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King Arthur: Book 10 of 12

The arrow of Abaris (which bore him where he pleased) is supposed by some to have been the loadstone. And Abaris himself has been, by ingenious speculators, identified with a Druid philosopher.

Ægir, the God of the Ocean, the Scandinavian Neptune.

Bâl-huan, the Sun.

[first faith] The testimony to be found in classical writers as to the original purity of the Druid worship, before it was corrupted into the idolatry which existed in Britain at the time of the Roman conquest, is strongly corroborated by the Welch triads. These triads, indeed, are of various dates, but some bear the mark of a very remote antiquity—wholly distinct alike from the philosophy of the Romans, and the mode of thought prevalent in the earlier ages of the Christian era; in short, anterior to all the recorded conquests over the Cymrian people. These, like proverbs, appear the wrecks and fragments of some primæval ethics, or philosophical religion. Nor are such remarkable alone for the purity of the notions they inculcate relative to the Deity; they have often, upon matters less spiritual, the delicate observation, as well as the profound thought, of reflective wisdom. It is easy to see in them, how identified was the Bard with the Sage—that rare union which produces the highest kind of human knowledge. Such, perhaps, are the relics of that sublimer learning which, ages before the sacrifice of victims in wicker-idols, won for the Druids the admiration of the cautious Aristotle, as ranking among the true enlighteners of men—such the teachers who, if there be truth in the classical legend, instructed the mystical Pythagoras; and furnished new themes for meditation to the musing Brahman. Nor were the Druids of Britain inferior to those with whom the Sages of the western and eastern world came more in contact. On the contrary, even to the time of Cæsar, the Druids of Britain excelled in science and repute those of Gaul, and to their schools the Neophytes of the Continent were sent.
   In the Stanzas that follow the description of the more primitive Cymrians, it is assumed that the rude Druid remains now existent (as at Stonehenge, &c.), are coeval only with the later and corrupted state of a people degenerated to idol worship, and that they previously possessed an architecture, of which no trace now remains, more suited to their early civilization. If it be true that they worshipped the Deity only in his own works, and that it was not until what had been a symbol passed into an idol, that they deserted the mountain top and the forest for the temple, they would certainly have wanted the main inducement to permanent and lofty architecture. Still it may be allowed, at least to a poet, to suppose that men so sensible as the primitive Saronides, would have held their schools and colleges in places more adapted to a northern climate than their favourite oak groves.

[kings] Napoleon.

[second sun] The apparition of two or more suns in the Polar firmament is well known. Mr. Ellis saw six—they are most brilliant at day-break—and though diminished in splendour are still visible even after the appearance of the real sun.

[trod] THOR’S visit to the realms of Hela and Lok forms a prominent incident in the romance of Scandinavian mythology. With the Scandinavian branch of the Teuton family Thor was the favourite deity—and it was natural to that free and valiant race to identify liberty with war.

Visigothpoetice for the Spanish Ravagers of Mexico and Peru.

The Polar Spring—the Boreal Lights—and apparition of a double sun—The Rocky Isle—The Bears—The mysterious Shadow from the Crater of the extinct Volcano—The Bears scent the steps of Man: their movements described—Arthur’s approach—The Bears emerge from their coverts—The Shadow takes form and life—The Demon Dwarf described—His parley with Arthur—The King follows the Dwarf into the interior of the volcanic rock—The Antediluvian Skeletons—The Troll-fiends and their tasks—Arthur arrives at the Cave of Lok—The corpses of the armed Giants—The Valkyrs at their loom—The Wars that they weave—The Dwarf addresses Arthur—The King’s fear—He approaches the sleeping Fiend, and the curtains close around him—Meanwhile Gawaine and the Norwegians have tracked Arthur’s steps on the snow, and arrive at the Isle—Are attacked by the Bears—The noises and eruption from the Volcano—The re-appearance of Arthur—The change in him—Freedom, and its characteristics—Arthur and his band renew their way along the coast; ships are seen—How Arthur obtains a bark from the Rugen Chieftain: and how Gawaine stores it—The Dove now leads homeward—Arthur reaches England; and, sailing up a river, enters the Mercian territory—He follows the Dove through a forest to the ruins built by the earliest Cimmerians—The wisdom and civilization of the ancestral Druidical races, as compared with their idolatrous successors at the time of the Roman Conquerors, whose remains alone are left to our age—Arthur lies down to rest amidst the moonlit ruins—The Dove vanishes—The nameless horror that seizes the King.
