The Prophecy of Merlin
Sir Bedivere, in silence, watched the barge
That bore away King Arthur to the vale
Of Avalon, till it was seen no more.
Then, on the beach, alone amid the dead,
He lifted up his voice and sorely wept.
"Alas!" he cried, "gone are the pleasant days
At Camelot, and the sweet fellowship
Of noble knights and true, and beauteous dames
Who have no peers in all the living world,
Is quite dissolved for ever, and the King
Has gone and left none like him among men.
O happy, thrice and fourfold, ye who rest,
Both friends and foemen, in one peaceful bed,
While I am sick at soul and cannot die!
Oh! That the battle might be fought again!
Then would I surely seek the way to death,
And bleed and sleep like you, and be at peace.
But now, ah! whither, whither can I go,
Since he is gone who was my light of life,
And whom to see was bliss? What can I do
Without the voice that gave my arm its strength?
Or wherefore bear a sword, since now no more
Excalibur points forth to noble deeds?"
And then he drew his blade, and threw it far
Into the Lake, and as he saw it sink,
"Would God," said he, "that so I followed him."
But with the strain his wounds began to bleed,
And he grew weak, and sank upon the ground,
And when he woke, he was aware
Of Merlin, who stood watching by his side.
Then cried Sir Bedivere: "O good and wise,
I bid thee welcome, for, in all the world,
There is none other I would fainer see.
Yet am I sad to see thee, for the King
Is gone, and none is left of all his Knights
Save me, and I am weary of my life."
But Merlin, ere he answered, staunched his wound,
And gave him wine out of a golden flask,
And, by the healing art which he possessed,
Restored him sound and whole. And then he spake:
"There is no need to tell me, for I know
All thou would'st say, and knew ere thou wast born
That all these things should be. But weep no more,
Sir Bedivere. The past no man can change,
Nor make what has been other than it is.
As in the forest of Broceliande,
The leaves fall year by year, and give the oaks
All bare to wintry blasts, so, swept apace
Before the breath of Time, the race of men
Passes away, and may be seen no more.
And yet the breeze of Spring is no less sweet,
Which plays around the tender budding leaves,
And calls to life their beauty, that it is
As well a requiem as baby-song.
So weep not for the days that are no more,
But pray, as the King bade thee, for his soul,
That to his far-off home no sigh may come
From this, his orphan and unhappy realm,
To mar the melody of Avalon."
Then said Sir Bedivere: "O good and wise,
Will he return again to Camelot,
After his wound is healed, and Guinevere
Has healed that other wound that vexed his soul,
By purging her own soul of all offence?
And will he not assemble round his board
The best and bravest knights of Christendom,
And all the fairest ladies of the land,
And reign as erst he reigned in Camelot?"
Then Merlin: "Hid from eyes of common men
Is that which is to be in after days;
And only those can see it in whose souls
A heavenly brightness has dissolved the mist
That darkens mortal sight. And even these
Can see but dimly, as a far-off hill
Appears at even when the stars surprise
The lingering kisses of the parting sun.
But I, thou knowest well, Sir Bedivere,
Am not of mortal race, nor was I born
Of human mother nor of human sire.
Mine is the blazonry of prophet souls
Whose lineage finds in God its kingly head.
To me what was and that which is to come
Are ever present, and I grow not old
With time, but have the gift of endless youth.
As one who stands beside a placid stream,
Watching the white sails passing slowly down,
And knows a fatal whirlpool waits them all,
And yet, the while, is powerless to save,--
So watch I all the ages passing by
Adown the stream of time into the gulf
From which is no return. Alas! Alas!
How oft have I, who ever love the good,
The pure, the brave and wise, wept bitter tears,
As they have passed me, joyous in their course,
And we have held sweet converse, as I thought
How soon their faces would be seen no more!
Sad, sad, Sir Bedivere, the prophet's gift,
Who sees the evil which he cannot heal!"
And then a gloom o'ershadowed Merlin's face,
That caused Sir Bedivere to pity him;
And they both wept, as one, amid the dead,
Thinking of all the sorrows of the world.
But Merlin, when his face grew calm again,
Began: "Come, hearken now, Sir Bedivere,
and I will give an answer to thy quest:
King Arthur sleeps in Avalon, and many a change
Must over-pass this land before he wake.
The great White Dragon of the stormy North,
Rearing his crest above the foaming waves,
Shall shake the ground, and level all the hills,--
And war shall follow war,--and blood shall flow
In every vale,--and smoke of burning towns
Shall reach the sky,--and men shall cry for aid
Unto the sea, to hide them from the foe--
And still shall Arthur sleep in Avalon.
