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King Arthur: Book 9 of 12

[blessed leaves] Herbs which act as the antidotes to the scurvy (the cochlearia, &c.) are found under the snows, when all other vegetation seems to cease.

blink The ice-blink seen on the horizon.

[blushes] The phenomenon of the red snow on the Arctic mountains is formed by innumerable vegetable bodies; and the olive green of the Greenland Sea by Medusan animacules, the number of which Mr. Scoresby illustrates by supposing that 80,000 persons would have been employed since the creation in counting it.

[floe] The smaller kind of ice-field is called by the northern whale fishers, ‘a floe’—the name is probably of very ancient date.

The Larus Glaucus, the great bird of prey in the Polar regions.

[Ice-blocks] The houses of the Esquimaux who received Captain Lyon were thus constructed:—the frozen snow being formed into slabs of about two feet long and half a foot thick; the benches were made with snow, strewed with twigs, and covered with skins; and the lamp suspended from the roof, fed with seal or walrus oil, was the sole substitute for the hearth, furnished light, and fire for cooking. The Esquimaux were known to the settlers and pirates of Norway by the contemptuous name of dwarfs or pigmies.—(Skrællings.)

The Kraken is probably not wholly fabulous, but has its prototype in the enormous polypus of the Artic Seas.

The Morse, or Walrus, supposed to be the original of the Merman; from the likeness its face presents at a little distance to that of a human being.

[pull their noses] A salutation still in vogue among certain tribes of the Esquimaux.

Invocation to the North—Winter, Labour, and Necessity, as agents of Civilization—The Polar Seas described—The lonely Ship; its Leader and Crew—Honour due from Song to the Discoverer—The battle with the Walruses—The crash of the floating Icebergs—The ship ice-locked—Arthur’s address to the Norwegian Crew—They abandon the vessel and reach land—The Dove finds the healing herb—Returns to the ship, which is broken up for log huts—The winter deepens—The sufferings and torpor of the crew—The effect of Will upon life—Will preserves us from ills our own, not from sympathy with the ills of others—Man in his higher development has a two-fold nature—in his imagination and his feelings—Imagination is lonely, Feeling social—The strange affection between the King and the Dove—The King sets forth to explore the desert; his joy at recognising the print of human feet—The attack of the Esquimaux—The meeting between Arthur and his friend—The crew are removed to the ice-huts of the Esquimaux—The adventures of Sir Gawaine continued—His imposture in passing himself off as a priest of Freya—He exorcises the winds which the Norwegian hags had tied up in bags—And accompanies the Whalers to the North Seas—The storm—How Gawaine and his hound are saved—He delivers the Pigmies from the Bears, and finally establishes himself in the Settlement of the Esquimaux—Philosophical controversy between Arthur and Gawaine, relative to the Raven—Arthur briefly explains how he came into the Polar Seas in search of the Shield of Thor—Lancelot and Genevra having sailed for Carduel, Gawaine informs Arthur that the Esquimaux have a legend of a Shield guarded by a Dwarf—The first appearance of the Polar Sun above the horizon.
THRONED on the dazzling and untrodden height,
   Formed of the frost-gems ages labour forth
From the blanched air,—crowned with the pomp of light
   I’ the midst of dark,—stern Father of the North,
Thee I invoke, as, awed, my steps profane
The dumb gates opening on thy deathlike reign.
Thee, sure the Ithacan—thee, sure, dread lord,
   When in the dusky, wan, Cimmerian waste
By the last bounds of Ocean, he explored
   The land of ghosts, beheld;—and here embraced
In vain the Phantom Mother! lo, the gloom
Pierced by no sun,—the Hades of the tomb!—
Magnificent Horror!—How like royal Death
   Broods thy great hush above the seeds of Life!
Under the snow-mass cleaves thine icy breath,
   And, with the birth of fairy forests rife,
Blushes the world of white;—the green that glads
The wave, is but the march of myriads;

There, immense, moves uncouth leviathan;
   There, from the hollows of phantasmal isles,
The morse emerging rears the face of man,
   There the huge bear scents, miles on desolate miles,
The basking seal;—and ocean shallower grows,
Where, thro’ its world a world, the kraken goes.

