DEFENCE OF GUENEVERE
AND OTHER POEMS
REPRINTED FROM THE KELMSCOTT PRESS EDITION AS REVISED BY THE AUTHOR
LONGMANS, GREEN, AND CO. 39 PATERNOSTER ROW, LONDON NEW YORK, BOMBAY, AND CALCUTTA 1908
All rights reserved
First Edition, BELL & DALDY, 1858 Reprinted, 1875, for ELLIS & WHITE, and Subsequently for REEVES & TURNER Kelmscott Press Edition (revised by the Author), 1892 Transferred to LONGMANS, GREEN, & CO., 1896 New Edition corrected by Kelmscott Press Edition, May 1900 Reprinted January 1908
PAGE The Defence of Guenevere 1
King Arthur's Tomb 19
Sir Galahad, a Christmas Mystery 43
The Chapel in Lyoness 57
Sir Peter Harpdon's End 65
Concerning Geffray Teste Noire 135
A Good Knight in Prison 148
Old Love 155
The Gilliflower of Gold 159
Shameful Death 163
The Eve of Crecy 166
The Judgment of God 169
The Little Tower 174
The Sailing of the Sword 178
The Wind 187
The Blue Closet 194
The Tune of Seven Towers 199
Golden Wings 202
The Haystack in the Floods 215
Two Red Roses across the Moon 223
Welland River 226
Riding Together 231
Father John's War-Song 234
Sir Giles' War-Song 237
Near Avalon 239
Praise of My Lady 241
Summer Dawn 246
In Prison 247
THE DEFENCE OF GUENEVERE
But, knowing now that they would have her speak, She threw her wet hair backward from her brow, Her hand close to her mouth touching her cheek,
As though she had had there a shameful blow, And feeling it shameful to feel ought but shame All through her heart, yet felt her cheek burned so,
She must a little touch it; like one lame She walked away from Gauwaine, with her head Still lifted up; and on her cheek of flame
The tears dried quick; she stopped at last and said: O knights and lords, it seems but little skill To talk of well-known things past now and dead.
God wot I ought to say, I have done ill, And pray you all forgiveness heartily! Because you must be right, such great lords; still
Listen, suppose your time were come to die, And you were quite alone and very weak; Yea, laid a dying while very mightily
The wind was ruffling up the narrow streak Of river through your broad lands running well: Suppose a hush should come, then some one speak:
'One of these cloths is heaven, and one is hell, Now choose one cloth for ever; which they be, I will not tell you, you must somehow tell
Of your own strength and mightiness; here, see!' Yea, yea, my lord, and you to ope your eyes, At foot of your familiar bed to see
A great God's angel standing, with such dyes, Not known on earth, on his great wings, and hands, Held out two ways, light from the inner skies
Showing him well, and making his commands Seem to be God's commands, moreover, too, Holding within his hands the cloths on wands;
And one of these strange choosing cloths was blue, Wavy and long, and one cut short and red; No man could tell the better of the two.
After a shivering half-hour you said: 'God help! heaven's colour, the blue;' and he said, 'hell.' Perhaps you then would roll upon your bed,
And cry to all good men that loved you well, 'Ah Christ! if only I had known, known, known;' Launcelot went away, then I could tell,
Like wisest man how all things would be, moan, And roll and hurt myself, and long to die, And yet fear much to die for what was sown.
Nevertheless you, O Sir Gauwaine, lie, Whatever may have happened through these years, God knows I speak truth, saying that you lie.
Her voice was low at first, being full of tears, But as it cleared, it grew full loud and shrill, Growing a windy shriek in all men's ears,
A ringing in their startled brains, until She said that Gauwaine lied, then her voice sunk, And her great eyes began again to fill,
Though still she stood right up, and never shrunk, But spoke on bravely, glorious lady fair! Whatever tears her full lips may have drunk,
She stood, and seemed to think, and wrung her hair, Spoke out at last with no more trace of shame, With passionate twisting of her body there:
It chanced upon a day that Launcelot came To dwell at Arthur's court: at Christmas-time This happened; when the heralds sung his name,
Son of King Ban of Benwick, seemed to chime Along with all the bells that rang that day, O'er the white roofs, with little change of rhyme.
Christmas and whitened winter passed away, And over me the April sunshine came, Made very awful with black hail-clouds, yea
And in the Summer I grew white with flame, And bowed my head down: Autumn, and the sick Sure knowledge things would never be the same,
However often Spring might be most thick Of blossoms and buds, smote on me, and I grew Careless of most things, let the clock tick, tick,
To my unhappy pulse, that beat right through My eager body; while I laughed out loud, And let my lips curl up at false or true,
Seemed cold and shallow without any cloud. Behold my judges, then the cloths were brought; While I was dizzied thus, old thoughts would crowd,
Belonging to the time ere I was bought By Arthur's great name and his little love; Must I give up for ever then, I thought,
That which I deemed would ever round me move Glorifying all things; for a little word, Scarce ever meant at all, must I now prove
Stone-cold for ever? Pray you, does the Lord Will that all folks should be quite happy and good? I love God now a little, if this cord
Were broken, once for all what striving could Make me love anything in earth or heaven? So day by day it grew, as if one should
Slip slowly down some path worn smooth and even, Down to a cool sea on a summer day; Yet still in slipping there was some small leaven
Of stretched hands catching small stones by the way, Until one surely reached the sea at last, And felt strange new joy as the worn head lay
Back, with the hair like sea-weed; yea all past Sweat of the forehead, dryness of the lips, Washed utterly out by the dear waves o'ercast,
In the lone sea, far off from any ships! Do I not know now of a day in Spring? No minute of that wild day ever slips
From out my memory; I hear thrushes sing, And wheresoever I may be, straightway Thoughts of it all come up with most fresh sting:
I was half mad with beauty on that day, And went without my ladies all alone, In a quiet garden walled round every way;
I was right joyful of that wall of stone, That shut the flowers and trees up with the sky, And trebled all the beauty: to the bone,
Yea right through to my heart, grown very shy With weary thoughts, it pierced, and made me glad; Exceedingly glad, and I knew verily,
A little thing just then had made me mad; I dared not think, as I was wont to do, Sometimes, upon my beauty; If I had
Held out my long hand up against the blue, And, looking on the tenderly darken'd fingers, Thought that by rights one ought to see quite through,
There, see you, where the soft still light yet lingers, Round by the edges; what should I have done, If this had joined with yellow spotted singers,
And startling green drawn upward by the sun? But shouting, loosed out, see now! all my hair, And trancedly stood watching the west wind run
With faintest half-heard breathing sound; why there I lose my head e'en now in doing this; But shortly listen: In that garden fair
Came Launcelot walking; this is true, the kiss Wherewith we kissed in meeting that spring day, I scarce dare talk of the remember'd bliss,
When both our mouths went wandering in one way, And aching sorely, met among the leaves; Our hands being left behind strained far away.
Never within a yard of my bright sleeves Had Launcelot come before: and now, so nigh! After that day why is it Guenevere grieves?
Nevertheless you, O Sir Gauwaine, lie, Whatever happened on through all those years, God knows I speak truth, saying that you lie.
Being such a lady could I weep these tears If this were true? A great queen such as I Having sinn'd this way, straight her conscience sears;
And afterwards she liveth hatefully, Slaying and poisoning, certes never weeps: Gauwaine be friends now, speak me lovingly.
