Morte D'Arthur: A Fragment
Notes to the [Heber] Morte D'Arthur
(1) King Arthur, according to his historian, Sir Thomas Malory, reigned in Britain about the beginning of the sixth century; he conquered Ireland, France, Denmark, and Norway, and was victorious in several expeditions against the Saracens, many of whom he forcibly coverted to Christianity. He instituted the order of the round table made by Merlin "in token of the roundness of the world." Hist. of Prince Arthur, Part II. chap. 50.
Traditionary traces of king Arthur, of the loves of his queen Guenever (or Ganora) and Sir Lancelot, with the adventures of the knights of the round table, are still to be found in Wales, and in parts of Shropshire.
(2) Sir Carados was the only knight of the round table who possessed a wife of fidelity sufficient to enable her to wear the enchanted mantle, and to wind the horn brought by a fairy to King Arthur's court.
(3) Sir Tristan, being wounded in battle with Sir Marhans of Ireland, who had unjustly demanded truage from his uncle, Sir Mark of Cornwall, was carried to Ireland, and there nursed by La beale Isonde (or Yseult) daughter to the king of that island. Some time after, Sir Mark, who was jealous of his nephew, sent him, on what was considered a dangerous embassage, to demand Isonde in marriage of her father. Sir Tristan successfully accomplished his mission, and set off with his uncle's destined bride to return to Cornwall. On their voyage they unfortunately drank of a love potion prepared by Isonde's mother to be given to Sir Mark on their wedding day. The consequence was "that by that their drink they loved each other so well that their love never departed from them for weal or woe." Hist. of Prince Arthur, Part I. chap. 24.
(4) Queen Guenever (or Ganora) was twice brought to the stake for treason, towards the latter end of Arthur's reign, and twice delivered by Sir Lancelot du Lac, who, on the second occasion, carried her off to his castle of Joyous Gard. Thither Arthur pursued her, and though Lancelot tried to persuade him to "take his queen into his good grace, for that she was both fair and just and true," he would not receive her again till, after the shedding of much knightly blood, the Pope issued a bull, "commanding him, upon pain of interdicting of all England, that he take his queen, dame Guenever, to him again, and accord with Sir Lancelot." Hist. of Prince Arthur, Part II. chap. 154.
On Arthur's death, Guenever retired into a nunnery at Almsbury, and Lancelot into a hermitage near Glastonbury.
(5) The Jews have a tradition that, before the creation of Eve, Adam was married to an aerial being named Lilith; to revenge his deserting her for an earthly rival, she is supposed to hover round the habitations of new married persons, showering down imprecations on their heads. The attendants on the bride spend the night in going round the house and uttering loud screams to frighten her away.
(6) It is related of Gyges that he descended into the earth, where he discovered a large horse made of brass; and within it the body of a man of gigantic stature, on whose finger was a brass ring. This ring possessed the power of making its wearer invisible, and with its assistance he gained access into the palace, murdered the king, whose throne he afterwards usurped, and married the queen.
(7) The Grayle, or Sancgreal, according to the original romance, was a vessel of gold, said to contain some of the blood of our Saviour, carried about by a fair maiden; besides its healing virtues, it possessed the property, into whatever castle it was brought, of "fulfilling the hall with great odours, and every knight had such meat and drink as he best loved in the world." It was invisible, as well as the damsel who bore it, to all but the "perfect man." The knights of the round table made a quest to find it out; but Sir Galahad, son of Sir Lancelot, was the only one of sufficient purity of life to be allowed to see it; after which "he kneeled down and made his prayers, and then suddenly his soul departed unto Jesus Christ, and a great multitude of angels bare his body up to Heaven, that his two fellows might behold it; also his two fellows saw come down from Heaven a hand, but they saw not the body, and then it came right to the vessel and took it, and so bare it to Heaven. Sithince was there never no man so hardy for to say that he had seen the Sancgreal." Hist. of Prince Arthur, Part II. chap. 103.
(8) Ryence was sovereign of North Wales; he overcame eleven valiant knights in battle, and caused their beards to be sewn on the edge of his mantle, in token of their doing him homage; he then sent a messenger for king Arthur's beard. "For king Ryence had perfected a mantle with kings beards, and there lacked for one place of the mantle, wherefore he sent for his beard, or else he would enter into his lands, and burn and slay, and never leave till he have thy head and beard." But Arthur was little accustomed to be taken by the beard, and returned an angry answer; on which Ryence prepared to enter Britain with a large army, when he was himself defated by the brothers Balin and Balan. Hist. of Prince Arthur -- Ed.
It was the blessed morn of Whitsuntide,
And Carduel echoed to the festive call,
And his shrill task the clear-voiced herald plied,
And shriller trumpet shook the castle wall.
Ye whom the world has wrong'd, whom men despise,
Who sadly wander through this vale of tears,
And lift in silent dread your wistful eyes
O'er the bleak wilderness of future years,
Where from the storm no sheltering bourn appears;
Whom genius, moody guide, has led astray,
And pride has mock'd, and want, with chilling fears,
Quench'd of each youthful hope the timid ray;
Yet envy not the great, yet envy not the gay!
Say, can the silken bed refreshment bring,
When from the restless spirit sleep retires;
Or, the sharp fever of the serpent's sting,
Pains it less shrewdly for his burnish'd spires?
Oh, worthless is the bliss the world admires,
And helpless whom the vulgar mightiest deem;
Tasteless fruition, impotent desires,
Pomp, pleasure, pride, how valueless ye seem
When the pour soul awakes, and find its life a dream!
And those, if such may ponder o'er my song,
Whose light heart bounds to pleasure's minstrelsy;
To whom the fairy realms of love belong;
And the gay motes of young prosperity,
Dance in thy sunshine and obscure thine eyes;
Suspect of earthly good the gilded snare,
When sorrow wreathes her brow with revelry,
And friendship's hollow smiles thy wreck prepare!
Alas! that demon forms should boast a mask so fair!
See'st thou yon flutterer in the summer sky,
Wild as thy glance, and graceful as thy form?
Yet lady, know, yon beauteous butterfly
Is parent of the loathsome canker-worm,
Whose restless tooth, worse than December's storm,
Shall mar thy woodbine bower with greedy rage. --
Fair was her face as thine, her heart as warm,
Whose antique story marks my simple page;
Yet luckless youth was her's, and sorrowful old age!
'Twas merry in the streets of Carduel,
When Pentecost renew'd her festive call,
And the loud trumpet's clang and louder bell
The moss-grown abbey shook, and banner'd wall;
And still from bow'r to mass, from mass to hall,
A sea of heads throughout the city flow'd;
And, rob'd in fur, in purple, and in pall,
Of knights and dames the gaudy pageant yode,
And conquering Arthur last, and young Ganora rode.
Still as they pass'd, from many a scaffold high,
And window lattice scatter'd roses flew,
And maidens, leaning from the balcony,
Bent their white necks the stranger bride to view,
Whom that same morn, or ere the sparkling dew
Had from his city's herb-strewn pavement fled,
A village maid, who rank nor splendour knew,
To Mary's aisle the conqueror's hand had led,
To deck her monarch's throne, to bless her monarch's bed.
Who then was joyful but the Logrian king?
Not that his hand a five-fold sceptre bore; (1)
Not that the Scandian raven's robber wing
Stoop'd to his dragon banner, and the shore
Of peopled Gallia, and where ocean hoar
Girds with his silver ring the island green
Of saints and heroes; not that paynim gore
Clung to his blade, and, first in danger seen
In many a forward fight his golden shield had been.
Nor warrior fame it was, nor kingly state
That swelled his heart, though in that thoughtful eye
And brow that might not, ev'n in mirth, abate
Its regal care and wonted majesty,
Unlike to love, a something seem'd to lie;
Yet love's ascendant planet rul'd the hour.
And as he gaz'd with lover's ecstacy,
And blended pride upon that beauteous flower,
Could fame, could empire vie with such a paramour?
For many a melting eye of deepest blue,
And many a form of goodliest mould were there,
And ivory necks and lips of coral hue,
And many an auburn braid of glossy hair.
But ill might all those gorgeous dames compare
With her in flowers and bridal white arrayed;
Was none so stately form nor face so fair
As hers, whose eyes, as mournful or afraid,
Were big with heavy tears, the trembling village maid.
Ye whoso list her dark and lucid eye,
And the pure witness of her cheek to read,
Might written mark in nature's registry,
That this fair rustic was not such indeed,
But high-born offspring of some ancient seed.
