Back to top

King Arthur: Book 1 of 12

[amber] Those heaps of stone found throughout Britain (Crugiau, or Carneu), were sacred to the Sun in the Druid worship, and served as beacons in his honour on May eve. May was his consecrated month. The rocking-stones which mark these sanctuaries were called amber-stones.

[beam could rest][“Qual d'acqua chiara il tremolante lume,” etc. —Ariosto, canto viii. stan. 71. Note to the edition of 1849.]
The Carduel of the Fabliaux is not easily ascertained: its site, though without close adherence to the actual features of the locality, is here identified with that of Caerleon on the Usk, the favourite residence of Arthur, according to the Welch poets. This must have been a city of no ordinary splendour in the supposed age of Arthur, while still fresh from the hands of the Roman; since, so late as the twelfth century, Giraldus Cambrensis, in his well-known description, speaks as an eye-witness of the many vestiges of its former splendour. “Immense palaces, ornamented with gilded roofs, in imitation of Roman magnificence, a tower of prodigious size, remarkable hot baths, relics of temples,” &c. (Giraldus Cambrensis, Sir R. Hoare's translation, vol. i. p. 103.) Geoffrey of Monmouth (1. ix. c. 12,) also mentions, admiringly, the gilt roofs of Caerleon, a subject on which he might be a little more accurate than in those other details in his notable chronicle, not drawn from the same ocular experience. The luxurious Romans, indeed, had bequeathed to the chiefs of Britain, abodes of splendour and habits of refinement which had no parallel in the Saxon domination. Sir F. Palgrave truly remarks, that even in the fourteenth century the edifices raised in Britain by the Romans were so numerous and costly as almost to excel any others on this side of the Alps. Caerleon (Isca Augusta) was the Roman capital of Siluria, the garrison of the renowned Second or Augustan legion, and the Palatian residence of the Prætor. It was not, however, according to national authority, founded by the Romans, but by the mythical Belin Mawr, three centuries before Cæsar's invasion. It is scarcely necessary to observe, that the dragon was the standard of the Cymry, (a word, by the way, which I trust my Welch readers will forgive me for spelling Cymri).

[Cymri's antique crown] It would be extremely important towards tracing the origin of the Cymry, if authentic and indisputable records of such traditions of their migration from the East can be found in their own legends at an age before learned conjecture could avail itself of the passages in Herodotus and Strabo, which relate to the Cimmerians, and tend to identify that people with our Cymrian ancestors. We find in the first (1. i. c. 14,) that the Cimmerians, chased from their original settlements by the Nomadic Scythians, came to Lydia, where they took Sardis (except the citadel). In his account Strabo, on the authority of Callisthenes and Callinus, confirms Herodotus.
    In flying from their Scythian foes, the Cimmerians took their course by the sea-coasts to Sinope, and the Cimmerian Bosphorus, and [was]as, after this flight, the old Cimmerian league was broken up, and the tribes dispersed, this gives us the evident date for such migrations as Hu Gadarn is supposed to head; and the coincidence between Welch traditions (if genuinely ancient) and classical authority becomes very remarkable. For the additional corroboration of the hypothesis thus suggested, which is afforded by the identity between the Cimmerians of Asia and the Cimbri of Gaul, see Strabo (1. vii. p. 424, the Oxford edition, 1807). It is curious to note in Herodotus (1. iv. c. 11) that the same domestic feuds which destroyed the Cymrian empire in Britain destroyed the Cimmerians in their original home. While the Scythians invaded them, they quarrelled amongst themselves whether to fight or fly, and settled the dispute by fighting each other, and flying from the enemy.

[draw-bridge] In old fortresses, it is not unusual to find some upper story of a tower without other approach than the kind of drawbridge described in the text; and which, at the pleasure of the inmate of the tower, gave or denied communication with the opposite battlements. One of the most perfect specimens of this defence (not more against an invading enemy than against the mutiny of the garrison) is to be seen in a small castle in the kingdom of Sardinia, between Lucca and Genoa. The tower occupied by the commander has such a drawbridge for its sole access.

Duw-Iou (the Taranus of Lucan), the most solemn and august, though not the most popular of the Druid divinities, answering to the classic Jupiter. By the Cromlechs of Duw-Iou is usually found a huge stone, the pedestal or chair of the idol,—in those more corrupt times when idols were admitted into the subline creed of the Druids.