Do I not see how God's dear pity creeps All through your frame, and trembles in your mouth? Remember in what grave your mother sleeps,
Buried in some place far down in the south, Men are forgetting as I speak to you; By her head sever'd in that awful drouth
Of pity that drew Agravaine's fell blow, I pray your pity! let me not scream out For ever after, when the shrill winds blow
Through half your castle-locks! let me not shout For ever after in the winter night When you ride out alone! in battle-rout
Let not my rusting tears make your sword light! Ah! God of mercy, how he turns away! So, ever must I dress me to the fight,
So: let God's justice work! Gauwaine, I say, See me hew down your proofs: yea all men know Even as you said how Mellyagraunce one day,
One bitter day in la Fausse Garde, for so All good knights held it after, saw: Yea, sirs, by cursed unknightly outrage; though
You, Gauwaine, held his word without a flaw, This Mellyagraunce saw blood upon my bed: Whose blood then pray you? is there any law
To make a queen say why some spots of red Lie on her coverlet? or will you say: Your hands are white, lady, as when you wed,
Where did you bleed? and must I stammer out, Nay, I blush indeed, fair lord, only to rend My sleeve up to my shoulder, where there lay
A knife-point last night: so must I defend The honour of the Lady Guenevere? Not so, fair lords, even if the world should end
This very day, and you were judges here Instead of God. Did you see Mellyagraunce When Launcelot stood by him? what white fear
Curdled his blood, and how his teeth did dance, His side sink in? as my knight cried and said: Slayer of unarm'd men, here is a chance!
Setter of traps, I pray you guard your head, By God I am so glad to fight with you, Stripper of ladies, that my hand feels lead
For driving weight; hurrah now! draw and do, For all my wounds are moving in my breast, And I am getting mad with waiting so.
He struck his hands together o'er the beast, Who fell down flat, and grovell'd at his feet, And groan'd at being slain so young: At least,
My knight said, rise you, sir, who are so fleet At catching ladies, half-arm'd will I fight, My left side all uncovered! then I weet,
Up sprang Sir Mellyagraunce with great delight Upon his knave's face; not until just then Did I quite hate him, as I saw my knight
Along the lists look to my stake and pen With such a joyous smile, it made me sigh From agony beneath my waist-chain, when
The fight began, and to me they drew nigh; Ever Sir Launcelot kept him on the right, And traversed warily, and ever high
And fast leapt caitiff's sword, until my knight Sudden threw up his sword to his left hand, Caught it, and swung it; that was all the fight,
Except a spout of blood on the hot land; For it was hottest summer; and I know I wonder'd how the fire, while I should stand,
And burn, against the heat, would quiver so, Yards above my head; thus these matters went; Which things were only warnings of the woe
That fell on me. Yet Mellyagraunce was shent, For Mellyagraunce had fought against the Lord; Therefore, my lords, take heed lest you be blent
With all this wickedness; say no rash word Against me, being so beautiful; my eyes, Wept all away to grey, may bring some sword
To drown you in your blood; see my breast rise, Like waves of purple sea, as here I stand; And how my arms are moved in wonderful wise,
Yea also at my full heart's strong command, See through my long throat how the words go up In ripples to my mouth; how in my hand
The shadow lies like wine within a cup Of marvellously colour'd gold; yea now This little wind is rising, look you up,
And wonder how the light is falling so Within my moving tresses: will you dare, When you have looked a little on my brow,
To say this thing is vile? or will you care For any plausible lies of cunning woof, When you can see my face with no lie there
For ever? am I not a gracious proof: But in your chamber Launcelot was found: Is there a good knight then would stand aloof,
When a queen says with gentle queenly sound: O true as steel come now and talk with me, I love to see your step upon the ground
Unwavering, also well I love to see That gracious smile light up your face, and hear Your wonderful words, that all mean verily
The thing they seem to mean: good friend, so dear To me in everything, come here to-night, Or else the hours will pass most dull and drear;
If you come not, I fear this time I might Get thinking over much of times gone by, When I was young, and green hope was in sight:
For no man cares now to know why I sigh; And no man comes to sing me pleasant songs, Nor any brings me the sweet flowers that lie
So thick in the gardens; therefore one so longs To see you, Launcelot; that we may be Like children once again, free from all wrongs
Just for one night. Did he not come to me? What thing could keep true Launcelot away If I said, Come? there was one less than three
In my quiet room that night, and we were gay; Till sudden I rose up, weak, pale, and sick, Because a bawling broke our dream up, yea
I looked at Launcelot's face and could not speak, For he looked helpless too, for a little while; Then I remember how I tried to shriek,
And could not, but fell down; from tile to tile The stones they threw up rattled o'er my head And made me dizzier; till within a while
My maids were all about me, and my head On Launcelot's breast was being soothed away From its white chattering, until Launcelot said:
By God! I will not tell you more to-day, Judge any way you will: what matters it? You know quite well the story of that fray,
How Launcelot still'd their bawling, the mad fit That caught up Gauwaine: all, all, verily, But just that which would save me; these things flit.
Nevertheless you, O Sir Gauwaine, lie, Whatever may have happen'd these long years, God knows I speak truth, saying that you lie!
All I have said is truth, by Christ's dear tears. She would not speak another word, but stood Turn'd sideways; listening, like a man who hears
His brother's trumpet sounding through the wood Of his foes' lances. She lean'd eagerly, And gave a slight spring sometimes, as she could
At last hear something really; joyfully Her cheek grew crimson, as the headlong speed Of the roan charger drew all men to see, The knight who came was Launcelot at good need.
KING ARTHUR'S TOMB
KING ARTHUR'S TOMB
Hot August noon: already on that day Since sunrise through the Wiltshire downs, most sad Of mouth and eye, he had gone leagues of way; Ay and by night, till whether good or bad
He was, he knew not, though he knew perchance That he was Launcelot, the bravest knight Of all who since the world was, have borne lance, Or swung their swords in wrong cause or in right.
Nay, he knew nothing now, except that where The Glastonbury gilded towers shine, A lady dwelt, whose name was Guenevere; This he knew also; that some fingers twine,
Not only in a man's hair, even his heart, (Making him good or bad I mean,) but in his life, Skies, earth, men's looks and deeds, all that has part, Not being ourselves, in that half-sleep, half-strife,
(Strange sleep, strange strife,) that men call living; so Was Launcelot most glad when the moon rose, Because it brought new memories of her. "Lo, Between the trees a large moon, the wind lows
Not loud, but as a cow begins to low, Wishing for strength to make the herdsman hear: The ripe corn gathereth dew; yea, long ago, In the old garden life, my Guenevere
Loved to sit still among the flowers, till night Had quite come on, hair loosen'd, for she said, Smiling like heaven, that its fairness might Draw up the wind sooner to cool her head.
Now while I ride how quick the moon gets small, As it did then: I tell myself a tale That will not last beyond the whitewashed wall, Thoughts of some joust must help me through the vale,
Keep this till after: How Sir Gareth ran A good course that day under my Queen's eyes, And how she sway'd laughing at Dinadan. No. Back again, the other thoughts will rise,
And yet I think so fast 'twill end right soon: Verily then I think, that Guenevere, Made sad by dew and wind, and tree-barred moon, Did love me more than ever, was more dear
To me than ever, she would let me lie And kiss her feet, or, if I sat behind, Would drop her hand and arm most tenderly, And touch my mouth. And she would let me wind
Her hair around my neck, so that it fell Upon my red robe, strange in the twilight With many unnamed colours, till the bell Of her mouth on my cheek sent a delight
Through all my ways of being; like the stroke Wherewith God threw all men upon the face When he took Enoch, and when Enoch woke With a changed body in the happy place.
