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King Arthur: Book 6 of 12

[basalt walls] The confluence of the Machno with the Conwy; in that neighbourhood is a range of basalt rocks, bending over the water. Near where the streams meet are the celebrated falls of Rhaiadyr-y-Craig Llwyd.

Cop-yr-Golcuni, or Mount of Light—probably the signal mount of the great chain of beacons on that side of Wales, Moel-y-Gaer (the Hill of the Camp), Moel-Arthur, Moel-Fenlli, &c., in all six principal beacon hills.

[deer as slight] The deer in the park of Nannau are singularly small.

[demon race] In the domain of Nannau was standing to within a period comparatively recent, the legendary oak called Derwen Ceubren yr Ellyll—the hollow oak, the haunt of demons.

[Edeirnion] The beautiful valley of Edeirnion watered by the Dee.

Eryri, Snowdon.

[Fairies' Hill] Moelwnnion.

Mawddach, with its three waterfalls.

Moel-Faban, Caernarvonshire.

Moel Trigarn in Pembrokeshire; it has on its summit the remains of an old encampment enclosing three immense cairns.

[Mount of Bards] Twm Barlwm, in Monmouthshire, on which the bards are supposed to have assembled.

[penal laws] In Welch laws it was sufficient to condemn a person to be found with notorious offenders.

Ran, or Rana, the malignant goddess of the sea, in Scandinavian mythology.

[swordless hands] See Tacitus, 1. xiv. cap. 30, for the celebrated description of the attack on the Druids, in their refuge in Mona, under Publius Suetonius.