SPRING on the Polar Seas!—not violet-crowned
   By dewy Hours, nor to cærulean halls
Melodious hymned, yet Light itself around
   Her stately path, sheds starry coronals.
Sublime she comes, as when, from Dis set free,
Came, through the flash of Jove, Persephonè:
She comes—that grand Aurora of the North!
   By steeds of fire her glorious chariot borne,
From Boreal courts the meteors flaming forth,
   Ope heaven on heaven, before the mighty Morn,
And round the rebel giants of the Night
On earth’s last confines bursts the storm of light.
Wonder and awe! lo, where against the sun
   A second sun his lurid front uprears!
As if the first-born lost Hyperion,
   Hurled down of old, from his Uranian spheres,
Rose from the hell-rocks on his writhings piled,
And glared defiance on his Titan child.
Now life, the polar life, returns once more,
   The reindeer roots his mosses from the snows;
The whirring sea-gulls shriek along the shore;
   Thro' oozing rills the cygnet gleaming goes;
And, where the ice some happier verdure frees,
Laugh into light frank-eyed anemonès.
Out from the seas still solid, frowned a lone
   Chaos of chasm and precipice and rock,
There, while the meteors on their revels shone,
   Growling hoarse glee, in many a grisly flock,
With their huge young, the sea-bears sprawling played
Near the charred crater some mute Hecla made.
Sullen before that cavern’s vast repose,
   Like the lorn wrecks of a despairing race
Chased to their last hold by triumphant foes,
   Darkness and Horror stood.   But from the space
Within the cave, and o’er the ice-ground wan,
Quivers a Shadow vaguely mocking man.
Like man’s the Shadow falls, yet falling loses
   The shape it took, each moment changefully;
As when the wind on Runic waves confuses
   The weird boughs tossed from some prophetic tree;
Fantastic, goblin-like, and fitful thrown,
Comes the strange Shadow from the drear Unknown.
It is not man’s—for they, man’s savage foes,
   Whose sense ne’er fails them when the scent is blood,
Sport in the shadow the Unseen One throws,
   Nor hush their young to sniff the human food;
But, undisturbed as if their home was there,
Pass to and fro the light-defying lair.
So the bears gambolled, so the Shadow played,
   When sudden halts the uncouth merriment.
Now man—in truth, draws near; man’s steps invade
   The men-devourers!—Snorting to the scent,
Lo, where they stretch dread necks of shaggy snow,
Grin with white fangs, and greed the blood to flow!
Grotesquely undulating, moves the flock,
   Low grumbling as the sluggish ranks divide;
Some heave their slow bulk peering up the rock,
   Some stand erect, and shift from side to side
The keen quick ear, the red dilating eye,
And steam the hard air with a hungry sigh.
At length unquiet and amazed—as rings
   On to their haunt direct, the dauntless stride,
With the sharp instinct of all savage things
   That doubt a prey by which they are defied,
They send from each to each a troubled stare,
And huddle close, suspicious of the snare.
Then a huge leader, with concerted wile,
   Creeps lumbering on, and, to his guidance slow
The shaggëd armies move, in cautious file,
   Till one by one, in ambush for the foe,
Drops into chasm and cleft,—and, vanishing,
With stealthy murther girds the coming King.
He comes,—the Conqueror in the Halls of Time,
   Known by his herald in the starry Dove,
By his imperial tread, and front sublime
   With power as tranquil as the lids of Jove,—
All shapes of death the realms around afford:—
From Fiends God guard him!—from all else his sword!
For he, with spring the huts of ice had left
   And the small People of the world of snows:
Their food the seal, their camp at night, the cleft,
   His bold Norwegians follow where he goes;
Now in the rear afar, their chief they miss,
And grudge the danger which they deem a bliss.
Ere yet the meteors from the morning sky
   Chased large Orion,—in the hour when sleep
Reflects its ghost-land stillest on the eye,
   Had sto1'n the lonely King; and o'er the deep
Sought by the clue the dwarfmen-legends yield,
And the Dove's wing—the demon-guarded Shield.
The desert of the desolate is won.
   Still lurks, unseen, the ambush horrible—
Nought stirs around beneath the twofold sun
   Save that strange Shadow, where before it fell,
Still falling;—varying, quivering to and fro,
From the black cavern on the glaring snow.