And, sooth, she was the heir of Carmelide,
And old Ladugan's blood, whose daring deed
With rebel gore Lancastrian meadows dyed,
Or ere that Uther's son his mightier aid supplied.
But, when the murd'rous Ryence' archer band
With broad destruction swept the Ribble side,
Ladugan forth from that devoted land,
His daughter sent, a smiling babe, to bide
Where Derwent's lonely mirror dark and wide
Reflects the dappled heaven and purple steep,
Unhonoured there, unown'd and undescried,
Till fate compelled her from her tended sheep,
In Arthur's kingly bower to wear a crown and weep.
There are who teach such crystal drops express
(So near is each extreme of joy or woe)
Alike, the burst of painful happiness,
And the still smart of misery's inward throe.
From man's perturbed soul alike they flow,
Where bitter doubt and recollected sorrow
Blend with the cup of bliss, and none can know
From human grief how short a space to borrow,
Or how the fairest eve may bring the darkest morrow.
Say, fared it thus with young Ganora's heart,
Did hope, did Hymen call the rapturous tear?
Or mourn'd perchance the village maid to part
From all the humble joys her heart held dear?
And, turning from that kingly front severe,
Roam'd her sad memory o'er each milder grace
Of him her earliest love, the forestere?
Ah lost for ever now! yet sweet to trace
The silver studded horn, green garb, and beardless face.
The chaunted anthem's heaven-ascending sound
Her spirit moved not with its sacred swell;
And, all in vain, from twenty steeples round
Crash'd with sonorous din the festive bell;
Upon her tranced ear in vain it fell;
As little mark'd she, that the monarch's tongue
Would oft of love in courtly whisper tell;
While from the castle bridge a minstrel throng,
To many a gilded harp attuned the nuptial song.
"Ah see," 'twas thus began the lovely day,
"The warrior-god hath laid his armour by,
And doft his deadly sword, awhile to play
In the dark radiance of Dione's eye;
Snar'd in her raven locks behold him lie,
And on her lap his dreadful head reclin'd;
May every knight such silken fetters try,
Such mutual bands may every lady bind!
How blest the soldier's life if love were always kind!
"Oh Goddess of the soul-entrancing zone,
Look down and mark a fairer Venus here,
Call'd from her hamlet to an empire's throne,
As meet of womankind the crown to wear,
And of a nobler Mars the consort dear!
Oh fairest, mildest, best, by heav'n design'd
With soothing smiles his kingly toil to cheer,
Still may thy dulcet chain the conqueror bind.
Sure earth itself were heav'n if love were always kind!"
So sang they till the gaudy train had past
The sullen entrance of that ancient tower,
Which o'er the trembling wave its shadow cast,
Grim monument of Rome's departed power.
That same, in Albion's tributary hour,
The Latian lords of earth had edified,
Which all unharm'd in many a martial stour,
Might endless as the stedfast hills abide,
Or as th'eternal stream that crept its base beside.
And Arthur here had fix'd his kingly see,
And hither had he borne his destin'd bride,
Amid those civil storms secure to be
That rock'd the troublous land on every side.
For not the fell balista, bristling wide
With barbed death, or whirling rocks afar,
Nor ought by that Trinacrian artist tried,
To save his leagured town such strength could mar.
How easy then to mock the barbarous Saxon war.
Austere and stern, a warrior front it wore,
The long dim entrance to that palace pile,
And crisped moss, and lichen ever hoar,
Trail'd their moist tresses in the portal aisle.
But, past the gate, like some rude veteran's smile,
Kindly, though dark, a milder grace it show'd;
And music shook the courts, and all the while
Fair stripling youth's along the steepy road,
Fresh flowers before their feet and myrtle branches strew'd.
By them they pass, and now the giant hall
Bids to the train its oaken valves unfold,
From whose high raftered roof and arched wall,
Five hundred pennons, prize of war, unroll'd.
In various silk display'd and waving gold,
The armories of many a conquer'd knight;
And some of Arthur's sword the fortune told,
Of Gawain some, but most were redde aright,
"These Lancelot du Lake achiev'd in open fight."
Here might I sing (what many a bard has sung)
Each gorgeous usage of that kingly hall;
How harp, and voice, and clashing goblet rung,
Of page and herald, bard and seneschall.
But antique times were rude and homely all;
And ill might Arthur's nuptial banquet vie,
With their's who nature's kindly fruits forestall,
And brave the seas for frantic gluttony,
And every various bane of every clime supply.
Nor car'd the king, a soldier tried and true,
For such vain pamp'ring of impure delight.
His toys, his gauds were all of manlier hue,
Swift steeds, keen dogs, sharp swords, and armour bright;
Yet wanted nought that well became a knight
Of seemly pomp; the floor with rushes green,
And smooth bright board with plenteous viands dight,
That scant the load might bear, though well be seen
With ribs and rafters strong, and pond'rous oak between.
And shame it were to pass the warrior state
Of those, the favour'd few, whose table round,
Fast by their sovereign and his beauteous mate,
Apart from all the subject train, was crown'd,
Whose manly locks with laurel wreaths were bound,
And ermine wrapt their limbs; yet on the wall
Their helms, and spears, and painted shields were found,
And mails, and gilded greaves, at danger's call,
Aye prompt for needful use whatever chance might fall.
And bounded high the monarch's heart of pride,
Who gaz'd exulting on that noble crew;
And, leaning to his silent spouse, he cried,
"Seest though, Ganore, thy band of liegemen true?
Lo, these are they whose fame the liquid blue
Of upper air transcends; nor lives there one
Of all who gaze on Phœbus' golden hue,
From earth's cold circle to the burning zone,
To whom of Arthur's knights the toil remains unknown.
"Yes, mark him well, the chief whose auburn hair
So crisply curls above his hazel eye;
And parted, leaves the manly forehead bare.
That same is Gawain, flower of courtesy;
Yet few with him in listed field may vie.
Gahriet the next, in blood the next and might;
And Carados whose lady's loyalty
The mantle gained and horn of silver bright; (2)
And stout Sir Kay, stout heart, but not so strong in fight.
"But he, the best of all and bravest peer,
That drinks this hour the crystal air of day;
The most renowned and to me most dear,
As ill befalls, is journeyed far away,
A strange and stern adventure to essay,
Whom heav'n defend, and to his friend's embrace
Again resistless Lancelot convey!"
So spake the king, and more his words to grace,
An unsuspected tear stole down his manly face.
To whom with faltering voice Ganora spake
"Oh happy knights of such a king," she said,
"And hapy king for whose revered sake
So valiant knights unsheathe the deadly blade!
And worthless I, an untaught village maid,
In Arthur's court to fill the envied throne,
Who meeter far in russet weeds arrayed,
Had fed my flock on Skiddaw's summit lone,
Unknowing of mankind and by mankind unknown."
The monarch smil'd, a proud protecting smile,
That spoke her lovelier for her lowliness;
And, bending from his loftier seat the while,
Hung o'er her heaving form, yet ill could guess
What terror strove within, what deep distress
Rose in her painful throat, while struggling there,
A stronger awe the sob would fain repress;
Nor other cause he sought than maiden fear
To chill the shrinking hand, to call the trickling tear.
"Mine own Ganore!" he said, "my gentle maid!
Oh deem not of thyself unworthily;
By charms like thine a king were well repaid,
Who yielded up for love his royalty.
And heroes old, and they that rule the sky,
Have sought in lowly cot, as fables tell,
A purer love than gems or gold can buy,
And beauty oftener found in mountain cell,
Than with the lofty dames in regal court who dwell.
"Go, ask the noblest of my knightly power,
Ask of Sir Lancelot what secret pain
So oft hath drawn him forth at twilight hour,
To woods and wilds, his absent love to plain,
Whom many a courtly fair hath sought in vain?
Oh, he will tell thee that the green wood tree
Recalls the hour of happier youth again,
When blithe he wont to range the forest free,
With her, his earliest choice, the maid of low degree."
He ceas'd, to whom the maiden nought replied,
But in the patience of her misery
Possess'd her secret soul, and inly sigh'd.
"Why ponder thus on what no more may be?
Why think on him who never thinks on thee?
For now seven autumns have with changing hue
Embrown'd the verdure of our trysting tree,
Since that shrill horn the wonted signal blew,
Or that swift foot was heard brushing the twilight dew.
