King Arthur: Book 5 of 12
Castel d’Asso (the Castellum Axia, in Cicero), the name now given to the valleys near Viterbo, which formed the great burial-place of the Etrurians. Near these valleys, and, as some suppose, on the site of the Viterbo, was Voltumna (Fanum Voltumnæ), at which the twelve sovereigns of the twelve dynasties, and the other chiefs of the Etrurians, met in the spring of every year. Views of the rock-temples at Norchea, in this neighbourhood, are to be seen in Inghirami’s Etrusc. Antiq.
[Cornwall’s chief] Cadwr.
[Council Three] Three counselling knights were in the court of Arthur, which were Cynon the son of Clydno Eiddin, Aron the son of Kynfarch ap Meirchiongul, and Llywarch hen the son of Elidir Lydanwyn, &c.—Note in Lady Charlotte Guest’s edition of the Mabinogion, vol. i. p. 93. In the text, for the sake of euphony to English ears, for the name of Llywarch is substituted that of his father Elidir.
Cupra, or Talna, corresponding with Juno, the nuptial goddess.
[EIFLE]More correctly Yr Eifl, or Reifel, in Carnarvonshire.
[eighth gate] The above description of the Etrurian Hades, with its eight gates, is taken in each detail from vases and funeral monuments, most of which are described by Micali.
[falling star] In moonless nights, every eighth year, the Spartan Ephors consulted the heavens; if there appeared the meteor, which we call the shooting-star, they adjudged their kings to have committed some offence against the gods, and suspended them from their office till acquitted by the Delphic oracle, or Olympic priests. —PLUT. Agis, 11. MÜLLER’S Dorians, b. iii. c. 6.
[his] Tinia, the Etrurian Bacchus (son of Tina), identified symbolically with the god of the infernal regions. In the funeral monuments he sometimes assumes the most fearful aspect.
[KNIGHTS OF LOVE] The three ardent lovers of the island of Britain—Caswallawn, Tristan, and Cynon (for the last, already placed amongst the counselling knights, Caradoc is substituted).—Lady C. Guest’s Mabinog. vol i. note to page 94.
[lion rock] Trystan’s birth-place, Lyonness, is supposed to have been that part of Cornwall since destroyed by the sea. See Southey’s note to Morte d’Arthur, vol. ii. p. 477.
Næniæ, the funeral hymns borrowed by the Romans from the Etrurians.
Owaine’s birth-place and domains are variously surmised: in the text they are ascribed to Mona (Anglesey). St. Palaye, concurrently both with French fabliasts and Welch bards, makes this hero very fond of the pomp and blazonry of arms, and attributes to him the introduction of buckles to spurs, furred mantles, and the use of gloves.
Aran—called Rauran by Spenser, who makes it the place of Arthur’s education under Timon; “Under the foot of RAURAN mossy hore.”
Sethlans, the Etrurian Vulcan. He appears sometimes to assume the attributes of Terminus, though in a higher and more ethereal sense—presiding over the bounds of life as Terminus over those of the land.
[three Chiefs of Eloquence] There were three golden-tongued knights in the court of Arthur—Gwalchmai (Gawaine), Drudwas (Drydas in the text), and Eliwlod (Lolod). Lady C. Guest’s Mabinog. note vol. i. p. 118.
[Warrior Three] were in the court of Arthur; Cadwr the Earl of Cornwall, Lancelot du Lac, and Owaine the son of Urien Rheged; and this was their characteristic, that they would not retreat from battle, neither for spear, nor for arrow, nor for sword; and Arthur never had shame in battle the day he saw their faces there, &c.—Lady C. Guest’s Mabinog. vol. i. p. 91. In the poem, for Lancelot of the Lake, whose fame is not yet supposed to be matured, is substituted the famous Geraint, the hero of a former generation.
The Council-hall in Carduel—Merlin warns the chiefs of the coming Saxons, and enjoins the beacon fires to be lighted—The story returns to Arthur—The dove has not been absent, though unseen—It comes back to Arthur—The priest leads the King through the sepulchral valley into the temple of the Death-god—Description of the entrance of the temple, with the walls on which is depicted the progress of the guilty soul through the realms below—The cave, the raft, and the stream which conducts to the cataract—Arthur enters the boat, and the dove goes before him—Æglè awakes from her swoon, and follows the King to the temple—Her dialogue with the Augur—She disappears in the stream—Meanwhile Lancelot wanders in the valleys on the other side of the Alps, and is led to the cataract by the magic ring—The apparition of the dove—He follows the bird up the skirts of the cataract—He finds Arthur and Æglè, and conveys them to the convent—The Etrurian dirge, and the Christian hymn—Arthur and Lancelot seated by the lake—The Lady of the Lake appears in her pinnace to Lancelot—The King’s sight is purged from his film by the bitter herb, and he enters the magic bark.
