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The Funeral Boat. A Legend

THE damsel’s heart was fond and true,
   But she had loved too fatally;
No hope, no help, her sorrows knew;
And round the couch her maidens drew,
   Where she was laid to die.
“When these sad eyes are dim and dark,
   This faded cheek is cold,” she cried,
“Prepare for me a gilded bark,
   And lanch it on the rolling tide.
“Of richest silk, and velvet sheen,
   Must be my winding-sheet;
Daisies and myrtle, fresh and green,
   Strew’d gaily at my feet;
And ye must bind my flowing hair
With pearls and crystals rich and rare.
“A jewell’d crown must deck my brow,
   And roses white and red,
With all the sweetest flowers that grow,
   Must blush around my bed:
All must look joyous, bright, and fair,
Except the corse that withers there.
“Bind round my waist a precious wreath
   Of turquoise, purely blue,
To tell that, to my latest breath,
   I ceased not to be true.
“A silken purse my hand must hold,
Spangled with glittering stars of gold;
And see within this scroll ye place,
The last sad lines my hand shall trace.
No sail, no guide, my bark must have—
The sea its pilot or its grave.
Send forth my vessel on the main,
Nor look for its return again.”
   *             *              *            *
Yon wide expanse of clouds, that lie
A broader iris on the sky,
A varied web of hues has thrown
On each bright wave that passes on;
While rocks, and foam, and sands, receive
The tints that sunset loves to leave.
And on that lonely bark they glow,
   As it floats along the tide;
Who its destined port may know?
   Who its course may guide?
Many an eve, and many a morn,
   Might that fair bark be seen
Still silently and slowly borne
   Along the waters green;
Frail as the shell whose fairy sail
Shrinks before the summer gale.
But no unfriendly gales awake
   Where’er its form appears;
Hush’d and calm, as a silver lake,
   The wave its burden bears.
Like the image in an infant’s dream,
Like a noiseless vision it might seem;
As, borne along without a wind,
It leaves not the faintest track behind.
   *               *               *              *
Where yon tall cliffs are gleaming white
   With the sun of early day,
Comes many a lord and lady bright,
   On the sandy shore to stray.
The coursers snuff the morning gale,
   Their housing richly dight;
And, gaily clad in shining mail,
   Rides many a gallant knight.
Each proudly rears his lofty crest,
   Each seems a prince of power;
Of warriors well approved the best,
   Of chivalry the flower.
And yet, amidst the glorious ring,
Who may not know the warrior-king?
Who looks upon his bright blue eye,
   Or his flowing golden hair;
On his mien of goodly majesty,
   And his gesture frank and fair;
On the sword he well and oft has tried,
Which never knight may wield beside;
Nor knows the theme of song and fable,
The mighty king of the Round Table?
In joyous groups they crowd the shore,
   A gay and gallant throng,
And heed the passing hour no more
   Than the waves that sweep along.
Among them Launcelot du Lake
   Was sought, was praised, the most;
His words could softest thoughts awake;
   No look, no tone, was lost:

And store had he of gentle words
   To charm a lady’s ear;
Full well his hand could touch the chords
   A bard might joy to hear.
Not e’en the royal pair, ’twas said,
   Could pass him coldly by:
His jest a sparkling smile repaid,
   His lays a smother’d sigh.
Amidst the lovely bands that wait
   Around their gorgeous queen,
His nodding plume and step elate
   Is ever foremost seen.
And now, in strains of soft repining,
   He murmurs sweet and clear;
While on the rocks, around reclining,
   They blush and smile to hear:
      My sword is rusting in its sheath;
         Again I needs must try its power,
      Since not for me is twined the wreath,
         The golden wreath, in beauty’s bower.
      Once more I’ll haste to seek the foe,
         On whom my wasted force to prove;
      Alas! there is but one I know—
         My only enemy is Love!
      My casque has long been thrown aside,
         And rosy chaplets bind my hair;
      To tend the fair is all my pride,
         To gain her smile my only care.
      Peace over all asserts her sway,
         Ah! let her gentle influence move,
      And yielding beauty softly say,
         The warrior has no foe in Love!
Was it the moan of waves that die
   Along the shore in lines of foam—
Was it the sea-bird’s mournful cry,
   As she hovers near her ocean home—
That sound that swept on the startled gale,
And bade each blushing cheek turn pale?
Beneath the waters, or midst the skies,
Where is the minstrel whose notes arise—
Who steals from the knight his power to sing,
These accents softly murmuring?
      Ah! hush that lute’s persuasive tone,
         By thee too sweetly taught to feign:
      Its melody is sound alone,
         And truth avoids the fatal strain.
      One who has known thy scorn too well,
         Thy lays of falsehood would reprove;
      Even from the grave she comes to tell
         How harsh a foe thou art to Love!
A guideless bark came floating on,
   As ceased that low melodious swell,
Sad as the water’s parting tone,
   That lingers still within the shell.
Sir Launcelot, with eager eye,
   Drew nigh th’ unwonted freight to greet:
The wave heaved sullenly and high,
   And laid its burden as his feet.
He saw fair flowers and jewels bright,
   He saw a face of pallid hue;
And shrank, all heart-struck, at the sight,
   For well, alas!  that face he knew.
A purse and scroll queen Guenever
   Took from the hand as pale as snow;
And, as she traced each character,
   Sad grew her eye, and flush’d her brow.
And “Hear,” she said, “ Sir Launcelot,
   How fond a heart thy vows betray’d—
Vows lightly made, and soon forgot!—
   Ah, thus is woman’s truth repaid!”
                    THE TESTAMENT.
     To Arthur of the Table Round,
         And to his lovely queen,
     May happy days and power abound,
     And all the knights for valour crown’d,
         Whose peers no eye hath seen!
     And to the first among them all,
         To Launcelot du Lake,
     Whose hand is firm the sword to wield;
     Whose plume is foremost in the field;
     Whose foes, like leaves in autumn, fall;
         Whose smiles like sun-beams break;
     But who is false as the treacherous ray
     That loves in April’s sky to play:
     To him my latest sigh shall go;
     For him my latest tear shall flow;
     To him my corse I send, and crave
     One only boon from him—a grave.
When on his ear these accents fell,
   The knight with late remorse was moved;
And, “ah!” he murmur’d, “far too well
   A worthless traitor thou hast loved!
“And dost thou beg a grave of me?—
   Yes; in a spot of fairest ground,
Where waves the freshest willow tree—
   Where turf is green, and flowers abound—
Where fairies paint their nightly rings,
And where the bird of sorrow sings—
I’ll make thy grave beside a stream,
Whose waters shall thy emblem seem;
As pure and sorrowful they flow,
Meet image of thy love and woe.
“The court, the camp, I here forswear,
   Twelve moons my penitence shall see:
I’ll fly to solitude and care,
   For her dear sake who died for me.”
Additional Information:
The idea of this poem was taken from a very ancient Italian story, written more than a century before the time of Boccaccio.