"Then rouse thee yet thy silent griefs to bear,
And rein the troublous thoughts so far that rove:
Faithless or dead, he little needs thy care;
And ill such thoughts a wedded wife behove;
Then turn to him who claims thy plighted love;
Nor weeping thus, thine inward shame confess,
Whom knightly worth nor regal state may move;
Nor he whom Albion's sister islands bless,
Can tame thy stubborn grief and minion frowardness!"
So sadly pass'd the festal eve away,
While at each courteous word her bosom bled,
And every glance her heart could ill repay,
Through the chill conscience like a dagger sped.
Yet still with secret prayer her soul she fed,
And burst with holier thoughts each inward snare,
Which, in that wither'd heart, where hope was dead,
Yet hopeless passion wove, and darkest there,
The dreadful whisper crept of comfortless despair.
And softer seem'd her silent grief to flow,
And sweeter far her unrestrained tear,
While soft and sweet, a tale of tender woe
Iöla wove, the bard, whose harp to hear
Ev'n the rude warder, leaning on his spear,
Press'd to the further door; and squire, and knight,
And lingering pages on those accents dear,
Paus'd round th' unserv'd board; and ladies bright,
Breathless, with lips unclos'd, drank in the wild delight.
A strange and melancholy tale it was,
"Of one who, for a tyrant uncle's right
Lay bleeding, breathless, on the crimson grass,
All vainly victor in th' unequal fight;
And who is she whose hands of lily white,
Too beauteous leech! his festering hurt would bind?
Ah, fly thee, princess, from the Cornish knight,
Who, now preserv'd, a sorer fate must find,
By guilt, and late remorse, and hopeless passion pin'd.
"Yet pleasant was the dawn of early love,
And sweet the fairy bowl of magic power! (3)
But following mists the early heat reprove,
And April frosts abash the timid flower.
Behold him now at midnight's harmful hour,
His pale cheek pillow'd on his trembling knees,
Whose frantic brain rejects the sheltering bower,
Whose parch'd bosom woos the autumnal breeze,
And whose poor broken heart sighs with the sighing trees.
"Ah, sweet it seem'd when, through the livelong day,
'Mid tall Iërne's forest dark and wide,
In hunter garb he took his tireless way,
Love in his breast and Yseult at his side!
Gone are those days! Oh Yseult oft he cried,
Relentless Yseult, beauteous enemy!
May happier fate thy gentle life betide,
Nor ever may'st thou waste a tear on me.,
Nor guess the nameless tomb of him who pin'd for thee!
"And Lancelot! (for, lordlings well ye know
How Tristan aye to Lancelot was dear)
Sir Lancelot! he sung, of all below
The best, the bravest, and the worthiest peer!
To thee my helm I leave, and shield and spear,
That not from harm their wretched lord might save.
Yet noblest friend my last petition hear,
By thine own secret love a boon I crave,
Defend mine Yseult's fame when I am laid in grave."
Here ceas'd the harp; but o'er its trembling chord
In silent grief the minstrel's sorrow fell,
And silence hush'd the throng where all deplor'd
The recent woes of knight who loved so well,
And most had known the heir of Lionelle;
And sweet it seem'd for other's woe to weep
To her whose secret anquish none could tell;
Yet nigh such strain could lull her pangs to sleep;
And now the star of eve beam'd o'er the twilight deep,
When, in that sober light and sadness still,
Arose a maddening hubbub hoarse and rude,
Like hunters on the brow of dewy hill,
And panting deer by nearer hounds pursued:
And a cold shudder thrill'd the multitude,
As, at the breath of that mysterious horn,
Each with inquiring gaze his neighbour view'd,
For never peal on woodland echoes borne,
So ghastly and so shrill awoke the spangled morn.
At once the steely bars in twain were rent;
At once the oaken valves asunder flew;
And warrior breasts, in iron corslets pent,
Their tighten'd breath with painful effort drew;
For louder, louder far the tumult grew,
That earth's firm planet quaked at the din,
And the thick air assumed a browner hue,
Such as on Nilus' bank hath whilom bin,
When Amram's mighty son rebuk'd the tyrant's sin.
And through the portal arch that open'd wide
(How came she or from whence no thought could tell)
The wedding guests with fearful wonder eyed,
A hind of loveliest mould, whose snowy fell
Was dyed, alas! with dolorous vermeill.
For down her ruffled flank the current red,
From many a wound issued in fatal well,
As staggering faint with feeble haste she sped,
And on Ganora's head reclined her piteous head.
With claws of molten brass, and eyes of flame,
A grisly troop of hell hounds thronging near,
And on her foamy steed a damsel came,
A damsel fair to see, whose maiden cheer
But ill beseem'd the ruthless hunting spear;
Whose golden locks in silken net were twin'd,
And pure as heaving snow her bosom dear;
Yet ceas'd she not that dreadful horn to wind,
And strain'd a quivering dart for fatal use design'd.
Reckless of loathed life, and free from stain
Of deep transgression, could Ganora fear!
Forlorn herself, she felt for other's pain,
And cast her shelt'ring robe around the deer.
To whom that magic maid, with brow severe
And glaring eye, "Oh, doom'd to lasting woe,
Waste not, unhappy queen, thy pity here,
Nor bid my righteous rage its prey forego,
Who keener pangs thyself, Ganora, soon shall know!
"Poor wither'd heart, that hid'st from human eye
The bitter secret of thine inward wound,
Go, doff the cumbrous garb of royalty,
And seek betimes the cloister's sacred bound!
Ah, warn'd in vain! I hear the clarion sound;
Rings to the charger's tread the shadowy glen;
For thee, for thee, the guarded list is crown'd;
For thee, dark treason quits her snaky den;
The battle's roar resounds for thee, and groans of mangled men.
"Heap high the wood, and bid the flames aspire!
Bind her long tresses to th' accurs'd tree!
A queen, a queen must feed the funeral fire!
Ah, hope not thou, though lvove shall set thee free,
With that restored love in peace to be. (4)
And shall my country bend her aweful head
To lick the bitter dust of slavery?
Illustrious isle! is all thy glory fled?
How soon thy knightly boast is number'd with the dead!
"Yet art thou safe, and Arthur's throne may stand."
(Down from the lofty saddle, bending low,
The dart she proffer'd to Ganora's hand;)
"Nay, shrink not, maiden from the needful blow,
Nor spare in yonder hind, thy fiercest foe,
Whose secret hate from forth her dark recess,
Besets thy guiltless life with snares of woe.
Take, take the steel! thy wrongs and mine redress!
Mercy were impious here! -- be strong, be merciless!"
Giddy and faint, unknowing where she was,
Or if, indeed, were sooth that ghastly view,
Pale as some wintry lake, whose frozen glass
Steals from the snow clad heaven a paler hue,
Ganora sate: but still, to pity true,
Her milk-white arms around the quarry spread,
Then rais'd to heaven her eyes of mildest blue,
And to her cheek return'd a dawing red,
As, with collected soul, she bow'd herself and said:--
"And I can suffer! let the storm descend;
Let on this helpless head the thunder break;
Yet, exercis'd in grief, yet, God to friend,
I can endure the worst for mercy's sake!
No, wretched suppliant!" to the hind she spake
That lick'd her hand, and with large tearful eye
Dwelt on her gentle face; "thy fears forsake!
Be thou my friend, I doom thee not to die,
And thy mute love shall cheer my joyless royalty."
"Have , then, thy wish!" the spectre damsel cried,
And call'd her dogs, and wheel'd her courser round,
And with the javelin smote his quivering side;
When, swifter than the rocket's fiery bound,
Aloft they sprang, huntress, and horse, and hound,
And, dimly mixing with the horizon grey,
Fled like a winged dream, yet traces found
Of gore and talons told their recent way;
And still before the queen that wounded quarry lay.
How fares the knightly court of Carduel?
How fares the wedding guests and warrior throng,
Where all conspir'd the nuptial mirth to swell,
The dance, the feast, the laugh, the wine, the song?
Oh they are silent all! the nimble tongue
Of him, whose craft, by motley kirtle known,
Had graver wits, with seeming folly stung;
The vaunting soldier and the simp'ring crone,
And breath'd in beauty's ear the sighs of softest tone.
As on who, stretch'd upon a battle field,
Looks to the foeman's hand who laid him low,
And, with faint effort, rears his broken shield,
And dreads, where needeth none, a second blow.
Or, likest him who, where the surges flow
Bares the bleak surface of some wave-beat steep,
A shipwreck'd man, expects in breathless woe,
Till the returning wave, with giant sweep,
Unlock his desperate hold, and whelm him in the deep.