Slow the devourers rise, and peer around:
   Now crag and cliff move dire with savage life,
And rolling downward,—all the dismal ground
   Shakes with the roar and bristles with the strife:
Not unprepared—(when ever are the brave?)
Stands the firm King, and bares the diamond glaive.
Streams, thro’ the meteor fires, the fulgent brand,
Lightening along the air, the sea, the rock,
Bright as the arrow in that heavenly hand
Which slew the Python.   Blinded halt the flock,
And the great roar, but now so rough and high,
Sinks into terror wailing timidly.
Yet the fierce instinct and the rabid sting
   Of famine goad again the checkt array;
And close and closer in tumultuous ring,
   Reels on the brute-mass crushing towards its prey.
A dull groan tells where first the falchion sweeps—
When into shape the cave-born Shadow leaps!
Out from the dark it leapt—the awful form!
   Manlike, but, sure, not human; on its hair
The ice-barbs bristled: like a coming storm
   Its breath smote lifeless every wind in air;
Dread form deformed, as, ere the birth of Light,
Some son of Chaos and the Antique Night!
At once a dwarf and giant—trunk and limb
   Knit in gnarled strength as by a monstrous chance,
Never Chimæra more grotesque and grim,
   Paled Ægypt’s priesthood with its own romance,
When, from each dire delirium Fancy knows,
Some Typhon-type of Powers destroying rose.
At the dread presence, ice a double cold
   Conceived; the meteors from their dazzling play
Paused; and appalled into their azure hold
   Shrunk back with all their banners; not a ray
Broke o’er the dead sea and the doleful shore,
Winter’s steel grasp lockt the dumb world once more.
Halted the war—as the wild multitude
   Left the King scatheless, and their leaders slain;
And round the giant dwarf the baleful brood
   Came with low growls of terror, wrath, and pain,
As children round their father.   With a start
Arthur recoiled—fear fell upon his heart,
And as he gazed, he paled. Then spoke aloud
   The horrent Image.   “Child of hateful Day,
What madness snares thee to the glooms that shroud
   The realms abandoned to my secret sway?
Why on mine air first breathes the human breath?
Hath thy far world no fairer path to Death?”
“All ways to Death, but one to Glory leads,
   That which alike thro’ earth, or air, or wave,
Bears a bold thought to goals in noble deeds,”
   Said the pale King.   “And this, methinks, the cave
Which hides the Shield that rocked the sleep of one
By whom ev’n Fable shows what deeds were done.
“I seek the talisman which guards the free,
   And tread where erst the Sire of freemen trod.”
“Ho!” laugh'd the dwarf, “Walhalla’s child was He!
   Man gluts the fiend when he assumes the god.”—
“No god, Deceiver, tho’ man’s erring creeds
Make gods of men when godlike are their deeds;

“And if the Only and Eternal One
   Hath, ere his last and luminous Word Revealed,
Left some grand Memory on its airy throne,
   Nor smit the nations when to names they kneeled—
In each false god was typed, since Time began,
Some truth in Nature or some worth in Man.”
The Demon heard; and, as a moon that shines,
   Rising behind Arcturus, wan and chill
O'er Baltic headlands black with rigid pines,
   Makes ghostly night thus lit, more ghostly still—
So the fiend’s mocking smile but deepened more
The menacing gloom which the dire aspect wore.
“Ho!” said the Dwarf, “Thou would'st survive to tell
   Of trophies wrested from the halls of Lok,
Yet wherefore singly face the hosts of Hell?
   Return, and lead thy comrades to the rock;
Ne’er to one man in any mortal field,
Did the fierce Valkyrs who lead armies yield.”
“War,” said the King, “when waged on mortal life
   By mortal men;—that dare I with the rest:
In conflicts awful with no human strife,
   Mightiest methinks, that soul the loneliest.
When starry charms from Afrite caves were won,
No Judah marched with dauntless Solomon!"
Fell fangs the demon gnasht, and o’er the crowd
   Wild cumbering round his feet, with hungry stare
Greeding the man, his drooping visage bowed;
   “Go elsewhere, sons—your prey escapes the snare:
Yours but the food which flesh to flesh supplies;
Here not the mortal but the soul defies.”
Then striding to the cave, he plunged within;
   “Follow,” he cried: like an imprisoned blast
In midnight rock-vaults, the reverberate din
   Rolled from the rough sides of the rayless Vast;
As goblin echoes, thro’ the haunted hollow,
‘Twixt groan and laughter, chimed hoarse-gibbering “Follow!”