IN the high Council Hall of Carduel,
Beside the absent Arthur’s ivory throne,
(What time the earlier shades of evening fell),
Wan-silvering through the hush, the cresset shone
O’er the arch seer,—as, mid the magnates there,
Rose his large front august with prophet care;
Rose his large front above the luminous guests,
The deathless TWELVE of that Heroic Ring,
Which, as the belt wherein Orion rests,
Girded with subject stars the starry king;
Without, strong towers guard Rome’s elaborate wall;
Within is Manhood!—strongest tower of all.
First, Muse of Cymri, name the Council Three
Who, of mature years and graver mien,
Wise in the past, conceived the things to be,
And temper’d impulse quick with thought serene;
Nor young, nor old—no dupes to rushing Hope,
Nor narrowing to tame Fear th’ ignoble scope.
Of these was Cynon of the highborn race,
A cold but dauntless—calm but earnest man;
With deep eyes shining from a thoughtful face,
And spare slight form, for ever in the van
When ripening victories crown’d laborious deeds;
Reaper of harvests—sower not of seeds;
For scarcely his the quick far-darting soul
Which, like Apollo’s shaft, strikes lifeless things
Into divine creation; but, the whole
Once rife, the skill which into concord brings
The jarring parts; shapes out the rudely wrought,
And calls the action living from the thought.
Next Aron see—not rash, yet gaily bold,
With the frank polish of chivalric courts;
Him from the right, no fear of wrong controul’d;
And toil he deem’d the sprightliest of his sports;
O’er War’s dry chart, or Wisdom’s mystic page,
Alike as smiling, and alike as sage;
With the warm instincts of the knightly heart
That rose at once if insult touch’d the realm,
He spurn’d each state-craft, each deceiving art,
And rode to war, no vizor to his helm;
This proved his worth, this line his tomb may boast—
‘Who hated Cymri, hated Aron most!’
But who with eastern hues and haughty brow,
Stern with dark beauty sits aparts from all?
Ah, couldst thou shun thy friends, Elidir!—thou
Scorning all foes, before no foe shalt fall!
On thy wronged grave one hand appeasing lays
The humble flower—oh, could it yield the bays!
Courts may have known than thou a readier tool,
States may have found than thine a subtler brain,
But States shall honour many a formal fool,
And many a tawdry fawner courts may gain,
Ere King or People in their need shall see
A soul as grand as that which fled with thee!
For thou wert more than true; thou wert a Truth!
Open as Truth, and yet as Truth profound;
Thy fault was genius—that eternal youth
Whose weeds but prove the richness of the ground—
And dull men envied thee, and false men feared,
And where soared genius, there convention sneer’d.
Ah, happy hadst thou fallen, foe to foe,
The bright race run—the laurel o’er thy grave!
But hands perfidious strung the ambush bow,
And the friend’s shaft the rankling torture gave—
The last proud wish its agony to hide,
The stricken deer to covert crept and died.
Next came the Warrior Three. Of glory’s charms
(Glory, the bride of heroes) nobly vain
Dark Mona’s Owaine shines with golden arms,
The Roland of the Cymrian Charlemain,
Scathed by the storm the holy chief survives,
For Fame makes holy all its lightning rives.
Beside, with simplest garb and sober mien,
Solid as iron, not yet wrought to steel,
In his plain manhood Cornwall’s chief is seen,
Who (if wild tales some glimpse of truth reveal)
Gave Northern standards to the Indian sun—
And wreaths from palms that shaded Evian won.
Lo he whose fame outshines the Fabulous!
Sublime with eagle front, and that grey crown
Which Age, the arch-priest, sets on laurell’d brows;
Lo, Geraint, bending with a world’s renown!
Yet those grey hairs one ribald scoffer found;—
The moon sways ocean and provokes the hound.
Next the three Chiefs of Eloquence; the kings
Whose hosts are thoughts, whose realm the human mind,
Who out of words evoke the souls of things,
And shape the lofty drama of mankind;
Wit charms the fancy, wisdom guides the sense;
To make men nobler—that is Eloquence!
As from the Mount of Gold, auriferous flows
The Lydian wave, thy pomp of period shines
Resplendent Drydas—glittering as it goes
High from the mount, but labouring through the mines,
And thence the tides, enriching while they run,
Glass every fruit that ripens to the sun.
But, like the vigour of a Celtic stream,
Comes Lolod’s rush of manly sense along,
Fresh with the sparkles of a healthful beam,
And quick with impulse like a poet’s song.
How listening crowds that knightly voice delights—
If from those crowds are banished all but knights!
The third, though young, well worthy of his place,
Was Gawaine, courteous, blithe, and debonnair,
Arch Mercury’s wit, with careless Cupid’s face;
Frank as the sun, but searching as the air,
Who with bland parlance prefaced doughtiest blows,
And mildly arguing—arguing brain’d his foes.
Next came the Three—in mystic Triads hight
“The KNIGHTS OF LOVE;” some type the name conveys,
For where no lover, there methinks no knight;
All knights were lovers in King Arthur’s days:
Caswallawn; Trystan of the lion rock;
And, leaning on his harp, calm Caradoc!