Once, I remember, as I sat beside, She turn'd a little, and laid back her head, And slept upon my breast; I almost died In those night-watches with my love and dread.
There lily-like she bow'd her head and slept, And I breathed low, and did not dare to move, But sat and quiver'd inwardly, thoughts crept, And frighten'd me with pulses of my Love.
The stars shone out above the doubtful green Of her bodice, in the green sky overhead; Pale in the green sky were the stars I ween, Because the moon shone like a star she shed
When she dwelt up in heaven a while ago, And ruled all things but God: the night went on, The wind grew cold, and the white moon grew low, One hand had fallen down, and now lay on
My cold stiff palm; there were no colours then For near an hour, and I fell asleep In spite of all my striving, even when I held her whose name-letters make me leap.
I did not sleep long, feeling that in sleep I did some loved one wrong, so that the sun Had only just arisen from the deep Still land of colours, when before me one
Stood whom I knew, but scarcely dared to touch, She seemed to have changed so in the night; Moreover she held scarlet lilies, such As Maiden Margaret bears upon the light
Of the great church walls, natheless did I walk Through the fresh wet woods, and the wheat that morn, Touching her hair and hand and mouth, and talk Of love we held, nigh hid among the corn.
Back to the palace, ere the sun grew high, We went, and in a cool green room all day I gazed upon the arras giddily, Where the wind set the silken kings a-sway.
I could not hold her hand, or see her face; For which may God forgive me! but I think, Howsoever, that she was not in that place. These memories Launcelot was quick to drink;
And when these fell, some paces past the wall, There rose yet others, but they wearied more, And tasted not so sweet; they did not fall So soon, but vaguely wrenched his strained heart sore
In shadowy slipping from his grasp: these gone, A longing followed; if he might but touch That Guenevere at once! Still night, the lone Grey horse's head before him vex'd him much,
In steady nodding over the grey road: Still night, and night, and night, and emptied heart Of any stories; what a dismal load Time grew at last, yea, when the night did part,
And let the sun flame over all, still there The horse's grey ears turn'd this way and that, And still he watch'd them twitching in the glare Of the morning sun, behind them still he sat,
Quite wearied out with all the wretched night, Until about the dustiest of the day, On the last down's brow he drew his rein in sight Of the Glastonbury roofs that choke the way.
And he was now quite giddy as before, When she slept by him, tired out, and her hair Was mingled with the rushes on the floor, And he, being tired too, was scarce aware
Of her presence; yet as he sat and gazed, A shiver ran throughout him, and his breath Came slower, he seem'd suddenly amazed, As though he had not heard of Arthur's death.
This for a moment only, presently He rode on giddy still, until he reach'd A place of apple-trees, by the thorn-tree Wherefrom St. Joseph in the days past preached.
Dazed there he laid his head upon a tomb, Not knowing it was Arthur's, at which sight One of her maidens told her, 'He is come,' And she went forth to meet him; yet a blight
Had settled on her, all her robes were black, With a long white veil only; she went slow, As one walks to be slain, her eyes did lack Half her old glory, yea, alas! the glow
Had left her face and hands; this was because As she lay last night on her purple bed, Wishing for morning, grudging every pause Of the palace clocks, until that Launcelot's head
Should lie on her breast, with all her golden hair Each side: when suddenly the thing grew drear, In morning twilight, when the grey downs bare Grew into lumps of sin to Guenevere.
At first she said no word, but lay quite still, Only her mouth was open, and her eyes Gazed wretchedly about from hill to hill; As though she asked, not with so much surprise
As tired disgust, what made them stand up there So cold and grey. After, a spasm took Her face, and all her frame, she caught her hair, All her hair, in both hands, terribly she shook,
And rose till she was sitting in the bed, Set her teeth hard, and shut her eyes and seem'd As though she would have torn it from her head, Natheless she dropp'd it, lay down, as she deem'd
It matter'd not whatever she might do: O Lord Christ! pity on her ghastly face! Those dismal hours while the cloudless blue Drew the sun higher: He did give her grace;
Because at last she rose up from her bed, And put her raiment on, and knelt before The blessed rood, and with her dry lips said, Muttering the words against the marble floor:
'Unless you pardon, what shall I do, Lord, But go to hell? and there see day by day Foul deed on deed, hear foulest word on word, For ever and ever, such as on the way
To Camelot I heard once from a churl, That curled me up upon my jennet's neck With bitter shame; how then, Lord, should I curl For ages and for ages? dost thou reck
That I am beautiful, Lord, even as you And your dear mother? why did I forget You were so beautiful, and good, and true, That you loved me so, Guenevere? O yet
If even I go to hell, I cannot choose But love you, Christ, yea, though I cannot keep From loving Launcelot; O Christ! must I lose My own heart's love? see, though I cannot weep,
Yet am I very sorry for my sin; Moreover, Christ, I cannot bear that hell, I am most fain to love you, and to win A place in heaven some time: I cannot tell:
Speak to me, Christ! I kiss, kiss, kiss your feet; Ah! now I weep!' The maid said, 'By the tomb He waiteth for you, lady,' coming fleet, Not knowing what woe filled up all the room.
So Guenevere rose and went to meet him there, He did not hear her coming, as he lay On Arthur's head, till some of her long hair Brush'd on the new-cut stone: 'Well done! to pray
For Arthur, my dear Lord, the greatest king That ever lived.' 'Guenevere! Guenevere! Do you not know me, are you gone mad? fling Your arms and hair about me, lest I fear
You are not Guenevere, but some other thing.' 'Pray you forgive me, fair lord Launcelot! I am not mad, but I am sick; they cling, God's curses, unto such as I am; not
Ever again shall we twine arms and lips.' 'Yea, she is mad: thy heavy law, O Lord, Is very tight about her now, and grips Her poor heart, so that no right word
Can reach her mouth; so, Lord, forgive her now, That she not knowing what she does, being mad, Kills me in this way; Guenevere, bend low And kiss me once! for God's love kiss me! sad
Though your face is, you look much kinder now; Yea once, once for the last time kiss me, lest I die.' 'Christ! my hot lips are very near his brow, Help me to save his soul! Yea, verily,
Across my husband's head, fair Launcelot! Fair serpent mark'd with V upon the head! This thing we did while yet he was alive, Why not, O twisting knight, now he is dead?
Yea, shake! shake now and shiver! if you can Remember anything for agony, Pray you remember how when the wind ran One cool spring evening through fair aspen-tree,
And elm and oak about the palace there, The king came back from battle, and I stood To meet him, with my ladies, on the stair, My face made beautiful with my young blood.'
'Will she lie now, Lord God?' 'Remember too, Wrung heart, how first before the knights there came A royal bier, hung round with green and blue, About it shone great tapers with sick flame.
And thereupon Lucius, the Emperor, Lay royal-robed, but stone-cold now and dead, Not able to hold sword or sceptre more, But not quite grim; because his cloven head
Bore no marks now of Launcelot's bitter sword, Being by embalmers deftly solder'd up; So still it seem'd the face of a great lord, Being mended as a craftsman mends a cup.