Description of the Cymrian fire-beacons—Dialogue between Gawaine and Caradoc—The raven—Merlin announces to Gawaine that the bird selects him for the aid of the King—The knight’s pious scruples—He yields reluctantly, and receives the raven as his guide—His pathetic farewell to Caradoc—The knight sets out on his adventures—The company he meets and the obligation he incurs—The bride and the sword—The bride’s choice and the hound’s fidelity—Sir Gawaine lies down to sleep under the fairy’s oak—What there befalls him—The fairy banquet—The temptation of Sir Gawaine—The rebuke of the fairies—Sir Gawaine, much displeased with the raven, resumes his journey—His adventure with the Vikings, and how he comforts himself in his captivity.
ON the bare summit of the loftiest peak—
   Crowning the hills round Cymri’s Iscan home,
Rose the grey temple of the Faith Antique,
   Before whose priests had paused the march of Rome,
When the dark isle revealed its drear abodes,
And the last Hades of Cimmerian gods;
While dauntless Druids, by their shrines profaned,
   Stretched o’er the steel-clad hush their swordless hands,
And dire Religion, horror-breathing, chained
   The frozen eagles,—till the shuddering bands,
Shamed into slaughter, broke the ghastly spell,
And, lost in reeks of carnage, sunk the hell.
Quivered on column-shafts the poisëd rock,
   As if a breeze could shake the ruin down;
But storm on storm had sent its thunder-shock,
   Nor reft the temple of its charmëd crown—
So awe of Power Divine on human breasts
Vibrates for ever and for ever rests.
Within the fane awaits a giant pyre,
   Around the pyre assembled warriors stand;
A pause of prayer;—and suddenly the fire
   Flings its broad banner reddening o’er the land.
Shoot the fierce sparks and groan the crackling pines,
Tost on the wave of shields the glory shines.
Lo, from dark night flash Carduel’s domes of gold,
   Glow the jagged rampires like a belt of light.
And to the stars springs up the Dragon-hold,
   With one lone image on the lonely height—
O’er those who saw a thrilling silence fell;
   There, the still Prophet watched o’er Carduel!
Forth on their mission rushed the wings of flame;
   Hill after hill the land’s grey warders rose;
First to the Mount of Bards the splendour came,
   Wreathed with large halo Trigarn’s stern repose;
On, post by post, the fiery courier rode,
Blood-red, Edeirnion’s dells of verdure glowed;
Uprose the hardy men of Merioneth,
   When, o’er the dismal strata parched and bleak,
Like some revived volcano’s lurid breath
   Sprang the fierce fire-jet from the herbless peak;
Flashed down on meeting streams the basalt walls,
In molten flame Rhaiadyr’s thunder falls;
Thy Faban Mount, Carnarvon, seized the sign,
   And passed the watchword to the Fairies’ Hill;
All Mona blazed—as if the isle divine
   To Bel, the sun-god, drest her altars still;
Menai reflects the prophet hues, and far
To twofold ocean knells the coming war.
Then wheeling round, the lurid herald swept
   To quench the stars yet struggling with the glare,
Blithe to his task, resplendent Golcun leapt—
   The bearded giant rose on Moel-y-Gaer—
Rose his six giant brothers,—Eifle rose,
And great Eryri lit his chasms of snows.
So one vast altar was that father-land!
   But nobler altars flashed in souls of men,
Sublimer than the mountain-tops the brand
   Found pyres in every lowliest hamlet glen:
Soon on the rocks shall die the grosser fire—
Souls lit to freedom burn till suns expire.
Slowly the chiefs desert the blazing fane,
   Sure of steel-harvests from the dragon seed,
Descend the mountain and the walls regain;
   There unto each the glorious task decreed
Of central suns which round their orbs unite
   The starry legions that reflect their light.
Last of the noble conclave, lingered two;
   Gawaine the mirthful, Caradoc the mild,
And, as the watchfires thickened on their view,
   War’s fearless playmate raised his hand and smiled,
Pointing each splendour, linking rock to rock;—
And while he smiled—sighed earnest Caradoc.
“Now by my head—an empty oath, and light!
   No taller tapers ever lit to rest
Rome’s stately Cæsar;—sigh’st thou at the sight
   Of cost o’er-lavish, when so mean the guest?”
“Was it for this the gentle Saviour died?
Is Cain so glorious?” Caradoc replied.
“Permit, Sir Bard, an argument on that,”
   True to his fame, said golden-tongued Gawaine,
“The hawk may save his fledglings from the cat,
   Nor yet deserve comparisons with Cain;
And Abel’s fate, to hands unskilled, proclaims
The use of practice in gymnastic games.
“Woes that have been are man’s best lesson-book;
   From Abel’s death, his nimbler sons should learn
To add an inch of iron to the crook,
   And strike, when struck, a little in return—
Had Abel known his quarterstaff, I wot,
Those Saxons Ap-Cains ne’er had been begot.”
More had he said, but a strange, grating note,
   Half laugh—half croak, was here discordant heard;
An ave rose—but died within his throat,
   As close before him perched the enchanter’s bird,
With head aslant, and glittering eye askew,
It neared the knight—the knight in haste withdrew.
“All saints defend me, and excuse a jest!”
   Muttered Sir Gawaine—“bird or fiend avaunt:
Oh, holy Abel, let this matter rest,
   I do repent me of my foolish taunt!”
With that the cross upon his sword he kist,
And stared aghast—the bird was on his wrist,
“Hem—vade Satanas!—discede! retro,”
   The raven croaked, and fixed himself afresh;
Aves damnata—jubeo et impetro,”