Father of races who have led back Time
   Into the age of Demigods;—whose art
Excels all Egypt’s magic—Wizards sublime
   To whom the Elements are slaves; whose chart
Belts worlds which seraphs may not yet have trod,
The embryo orbs flashed from the smile of God,—
Imperial WINTER, hail!—All hail with thee
   Man’s Demiurgus, Labour, side by side
With thy stern grandeur seated kinglily,
   And ever shaping out the fates that guide
The onward cycles to the farthest goal
I’ the fields of light,—the loadstone of the soul!
Winter, and Labour, and Necessity,
   Behold the Three that make us what we are,
The eternal pilots of a shoreless sea
   The ever-conquering armies of the Far:
By these we scheme, invent, ascent, aspire,
And, pardoned Titans, steal from Heaven the fire!
Dumb Universe of Winter—there it lies
   Dim thro’ the mist, a spectral skeleton!
Far in the wan verge of the solid skies
   Hangs day and night the phantom of a moon;
And slowly moving on the horizon’s brink
Floats the vast ice-field with its glassy blink.
But huge adown the liquid Infinite
   Drift the sea Andes—by the patient wrath
Of the strong waves uprooted from their site
   In bays forlorn; and on their winter path,—
Themselves a winter—glide, or heavily, where
They freeze the wind, halt in the inert air.

Nor bird nor beast lessens with visible
   Life, the large awe of space without the sun;
Tho’ in each atom life unseen doth dwell
   And glad with gladness God the Living One.
He breathes—but breathless hang the airs that freeze!
He speaks—but noiseless list the silences.
A lonely ship—lone in the measureless sea,
   Lone in the channel thro’ the frozen steeps,
Like some bold thought launched on infinity
   By early sage—comes glimmering up the deeps!
The dull wave, dirge-like, moans beneath the oar;
The dull air heaves with wings that glide before.
From earth’s warm precincts, thro’ the sunless gates
   That guard the central Niffelheim of Dark,
Into the heart of the vast Desolate,
   Lone flies the Dove before the lonely bark.
While the crowned seeker of the glory-spell
Looks to the angel and disdains the hell.
Huddled on deck, one-half that hardy crew
   Lie shrunk and withered in the biting sky,
With filmy stare and lips of livid hue,
   And sapless limbs that stiffen as they lie;
While the dire pest-scourge of the frozen zone
Rots thro’ the vein, and gnaws the knotted bone.
Yet still the hero-remnant, sires perchance
   Of Rollo’s Norman knighthood, dauntless steer
Along the deepening horror, and advance
   Upon the invisible foe, loud chaunting clear
Some lusty song of Thor, the Hammer-God,
When o’er those iron seas the Thunderer trod,
And pierced the halls of Lok. Still, while they sung,
   The sick men lifted dim their languid eyes,
And palely smiled, and with convulsive tongue
   Chimed to the choral chaunt in hollow sighs;
Living or dying, those proud hearts the same
Swell to the danger and foretaste the fame.
On, ever on, labours the lonely bark.
   Time in that world seems dead. Nor jocund sun
Nor rosy Hesperus dawns; but visible Dark
   Stands round the ghastly moon. For ever on
Labours the lonely bark, thro’ lockt defiles
That crisping coil around the drifting isles.
Honour, thrice honour unto ye, O Brave!
   And ye, our England’s sons, in the later day,
Whose valour to the shores of Hela gave
   Names,—as the guides where suns deny the ray;
And, borne by hope and vivid strength of soul,
Left Man’s last landmark on Earth’s farthest goal!
Whom, nor the unmoulded chaos, with its birth
   Of uncouth monsters, nor the fierce disease,
Nor horrible famine, nor the Stygian dearth
   Of Orcus, dead’ning adamantine seas,
Scared from the Spirit’s grand desire,—TO KNOW;
The Galileos of the new worlds below.
Man the Discoverer—whosoe’er thou art,
   Honour to thee from all the lyres of song!
Honour to him who leads to Nature’s heart
   One footstep nearer! To the Muse belong
All who enact what in the song we read;
Man’s noblest poem is Man’s bravest deed.
On, ever on,—when veering to the West
   Into a broader desert leads the Dove;
A larger ripple stirs the ocean’s breast,
   A hazier vapour undulates above;
Along the ice-fields move the things that live,
In those strange outlines the vague mist-clouds give.
In flocks the lazy walrus lay around
   Gazing and stolid; while the dismal crane
Stalked curious near;—and, on the hinder ground,
   Paused indistinct the Fenris of the main,
The insatiate bear,—to sniff the stranger blood,—
For Man till then had vanished since the flood,