And when the Dragon, sated with the blood
Of Christian men and women, yields at length
To a mild victor, Tigers of the Sea
Shall come, from cragy homes, to rend and tear,
And brave men's hearts shall quail before their eyes--
Yet still shall Arthur sleep in Avalon.
The Tigers' wrath appeased, another foe
Shall wave a foreign banner o'er the land,
And trample down beneath his horses' hoofs
Briton, and Dane, and Saxon, till the ground
Is rank with blood, as when upon the slopes
Of Badon Arthur charged the heathen host--
Yet still the King shall sleep in Avalon.
But as the ages pass, these foes shall join
In friendship, and a nation shall arise,
Like a strong oak amid the forest trees,
Which, growing slowly, ceases not to grow,
But fastens firmly, as it aims aloft,
And spreads its branches far on every side,
A shelter to the stranger of all lands--
While Arthur still sleeps on in Avalon.
And many Kings shall rule and win renown
For this now saddened and distracted realm;
And Britain shall be great by land and sea,
And stretch her conquering arms around the world,
And gather treasures from all climes, and teach
Her tongues to distant nations, and her name
Shall be a word of praise to all the earth--
While Arthur still sleeps on in Avalon.
But though he sleep, he still shall wear the crown
As rightful lord of Britain, for on him,--
The image of a noble Christian King,
The image of a ruler sent of God,--
The people still shall look in whoso reigns.
And if there be a King of soul impure--
Or if there be a King of hand unjust--
Or if there be a King who weighs himself
Against the nation's weal (such Kings there are
And ever shall be until Arthur wake),--
It is the real King the people serve,
The Blameless Prince that never can do wrong,
And not the false usurper of his name."
Then, wondering much, broke in Sir Bedivere:
"O Merlin, thou art far too wise for me,
Though well I love thy speech. But, in good sooth,
And plainly, as we speak of common things,
Answer me: Will the King come back again
In his own fleshly guise, the very same
As when he feasted erst in Camelot
With all the Table Round? And will he wear
The crown, and gird him with Excalibur,
And conquer heathen foes, and rid the land
Of all that speaketh lies or doeth wrong?--
Or, must he sleep for ever, and his face
Be hid away from those that love him well?
For, if I thought that it were so to be,
I never could have comfort in my life."
Then answered Merlin: "Let me tell my tale
In my own way, and hearken till the close.
All these things happen not as we desire,
But as the ages need. Such men as he
Come not without great travail and sore pain;
They are the ripe fruit of the centuries,
Who nourish noble thoughts and noble deeds,
Give health and vigour to the sickly times,
And stir the gross blood of the sleepy world;
And when they pass away, their names, endued
With life, still head the van of truth and right:
So shall the name and spirit of the King,
Who ruled in Camelot the Table Round,
Guide Britain into ever-growing fame;
And all her Kings that reign shall reign in him,
The golden type of kingly chivalry.
And those three Queens thou sawest, three fair Queens,
So sweet and womanly, who, in the barge,
Bore, tenderly, away the wounded King,
Shall reign in Britain in the after-time,--
As, in the old time, Carismandua
And brave Bonduca whom the Romans feared
Held a firm sceptre in a gentle hand.
Of best and purest Queenhood, they, the type,
As Arthur is the type of Blameless Kings.
And as by three sweet names of holy kin
They shall be known, so shall they also shew
A triple sisterhood beneath one crown--
Britain, and Albyn, and green Innisfail.
Now, when the last of three Queens has slept
For many years, there shall arise a Fourth--
Fair, good and wise, and loved by all the land
Of Britain, and by many lands on every sea.
And in her days the world shall have much changed
From that which now we live in. Mysteries,
Save unto me in vision, now unknown,
Shall then be clear as day. The earth and air
Shall yield strange secrets for the use of men,--
The planets, in their courses, shall draw near,
And men shall see their marvels, as the flowers
That grace the meads of Summer,--time and space
Shall know new laws, and history shall walk
Abreast with fact o'er all the peopled world:--
For words shall flash like light from shore to shore,
And light itself shall chronicle men's deeds.
