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The Dwarf's Quest: A Ballad

Sir Dagonet was sad of heart;
      Beneath the city gate
He watched King Arthur's knights depart;
      He watched in love and hate.

He saw great tears fall from the eyes
      Of Lancelot and the King;
He thought: "Apart the sweet Queen lies,
      And knows no comforting."

Sir Percivale and Galahad
      Rode by in shining mail;
He marked their eyes, assured and glad,
      And cursed the Holy Grail.

Though many passed and saw him not,
      He hoarded, in his pain,
A smile from sad Sir Lancelot,
      Three sweet words from Gawain.

King Arthur's fool was Dagonet,
      An impish, mocking thing;
His wont by day to carp and fret,
      At night to dance and sing.

The foot and fist of rude Sir Kay
      He bore with jest and sneer;
But wept to meet on any day
      The eyes of Guinevere.

That night he sat without the gate,
      Close by the city wall,
Till King and court, returning late,
      Climbed sadly toward the Hall.

He thought of all the good knights bent
      On unknown, wandering ways;
He thought of feast and tournament,
      And laughter of old days.

He would not enter with his King;
      He heard the warder call,
Yet waited, crouched and shivering,
      Beside the city wall.

Crooked and weak was Dagonet,
      What might to him avail
The hope whereon high hearts were set,
      To find the Holy Grail?

Yet ice and flame were in his breast;
      He hid his curling lip,
And wept for fierce desire to quest
      With the great Fellowship.

On nameless, shining paths afar,
      Where'er the vision bade,
He saw them ride, – saw like a star
      The face of Galahad.

Then on his heart fell unforgot,
      More soft than April rain,
The smile of sad Sir Lancelot,
      The sweet words of Gawain.

And Dagonet the jester laid
      His face against the stone,
And prayed to Him who once had prayed
      In blood and tears alone;

And lo! a strange voice reached his ears,
      Borne on soft-drifting wings;
'T was gentler than Queen Guinevere's,
      'T was kinglier than the King's.

It spake: "Thou foolish one, look up!
      Believe, and be thou glad;
There waits one vision of the Cup
      For thee and Galahad."

But Dagonet cried: "Lord, to me
      What may thy grace avail,
Since, late, in wrath and misery,
      I cursed the Holy Grail?"

Low in the dust knelt Dagonet;
      The sweet voice filled the air:
"Thy cursing lips I do forget,
      Because of thy heart's prayer."

Next day 't was told through Camelot,
      With pity or with jest,
That Dagonet the dwarf came not
      Because he rode the Quest.

Next day and next, for many a day,
      Sir Dagonet rode hard;
Sometimes deep forest blurred his way,
      Or swollen torrent barred;

But everywhere the bright spring laid
      Her gold about his feet;
And every hour the high Quest made
      Hope at his heart stir sweet.

At hermitage and castle gate
      He asked, alway in vain:
Nor Lancelot had passed of late,
      Nor Bors, nor good Gawain.

Now once it chanced that his path ran
      Along a riverside,
Till, where a chestnut wood began,
      He saw the ways divide.

And close beneath the roadside cross
      There lay a wounded knight;
His blood was black upon the moss,
      And dimmed his armor bright.

Sir Dagonet bent low and gazed
      In eyes that knew him not;
Then, weeping, to his heart he raised
      The head of Lancelot.

              . . . . . . . . .

Past midnight, when the moon was set,
      And utter dark the night,
Round Lancelot and Dagonet
      There shone a sudden light.

And in the light, soft-footing, came
      Four maidens grave and pale;
In lifted hands that burned like flame,
      One bore the Holy Grail.

Unveiled the Holy Chalice gleamed;
      Sweet odors filled the air;
The roadside cross an altar seemed,
      The winds were chant and prayer.

The dwarf knelt low in that blest place,
      Adored, and trembled not;
Then, with swift sorrow on his face,
      He turned to Lancelot.

He cried: "My lord, awake and see!
      Methinks thy quest is done!
The Holy Grail doth shine on thee
      More bright than moon or sun!"

Sir Lancelot groaned, but spake no word;
      He had nor voice, nor will;
Perchance the heavy eyelids stirred
      One moment, and were still.

Swift as it came the vision went;
      The dwarf moaned bitterly:
"My answered prayer is punishment
      Since my lord might not see!"

He groped to find where the cross stood,
      There was no ray of light;
He prayed: "Thou to the fool art good,
      Be gracious to the knight."

He cried and prayed beneath the cross,
      With foolish words and wild;
But Lancelot upon the moss
      Slept like a little child.

And in the dawning of the day
      The dwarf forgot to weep,
Seeing how fair Sir Lancelot lay,
      A-smiling in his sleep.

Sir Dagonet fell on his knee;
      He fingered head and limb;
And said: "The Grail was shown to me,
      Its healing was for him.

"He will awaken whole and strong
      As ever he hath been;
He need not know his trance was long,
      Nor what the fool hath seen."

He sprang to horse: "Farewell, Sir Knight,
      Thy high vow shall not fail;
Some happier day thou shalt alight
      Upon the Holy Grail."

When birds from sky and tree and ground
      Sang loud and broke his rest,
Sir Lancelot rose blithe and sound
      To fare upon his quest.

But fast while morning hours were cool,
      And slow when noon waxed hot,
Sir Dagonet, King Arthur's fool,
      Rode back to Camelot.

At Camelot, with boisterous cries,
      Men asked him of his quest,
Till something in the rider's eyes
      Silenced the merry jest.

Sir Dagonet dwelt with the court;
      He mused on what had been;
By night he made them goodly sport;
      By day he served the Queen.

              . . . . . . . . .

One slow, still morn of summer's prime,
      Through fields of yellow grain,
With saddened brow, before his time,
      Rode back the good Gawain.

But when the long nights of the year
      Darkened, and word came not,
Sir Dagonet and Guinevere
      Prayed for Sir Lancelot.

              . . . . . . . . .

Like swallows when winds first blow sweet,
      The knights came one by one;
Each told of travail and defeat,
      And how his quest was done.

Till, when the third bright June befell,
      And nightingales were glad,
From out the east came Bors to tell
      Of young Sir Galahad,

How won was the most Holy Quest:
      How Percivale and he
Were laid 'neath sacred earth to rest
      In Sarras over sea.

For Galahad brave eyes were wet,
      And gentle Percivale;
None ever heard how Dagonet
      Achieved the Holy Grail.