And of Man all were fearless.—On the sea
   The huge leviathans came up to breathe,
With their young giants leaping forth in glee,
   Or leaving whirlpools where they sank beneath.
And round and round the bark the narwal sweeps,
With white horn glistening thro’ the sluggish deeps.
Uprose a bold Norwegian, hunger-strung,
   As near the icy marge a walrus lay,
Hurled his strong spear, and smote the beast, and sprung
   Upon the frost-field tow’rds t he wounded prey;—
Sprung and recoiled—as, writhing with the pangs,
The bulk heaved towards him with it flashing fangs.
Roused to fell life—around their comrade throng,
   Snorting wild wrath, the shapeless, uncouth swarms;—
Life moving mounts, slow masses trail along;
   Aghast the man beholds the larva-forms—
Flies—climbs the bark—the deck is scaled—is won;
And all the monstrous march rolls lengthening on.
“Quick to your spears!” the kingly leader cries,
   Spears flash on flashing tusks; groan the strong planks
With the assault: Front after front they rise
   With their bright stare; steel thins in vain their ranks,
And dyes with blood their birth-place and their grave;
Mass rolls on mass, as flows on wave a wave.
These strike and rend the reeling sides below;
   Those grappling clamber up and load the decks,
With looks of wrath so human on the foe,
   That half they seem reanimated wrecks
Of what were men in worlds before the Ark.
Thus raged the immane and monster war—when, hark,
Crashed thro’ the dreary air a thunder peal!
   In their slow courses meet two ice-rock isles
Clanging; the wide sear far-resounding reel;
   The toppling ruin rolls in the defiles;
The pent tides quicken with the headlong shock;
Broad-billowing heave the long waves from the rock;
Far down the booming vales precipitous
   Plunges the stricken galley,—as a steed
Smit by the shaft runs reinless,—o’er the prows
   Howl the lashed surges; Man and monster freed,
By power more awful, from the savage fray,
Here roaring sink—there dumbly whirl away.
The water runs in maëlstroms;—as a reed
   Spins in an eddy and then skirs along,—
Round and around emerged and vanishëd
   The mighty ship amidst the mightier throng
Of the revolving hell. With abrupt spring
Bounding at last—on it shot maddening.
Behind it, thunderous swept the glacier masses,
   Shivering and splintering, hurtling each on each:
Narrower and narrower press the frowning passes:—
   Jammed in the farthest gorge the bark may reach,
Where the grim Scylla locks the direful way,
The fierce Charybdis flings her mangled prey.
As if a living thing, in every part
   The vessel groans—and with a dismal chime
Cracks to the cracking ice; asunder start
   Its ribbëd planks:—and, clogg’d and freezing, climb
Thro’ cleft and chink, as thro’ their native caves,
The gelid armies of the hardening waves.
One sigh whose lofty pity did embrace
   The vanished many, the surviving few,
The Cymrian gave—then with a cheering face
   He spoke, and breathed his soul into the crew.
“Ye, whom the haught desire of Fame, whose air
Is storm,—and tales of what your fathers were,
“What time their valour wrought such deeds below
   As made the valiant life them to the gods,—
Impelled with me to spare all meaner foe,
   And vanquish Nature in the fiend’s abodes;—
Droop not nor faint, ye who survive, to give
Themes to such song as bids your Odin live,
“And to preserve from the oblivious sea
   What it in vain engulfs;—for all that life,
When noble, lives for—is the memory!
   The wave hath plucked us from the monster strife,
Lo where the icebay frees us from the wave,
And yields a port in what we deemed a grave.
“Up and at work all hands to lash the bark
   With grappling hook, and cord, and iron band
To yon firm peak, the Ararat of our ark,
   Then with good heart pierce to the vapour-land;
For the crane’s scream, and the bear’s welcome roar
Tell where the wave joins solid to the shore.”
Swift as he spoke, the gallant Northmen sprang
   On the sharp ice,—drew from the frozen blocks
The mangled wreck;—with many a barbëd fang
   And twisted cable to the horrent rocks
Moored: and then, shouting up the solitude,
Their guiding star, the Dove’s pale wing, pursued.
Well had divined the King,—as on they glide,
   They see the silvery Arctic fox at play,
Sure sign of land,—and, scattering wild and wide,
   Clamour the sea gulls, luring to his prey
The ravening glaucus sudden shooting o’er
The din of wings from the grey gleaming shore.
At length they reached the land,—if land that be
   Which seems so like the frost-piles of the deep,
That where commenced the soil and ceased the sea,
   Shews dim as is the bound between the sleep
And waking of some wretch whose palsied brain
Dulls him to ev’n the slow return of pain.
Advancing farther, burst upon the eye
   Patches of green miraculously isled
In the white desert. Oh! The rapture-cry
   That greeted God and gladden’d thro’ the wild!
The very sight suffices to restore,
Green Earth—green Earth—the Mother, smiles once more.
Blithe from the turf, the Dove the blessed leaves
   That heal the slow plague of the sunless dearth,
Bears to each sufferer whom the curse bereaves
  Ev’n of all hope, save graves in that dear earth.
Woo’d by the kindly King they taste, to know
How to each ill God plants a cure below.

