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King Arthur's Sleep: A Ballad of Bala Fair


On the morn of sweet St. Martin
   Davie drew a hazel wand,
And he singing came to Bala,
   With the hazel in his hand.

What he sang, the cock-thrush echoed,
   Some wild rhyme of Merlin's doom,
Or the sad refrain of Rhuddlan,
   Or the love of Hob and Twm.

From the hill, he heard the harpers,
   And the hagglers, in the town,
And his heart leapt up to hear them,
   As he sang, and hastened down.


What cobbled ancientry is this comes coughing thro' the fair,
                     Davie dear?
Like one from out the grave arisen, the grave-mould in his hair?

The shepherd boys cry 'Druan!' the Bala maids 'Beware!
                     Davie dear!'
Yea sure, at sight of Davie's wand, he waits a while to stare.

'If thou'll take me where thy hazel grew,--ah, this cough has made me old!'
                     Davie's told,--
'I'll twine thy wand with silver, and bind thy belt with gold!'

Can you bear to leave untasted all the fun of Bala Fair,
                     Davie dear?
'Davie dear!' the maids keep calling. His wand leads otherwhere.


Far from Bala fair, the Lonnen
   Leans against the mountain side;
Far above the Lonnen haystacks,
   Drops the brook the hazels hide.

Davie leads, the grey-man follows,
   As grey-eve, St. Martin's morn;
While across the Lonnen haystacks,
   Now the pale frost-fog is borne.

Davie leads, the grey-man follows;
   And he coughs; but Davie sighs
As they climb, and mark the night-fall;
   With no lantern but their eyes.

By the torrent, mid the hazels,
   Hardly may the grey-man see,
Groping, kneeling, there, a gravestone,
   Cast with Druid charactry.

Ach, he coughs; his lean long fingers
   Strain upon it, til it stirs,
But a cry from out the torrent,
   And the hazels Davie hears!


Deep as Merlin's grave, the stairway
   That descended, gloom on gloom,
Into darkness that no window
   Ever yet let sun illume.

Davie fears, but he must follow:
   Till the darkness soars and falls,--
Arched and groined, and looped and lifted,
   Like St. David's twilit walls.

And within, a trembling twilight
   Surely shewed a thousand men,
All asleep, in shining helmets,
   Ah, to see them wake again.

'They are mighty Arthur's warriors!'
   Said the grey-man; 'Till the day
When the bell shall ring to wake them,
   They must sleep. Then wake for aye!

'With his knights at the Round Table,--
   Owain, Kai, and Percival,--
See,--the little star that crowns him,
   There sleeps Arthur, King of all.

'But as Merlin said, not waking
   In our time, save yonder bell
Ring,--and see the gold around them
   That is ours. Oh, Sirs, sleep well!'


Davie's lips part, wide with wonder,
   At the warriors in their sleep,
With such spears, and splendid helmets;
   'Ah,' he cries, 'to see them leap

'Forth to life, and march to music,
   Flashing all their thousand spears;
Ring, you bell, until King Arthur
   Rises, royal, when he hears!'

Still the old man gropes and grumbles
   O'er his gold, as Davie's gone;
Hark, ye mystic hall of warriors,
   Hark, the bell rings, night is done!

At its stroke, the mountain trembled,
   And the thousand spears replied,
Grounding on the mouldy pavement,
   As the men rose, side by side.

Oh, the soldiers rise in radiance,
   All in motion, helm and spear!
And King Arthur's crown, above them,
   Like a star shines steadfast there!

But a voice cried,--'Sleep, King Arthur!
   Greed of gold, a boy at play,
Wake thy destined sleep; far distant
   Still is the awakening day!'

And King Arthur cried,--'Sleep, soldiers!
   Sleep, my spears!' They sank again
Into silence. Round the table
   Arthur slept with all his men!

But the old man hastened, stumbling,
   From his gold, and grumbling crept,
And drew Davie up the stairway,
   Looking back at those who slept.

Far below, the Lonnen windows,
   Sent one gleam forth lonelily,
As alone stood Davie, asking,--
   'Old man, gold man, where is he?'


Many a morn, up from the Lonnen,
   Davie led his sheep to seek
For the door, but never found it,--
   Many a morn, week after week!

Many an eve, too, Davie waited,
   Year by year, till he was grown
Stalwart, and the Lonnen pastures,
   And the sheep there were his own.

And when he was grey, he told it,
   In his sounding mountain tongue
To his grandsons; and they told it
   To the harp when songs were sung.

So my grandsire told the story
   O'er to me: and long I sought
For King Arthur's Hall,--and seeking,
   Yet must wander, finding nought.

Yet we wait the day of waking!
   But the grave its counsel keeps:
Still within his Hall of Waiting,
   With his warriors Arthur sleeps.