The King recoiling paused irresolute,
   Till thro’ the cave the white wing went its way;
Then on his breast he signed the cross, and, mute
   With solemn prayer, he left the world of day.
Thick stood the night, save where the falchion gave
Its clear sharp glimmer lengthening down the cave.
Advancing, flashes rushed irregular
   Like subterranean lightning, forked and red:
From warring matter, wandering shot the star
   Of poisonous gases; and the tortured bed
Of the old Volcano showed, in trailing fires,
Where the numbed serpent dragged its mangled spires.
Broader and ruddier on the Dove’s pale wings
   Now glowed the lava of the widening spaces;
Grinned, from the rock, the jaws of giant things,
   The lurid skeletons of vanished races,
They who, perchance ere man himself had birth,
Ruled the moist slime of uncompleted earth.
Enormous coucht fanged Iguanodon,
   To which the monster-lizard of the Nile
Were prey too small,—whose dismal haunts were on
   The swamps where now such golden harvests smile
As had sufficed those myriad hosts to feed
When all the Orient marched behind the Mede.
There the foul, earliest reptile spectra lay,
   Distinct as when the chaos was their home;
Half plant, half serpent, some subside away
   Into gnarled roots (now stone)—more hideous some,
Half bird—half fish—seem struggling yet to spring,
Shark-like the maw, and dragon-like the wing.
But, life-like more, from later layers emerge
   With their fell tusks deep-stricken in the stone,
Herds,·that thro’ all the thunders of the surge,
   Had to the Ark which swept relentless on
(Denied to them)—knelled the despairing roar
Of sentenced races time shall know no more.
Under the limbs of mammoths went the path,
   Or thro’ the arch immense of Dragon jaws,
And ever on the King—in watchful wrath
   Gazed the attendant Fiend, with artful pause
Where dread was dreadliest; had the mortal one
Faltered or quailed, the Fiend his prey had won,
And rent it limb by limb; but on the Dove
   Arthur looked steadfast, and the Fiend was foiled.
Now, as along the skeleton world they move,
   Strange noises jar, and flit strange shadows. Toiled
The Troll’s swart people, in their inmost home
At work on ruin for the days to come.
A baleful race, whose anvils forge the flash
   Of iron murder for the limbs of war;
Who ripen hostile embryos, for the crash
   Of earthquakes rolling slow to towers afar;
Or train from Hecla’s fount the lurid rills,
To cities sleeping under shepherd hills;
Or nurse the seeds, thro’ patient ages rife
With the full harvest of that crowning fire,
When for the sentenced Three,—Time, Death, and Life,
Our globe itself shall be the funeral pyre;
And, awed, in orbs remote, some race unknown
Shall miss one star, whose smile had lit their own.
Thro’ the Phlegræan glare, innumerous eyes,
   Fierce with the murther-lust, scowl ravening,
And forms, on which had never looked the skies
   Stalk near and nearer, swooping round the King,
Till from the blazing sword the foul array
Shrink back, and wolf-like follow on the way.
Now thro’ waste mines of iron, whose black peaks
   Frown o’er dull Phlegethons of fire below,
While, vague as worlds unformed, sulphureous reeks
   Roll on before them huge and dun,—they go.
Vanish abrupt the vapours: from the night
Springs, and spreads rushing, like a flood, the light.
A mighty cirque with lustre belts the mine;
   Its walls of iron glittering into steel;
Wall, upon wall reflected, flings the shine
   Of armour: vizorless the Corpses kneel,
Their glazed eyes fixed upon a couch·where, screened
With whispering curtains, sleeps the Kingly Fiend:
Corpses of giants, who perchance had heard
   The tromps of Tubal, and had leapt to strife,
Whose guilt provoked the Deluge: sepulchrëd
   In their world’s ruins, still a frown like life
Hung o’er vast brows,—and spears, like turrets, shone
In hands whose grasp had crushed the Mastodon.
Around the couch, a silent solemn ring,
   They whom the Teuton call the Valkyrs, sate.
Shot thro’ pale webs their spindles glistening;
   Dread tissues woven out of human hate
For heavenly ends!—for, there, is spun the woe
Of every war that ever earth shall know.
Below their feet a bottomless pit of gore
   Yawned, where each web, when once the woof was done,
Was scornful cast.   Yet rising evermore
   Out of the surface, wandered airy on
Till lost in upper space, pale wingëd seeds
The future heaven-fruit of the hell-born deeds;
For out of every evil born of time,
   God shapes a good for his eternity.