Long mused the anxious hero, if to dare
   Once more the fearful sea—or from the bark
Shape rugged huts, and wait, slow lingering there,
   Till Eos, issuing from the gates of Dark,
Unlock the main; dread choice on either hand—
The liquid Acheron, or the Stygian land.
At length, resolved to seize the refuge given,
   Once more he leads the sturdiest of the crew
Back to the wreck—the planks, asunder riven,
   And such scant stores as yet the living few
May for new woes sustain, are shoreward borne;
And hasty axes shape the homes forlorn.
Now, every chink closed on the deathful air,
   In the dark cells the weary labourers sleep;
Deaf to the hoarse growl of the hungering bear,
   And the dull thunders clanging on the deep—
Till on their waking sense the discords peal,
And to the numb hand cleaves unfelt the steel.
What boots long told the tale of life one war
   With the relentless iron Element?
More, day by day, the mounting snows debar
   Ev’n search for food,—yet oft the human scent
Lures the wild beast, which, mangling while it dies,
Bursts on the prey, to fall itself the prize.
But as the winter deepens, ev’n the beast
   Shrinks from its breath, and with the loneliness
To Famine leaves the solitary feast.
   Suffering halts patient in its last excess.
Closed in each fireless, lightless, foodless cave
Covers a dumb ghost unconscious of its grave.
Nature hath stricken down in that waste world
   All—save the soul of Arthur! That, sublime,
Hung, on the wings of heavenward faith unfurled,
   O’er the far light of the predicted time;
Believe thou hast a mission to fulfil,
And human valour grows a Godhead’s will:
Calm to that fate, about the moment given,
   Shall thy strong soul divinely dreaming go,
Unconscious as an eagle, entering heaven,
   Where its still shadow skims the rocks below:
High beyond this, its actual world is wrought,
And its true life is in its sphere of thought.
Yet who can ‘scape the infection of the heart?
   Who, tho’ himself invulnerably steeled,
Can boast a breast indifferent to the dart
   That threatened the life his love in vain would shield?
When some large nature, curious, we behold
How twofold comes it from the glorious mould!
How lone, and yet how living in the All!
   While it imagines how aloof from men!
How like the ancestral Adam ere the fall,
   In Eden bowers the painless denizen!
But when it feels—the lonely heaven resigned—
How social moves the man among mankind!
Forth from the tomb-like hamlet strays the King,
   Restless with ills from which himself is free;
In that dun air the only living thing,
   He skirts the margin of the soundless sea;
No—not alone, the musing Wanderer strays;
Still glides the Dove along the dismal ways.
Nor can tongue tell, nor thought conceive how far
   Into that storm-beat heart, the gentle bird
Had built the halcyon’s nest.  How precious are
   In desolate hours, the Affections!—How, unheard
Mid Noon’s melodious myriads of delight,
Thrills the lone note that steals the gloom from night!
And, in return, a human love replying
   To his caress, seemed in those eyes to dwell,
That mellow murmur, like a human sighing,
   Seemed from those founts that lie i’ the heart to swell.
Love wants not speech; from silence speech it builds,
Kindness like light speaks in the air it gilds.
That angel guide! His fate while leading on,
   It followed each quick movement of his soul.
As the soft shadow from the setting sun
   Precedes the splendour passing to its goal,
Before his path the gentle herald glides,
Its life reflected from the life it guides.
Was Arthur sad? how saddened seemed the Dove!
   Did Arthur hope? how gaily soared its wings!
Like to that sister spirit left above,
  The half of ours, which, torn asunder, springs
Ever thro’ space, yearning to join once more
The earthlier half, its own and Heaven’s before;
Like an embodied living Sympathy
   Which hath no voice and yet replies to all
That wakes the lightest smile, the faintest sigh,—
   So did the instinct and the mystery thrall
To the earth’s son the daughter of the air;
And pierce his soul—to place the sister there,
She was to him as to the bard his Muse,
   The solace of a sweet confessional;
The hopes—the fears which manly lips refuse
   To speak to man,—those leaves of thought that fall
With every tremulous zephyr from the Tree
Of Life, whirled from us down the darksome sea;—
Those hourly springs and winter of the heart
   Weak to reveal to Reason’s sober eye,
The proudest yet will to the Muse impart
   And grave in song the record of a sigh.
And hath the Muse no symbol in the Dove?—
Both give what hearts miss most in human love.
Over the world of winter strays the King,
   Seeking some track of Hope—some savage prey
Which, famished, fronts and feeds the famishing;
   Or some dim outlet in  the darkling way
From the dumb grave of snows which form with snows
Wastes wide as realms thro’ which a spectre goes.
Amazed he halts:—Lo, on the rimy layer
   That clothes sharp peaks—the print of human feet!
An awe thrilled thro’ him, and thus spoke in prayer,
   “Thee, God, in man once more then do I greet?
Hast thou vouchsafed the brother to the brother,
Links which reweave thy children to each other?
“Be they the rudest of the clay divine
   Warmed with the breath of soul, how faint so ever,
Yea, tho’ their race but threat new ills to mine.
  All hail the bond thy sons cannot dissever!
Bowed to thy will, of life or death dispose,
But if not human friends, grant human foes!”
Thus while he prayed, blithe from his bosom flew
   The guiding Dove, along the frozen plain
Of a mute river, winding, vale-like, thro’
   Rocks lost in vapour from the voiceless main.
And as the man pursues, more thickly seen,
The foot-prints tell where man before has been.
Sudden a voice—a yell, a whistling dart!
   Dim thro’ the fog, behold a dwarf-like band,
As from the inner earth, its goblins, start;
   Here threatening rush, there hoarsely gibbering stand!
Halts the firm hero; mild but undismayed,
Grasps the charmed hilt, but not unsheathes the blade.
And, with a kingly gesture eloquent,
   Seems to command the peace, not shun the fray;
Daunted they back recoil, yet not relent;
   As hunters round the forest lord at bay,
Beyond his reach they form the deathful ring,
And every shaft is fitted to the string.
When in the circle a grand shape appears,
   Day’s lofty child amid those dwarfs of Night,
Ev’n thro’ the hides of beasts, (its garb,) it rears
   The glorious aspect of a son of light.
Hushed at that presence was the clamouring crowd;
Dropped every hand and every knee was bowed.
Forth then alone, the man approached the King;
   And his own language smote the Cymrian’s ear.
“What fates, unhappy one, a stranger bring
   To shores,”—he started, stopt,—and bounded near;
Gazed on that front august, a moment’s space,—
Rushed,—lockt the wanderer in a long embrace;
Weeping and laughing in a breath, the cheek,
   The lip he kist—then kneeling, claspt the hand;
And gasping, sobbing, sought in vain to speak—
   Meanwhile the king the beard-grown visage scanned:
Amazed—he knew his Carduel’s comely lord,
And the warm heart to heart as warm restored!
Speech came at length: first mindful of the lives
   Claiming his care and periled for his sake
Not yet the account that love demands and gives
   The generous leader paused to yield and take;
Brief words his followers’ wants and woes explain;—
“Light, warmth, and food.”—“Sat verbum,” quoth Gawaine.
Quick to his wondering and Pigmæn troops—
   Quick sped the Knight;—he spoke and was obeyed;
Vanish once more the goblin-visaged groups
   And soon return caparisoned for aid;
Laden with oil to warm and light the air,
Flesh from the seal, and mantles from the bear.
Back with impatient rapture bounds the King,
   Smiling as he was wont to smile of yore;
While Gawaine, blithsome as a bird of spring,
  Sends his sweet laughter ringing to the shore;
Runs thro’ that maze of questions, “How and Why?”
And lost in joy stops never for reply.
Before the roved wild dogs too numb to bark,
   Led by one civilised, majestic hound,
Who scarcely deigned his followers to remark,
   Save, when they touched him, by a snarl profound.
Teaching that plebs, as history may my readers,
How curs are looked on by patrician leaders.
Now gained the huts, silent with drowsy life,
   That scarcely feels the quick restoring skill;
Trained with stern elements to wage the strife,
   The pigmy race and Nature’s conquerors still.
With practised hands they chafe the frozen veins,
And gradual loose the chill heart from its chains;
Heap round the limbs the fur’s thick warmth of fold,
    And gild with cheerful oil the leaden air,
Slow wake the eyes of Famine to behold
   The smiling faces and the proffered fare;
Rank tho’ the food, ‘t is that which best supplies
The powers exhausted by the withering skies.
This done, they next the languid sufferers bear,
   Wrapt from the cold, athwart the vapoury shade,
Regain the vale, and show the homes that there
   Art’s earliest god, Necessity, had made;
Abodes hewn out from winter, winter-proof,
Ice-blocks the walls, and hollowed ice the roof!
Without, the snowy lavas, hardening o’er,
   Hide from the beasts the buried homes of men,
But in the dome is placed the artful door
   Thro’ which the inmate gains or leaves the den.
Down thro’ the chasm each lowers the living load,
Then from the winter seals the pent abode.