[Gawaine] Some liberty, in the course of this poem, will be taken with the legendary character, less perhaps of the Gawaine of the Fabliaux, than of the Gwalchmai (Hawk of Battle) of the Welch bards. In both, indeed, this hero is represented as sage, courteous, and eloquent; but he is a livelier character in the Fabliaux than in the tales of his native land. The characters of many of the Cymrian heroes, indeed, vary according to the caprice of the poets. Thus Kai, in the Triads, one of the Three Diademed chiefs of battle, and a powerful magician, is, in the French romances, Messire Queux, the chief of the cooks; and in the Mabinogion, [NOTE: I cannot quote the Mabinogion without expressing a grateful sense of the obligations Lady Charlotte Guest has conferred upon all lovers of our early literature, in her invaluable edition and translation of that interesting collection of British romances.] he is at one time but an unlucky knight of more valour than discretion, and at another time attains the dignity assigned to him in the Triads, and exults in supernatural attributes. And poor Gawaine himself, the mirror of chivalry, in most of the Fabliaux is, as Southey observes, “shamefully calumniated” in the MORT D’ARTHUR as the “false Gawaine.” The Caradoc of this poem is not intended to be identified with the hero Caradoc Vreichvras. The name was sufficiently common in Britain (it is the right reading for Caractacus) to allow to the use of the poet as many Caradocs as he pleases.
    The reader will bear in mind, that the hero of this poem is neither the Arthur of the Mabinogion nor of Geoffrey of Monmouth. He is rather the Arthur of the Fabliaux; of fairy legends and knightly song. The Author takes the same liberty as that assumed not only by the Trouveres and Romanticists, but by Ariosto and Spencer, viz., of surrounding the heroes of the fifth or sixth century with the chivalrous attributes of the thirteenth or fourteenth. It will be seen in Book II. that he has also taken a license with chronology, equally common with the poets that suggest his models, and has advanced somewhat the date of the (so called) Saxon Heptarchy; making the Mercians already the formidable neighbours of the Cymrians. Reasons for this will be assigned hereafter. Meanwhile it is superfluous to observe that all strict accuracy of detail would be out of character in a poem of this kind, the very nature and merit of which consist in wilful defiance of mere matter of fact.
    If any apology be due for the classical allusions scattered throughout the poem, the Author can only remind his readers that his mixture of the Classical with the Gothic muse, is the common characteristic of the chivalrous poetry of the middle ages. And this attachment to precedent must also be his excuse (as the poem proceeds) for a somewhat liberal indulgence in the old-fashioned and elaborate form of simile, prefixed by the “As whens” and “So whens” favoured by the earlier poets.
HEUS is the same deity as ESUS, or HESUS, mentioned in Lucan, the Mars of the Celts. According to the Welch triads, HEUS (or HU—Hu Gadarn; i.e. the mighty Guardian, or Inspector) brought the people of Cymry first into this isle, from the summer country called Defrobani (in the Tauric Chersonese) over the Hazy Sea (the German Ocean). Davies, in his Celtic Researches, observes that some commentator, at least as old as the twelfth century, repeatedly explains the situation of Defrobani as “that on which Constantinople now stands.” “This comment,” adds Davies, “would not have been made without some authority; it belongs to an age which possessed many documents relating to the history of the Britons which are now no longer extant.”

[Pale Horse] The White Horse, the standard of the Saxons.

[race of kings] The prediction of Diana to the posterity of the Trojan Brutus, (when she directed him towards Britain) was somewhat more magnificent than Merlin's promise to Arthur.
           “Sic de prole tuâ reges nascentur; et ipsis
           Totius terræ subditus orbis ecrit.”
                                          Gulf. Mon. lib. i. c. xi.
[Rank's mean distinctions] Lancelot was, indeed, the son of a king, but a dethroned and a tributary one. The popular history of his infancy will be told in a subsequent book.

The Rock of Birds—Craig y Deryn—so called from the number of birds (chiefly those of prey) that breed on it.

[shrinking Rome] The worthy Geoffrey of Monmouth cannot contain his admiration for that British valour which enabled Lucan to indulge the celebrated sneer at Cæsar:—
      “Territa quæsitis ostendit terga Britannis.”
“O admirable!” exclaims Geoffrey—“admirable then the race of Britons, who twice put to flight him who had submitted the whole world to him!” (Lib. iii. cap. 3.)

Our Titan sires?—according to certain mythologists, the Celts, or Cimmerians, were the Titans. On the other hand, some of the early chroniclers make the giants, or Titans, the aborigines of the island—whom the Britons very properly exterminate.

[vale] Cwm-Penllafar, the Vale of Melody—so called (as Mr. Pennant suggests) from the music of the hounds when in full cry over the neighbouring Rock of the Hunter.