   Ten pointed claws here fastened on his flesh;
The knight, sore smarting, shook his arm—the bird
Pecked in reproach, and kept its perch unstirred.
Quoth Caradoc—whose time had come to smile,
   And smile he did in grave and placid wise—
“Let not thine evil thoughts, my friend, defile
   The harmless wing descended from the skies.”
“Skies!!!” said the knight—“black imps from skies descend
With claws like these!—the world is at an end!”
“Now shame, Gawaine, O knight of little heart,”
   How if a small and inoffensive raven
Dismay thee thus, couldst thou have tracked the chart
   By which Æneas won his Alban-haven?
On Harpies, Scylla, Cerberus, reflect;
And undevoured—rejoice to be but peckt.”
“True,” said a voice behind them,—“gentle bard,
   In life as verse, the art is—to compare.”
Gawaine turned short, gazed keenly, and breathed hard
   As on the dark-robed Magian streamed the glare
Of the huge watchfire—“Prophet,” quoth Gawaine,
“My friend scorns pecking—let him try the pain.
“Please to call back this—offspring of the skies!
   Unworthy I to be his earthly rest!”
“Methought,” said Merlin, “that thy King’s emprize
   Had found in thee a less reluctant breast;
Again his friendship granted to his side—
Thee the bird summons, be the bird thy guide.”
Dumb stared the knight—stared first upon the seer,
   Then on the raven,—who, demure and sly,
Turned on his master a respectful ear,
   And on Gawaine a magisterial eye.
“What hath a king with ravens, seer, to do?”
“Woden, the king of half the world, had two.
“Peace—if thy friendship answer to its boast,
   Arm, take thy steed, and with the dawn depart—
The bird will lead thee to the ocean coast;
   Strange are thy trials, stalwart be thy heart.”
“Seer,” quoth Gawaine, “my heart I hope is tough,
Nor needs a prop from this portentous chough.
“You know the proverb—‘birds of the same feather,’
   A proverb much enforced in penal laws,
In certain quarters were we seen together
   It might, I fear, suffice to damn my cause:
You cite examples apt and edifying—
Woden kept ravens!—well, and Woden’s frying!”
The enchanter smiled, in pity or in scorn;
   The smile was sad, but lofty, calm, and cold—
“The straws,” he said, “on passing winds upborne
   Dismay the courser—man should be more bold.
Dismiss thy terrors, go thy ways, my son,
To do thy duty is the fiend to shun.
“Not for thy sake the bird is given to thee,
   But for thy King’s.”—“Enough,” replied the knight,
And bowed his head. The bird rose jocundly,
   Spread its dark wing and rested in the light—
“Sir Bard,” to Caradoc the chosen said
In the close whisper of a knight well bred:
“Vowed to my King—come man, come fiend, I go,
   But ne’er expect to see thy friend again,
That bird carnivorous hath designs I know
   Most anthropophagous on doomed Gawaine;
I leave thee all the goods that most I prize—
Three steeds, six hawks, four gre-hounds, two blue eyes.
“Beat back the Saxons—beat them well, my friend,
   And when they’re beaten, and thy hand’s at leisure,
Set to thine harp a ditty on my end—
   The most appropriate were the shortest measure:
Forewarned by me all light discourses shun,
And mostly—jests on Adam’s second son.”
He said, and wended down the glowing hill.
   Long watched the minstrel with a wistful gaze,
Then joined the musing seer—and both were still,
   Still mid the ruins—girded with the rays;
Twin heirs of light and lords of time, grey Truth
That ne’er is young—and Song the only youth.
At dawn from Carduel passed the chosen knight;
   Still as he rode, from forest, mount, and vale,
Rung lively horns, and in the morning light
   Flashed the sheen banderoll, and the pomp of mail,
The welcome guests of War’s blithe festival.
Keen for the feast, and summoned to the hall.
Curt answer gave the knight to greeting gay,
   And none to taunt from scurril churl unkind,
Oft asking, “if he did mistake the way?”—
   Or hinting, “war was what he left behind;”
As noon came on, such sights and comments cease,
Lone through the pastures rides the knight in peace.
Grave as a funeral mourner rode Gawaine—
   The bird went first in most indecent glee,
Now soared from sight, now gambolled back again—
   Now munched a beetle, and now chaced a bee—
Now plucked the wool from meditative lamb,
Now picked a quarrel with a lusty ram.
Sharp through his vizor, Gawaine watched the thing,
   With dire misgivings at that impish mirth:
Day waxed—day waned—and still the dusky wing
   Seemed not to find one resting place on earth.
“Saints,” groaned Gawaine, “have mercy on a sinner,
And move that demon—just to stop for dinner!”
The bird turns round, as if it understood,
   Halts on the wing, and seems awhile to muse;
Then dives at once into a dismal wood,
   And grumbling much, the hungry knight pursues,
To hear, and, hearing, hope once more revives,
Sweet-clinking horns, and gently-clashing knives.
An opening glade a pleasant group displays;
   Ladies and knights amidst the woodland feast;
Around them, reinless, steed and palfrey graze;
   To earth leaps Gawaine—“I shall dine at least.”
His casque he doffs—“Good knights and ladies fair,
Vouchsafe a famished man your feast to share.”
Loud laughed a big, broad-shouldered, burly host;
   “On two conditions, eat thy fill,” quoth he;
“Before one dines, ’tis well to know the cost—
   Thou’lt wed my daughter, and thou’lt fight with me.”
“Sir Host,” said Gawaine, as he stretched his platter,
“I’ll first the pie discuss and then the matter.”
