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Gawayne's Revenge


With goodly lands and lordships
         In Bearn and Britany,
Hath Launcelot freely dowered his knights
         Had passed with him the sea;
A threescore knights had brothers been
         All of the Table Round --
Were left no threescore braver,
         I wot, on British ground.
Their wars an end, the sheathed sword
         They dangle from the wall,
And feast them free, each bounteous lord,
         In hospitable hall.
For trumpet's breath and clarion,
         The minstrel's harp they hear;
And ladies' eyes make bosoms bleed,
         Had bled to shaft and spear.


Alas! that Hate's foul blossom
         On Love's own tree will blow!
And friendship stranged, that friend will prove
         To friend the fellest foe.
Across the deep, from Cardiff's keep,
         A threescore thousand men
Have followed Arthur and Gawayne,
         And camped in fair Guienne;
And terms of ransom they have laughed,
         And truce to haughty scorn;
For dead to do Sir Launcelot
         The fierce Gawayne hath sworn.


But stout is Benwyk's castle,
         And Benwyk's trench is deep;
Are gate and drawbridge massy-strong,
         And Benwyk's walls are steep;
And on these walls are archers store
         Handle their bows with skill,
And shaft for shaft, and shout for shout,
         They render with good will.


Rode proudly on his coal-black steed
         Sir Gawayne forth each morn,
And blew defy to Launcelot,
         And hailed with names of scorn.
It shamed them sore that brave threescore,
         Such knightly blot to bide;
And will, or nill, Sir Launcelot,
         Must Bors to battle ride.


Out gate, and over drawbridge,
         In fell career he's flung;
But man and horse, in midway course,
         To earth hath Gawayne dung.
Spurred to his brother's help at need,
         Sir Lionel, in vain!
With shivered lance, in ghostly trance,
         He stretches on the plain.



And thus each morn rode Gawayne,
         And mocked them day by day,
And evil fared the venturous knight
         Would Gawayne's arm essay.
Till traitor thrice, and coward too,
         Sir Launcelot he appealed;
He clenched his teeth, he clutched his spear,
         And rushed into the field.



"Or art thou man," thought Launcelot,
         "Or art thou evil fiend?"
But pause or parley as they fought
         For three hours an end.
And many a bruise and buffet,
         On casque and coat he bore,
For as his strength was waning,
         But waxed Sir Gawayne's more,
Sith unto him when shriven --
         If sooth the story ran --
This wondrous gift of grace was given
         On prayer of holy man,
That day by day, from morn to noon --
         And by a twelve month's space --
His strength should go on waxing
         For long three long hours apace.
But sooth or not, I nothing wot
         That gift, as others say,
Was power from hell, and won by spell
         Him taught his aunt Le Fay,
For spite she bore Queen Guinevere,
         Led Arthur to her bower,
The when she lay in sinful play
         Aclasp with paramour.



But now is passed the turn of noon,
         Sir Gawayne's gift is shent;
He has no strength save but his own,
         And that right sorely spent.
In stirrup stark stood Launcelot,
         And swayed his sword amain, --
That stroke hath felled Sir Gawayne
         Astound upon the plain.
"Now use thy vantage -- slay me,
         As I would thee outright;"
"I slay me ne'er," said Launcelot,
         "On field a fallen knight."
Then proudly turned, and slowly
         To Benwyk took his way;
Was loud rejoice in Benwyk,
         In Arthur's host dismay.
On litter low that wounded knight
         To Arthur's tent they bore.
The where on weary bed he lay
         A long three weeks and more.



"Go saddle me my starkest steed --
         Go fetch my stoutest spear --
And bring me speed," cried Launcelot --
         "My trustiest battle-gear."
Like thunder-clouds they clash, they crash,
         Their staves a'flinter flee;
That furious course dashed man and horse
         To earth right heavily.
And foot to foot they counter,
         And cross them shield with shield;
More stern or stout in bloody bout
         I wot ne'er strove on field.


But ever this time Sir Launcelot
         His buckler's fence below
With patient art traced warily,
         And traversed to and fro: --
And long on casque and corslet
         Full grievous dint he bore,
And many a fountain spirted
         Its crimson jet of gore!


But when three hours were ended,
         By token sure he knew
Sir Gawayne's strength was ebbing fast,
         His blows fell faint and few: --
And shouting loud his battle-cry,
         He smote with main and might
So fast, so fell, Sir Gawayne
         Swooned on the field outright.



A wounded man, on sore sick-bed
         For weary months he lay,
Till false Sir Mordred's treason
         Called Arthur's host away.