Opening—King Arthur keeps holiday in the Vale of Carduel—Pastimes—Arthur's sentiments on life, love, and mortal change—The strange apparition—The King follows the phantom into the forest—His return—The discomfiture of his knights—The Court disperses —Night—The restless King ascends his battlements—His soliloquy—He is attracted by the light from the Wizard's tower—Merlin described—The King's narrative—The Enchanter's invocation—Morning—The tilt-yard—Sports, knightly and national—Merlin's address to Arthur—The Three Labours enjoined—Arthur departs from Carduel—His absence explained by Merlin to the Council—Description of Arthur's three friends, Caradoc, Gawaine, and Lancelot—The especial love between Arthur and the last—Lancelot encounters Arthur—The parting of the friends.
OUR land's first legends, love and knightly deeds,
   And wonderous Merlin, and his wandering King,
The triple labour, and the glorious meeds
   Won from the world of Fable-land, I sing.
Go forth, O Song, amidst the banks of old,
And glide translucent o'er the sands of gold.
Now is the month when, after sparkling showers,
   Her starry wreaths the virgin jasmine weaves;
Now lure the bee wild thyme and sunny hours;
   And light wings rustle thro' the glinting leaves;
Music in every bough; on mead and lawn
May lifts her fragrant altars to the dawn.
Now joyous lives with every moment, start
   In air, in wave, on earth;—above, below;
And o'er her new-born children, Nature's heart
   Heaves with the gladness mothers only know.
Fair time yet floating before haunted eyes,
King Arthur reigns, and song is in the skies.
Hard by a stream, amidst a pleasant vale
   Arthur, then young, held careless holiday:—
The stream was blithe with many a silken sail,
   The vale with many a proud pavilion gay;
While Cymri's dragon, from the Roman's hold,
Spread with calm wing o'er Carduel's domes of gold.
Dark to the right, thick forests mantled o'er
   A gradual mountain sloping to the plain;
Whose gloom but lent to light a charm the more,
   As pleasure pleases most when neighbouring pain;
And all our human joys most sweet and holy,
Sport in the shadows cast from melancholy.
Below that mount, along the glossy sward
   Were gentle groups, discoursing gentle things;—
Or listening idly where the skilful bard
   Woke the sweet tempest of melodious strings;
Or whispering love—I ween, less idle they,
For love's the honey in the flowers of May.
Some plied in lusty race the glist'ning oar;
   Some, noiseless, snared the silver-scalëd prey;
Some wreathed the dance along the level shore;
   And each was happy in his chosen way.
Not by one shaft is Care, the hydra, killed,
So Mirth, determined, had his quiver filled.
Bright as the Morn, when all the pomp of cloud
   Reflects its lustre in a rosy ring,
The worthy centre of a glittering crowd
   Of youth and beauty, shone the British King.
Above that group, o'er-arched from tree to tree,  
Thick garlands hung their odorous canopy;
And in the midst of that delicious shade
   Up sprang a sparkling fountain, silver-voiced,
And the bee murmured, and the breezes played.
   In their gay youth, the youth of May rejoiced—
And they in hers—as thro' that leafy hall
Chimed the heart's laughter with the fountain's fall.
Propped on his easy arm, the King reclined,
   And glancing gaily round the ring, quoth he—
“‘Man,’ say our sages, ‘hath a fickle mind,
   And pleasures pall, if long enjoyed they be.’
But I, methinks, like this soft summer-day,
Mid blooms and sweets could dream myself away.
“What can the years with all their stores unquest
   Give us more precious than one happy hour?
Time speeds us on when we ourselves would rest;
   For who would hasten life, while in its flower,
A moment nearer to its autumn leaf;
Or tire of joy to go in search of grief?
“If love be changeful as the old declare;
   Not unto Love but unto Time the blame!”
“Not unto Love!” exclaimed each lover there;
   “Out upon Time!” murmured each blooming dame.
But thought had dimmed the smile in Arthur’s eye,
And his light speech was rounded in a sigh.
“Seize we the Hour;—Time is not yet to blame,”
   Quoth glad Gawaine—when in that silken ring,
Sudden stood forth (none marking whence it came),
   A strange, and weird, and phantom-seeming thing;
It stood, dim-outlined in a sable shroud,
And shapeless, as in noon-day hangs a cloud.
Hushed was each lip, and every cheek was pale;
   The stoutest heart beat tremulous and high:
“Arise,” it muttered from the spectral veil,
   “I call thee, King!” Then burst the wrathful cry,
Feet found the earth, and ready hands the sword,
And angry knighthood bristled round its lord.
But Arthur rose, and, waving back the throng,
   Fronted the Phantom with a dauntless brow:
The Shape receding, indistinct, along
   The unbending herbage, noiseless, dark, and slow;
When the dense forest, night at noonday made
Glided,—as from the dial glides the shade.
Gone;—but an ice-bound horror seemed to cling
   To air; the revellers stood transfixed to stone;
While from amidst them, palely passed the King,
   Dragged by a will more royal than his own:
Onwards he went; the invisible control
Compelled him, as a dream compels the soul.
They saw, and sought to stay him, but in vain;
   They saw, and sought to speak, but voice was dumb:
So Death some warrior from his armëd train
   Plucks forth defenceless when his hour is come.
He gains the wood; their sight the shadows bar,
And darkness wraps him as the cloud a star.
Abruptly, as it came, the charm was past
   That bound the circle: as from heavy sleep
