath the shadows of the forest trees;
A little space apart, the hunting train
Drank to the king, or praised the gaze-hound swift
Or chafed the falcon till the jesses rung,
And flapped her whirling wings -- the steeds the while
Paced round the throng with graceful arching necks,
And sought for morsels from the yeoman's table.
But where the knights and ladies sat reclined,
How fair the feast! the wine-cup, gold embossed,
Was shadowed by the drooping lady fern,
And the wild fox-glove waved her clustering bells,
As stately as the huntress by her side.
Full fifty knights and ladies sat around
Arthur, the noble knight -- the glorious king
And, 'neath the branches of an aged oak,
Where Druids once had gathered misletoe
(But now the knights had silken mantles tost
From bough to bough, a lustrous canopy),
She sat enthroned -- the peerless Guinevere.
Then a young maiden, with a thrilling voice,
Sang one of Tristrem's joyous hunting songs;
Clearly the wild notes rang through all the wood,
As, jubilant o'er human griefs and cares,
They soared away, you could not choose but follow --
Follow the music in its reckless mirth,
And lose all else in the triumphant chorus.
The ladies' voices rang like silver bells,
Above the mellow music of the knights,
And rougher echo of the menial train.
So loud the chorus swelled, that none observed,
Till the lithe hounds upstarting, bayed and howled,
How a knight-errant rode into their midst,
Whose sterner aspect scattered pleasure's dream.
Worn was his horse and rusty was his mail;
He took his helmet off, and then they knew
One held for dead -- away for five long years,
Sir Bors de Ganis, good king Claudus' son.
All welcomed him, but chief Sir Lionel
His brother, and his cousin Lancelot;
And then he told them how, beyond the seas,
He sailed with Percevale and Galahad,
And bore the Sangrale to a distant land,
Where dwelt a tyrant king who 'prisoned them
Long in a dungeon low; but how all men
Who saw Sir Galahad, henceforth were their friends,
Till the old monarch died within his arms,
And the converted nation hailed him king.
"So for a while he lived," the warrior told,
"Blessing and blest, and near the palace fair
He built a chapel for the Holy Grale;
There, morn by morn, we worshipped, while around
Fair churches rose, and decked a Christian land.
"One morning, as we knelt before the shrine,
He turned and said farewell, then upward gazed
With trembling eager rapture; who of us
Can tell the sight that brightened o'er his eyes,
Until the deadly flash might not endure
The glories of that high celestial vision!
And so he cast it from him, and was gone.
"The people buried him as well became
The lineage of the Haute Prince Galahad.
When all was over, and the wild March wind
Alone was singing dirges round his grave,
I saw Sir Percevale ride up the hill,
Armed at all points. It was St. Mary's eve,
And at the chapel door he lighted down,
And said to me -- ' 'T is many years ago
That first I watched mine armour, till the dawn
Of that high day whereon they made me knight;
And now I feel I must a vigil hold
More solemn, for a higher festival.'
He entered bright and strong; at early dawn
The children found him -- children bearing lilies
To deck the chancel arch for Lady day;
The earliest sunbeams of the festival
Lit ruddy sparkles in his sable armour,
Shone o'er the deep repose -- the closèd eyes,
Whence the sweet soul would never look again.
His sword was on the altar, whence he took it
To wear it bravely many a changeful year;
But as his wars were over now, the children
Placed lilies in his hand, with chalice white,
The flower of purity.
"When in the grave,
By Eleanor and Galahad, I had laid him,
I lived alone to bear the greeting back
Of those two champions to the king and court,
But chief, my lord Sir Lancelot, to thee,
From Galahad, who prays thee to remember
The time when in the mystic ship you sailed,
And how unstable is this fleeting world."
With hushed repose and rising tears they heard;
But Lancelot embraced him fast, and said,
"Now wit you well, Sir Bors, that you and I
Must never part again, but mine is thine
For ever while I live." And so it was,
In the dark days of bitter civil war
That soon closed over them, and left the land
The prey of foemen bleeding in despair;
Her warriors, in the summer of their days,
Low in their bloody graves, through brothers' hands.
At last, as seaworn mariners awake,
Only survivors of some hideous wreck,
Upon a desert shore, they found themselves,
As monks professed, within a forest cell. F
Arthur was gone, and all his glorious train,
Guinever's beauty in the cloister paled;
There was no errant knight by wood or field;
There was no damsel seeking for redress;
The wars were over, and their turbulence.
The Saxons settled o'er the wasted land,
Like a dim sea-fog, blotting out the light
Of faith and honour; but no wandering foot,
Nor news of outer world, came near the cell
Where five companions of the Table Round
Served in the little chantry for a while;
And oft Sir Bors de Ganis would relate
How he, Sir Galahad, and Sir Percevale,
Achieved the adventure of the Holy Grale."