Lo where the spindles, weaving crime on crime,
   Form the world-work of Charlemains to be;—
How in that hall of iron lengthen forth
The fates that ruin, to rebuild, the North!
Here, one stern Sister, smiling on the King,
   Hurries the thread that twines his Nation’s doom,
And, farther down, the whirring spindles sing
   Around the woof which from his Baltic home
Shall charm the avenging Norman, to control
The shattered races into one calm whole.
Already here, the hueless lines along,
   Grows the red creed of the Arabian horde;
Already here, the armed Chivalric Wrong
   Which made the cross the symbol of the sword,
Which thy worst idol, Rome, to Judah gave,
And worshipped Mars upon the Saviour’s grave.
Already the wild Tartar in his tents,
   Dreamless of thrones;—and the fierce Visigoth
Who on Colombia’s golden armaments
   Shall loose the hell-hounds,—nurse the age-long growth
Of Desolation—as the noiseless skein
Clasps in its web, thy far descendants, Cain!
Already, in the hearts of sires remote
   In their rude Isle, the spell ordains the germ
Of what shall be a Name of wonder, wrought
   From that fell feast which Glory gives the worm,
When Rome's dark bird shall shade, with thunder-wings,
Calm brows that brood the doom of breathless kings.
Already, tho’ the sad unheeded eyes
   Of Bards alone foresee, and none believe,
The lightning, hoarded from the farthest skies,
   Into the mesh the race-destroyers weave,
When o’er our marts shall graze a stranger’s fold,
And the new Tarshish rot, as rots the old.
Yea, ever there, each spectral hand the birth
   Weaves of a war—until the angel-blast,
Pealed from the tromp that knells the doom of earth,—
   Shall start the livid legions from their last;
And man, with arm uplifted still to slay,
Reel on some Alp that rolls in smoke away!
Fierce glared the dwarf upon the silent King,
   “There, is the prize thy visions would achieve!
There, where the hushed inexorable ring
   Murder the myriads in the webs they weave,
Behind the curtains of Incarnate War,
Whose lightest tremour topples thrones afar,—
“Which ev’n the Valkyrs, with their bloodless hands,
   Dare not to draw aside,—go, seek the Shield!
Yet be what follows known!—yon kneeling bands
   Whose camps were Andes, and whose battle-field
Left plains, now empires, rolling seas of gore,
Shall hear the clang and leap to life once more.
“Roused from their task, revengeful shall arise
   The never baffled ‘Choosers of the Slain,’
The Fiend thy hand shall wake, unclose the eyes
   That flashed on heavenly hosts their storms again,
And thy soul wither in the mighty frown
Before whose night, an earlier sun sunk down:
“The rocks shall close all path for flight save one,
   Where now the Troll-fiends wait to rend their prey,
And each malign and monster skeleton,
   Re-clothed with life as in the giant day
When yonder seas were valleys—scent thy gore
And grin with fangs that gnash for food once more.
“Ho, dost thou shudder, pale one? Back and live.”
   Thrice strove the King for speech, and thrice in vain,
For he was man, and, till our souls survive
   The instincts born of flesh, shall Horror reign
In that Unknown beyond the realms of Sense,
Where the soul’s darkness seems the man’s defence.
Yet as when thro’ uncertain troublous cloud
   Breaks the sweet morning star, and from its home
Smiles lofty peace, so thro’ the phantom crowd
   Of fears—the Eos of the world to come,
FAITH, looked—revealing how earth-nourished are
The clouds; and how beyond their reach the star.
Mute on his knee, amidst the kneeling dead
   He sank;—the dead the dreaming fiend revered,
And he, the living, God! Then terror fled,
   And all the king illumed the front he reared.
Firm to the couch on which the fiend reposed
He strode;—the curtains, murmuring, round him closed.
Now while this chanced, without the tortured rock
   Raged fierce the war between the rival might
Of beast and man; the dwarf king’s ravenous flock
   And Norway’s warriors led by Cymri’s knight;
For by the foot-prints thro’ the snows explored,
On to the rock the bands had tracked their lord.
Repelled, not conquered, back to crag and cave,
   Sullen and watchful still, the monsters go;
And solitude resettles on the wave,
   But silence not; around, aloft, alow
Roar the couched beasts, and, answering from the main,
Shrieks the shrill gull and booms the dismal crane.