Starts the hushed war-camp at the trumpet's blast,
   Fierce into life the voiceless revellers leap;
Swift to the wood the glittering tumult springs,
And thro' the vale the Cymrian war-cry rings.
From stream, from tent, from pastime near and far,
   All press confus'dly to the signal cry—
So from the ROCK OF BIRDS the shout of war
   Sends countless wings in clamour thro' the sky—
The cause a word, the track a sign affords,
And all the forest gleams with starry swords.
As on some stag the hunters single, gaze,
   Gathering together, and from far, the herd,
So round the margin of the woodland-maze
   Pale beauty circles, trembling if a bird
Flutter a bough, or if, without a sound,
Some leaf fall breezeless, eddying to the ground.
An hour or more had tow'rds the western seas
   Speeded the golden chariot of the day,
When a white plume came glancing through the trees,
   The serried branches groaningly gave way,
And, with a bound, delivered from the wood,
Safe, in the sun-light, royal Arthur stood.
Who shall express the joy that aspect woke!
   Some laughed aloud, and clapped their snowy hands;
Some ran, some knelt, some turned aside and broke
   Into glad tears:—But all unheeding stands
The King; and shivers in the glowing light;
And his breast heaves as panting from a fight.
Yet still in those pale features, seen more near,
   Speak the stern will, the soul to valour true;
It shames man not to feel man's human fear,
   It shames man only if the fear subdue;
And masking trouble with a noble guile,
Soon the proud heart restores the kingly smile.
But no account could anxious love obtain,
   Nor curious wonder, of the portents seen;
“Bootless his search,” he lightly said, “and vain
   As haply had the uncourteous summons been.
Some mocking sport, perchance, of merry May.”
He ceased; and shuddering, turned his looks away.
Now, back, alas, less comely than they went,
   Drop, one by one, the seekers from the chase,
With mangled plumes and mantles dreadly rent;—
   By many a bramble in that thorny place!
And sorely chafing in such humbled guise
To run the gauntlet in their ladies' eyes.
But shame and anger vanished when they saw
   Him whose warm smile a life had well repaid,
For noble hearts a noble chief can draw
   Into that circle where all self doth fade;
Lost in the sea a hundred waters roll,
And subject natures merge in one great soul.
Now once again quick question, brief reply,
   “What saw, what heard the King?” “Nay, gentles, what
Saw and heard ye?”—“The forest and the sky,
   The rustling branches,”— “And the phantom not?
No more,” quoth Arthur, “of a thriftless chase,
For cheer so stinted brief may be the grace.
“But see, the sun descendeth down the west,
   And graver cares to Carduel now recall:
Gawaine, my steed;—Sweet ladies, gentle rest,
   And dreams of happy morrows to ye all.”
Now stirs the movement on the busy plain;
To horse—to boat; and homeward wind the train.
O'er hill, down stream, the pageant fades away,
   More and more faint the plash of dipping oar;
Voices, and music, and the steed's shrill neigh,
   From the grey twilight dying more and more;
Till over stream and valley, wide and far,
Reign the sad silence and the solemn star.
Save where, like some true poet's lonely soul,
   Careless who hears, sings on the unheeded fountain;
Save where the waning cloud-wracks slowly roll
   Their ghostly march along the forest mountain—
By the last breeze of eve discattering driven
Till, as night grows, nor breeze nor cloud in heaven.
Sleep, the sole angel left of all below,
   O'er the lulled city sheds the ambrosial wreaths,
Wet with the dews of Eden; bliss and woe
   Are equals, and the lowest slave that breathes
Under the shelter of those healing wings,
Reigns, half his life, in realms too fair for Kings.
Too fair those realms for Arthur; long he lay
   An exiled suppliant at the gate of dreams,
And vexed, and wild, and fitful as a ray
   Quivering upon the surge of stormy streams;
Thought broke in glimmering trouble o'er his breast,
And found no billow where its beam could rest.
He rose, and round him drew his ermined gown,
   Passed from his chamber, wound the turret stair,
And from his castle's steep embattled crown
   Bared his hot forehead to the freshening air.
How Silence, like a god's tranquility,
Fill’d with delighted peace the conscious sky!
Broad, luminous, serene, the sovereign moon
   Shone o'er the roofs below, the lands afar—
The vale so joyous with the mirth at noon;
   The pastures virgin of the lust of war;
Fair waters sparkling as they seaward roll,
As to Time's ocean speeds a happy soul,
“And must these pass from me and mine away?”
   Murmured the monarch; “Must the mountain home
Of those whose fathers, in a ruder day,
   With naked bosoms rushed on shrinking Rome,
Lose this last refuge from the ruthless wave,
And what was Britain be the Saxon's slave?
“Why hymn our harps high music in our hall?
   Doomed is the tree whose fruit was noble deeds—
Where the axe spared the thunder-bolt must fall,
   And the wind scatter as it list the seeds!
But oft our fame dates from our latest breath
And is made deathless by a glorious death!”
He ceased, and looked, with a defying eye,
   Where the dark forest clothed the mount with awe;
Gazed, and then proudly turned:—when lo, hard by
   From a lone turret in his keep, he saw,
Through the horn casement, a clear steadfast light,
Lending meek tribute to the orbs of night.
And far, and far, I ween, that little ray
   Sent its pure streamlet through the world of air.
The wanderer oft, benighted on his way,