Thus class’d, distinct in peace,—let war dismay,
Straight in one bond the divers natures blend—
So varying tints in tranquil sunshine play,
But form one iris if the rains descend;
And, fused in light against the clouds that lower,
Forbid the deluge while they own the shower!
On the bright group the Prophet rests his gaze,
Then the deep voice sonorous thrills aloud—
“In Carduel’s vale the steers unheeded graze,
To jocund winds the yellowing corn is bowed,
By hearths of mirth the waves of Isca flow,
And Heaven above smiles down on peace below.
“But far looks forth the warder from the tower,
And to the halls of Cymri’s antique kings
A soul that sees the future in the hour
The desolation of its burthen brings;
Hollow sounds earth beneath the clanging tread:
Yon fields shall yield no harvest but the Dead!
“And waves shall rush in crimson to the deep,
The Meteor Horse shall pale autumnal skies—
From RAURAN’S lairs the joyous wolves shall leap—
From EIFLE’s crags the screaming eagles rise—
Yea! while I speak, these halls the havoc nears;
Red sets the sun behind the storm of spears.
“The Sons of Odin sound no tromp before
Their march: No herald comes their war to tell:
No plea for slaughter, dressed in clerkly lore,
Makes death seem justice! As the rain-clouds swell,
When air is stillest, in Bâl-Huan’s halls;
The herbage waves not till the tempest falls!
“Of old ye know them; ye the elect remains
Of perished races—rock-saved; mooring here
The ark of empire!
For your latest fanes,
For your last hearths, for all to freemen dear,
And to God sacred; take the shield and brand:
Accurst each Cymrian who survives his land!”
“Accurst each Cymrian who survives his land!”
Echoed deep tones, hollow as blasts escaped
From Boreal caverns, and in every hand
The hilts of swords to sainted croziers shaped
Were grimly griped—as by that symbol sign
Hallowing the human wrath to war divine.
The Prophet marked the deep unclamorous vow
Of the pent passion; and the morning light
Of young Humanity flashed o’er the brow
Dark with that wisdom which, like Nature’s night,
Communes with stars and dreams; it flashed and waned,
And the vast front its awful hush regained.
“Princes, I am but as a voice; be you
As deeds! The wind cleaves through the hollow oak,
And stirs the green wood that it wanders through,
Now wafts the seeds, now wings the levin stroke,
Now kindles, now destroys;—that wind am I,
Homeless on earth; the mystery of the sky!
“But when the wind into void space hath sunk,
Behold the sower tends and rears the seeds;
Behold the woodman shapes the fallen trunk;
The airy voice hath waked the human deeds;
Born of the germs, flowers bloom and harvests spring;
The pine uprooted speeds the Ocean King.
“Warriors, since absent, (not from wanton lust
Of errant emprise, but by Fate ordained,
For all lone-labouring, worthy of his trust)
He whose young lips, in thirst of glory, drained
All that of martial arts their mistress, Rome,
Taught to assail the foe, or guard the home;
“Be ye his delegates, and oft with prayer
Bring angels round his wild and venturous way;
As one great orb gives life and light to air,
So times there are when all a people’s day
Shines from a single life; This known, revere
The exile; mourn not—let his soul be here.
“Yours then, high chiefs, the conduct of the war,
But heed this counsel, won or wrung from Fate,
Strong rolls the tide when curbed its channels are,
Strong flows the force that but defends a state;
In Carduel’s walls concentre Cymri’s power,
And chain the dragon to his charmëd tower.
“This night the moon should see the beacon-brand
Link fire to fire from Beli’s Druid pile;
Rock call on rock, till blazes all the land
From Sabra’s wave to Mona’s parent isle!
Let Freedom write in characters of fire,
‘Who climbs my throne ascends his funeral pyre!’”
The Prophet ceased, and rose with stern accord
The warrior senate. Sudden every shield
Leapt into lightning from the clashing sword;
And choral voices consentaneous pealed—
“Hail to our guests! the wine of war is red;
Fire, light the banquet—steel, prepare the bed!”
While thus the peril threatening land and throne,
Unarmed, unheeding, dreaming, goes to the King,
Where from the brief Elysium, Acheron
Awaits the victim which its priest shall bring.
And where art thou, meek guardian of the brave?
Though fails the eagle, still the dove may save.
When, lured by signs that seemed his aid to implore,
From his good steed the lord of knighthood sprung;
And left it wistful by the dismal door,
Since the cragg’d roof too low descending hung
For the great war-horse in its barbed array;
And little dreamed he of the long delay;—
His path the dove nor favoured nor forbade;
Motionless, folding on sharp rocks its wing,
And watching with soft eyes, resigned and sad,
Where fates, ordained for sorrow, led the King;
Nor did he miss, till earth regained the day,
The plumëd guardian vanish from his way.
Then oft, in truth, yea oft in blissful hours,
Missed was that faithful guide through stormier life.