And now the rock itself, from every tomb
   Of its dead world within, sends voices forth,
Sounds direr far, than in its rayless gloom
   Crash on the midnight of the farthest North;
From beasts our world hath lost, the strident yell,
The shout of giants and the laugh of hell.
Reels all the isle; and every rugged steep
   Hurls down an avalanche;—all the crater cave
Glows into swarthy red, and fire-showers leap
   From rended summits, hissing to the wave
Thro’ its hard ice; or in huge crags, wide-sounding
Spring where they crash—on rushing and rebounding.
Dizzy and blind, the staggering Northmen fall
   On earth that rocks beneath them like a bark;
Loud and more loud the tumult swells with all
   The Acheron of the discord. Swift and dark,
From every cleft, the smoke-clouds burst their way,
Rush thro’ the void, and sweep from heaven the day.
Smitten beneath the pestilential blast
   And the great terror, senseless lay the band,
Till the arrested life, with throes at last,
Gasped back: and holy over sea and land
Silence and light reposed. They looked above
And calm, in calmëd air, beheld the Dove!
And o’er their prostrate lord was poised the wing;
   And when they rushed and reached him, shouting joy,
There came no answer from the corpselike king;
   And when his true knight raised him, heavily
Drooped his pale front on Gawaine’s faithful breast.
And the closed lids seemed leaden in their rest.
And all his mail was dinted, hewn, and crushed,
   And the bright falchion dim with foul dark gore;
And the strong pulse of the strong hand was hushed;
   Like an exhausted storm which whilome bore
The bolts of Jove, when under lullëd skies
The aspen stirs not to its lingering sighs.
And there was solemn change on that fair face,
   Nor, whatsoe’er the fear or scorn had been,
Did the past passion leave its haggard trace;
   But on the rigid beauty awe was seen,
As one who on the Gorgon’s aspect fell
Had gazed; and, freezing, yet survived the spell.
Not by the chasm in which he left the day,
   But through a new-made gorge the fires had cleft,
As if with fires themselves were forced the way,
   Had rushed the King;—and sense and sinew left
The form that struggled till the strife was o’er;
So faints the swimmer when he gains the shore.
But on his arm was clasped the wondrous prize,
   Dimmed, tarnished, grimed, and black with gore and smoke,
Still the pure metal, thro’ each foul disguise,
   Like starlight scattered on dark waters, broke;
Thro’ gore, thro’ smoke it shone—the silver shield,
Clear as dawns Freedom from her battle-field.
Days followed days, ere from that speechless trance
   (Borne to green inlets, isled amid the snows,
Where led the Dove), the king’s reviving glance
   Looked languid round on watchful, joyful brows;
Ev’n while he slept, new flowers the earth had given,
And on his heart brooded the bird of heaven.
But ne’er, as voice and strength and sense returned,
   To his good knight the strife that won the Shield
Did Arthur tell; deep in his soul inurned,—
   As in the grave its secret,—nor revealed
To mortal ear—that mystery which for ever
Flowed thro’ his thought, as thro’ the cave a river;
Whether to Love, how true soe’er its faith,
   Whether to Wisdom, whatsoe’er its skill,
Till his last hour, the struggle and the scathe
   Remained unuttered and unutterable;
But aye, in solitude, in crowds, in strife,
In joy, that memory lived within his life:
It made not sadness, tho’ the calm grave smile
   Never regained the lustre youth had given,—
But as some shadow of some holy pile
   Consecrates ground on which it falls, to heaven,
That gloom the grandeur of religion wore,
And seemed to hallow all it rested o’er.
Such Freedom is, O Slave that would be free!
   Never her real struggles into life
Hath History told. As it hath been shall be
   The Apocalypse of Nations; nursed in strife
Not with the present, nor with living foes,
But where the centuries shroud their long repose.
Out from the graves of earth’s primæval bones,
   The shield of empire, patient Force must win:
What made the Briton free? not crashing thrones
   Nor parchment laws; the charter must begin
In Scythian tents, the steel of Nomad spears;
To date the freedom, count three thousand years!
Neither is Freedom, mirth.   Be free, O slave,
   And, dance no more beneath the lazy palm.
Freedom’s mild brow with noble care is grave,
   Her bliss is solemn as her strength is calm;
And. earnest thought from childlike sport debars
Men who have learned to look upon the stars.