   Saw it, and paused in superstitious prayer,
For well he knew the beacon and the tower,
And the great Master of the spells of power.
There He, who yet in Fable's deathless page
   Reigns, compassed with the ring of pleasing dread,
Which the true wizard, whether bard or sage,
   Draws round him living, and commands when dead—
The solemn Merlin—from the midnight won
The hosts that bowed to starry Solomon.
Not fear that light on Arthur's breast bestowed,
   As with a father's smile it met his gaze;
It cheered, it soothed, it warmed him while it glowed;
   Brought back the memory of young hopeful days,
When the child stood by the great prophet's knee,
And drank high thoughts to strengthen years to be.
As with a tender chiding, the calm light
   Seemed to reproach him for secreted care,
Seemed to ask back the old familiar right
   Of lore to counsel, or of love to share;
The prompt heart answers to the voiceless call,
And the step quickens o'er the winding wall.
Before that tower precipitously sink
   The walls, down-shelving to the castle base;
A slender draw-bridge, swung from brink to brink,
   Alone gives fearful access to the place;
Now from that tower, the chains the drawbridge raise,
And leave the gulf all pathless to the gaze.
But close where Arthur stands, a warder's horn,
   Fixed in the stone, to those who dare to win
The enchanter's cell, supplies the note to warn
   The mighty weaver of dread webs within.
Loud sounds the horn, the chain descending clangs,
And o'er the abyss the dizzy pathway hangs;
Mutely the door slides sullen in the stone,
   And closes back, the gloomy threshold cross’d;
There sate the prophet on a Druid throne,
   Where sate DUW-IOU, ere his reign was lost;
His wand uplifted in his still right hand,
And the weird volume on its brazen stand.
Vast was the front which o'er as vast a breast,
   Hung, as if heavy with the load sublime
Of the piled hoards which Thought, the heavenly guest,
   Had wrung from Nature, or dispoiled from Time;
And the unutterable calmness shows
The toil’s great victory by the soul’s repose.
Ev’n as the Tyrian views his argosies,
   Moored in the port (the gold of Ophir won),
And heeds no more the billow and the breeze,
   And the clouds wandering o'er the wintry sun,
So calmly Wisdom eyes,—its voyage o'er,—
The traversed ocean from the beetling shore.
A hundred years pressed o'er that awful head,
   As o'er an Alp, their diadem of snow;
And, as an Alp, a hundred years had fled,
   And left as firm the giant form below;
So sate, ere yet discrowned, in Ida's grove,
The grey-haired father of Pelasgian Jove.
Before that power, sublimer than his own,
   With downcast looks, the King inclined the knee;
The enchanter smiled, and, bending from his throne,
   Drew to his breast his pupil tenderly;
And pressed his lips on that young forehead fair,
And with large hand smoothed back the golden hair.
And, looking in those frank and azure eyes,
   “What,” said the prophet, “doth mine Arthur seek
From the grey wisdom which the young despise?
   The young, perchance, are right!—Fair infant, speak!”
Thrice sigh’d the monarch, and at length began:
“Can wisdom ward the storms of fate from man?
“What spell can thrust Affliction from the gate?
   What tree is sacred from the lightning-flame?”
“Son,” said the seer, “the laurel!—evën Fate
   Scathes not one leaf upon the brows of Fame.
Say on.”—The King smiled sternly, and obeyed—
Track we the steps which tracked the warning shade.
“On to the wood, and to its inmost dell
   Will-less I went,” the monarch thus pursued,
“Before me still, but darkly visible,
   The phantom glided through the solitude:
At length it paused,—a sunless pool was near,
As ebon black, and yet as crystal clear.
“‘Look, King, below,’ whispered the shadowy one:
   What seemed a hand signed beckoning to the wave,
I looked below, and never realms undone
   Showed war more awful than the mirror gave;
There rushed the steed, there glanced on spear the spear,
And spectre-squadrons closed in fell career.
“I saw—I saw my dragon standard there,—
   There thronged the Briton, there the Saxon wheeled;
I saw it vanish from that nether air—
   I saw it trampled on that phantom field;—
On poured the Saxon hosts—we fled—we fled!—
And the Pale Horse rose ghastly o'er the dead.
“Lo, the wan shadow of a giant hand
   Passed o'er the pool—the demon war was gone;
City on city stretched, and land on land;
   The space, thus seen in glamour, lengthening on,
Till in the fraudful mirror was contained
All this wide isle o'er which my fathers reigned.
“There, by the lord of streams, a palace rose;
   On bloody floors there was a throne of state;
And in the land there dwelt one race—our foes;
   And on the single throne the Saxon sate;
And Cymri's crown was on his knitted brow;
And where stands Carduel, went the labourer's plough.
“And east and west, and north and south I turned,
   And called my people as a king should call;
Pale ‘mid the hollow mountains I discerned
   Rude scattered stragglers from the common thrall;
Kingless and armyless, by crag and cave,—
Ghosts on the margin of their country's grave.
“And evën there, amidst the barren steeps,
   I heard the tramp, I saw the Saxon steel;
Aloft, red murder like a deluge sweeps,
   Nor rock can save, nor cavern can conceal;
Mount upon mount, the waves devouring rise,
Till in one mist of carnage closed mine eyes!
“Then spoke the hell-born shadow by my side—
   ‘Thou who dost ask no nobler course for life,
Than amid summer sweets and blooms to glide,
   Deeming no duty worth the cost of strife;