Great ships shall plough the ocean without sail,
And steedless chariots shoot with arrowy speed
O'er hill and dale and river, and beneath
The solid floor we tread,--the silent rocks
Shall tell the story of the infant world,--
The falling leaf shall shew the cause of things
Sages have sought in vain--and the whole vast
Of sight and sound shall be to men a school
Where they may learn strange lessons; and great truths
That long have slept in the deep heart of God
Shall waken and come forth and dwell with men,
As in the elder days the tented lord
Of countless herds was taught by angel-guests.
And this fair land of Britain then shall be
Engrailed with stately cities,--and by streams
Where now the greedy wolf roams shall be heard
The multitudinous voice of Industry,--
And Labour, incense-crowned, shall hold her court
Where now the sun scarce touches with his beams
The scattered seeds of future argosies,
That to the furthest limit of the world
Shall bear the glory of the British name.
And where a Grecian victor never trod,
And where a Roman banner never waved,
East, West, and North, and South, and to those Isles,
Happy and rich, of which the poets dreamed
But never saw, set far in Western seas,
Beyond the pillars of the heathen god--
Shall Arthur's realm extend, and dusky Kings
Shall yield obeisance to his conquering fame.
And she, the fourth fair tenant of the throne,
Heir to the ripe fruit of long centuries,
Shall reign o'er such an empire, and her name,
Clasping the trophies of all ages, won
By knightly deeds in every land and sea,
Shall be VICTORIA.
Then shall come a Prince
From o'er the sea, of goodly mien and fair,
And, winning her, win all that she has won--
Wedded to her, be good as she is pure--
Reigning with her, be wise as she is great--
And, loving her, be loved by all the world."
Then spake Sir Bedivere, all eagerly:
"He, Merlin, is he not our Blameless King,
Returned from his long sleep in Avalon,
To crown the glories of the later world?"
Then Merlin: "Wait a while, Sir Bedivere,
And I will tell thee all.
In deeds of war,--
The rage of battle, and the clangorous charge
Of mailéd knights, and flash of hostile swords,
And flying spears, and din of meeting shields,
And all the use of man-ennobling might
For Christ and for his Cross, to wrest the land
From heathen foes--did Arthur win his fame.
For this, by marvels, was he born and bred;
For this, by marvels, was he chosen King;
For this he sent his heralds to all parts
Of the divided realm, to summon forth
All bravest, truest knights of Christendom
From rude and selfish war to Camelot,
That they might be one heart around himself
To send new life-blood through the sickly land,
And purge it of the plague of heathennesse.
And had not the foul falsehood of his house
Broken athwart the true aim of his life,
And set the Table Round against itself,
Ere now the heathen Dragon had been crushed,
Never again to raise its hideous head
O'er the fair land that Christ's apostle blessed.
This was the purpose that his soul had formed--
Alas! How unaccomplished!--and he hoped
That gentle peace would be the meed of war,--
That 'neath the laurel fair and wide would bloom
The flowers of wisdom, charity and truth,--
That holy men and sages, ladies fair
And famous knights, and those that from earth's lap
Gather God's bounties, and the men whose hands
Have skilful touch, and those who tell or sing
Of Nature and her marvels, or who fill
The scroll with records of the misty past,
And others of all arts and all degrees,
Should work, each in the place that he had found,
With one pure impulse in the heart of all,--
That Britain should be called of all the world
A blameless people round a Blameless King.
This purpose Albert, in the after-time,
(So shall the Prince be named of whom I spake,)
Shall take from the dim shrine where it has lain,
Scarce touched by dreamy reverence, many an age,
And hold it in the daylight of his life.
But not alone. She whom his heart has won,
With loving aid, shall ever at his side
(Till death them part) sustain him in his thought.
And these two, nobly mated, each to each
The sweet and ripe completion, shall be named
With loyal love and tenderest respect
By knight and lady, poet, sage and priest,
In mart and camp, in palace and in cot,
By babbling gray-beard and by lisping child,
Wherever Britain's banner is unfurled.
So shall the land grow strong with bonds of peace,
Till men believe that wars have ceased to drench
The earth with bloody rain;--and Art shall smile
On myriad shapes of beauty and of use,--
And Wisdom shall have freer scope, and push
The boulders of old folly from her field,--
And men shall walk with larger minds across
The limits of the superstitious past,
And cull the gold out of the dross of things,
Flinging the dross aside,--and then shall be
New hopes of better changes yet to be,
When harmony shall reign through all the world,
And interchange of good for common weal
Be only law.