So blended fears, the future and the past,
The past yet seen by terror's glazed eye,
That, tearless still and wild, those phantoms traced,
Peopling the twilight's dismal vacancy
With fancied shapes, and shades of fiendish dye;
The future wildest, darkest, unexpress'd,
Danger untried, unfancied agony,
In the mute language of dismay confess'd,
Thrill'd in the bristling hair, throbb'd in th' expanded breast.
Sternly the monarch rose, and o'er his brow
A horrent pang of dark anxiety
Shot like the stormy shadow, scudding low
Along the surface of the purple sea.
A smile succeeded. Not to mine or me,
Be that portentous smile of hate and scorn,
Which each strong furrow, stronger made to be,
By toil, and care, and ruthless passion worn,
And recollected guilt of youth's tempestuous morn!
"Sister!" he spake, (half utter'd, half repress'd,
From his shut teeth the sullen accents stole;)
"And deem'st thou, sister, that thine arts unblest
Can tame the settled bent of Arthur's soul?
No; let the stars their fiery circles roll;
Let dreams of woe disturb the prophet's breast;
Can these, or those, the warrior's will controul?
'Tis chance, 'tis error all! -- Oh, trusted best!
Be thou mine omen, sword! I reck not of the rest!"
The wedded pair to their chamber gone,
While minstrel sounds of breath, and beat, and string,
Pour on the dewy breeze their blended tone;
And wreathed maidens, link'd in jocund ring,
"Hymen" around them, "Io Hymen" sing.
So, trampling roses in their path, they sped
The veiled bride and the triumphant king,
A festal glare while hundred torches shed,
Tinging the check of night with all unwonted red.
Blest is the midnight of the cradled boy,
Along whose dimply cheek, in slumbers mild,
The warm smile basks of visionary joy!
And blest is she, who by her sleeping child
Has the long hours in watchful love beguil'd;
And blest the weary man whose wistful eyes
From his tall frigate scan the ocean wide,
When the fair beacon paints the ruddy skies,
And on his tearful heart the thoughts of home arise.
And dear to faithful love that lovely hour,
And dear to him beyond the beam of day,
Who tracks the footsteps of eternal power,
Where the broad heavens their starry map display.
Guilt, only guilt, detests the silent ray
Of that soul-searching moon, whose lustre sad
Restores neglected conscience to her sway,
And bitter memory of all things bad,
In crowds forgotten erst, or drown'd in revel mad.
The harp was silent, and the tapers' light
Had faded from the walls of Carduel,
Which late, through many a window's lattic'd height,
On the dark wave in fitful lustre fell:
And far and faintly pealed the drowsy bell
That wakes the convent to unwilling prayer;
When she, that seeming hind of snowy fell,
Erect upstarted from her secret lair,
Erect, in awful grace, a woman goodly fair.
Dark o'er her neck the glossy curls descending
Half hid and half reveal'd her ivory breast;
And dark those eyes, where pride with sorrow blending,
Of hate and ruth a mingled tale confest.
Her wreath was nightshade, and her sable vest
All spangled o'er with magic imagery,
In tighter fold her stately form exprest,
As when the empress of the silent sky
Explores her sleeping love on Latmos' summit high.
Or likest her whose melancholy feet
In Stygian valleys wander lonelily,
Singing sad airs, and culling flowers sweet,
(Yet sweeter flowers in Enna wont to be)
Daughter of Ceres, sad Persephone!
Oh, not of hell the adamantine throne
Nor golden bow from Acherusian tree,
Can for the balmy breeze of heaven atone,
Or match the common light of earth's supernal zone!
So sad, so beautiful, so sternly bright,
Skimming the silent air with magic treat,
And fairer seen beneath the fair moonlight,
That elfin lady stood by Arthur's bed.
A tear, in spite of strong disdain, she shed:
One little tear, as o'er the sleeping twain
Her dark eye glanc'd; then, with averted head,
"Ye whom I serve forgive this transient pain;
I little thought," she sighed, that Morgue would weep again.
Again she gaz'd, again a softer dew
Dimm'd of her lucid eye the fiery ray,
As sad remembrance waken'd at the view
Of those who wrapt in dewy slumber lay.
Nor could the Chian's mimic art display
A goodlier pair; yet did Ganora's cheek
A hectic flush unlike to joy display;
And from her half clos'd lips, in accent weak,
Would ever and anon a mournful murmur break.
"Oh brother once most dear," the fairy said,
"A little while sleep on, a little while
On that warm breast pillow thy careless head,
And bless thy waking eyes with beauty's smile.
But danger hovers near, and thorny guile
And jealous love that borders close on hate,
And angry doubt in impotent turmoil,
Whose murderous purpose not for proof shall wait,
With following sorrow join'd and penitence too late!
"And thou, poor victim of another's crime,
Hell knows I hate not thee, -- thy simple breast
Sought not to so sad eminence to climb!
Yet can I bear to see Ganora blest.
Who blesses him my foe? Oh dire unrest!
Oh Morgue condemn'd with frustrate hope to groan!
I sought to lure her from her cottage nest;
I sought to plant her on an empire's throne;
I sought and I obtain'd; would it were all undone!
"For this, alas, I watch'd those opening charms,
In the cool covert of her native grove;
And with a mother's hope, for Modred's arms
Foredoom'd Ganora's crown compelling love!
Now shall that spell-bound life a bulwark prove
To Arthur's reign! Ah me, whose feeble power
In fate's perplexing maze with Merlin strove,
And with my rival of the watery bower,
Of that too potent Mage the elfin paramour!
"What yet remains? -- to blast with mutter'd spell
The budding promise of their nuptial bed;
Of jealous doubt to wake the inward hell,
And evil hopes of wandering fancy bred!"
She spake and from her dewy chaplet shed
Pernicious moisture o'er each dewy limb,
And such strange words of imprecataion said,
That Heav'n's own everburning lamp grew dim,
And shudd'ring ceas'd awhile the saints' triumphal hymn.
But all in vain o'er young Ganora's breast,
Guarded by prayer, the demon whisper stole;
Sorrow, not sin disturb'd that tranquil rest;
Yet 'gan her teeth to grind and eyes to roll,
As troublous visions shook her sleeping soul;
And scalding drops of agony bedew'd
Her feverish brow more hot than burning coal.
Whom with malignant smile the fairy viewed
And through the unopen'd door her nightly track pursued.
Like as that evil dame whose sullen spell,
To love dire omen, and to love's delight,
(If all be sooth that ancient rabbins tell,)
With death and danger haunts the nuptial night,
Since Adam first her airy charms could slight;
Her Judah's daughters scare with thrilling cry,
Lilith! fell Lilith! from her viewless flight,
What time with flowers their jetty locks they tye,
And swell the midnight dance with amorous harmony. (5)
With slope flight winnowing the winds of Heaven,
So sped king Uther's child, till her dark eye
Glanc'd on a stately knight, whose steps uneven
And folded arms might inward grief imply,
Or love's wild sting, or cankered jealousy.
Above whose lucid mail and shoulders strong,
The furred mantle flowed of royalty,
And, coil'd around his crest, a dragon long
Upwreath'd its golden spires the wavy plumes among.
Alone he pac'd, from all the band afar
Who kept with equal watch their sovereign's bower.
Alone, with gloomy mien and visage bare,
Courting the cool breeze of that early hour.
Of sterner eye than Arthur's, and the flower
Of youth as yet on his dark features glowed;
Yet seem'd like Arthur's brows his brows to lower;
The same of giant height his stature show'd,
His raven locks the same, but not with silver strow'd.
"Modred!" in accent low and bending near,
"Modred, my son!" the beauteous fairy said,
"Ah, wherefore, at my voice that glance severe,
And that dear cheek suffus'd with angry red?
Yes, I deserve thy frown, thy mother's head,
Child of my pangs, thy keenest curse shall bear,
Who with warm hope thy young ambition fed,
And weav'd the secret spell with nightly care,
Vain hopes, and empty spells to win thy promised fair!"
"And com'st thou yet, mother unfortunate!
To mock with dreams of transport and of power
My gloomy path, whom, with a common hate,
Since first thy shame disgraced my natal hour,
Of Heaven the curses, and of hell devour!
What spell-bound virgin may thy charms pursue?
What hovering diadems in golden shower,
Shall mock mine oft-defeated hopes anew?"
He ceas'd, and o'er his eyes his hollow beaver drew.