Also the heralds sung rejoicingly To their long trumpets; Fallen under shield, Here lieth Lucius, King of Italy, Slain by Lord Launcelot in open field.
Thereat the people shouted: Launcelot! And through the spears I saw you drawing nigh, You and Lord Arthur: nay, I saw you not, But rather Arthur, God would not let die,
I hoped, these many years; he should grow great, And in his great arms still encircle me, Kissing my face, half blinded with the heat Of king's love for the queen I used to be.
Launcelot, Launcelot, why did he take your hand, When he had kissed me in his kingly way? Saying: This is the knight whom all the land Calls Arthur's banner, sword, and shield to-day;
Cherish him, love. Why did your long lips cleave In such strange way unto my fingers then? So eagerly glad to kiss, so loath to leave When you rose up? Why among helmed men
Could I always tell you by your long strong arms, And sway like an angel's in your saddle there? Why sicken'd I so often with alarms Over the tilt-yard? Why were you more fair
Than aspens in the autumn at their best? Why did you fill all lands with your great fame, So that Breuse even, as he rode, fear'd lest At turning of the way your shield should flame?
Was it nought then, my agony and strife? When as day passed by day, year after year, I found I could not live a righteous life! Didst ever think queens held their truth for dear?
O, but your lips say: Yea, but she was cold Sometimes, always uncertain as the spring; When I was sad she would be overbold, Longing for kisses. When war-bells did ring,
The back-toll'd bells of noisy Camelot. 'Now, Lord God, listen! listen, Guenevere, Though I am weak just now, I think there's not A man who dares to say: You hated her,
And left her moaning while you fought your fill In the daisied meadows! lo you her thin hand, That on the carven stone can not keep still, Because she loves me against God's command,
Has often been quite wet with tear on tear, Tears Launcelot keeps somewhere, surely not In his own heart, perhaps in Heaven, where He will not be these ages.' 'Launcelot!
Loud lips, wrung heart! I say when the bells rang, The noisy back-toll'd bells of Camelot, There were two spots on earth, the thrushes sang In the lonely gardens where my love was not,
Where I was almost weeping; I dared not Weep quite in those days, lest one maid should say, In tittering whispers: Where is Launcelot To wipe with some kerchief those tears away?
Another answer sharply with brows knit, And warning hand up, scarcely lower though: You speak too loud, see you, she heareth it, This tigress fair has claws, as I well know,
As Launcelot knows too, the poor knight! well-a-day! Why met he not with Iseult from the West, Or better still, Iseult of Brittany? Perchance indeed quite ladyless were best.
Alas, my maids, you loved not overmuch Queen Guenevere, uncertain as sunshine In March; forgive me! for my sin being such, About my whole life, all my deeds did twine,
Made me quite wicked; as I found out then, I think; in the lonely palace where each morn We went, my maids and I, to say prayers when They sang mass in the chapel on the lawn.
And every morn I scarce could pray at all, For Launcelot's red-golden hair would play, Instead of sunlight, on the painted wall, Mingled with dreams of what the priest did say;
Grim curses out of Peter and of Paul; Judging of strange sins in Leviticus; Another sort of writing on the wall, Scored deep across the painted heads of us.
Christ sitting with the woman at the well, And Mary Magdalen repenting there, Her dimmed eyes scorch'd and red at sight of hell So hardly 'scaped, no gold light on her hair.
And if the priest said anything that seemed To touch upon the sin they said we did, (This in their teeth) they looked as if they deem'd That I was spying what thoughts might be hid
Under green-cover'd bosoms, heaving quick Beneath quick thoughts; while they grew red with shame, And gazed down at their feet: while I felt sick, And almost shriek'd if one should call my name.
The thrushes sang in the lone garden there: But where you were the birds were scared I trow: Clanging of arms about pavilions fair, Mixed with the knights' laughs; there, as I well know,
Rode Launcelot, the king of all the band, And scowling Gauwaine, like the night in day, And handsome Gareth, with his great white hand Curl'd round the helm-crest, ere he join'd the fray;
And merry Dinadan with sharp dark face, All true knights loved to see; and in the fight Great Tristram, and though helmed you could trace In all his bearing the frank noble knight;
And by him Palomydes, helmet off, He fought, his face brush'd by his hair, Red heavy swinging hair; he fear'd a scoff So overmuch, though what true knight would dare
To mock that face, fretted with useless care, And bitter useless striving after love? O Palomydes, with much honour bear Beast Glatysaunt upon your shield, above
Your helm that hides the swinging of your hair, And think of Iseult, as your sword drives through Much mail and plate: O God, let me be there A little time, as I was long ago!
Because stout Gareth lets his spear fall low, Gauwaine and Launcelot, and Dinadan Are helm'd and waiting; let the trumpets go! Bend over, ladies, to see all you can!
Clench teeth, dames, yea, clasp hands, for Gareth's spear Throws Kay from out his saddle, like a stone From a castle-window when the foe draws near: Iseult! Sir Dinadan rolleth overthrown.
Iseult! again: the pieces of each spear Fly fathoms up, and both the great steeds reel; Tristram for Iseult! Iseult! and Guenevere! The ladies' names bite verily like steel.
They bite: bite me, Lord God! I shall go mad, Or else die kissing him, he is so pale, He thinks me mad already, O bad! bad! Let me lie down a little while and wail.'
'No longer so, rise up, I pray you, love, And slay me really, then we shall be heal'd, Perchance, in the aftertime by God above.' 'Banner of Arthur, with black-bended shield
Sinister-wise across the fair gold ground! Here let me tell you what a knight you are, O sword and shield of Arthur! you are found A crooked sword, I think, that leaves a scar
On the bearer's arm, so be he thinks it straight, Twisted Malay's crease beautiful blue-grey, Poison'd with sweet fruit; as he found too late, My husband Arthur, on some bitter day!
O sickle cutting hemlock the day long! That the husbandman across his shoulder hangs, And, going homeward about evensong, Dies the next morning, struck through by the fangs!
Banner, and sword, and shield, you dare not die, Lest you meet Arthur in the other world, And, knowing who you are, he pass you by, Taking short turns that he may watch you curl'd,
Body and face and limbs in agony, Lest he weep presently and go away, Saying: I loved him once, with a sad sigh, Now I have slain him, Lord, let me go too, I pray. [Launcelot falls.
Alas! alas! I know not what to do, If I run fast it is perchance that I May fall and stun myself, much better so, Never, never again! not even when I die.'
LAUNCELOT, on awaking.
'I stretch'd my hands towards her and fell down, How long I lay in swoon I cannot tell: My head and hands were bleeding from the stone, When I rose up, also I heard a bell.'
SIR GALAHAD, A CHRISTMAS MYSTERY
SIR GALAHAD, A CHRISTMAS MYSTERY
It is the longest night in all the year, Near on the day when the Lord Christ was born; Six hours ago I came and sat down here, And ponder'd sadly, wearied and forlorn.
The winter wind that pass'd the chapel door, Sang out a moody tune, that went right well With mine own thoughts: I look'd down on the floor, Between my feet, until I heard a bell
Sound a long way off through the forest deep, And toll on steadily; a drowsiness Came on me, so that I fell half asleep, As I sat there not moving: less and less
I saw the melted snow that hung in beads Upon my steel-shoes; less and less I saw Between the tiles the bunches of small weeds: Heartless and stupid, with no touch of awe
Upon me, half-shut eyes upon the ground, I thought: O Galahad! the days go by, Stop and cast up now that which you have found, So sorely you have wrought and painfully.