A palace shall arise
Beneath the guidance of the Blameless Prince,
The crystal image of his ample mind,
The home of what is best in every clime;
And thither, from all lands beneath the sun,
Shall crowd the patient workers in all arts,
Bringing the treasures of their skill. The hands
Of many nations with a brother's clasp
Shall join together; and the Babel tongues
Of Eastern, Western, Northern, Southern lands
Shall strive no more in discord, but, as one,
Shall make harmonious music, as of yore
The sound of four great rivers rose and fell
Through fragrant splendours in the Eden-world.
And men shall say: 'Now is the reign of peace,
Foretold by sacred sages, come at last.
And cries of war shall never more be heard
Through the fair world, but men shall take their swords
And beat them into ploughshares, and their spears
And lances they shall turn to pruning-hooks,--
Nation with nation shall contend no more,
Save as to who may reach the goal of best
Before the other, for the common good,--
And men shall only vie in virtue, skill
And beauty, fruits of hand and head and heart,--
And strength shall be in knowledge and its use,--
And right, not might, shall guide men in their acts,--
And small and great shall have one common law,--
And he, alone, shall be considered just
Who, in a doubtful matter, puts himself
In his friend's place. So all men shall be friends:
For each shall see in other but himself,
And love him as himself. This is Christ's rule,
Which the base world so long has set at nought,
But now restored by our All-blameless Prince,
And preached by gentle act to all the world.'
So shall men say, rejoicing; but, alas!
While yet the words rise from their gladdened hearts,
The olive garland shall begin to fade
On the sweet brows of peace; and Avarice,
Like a gaunt wolf, ever unsatisfied
As long as one lamb bleats within the fold,
Shall raise the harsh cry that awakens war.
In those far lands beyond the Southern Sea,
Traversed by knights who seek the Holy Grail,
The mountains belch forth fire, and flood the slopes
And valleys with the sulphurous tide of hell,
Till man and all his works are whelmed beneath.
Then, wearied with his rage, the demon sleeps,
And o'er the frozen graves of the long dead
The hopeful vine grows and the flowers bloom,
And children's voices and the song of birds
Bid hush the awful memory of the past.
But on some doomful night an ominous roar
Startles the dreaming villager, who, looking
Forth through his shivering casement, sees the sky
Alive with fearful forms. The spirits of fire,
Unchained from their long bondage, with fierce joy
Dance onward, bearing death, while smoky palls
Waver around them. With their ghostly hands
From wrathful vials they pour blazing streams
That lick the earth, from which is no escape
But death--and death comes soon. So after peace,
Which men had thought eternal, shall come war,
And chase, with rumbling horror, the sweet dreams
Of gentle harmony throughout the world.
Then shall the spirit of the Table Round
Enter men's hearts and make their right arms strong
For deeds of war,--deeds that shall make the eyes
Of those who come thereafter flash with pride.
By many a far-off height and river-side
Shall fall such men as fought at Badon-hill
Warring with heathen foes; and lonely hearths
Shall sorrow for the dead who come no more.
And, one war over, others shall succeed,
And others; and the blaze of burning towns
Shall blot the moon out of the midnight sky.
And some will say: 'Now is the end at hand
Of all things, and the whole fair world is doomed
To sink in ashy nothingness. The wrath
Of God is kindled for the sins of men.'
But when the fiery wave of war has washed
The world, as gold from which the dross is burned,
The nations shall rise purer, and men's hearts
Shall fear the touch of wrong; the slave ashamed
And angry once to see the pitiless sun
Smile on his chains, shall leap and sing for joy.
Free thought shall take the ancient shield of Truth
And make it bright, showing the Artist's work,
Long hid by stains and rust from longing eyes;
And hoary ills shall die, and o'er their graves
Shall bloom fair flowers, and trees of goodly fruit
To gladden and make strong the heart of man."
Then said Sir Bedivere: "O, good and wise,
My heart is full of wonder, and I doubt
Whether or not I listen in a dream
Wrought by thy wizard spells around my soul.
But tell me further of the Blameless Prince,
The image of King Arthur,--or himself,
Albeit thou sayst it not, come back again
From his long sleep in Avalon. Shall he die,
Or shall he live and teach men how to live
Until the coming of our Master, Christ?"
Then Merlin, with a cloud upon his face,
As thinking of the sorrow that must be,
Yet with a silver smile about the cloud,
Answered Sir Bedivere: "O, loving well
And loyal to the last, the Blameless Prince,
The God-sent promise of a better time
When all men shall be like him, good and wise,
Shall, when his work is finished, pass away;
And the dark shade of sorrow's wings shall blot
The sky, and all the widowed land shall mourn;
And chiefly she, his other self, the Queen,
Shall weep long years in lonely palace-halls,
Missing the music of a silent voice.