The ladies looked upon the comely knight,
   His arch bright eye provoked the smile it found;
The men admired that vasty appetite,
   Meet to do honour to the Table Round;
The host, reseated, sent the guest his horn:
Brimmed with pure drinks distilled from barley corn.
Drinks rare in Cymri, true to milder mead,
   But long familiar to Milesian lays,
So huge that draught, it had despatched with speed
   Ten Irish chiefs in these degenerate days:
Sir Gawaine drained it, and Sir Gawaine laught,
“Cool is your drink, though scanty is the draught;
“But, pray you pardon, (sire, a slice of boar,)
   Judged by your accents, mantles, beards, and wine,—
If wine this be—ye come from Erin’s shore,
   To aid no doubt our kindred Celtic line;
Ye saw the watch-fires on our hills at night
And march to Carduel? read I, sirs, aright?”
“Stranger,” replied the host, “your guess is wrong,
   And shows your lack of history and reflexion;
Erin with Cymri is allied too long,
   We come, my friend, to sever the connexion:
But first, (your bees are wonderful for honey,)
Yield us your hives—in plainer words your money.”
“Friend,” said the golden-tongued Gawaine, “methought
   Your mines were rich in wealthier ore than ours.”
“True,” said the host, superbly, “were they wrought!
   But shall Milesians waste in work their powers?
Base was that thought, the heartless insult masking.”
“Faith,” said Gawaine, “gold’s easier got by asking.”
Upsprung the host, upsprung the guests in ire—
   Upsprung the gentle dames, and fled affrighted;
High rose the din, than all the din rose higher
   The croak of that cursed raven quite delighted;
Sir Gawaine finished his last slice of boar,
And said, “Good friends, more business and less roar.
“If you want peace—shake hands, and peace, I say,
   If you want fighting, gramercy! we’ll fight,”
“Ho,” cried the host, “your dinner you must pay—
   The two conditions.”—“Host, you’re in the right,
To fight I’m willing, but to wed I’m loth;
I choose the first.”—“Your word is bound to both:
“Me first engaged, if conquered you are—dead,
   And then alone your honour is acquitted;
But conquer me, and then you must be wed;
   You ate!—the contract in that act admitted.”
“Host," cried the knight, half stunned by all the clatter,
“I only said I would discuss the matter.
“But if your faith upon my word reposed,
   That thought alone King Arthur’s knight shall bind.”
Few moments more, and host and guest had closed—
   For blows come quick when folks are so inclined:
They foined, they fenced, changed play, and hacked and hewed—
Paused, panted, eyed each other, and renewed;
At length a dexterous and back-handed blow,
   Clove the host’s casque and bowed him to his knee.
“Host,” said the Cymrian to his fallen foe;
   “But for thy dinner, wolves should dine on thee;
Yield—thou bleed’st badly—yield and ask thy life.”
“Content,” the host replied—“embrace thy wife.”
“O cursëd bird,” cried Gawaine, with a groan,
   “Into what trap has thou betrayed my life;
Happy the man to whom was given a stone
   When he asked bread; I have received a wife.
Take warning, youths, and never dine with hosts
Who make their daughters adjuncts to their roasts.”
While thus in doleful and heart-rending strain.
   Mourned the lost knight, the host his daughter led,
Placed her soft hand in that of sad Gawaine—
   “Joy be with both!”—the bridegroom shook his head
“I have a castle which I won by force—
Mount, happy man, for thither wends our course:
“Page, bind my scalp—to broken scalps we’re used.
   Your bride, brave son, is worthy of your merit;
No man alive has Erin’s maids accused,
   And least that maiden, of a want of spirit;
She plies a sword as well as you, fair sir,
When out of hand, just try your hand on her.”
Not once Sir Gawaine lifts his leaden eyes,
   To mark the bride by partial father praised,
But mounts his steed—the gleesome raven flies
   Before; beside him rides the maid amazed:
“Sir Knight,” said she at last, with clear loud voice,
“I hope your musings do not blame your choice?”
“Damsel,” replied the knight of golden tongue,
   As with some effort he replied at all,
“Sith our two skeins in one the Fates have strung,
   My thoughts were guessing when the shears would fall;
Much irks it me, lest, vowed to toil and strife,
I doom a widow where I make a wife.
“And sooth to say, despite those matchless charms
   Which well might fire our last new saint, Dubricius,
To-morrow’s morn must snatch me from thine arms;
   Led to far lands by auguries, not auspicious—
Wise to postpone a bond, how dear soever,
Till my return.”—“Return! That may be never:
“What if you fall,—since thus you tempt the fates—
   The yew will flourish where the lily fades;
The laidliest widows find consoling mates
   With far less trouble than the comeliest maids;
Wherefore, Sir Husband, have a cheerful mind,
Whate’er may chance your wife will be resigned.”
That loving comfort, arguing sense discreet,
   But coldly pleased the knight’s ungrateful ear,
But while devising still some vile retreat,
   The trumpets flourish and the walls frown near;
Just as the witching night begins to fall
They pass the gates and enter in the hall.
Soon in those times primæval came the hour
   When balmy sleep did wasted strength repair,
They led Sir Gawaine to the lady’s bower,
   Unbraced his mail and left him with the fair;
Then first, demurely seated side by side,
The dolorous bridegroom gazed upon the bride.
No iron heart had he of golden tongue,