To whom, deep sighing, Uther's daughter spake,
"Ah, never more may mother hope to find,
Who weeps and watches for her infant's sake,
The boy obedient, or the warrior kind!
Our toil, our hope is their's, our heart, our mind;
For them we meditate, for them we pray;
The soul for them in sinful chain we bind;
And for their weal we cast our own away;
Yet when did filial love a parent's grief repay?
"O thou, for whom of mortal things alone,
Unthankful as thou art, yet ever dear,
My soul bends downwards from its cloudy zone,
And on mine elfin cheek a mortal tear
Warm lingering, tells me of the times that were!
Accursed for whose sake, my restless wing
And more than mother's pangs condemn'd to bear,
(Till time and fate mine hour of torment bring,)
Circles the arch of Heaven in melancholy ring!
"My Son! by all I feel, by all I dread,
If either parent's fate thy sorrow move,
(A father slain, a mother worse than dead,)
Grudge not the little payment of thy love!
Nor scorn my power! though spell unfaithful prove,
Though Merlin's mightier skill my hope have crost,
Yet not the fiends below, nor saints above,
Nor elfin tribes in airy tempest tost,
Can tame my steadfast will. All, Modred, is not lost!"
"Then tell me," cried the youth, "who was my sire,
And wherefore thou, estranged from mortal clay,
Bearest so dark a doom of penal fire,
A wretched wanderer on Heaven's high way,
Once Albion's princess, now an elfin grey?
Too long thou tirest with boding saws my breast,
Mocking thy son with phantoms of dismay,
Whose ardent soul by feverish doubt opprest,
Burns o'er the unfinish'd tale, and longs to hear the rest."
The fairy grasp'd his mailed hand, and led
Where the deep waters rolling silently,
Beneath the western gate their mirror spread,
And on the giant walls and arches high,
A lonely horror sate continually.
No warder there with beacon flaming bright,
Needed with weary pace his watch to ply,
But cold and calm the sinking stars of night,
Played on the rippling wave with ineffectual light.
There, where adown the solitary steep,
With fox-glove twin'd, and mosses silver grey,
A tricking runnel seem'd the fate to weep
Of one whose rustic tomb beside it lay,
That lovely sorceress bent her mournful way;
And gathering strength -- "Behold the honours here
Bestowed by Arthur on thy parent's clay!
Behold! forgive my boy this coward tear;
Blood, blood alone should soothe the ghost who wanders near!
"He, when of downy youth the vernal light
Play'd on thy mother's cheek, now wan with care,
And many a peer of fame, and many a knight,
To Britain's princess pour'd the tender prayer,
He, only he, the valiant and the fair,
TO this weak heart an easy entrance found;
And humble squire; but not an empire's heir
Could vie with Paladore on listed ground;
With every manly grace, and every virtue crowned.
"Oh days of bliss, oh hope chastized by fear,
When on my lap reclined the careless boy,
Chid my faint sighs, and kiss'd my falling tear!
He knew not, he, what bitter doubts annoy
Of unpermitted love the trembling joy;
He knew not till my mother's thirsty blade
Flash'd o'er his head, impetuous to destroy.
I clasp'd the tyrant's knees, I wept, I pray'd;
Oh God, on Arthur's soul be all my griefs repay'd!
"When from a trance of senseless agony
I woke to keener pangs, by frenzy stung,
Reckless of Arthur's late repentant cry,
Fire in my brain and curses on my tongue,
From yonder cliff my wretched frame I flung;
Alas, th'enchanted wind my weight upbore,
While in mine ears an elvish chorus rung,
-- 'Come kindred spirit to our cloudy shore!
With fays, thyself a fay, come wander evermore!'
"Since, on the rolling clouds or ocean blue,
Or mid the secrets of our nether sphere,
The goblin leader of a goblin crew,
I wander wide; but ill may mortal ear
Of fairy land the mystic revels hear!
Short be my tale! one earthly thing alone,
One helpless infant to my heart was dear,
Bright in whose eyes his either parent shone;
Rear'd by their pitying foe, my son, my blessed son!"
She ceas'd, and round his linked hauberk threw
Her mother arms, and on his iron breast
(The rough mail moistening with tender dew)
A kiss, the seal of bitter love, imprest.
He, stern and dark, no kindly glow confest,
With face averted and with frozen eye,
Where softer passion never dared to rest,
But cunning seem'd with sullen pride to vie,
Calm, calculating hate, and damned cruelty.
"How have I train'd thee, with what potent charms
My magic care thy tender frame imbued,
How nurs'd thy youth for empire and for arms,
And how in Derwent's mountain solitude
I reared thy destined bride," the fay pursued,
"And what strange chance o'erthrew mine airy skill,
Alas, thou know'st it all! yet to delude
The force we cannot stem is triumph still,
And from reluctant fate t' extort our good or ill.
"Oh earth! how many wonders wonderful,
In thy large lap and parent bosom lie,
Which whoso knows (few know them all) to cull,
May drag the struggling planets from on high,
And turn the land to sea, the sea to dry;
Yea, not man's will, by God created free,
Can match their strange mysterious potency,
Nor love nor hate so firmly fixed be,
But love must yield and hate to magic's dark decree.
"A ring there is of perfect diamond stone,
Such as no mining slave is trained to seek,
Nor Soldan numbers on his orient throne,
Nor diving Ethiop from his sultry creek
Has borne so rich a prize; for who shall speak
What unseen virtue in its orbit dwell?
Press it, the fiends attend in homage meek;
Turn it, the bearer walks invisible;
Ah who the hidden force of smallest things may tell?
"That same to one of regal race I lent,
Who now perforce must render back the prize,
For of his stars the danger imminent,
And guiltless blood loud crying to the skies
Alarm all hell; do thou as I desire;
This self-same morn depart for Scottish land,
There Urgan seek, king Pellea's uncle wise,
And bid him yield to thy deputed hand
That ring of diamond stone, for such is Morgue's command
"Have we not heard how shepherd Gyges bare,
By like deceit from old Candaule's bed,
In naked beauty seen, the Lydian fair,
And kingly circle from his dotard hand
Thenceforth himself a king?" (6) "No more!" he said --
"Mother, no more! or ere the sun's bright round
Have tinged yon eastern cloud with lively red,
My fiery steed shall paw the spangled ground,
And on the Cattraeth's side my clashing arms resound."
Like as the hawk from hidden durance free
Springs from the falc'ner's wrist, the eager knight,
His dark cheek warm with savage ecstacy,
Burst from his parent's hold. She with delight
His warrior mien beheld and giant height,
Awhile beheld, then, rapt in mist away,
Back to the bridal turret bend her flight,
There closely couch'd amid the rushes grey,
O power of wicked spells! -- a seeming hind she lay.
By this the fiery wheeled charioteer
Had raised above the fringed hills his head,
And o'er the skies in molten amber clear
A flood of life and liquid beauty shed,
When sun-like, rising from his fragrant bed,
All glorious in his bliss, the bridegroom king
Pass'd to the common hall, and with him led,
Blushing and beauteous as that morn of spring,
The fair fore-doomed cause of Albion's sorrowing.
The mass was ended, and the silver tone
Of shawm and trumpet bade the courtier crew
In martial pastime round their monarch's throne,
That livelong day their mimic strife pursue,
As each the thirst of various pleasure drew;
Some launched the glossy bowl in alleys green,
Some the stiff bar with sturdy sinews threw,
Some in bright arms and wavy plumage seen,
Wielded the quivering lance the guarded lists between.
So was there mirth in stately Carduel,
Till in the midst a stranger dame was seen,
Whose snowy veil in graceful wimple fell,
Above the sable garb of velvet sheen;
Als in her hand, of metal deadly keen,
A sheathed sword and studded belt she bare.
Golden the hilt, the sheath of silver clean,
Whose polish'd mirror back reflected fair
Her cheeks of vermeil tinge, her auburn length of hair.
Stately she rode along, and keen her eye
That scann'd with eager glance that warrior crew;
Yet was her blush so meek and maidenly,
That never village lass in apron blue
With purer roses caught the passing view.
Stately she rode along, and in her train,
With floating locks and beards of silver hue,
Two goodly squires, array'd in mourning grain,
On either side controul'd her palfrey's silken rein.
Like as that lovely month to lovers dear,
Unlocks the green bud on the scented spray,
And laps in freshest flowers the tender year,
And tunes the songs of nature, -- blessed May;
Such was the joy this damsel to survey.
