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King Henry II. At the Tomb of King Arthur
King Henry II. At the Tomb of King Arthur
WHY put the great in Time their trust?
Whate'er on earth we prize
Of dust was made, and is but dust,
For all its brave disguise.
No boor but one day with the just
May trimph in the skies!
Ambition doth but chase a gleam.
An idle toy the sword!
The crown a mockery; power a dream—
For Christ alone is Lord.
This lore King Henry learned:—Of him
I will a tale record.
The tourney past, in festival
Baron and knight were met:
Last pomp it was that graced the hall
Of great Plantagenet;
A Prince for valour praised by all,
More famed for wisdom yet.
The board rang loud with kingly cheer:
Light jest, and laugh, and song
Ran swiftly round from peer to peer:
Alone on that gay throng
The harper looked with eye severe,
The while in unkown tongue
A mournful dirge abroad he poured;
Sad strains, and lorn, and slow:
Poor wreck of music prized and stored
Long centuries ago
On Briton hills ere Saxon sword
Had stained as yet their snow.
"Strike other chords," the monarch cried.
"Whate'er thy words may be:
"They sound the dirge of festal pride:
"Warriors, not monks are we!
"The melodies to grief allied
"No music make for me."
The harper's eye with warlike fire
One moment shone; no more.
His lips, but now compressed in ire,
A smile disdainful wore,
While forth from each resounding wire
Its fiercer soul he tore.
Louder and louder pealed the strain,
More wild, and soul-entrancing:
Picturing now helmets cloven in twain;
Now swords like meteors glancing;
Now tramping hosts o'er hill and plain
Retreating and and advancing.
Each measure, mightier than the last,
Rushed forth, stern triumphs wooing;
Like some great Angel on the blast
From Heaven to Heaven pursing
WIth outspread pinion, far and fast,
A host abhorred to ruin.
The bard meanwhile with cold, stern air,
Looked proudly on the proud,
Fixing unmoved a victor's stare
On that astonished crowd—
'Till all the princes gathered there
Leaped up, and cried aloud:
"What man, what chief, what crowned head,
"Eternal heir of fame,
"Of all that live, or all the dead,
"This praise shall dare to claim?"—
Then rose that British bard, and said,
"King Arthur is his name."
"What sceptre grasped King Arthur's hand?"
"The sceptre of this Isle."
"What nations bled beneath his brand?"
"The Saxon foe erewhile."
"His tomb?" was Henry's next demand—
"He sleeps in yonder pile."
Forth went the King with all his train,
At the mid hour of night;
They paced in pairs the silent plain
Under the red torch-light.
The moon was sinking in her wane,
The tower yet glimmered bright.
Through Glastonbury's cloister dim
The midnight winds were sighing;
Chaunting a low funereal hymn
For those in silence lying,
Death's gentle flock mid shadows grim
Fast bound, and unreplying.
Hard by the monks their mass were saying.
The organ evermore
Its wave in alternation swaying
On that smooth swell upbore
The voice of their melodius praying
Toward Heaven's eternal shore.
Ere long a princely multitude
Moved on through arches grey
Which yet, though shattered, stand where stood
(God grant they stand for aye!)
Saint Joseph's church of woven wood
On England's baptism day.
The grave they found; their swift strokes fell
Piercing dull earth and stone.
They reached ere long an oaken cell
And cross of oak whereon
Was graved "Here sleeps King Arthur well
"In the Isle of Avalon."
The mail on every knightly breast,
The steel at each man's side,
Sent forth a sudden gleam: each crest
Bowed low its plumed pride:
Down o'er the coffin stooped a priest—
But first the monarch cried
"Great King! in youth I made a vow
"Earth's mightiest son to greet:
"His hand to worship; on his brow
"To gaze; his grace entreat.
"Therefore, though dead, till noontide thou
"Shalt fill my royal seat!"
Away the massive lid they rolled—
Alas! what found they there?
No kingly brow, no shapely mould;
But dust where such things were.
Ashes o'er ashes, fold on fold—
And one bright wreath of hair.
Genevra's hair! like gold it lay:
For Time, though stern, is just;
And humbler things feel last his sway;
And Death reveres his trust.—
They touched that wreath; it sank away
From sunshine into dust!
Then Henry lifted from his head
The conquerer's iron crown:
That crown upon that dust he laid,
And knelt in reverence down,
And raised both hands to Heaven, and said,
"Thou, God, art King alone!
"Lie there my crown, since God decrees
"This head a couch as low.
"What am I better now than these
"Six hundred years ago?
"Henceforth all mortal pageantries
"I count an idle show."
Such words King Henry spake: and ere
The cloister vaults had felt
Along their arches damp and bare
The last faint echo melt,
The nobles congregated there
On that cold pavement knelt:
And each his coronet down laid;
And Christ his King adored:
And murmured in that mournful shade
"Thou, God, alone art lord.
"Like yonder hair at last shall fade
"Each sceptre, crown, and sword."