   To beauty none by nature were politer;
The bride was tall and buxom, fresh and young,
   And while he gazed, his tearful eyes grew brighter—
“‘For worse, for better,’ runs the sacred verse,
Sith now no better—let me brave the worse.”
With that he took and kissed the lady’s hand,
   The lady smiled and Gawaine’s heart grew bolder,
When from the roof by some unseen command
   Flashed down a sword and smote him on the shoulder—
The knight leapt up, sore-bleeding from the stroke,
While from the lattice cawed the merriest croak!
Aghast he gazed—the sword within the roof
   Again had vanished; nought was to be seen—
He felt his shoulder, and remained aloof.
   “Fair dame,” quoth he, “explain what this may mean.”
The bride replied not, hid her face and wept;
Moved, to her side, with caution, Gawaine crept.
“Nay, weep not, sweetheart, but a scratch—no more,”
   He bent to kiss the dewdrops from his rose,
When presto down the glaive enchanted shore—
   Gawaine leapt back in time to save his nose.
“Ah, cruel father,” groan’d the lady then,
“I hoped at least thou wert content with ten!”
“Ten what?” said Gawaine.—“Gallant knights like thee,
   Who fought and conquered my deceitful sire;
Married, as thou, to miserable me,
   And doomed, as thou, beneath the sword to expire—
By this device he gains their arms and steeds,
So where force fails him, there the fraud succeeds.”
“Foul felon host,” the wrathful knight exclaims,
   “Foul wizard bird, no doubt in league with him!
Have they no dread lest all good knights and dames
   Save fiends their task, and rend them limb from limb?
But thou for Gawaine ne’er shalt be a mourner,
Thou keep the couch, and I—yon farthest corner!”
This said, the prudent knight on tiptoe stealing
   Went from his bride as far as he could go,
Then laid him down, intent upon the ceiling;
   Noses, once lost, no second crop will grow—
So watched Sir Gawaine, so the lady wept,
Percht on the lattice-sill the raven slept.
The knight takes heart as the sun smiles again,
   Steps climb the stair, a hand unbars the door—
“Saints,” cries the host, and stares upon the twain,
   Amazed to see that living guest once more—
“Did you sleep well?”—“Why, yes,” replied the knight,
“One gnat, indeed;—but gnats were made to bite.
“Man must leave insects to their insect law;—
   Now thanks, kind host, for board and bed and all—
Depart I must,”—the raven gave a caw.
   “And I with thee,” chimed in that damsel tall.
“Nay,” said Gawaine, “I wend on ways of strife,”
“Sir, hold your tongue—I choose it; I’m your wife.”
With that the lady took him by the hand,
   And led him, fall’n of crest, adown the stair;
Buckled his mail, and girded on his brand,
   Brimmed full the goblet nor disdained to share—
The host saith nothing, or to knight or bride;
Forth comes the steed—a palfrey by its side.
Then Gawaine flung from the untasted board
   His manchet to a hound with hungry face;
Sprung to his selle, and wished, too late, that sword
   Had closed his miseries with a coup de grace.
They clear the walls, the open road they gain;
The bride rode dauntless—daunted much Gawaine.
Gaily the fair discoursed on many things,
   But most on those ten lords—his time before,
Unhappy wights, who, as old Homer sings,
   Had gone, ‘Proiapsoi,’ to the Stygian shore;
Then, each described and praised,—she smiled and said,
“But one live dog is worth ten lions dead.”
The knight prepared that proverb to refute,
   When the bird beckoned down a delving lane,
And there the bride provoked a new dispute:
   ‘That path was frightful—she preferred the plain.’
“Dame,” said the knight, “not I your steps compel—
Take thou the plain!—adieu! I take the dell.”
“Ah, cruel lord,” with gentle voice and mien
   The lady murmured, and regained his side;
“Little thou know’st—of woman’s faith, I ween,
   All paths alike save those that would divide;
Ungrateful knight—too dearly loved.”—“But then,”
Falter’d Gawaine, “you said the same to ten!”
“Ah no; their deaths alone their lives endeared,
   Slain for my sake, as I could die for thine;”
And while she spoke so lovely she appeared
   The knight did, blissful, tow’rds her cheek incline—
But, ere a tender kiss his thanks could say,
A strong hand jerked the palfrey’s neck away.
Unseen till then, from out the bosky dell
   Had leapt a huge, black-browed, gigantic wight;
Sudden he swung the lady from her selle,
   And seized that kiss defrauded from the knight,
While, with loud voice and gest uncouth, he swore
So fair a cheek he ne’er had kissed before!
With mickle wrath Sir Gawaine sprang from steed,
   And, quite forgetful of his wonted parle,
He did at once, without a word, proceed
   To make a ghost of that presuming carle:
The carle, nor ghost nor flesh inclined to yield,
Took to his club, and made the bride his shield.
“Hold, stay thine hand!” the hapless lady cried,
   As high in air the knight his falchion rears;
The carle his laidly jaws distended wide,
   And—“Ho,” he laughed, “for me the sweet one fears,
Strike, if thou durst, and pierce two hearts in one,
Or yield the prize—by love already won.”
In high disdain, the knight of golden tongue
   Looked this way, that, uncertain where to smite;
Still as he looked, and turned, the giant swung
   The unknightly buckler round from left to right.
Then said the carle—“What need of steel and strife?
A word in time may often save a life.
“This lady me prefers, or I mistake,
   Most ladies like an honest hearty woer;