But that deceitful hind who by the bride,
Licking her hand, in treacherous fondness lay,
Arose and skulking to the farther side
In guilty darkness sought her harmful head to hide.
Alighting from her steed, some little space
Propt on that antique sword the maiden leant;
While silence gave her blushing cheek more grace,
And her warm tears touchingly eloquent,
Through warrior hearts a pleasing anguish sent.
Then, with collected voice she told her grief,
Of bitter wrong, and treason imminent
Done to her kindred by a Scottish chief,
'Gainst whom, at Arthur's court, she, suppliant, sought relief,
Her lands he wasted, and with tortuous wrong
Herself had banish'd from her native right;
A felon warrior, neither bold nor strong,
But safe and reckless of all human might
By charms impregnable and magic slight.
"For, as some evil thought, he walks unseen
Scattering around in murderous despite,
From viewless bow his arrows deadly keen,
That strength and courage fail t' oppose so fatal teen."
"Alas," said Arthur, "and can mortal wight
With trenchant steel a viewless life invade,
Or probe with dagger point his pall of night?"
"Who," she replied, "can draw this charmed blade,
Worn by my sire, on him my doom is laid.
But now seven years through many a distant land,
Patient of ill, my weary course has stray'd,
Nor knight is found so brave whose stainless hand
Can from its burnished sheath unlock my fatal brand."
She ceas'd, and through the crowded fort there spread
A deep hoarse murmur, as th' autumnal sound
In hazel bower, when Sherwood's rustling head
Shakes in the blast, and o'er the dusty ground,
And in mid sky the falling leaves abound.
Beneath her bramble screen the crouching hare
Erects her ears, and quaking as astound,
Shrinks from the breath of that inclement air,
And the fast driving sleet that strips the branches bare.
Then sudden from a hundred tongues arose
Harsh words and high, and hand to hilt was laid
And taunt and threat portended deadly blows,
Each claming for himself that charmed blade,
And envied guidance of the noble maid.
But Arthur, rising from his gilded throne,
"Back on your lives, presumptuous subjects!" said
"For this adventure I resign to none,
Not Lancelot himself, of knights the paragon!"
Awed, yet reluctant, back the crowd withdrew
While Arthur from the maid her sword required,
And poising in his hands with curious view,
Its antique frame and massy weight admired.
Then, bending low, with gripple might desired
Forth from its silver sheath the blade to strain,
Which, following for a space, again retired,
Mocking with magic sleight his fruitless pain;
Seven times the king essay'd, seven times essay'd in vain.
As some stout churl by sinewy toil embrown'd,
Foiled by a stranger in the wrestler's play
Arises, mourning, from the plashy ground
His batter'd limbs and face deformed with clay,
And cursing oft that luckless holiday;
So Arthur back the charmed steel restor'd,
And turn'd with sullen scowl his eyes away,
As many a knight of fame, and warlike lord
In long succession strove to drag that fatal sword.
But not Sir Carados thine iron arm,
Nor Kay's stout heart and vaunted pedigree,
Nor Gahriet's youthful grace could break the charm,
Nor Gawain's force, and faith, and courage free;
Though when he strove, the knight of courtesy,
The conscious sword awhile his hand obey'd,
That men a span's length of its edge might see,
As sunbeam radiant, and with gold inlaid,
Yet would not all suffice to bare that stubborn blade.
Whereat the damsel made exceeding moan,
Shedding salt tears; nor did her sorrow spare
Her breast more lovely white than marble stone,
Nor the long radiance of her sunny hair;
That not the rudest groom such sight could bear:
But a sad murmur through the palace spread
"Alas the while that Lancelot were there!
Then had not Arthur's court been shamed" -- they said
"Nor those love-darting eyes so bitter fountains shed."
A knight there was, whose erring hardihood
And fiery soul, that insult could ill bear.
Had bath'd his falchion in Cucullin's blood,
Who yearly made to Britain's court repair;
(Haughty Cucullin, Erin's haughty heir,)
Condemn'd for this (such vengeance Arthur vow'd)
To the chill dungeon's damp and stony lair;
Through the close grated loop he call'd aloud,
And what that tumult meant, besought the passing crowd.
Which, when he heard, so strangely confident,
With such warm hope he crav'd his chance to try,
That through the court a louder murmur went,
As pity kindled into mutiny;
And Arthur, yielding to the people's cry,
"Let him come forth! -- his doom in sooth was hard;
A soldier's fault!" he mutter'd carelessly;
And knight so long in listless prison barr'd,
Has well such fault aton'd -- Go bring him hitherward!"
So was Sir Balin brought before the throne,
A gaunt and meager man, of hue forlorn;
For forty months of lingering care were gone,
Since on his flinty couch the smile of morn
Had rested, or, on dewy pinions borne,
The fragrant summer blest his solitude,
His limbs were with the linked iron worne,
And his long raven hair, in tresses rude,
Hung o'er his hollow cheeks with prison damps imbued.
Around him wildly gazing, (for his sight
Shrank from th' unwonted beam of perfect day,
And those embattled guards whose armour bright
Flash'd in the sunshine like the torch's ray,)
He to the stranger damsel bent his way.
And, "lady, scorn me not! the time has been
Or ere this bondage," he began to say,
"That gayer robes, and knights of statelier mien,
Have felt mine arm as strong, by lance as deadly keen.
"I pray thee give the sword!" -- the sword she gave;
"Long, very long it seems," the captive cried,
"Since these poor hands have felt a battle glaive!"
Yet as the pommel's wieldy grasp he tried,
Dawn'd on his hollow cheek a martial pride,
And the dark smile of warrior ecstacy
Across his care worn-visage seem'd to glide;
And, flashing like a meteor to the sky,
Forth sprang the charmed blade, the blade of victory!
Say, have ye mark'd what winged moments fall
Between the distant cannon's flash and roar?
Such was the pause ensued, and such the swell
Of following rapture shook the ocean shore,
Rung every vaulted gate and turret hoar;
Rung the far abbey spires and cloister'd bound;
While, as they sail'd the moss-grown rampart o'er,
The sea bird reel'd on giddy pinions round,
And the wood-fring'd rocks return'd a hollow sound.
When all was hush'd, the not unmindful king
From Balin bade the guard unloose his chain,
While robes of knightly blue the pages bring,
And furred mantle of majestic train.
He, with a settl'd smile of calm disdain,
Receiv'd the gifts; but when his well known mail,
And shield, and rusted helm were brought again,
Quak'd his dark lip, and voice began to fail,
And the fast-falling tear bedew'd his features pale.
So when the feast was ended in the hall,
Nor longer would remain th' impatient maid,
Though Arthur much, and much his nobles all,
But most her presence young Ganora pray'd;
To each with courtly smile her thanks she paid,
And graceful on that docile palfrey sprung;
While close beside, on wonted steel array'd,
Victorious Balin's clashing armour rung,
Whom many a knight beheld, with serpent envy stung.
But while o'er many a wood-fringed hill
And heath of purple tint their journey lay,
That seeming hind, fair architect of ill,
In Arthur's palace sojourn'd many a day,
Expert in fraud, and watchful to betray.
Expert with pliant limb, and bounding high
Before the queen, her gambols to display:
Or, fond and flattering, at her feet to lie,
And mirror every thought in her large lucid eye.
So pass'd the day; but when the seven-fold team,
That fear to tinge their feet in ocean deep,
Shot from the topmost north their twinkling beam,
And over mortal lids the dews of sleep
(To weary man blest visitation) creep,
Forth in the silence of the world she sped,
A nymph of air, her unblest watch to keep;
OR, wrapt in mist, beside the bridal bed
Of poor Ganora's heart the wandering wishes read.
The early trace of youthful love was there,
And airy hope that flatter'd to betray;
But disappointment, with salt smarting tear,
Had blotted half the simple lines away;
The other half too deeply graven lay.
And, though contending with that earthly flame,
Celestial ardours sent their purer ray,
Though late -- Ah, female heart, of feeble frame.
Of pomp, and rank, and power, the novel rapture came!
Yet in the midst, and sov'reign o'er her breast,
Cadwal, young Cadwal, held his fatal throne,
And e'en to wakeful conscience unconfest,
Her fear, her grief, her joy were his alone;
Yes, every sigh that heav'd her silken zone,
From hapless love a dearer sorrow drew,
And, to Ganora's secret self uknown,
Arose before the fairy's eager view;
Ah me! what airy spies our silent thoughts pursue!
