Out spake the King, -- "My sister's hand
I give to any in the land
Who brings her back to me."
And forth they rode in quest of her,
Heart hot with hope, each plied the spur
To win such high degree.
By yellow fields of harvest-corn,
Thro' cities old and weather-worn,
Down road and winding lane,
By shallow ford and river-bridge,
Along the rugged mountain-ridge,
They rode the quest in vain.
They rode, it seemed, across the world,
They saw the flags of Summer furled,
They felt the dead leaves fall;
The trees grew naked by the way,
And from his ramparts, bleak and gray,
They heard the Winter call.
Once on a misty moorland waste
They slackened in their headlong haste
To bury one that fell;
Then on they went, but grew afraid
To die and have no ghostly aid,
Nor mass, nor passing bell.
And from that day the frozen sun
Ne'er dawned but that they lost some one
Of their undaunted band;
But still they never backward turned,
And still the strong desire burned
To win the Princess' hand.
Till one alone was left to climb
The weary way; the biting rime
Had dulled his armor bright;
At last his horse fell under him,
Then, chanting low a lover's hymn,
He perished in the night.
The night wore on, and very soon
Uprose the white and waning moon
With her thin train of stars;
Withered she was, and very old,
And all the stars were blue with cold,
And shaken, as from wars.
And when the winds of Summer blew
Along the road, and flowers grew,
And fell the Summer rain,
They found them lying in the dust,
Their armor rotted thro' with rust, --
They rode the quest in vain.
An errant minstrel wandered down
To where, within the royal town,
The King sat on his throne;
Therewith he learned his knights were dead:
"Let mass be sung for them," he said,
"And carve their names in stone."
But when the sister of the King
Heard all the royal church-bells ring,
And knew the knights were dead,
She came from out her hiding-place
And painted red her laughing face --
"The news are good," she said.
But still the royal church-bells rang,
And still the monks their requiem sang,
And over all the land
A shadow fell as of despair,
For none were left with heart to dare
The quest of Morgain's hand.
But lo! a murmur, growing loud, --
A strange knight parts the curious crowd,
His step is firm and free,
Tho' he has journeyed from the land
Whose yellow belt of shining sand
Dips in the endless sea.
"God grant," said he, "I be not late."
He stopped before the palace-gate
And wound his silvern horn;
The gates of Merlin opened wide,
The church-bells ceased, and as a bride
Uprose the ruddy morn.
Forthwith he spake unto the King, --
"My liege, let all your church-bells ring,
And make a marriage-chime."
With roses wreathed about her head
The Princess came, and this she said, --
"It is the foretold time."
Even so he claimed the Princess' hand
And broke the spell; throughout the land
Died down dark dismal fears;
And they that rode the fruitless quest
Lay quiet in their graves, at rest,
Mourned for with maidens' tears.
But where they rode, that wedded twain,
Thro' whirl of wind and rout of rain,
Toward the endless sea --
What quest was theirs? What women's wile
Lay lurking in the faint sweet smile
That masked her reverie?
They rode unto their journey's end,
The Lonely Land where meet and blend
The sea-waves and the shore --
He left her in her bridal-room
Alone. -- Night wove her garb of gloom,
Earth shivered to the core.
She watched -- the moon, a very skull,
Floated upon the sea-rim, dull
The scant stars gleamed above;
Then Morgain laughed, then Morgain cried, --
"O, dying moon! O, happy bride!
To live, to laugh, to love!"
Time fled -- he heard the Princess say, --
"O knight of mine, the weary way
Is passed, the path is straight,
Lo, thou art mine, and I am fair,
Live, laugh, and love, nor wile nor snare
Can keep one from his fate."
Whereat he fled in shame and fear,
But always did he think to hear
Her voice, and see her face,
And feel her red lips kiss and cling,
Till world and sky did reel and ring
With memory of her grace.
Nathless he came to her again --
She said, -- "Be thou the lord of men,
Yet shall thy proud heart bend;
With weak white hands I hold thee mine,
Thy thread of life shall twist and twine
With mine unto the end."
Shamefaced and hot, he held her fast,
Cried, -- "Fling the future to the past!
Thy eyes burn fiercely bright."
Soft blew the summer wind along,
A fieldfare trilled his evening song,
And day lay wound with night.
So Morgain wrought a pure knight's fate;
Upon him full the heavy weight
Of sins and sorrows done:
She watched him, ever at her side,
Wax wan and worn and hollow-eyed,
She whispered, -- "I have won."
But lo, she clutched him in the night --
With bloodless face, and lips all white,
She cried, -- "My time is fled!
Hark! they that rode the fruitless quest
Are riding now!" -- and on his breast,
Shrieking, she fell -- struck dead.
Thereafter came the royal hearse,
But none would bless; a muttered curse
Greeted the funeral-day;
The moon uprist, so white and lean
That scarce her shadow could be seen
Across the graveyard-way.
By the green grave he stood, and said, --
"O Death, with Love corruption spread,
For nothing lies before."
Even as he spake the earth grew gray,
The endless sea stretched far away
In quest of unknown shore.