Back to top

Pastoral of Galahad

1 The text reads feasted, but fasted is obviously intended.

The blackthorn-flower hath fallen away--
The blackthorn-flower that wise men say
Keeps wild and variable skies
As long as it may stay:
But here's the gorse, and here's the whin,
And here the pearlèd may appears,
And poison-weeds of satin skin
Through every bank prick long green ears
To hear the cuckoo-cries.

By early field and coppice dark,
One cometh singing like the lark;
His limbs with silver plates are clad
More bright than beechen-bark;
And bathed in mist, half sun, half steam,
The yokels made their clumsy bow,
Or pull aside their smoking team
To murmur kneeling in the plough:
"Here cometh Galahad."

And Galahad hath stayed his song
To help the labouring hinds along,
And prayed them, pitying the dumb,
To spare both goad and thong;
And blessed them all, and wandered forth
Through pasture purpled o'er with thyme,
And cried unto the fragrant earth,
And louder than the minster chime:
"Laudate Dominum!"

For earth is soft with summer's dole:
Each worn-out mare hath got a foal
To suck her weariness away,
And make old bruises whole;
And deep in grass may weaklings rest
Beside the milky mother-things;
The starling by his hidden nest
Like a low sound of bubbling springs
Chuckles the livelong day.

"I thank Thee, Lord," Sir Galahad said,
"Thy sinless earth is happy made."
By day, by night, his thrilling voice
Ringeth through sun and shade.
At eve he picks the flowering thorn
To scourge therewith his shoulders bare;
The flowers fly off, the flesh is torn,
Yet ever more he sings in prayer:
"Rejoice, my heart, rejoice."

Now with the full-leaved Whitsuntide
The truant knights to Camelot ride,
That they may keep the festival
By noble Arthur's side.
And some are bronzed by wind and sun,
And some are seamed with blows and care,
And all are full of speech; but none
The record of his soul lays bare
Within that courtly hall.

Eleven at the Table Round
With gemmy carcanets are crowned:
The twelfth hath flowers of woodroffe wild
Around his forehead bound.
He cometh singing like the lark--
He entereth gay with garlands green--
"Art shepherd-clown or chapel-clerk,
O knight?" said Guinevere the queen
To Galahad undefiled.

"Why Galahad this joyous mien?
O Galahad where hast thou been?
Hath prayed and fasted all the Lent? 1
What vision hast thou seen?"
But Galahad throws his garland down:
"O king, O knights, no monk am I;
Nor yet, my queen, a shepherd-clown;
In wanderings 'neath the open sky
Mine idle days were spent.

"In grassy ways I set my feet;
I tuned mine ears to chirp and bleat;
I saw a sickle-moon at birth
Over the young green what.
I sate among the kindly beasts
And knew them seasonably glad;
Of balsam-herbs I made my feasts;
A happier man than Galahad
Was never seen on earth.

"My heart was glad for that I knew
The fallen bole had greened anew,
And sucking things were glad and mad
And gambolled in the dew;
For when new leaves come round the bole,
And every beast hath young unto her,
O king, within the loneliest soul
Are silent place all in flower!"
Answereth Galahad.

"Shame! shame!" cry then the Table Round,
"What! never a blow, and never a wound?
And never a holy image kissed
In crypts beneath the ground?"
Saith Galahad: "I think no shame;
The story of the Lord of all
When first on Christmas night He came
Beginneth with a pastoral:
Even your captain, Christ.

"Have ye not heard of ass and ox
That warmed the stable in the rocks?
Have ye not read of them that kept
Night-watches o'er their flocks?
And shall His humble virgin knight
With herds and shepherds scorn to dwell,
If He who leads all heaven's might
To battle with the crews of hell,
By beasts of burden slept?

"I am not less a soldier sealed,
Because in life of tilth and field
I saw the light, I heard the call,
That God Himself revealed.
But king, hast thou a perilous quest,
And would'st thou doubt which knight to send?
Mine arm is strong, my heart at rest--
Behold the man!"
                         Here hath an end
Sir Galahad's pastoral.