And think'st though, man, thy secret wish to shroud
In the close bosom's sealed supulchre?
Or, wrapt in saintly mantle from the crowd,
To hug thy darling sin that none may see?
A thousand, thousand eyes are bend on thee;
And where thy bolts the babbling world exclude,
And in the darkness where though lov'st to be,
A thousand, thousand busy sprites intrude;
Earth, air, and heaven are full, there is no solitude.
When I rehearse each gorgeous festival,
And knightly pomp of Arthur's elder day,
And muse upon these Celtic glories all,
Which, save some remnant of the minstrel's lay,
Are melted in oblivious stream away,
(So deadly bit the Saxon blade and sore)
Perforce I rue such perilous decay,
And, reckless of my race, almost deplore
That ever northern keel deflower'd the Logrian shore.
Oh thou the ancient genius of the land,
Who wont on old Belusium's sunny steep,
And nigh the holy mount, with armed hand,
In vision dimly seen, thy watch to keep,
Our angel guard, whose eagle pinions sweep
In circling flight around his rock-built nest,
Now soaring high, now dark'ning half the deep,
The broad wave bursting with his shadowy breast,
Oh did not his lament foreshow the nearer pest?
Say, did not he, when Hengist pough'd the main,
With gathering mist the conqueror's track dismay,
And smite his radiant brows with parent pain,
And sadly rend his samphire wreath away?
No, brighter beamed his prescient eye that day,
And as the proud bark swept the waters free,
He bade the rustling waves around it play,
While softly stole across the sunny sea,
From many a twisted shell the mermaid's harmony.
Now forty times the golden haired dawn
Had sprung from old Tithonus' dewy bed,
And forty times across the fading lawn,
Had summer eve her filmy mantle spread,
Since young Ganore to Mary's aisle was led
A pensive bride; and yet, I wot not why,
But those who best could read her blushes said,
Not now so much she droop'd the timid eye,
Nor paid her Arthur's warmth with so cold courtesy.
She was his wife! for this she strove to bear
Of that portentous eye the tawny glow;
And those deep indents of ambitious care
That mapp'd his dark and melancholy brow;
She was belov'd; for well the fair might know
How that stern heart was fixed on her alone,
When, melted all in love's delirious flow,
The vanquish'd victor at her feet was thrown;
And she was inly vain to feel such power her own.
So was she pleas'd herself who sought to please;
'Till on a day when all the court would ride
To drink in Cattraeth's woods the cooler breeze,
And rouse the dun deer from Terwathlin's side,
It chanced the queen within her bower to bide,
As one in boisterous pastime rarely seen;
Who little loved the hunter's cruel pride,
Or maddening shout that rends the forest green,
Or their poor quarry's groan the bugle notes between.
Loth was her lord to miss that livelong day,
Her soft sweet glances and her converse sweet;
Yet cared he not to cross her purposed stay;
And forth he fared, but still with ling'ring feet
And backward look, and "Oh when lovers meet
How blest," he thought "the evening's tranquil hour,
From care and cumbrous pomp a glad retreat."
Not since his youth first quaffed the cup of power,
Had Arthur praised before the calm sequestered bower.
And forth he fared; while from her turret high
That smiling form beheld his hunter crew;
Pleased she beheld, whose unacquainted eye
Found in each varying scene a pleasure new.
Nor yet had pomp fatigued her sated view,
Nor custom palled the gloss of royalty.
Like some gay child a simple bliss she drew
From every gaud of feudal pageantry,
And every broider'd garb that swept in order by.
And, sooth, it was a brave and antic sight,
Where plume, and crest, and tassel wildly blending,
And bended bow, and javelin flashing bright,
Mark'd the gay squadron through the copse descending;
The greyhound, with his silken leash contending,
Wreath'd the lithe neck; and, on the falconer's hand
With restless perch and pinions broad depending,
Each hooded goshawk kept her eager stand,
And to the courser's tramp loud rang the hollow land.
And over all, in accents sadly sweet,
The mellow bugle pour'd its plaintive tone,
That echo joy'd such numbers to repeat,
Who, from dark glade or rock of pumice-stone,
Sent to the woodland nymphs a softer moan;
While listening far from forth some fallow brown,
The swinked ploughman left his work undone;
And the glad schoolboy from the neighbouring town,
Sprang o'er each prisoning rail, nor reck'd his master's frown.
Her warm cheek pillow'd on her ivory hand,
Her long hair waving o'er the battlement,
In silent thought Ganora kept her stand,
Though feebly now the distant bugle sent
Its fading sound; and, on the brown hill's bent,
Nor horse, nor hound, nor hunter's pomp was seen.
Yet still she gaz'd on empty space intent,
As one, who spell-bound on some haunted green,
Beholds a fairy show, the twilight elms between.
That plaintive bugle's well remember'd tone
Could search her inmost heart with magic sway;
To her it spoke of pleasures past and gone,
And village hopes, and friends far, far away,
While busy memory's scintillating play,
Mock'd her weak heart with visions sadly dear,
The shining lakelet, and the mountain grey,
And who is he, the youth of merriest cheer,
Who waves his eagle plume and grasps his hunting spear?
As from a feverish dream of pleasant sin,
She, startling, trembled, and her mantle blue,
With golden border bright, and silver pin,
Round her wet cheek and heaving bosom drew;
Yet still with heavy cheer and downcast view,
From room to room, she wander'd to and fro,
Till chance or choice her careless glances threw
Upon an iron door, whose archway low,
And valves half open flung, a gorgeous sight might show.
It was a hall of costliest garniture,
With arras hung in many a purple fold;
Whose glistening roof was part of silver pure,
And silken part, and part of twisted gold,
With arms embroider'd and achievements old;
Where that rich metal caught reflected day,
As in the hours of harvest men behold
Amid their sheaves a lurking adder play,
Whose burnish'd back peeps forth the amid the stubble grey.
And, in the midst, an altar richly dight
With ever-burning lamps of silver pale,
And silver cross, and chalice heavenly bright,
Before whose beam a sinful heart might quail,
And sinful eye to bear its beauty fail.
It was, to ween, that gracious implement
Of heavenly love, the three-times hallowed Grayle, (7)
To Britain's realm awhile in mercy lent,
Till sin defil'd the land, and lust incontinent.
Strange things of that time-honour'd urn were told,
For youth it wont in aged limbs renew,
And kindle life in corpses deadly cold;
Yea palsy warmth, and fever coolness drew,
While faith knelt gazing on its heavenly hue.
For not with day's reflected beam it shone,
Nor fiery radiance of the taper's blue;
But from its hollow rim around was thrown
A soft and sunny light, eternal and its own.
And many a riven helm around was hung,
And many a shield revers'd and shivered spear,
And armour to the passing footsteps rung,
And crowns that paynim kings were wont to wear;
Rich crowns, strange arms, but shatter'd all and sere;
Lo! this the chapel of that table round,
And shrine of Arthur and his warriors dear,
Where vent'rous knights by secret oaths were bound,
And blest by potent prayers their foemen to confound.
Nor less the scene such solemn use became,
Whose every wall in freshest colours dight,
Display'd in form, in feature, and in name,
The lively deeds of many a faithful knight;
And told of many a hardy foughten fight
Against the Heathen host in gory field;
Of those who reap renown with falchion bright,
Or list in war the ponderous axe to wield,
Or press the courser's flank with spear and shield.
The stripling conqueror of a giant foe,
Belov'd of Heaven, was David there to see,
And wallowing wide the headless bulk below;
And there the self-devoted Maccabee,
Content in death to leave his Israel free,
Sustain'd unmov'd the towered elephant,
With javelin planted firm, and bended knee;
And grimly smiling on the monster's vaunt,
Slaying, was nobly slain, a martyr militant.
There too, she mark'd in blood-red colours writ,
The Christian conqueror of British line,
Who seem'd aloft in golden car to sit,
Rais'd on the ruins of an idol shrine,
Lord of the earth, resistless Constantine!
And, blazing high above his chosen head,
The meteor cross shed forth its light divine;
That that great dragon shook with guilty dread,
And all his countless host from forth the heaven fled.
Nor less her own paternal Carmelide,
With arms begirt, and warrior faces round;
Nor less the queen with greedy wonder eyed
The giant form, whose uncouth mantle, bound
With beards of captive monarchs, swept the ground.(8)
Vain-glorious Ryence! him the Christian host
With plunging spears in Mersey's current drown'd;
Who, wading through the river depths, almost
Had stemm'd th' indignant wave, and reach'd the farther coast.