There, ever burns, sole source of warmth and light,
   The faithful lamp the whale or walrus gives,
Thus, Lord of Europe, in the heart of Night,
   Unjoyous not, thy patient brother lives!
To thee desire, to him possession sent,
Thine worlds of wishes,—his that inch, Content!
But Gawaine’s home, more dainty than the rest,
   Betrayed his tastes exotic and luxurious,
The walls of ice in furry hangings drest
   Formed an apartment elegant if curious;
Like some gigantic son of Major Ursa
Turned inside out by barbarous vice versa.
Here then he lodged his royal guest and friend,
   And, having placed a slice of seal before him,
Quoth he, “Thou ask’st me for my tale, attend;
   Then give me thine: Heus renovo dolorem!
Therewith the usage villianous and rough,
Schemed in cold blood by that malignant chough;
The fraudful dinner—its dessert a wife;—
   The bridal roof with nose-assaulting glaive;
The oak whose leaves with pinching imps were rife;
   The atrocious trap into the Viking’s cave;
The chief obdurate in his crass idea
Of proving Freedom by a roast to Freya;
The graphic portrait of the Nuptial goddess;
   And diabolic if symbolic spit;
The hierarch’s heresy on types and bodies;
   And how at last he posed and silenced it;
All facts traced clearly to the corvus niger,
Were told with pathos that had touched a tiger.
So far the gentle sympathizing Nine
   In dulcet strains have sung Sir Gawaine’s woes;
What now remains they bid the historic line
   With Dorian dryness unadorned disclose;
Poets are formed to traverse earth and sky,
They who can walk not never yet could fly.
Along the beach Sir Gawaine and the hound
   Had roved all night, and at the dawn of day
Come unawares upon a squadron bound
   To fish for whales, arrested in a bay
For want of winds, which certain Norway hags
Had squeezed from Heaven and bottled up in bags.
Straight when the seamen, fretting on the shore,
   Behold a wanderer clad as Freya’s priest,
They rush, and round him kneeling, they implore
   The runes, by which the winds may be releast:
The spurious priest a gracious answer made,
And told them Freya sent him to their aid;
Bade them conduct himself and hound on board,
   And broil two portions of their choicest meat.
“The spell,” quoth he, “our sacred arts afford
   To free the wind, is in the food we eat;
We dine, and dining exorcise the witches,
And loose the bags from their infernal stitches.
“Haste then, my children, and dispel the wind;
   Haste, for the bags are awfully inflating!”
The ship is gained. Both priest and dog have dined;
   The crews assembled on the decks are waiting.
A heavier man arose the audacious priest,
And stately stepped he west and stately east;
Mutely invoked St. David and St. Brân
   To charge a stout north-western with their blessing;
Then cleared his throat and lustily began
   A howl of vowels huge from Taliessin.
Prone fell the crews before the thundering tunes,
In words like mountains rolled the enormous runes;
The excited hound, symphonious with the song,
   Yelled as if heaven and earth were rent asunder;
The rocks Orphèan seemed to dance along;
   The affrighted whales plunged waves afrighted under;
Polyphlosboian, onwards booming, bore
The deafening, strident, rauque, Homeric roar!
As lions lash themselves to louder ire,
   By his own song the knight sublimely stung
Caught the full œstro of the poet’s fire,
   And grew more stunning every note he sung:
In each dread blast a patriot’s soul exhales,
And Norway quakes before the storm of Wales.
Whether, as grateful Cymri should believe,
   That blatant voice heroic burst the bags,
For sure it might the caves of Boreas cleave,
   Much more the stitchwork of such losel hags—
Or heaven, on any terms, resolved on peace;
The wind sprung up before the Knight would cease.
Never again hath singer heard such praise
   As Gawaine heard; for never since hath song
Found out the secret how the wind to raise:—
   Around the charmer now the seamen throng,
And bribe his blest attendance on their toil,
With bales of bear-skin and with tuns of oil.