ARTHUR PENDRAGON, to the Saxon's sway
Thy kingdom and thy crown shall pass away.’
“‘And who art thou, that Heaven's august decrees
   Usurpest thus?’ I cried, and lo the space
Was void!—Amidst the horror of the trees,
   And by the pool, which mirrored back the face
Of Dark in crystal darkness—there I stood,
And the sole spectre was the solitude!
“I knew no more—strong as a mighty dream
   The trouble seized the soul, and sealed the sense;
I knew no more, till in the blessëd beam,
   Life sprang to loving Nature for defence;
Vale, flower, and fountain laughed in jocund spring,
And pride came back,—again I was a king!
“But, ev'n the while with airy sport of tongue,
   As, with light wing the skylark from its nest
Lures the invading step, I led the throng
   From the dark brood of terror in my breast;
Still frowned the vision on my haunted eye,
And blood seemed reddening in the azure sky.
“O Thou, the Almighty Lord of earth and heaven,
   Without whose will not ev'n a sparrow falls,
If to my sight the fearful truth was given,
   If thy dread hand hath graven on these walls
The Assyrian's doom, and to the stranger's sway
My kingdom and my crown shall pass away,—
“Grant me, at least, this not unworthy prayer;—
   LIFE, while my life one man from chains can save;
While rocks one rampart, or while caves one lair,
   Yield to the closing struggle of the brave!
Mine the last desperate but avenging hand,
If reft the sceptre, not resigned the brand!”
“Close to my clasp!” the prophet cried, “Impart
   To these iced veins the glow of youth once more;
The healthful throb of one great human heart
   Baffles more fiends than all a magian's lore.
My boy!—” young arms embracing checkt the rest,
And youth and age stood mingled breast to breast.
“Ho!” cried the mighty master, while he broke
   From the embrace, and round, from vault to floor,
Mysterious echoes answered as he spoke,
   And flames twined snake-like round the wand he bore,
And freezing winds swept wheeling through the cell,
As from the wings of hosts invisible:
“Ho! ye spiritual ministers of all
   The airy space below the Sapphire Throne,
To the swift axle of this earthly ball—
   Yea, to the deep, where evermore alone
Hell’s king with memory of lost glory dwells,
And from that memory weaves his hell of hells;—
“Ho! ye who fill the crevices of air,
   And speed the whirlwind round the reeling bark—
Or dart destroying in the forkëd glare,
   Or rise—the bloodless People of the Dark—
In the pale shape of Dreams, when to the bed
Of Murder glide the simulated dead;—
“Hither ye myriad hosts!—O'er tower and dome,
   Await the mission, and attend the word;
Whether to dive in caves beneath the gnome,
   Or soar to mountain peaks beyond the bird;
So that the secret and the boon ye wrest
From Time's cold grasp, or Fate's reluctant breast!”
Mute stood the king—when lo, the dragon-keep
   Shook to its racked foundations, as when all
Corycia's caverns and the Delphic steep
   Shook to the foot-tread of invading Gaul;
Or, as his path when flaming Ætna frees,
Shakes some proud city on Sicilian seas:
Reeled heaving from his feet the dizzy floor;
   Swam dreamlike on his gaze the fading cell;
As falls the seaman, when the waves dash o'er
   The plank that glideth from his grasp—he fell.
To eyes ungifted, deadly were the least
Of those past mysteries, Nature yields her priest.
Morn, the joy-bringer, from her sparkling urn
   Scatters o'er herb and flower the orient dew;
The larks to heaven, and souls to thought return—
   Life, in each source, leaps rushing forth anew,
Fills every grain in Nature's boundless plan,
And wakes some fate in each desire of Man:
In each desire, each thought, each fear, each hope,
   Each scheme, each wish, each fancy, and each end,
That morn calls forth, say, who can span the scope?
   Who track the arrow which the soul may send?
One morning woke a youth in Macedon,
And longed for fame—and half the world was won.
Fair shines the sun on stately Carduel;
   The falcon, hoodwinked, basks upon the wall;
The tilt-yard echoes with the clarion's swell,
   And lusty youth comes thronging to the call;
And martial sports, the daily wont, begin,
The page must practise if the knight would win.
Some spur the palfrey at the distant ring;
   Some, with blunt lance, in mimic tourney charge;
Here whirrs the pebble from the poisëd sling,
   Or flies the arrow rounding to the targe;
While Age and Fame sigh, smiling, to behold
The young leaves budding to replace the old.
Nor yet forgot amid the special sports
   Of polished Chivalry, the primal ten
Athletic contests, known in elder courts
   Ere knighthood rose from the great Father-men,
Beyond the tilt-yard spread the larger space,
For the strong wrestle and the breathless race;
Here some, the huge dull weights up-heaving throw;
   Some ply the staff, and some the sword and shield;
And some that falchion with its thunder-blow
   Which HEUS, the Guardian, taught the Celt to wield;
Heus, who first guided o'er ‘the Hazy Main’
Our Titan sires from orient Defrobane.
Life thus astir, and sport upon the wing,
   Why yet doth Arthur dream day's prime away?
Still in charmed slumber lies the quiet King;
   On his own couch the merry sunbeams play;
Gleam o'er the arms hung trophied from the wall;
And Cymri's antique crown surmounting all.
Slowly he woke; life came back with a sigh,
   That herald, or that henchman, to the gate
Of all our knowledge;—and his startled eye
   Fell where beside his couch the prophet sate;
Calm as befits the seer whose power controuls