But oh, what rage of war! what ghastly blows!
Where silver Avon ran with sanguine hue;
And fierce in flight the youth of Denmark rose,
And Arthur's strength his deadly falchion drew.
Her own brave lord Ganora there might view,
As mid the meaner trees a kingly oak;
How fast the fire-sparks from his armour flew;
How from his courser's panting side the smoke;
How high he bare his targe, how rose at every stroke!
Around the king, behind him and before,
Red ran the tide of death, and dark the throng;
And Merlin there his dragon standard bore,
Scattering dismay the mailed ranks among;
A living standard, whose biforked tongue
Hiss'd with strange magic, and its brazen eye
Darted pernicious rays of poison strong;
Als were its threatful spires uplifted high,
And wings of molten brass outspread in air to fly.
Strange was it to behold the enchanter's mien,
Whose robe of various colours wildly roll'd,
And naked limbs, in battle seldom seen,
And magic girdle all of graven gold,
In uncouth wise his prophet phrenzy told.
Swart was his visage, and his raven hair
Hung loose and long in many a tangled fold;
And his large eyeballs, with unearthly stare,
Flash'd on the withering host a wild portentous glare.
Fast by that fiend-born sire was Gawain placed,
Gawain the gentlest of the knightly throng,
With ladies' love, and minstrel honour grac'd,
The good, the brave, the beautiful, the strong;
And, breathing fury, Modred spurr'd along,
Sir Modred, sternest of the table round,
Injurious chief who reck'd nor right nor wrong;
Yet forward in his suzerain's service found,
And next to Arthur's self for princely lineage crowned.
But who is he? the chief whose single might
Girt by the Saxon host in desperate ring,
With slender lance redeems the reeling fight,
While death and conquest, poised on dubious wing,
Hung o'er the strife, his valour witnessing?
Cleft is his helmet, and his sanguine cheer
And beardless cheeks betoken manhood's spring.
Ah well known glance, ah form to memory dear,
It is the nameless youth! it is the forestere!
Was it a dream? her unassured eye
Paused on the form awhile -- awhile withdrew;
She chafes her lids their perfect sense to try;
It was no dream! alas, too well she knew
The locks of auburn and the eyes of blue,
And, her own work, the scarf and broider'd vest!
And her ears tingled, and a death-like dew
Though her cold marrow thrill'd, and quivering breast,
And suffocating sobs the abortive shriek suppress'd.
When overpast was that strong agony,
And doubt and fear resumed their blended reign,
She on that arras bent her frenzied eye,
And line retraced, and well known line again.
"His locks were auburn, these a darker grain,
Fair is yon knight, yet sure than him less fair,
Yon shield, yon crownet mark a princely strain,
And sterner seems that brow." Ah fruitless care!
That lip! those eyes! that scarf! his pictur'd self is there.
"And art thou he?" for o'er his conquering head
In Gothic letters all of silver bright,
That chieftain's woven name Ganora read;
"And art thou he, thy sovereign's darling knight,
The wise in court, the matchless in the fight,
Strength of our Logrian land in danger's hour!
Oh Lancelot! (if thus I read it aright
Thy lordly style,) mid pomp, and wealth, and power
Full soon has though forgot thy humble village flower!"
"Yet Arthur cull'd that flower!" (a female ire
Flush'd in her cheek, and sparkled in her eye)
"Yet Albion's lord could this poor form desire;
And thou shalt view thy rustic Emily
In pomp of queenly state enthroned high!
Then Cadwal, shall thy soul new pangs endure,
And in each slighted charm new grace descry,
And, scorn'd in turn--Ah passion hard to cure!
Break, break my tempted heart while yet my will is pure."
Thus raved she long, till from her throbbing breast
Exhausted passion loos'd his iron sway;
And holier thoughts her struggling soul possess'd,
And that pure chalice with its saintly ray,
And that still chapel turned her heart to pray.
So prostrate at the marble altar's base,
With floating locks and folded hands she lay;
And moistening with her tears the sacred place,
Clung to the silver cross with Magdalen embrace.
So by that heavenly toil re-comforted,
She, slowly rising from the sacred ground,
Dried her moist eye, with streaming anguish red,
And those loose locks in decent fillet bound,
And cast, in matron guise, her mantle round,
And forth she went; yet ere the morrow's light,
She of her maidens fit occasion found
To ask the lineage of "that absent knight,
Who now in Albion's war fought for his suzerain's right.
"He of the Lake, whose empty seat was placed
And in the hall his banner waving wide,
A golden hound with checker'd collar graced,
And the broad field with seeming verdure dyed?"
To whom the young Ygwerna swift replied
With arched brows and finger pointed sly,
"Oh who shall dare to praise that chief of pride,
Who, when the jealous Gwendolen is nigh,
Whose proffer'd love he meets with so cold courtesy?"
"Peevish Ygwerna!" Gwendolen rejoin'd,
"By forged tales to shrowd thy secret care!
Who more than thou the myrtle branch has twined,
And ring'd with flowery wreath his auburn hair?
Ah wooing vainly spent! some absent fair
Has o'er thy warrior hung her silken chain;
Witness the purple scarf he loves to wear,
Witness his wanderings o'er the nightly plain,
Witness Ygwerna's love and Lancelot's disdain!"
Ganora sigh'd; but all unmark'd the sigh
As Gwendolen pursued her eager word;
"Oh lady mine, long were the history
To reckon up the praise of that young lord,
In Logris and in distant Gaul ador'd,
And sprung from edler kings of Brutus' race;
But changeful fate, and war with ruthless sword
Could ancient Tribles' goodly towers deface,
And poppies wave the head in the tall banner's place.
"When bloody Claudas sack'd the Armoric shore,
The sire of Lancelot its sceptre held,
For wealth renown'd, for virtuous wisdom more,
And the fair peace of honourable eld.
But the base rabble from his rule repell'd,
And ancient Ban, no longer prompt to bear,
(As when at Carohaise, the foe he quell'd)
The conquering falchion and the pennon'd spear,
Fled from his dangerous throne to wood and desert drear.
"There, wretched sire, by daily wrath pursued,
Himself, his infant heir, and beauteous dame,
A shelter seeking in the solitude,
To a wild cave with painful travel came,
Where toil and grief oppress'd his hoary frame;
A little space with arms to heaven spread,
A little space, on cities wrapt in flame;
And ravaged fields, he gazed, but nothing said,
Then in his Helen's arms sank down his dying head.
"She, chafing his cold brows, and with her tears
Moistening in vain the breast was ever true,
Nor space, nor leisure found for other fears;
But when her much loved lord deceased she knew,
All wildly frantic through the desert flew,
Reckless of him who, mid the bushes laid,
Her sleeping babe, a fairy's pity drew;
Who haply wandering through the twilight glade
Stoop'd from her phantom steed, and home the prize conveyed.
"Beneath the hollow waters is her home,
Upbuilt with arched waves of crystal cold,
Where never wight of mortal seed should come.
Yet did she there the beauteous infant hold,
And train'd in knightly lore and pastimes bold;
But luckless Helen, dame disconsolate,
When late her loss returning reason told,
Sought the sad shelter of a convent grate,
And wept with live long grief her boy's untimely fate.
"Him, when his vigorous youth was ripe for war
And downy cheek was cloth'd in darker shade,
On airy wheels and dragon-yoked car,
To Arthur's court his elfin nurse convey'd,
In polish'd arms of maiden white array'd,
And silver shield, as princely youth became;
Who since untam'd, unrivall'd, undismay'd
In tourney strife and war's illustrious game,
Has borne from every knight the foremost meed of fame."
"All otherwise I deem," Ganora cried,
"Nor him account the best and bravest knight
Who, rapt in sordid gain or warrior pride,
Is dead to ladies' pain and love's delight,"
"Ah who," said Gwendolen, "shall read aright
The close kept secret of a hero's love!
Yet some have said, in magic beauty bright,
His elfin dame has power his mind to move,
And urge his pensive steps along the twilight grove."
A livid blush the queen's pale face o'erspread,
"Yet, yet aread, where is that fairy's won?"
"Ah who shall tell her haunt," the maiden said,
"Who in the desert water dwells alone,
Or under hollow hill or cavern'd stone?
Yet beauteous Derwent claims her chiefest grace."
Ganora heard, but answer made she none,
And with her kerchief shrouding close her face,
Broke from the unfinish'd tale and sadly left the place.
* * * * * * * *
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