Back to top

Parsifal's Childhood

PARSIFAL, an infant, played
In a lonely forest's shade,
Where the shadows danced across
Wood flowers pale and tender moss.
Herzeleide, wistful-eyed,
Watched him with a mother's pride,
Watched him with a mother's fears,
Saw him thro' slow gathering tears. --
"Does his father's restless soul
Those untiring limbs control?
Wandering far o'er land and sea,
Seeking heart's ease far from me,
Longing for adventures wild,
Dying far from wife and child. --
Should my son, to manhood grown,
Leave me desolate and lone,
From my love should he too fly,
Twice forsaken, I must die."

So the babe to boyhood grew;
Naught of arms or knighthood knew,
Never learned his father's fame,
Never heard his own true name.
As beneath the trees he strayed
Where the lively squirrels played,
Up he scrambled, and in time
Learned to climb as squirrels climb.
And in rippling woodland stream
Saw gold rings of sunlight gleam,
And the fishes darting down,
Where the waters clear and brown
Widened to a shady pool,
Plunged into the water cool,
Dived beneath the surface too:
Learned to swim as fishes do.
In the bright spring days he heard
Joyous notes from many a bird,
Strove to catch them in his play,
But they fluttered far away.
Bow and arrows then he made,
Waited 'till amid the shade
Close to him a songbird flew,
And his arrow pierced it through.
When his deadly work he saw,
Filled with pity, grief and awe,
Weeping for the songster dead,
Home to mother's arms he fled.
She with many a fond caress,
Asked the cause of such distress. --
He with choked voice, weeping sore,
Sobbed, "The birdies!" -- and no more.
When his mother heard the words,
Cried she: "If the little birds
Cause my darling boy such pain,
Let none in the woods remain!"
And the servants old and true,
Strove their lady's will to do,
But 'twas labor lost and vain;
Soon the birds flew home again.
They returning, told their tales: --
"Lady, 'tis of no avail,
Back they fly, as fast as we
Drive them from each neighboring tree."
Cried the boy who, listening, heard: --
"Do not slay a little bird!"
"Nay," his mother answered, "nay,
Little birds we must not slay,
Flying, singing thro' the trees,
That would GOD the Lord displease."
"Who is GOD?" he asked, with eyes
Wide in wondering surprise.
"God is great: He made us all.
He is good to great and small,
Clearer than the clear daylight,
And than summer sun more bright."

So the quiet years flew past,
And the sturdy boy grew fast,
'Till one summer afternoon
When the low descending sun
Scattered gold amongst the green,
In an open space were seen
Two gay knights in armor bright,
Blazing on his dazzled sight.
Proud their noble horses pranced,
In the sun their sword-hilts glanced,
Gaily waved their plumes, and bright
Shone their armor in the light.
"Clearer than the clearest day,
Brighter than the sun's bright ray;
This is surely God!" he said.
"Help me, GOD!" he humbly prayed,
Kneeling low the path beside. --
"Is he mad?" one angered, cried.
Laughed the other, "Fool, give o'er.
Saw you never knight before?"
Bold and fearless waxed he then,
Seeing they were only men.
"What is this?" he asked. "A sword."
"Give it me!" -- And at the word
Laughed the knight, and said, "In truth,
Thou art an aspiring youth!
Who a sword like this would wear
Must to Arthur's Court repair,
Ways of chivalry to learn,
Sword and knighthood there to earn."
Then they spurred their horses gay,
Riding thro' the woods away,
Left the boy, as turned to stone,
Standing speechless and alone;
Listening, staring, wonder-eyed,
'Till the last far hoofbeat died.
Then turned homeward; but that day
Careless boyhood passed away.
New ambitions, strange and bright,
Dawned on his awakened sight.
Eager longings filled his breast,
Like the bird that leaves the nest
Strength of new grown wings to try,
Now he longed from home to fly,
Cared no more for childish sport.
Dreamed alone of Arthur's Court;
Heeding not his mother's woe,
Still besought her: -- "Let me go!"
Vain alike her tears and smiles,
Useless all love's tender wiles,
He must go, for knighthood's sake,
Herzeleide's heart must break.
Could the mother's heart forebode
All that long and weary road;
Sad mistakes, temptations strong,
Deep regret, and wanderings long. --
Could she half the future see,
Boundless must her suffering be.
When the loved form passed from sight
Life and sorrow took their flight,
And her soul from upper skies
Watched his path with clearer eyes. --

Not in vain the toil, for lo,
With a radiant heavenly glow,
With a light that cannot fail,
Shines afar the HOLY GRAIL.