Abide the issue, she her choice shall make;
   Dare you, sir rival, leave the question to her?
If so, resheathe your sword, remount your steed,
I loose the lady, and retire.”—“Agreed.”
Sir Gawaine answered—sure of the result,
   And charmed the fair so cheaply to deliver;
But ladies’ hearts are hidden and occult,
   Deep as the sea, and changeful as the river.
The carle released the fair, and left her free—
“Caw,” said the raven, from the willow tree.
A winsome knight all know was fair Gawaine,
   No knight more winsome shone in Arthur’s court:
The carle’s rough features were of homeliest grain,
   As shaped by Nature in burlesque and sport;
The lady looked and mused, and scanned the two,
Then made her choice—the carle had spoken true.
The knight forsaken, rubbed astounded eyes,
   Then touched his steed and slowly rode away—
“Bird,” quoth Gawaine, as on the raven flies,
   “Be peace between us, from this blessëd day;
One single act has made me thine for life,
Thou hast shown the path by which I lost a wife!”
While thus his grateful thought Sir Gawaine vents,
   He hears, behind, the carle’s Stentorian cries;
He turns, he pales, he groans—“The carle repents!
   No, by the saints, he keeps her or he dies!”
Here at his stirrup stands the panting wight—
“The lady’s hound, restore the hound, sir knight.”
“The hound,” said Gawaine, much relieved, “what hound?”
   And then perceived he that the dog he fed,
With grateful steps the kindly guest had found,
   And there stood faithful.—“Friend,” Sir Gawaine said,
“What’s just is just! the dog must have his due,
The dame had hers, to choose between the two.”
The carle demurred; but justice was so clear,
   He’d nought to urge against the equal law;
He calls the hound, the hound disdains to hear,
   He nears the hound, the hound expands its jaw;
The fangs were strong and sharp, that jaw within,
The carle drew back—“Sir knight, I fear you win.”
“My friend,” replies Gawaine, the ever bland,
   “I took thy lesson, in return take mine;
All human ties, alas, are ropes of sand,
   My lot to-day to-morrow may be thine;
But never yet the dog our bounty fed,
Betrayed the kindness or forgot the bread.”
With that the courteous hand he gravely waved,
   Nor deemed it prudent longer to delay;
Tempt not the reflow, from the ebb just saved!
   He spurred his steed and vanished from the way.
Sure of rebuke, and troubled in his mind,
An altered man, the carle his fair rejoined.
That day the raven led the knight to dine
   Where merry monks spread no abstemious board;
Dainty the meat and delicate the wine,
   Sir Gawaine felt his sprightlier self restored;
When tow’rds the eve the raven croaked anew,
And spread the wing for Gawaine to pursue.
With clouded brow the pliant knight obeyed,
   And took his leave and quaffed his stirrup cup;
And briskly rode he thorough glen and glade,
   Till the fair moon, to speak in prose, was up:
Then to the raven now familiar grown,
He said—“Friend bird, night’s made for sleep, you’ll ‘own,
“This oak presents a choice of boughs for you,
   For me a curtain and a grassy mound.”
Straight to the oak the obedient raven flew,
   And croaked with merry, yet malignant sound.
The luckless knight thought nothing of the croak,
And laid him down beneath the Fairy’s Oak.
Of evil fame was Nannau’s antique tree,
   Yet styled “the hollow oak of demon race;”
But blithe Gwyn-ab-Nudd’s elphin family
   Were the gay demons of the slandered place;
And ne’er in scene more elphin, near and far,
On dancing fairies glanced a cloudless star.
Whether thy chafing torrent, rock-born Caine,
   Flash through the delicate birth and glossy elm,
Or prison’d Mawddach clang his triple chain
   Of waters fleeing to the happier realm,
Where his course broadening smiles along the land:
So souls grow tranquil as their thoughts expand.
High over subject vales the brow serene
   Of the lone mountain looked on moonlit skies;
Wide glades far opening into swards of green,
   With shimmering foliage of a thousand dyes,
And tedded tufts of heath, and ivied boles
Of trees, and wild flowers scenting bosky knolls:
And herds of deer as slight as Jura’s roe,
   Or Iran’s shy gazelle, on sheenest places,
Grouped still, or flitted the far alleys thro’;
   The fairy quarry for the fairy chaces;
Or wheeled the bat, brushing o’er brake and scaur,
Lured by the moth, as lures the moth the star.
Sir Gawaine slept—Sir Gawaine slept not long,
   His ears were tickled, and his nose was tweaked;
Light feet ran quick his stalwart limbs along,
   Light fingers pinched him, and light voices squeaked.
He oped his eyes, the left and then the right,
Fair was the scene, and hideous was his fright!
The tiny people swarm around, and o’er him,
   Here on his breast they lead the morris dance,
There, in each ray diagonal before him,
   They wheel, leap, pirouette, caper, shoot askance,
Climb row on row each other’s pea-green shoulder,
And mow and point upon the shocked beholder.
And some had faces lovelier than Cupido’s,
   With rose-bud lips, all dimpling o’er with glee;
And some had brows as ominous as Dido’s,
   When Ilion’s pious traitor put to sea;
Some had bull heads, some lion’s, but in small,
And some—the finer drest—no heads at all.
By mortal dangers scared, the wise resort
   To means fugacious, licet et licebit;
But he who settles in a fairy’s court,
   Loses that option, sedet et sedebit;
Thrice Gawaine strove to stir, nor stirred a jot,
Charms, cramps, and torments nailed him to the spot.