Ah common lot! how oft, mid summer flowers,
We miss the soother of the winter strife;
How oft we mourn in Fortune’s sunlit vale
Some silenced heart with which we shared the gale!
But absent not the dove, albeit unseen;
In some still foliage it had found its nest:
At night it hovered where his steps had been,
Pale through the moonbeams in the air of rest;
By the lulled wave and shadowy banks it past,
Lingering where love with Æglè lingered last.
And when with chiller dawn resought the lone
And leafy gloom in which it shunned the day,
Beneath those boughs you might have heard it moan,
Low-wailing to itself its plaintive lay;
Till with the sun rose all the songs that fill
Morn with delight; and then the dove was still.
But now, as tow’rds the Temple of the Shades
The King went heavily—a gleam of light
Shot through the gloaming of the cedarn glades,
And the dove glided to his breast: the sight
Came like a smile from heaven upon the King,
And his heart warmed beneath the brooding wing.
Strange was the thrill of joy, beyond belief,
Sent from the soft touch of those plums of down:
He was not all deserted in his grief,
The brows of Fate relaxed their iron frown;
And his soul quickened to that glorious power
Which fronts the future and subdues the hour.
The hope it brought—not seemed the dove to share,
As if it felt the tempest in the sky,
Trembling, it nestled to its shelter there,
Nor lifted to the light its drooping eye,
Not, as its wont, to guide it came; but brave
With him the ills from which it could not save.
Now lost the lovelier features of the land,
Dull waves replace the fount, dark pines the bowers,
Grey-streeted tombs, far stretched on either hand,
Rear the dumb city of the Funeral Powers.
Massive and hugeous looms the dome of dread,
Where the stern Death-god frowns above the dead.
Hewn from a rock, stand the great columns square,
With triglyphs wrought and ponderous pediment;
Such as yet greet the musing wanderer where,
Near the old Fane to which Etruria sent
Her sovereign twelve, the thick-sown violet blooms,
In Castel d’Asso’s vale of hero-tombs.
Passing a bridge that spanned the barrier wave,
They reach the Thebes-like porch;—the Augur here
First entering, leaves the King. Within the nave
Now swell the flutes—which went before the bier
What time the funeral chaunt of Pagan Rome
Hymned glorious ghosts to Pluto’s sunless home.
Back jar the portals—long, in measured line,
There, stand within the mute Aruspices.
In each pale hand a torch; and near the shrine
Sit on still thrones, the guardian deities;
Here SETHLANS, sovereign of life’s fixed domains—
There fatal NORTHIA with the iron chains.
Between the two the Death-god broods sublime;
On his pale brow the inexorable peace
Which speaks of power beyond the shores of time;
Calm, not benign like the sweet gods of Greece,
Calm as the mystery which, in Memphian skies,
Froze life’s warm current from a sphinx’s eyes.
With many a grisly shape ineffable,
Limned were the cavernous sepulchral walls;
Life-like they stalked, the Populace of Hell,
Through the pale pomp of Acherontian halls;
Distinct as when the Trojan’s living breath,
Vexed the wide silence in the wastes of death.
Shown was the progress of the guilty soul
From earth’s warm threshold to the throne of doom;
Here the black Genius to the dismal goal
Dragged the wan spectre from the unsheltering tomb;
While from the side it never more may warn
The better angel, sorrowing, fled forlorn.
Hideous with horrent looks and goading steel
The fiend drives on the abject cowering ghost
Where (closed the eighth) sev’n yawning gates reveal
The sev’nfold anguish that awaits the Lost;
By each the gryphon flaps his ravening wings,
And dire Chimæra whets its hungry stings.
Here, ev’n that God, of all the kindliest one,
Life of all life (in Tusca’s later creed,
Blent with the orient worship of the Sun,
Or His who loves the madding nymphs to lead
On the Forked Hill)—abjures his genial smile,
And, scowls transformed, the Typhon of the Nile.
Closed the eighth gate—for there, the Happy dwell;
No glimpse of joy beyond makes horror less.
But that closed gate upon the exiled Hell
Sets Hell’s last seal of misery—Hopelessness.
Natheless, despite the Demon’s chasing thong,
Here, as if hoping still, the hopeless throng.
Before the northern knight each nightmare dream
Of Theban soothsayer or Chaldæan mage,
Thus kindling in the torches’ lurid beam,
As if incarnate with resistless rage,
And hell’s true malice, starts from wall to wall;
He signs the cross, and looks unmoved on all.
Before the inmost Penetralian doors,
Holding a cypress branch, the Augur stands;
The King’s firm foot strides echoless the floors,
And with dull groan the temple veil expands;
Advance the torches, and their shaken shine
Glares o’er the wave that yawns behind the shrine:—
Glares o’er the wave, as, under vaulted rock,
All falsely smooth, the reddened surface flows;
But where the light fades—there is heard the shock
As hurrying on the headlong torrent goes;
With mocking oars—a raft sways, moored beside,
What keel save Charon’s ploughs that dismal tide?