But, though his voice be silent, in men's hearts
Shall sink the fruitful memory of his life,
And take deep root, and grow to glorious deeds.
And she will write the story of his life
Who loved him, and though tears may blot the page,
Even as they fall, the rainbow hues of hope
Shall bless them with Christ's promise of the time
When they that sow in tears shall reap in joy."
Then, sad and sore amazed, Sir Bedivere:
"O, Merlin, Merlin, truly didst thou say
That hid from eyes of common men like me
Is that which is to be in after days;
For even now I scarce can comprehend
What thou hast spoken with prophetic lips.
These things are very far beyond my reach.
This only do I know, that I am now
An orphan knight, reft of the royal sire
That made me knight, giving my soul new birth
And heirdom to the Christian fellowship
Of the Round Table. Gladly would I give
All glory ever won by knightly deed,
All honour in the ranks of my compeers,
All gentle blandishments of ladies fair,
All that I am, or have, or prize the most,
And sink into the meanness of the churl
That feeds the Saxon's swine, for but one glimpse
Of my loved lord, King Arthur. But I know
That he will never more to Camelot
Bring back the glory of his vanished face,
Nor call me his 'true knight, Sir Bedivere.'
So I will pray, even as thou badst me pray,
And as King Arthur bade me, for his soul,
That to his far-off home no sigh may come,
From this his orphan and unhappy realm,
To mar the melody of Avalon.
And though he may not hither come to me,
May I not hope that I may go to him,
And see him face to face, in that fair land,
Whose beauty mortal eye has never seen,
Whose music mortal ear has never heard,
Whose glory mortal heart has not conceived.
But, Merlin, I would ask thee one thing more,
If thou have patience with my blunter sense
(For I am but a knight, and thou, a sage,
And knowest all things)--prithee, tell me, Merlin,
If, in the far-off after-time, shall come
A Prince who shall be known by Arthur's name,
And bear it blamelessly as he did his."
Then, Merlin, with a wise smile on his face,
Such as a mother wears who gently tries
To answer the hard question of her child,
Answered Sir Bedivere: "Thou askest well,
And fain am I to answer. That good Prince
Of whom I spake -- Albert, the Blameless Prince--
Shall be the head of many dynasties.
His blood, in after years, shall wear the crown
Of many kingdoms. She who loved him well
Shall reign for many years when he is gone,
And round her widowed diadem shall gleam
The richer halo of a nation's love,
For her own sake and for the sainted dead.
And she will shed the brightness of her soul
On Britain's future Kings, and they shall learn,
Not only from her lips, but from her life,
That who rules well must make Christ's law his rule.
And of the Good Queen and the Blameless Prince
One son shall be named Arthur. Like the King
For whom thy heart is sad, Sir Bedivere,
He shall be true, and brave, and generous
In speech and act to all of all degrees,
And win the unsought guerdon of men's love.
In a far land beneath the setting sun,
Now and long hence undreamed of (save by me
Who, in my soul's eyes, see the great round world
Whirled by the lightning touches of the sun
Through time and space),--a land of stately woods,
Of swift broad rivers, and of ocean lakes,--
The name of Arthur,--him that is to be,--
(Son of the Good Queen and the Blameless Prince),
Shall shed new glories upon him we loved."
Then, by the memories of his lord, the King,
Sir Bedivere was quickened into tears,
But, like a boy ashamed to shew wet eyes
Before a boy, he passed his mailéd hand
Athwart his face, and frightened back his grief.
And seeing Merlin made no sign to speak
More of the Arthur of the after-time,
He took the word: 'Thanks, Merlin, thou art kind
Beyond the limit of my gratitude,
I fear me. Sorrow is a selfish thing,
And much exacts from friendship. Still, I thank thee
That thou hast not gainsayed my utmost quest.
And, now, I pray God bless him when he comes,
That other Arthur. May he keep his name
As pure as his who ruled in Camelot;
May he, in every wise, be like to him,
Save in the pain that comes of love deceived
And trampled faith; and may his far-off land
Be great by noble deeds of noble men."
Then came a sound of music from the Lake,
Like the soft sighing of the summer winds
Among the pine-trees, and Sir Bedivere
Turned toward the sound. But as he turned again
To ask of Merlin what the music meant,
Merlin was gone, and he was all alone--
Alone upon the beach amid the dead!