Hosts that obey but the serenest souls.
“Prince,” said the prophet, “with this morn awake
   From pomp, from pleasure, to rough tasks and brave;
From yonder wall the arms of knighthood take,
   But leave the crown which knightly arms may save;
O'er mount and vale, go, pilgrim, forth alone,
And win the gifts which shall defend a throne.
“So speak the Fates—till in the heavens the sun
   Rounds his revolving course, O King, return
To man's first, noblest birthright, TOIL:—so won
   In Grecian fable, to the ambrosial urn
Of joyous Hebè, and the Olympian grove,
The labouring son Alcmena bore to Jove.
“Only by perils faced and pains endured,
   Are youth's rude forces disciplined and skilled;
Only thro' patience fame can be secured,
   And a grand life be a grand dream fulfilled.
But learn the gifts thy year of proof must gain,
Fail one, fail all, and deem thy labours vain.
“There grows a herb—it only flowers on graves—
   By which, when tasted, mortal sight can mark
Spiritual forms, and, on her own still waves,
   The sybil steerer of the phantom bark;
Where her hand beckons thee, undaunted go,
Thy loftiest prize lurks in her world below.
“There, gleam the temples of religions dead;
   There, grows a forest from a single stem;
There, shining pure in airs that glow blood-red,
   The falchion, welded from a single gem,
Sheathed in a rock dusked by the vulture’s wings,
Behold, and win from the Three Giant Kings.
“Seek next the silver shield in which the sleep
   Of infant Thor was cradled—now the care
Of the fierce Dwarf whose home is on the deep,
   Where drifting ice-rocks clash in lifeless air;
And War’s pale Sisters smile to see the shock
Stir the still curtains round the couch of Lok.
“Crowning thy toils—before the Iron Gate
   Which opes its entrance at the faintest breath,
But hath no egress; where a Power like Fate
   Rules, in name milder, all things that know Death.
Thy childlike guide through aught that rests behold,
With looks that light the dark and locks of gold.
“The sword, the shield, and that young playmate-guide,
   Win; and the fiend, predicting wrath, shall lie;
Be danger braved, and be delight defied,
   Front death with dauntless, but with solemn eye;
And tho' dark wings hang o'er these threatened halls,
Tho' war's red surge break thundering round thy walls,
“Tho', in the rear of time these prophet eyes
   See to thy sons, thy Cymrians, many a woe;
Yet from thy loins a race of kings shall rise,
   Whose throne shall shadow all the seas that flow;
Whose empire, broader than the Cæsar won,
Shall clasp a realm where never sets the sun.
“And thou, thyself, shalt live from age to age,
   A thought of beauty and a type of fame;—
Not the faint memory of some mouldering page,
   But by the hearths of men a household name:
Theme to all song, and marvel to all youth—
Beloved as Fable, yet believed as Truth.
“But if thou fail—thrice woe!” Up sprang the King:
   “Let the woe fall on feeble kings who fail
Their country's need! When falcons spread the wing
   They face the sun, not tremble at the gale:
A name to conquer and a land to save!
With such rewards, never yet failed the brave.”
Ere yet the shadows from the castle's base
   Showed lapsing noon—in Carduel's council hall,
To the high princes of the dragon race,
   The mighty prophet, whom the awe of all
As Fate's unerring oracle adored,—
Told the self exile of the parted lord;
For his throne's safety and his country's weal
   On high emprize to distant regions bound;
The cause must wisdom for success conceal;
   For each sage counsel is, as fate, profound:
And none may trace the travail in the seed
Till the blade burst to glory in the deed.
Few were the orders, as wise orders are,
   For the upholding of the chiefless throne;
To strengthen peace and yet prepare for war;
   Lest the fierce Saxon (Arthur's absence known),
Loose Death's pale charger from the broken rein,
To its grim pastures on the bloody plain.
Leave we the startled Princes in the hall;
   Leave we the wondering babblers in the mart;
The grief, the guess, the hope, the doubt, and all
   That stir a nation to its inmost heart,
When strides some monster Chance, unseen till then,
Into the circles of unthinking men.
Where the screened portal from the embattled town,
   Opes midway on the hill, the lonely King,
Forth issuing, guides his barded charger down
   The steep descent. Amidst the pomp of spring
Lapses the lucid river; jocund May
Waits in the vale to strew with flowers his way.
Of brightest steel—but not embossed with gold
   As when in tourneys rode the royal knight—
His arms flash sunshine back; the azure fold
   Of the broad mantle, like a wave of light,
Floats tremulous, and leaves the sword-arm free.
Fair was that darling of all Poesy.
Thro' the raised vizor beamed the fearless eye,
   The limpid mirror of a stately soul;
Bright with young hope, but grave with purpose high;
   Sweet to encourage, steadfast to control;
An eye from which subjected hosts might draw,
As from a double fountain, love and awe.
The careless curl, that from the helm escaped,
   Gleamed in the sunlight, lending gold to gold.
The features, clear as by a chisel shaped,
   Made manhood godlike as a Greek's of old;
Save that, in hardier lineaments, looked forth
The soul that nerves the war-child of the North.
O'er the light limb, and o'er the shoulders broad,
   The steel flowed pliant as a silken vest;
Strength was so supple that like grace it showed,
   And force was only by its ease confest;
Ev'n as the storms in gentlest waters sleep,
And in the ripple flows the mighty deep.

