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Elayne le Blanc

O that sweet season on the April-verge
Of womanhood! When smiles are toucht with tears,
And all the unsolaced summer seems to grieve
With some blind want: when Eden-exiles feel
Their Paradisal parentage, and search
Even yet some fragrance through the thorny years
From reachless gardens guarded by the sword.

Then those that brood above the fallen sun,
Or lean from lonely casements to the moon,
Turn round and miss the touching of a hand:
Then sad thoughts seem to be more sweet than gay ones:
Then old songs have a sound as pitiful
As dead friends' voices, sometimes heard in dreams:
And all a-tiptoe for some great event,
The Present waits, her finger at her lips,
The while the pensive Past with meek pale palms,
Crost (where a child should lie) on her cold breast,
And wistful eyes forlorn, stands mutely by,
Reproaching Life with some unuttered loss;
And the heart pines, a prisoned Danaë,
Till some God comes, and makes the air all golden.

In such a mood as this, at such an hour
As makes sad thoughts fall saddest on the soul,
She, in her topmost bower all alone,
High-up among the battlemented roofs,
Leaned from the lattice, where the road runs by
To Camelot, and in the bulrush beds
The marish river shrinks his stagnant horn.
All round, along the spectral arras, gleamed
(With faces pale against the dreary light)
Forms of great Queens—the women of old times:
She felt their frowns upon her, and their smiles,
And seemed to hear their garments rustling near.
Her lute lay idle her love-books among:
And, at her feet, flung by, the broidered scarf,
And velvet mantle. On the verge of night
She saw a bird float by, and wished for wings:
She heard the hoarse frogs quarrel in the marsh:
And now and then, with drowsy song and oar,
Some dim barge sliding slow from bridge to bridge,
Down the white river past, and far behind
Left a new silence. Then she fell to muse
Unto what end she came into this earth
Whose reachless beauty made her heart so sad,
As one that loves, but hopes not, inly ails
In gazing on some fair unloving face.
Anon, there dropt down a great gulf of sky
A star she knew; and as she looked at it,
Down-drawn through her intensity of gaze,
One angry ray fell tangled in her tears,
And dashed its blinding brightness in her eyes.
She turned, and caught her lute, and pensively
Rippled a random music down the strings,
And sang . . .

All night the moonbeams bathe the sward.
There's not an eye to-night in Joyous-Gard
That is not dreaming something sweet. I wake
Because it is more sweet to dream awake:
Dreaming I see thy face upon the lake.

I am come up from far, love, to behold thee,
That hast waited for me so bravely and well
Thy sweet life long (for the Fairies had told thee
I am the Knight that shall loosen the spell)
And to-morrow morn mine arms shall infold thee:
And to-morrow night . . . ah, who can tell?

    As the spirit of some dark lake
    Pines at nightfall, wild-awake,
    For the approaching consummation
    Of a great moon he divines
    Coming to her coronation
    Of the dazzling stars and signs,
    So my heart, my heart,
    Darkly (ah, and tremblingly!)
    Waits in mystic expectation
    (From its wild source far apart)
    Until it be filled with thee—
    With the full-orbed light of thee—
    O belovéd as thou art!
    With the soft sad smile that flashes
    Underneath thy long dark lashes;
    And thy floating raven hair,
    From its wreathéd pearls let slip;
    And thy breath, like balmy air;
    And thy warm wet rosy lip,
    With my first kiss lingering there;
    Its sweet secret unreveal'd—
    Sealed by me, to me unsealed;
    And . . . but, ah! she lies asleep
    In yon gray stone castle-keep,
    On her lids the happy tear;
    And alone I linger here;
    And to-morrow morn the fight;
    And . . . ah, me! to-morrow night?

Here she brake, trembling, off; and on the lute,
Yet vibrating through its melodious nerves,
A great tear plashed and tinkled. For a while
She sat and mused; and, heavily, drop by drop,
Her tears fell down; then through them a slow smile
Stole, full of April-sweetness; and she sang—
—It was a sort of ballad of the sea:
A song of weather-beaten mariners,
Gray-headed men that had survived all winds
And held a perilous sport among the waves,
Who yet sang on with hearts as bold as when
They cleared their native harbor with a shout,
And lifted golden anchors in the sun.

Merrily, merrily drove our barks—
Merrily up from the morning beach!
And the brine broke under the prows in sparks;
For a spirit sat high at the helm of each.
We sailed all day; and, when day was done,
Steered after the wake of the sunken sun,
For we meant to follow him out of reach
Till the golden dawn was again begun.

With lifted oars, with shout and song,
Merry mariners all were we!
Every heart beat stout and strong.
Through all the world you would not see,
Though you should journey wide and long,
A comlier company.
And where, the echoing creeks among,
Merrily, steadily,
From bay to bay our barks did fall,
You might hear us singing, one and all,
A song of the mighty sea.
But, just at twilight, down the rocks
Dim forms trooped fast, and clearer grew:
For out upon the sea-sand came
The island-people, whom we knew,
And called us:—girls with glowing locks;
And sunburnt boys that tend the herd
Far up the vale; gray elders too
With silver beards:—their cries we heard:
They called us, each one by his name.