Thus of his limbs deprived, the ingenious knight
   Straighway betook him to his golden tongue—
“Angels,” quoth he, “or fairies, with delight
   I see the race my friends the bards have sung;
Much honoured that, in any way expedient,
You make a ball-room of your most obedient.”
Floated a sound of laughter, musical
   As when in summer noon, melodious bees
Cluster o’er jasmine buds, or as the fall,
   Of silver bells, on the Arabian breeze;
What time, with chiming feet in palmy shades,
Move, round the softened Moor, his Georgian maids.
Forth from the rest there stepped a princely fay—
   “And well, sir mortal, dost thou speak,” quoth he,
“We elves are seldom froward to the gay,
   Rise up, and welcome to our company.”
Sir Gawaine won his footing with a spring,
Low bowed the knight, as low the fairy king.
“By the bright diadem of dews congealed,
   And purple robe of pranksome butterfly,
Your royal rank,” said Gawaine, “is revealed.
   Yet more, methinks, by your majestic eye;
Of kings with mien august I know but two,
Men have their Arthur,—happier fairies, you.”
“Methought,” replied the Elf, “thy first accost
   Proclaimed thee one of Arthur’s peerless train;
Elsewhere alas!—our later age hath lost
   The blithe good-breeding of King Saturn’s reign,
When, some four thousand years ago, with Fauns,
We Fays made merry on Arcadian lawns.
“Time flees so fast it seems but yesterday!
   And life is brief for fairies as for men.”
“Ha,” said Gawaine, “can fairies pass away?”
   “Pass like the mist on Arran’s wave, what then?
At least we’re young so long as we survive;
Our years six thousand—I have numbered five.
“But we have stumbled on a dismal theme;
   As always happens when one meets a man—
Ho! stop that zephyr—Robin, catch that beam!
   And now, my friend, we’ll feast it while we can.”
The moonbeam halts, the zephyr bows his wing,
Light through the leaves the laughing people spring.
Then Gawaine felt as if he skirred the air,
   His brain grew dizzy, and his breath was gone;
He stopped at last, and such inviting fare
   Never plump monk set lustful eyes upon.
Wild sweet-briars girt the banquet, but the brake
Oped where in moonlight rippled Bala’s lake.
Such dainty cheer—such rush of revelry—
   Such silver laughter—such arch happy faces—
Such sportive quarrels from excess of glee—
   Hushed up with such sly innocent embraces,
Might well make twice six thousand years appear
To elfin minds a sadly nipped career.
The banquet o’er, the royal Fay intent
   To do all honour to King Arthur’s knight,
 Smote with his rod the bank on which they leant,
   And Fairy-land flashed glorious on the sight;
Flashed, through a silvery, soft, translucent mist,
The opal shafts and domes of amethyst;
Flashed founts in shells of pearl, which crystal walls
   And phosphor lights of myriad hues redouble;
There, in the blissful subterranean halls,
   When morning wakes the world of human trouble,
Glide the gay race; each sound our discord knows,
Faint-heard above, but lulls them to repose.
O Gawaine, blush! Alas! that gorgeous sight,
   But woke the latent mammon in the man,
While fairy treasures shone upon the knight,
   His greedy thoughts on lands and castles ran;
He stretched his hands, he felt his fingers itch,
“Sir Fay,” quoth he, “you must be monstrous rich!”
The words scarce fell from those unlucky lips,
   Than down rushed darkness, flooding all the place;
His feet a fairy in a twinkling trips;
   A swarm of wasps seem settling on his face;
Pounce on their prey the tiny tortures flew,
And sang this moral while they pinched him blue:


Joy to him who fairy treasures
   With a fairy’s eye can see;
Woe to him who counts and measures
   What the worth in coin may be.
Gems from withered leaves we fashion
   For the spirit pure from stain;
Grasp them with a sordid passion,
   And they turn to leaves again.


Here and there, and everywhere,
   Tramp and cramp him inch by inch;
Fair is fair,—to each his share,
   You shall preach and we will pinch.


Fairy treasures are not rated
   By their value in the mart;
Deep in secret earth created
   For the coffers of the heart.
Dost thou covet fairy money?
   Rifle but the blossom bells—
Like the wild bee, shape the honey
   Into golden cloister-cells.

Spirit hear it, flesh revere it!
   Stamp the lesson inch by inch!
Rightly merit, flesh and spirit,
   This the preaching, that the pinch!


Wretched mortal, once invited,
   Fairy land was thine at will;
Every little star had lighted
   Revels when the world was still.
Every bank a gate had granted
   To the topaz-paven halls—
Every wave had roll’d enchanted
   From our crystal music-falls.


Round him winging, sharp and stinging,
   Clip him, nip him, inch by inch,
Sermons singing, wisdom bringing,
   Point the moral with a pinch.


Now the spell is lost for ever,
   And the common earth is thine;
Count the traffic on the river,
   Weigh the ingots in the mine;
Look around, aloft, and under,
   With an eye upon the cost;
Gone the happy world of wonder!
   Woe, thy fairy land is lost!


Nature bare is, where thine air is,
   Custom cramps thee inch by inch;
And when care is, human fairies
   Preach and—vanish at a pinch!
Sudden they cease—for shrill crowed chanticleer;
   Grey on the darkness broke the glimmering light;
Slowly assured he was not dead with fear
   And pinches, cautious peered around the knight;
He found himself replaced beneath the oak,
And heard with rising wrath the chuckling croak.
“O birds of birds, most monstrous and malific,
   Were these the inns to which thou wert to lead?
Now gashed with swords, now clawed by imps horrific;
   Wives—wounds—cramps—pinches! Precious guide indeed!
Ossa on Pelion piling, crime on crime:
Wretch, save thy throttle, and repent in time!”
Thus spoke the knight—the raven gave a grunt,
   That raven liked not threats to life or limb;
Then with due sense of the unjust affront,
   Hopped supercilious forth, and summoned him—
His mail once more the aching knight endued,
Limped to his steed, and ruefully pursued.
The sun was high when all the glorious sea
   Flashed through the boughs that overhung the way,
And down a path as rough as path could be,
   The bird flew sullen, delving towards the bay;
The moody knight dismounts, and leads with pain
The stumbling steed, oft backing from the rein.
One ray of hope alone illumed his soul,
   “The bird will lead thee to the ocean coast,”
The wizard’s words had clearly marked the goal;
   The goal once won—of course the guide was lost:
While thus consoled, its croak the raven gave,
Folded its wings and hopped into a cave.
Sir Gawaine paused—Sir Gawaine drew his sword;
   The bird unseen screamed loud for him to follow—
His soul the knight committed to our Lord,
   Stepped on—and fell ten yards into a hollow;
No time had he the ground thus gained to note,
Ere six strong hands laid gripe upon his throat.
It was a creek, three sides with rock enclosed,
   The fourth stretched, opening on the golden sand;
Dull on the wave an anchored ship reposed;
   A boat with peaks of brass lay on the strand;
And in that creek caroused the grisliest crew
Thor ever nursed, or Rana ever knew.
But little cared the knight for mortal foes,
   From those strong hands he wrenched himself away,
Sprang to his feet, and dealt so dour his blows,
   Cleft to the chin a grim Berserker lay,
A Fin fell next, and next a giant Dane—
“Ten thousand pardons!” said the bland Gawaine.
But ev’n in that not democratic age
   Too large majorities were stubborn things,
Nor long could one man strive against the rage
   Of half a hundred thick-skulled ocean kings—
Four felons crept between him and the rocks,
Lifted four clubs and felled him like an ox.
When next the knight unclosed his dizzy eyes,
   His feet were fettered and his arms were bound—
Below the ocean, and above the skies;
   Sails flapped—cords crackled; long he gazed around,
Still where he gazed, fierce eyes and naked swords
Peered through the flapping sails and crackling cords—
A chief before him leant upon his club,
   With hideous visage bushed with tawny hair.
“Who plays at bowls must count upon a rub,”
   Said the bruised Gawaine with a smiling air;
“Brave sir, permit me humbly to suggest
You make your gyves too tight across the breast.”
Grinned the grim chief, vouchsafing no reply;
   The knight resumed—“Your pleasant looks bespeak
A mind as gracious;—may I ask you why
   You fish for Christians in King Arthur’s creek?”
“The kings of creeks,” replied that hideous man,
“Are we, the Vikings and the sons of Ran!
“Your beacon fires allured us to your strands,
   The dastard herdsmen fled before our feet,
Thee, Odin’s raven guided to our hands;
   Thrice happy man, Valhalla’s board to eat!
The raven’s choice suggests a God’s idea,
And marks thee out—a sacrifice to Freya!”
As spoke the Viking, over Gawaine’s head
   Circled the raven with triumphal caw;
Then o’er the cliffs, still hoarse with glee, it fled.
   Thrice a deep breath the knight relieved did draw,
Fair seemed the voyage—pleasant seemed the haven;
“Blest saints,” he cried, “I have escaped the raven!”