Night after night your horse treads down alone The sere damp fern, night after night you sit Holding the bridle like a man of stone, Dismal, unfriended: what thing comes of it?
And what if Palomydes also ride, And over many a mountain and bare heath Follow the questing beast with none beside? Is he not able still to hold his breath
With thoughts of Iseult? doth he not grow pale With weary striving, to seem best of all To her, 'as she is best,' he saith? to fail Is nothing to him, he can never fall.
For unto such a man love-sorrow is So dear a thing unto his constant heart, That even if he never win one kiss, Or touch from Iseult, it will never part.
And he will never know her to be worse Than in his happiest dreams he thinks she is: Good knight, and faithful, you have 'scaped the curse In wonderful-wise; you have great store of bliss.
Yea, what if Father Launcelot ride out, Can he not think of Guenevere's arms, round Warm and lithe, about his neck, and shout Till all the place grows joyful with the sound?
And when he lists can often see her face, And think, 'Next month I kiss you, or next week, And still you think of me': therefore the place Grows very pleasant, whatsoever he seek.
But me, who ride alone, some carle shall find Dead in my arms in the half-melted snow, When all unkindly with the shifting wind, The thaw comes on at Candlemas: I know
Indeed that they will say: 'This Galahad If he had lived had been a right good knight; Ah! poor chaste body!' but they will be glad, Not most alone, but all, when in their sight
That very evening in their scarlet sleeves The gay-dress'd minstrels sing; no maid will talk Of sitting on my tomb, until the leaves, Grown big upon the bushes of the walk,
East of the Palace-pleasaunce, make it hard To see the minster therefrom: well-a-day! Before the trees by autumn were well bared, I saw a damozel with gentle play,
Within that very walk say last farewell To her dear knight, just riding out to find (Why should I choke to say it?) the Sangreal, And their last kisses sunk into my mind,
Yea, for she stood lean'd forward on his breast, Rather, scarce stood; the back of one dear hand, That it might well be kiss'd, she held and press'd Against his lips; long time they stood there, fann'd
By gentle gusts of quiet frosty wind, Till Mador de la porte a-going by, And my own horsehoofs roused them; they untwined, And parted like a dream. In this way I,
With sleepy face bent to the chapel floor, Kept musing half asleep, till suddenly A sharp bell rang from close beside the door, And I leapt up when something pass'd me by,
Shrill ringing going with it, still half blind I stagger'd after, a great sense of awe At every step kept gathering on my mind, Thereat I have no marvel, for I saw
One sitting on the altar as a throne, Whose face no man could say he did not know, And though the bell still rang, he sat alone, With raiment half blood-red, half white as snow.
Right so I fell upon the floor and knelt, Not as one kneels in church when mass is said, But in a heap, quite nerveless, for I felt The first time what a thing was perfect dread.
But mightily the gentle voice came down: 'Rise up, and look and listen, Galahad, Good knight of God, for you will see no frown Upon my face; I come to make you glad.
For that you say that you are all alone, I will be with you always, and fear not You are uncared for, though no maiden moan Above your empty tomb; for Launcelot,
He in good time shall be my servant too, Meantime, take note whose sword first made him knight, And who has loved him alway, yea, and who Still trusts him alway, though in all men's sight,
He is just what you know, O Galahad, This love is happy even as you say, But would you for a little time be glad, To make ME sorry long, day after day?
Her warm arms round his neck half throttle ME, The hot love-tears burn deep like spots of lead, Yea, and the years pass quick: right dismally Will Launcelot at one time hang his head;
Yea, old and shrivell'd he shall win my love. Poor Palomydes fretting out his soul! Not always is he able, son, to move His love, and do it honour: needs must roll
The proudest destrier sometimes in the dust, And then 'tis weary work; he strives beside Seem better than he is, so that his trust Is always on what chances may betide;
And so he wears away, my servant, too, When all these things are gone, and wretchedly He sits and longs to moan for Iseult, who Is no care now to Palomydes: see,
O good son Galahad, upon this day, Now even, all these things are on your side, But these you fight not for; look up, I say, And see how I can love you, for no pride
Closes your eyes, no vain lust keeps them down. See now you have ME always; following That holy vision, Galahad, go on, Until at last you come to ME to sing
In Heaven always, and to walk around The garden where I am.' He ceased, my face And wretched body fell upon the ground; And when I look'd again, the holy place
Was empty; but right so the bell again Came to the chapel-door, there entered Two angels first, in white, without a stain, And scarlet wings, then, after them, a bed
Four ladies bore, and set it down beneath The very altar-step, and while for fear I scarcely dared to move or draw my breath, Those holy ladies gently came a-near,
And quite unarm'd me, saying: 'Galahad, Rest here awhile and sleep, and take no thought Of any other thing than being glad; Hither the Sangreal will be shortly brought,
Yet must you sleep the while it stayeth here.' Right so they went away, and I, being weary, Slept long and dream'd of Heaven: the bell comes near, I doubt it grows to morning. Miserere!
Enter Two Angels in white, with scarlet wings; also, Four Ladies in gowns of red and green; also an Angel, bearing in his hands a surcoat of white, with a red cross.
O servant of the high God, Galahad! Rise and be arm'd: the Sangreal is gone forth Through the great forest, and you must be had Unto the sea that lieth on the north:
There shall you find the wondrous ship wherein The spindles of King Solomon are laid, And the sword that no man draweth without sin, But if he be most pure: and there is stay'd,
Hard by, Sir Launcelot, whom you will meet In some short space upon that ship: first, though, Will come here presently that lady sweet, Sister of Percival, whom you well know,
And with her Bors and Percival: stand now, These ladies will to arm you.
FIRST LADY, putting on the hauberk.
Galahad, That I may stand so close beneath your brow, I, Margaret of Antioch, am glad.
SECOND LADY, girding him with the sword.
That I may stand and touch you with my hand, O Galahad, I, Cecily, am glad.
THIRD LADY, buckling on the spurs.
That I may kneel while up above you stand, And gaze at me, O holy Galahad,
I, Lucy, am most glad.
FOURTH LADY, putting on the basnet.
O gentle knight, That you bow down to us in reverence, We are most glad, I, Katherine, with delight Must needs fall trembling.
ANGEL, putting on the crossed surcoat.
Galahad, we go hence,
For here, amid the straying of the snow, Come Percival's sister, Bors, and Percival. [The Four Ladies carry out the bed, and all go but Galahad.
How still and quiet everything seems now: They come, too, for I hear the horsehoofs fall.
Enter Sir Bors, Sir Percival, and his Sister.
Fair friends and gentle lady, God you save! A many marvels have been here to-night; Tell me what news of Launcelot you have, And has God's body ever been in sight?
Why, as for seeing that same holy thing, As we were riding slowly side by side, An hour ago, we heard a sweet voice sing, And through the bare twigs saw a great light glide,
With many-colour'd raiment, but far off; And so pass'd quickly: from the court nought good; Poor merry Dinadan, that with jape and scoff Kept us all merry, in a little wood
Was found all hack'd and dead: Sir Lionel And Gauwaine have come back from the great quest, Just merely shamed; and Lauvaine, who loved well Your father Launcelot, at the king's behest
Went out to seek him, but was almost slain, Perhaps is dead now; everywhere The knights come foil'd from the great quest, in vain; In vain they struggle for the vision fair.