Proud Arthur smiled upon the guileful host,
As welcome danger roused him and restored.—
“Friend,” quoth the King, “methinks your streams might boast
A gentler margin and a fairer ford.”
“As birth to man,” replied the Priest, “the cave,
O guest, to thee; as death to man the wave.
“Doth it appal thee? thou canst yet return!
There love, there sunny life;—and yonder”—“Fame,
Cymri, and God!” said Arthur. “Paynim, learn
Death has two victors, deathless both—THE Name,
The Soul;—to each a realm eternal given,
This rules the earth, and that achieves the heaven.”
He said, and seized a torch with scornful hand;
The frail raft rocked to his descending tread;
Upon the prow he fixed the glowing brand,
And the raft drifted down the waves of dread.
So with his fortunes went confiding forth
The knightly Cæsar of the Christian North.
Then, from its shelter on his breast, the dove
Rose, and sailed slow before with doubtful wing;
The dun mists rolling round the vaults above,
Below, the gulf with torch-fires crimsoning;
Wan through the glare, or white amidst the gloom,
Glanced Heaven’s mute daughter with the silver plume.
Meanwhile to Æglè: from the happier trance,
And from the stun of the first human ill
Labouring returns the soul!—As lightnings glance
O’er battle fields, with sated slaughter still,
The fitful reason flickering comes and goes
O’er the past struggle—o’er the blank repose.
At length with one long, eager, searching look,
She gazed around, and all the living space
With one great loss seemed lifeless!—then she strook
Her clencht hand on her heart; and o’er her face
Settled ineffable that icy gloom,
Which only falls when hope abandons doom.
Why breaks the smile—why waves the exulting hand?
Why to the threshold moves that step serene?
The brow superb awes back the maiden band,
From the roused woman towers sublime the queen.
Past bower, past isle—the dazzled crowds survey
That pomp of beauty burst upon the day.
Brief and imperious rings her question; quick
A hundred hands point, answering, to the fane,
As on she sweeps, behind her, fast and thick,
Gather the groupes far following in her train.
Behind some bird unknown, of glorious dyes,
So swarm the meaner people of the skies.
O, the great force that sleeps in woman’s heart!
She will, at least, behold that form once more;
See its last vestige from her world depart,
And mark the spot to haunt and wander o’er;
Rased in that impulse of the human breast
All the cold lessons on its leaves imprest;—
Snapt in the strength of the divine desire
All the vain swathes with which convention thralls;—
Nature breaks forth, and at her breath of fire
The elaborate snow-pile’s molten temple falls;
And life’s scared priestcrafts fly before that Truth,
Whose name is Passion, whose great altar, Youth!
Unknown the egress, dreamless of the snare,
Sole aim to look the last on the adored;
She gains the fane—she treads the aisle—and there
The deathlights guide her to the bridal lord;
On, through pale groupes around the yawning cave,
She comes—and looks upon the livid wave.
She comes—she sees afar, amidst the dark,
That fair, serene, undaunted, godlike brow—
Sees on the lurid deep the lonely bark
Drift through the circling horror—sees, and now
On light’s far verge it hovers, wanes, and fades,
As roars the hungering cataract up the shades.
Voiceless she looked, and voiceless looked and smiled
On her the priest; strange though the marvel seem,
The old man, childless, loved her more than child;
She linked each thought—she coloured every dream;
But Love, the varying Genius, guides, in turn,
The soft to pity, to revenge the stern.
Not his the sympathy which soothes the woe,
But that which, wrathful, feels and shares the wrong.
He in the faithless but beheld the foe;
The weak he righted when he smote the strong;
In one dread crime a twofold virtue seen,
Here saved the land, and there avenged the queen.
So through the hush his hissing murmur stole—
“Ay, Æglè, blossom on the stem of kings,
Not to fresh altars glides the perjurer’s soul,
Not to new maids the vows still thine he brings;
No rival mocks thee from the bloodless shore,
The dead, at least, are faithful evermore.”
As when around the demigod of love,
Whom men Prometheus call, relentless fell
The flashing fires of Zeus, and Heaven above
Opened in flame, and flaming yawned the hell;
While gazing dauntless on the Thunderer’s frown,
Sunk from the Earth, the Earth’s Light-bringer down;
So, while both worlds before its sight lay bare,
And o’er one ruin burst the lightning shock,
Love, the Arch-Titan, in sublime despair,
Faced the rent Hades from the shattered rock;
And saw in Heaven, the future Heaven foreshown,
When love shall reign where Force usurps the throne.
The Woman heard, and gathering majesty
Beamed on her front, and crowned it with command;
The pale priest shrunk before her tranquil eye,
And the light touch of her untrembling hand—
“Enjoy,” she said, with voice as clear as low,
“Enjoy thy hate; where love survives I go.
“Sweetly thou smilest—sweetly, gentle Death,
Kinder than life;—that severs, thou unitest!
To realms He spoke of goes this living breath
A living soul, wherever space is brightest—
Fair Love—I trusted, now I claim, thy troth!