Now as the King revived, along the seas
   Flowed back, enlarged to life, the lapsing waters,
Kissed from their slumber, by the loving breeze,
Glide, in light dance, the Ocean’s silver daughters—
And blithe and hopeful, o’er the sunny strands,
Listing the long-lost billow, rove the bands.
At length, O sight of joy!—the gleam of sails
   Bursts on the solitude! more near and near
Come the white playmates of the buxom gales.—
   The whistling cords, the sounds of man, they hear.
Shout answers shout;—light sparkles round the oar—
And from the barks the boat skims on to shore.
It was a race from Rugen’s friendly soil,
   Leagued by old ties with Cymri’s land and king,
Who, with the spring time, to their wonted spoil
   Of seals and furs had spread the canvas wing
To bournes their fathers never yet had known;—
And found amazed, hearts bolder than their own.
Soon to the barks the Cymrians and their bands
   Are borne: Bright-haired, above the gazing crews,
Lone on the loftiest deck, the leader stands,
   To whom the King, his rank made known, renews
All that his tale of mortal hope and fear
Vouchsafes from truth to thrill a mortal’s ear;
And from the barks whose sails the chief obey,
   Craves one to waft where yet the fates may guide.—
With rugged wonder in his large survey,
   The son of Ægir that calm aspect eyed,
And seemed in awe, as of a god, to scan
Him who so moved his homage, yet was man.

Smoothing his voice, rough with accustomed swell
   Above the storms, and the wild roar of war,
The Northman answered, “Skalds in winter tell
   Of the dire dwarf who guards the Shield of Thor,
For one whose race, with Odin’s blent, shall be,
Lords of the only realm which suits the Free,
“Ocean!—I greet thee, and this strong right hand
   Place in thine own to pledge myself thy man.
Choose as thou wilt for thee and for thy band,
   Amongst the sea-steeds in the stalls of Ran.
Need’st thou our arms against the Saxon foe?
Our flag shall fly where’er thy trumpets blow!”
“Men to be free must free themselves,” the King
   Replied, proud-smiling. “Every father-land
Spurns from its breast the recreant sons that cling
   For hope, to standards winds not theirs have fanned.
Thankful thro’ thee our foe we reach;—and then
Cymri hath steel eno’ for Cymrian men!”
While these converse, Sir Gawaine, with his hound
   Lured by a fragrant and delightsome smell
From roasts—not meant for Freya,—makes his round,
   Shakes hands with all, and hopes their wives are well.
From spit to spit with easy grace he walks,
And chines astounded vanish while he talks.
At earliest morn the bark to bear the King,
   His sage discernment delicately stores,
Rejects the blubber and disdains the ling
   For hams of rein-deers and for heads of boars,
Connives at seal, to satisfy his men,
But childless leaves each loud-lamenting hen.
And now the bark the Cymrian prince ascends,
   The large oars chiming to the chaunting crew,
(His leal Norwegian band) the new-found friends
   From brazen trumpets blare their loud adieu.
Forth bounds the ship, and Gawaine, while it quickens,
The wind propitiates with three virgin chickens.
Led by the Dove, more brightly day by day,
   The vernal azure deepens in the sky;
Far from the Polar threshold smiles the way—
   And lo, white Albion shimmers on the eye,
Nurse of all nations, who to breasts severe
Takes the rude children, the calm men to rear.
Doubt and amaze with joy perplex the King,
   Not yet the task achieved, the mission done,
Why homeward steers the angel pilot’s wing?
   Of the three labours rests the crowning one
Unreached the Gates at which he shall behold
And win—the Child-guide with the locks of gold.
Yet still the Dove cleaves homeward thro’ the air;
   Glides o’er the entrance of an inland stream;
And rests at last on bowers of foliage; where
   Thick forests close their ramparts on the beam,
And clasp with dipping boughs a grassy creek,
Whose marge slopes level with the brazen beak.
Around his neck the shield the Adventurer slung,
   And girt the enchanted sword. Then, kneeling, said
The young Ulysses of the golden tongue,
   “Not now to phantom foes the dove hath led;
For, if I err not, this a Mercian haven,
And from the dove peeps forth at last the raven!
“Not lone, nor reckless, in these glooms profound,
   Tempt the sure ambush of some Saxon host;
If out of sight, at least in reach of sound,
   Let our stout Northmen follow up the coast;
Then if thou wilt, from each suspicious tree
Shake laurels down, but share them, Sire, with me?”