THE CHAPEL IN LYONESS
THE CHAPEL IN LYONESS
SIR OZANA LE CURE HARDY. SIR GALAHAD. SIR BORS DE GANYS.
All day long and every day, From Christmas-Eve to Whit-Sunday, Within that Chapel-aisle I lay, And no man came a-near.
Naked to the waist was I, And deep within my breast did lie, Though no man any blood could spy, The truncheon of a spear.
No meat did ever pass my lips Those days. Alas! the sunlight slips From off the gilded parclose, dips, And night comes on apace.
My arms lay back behind my head; Over my raised-up knees was spread A samite cloth of white and red; A rose lay on my face.
Many a time I tried to shout; But as in dream of battle-rout, My frozen speech would not well out; I could not even weep.
With inward sigh I see the sun Fade off the pillars one by one, My heart faints when the day is done, Because I cannot sleep.
Sometimes strange thoughts pass through my head; Not like a tomb is this my bed, Yet oft I think that I am dead; That round my tomb is writ,
'Ozana of the hardy heart, Knight of the Table Round, Pray for his soul, lords, of your part; A true knight he was found.' Ah! me, I cannot fathom it. [He sleeps.
All day long and every day, Till his madness pass'd away, I watch'd Ozana as he lay Within the gilded screen.
All my singing moved him not; As I sung my heart grew hot, With the thought of Launcelot Far away, I ween.
So I went a little space From out the chapel, bathed my face In the stream that runs apace By the churchyard wall.
There I pluck'd a faint wild rose, Hard by where the linden grows, Sighing over silver rows Of the lilies tall.
I laid the flower across his mouth; The sparkling drops seem'd good for drouth; He smiled, turn'd round towards the south. Held up a golden tress.
The light smote on it from the west; He drew the covering from his breast, Against his heart that hair he prest; Death him soon will bless.
I enter'd by the western door; I saw a knight's helm lying there: I raised my eyes from off the floor, And caught the gleaming of his hair.
I stept full softly up to him; I laid my chin upon his head; I felt him smile; my eyes did swim, I was so glad he was not dead.
I heard Ozana murmur low, 'There comes no sleep nor any love.' But Galahad stoop'd and kiss'd his brow: He shiver'd; I saw his pale lips move.
There comes no sleep nor any love; Ah me! I shiver with delight. I am so weak I cannot move; God move me to thee, dear, to-night! Christ help! I have but little wit: My life went wrong; I see it writ,
'Ozana of the hardy heart, Knight of the Table Round, Pray for his soul, lords, on your part; A good knight he was found.'
Now I begin to fathom it. [He dies.
Galahad sits dreamily; What strange things may his eyes see, Great blue eyes fix'd full on me? On his soul, Lord, have mercy.
Ozana, shall I pray for thee? Her cheek is laid to thine; No long time hence, also I see Thy wasted fingers twine
Within the tresses of her hair That shineth gloriously, Thinly outspread in the clear air Against the jasper sea.
SIR PETER HARPDON'S END
SIR PETER HARPDON'S END
In an English Castle in Poictou.
Sir Peter Harpdon, a Gascon knight in the English service, and John Curzon, his lieutenant.
Of those three prisoners, that before you came We took down at St. John's hard by the mill, Two are good masons; we have tools enough, And you have skill to set them working.
So: What are their names?
Why, Jacques Aquadent, And Peter Plombiere, but,
What colour'd hair Has Peter now? has Jacques got bow legs?
Why, sir, you jest: what matters Jacques' hair, Or Peter's legs to us?
O! John, John, John! Throw all your mason's tools down the deep well, Hang Peter up and Jacques; They're no good, We shall not build, man.
JOHN CURZON (going).
Shall I call the guard To hang them, sir? and yet, sir, for the tools, We'd better keep them still; sir, fare you well. [Muttering as he goes. What have I done that he should jape at me? And why not build? the walls are weak enough, And we've two masons and a heap of tools. [Goes, still muttering.
To think a man should have a lump like that For his lieutenant! I must call him back, Or else, as surely as St. George is dead, He'll hang our friends the masons: here, John! John!
At your good service, sir.
Come now, and talk This weighty matter out; there, we've no stone To mend our walls with, neither brick nor stone.
There is a quarry, sir, some ten miles off.
We are not strong enough to send ten men Ten miles to fetch us stone enough to build. In three hours' time they would be taken or slain, The cursed Frenchmen ride abroad so thick.
But we can send some villaynes to get stone.
Alas! John, that we cannot bring them back, They would go off to Clisson or Sanxere, And tell them we were weak in walls and men, Then down go we; for, look you, times are changed, And now no longer does the country shake At sound of English names; our captains fade From off our muster-rolls. At Lusac bridge I daresay you may even yet see the hole That Chandos beat in dying; far in Spain Pembroke is prisoner; Phelton prisoner here; Manny lies buried in the Charterhouse; Oliver Clisson turn'd these years agone; The Captal died in prison; and, over all, Edward the prince lies underneath the ground, Edward the king is dead, at Westminster The carvers smooth the curls of his long beard. Everything goes to rack—eh! and we too. Now, Curzon, listen; if they come, these French, Whom have I got to lean on here, but you? A man can die but once, will you die then, Your brave sword in your hand, thoughts in your heart Of all the deeds we have done here in France— And yet may do? So God will have your soul, Whoever has your body.
Why, sir, I Will fight till the last moment, until then Will do whate'er you tell me. Now I see We must e'en leave the walls; well, well, perhaps They're stronger than I think for; pity, though! For some few tons of stone, if Guesclin comes.
Farewell, John, pray you watch the Gascons well, I doubt them.
Truly, sir, I will watch well. [Goes.
Farewell, good lump! and yet, when all is said, 'Tis a good lump. Why then, if Guesclin comes; Some dozen stones from his petrariae, And, under shelter of his crossbows, just An hour's steady work with pickaxes, Then a great noise—some dozen swords and glaives A-playing on my basnet all at once, And little more cross purposes on earth For me. Now this is hard: a month ago, And a few minutes' talk had set things right 'Twixt me and Alice; if she had a doubt, As, may Heaven bless her! I scarce think she had, 'Twas but their hammer, hammer in her ears, Of how Sir Peter fail'd at Lusac Bridge: And how he was grown moody of late days; And how Sir Lambert, think now! his dear friend, His sweet, dear cousin, could not but confess That Peter's talk tended towards the French, Which he, for instance Lambert, was glad of, Being, Lambert, you see, on the French side. Well, If I could but have seen her on that day, Then, when they sent me off! I like to think, Although it hurts me, makes my head twist, what, If I had seen her, what I should have said, What she, my darling, would have said and done. As thus perchance. To find her sitting there, In the window-seat, not looking well at all, Crying perhaps, and I say quietly: Alice! she looks up, chokes a sob, looks grave, Changes from pale to red, but, ere she speaks, Straightway I kneel down there on both my knees, And say: O lady, have I sinn'd, your knight? That still you ever let me walk alone In the rose garden, that you sing no songs When I am by, that ever in the dance You quietly walk away when I come near? Now that I have you, will you go, think you?
