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Sir Percival's Vision
Wild was the forest, dark and drear the way
Where walked Sir Percival, but fair the moon
Shone overall, grey shadows cast she there;
These eerie shapes assumed and every tree
Was as a hiding place for goblin grim;
And every bush seemed bristling with sharp spears.
Then came he to a river dark, where, o'er
Round rocks, the foaming waters hissed and howled.
Sir Percival stood trembling on the brink;
It seemed that he had met the Stygian wave,
Where the sad shades are borne, in ferry boat,
By Charon; where the dismal dog of doom,
Hite Cerberus doth ope his horrid jaws.
A lady brought to him a noble horse,
As black as night. "For love of thee," she said,
"I give thee this good charger." Quoth the Knight,
"Fair ladie, ask of me and I will give
All that thine heart desireth"; he not knowing
That this fair ladie was a fiend of hell.
Like a dim shadow, through the trees went she.
Then crawling o'er the way, Sir Percival
Beheld a serpent, which a lion's cub
Bore in its jaws. Pursuing them, there ran
A lordly lion, roaring in his rage.
They fought most terribly; the serpent foul
And that great lion. Said Sir Percival,
"I'll help the lion: he more natural
Than this foul serpent is." Therwith his sword
He drew and clasped his shield, with sword in hand.
His trusty sword the serpent cut in twain
And it was dead. The lion this perceiving
Fawned on the Knight and licked his mailëd hands.
And after this the lion followed him,
As though he were a hound, and Percival
Caressed his shaggy mane with kindly hand.
"Thank God!" he cried, "Who gave this noble beast
For fellowship." Thus hath the tale been told.
At night, a dream dreamed noble Percival:
Two ladies saw he--one a lion rode--
The other on a serpent seated was.
"Sir Percival, my lord saluteth thee.
Anigh. "Sir Percival, complaint I make
For thou must fight the champion of the world.
If he o'ercome thee, ever shamed art thou."
"Pray tell me what thy lord is," Percival
Replied. She said, "The lord of all the World."
She vanished and the other lady came
Anigh. "Sir Percival, complaint I make
That hou hast done me wrong, when thou did'st slay
My serpent, whom I loved--to whom I pray.
The lion was not thine"; when she had done,
Said Percival, "The lion, wit ye well,
Is noblest of all beasts. His mind imbued
With an intelligence to man's akin.
Therefore I slew the serpent. Knowing not
That he was thine. How can I make amends?"
"Full easily," quoth she, "my lover be.
Where'er ye go, and wheresoe'er ye bide,
There will I follow. I am fair and young
My warm breast heaves with passionate desire.
Unto a bower of roses shall we go;
And, all night long, in loving dalliance
I'll lure thee from the comforts cold of Christ.
Aye and I'll kiss thee till thy blood be warm,
And thou shalt kiss me, till the blood shall ooze
From my white breast, where all too fiercely kissed."
Then very nearly had the good knight fallen
Before the deadly weapons of her charms:
For he was young: and youthly hearts are hot.
But, had he fallen, he'd ne'er achieved the Graele.
Soon she departed from Sir Percival
And left him sleeping, in the Lord Christ's care.
He rose at morn, full weary, blessed himself
And prayed to God, for Jesu's sake to save
His tortured soul from demon's evil spell.
And, in the morn, he fared upon his way,
Till he was standing by a strange sea shore.
He saw a ship come sailing o'er the sea,
Covered within, without, in samite white,
And, on the deck, there stood an aged man,
Clothed in a surplice, like a holy priest
"Sir," said Sir Percival, "ye welcome be."
To him, the old man, "And of whence be ye?"
"A Knight of Arthour's court and table round
Am I, and I am hite Sir Percival,
The which am I in search of the Sangraele."
He spake, the old man listened to his tale.
"God keep thee, noble Knight," the old man said.
"I am," quoth Percival, "In great distress:
A wandering through a trackless wilderness."
"Doubt not but trust in God," the old man said,
"Who have the quest of Christ's Sangraele assayed."
"I am a stranger from a far country,
Hither come I, fair Sir, to comfort thee."
Then Percival did tell him of his dream,
"I pray thee tell, what doth it signify,"
He asked, "This dream of most strange mystery?"
Then spake the Priest, "Who on a lion rode
Betokeneth the new law of the Church,
Most holy: faith and hope and love of God.
The lady was full young and passing fair;
For in the resurrection was she born.
She is the bride of our Lord, Jesus Christ
Therefore is she most fair. And for great love
She came thee to forewarn that thou must fight
For the Lord Jesus, 'gainst the powers of Hell."
"She, who the serpent rode, is the old law,
That serpent foul betokeneth a fiend--
The serpent whom thou slewest was of Hell
The ruler; but the cross upon thy shield
Gave strength to thee the evil one to slay.
And when she asked amends and craved thy love,
And bade thee leave thy baptism for her,
She would have wooed and snared thee to damnation."
Then leaped the priest aboard his wondrous ship.
Whither he went Sir Galahad ne'er knew.
He found the lion, standing on a rock
Which always guarded him in fellowship.
And Percival in him had muckle joy.
But, on a later day, had Percival
Been all but conquered by a woman's wiles.
Yet was she not a woman, but a fiend.
She was the fairest creature, in his eyes
He e'er had looked upon. Of meat and wine
She gave him plenty. But the wine was strong.
He proffered her his love, and kneeling craved
Her pity; but the lovely maid was coy,
And when the wine went coursing through his veins,
His love waxed hot; for when the wine goes in,
Outflies the reason. "Wine a mocker is,"
Said Solomon. She saw him well enchafed
With love of her. Said she, "Sir Percival,
Never for thee shall I fulfil thy will
But if ye swear my servant true to be."
"Yea!" said he, "by the faith of my body."
"Now am I thine--do with me as thou pleaseth,
Knight, of Knights all, I have desired this most."
He clasped her to his breast, with love afire
And maddened by unsatisfied desire.
But, by God's grace, his sword lay on the ground,
And on the pommel was a scarlet cross.
He thought him of his promise, as a Knight,
Beforehand made to the good old man,
He signed the Cross upon his forehead and lo!
All things were changed. An inky cloud of smoke
Descended, while the ladie he loved
Became a fiend, for all her beauty changed
To loathliness. Then Percival aloud
Out cried to God for pardon. He had sinned,
Or all but sinned. Yet Christ will pardon him,
And he shall yet achieve the Holy Graele.