“Nay,” answered Arthur, “ever, as before,
   Alone the Pilgrim to his bourne must go;
But range the men concealed along the shore;
   Set watch, from these green turrets, for the foe;
Moored to the marge where broadest hangs the bough,
Hide from the sun the glitter of the prow;—
“And so farewell!” He said; to land he leapt;
   And with dull murmur from its verdant waves,
O’er his high crest the billowy forest swept.
   As tow’rds some fitful light the swimmer cleaves
His stalwart way,—so thro’ the woven shades
Where the pale wing now glimmers and now fades,
With strong hand parting the tough branches, goes
   Hour after hour the King; till light at last
From skies long hid, wide-silvering, interflows
   Thro’ opening glades;—the length of gloom is past,
And the dark pines receding, stand around
A silent hill with antique ruins crowned.
Day had long closed; and from the mournful deeps
   Of old volcanoes spent, the livid moon
Which thro’ the life of planets lifeless creeps
   Her ghostly way, deaf to the choral tune
Of spheres rejoicing, on those ruins old
Looked down, herself a ruin,—hushed and cold.
Mutely the granite wrecks the King surveyed,
   And knew the work of hands Cimmerian,
What time in starry robes, and awe, arrayed,
   Grey Druids spoke the oracles of man—
Solving high riddles to Chaldæan Mage,
Or the young wonder of the Samian Sage.
A date remounting far beyond the day
   When Roman legions met the scythëd cars,
When purer founts sublime had lapsed away
   Thro’ the deep rents of unrecorded wars,
And bloodstained altars cursed the mountain sod,
Where the first faith had hail’d the only God:
For all now left us of the parent Celt,
   Is of that later and corrupter time:—
Not in rude domeless fanes those Fathers knelt,
   Who lured the Brahman from his burning clime,
Who charmed lost science from each lone abyss,
And winged the shaft of Scythian Abaris.

Yea, the grand sires of our primæval race
   Saw angel-tracks the earlier earth upon,
And as a rising sun, the morning face
   Of Truth more near the flushed horizon shone;
Filling ev’n clouds with many a golden light,
Lost when the orb is at the noonday height.
Thro’ the large ruins, now no more, the last
   Perchance on earth of those diviner sires,
With noiseless step the lone descendant past;
   Not there were seen BÂL-HUAN’S amber pyres;
No circling shafts with barbarous fragments strewn,
Spoke creeds of carnage to the spectral moon.
But art, vast, simple, and sublime, was there
   Ev’n in its mournful wrecks,—such art foregone
As the first Builders, when their grand despair
   Left Shinar’s tower and city half undone,
Taught where they wandered o’er the newborn world.—
Column, and vault, and roof, in ruin hurled,
Still spoke of hands that founded Babylon.
   So in the wrecks, the Lord of young Romance
By fallen pillars laid him musing down.
   More large and large the moving shades advance,
Blending in one dim silence, sad and wan,
The past, the present, ruin and the man.
Now, o’er his lids life’s gentlest influence stole,
   Life’s gentlest influence yet the likest death!
Prove not our dreams how little needs the soul
   Light from the sense, or being from the breath?
Let but the world an instant fade from view,
And of itself the soul creates a new.
Still thro’ the hazy mists of stealing sleep,
   The adventurer’s eyes explore the guardian wing,
There, where it broods upon the moss-grown heap,
   With plumes that all the stars are silvering.
Slow close the lids—reopening with a start
As shoots a nameless terror thro’ his heart:
That strange wild awe which haunted Childhood thrills,
   When waking at the dead of Dark, alone;
A sense of sudden solitude which chills
   The blood;—a shrinking as from shapes unknown;
An instinct both of some protection fled,
And of the coming of some ghastly dread.
He looked, and lo, the dove was seen no more,
   Lone lay the lifeless wrecks beneath the moon,
And the one loss gave all that seemed before
   Desolate,—twofold desolation!
How slight a thing, whose love our trust hast been,
Alters the world, when it no more is seen!
He strove to speak, but voice was gone from him.
   As in that loss, new might the terror took,
His veins congealed; and, interfused and dim,
   Shadow and moonlight swam before his look;
Bristled his hair; and all the strong dismay
Seized, as an eagle when it grasps its prey.
Senses and soul confused, and jarred, and blent,
   Lay crushed beneath the intolerable Power;
Then over all, one flash, in lightning, rent
   The veil between the Immortal and the Hour;
Life heard the voice of unembodied breath,
And sleep stood trembling face to face with Death.