Well pleased to leave the inhospitable shores,
   The artful Knight yet slowly seemed to yield.—
Now thro’ the ocean plunge the brazen prores;
   They pass the threshold of the world congealed;
Surprise the snorting mammoths of the main;
And pile the desks with Pelions of the slain.
When, in the midmost harvest of the spoil,
   Pounce comes a storm unspeakably more hideous
Than that which drove upon the Lybian soil
  Anchises’ son the pious and perfidious,
When whooping Notus, as the Nine assure us,
Rushed out to play with Africus and Eurus.
Torn each from each, or down the maëlstrom whirled,
   Or grasped engulpht by the devouring sea,
Or on the ribs of hurrying icebergs hurled,
   The sundered vessels vanish momently.
Scarce thro’ the blasts which swept his own, Gawaine
Heard the crew shrieking “Chaunt the runes again!”
Far other thoughts engaged the prescient knight,
   Fast to a plank he lashed himself and hound;
Scarce done, ere, presto, shooting out of sight,
   The enormous eddy spun him round and round,
Along the deck a monstrous wave had poured,
Caught up the plank and tossed it overboard.
What of the ship became, saith history not.
   What of the man—the man himself shall show.
“Like stone from sling,” quoth Gawaine, “I was shot
   Into a ridge of what they call a floe,
There much amazed, but rescued from the waters,
Myself and hound took up our frigid quarters.
“Freed from the plank, drenched, spluttering, stunned, and bruised,
   We peered about us on the sweltering deep,
And seeing nought, and being much confused,
   Crept side by side and nestled into sleep.
The nearest kindred most avoid each other,
So to shun Death, we visited his brother.
“Awaked at last, we found the waves had stranded
   A store of waifs portentous and nefarious;
Here a dead whale was at my elbow landed,
   There a sick Polypus, that sea-Briareus,
Stretched out its claws to incorporate my corpus;
While howled the hound half buried by a porpoise.
“Nimbly I rose, disporpoising my friend;—
   Around me scattered lay more piteous wrecks,
With every wave the accursëd Tritons send
   Some sad memento of submergent decks,
Prows, rudders, casks, ropes, blubber, hides, and hooks,
Sailors, salt beef, tubs, cabin boys, and cooks.
“Graves on the dead, with pious care bestowed,
   (Graves in the ice hewn out with mickle pain
By axe and bill, which with the waifs had flowed
   To that strange shore) I next collect the gain;
Placed in a hollow cleft—and covered o’er;
Then knight and hound proceeded to explore.
“Far had we wandered, for the storm had joined
   To a great isle of ice, our friend the floe,
When as the day (three hours its length!) declined,
   Out brayed a roar; I stared around, and lo
A flight of dwarfs about the size of sea-moths,
Chased by two bears that might have eat behemoths!
“Armed with the axe the Tritons had ejected,
   I rushed to succour the Pigmæan nation,
In strife our valour, I have oft suspected,
   Proportions safety to intoxication,
As drunken men securely walk on walls
From which the wretch who keeps his senses falls;
“The blood mounts up, suffuses sight and brain;
   The Hercles vein herculeanates the form;
The rill when swollen swallows up a plain,
   The breeze runs mad before it blows a storm,
To do great deeds, first lose your wits,—then do them;
In fine—I burst upon the bears, and slew them.
“The dwarfs, delivered, kneel, and pull their noses;
   In tugs which mean to say ‘the Pigmy Nation
A vote of thanks respectfully proposes
  From all the noses of the corporation.’
Your Highness knows ‘Magister Artis Venter:
On signs for breakfast my replies concenter;
“Quick they conceive, and quick obey; the beasts
   Are skinned, and drawn, and quartered in a trice,
But Vulcan leaves Diana to the feasts,
   And not a wood-nymph consecrates the ice;
Bear is but so-so, when ‘t is cooked the best,—
But bear just skinned and perfectly undrest!
“Then I bethink me of the planks and casks
   Stowed in the cleft—for fuel quantum suff.:
I draw the dwarfs—sore-chattering, from their tasks,
   Choose out the morsels least obdurely tough;
With these I load the Pigmies—bid them follow—
Regain the haven, and review the hollow.
“But when those minnow-men beheld the whale
   It really was a spectacle affecting:
They shout, they sob, they leap—embrace the tail,
   Peep in the jaws; then, round me re-collecting,
Draw forth those noselings from their hiding places,
Which serve as public speakers to their faces.
“While I revolve what this salute may mean,
   They rush once more upon the poor balæna,
Clutch—rend—gnaw—bolt the blubber; but the lean
   Reject as drying to the duodena:
This done,—my broil they aid me to obtain,
And, while I eat—the noses go again.
“My tale is closed—the grateful pigmies lead
   Myself and hound across the ice defiles;
Regain their people and recite my deed,
   Describe the monsters and display the spoils;
With royal rank my feats the dwarfs repay,
And build the palace which you now survey.
“The vanquished bears are trophied on the wall;
   The oil you scent once floated in the whale;
I had a vision to illume the hall
   With lights less fragrant,—human hopes are frail!
With cares ingenious from the bruins’ fat,
I made some candles,—which the ladies ate.
“’Tis now your turn to tell the tale, Sir King,—
   And by the way our comrade, Lancelot?
I hope he found a raven in the ring!
   Monstrum horrendum!—Sire, I question not
That in your justice you have heard enough
When we get home—to crucify that chough.”