Ere she could answer I would speak again, Still kneeling there. What! they have frighted you, By hanging burs, and clumsily carven puppets, Round my good name; but afterwards, my love, I will say what this means; this moment, see! Do I kneel here, and can you doubt me? Yea: For she would put her hands upon my face: Yea, that is best, yea feel, love, am I changed? And she would say: Good knight, come, kiss my lips! And afterwards as I sat there would say:
Please a poor silly girl by telling me What all those things they talk of really were, For it is true you did not help Chandos, And true, poor love! you could not come to me When I was in such peril. I should say: I am like Balen, all things turn to blame. I did not come to you? At Bergerath The constable had held us close shut up, If from the barriers I had made three steps, I should have been but slain; at Lusac, too, We struggled in a marish half the day, And came too late at last: you know, my love, How heavy men and horses are all arm'd. All that Sir Lambert said was pure, unmix'd, Quite groundless lies; as you can think, sweet love.
She, holding tight my hand as we sat there, Started a little at Sir Lambert's name, But otherwise she listen'd scarce at all To what I said. Then with moist, weeping eyes, And quivering lips, that scarcely let her speak, She said: I love you. Other words were few, The remnant of that hour; her hand smooth'd down My foolish head; she kiss'd me all about My face, and through the tangles of my beard Her little fingers crept!
O God, my Alice, Not this good way: my lord but sent and said That Lambert's sayings were taken at their worth, Therefore that day I was to start, and keep This hold against the French; and I am here: [Looks out of the window. A sprawling lonely garde with rotten walls, And no one to bring aid if Guesclin comes, Or any other. There's a pennon now! At last. But not the constable's: whose arms, I wonder, does it bear? Three golden rings On a red ground; my cousin's by the rood! Well, I should like to kill him, certainly, But to be kill'd by him: [A trumpet sounds. That's for a herald; I doubt this does not mean assaulting yet.
Enter John Curzon.
What says the herald of our cousin, sir?
So please you, sir, concerning your estate, He has good will to talk with you.
Outside, I'll talk with him, close by the gate St. Ives. Is he unarm'd?
Yea, sir, in a long gown.
Then bid them bring me hither my furr'd gown With the long sleeves, and under it I'll wear, By Lambert's leave, a secret coat of mail; And will you lend me, John, your little axe? I mean the one with Paul wrought on the blade? And I will carry it inside my sleeve, Good to be ready always; you, John, go And bid them set up many suits of arms, Bows, archgays, lances, in the base-court, and Yourself, from the south postern setting out, With twenty men, be ready to break through Their unguarded rear when I cry out, St. George!
How, sir! will you attack him unawares, And slay him unarm'd?
Trust me, John, I know The reason why he comes here with sleeved gown, Fit to hide axes up. So, let us go. [They go.
Outside the castle by the great gate; Sir Lambert and Sir Peter seated; guards attending each, the rest of Sir Lambert's men drawn up about a furlong off.
And if I choose to take the losing side Still, does it hurt you?
O! no hurt to me; I see you sneering, Why take trouble then, Seeing you love me not? Look you, our house (Which, taken altogether, I love much) Had better be upon the right side now, If, once for all, it wishes to bear rule As such a house should: cousin, you're too wise To feed your hope up fat, that this fair France Will ever draw two ways again; this side The French, wrong-headed, all a-jar With envious longings; and the other side The order'd English, orderly led on By those two Edwards through all wrong and right, And muddling right and wrong to a thick broth With that long stick, their strength. This is all changed, The true French win, on either side you have Cool-headed men, good at a tilting match, And good at setting battles in array, And good at squeezing taxes at due time; Therefore by nature we French being here Upon our own big land: [Sir Peter laughs aloud. Well, Peter! well! What makes you laugh?
Hearing you sweat to prove All this I know so well; but you have read The siege of Troy?
O! yea, I know it well.
There! they were wrong, as wrong as men could be For, as I think, they found it such delight To see fair Helen going through their town; Yea, any little common thing she did (As stooping to pick a flower) seem'd so strange, So new in its great beauty, that they said: Here we will keep her living in this town, Till all burns up together. And so, fought, In a mad whirl of knowing they were wrong; Yea, they fought well, and ever, like a man That hangs legs off the ground by both his hands, Over some great height, did they struggle sore, Quite sure to slip at last; wherefore, take note How almost all men, reading that sad siege, Hold for the Trojans; as I did at least, Thought Hector the best knight a long way: Now Why should I not do this thing that I think; For even when I come to count the gains, I have them my side: men will talk, you know (We talk of Hector, dead so long agone,) When I am dead, of how this Peter clung To what he thought the right; of how he died, Perchance, at last, doing some desperate deed Few men would care do now, and this is gain To me, as ease and money is to you. Moreover, too, I like the straining game Of striving well to hold up things that fall; So one becomes great. See you! in good times All men live well together, and you, too, Live dull and happy: happy? not so quick, Suppose sharp thoughts begin to burn you up? Why then, but just to fight as I do now, A halter round my neck, would be great bliss. O! I am well off. [Aside. Talk, and talk, and talk, I know this man has come to murder me, And yet I talk still.
If your side were right, You might be, though you lost; but if I said, 'You are a traitor, being, as you are, Born Frenchman.' What are Edwards unto you, Or Richards?
Nay, hold there, my Lambert, hold! For fear your zeal should bring you to some harm, Don't call me traitor.
Furthermore, my knight, Men call you slippery on your losing side, When at Bordeaux I was ambassador, I heard them say so, and could scarce say: Nay. [He takes hold of something in his sleeve, and rises.
SIR PETER, rising.
They lied: and you lie, not for the first time. What have you got there, fumbling up your sleeve, A stolen purse?
Nay, liar in your teeth! Dead liar too; St. Denis and St. Lambert! [Strikes at Sir Peter with a dagger.
SIR PETER, striking him flatlings with his axe.
How thief! thief! thief! so there, fair thief, so there, St. George Guienne! glaives for the castellan! You French, you are but dead, unless you lay Your spears upon the earth. St. George Guienne!
Well done, John Curzon, how he has them now.
In the Castle.
What shall we do with all these prisoners, sir?
Why, put them all to ransom, those that can Pay anything, but not too light though, John, Seeing we have them on the hip: for those That have no money, that being certified, Why, turn them out of doors before they spy; But bring Sir Lambert guarded unto me.
I will, fair sir. [He goes.
I do not wish to kill him, Although I think I ought; he shall go mark'd, By all the saints, though! Enter Lambert guarded. Now, Sir Lambert, now! What sort of death do you expect to get, Being taken this way?
Cousin! cousin! think! I am your own blood; may God pardon me! I am not fit to die; if you knew all, All I have done since I was young and good. O! you would give me yet another chance, As God would, that I might wash all clear out, By serving you and Him. Let me go now! And I will pay you down more golden crowns Of ransom than the king would!
Well, stand back, And do not touch me! No, you shall not die, Nor yet pay ransom. You, John Curzon, cause Some carpenters to build a scaffold, high, Outside the gate; when it is built, sound out To all good folks, 'Come, see a traitor punish'd!' Take me my knight, and set him up thereon, And let the hangman shave his head quite clean, And cut his ears off close up to the head; And cause the minstrels all the while to play Soft music, and good singing; for this day Is my high day of triumph; is it not, Sir Lambert?
Ah! on your own blood, Own name, you heap this foul disgrace? you dare, With hands and fame thus sullied, to go back And take the lady Alice?