Blest be thy couch, for it hath room for both!”
She said, and from each hand that would restrain
Broke, in the strength of her sublime despair;
Swift as the meteor on the northern main
Fades from the ice-lockt sea-king’s livid stare—
She sprang; the robe a sudden glimmer gave,
And o’er the vision swept the closing wave.
Return, wild Song, to Lancelot! Behold
Our Lord’s lone house beside the placid mere!
There pipes the careless shepherd to his fold,
Or from the crags the shy capellæ peer
Through the green rents of many a hanging brake,
Which sends its quivering shadow to the lake.
And by the pastoral margins mournfully
Wanders from dawn to eve the earnest knight;
And ever to the ring he turns his eye,
And ever does the ring perplex the sight;
The fairy hand that knew no rest before,
Rests now as fixed as if its task were o’er.
Tow’rds the far head of the calm water turned
The unmoving finger; yet, when gained the place,
No path for human foot the knight discerned—
Abrupt and huge, the rocks enclosed the space.
Veiling his scath’d front in eternal snows,
High above eagles Alpine Atlas rose.
No cleft! save that which a swift torrent clove
For its fierce hurry to the lake it fed;
Checkt for awhile in chasms concealed above,
Thence all its pomp the dazzling horror spread,
And from the beetling ridges, smooth and sheer,
Flashed in one mass, down-roaring to the mere.
Still to that spot the fairy hand inclined,
And daily there with wistful searching eyes
Wandered the knight; each day no path to find,
And climb in vain the ladder to the skies;
Still was each step foiled by the Alpine wall,
Still the old guide refused its aid in all.
One noon, as thus he gazed in stern despair
On rock and torrent;—from the tortured spray,
And through the mists, into cærulean air,
A dove descending rushed its arrowy way;
Swift as a falling star which, falling, brings
Woe on the helmet-crown of Dorian kings!
Straight to the wanderer’s hand bore down the bird,
With plumage crisped with fear, and piercing plaint;
Oft had he heedful, in his wanderings, heard
Of the great Wrong-Redresser, whom a saint
In the dove’s guise directed—“Hail,” he cried,
“I greet the token—I accept the guide!”
And sudden as he spoke, arose the wing,
Warily veering tow’rds the dexter flank
Of the huge chasm, through which leapt thundering
From Nature’s heart her savage; on the bank
Of that fell stream, in root, and jag, and stone,
It traced the ladder to the glacier’s throne.
Slow sailed the dove, and paused, and looked behind,
As labouring after, crag on crag, the knight,—
Close on the deafening roar, and whirling wind
Lashed from the surges,—through the vaporous night
Of the grey mists, loomed up the howling wild;
Strong in the charm the Fairy gave the child.
With bleeding hands, that leave a moment’s red
On stone and stem washed by the mighty spray,
He gains at length the cataract’s central bed
Where the rocks levelled check the torrent’s way,
And form a basin o’er abysmal caves,
For the grim respite of the headlong waves.
Torrents below—the torrents still above!
Above less awful—as precipitous peak
And splintered ledge—and many a curve and cove
In the comprest indented margins, break
That crushing sense of power, in which we see
What, without Nature’s God, would Nature be:
Before him, stretched the maëlstrom of the abyss;
And, in the central torrent, giant pines,
Uprooted from the bordering wilderness
By some gone winter’s blast—in flashing lines
Shot through the whirl—then, pluckt to the profound,
Vanished and rose, swift eddying round and round.
But on the marge as on the wave thou art,
O conquering Death!—what human, hueless face
Rests pillowed on a silenced human heart?
What arm still clasps in more than love’s embrace
That form for which yon vulture flaps its wing?
Kneel, Lancelot, kneel, thine eyes behold thy King!
Alas in vain—still in the Death-god’s cave,
Ere yet the torrent snatched the hurrying stream,
Beside a crag grey-shimmering from the wave,
And near the brink by which the pallid beam
Showed one pent path along the rugged verge,
By which to leave the raft and scape the surge,—
Alas in vain, that haven to the ark
The dove had given!—just won the refuge-place,
When, thrice emerging from the sheeted dark,
White glanced a robe, and livid rose a face!
He saw, he sprang,—he neared, he grasped the vest!
And both the torrent grappled to its breast.
Yet, in the immense and superhuman force,
Love and despair bestow upon the bold,
The strong man battled with the torrent’s course,
Griped rock and layer, and ledge, with snatching hold,
Bruised, bleeding, broken, onwards, downwards driven,
No wave his treasure from his grasp had riven.
Saved, saved—at last before his reeling eyes,
Into the pool, that checkt the Fury, hurled,
Shone, as he rose, through all the hurtling skies,
The dove’s white wing; and ere the maëlstrom whirled
The breasted waters to the central shock,
Showed the gnarled roots of the redeeming rock.