“Gawaine,” said Arthur, with his quiet smile,
  “Methinks thy heart will soon absolve the raven,
Thy friend had perished in this icy isle
   But for thy voyage to the Viking’s haven,
In every ill which gives thee such offence,
Thou see’st the raven, I the Providence!”
The knight reluctant shook his learned head;
   “So please you, Sire, you cannot find a thief
Who picks our pouch, but Providence hath led
   His steps to pick it;—yet, to my belief,
There’s not a judge who’d scruple to exhibit
That proof of Providence upon a gibbet.
“The chough was sent by Providence:—Agreed:
   Then send the chough to Providence, in turn!
Yet in the hound and not the chough, indeed,
   Your friendly sight should Providence discern;
For had the hound been just a whit less nimble,
Thanks to the chough, your friend had been a symbol.”
“Thy logic,” answered Arthur, “is unsound,
   But for the chough though never hadst been married;
But for the wife thou ne’er hadst seen the hound;—
   The Ab initio to the chough is carried:
The hound is but the effect—the chough the cause,”
The generous Gawaine murmured his applause.
Do veniam Corvo! Sire, the chough’s acquitted!”
   “For Lancelot next,” quoth Arthur, “be at ease,
The task fulfilled to which he was permitted,
   The ring veered home—I left him on the seas.
Ere this, be sure he hails the Cymrian shore,
And gives to Carduel one great bulwark more.”
Then Arthur told of fair Genevra flying
   From the scorned nuptials of the heathen fane;
Her runic bark to his emprize supplying
   The steed that bore him to the Northern main;
While she with cheek that blushed the prayer to tell,
Implored a Christian’s home in Carduel.