Now wound his path beside the woods that hang
   O'er the green pleasaunce of the sunlit plain,
When a young footstep from the forest sprang,
   And a light hand was on the charger's rein;
Surprised, the adventurer halts,—but pleased surveys
The friendly face that smiles upon his gaze.
Of all the flowers of knighthood in his train
   Three he loved best; young Caradoc the mild,
Whose soul was filled with song; and frank Gawaine,
   Whom Mirth for ever, like a fairy child,
Locked from the cares of life; but neither grew
Close to his heart, like Lancelot the true.
Gawaine when gay, and Caradoc when grave,
   Pleased: but young Lancelot, or grave or gay;
As yet life's sea had rolled not with a wave
   To rend the plank from those twin hearts away;
At childhood's gate instinctive love began
And warmed with every sun that led to man.
The same sports lured them, the same labours strung,
   The same song thrilled them with the same delight;
Where in the aisle their maiden arms had hung,
   The same moon lit them thro' the watchful night;
The same day bound their knighthood to maintain
Life from reproach, and honour from a stain.
And if the friendship scarce in each the same,
   The soul has rivals where the heart has not;
So Lancelot loved his Arthur more than fame,
   And Arthur more than life his Lancelot.
Lost here Rank's mean distinctions! knightly troth,
Frank youth, high thoughts, crowned Nature's kings in both.
“Whither wends Arthur?” “Whence comes Lancelot?”
   “From yonder forest, sought at dawn of day.”
“Why from the forest?” “Prince and brother, what,
   When the bird, startled, flutters from the spray,
Makes the leaves quiver? What disturbs the rill
If but a zephyr floateth from the hill?
“And ask'st thou why thy brother's heart is stirred
   By every tremor that can vex thine own?
What in that forest had'st thou seen or heard?
   What was that shadow o'er thy sunshine thrown?
Thy lips were silent,—be the secret thine;
But half the trouble it concealed was mine.
“Did danger meet thee in that dismal lair,
   'Twas mine to face it as thy heart had done.
'Twas mine—” “O brother,” cried the King, “beware,
   The fiend has snares it shames not man to shun;—
Ah, woe to eyes on whose recoiling sight
Opes the dark world beyond the veil of light!
“List!—till returns to his belovëd May
   The lord of light whom amber beacons hail,
The horn's blithe rally and the hound's deep bay,
   May waken Music from her own sweet vale
On spell-bound ears the Harper's song may fall,
Love deck the bower and mirth illume the hall—
“But thou, O thou, my Lancelot shalt mourn,
   Chilled by my distant shadow on thy soul;
Not blithe to thee shall be the hunter's horn,
   Nor bright the liquid sunshine of the bowl,
Turn where thou may'st, a something missed shall be:
This knows my heart—so had it mourned for thee.
“Alone I go;—submit; since thus the Fates
   And the great Prophet of our race ordain;
So shall we drive invasion from our gates,
   Guard life from shame, and Cymri from the chain;
No more than this my soul to thine may tell—
Forgive,—Saints shield thee!—now thy hand—farewell!”
“Farewell! Can danger be more strong than death—
   Loose the soul's link, the grave-surviving vow?
Wilt thou find fragrance ev'n in glory's wreath,
   If valour weave it for thy single brow?
No—not farewell! What claim more strong than brother
Canst thou allow?”—“My Country is my Mother;”—
Answered the King, and at the solemn words
   Rebuked stood Friendship, and its voice was stilled
As when some mighty bard with sudden chords
   Strikes down the passion he before had thrilled,
Making grief awe;—so rushed that sentence o'er
The soul it mastered;—Lancelot urged no more.

But loos'ning from the hand it clasped, his own,
   He waved farewell, and turned his face away;
His sorrow only by his silence shown—
   Thus, when from earth glides summer's golden day,
Music forsakes the boughs, and winds the streams;
And life, in deepening quiet, mourns the beam.