Less sense than instinct caught the wing that shone,
The crags that sheltered;—the wild billows gave
To the bruised limbs the force that failed their own,
And as he turned and sunk, the swerving wave
Swooped round, dashed on, and to the isthmus sped
The failing life whose arms still locked the dead.
Long vain were Lancelot’s cares and knightly skill,
Ere, through congealëd veins, pulsed back the blood;
The very wounds, the valour of the will,
The peaks that broke the fury of the flood
Had helped to save; alas the strong to save!
For Strength to toil; till Love re-opes the grave.
Twice down the dismal path, the dove his guide,
The lake’s charmed knight bore twice his helpless load;
A chamois hunter, in the vale descried,
Aided the convoy to the house of God.
Dark—wroth—convulsed, the soul earth holdeth, lay;
Calm from the bier beside it, smiled the clay!
O Song—for Lydian elegy too stern,
Song, cradled in the Celt’s rough battle-shield;
Rather from thee should life’s true soldier learn
To hide the wounds—heroic while concealed;
Man’s noblest conflicts ever yet have been
Waged unrecorded in a field unseen.
Let the King’s woe its muse in Silence claim,
When sense returned, and solitary life
Sate in the Shadow!—shade or sun the same,
Toil hath brief respite; man is made for strife,
Woman for rest!—rest, bright with dreams is given,
Child of the heathen, in the Christian heaven!
And to the Christian Prince’s plighted bride,
The simple monks, the Christian’s grave accord,
With lifted cross and swinging censer glide
The passing bells—the hermits of the Lord;
And at that hour, in her own native vale,
Her own soft race their mystic loss bewail.
Methinks I see the Tuscan Genius yet,
Lured, lingering by the clay it loved so well,
And listening to the two-fold dirge that met
In upper air;—here Nazarene anthems swell
Triumphal pæans!—there, the Alps behind,
Etrurian Næniæ, load the lagging wind.
Pauses the startled Genius to compare
The notes that mourn the life, at best so brief,
With those that welcome to empyreal air
The bright escaper from a world of grief;
Marvelling what creed, beyond the happy vale,
Can teach the south the loathëd Styx to hail!
THE ETRURIAN NÆNIÆ.
Where art though, pale and melancholy ghost?
No funeral rites appease thy tombless clay;
Unburied, glidest thou by the dismal coast,
O exile from the day?
There, where the voice of love is heard no more,
Where the dull wave moans back the eternal wail,
Dost thou recall the summer suns of yore,
Thine own melodious vale?
Thy Lares stand on thy deserted floors,
And miss their last sweet daughter’s holy face,
What hand shall wreathe with flowers the threshold doors?
What child renew the race?
Thine are the nuptials of the dreary Shades,
Of all thy groves what rests?—the cypress tree!
As from the air a strain of music fades,
Dark silence buries thee!
Yet no, lost child of more than mortal sires,
Thy stranger bridegroom bears thee to his home,
Where the stars light the Æsars’ nuptial fires
In Tina’s azure dome;
From the fierce wave the god’s celestial wing
Rapt thee aloft along the yielding air;
With amaranths fresh from heaven’s eternal spring,
Bright Cupra braids thy hair.
Ah, in those halls for us thou wilt not mourn,
Far are the Æsars’ joys from human woe:
But not the less forsaken and forlorn
Those thou hast left below!
Never, oh never more, shall we behold thee,
The last spark dies upon the sacred hearth;
Art thou less lost, though heavenly arms enfold thee—
Art thou less lost to earth?
Slow swells the sorrowing Næniæ’s chaunted strain,
Time with slow flutes our leaden footsteps keep;
Sad earth, whate’er the happier heaven may gain,
Hath but a loss to weep.
THE CHRISTIAN FUNERAL HYMN.
Sing we Halleluiah—singing
Halleluiah to the Three;
Where, vain Death, oh, where thy stinging?
Where, O Grave, thy victory?
As a sun a soul hath risen,
Rising from a stormy main;
When the captive breaks the prison,
Who, but slaves, would mourn the chain?
Fear for age with cares unholy,
Feebly clinging still to sin:
When the daylight darkens slowly,
And the solemn shades begin:
Not for youth!—although the bosom
With a sharper grief be wrung;
For the May wind strews the blossom,
And the angel takes the young!
Saved from sins, while yet forgiven;—
From the joys that lead astray,
From the earth at war with heaven,
Soar, O happy soul, away!
From the human love that fadeth,
In the falsehood or the tomb;
From the cloud that darkly shadeth;
From the canker in the bloom;
Thou hast passed to suns unsetting,
Where the rainbow spans the flood,
Where no moth the garb is fretting,
Where no worm is in the bud.
Let the arrow leave the quiver,
It was fashioned but to soar;
Let the wave pass from the river,
Into ocean evermore!
Mindful yet of mortal feeling
In thy fresh immortal birth;
By the Virgin Mother kneeling,
Plead for those beloved on earth.
Whisper them thou hast forsaken,
“Woe but borders unbelief;”
Comfort smiles in faith unshaken,
Shall thy glory be their grief?