The gentle King well versed in woman’s heart,
  And all the vestal thoughts that tend its shrine,
On Lancelot smiled—and answered, “Maid, depart;
   Though o’er our roofs the thunder-clouds combine,
Yet love shall guard, whatever war betide,
The Saxon’s daughter—or the Cymrian's bride.”
A stately ship from glittering Spezia bore
   To Cymrian ports the lovers from the King;
Then on, the Seeker of the Shield, once more,
   With patient soul pursued the heavenly wing.
Wild tho’ that crew, his heart enthralls their own;—
The great are kings wherever they are thrown.
Nought of that mystery which the Spirit’s priest,
   True Love, draws round the aisles behind the veil,
Could Arthur bare to that light joyous breast,—
   Life hath its inward as its outward tale,
Our lips reveal our deeds,—our sufferings shun;
What we have felt, how few can tell to one!
The triple task—the sword not sought in vain,
   The shield yet hidden in the caves of Lok,
Of these spoke Arthur,—“Certes,” quoth Gawaine,
   When the King ceased—“strange legends of a rock
Where a fierce Dwarf doth guard a shield of light,
Oft have I heard my pigmy friends recite;
“Permit me now your royal limbs to wrap,
   In these warm relicts of departed bears;
And while from Morpheus you decoy a nap,
   My skill the grain shall gather from the tares.
The pigmy tongue my erudite pursuits
Have traced ad unguem to the nasal roots.”
The Wanderer sleeps—sleep all his ghastly crew;
   How long they know not, guess not—night and dawn
Long since commingled in one livid hue;
   Like that long twilight o’er the portals drawn,
Behind whose threshold spreads eternity:—
When the sleep burst, and sudden in the sky
Stands the great Sun!—As, on the desperate,—Hope,
   As Glory o’er the dead,—as Freedom on
Men who snap chains; or likest Truths that ope
   Life, in God's word, on charnels,—stands the Sun!
Ice still on earth—still vapour in the air,
But Light—the victor Lord—but Light is there!
On siege-worn cities, when their war is spent,
   From the far hill as, gleam on gleam, arise
The spears of some great aiding armament—
   Grow the dim splendours, broadening up the skies,
Till bright and brighter, the sublime array
Flings o’er the world the banners of the Day.
Behold them where they kneel; the starry King,
   The dwarfs of night, the giants of the sea;
Each with the other linked in solemn ring,
   Too blest for words!—Man’s severed Family,
All made akin once more beneath those eyes
Which on the first Man smiled in Paradise.