"Could ye not wait a little while,"
We heard them sing, "for all our sakes?
A little while, in this old isle,"
They sung, "among the silver lakes?
For here," they sung, "from horn to horn
Of flowery bays the land is fair:
The hill-side glows with grapes: the corn
Grows golden in the vale down there.
Our maids are sad for you," they sung:
"Against the field no sickle falls:
Upon the trees our harps are hung:
Our doors are void: and in the stalls
The little foxes nest; among
The herd-roved hills no shepherd calls:
Your brethren mourn for you," they sung.
"Here weep your wives: here passed your lives
Among the vines, when you were young:
Here dwell your sires: your household fires
Grow cold. Return! return!" they sung.

Then each one saw his kinsman stand
Upon the shore, and wave his hand:
And each grew sad. But still we sung
Our ocean-chorus bold and clear;
And still upon our oars we hung,
And held our course with steadfast cheer.
"For we are bound for distant shores,"
We cried, and faster swept our oars:
"We pine to see the faces there
Of men whose deeds we heard long since,
Who haunt our dreams: gray heroes: kings
Whose fame the wandering minstrel sings:
And maidens, too, more fair than ours,
With deeper eyes, and softer hair,
Like hers that left her island bowers
To wed the sullen Cornish Prince
Who keeps his court upon the hill
By the gray coasts of Tyntagill,
And each, before he dies, must gain
Some fairy-land across the main."

But still "return, beloved, return!"
The simple island-people sung:
And still each mariner's heart did burn,
As each his kinsman could discern,
Those dim green rocks among.

"O'er you the rough sea-blasts will blow,"
They sung, "while here the skies are fair:
Our paths are through the fields we know:
And yours you know not where."

But we waved our hands . . . "farewell! farewell!"
We cried . . . "our white sails flap the mast:
Our course is set: our oars are wet:
One day" we cried, "is nearly past:
One day at sea! Farewell! farewell!
No more with you we now may dwell!"

And the next day we were driving free
(With never a sail in sight)
Over the face of the mighty sea:
And we counted the stars next night
Rise over us by two and three
With melancholy light:
A grave-eyed, earnest company—
And all round the salt foam white!

With this, she ceased, and sighed . . . "though I were far,
I know yon moated iris would not shed
His purple crown: yon clover-field would ripple
As merry in the waving wind as now:
As soft the Spring down this bare hill would steal,
And in the vale below fling all her flowers:
Each year the wet primroses star the woods:
And violets muffle the sharp rivulets:
Round this lone casement's solitary panes
The wandering ivy move and mount each year:
Each year the red wheat gleam near river-banks:
While, ah, with each my memory from the hearts
Of men would fade, and from their lips my name.
O which were best—the wide, the windy sea,
With golden gleams of undiscovered lands,
Odors, and murmurs—or the placid Port,
From wanton winds, from scornful waves secure,
Under the old, green, happy hills of home?"
She sat forlorn, and pondered. Night was near,
And, marshalling o'er the hills her dewy camps,
Came down the outposts of the sentinel stars.
All in the owlet light she sat forlorn.

Now hostel, hall, and grange, that eve were crammed:
The town being choked to bursting of the gates:
For there the King yet lay with all his Earls,
And the Round Table, numbering all save one.

On many a curving terrace which o'er-hung
The long gray river, swan-like, through the green
Of quaintest yews, moved, pacing stately by,
The lovely ladies of King Arthur's court.
Sighing, she eyed them from that lonely keep.

The Dragon-banners o'er the turrets drooped,
The heavy twilight hanging in their folds.
And now and then, from posterns in the wall
The Knights stole, lingering for some last Good-night,
Whispered or sighed through closing lattices;
Or paused with reverence of bending plumes,
And lips on jewelled fingers gayly prest.
The silver cressets shone from pane to pane:
And tapers flitted by with flitting forms:
Clanged the dark streets with clash of iron heels:
Or fell a sound of coits in clattering courts,
And drowsy horse-boys singing in the straw.

These noises floated upward. And within,
From the great Hall, forever and anon,
Brake gusts of revel; snatches of wild song,
And laughter; where, her sire among his men
Caroused between the twilight and the dark.
The silence round about her where she sat,
Vext in itself, grew sadder for the sound.
She closed her eyes: before them seemed to float
A dream of lighted revels,—dance and song
In Guenver's palace: gorgeous tournaments;
And rows of glittering eyes about the Queen,
(Like stars in galaxies around the moon)
That sparkled recognition down below,
Where rode the Knights amort with lance and plume;
And each his lady's sleeve upon his helm:
Murmuring . . . "none ride for me. Am I not fair,
Whom men call the White Flower of Astolat?"

Far, far without, the wild grey marish spread,
A heron startled from the pools, and flapped
The water from his wings, and skirred away.
The last long limit of the dying light
Dropped, all on fire, behind an iron cloud:
And, here and there, through some wild chasm of blue,
Tumbled a star. The mist upon the fens
Thickened. A billowy opal grew i' the crofts,
Fed on the land, and sucked into itself
Paling and park, close copse and bushless down,
Changing the world for Fairies.
                                                    Then the moon
In the low east, unprisoned from black bars
Of stagnant fog (a white light, wrought to the full,
Summed in a perfect orb) rose suddenly up
Upon the silence with a great surprise,
And took the inert landscape unawares.

White, white, the snaky river: dark the banks:
And dark the folding distance, where her eyes
Were wildly turned, as though the whole world lay
In that far blackness over Carlyel.
There she espied Sir Launcelot, as he rode
His coal-black courser downward from afar,
For all his armour glittered as he went,
And showed like silver: and his mighty shield,
By dint of knightly combat hackt and worn,
Looked like some crackt and frozen moon that hangs
By night o'er Baltic headlands all alone.