Let one ray on them descending,
From the prophet Future stream;
Bliss is daylight never ending,
Sorrow but a passing dream.
O’er the grave in far communion
With the choral Seraphim,
Chaunt in notes that hail reunion,
Chaunt the Christian’s funeral hymn.
Halleluiah to the Three,
Where, vain Death, oh, where thy stinging?
Where, O Grave, thy victory?
So rests the child of creeds before the Greek’s,
In our Lord’s holy ground—between the walls
Of the grey convent and the verdant creeks
Of the sequestered mere; afar the falls
Of the fierce torrent from her native vale,
Vex the calm wave, and groan upon the gale.
Survives that remnant of old races still,
In its strange haven from the surge of Time?
There yet do Camsee’s songs at sunset thrill,
At the same hour when here, the vesper chime
Hymns the sweet Mother? Ah, can granite gate,
Cataract, and Alp, exclude the steps of Fate?
World-wearied man, thou knowest not on the earth
What regions lie beyond, yet near, thy ken!
But couldst thou find them, what would be the worth?
No Fields Elysian bloom for mortal men:
But man is more than mortal, and on all
His griefs the shadow of those Fields may fall.
By Æglè’s grave, the royal mourner sate,
And from his bended eyes the veiling hand
Shut out the setting sun;—thus, desolate,
He sate, with Memory in her spirit-land,
And took no heed of Lancelot’s soothing words,
To the’ oak, bolt-shattered, sing in vain the birds!
Vain is their promise of returning spring;
Spring may give leaves, can spring reclose the core?
Comfort not sorrow—sorrow’s self must bring
Its own stern cure!—All wisdom’s holiest lore,
The ‘Know thyself,’ descends from heaven in tears;
The cloud must break before the horizon clears.
The dove forsook not:—now it’s poisëd wing,
Bathed in the sunset, rested o’er the lake;
Now brooded o’er the grave beside the King,
Now with husht plumes, as if it feared to wake
Sleep, less serene than Death’s, it sought his breast,
And o’er the heart of misery claimed its nest.
Night falls—the moon is at her full;—the mere
Shines with the sheen pellucid; not a breeze!
And through the husht and argent atmosphere
Sharp rise the summits of the breathless trees;
When Lancelot saw, all indistinct and pale,
Glide o’er the liquid glass a mistlike sail.
Now, first from Arthur’s dreams of fever gained,
And since—for grief unlocks the secret heart,—
Briefly confest, the triple toil ordained
The knightly brother knew;—so with a start
He strained the eyes, to which a fairy gave
Vision of fairy forms, along the wave.
Then in his own the King’s cold hand he took,
And spoke—“Arise, thy mission calls thee now!
Let the dead rest—still lives thy country!—look,
And nerve thy knighthood to redeem its vow.
This is the Lake whose waves the Falchion hide,
And yon the bark that becks thee to the tide!”
Listless arose the King, and looked abroad,
Nor saw the sail;—though nearer, clearer gliding,
The Fairy nurseling, by the vapoury shroud
And vapoury helm, beheld a phantom guiding.
“Not this,” replied the King, “the Lake decreed;
Where points thy hand, but floats a broken reed!
“Where are the dangers on that placid tide?
Where are the fiends who guard the enchanted boon?
Seest thou how calmly rests the plumëd guide
On the cold grave, beneath the quiet moon!
So night gives rest to grief—with labouring day
Let the dove lead, and life resume, the way.”
Then answered Lancelot—for he was wise
In each mysterious Druid parable:—
“Oft in the things most simple to our eyes,
The real genii of our doom may dwell—
The enchanter spoke of trials to befall;
And the lone heart has trials worse than all.
“Weird triads tell us that our nature knows
In its own cells the demons it should brave;
And oft the calm of after glory flows
Clear round the marge of early passion’s grave;”
And the dove came, ere Lancelot ceased to speak,
To its lord’s hand—a leaflet in its beak;
A leaflet starry with the first pale flower
Budding on Æglè’s grave: then Arthur knew
The herb which gives to mortal sight the power
To gaze on forms spiritual; he withdrew
From the dove’s beak the mournful boon, and placed
On lips that kissed—the herb of bitter taste.
And straight the film fell from his heavy eyes;
And, moored beside the marge, he saw the bark,
Its fair sails swelling, though in windless skies,
And the fair Lady in the robes of dark.
O’er moonlit tracks she stretched the shadowy hand,
And lo, beneath the waters bloomed the land!
Forests of emerald verdure spread below,
With pillared temples gleaming far and wide,
On to the bark the mourner’s footsteps go;
The pale King stands by the pale phantom’s side;
And Lancelot sprang—but sudden from his reach
Glanced the wan skiff, and left him on the beach.
Chained to the earth by spells, more strong than love,
He saw the pinnace steal its noiseless way,
And on the mast there sate the steadfast dove,
With white plume shining in the steadfast ray—
Slow from his sight the waves the Vision bear,
And not a speck is in the purple air.