Say her name Again, and you are dead, slain here by me. Why should I talk with you? I'm master here, And do not want your schooling; is it not My mercy that you are not dangling dead There in the gateway with a broken neck?
Such mercy! why not kill me then outright? To die is nothing; but to live that all May point their fingers! yea, I'd rather die.
Why, will it make you any uglier man To lose your ears? they're much too big for you, You ugly Judas!
Hold, John! [To Lambert. That's your choice, To die, mind! Then you shall die: Lambert mine, I thank you now for choosing this so well, It saves me much perplexity and doubt; Perchance an ill deed too, for half I count This sparing traitors is an ill deed. Well, Lambert, die bravely, and we're almost friends.
SIR LAMBERT, grovelling.
O God! this is a fiend and not a man; Will some one save me from him? help, help, help! I will not die.
Why, what is this I see? A man who is a knight, and bandied words So well just now with me, is lying down, Gone mad for fear like this! So, so, you thought You knew the worst, and might say what you pleased. I should have guess'd this from a man like you. Eh! righteous Job would give up skin for skin, Yea, all a man can have for simple life, And we talk fine, yea, even a hound like this, Who needs must know that when he dies, deep hell Will hold him fast for ever, so fine we talk, 'Would rather die,' all that. Now sir, get up! And choose again: shall it be head sans ears, Or trunk sans head? John Curzon, pull him up! What, life then? go and build the scaffold, John. Lambert, I hope that never on this earth We meet again; that you'll turn out a monk, And mend the life I give you, so farewell, I'm sorry you're a rascal. John, despatch.
In the French camp before the Castle.
Sir Peter prisoner, Guesclin, Clisson, Sir Lambert.
So now is come the ending of my life; If I could clear this sickening lump away That sticks in my dry throat, and say a word, Guesclin might listen.
Tell me, fair sir knight, If you have been clean liver before God, And then you need not fear much; as for me, I cannot say I hate you, yet my oath, And cousin Lambert's ears here clench the thing.
I knew you could not hate me, therefore I Am bold to pray for life; 'twill harm your cause To hang knights of good name, harms here in France I have small doubt, at any rate hereafter Men will remember you another way Than I should care to be remember'd, ah! Although hot lead runs through me for my blood, All this falls cold as though I said, Sweet lords, Give back my falcon! See how young I am, Do you care altogether more for France, Say rather one French faction, than for all The state of Christendom? a gallant knight, As (yea, by God!) I have been, is more worth Than many castles; will you bring this death, For a mere act of justice, on my head?
Think how it ends all, death! all other things Can somehow be retrieved, yea, send me forth Naked and maimed, rather than slay me here; Then somehow will I get me other clothes, And somehow will I get me some poor horse, And, somehow clad in poor old rusty arms, Will ride and smite among the serried glaives, Fear not death so; for I can tilt right well, Let me not say I could; I know all tricks, That sway the sharp sword cunningly; ah you, You, my Lord Clisson, in the other days Have seen me learning these, yea, call to mind, How in the trodden corn by Chartres town, When you were nearly swooning from the back Of your black horse, those three blades slid at once From off my sword's edge; pray for me, my lord!
Nay, this is pitiful, to see him die. My Lord the Constable, I pray you note That you are losing some few thousand crowns By slaying this man; also think: his lands Along the Garonne river lie for leagues, And are right rich, a many mills he has, Three abbeys of grey monks do hold of him: Though wishing well for Clement, as we do, I know the next heir, his old uncle, well, Who does not care two deniers for the knight As things go now, but slay him, and then see, How he will bristle up like any perch, With curves of spears. What! do not doubt, my lord, You'll get the money, this man saved my life, And I will buy him for two thousand crowns; Well, five then: eh! what! No again? well then, Ten thousand crowns?
My sweet lord, much I grieve I cannot please you, yea, good sooth, I grieve This knight must die, as verily he must; For I have sworn it, so men take him out, Use him not roughly.
SIR LAMBERT, coming forward.
Music, do you know, Music will suit you well, I think, because You look so mild, like Laurence being grill'd; Or perhaps music soft and slow, because This is high day of triumph unto me, Is it not, Peter? You are frighten'd, though, Eh! you are pale, because this hurts you much, Whose life was pleasant to you, not like mine, You ruin'd wretch! Men mock me in the streets, Only in whispers loud, because I am Friend of the constable; will this please you, Unhappy Peter? once a-going home, Without my servants, and a little drunk, At midnight through the lone dim lamp-lit streets. A whore came up and spat into my eyes, Rather to blind me than to make me see, But she was very drunk, and tottering back, Even in the middle of her laughter fell And cut her head against the pointed stones, While I lean'd on my staff, and look'd at her, And cried, being drunk. Girls would not spit at you. You are so handsome, I think verily Most ladies would be glad to kiss your eyes, And yet you will be hung like a cur dog Five minutes hence, and grow black in the face, And curl your toes up. Therefore I am glad.
Guess why I stand and talk this nonsense now, With Guesclin getting ready to play chess, And Clisson doing something with his sword, I can't see what, talking to Guesclin though, I don't know what about, perhaps of you. But, cousin Peter, while I stroke your beard, Let me say this, I'd like to tell you now That your life hung upon a game of chess, That if, say, my squire Robert here should beat, Why you should live, but hang if I beat him; Then guess, clever Peter, what I should do then: Well, give it up? why, Peter, I should let My squire Robert beat me, then you would think That you were safe, you know; Eh? not at all, But I should keep you three days in some hold, Giving you salt to eat, which would be kind, Considering the tax there is on salt; And afterwards should let you go, perhaps? No I should not, but I should hang you, sir, With a red rope in lieu of mere grey rope.
But I forgot, you have not told me yet If you can guess why I talk nonsense thus, Instead of drinking wine while you are hang'd? You are not quick at guessing, give it up. This is the reason; here I hold your hand, And watch you growing paler, see you writhe And this, my Peter, is a joy so dear, I cannot by all striving tell you how I love it, nor I think, good man, would you Quite understand my great delight therein; You, when you had me underneath you once, Spat as it were, and said, 'Go take him out,' That they might do that thing to me whereat, E'en now this long time off I could well shriek, And then you tried forget I ever lived, And sunk your hating into other things; While I: St. Denis! though, I think you'll faint, Your lips are grey so; yes, you will, unless You let it out and weep like a hurt child; Hurrah! you do now. Do not go just yet, For I am Alice, am right like her now, Will you not kiss me on the lips, my love?
You filthy beast, stand back and let him go, Or by God's eyes I'll choke you! [Kneeling to Sir Peter. Fair sir knight I kneel upon my knees and pray to you That you would pardon me for this your death; God knows how much I wish you still alive, Also how heartily I strove to save Your life at this time; yea, he knows quite well, (I swear it, so forgive me!) how I would, If it were possible, give up my life Upon this grass for yours; fair knight, although, He knowing all things knows this thing too, well, Yet when you see his face some short time hence, Tell him I tried to save you.
O! my lord, I cannot say this is as good as life, But yet it makes me feel far happier now, And if at all, after a thousand years, I see God's face, I will speak loud and bold, And tell Him you were kind, and like Himself; Sir, may God bless you! Did you note how I Fell weeping just now? pray you, do not think That Lambert's taunts did this, I hardly heard The base things that he said, being deep in thought Of all things that have happen'd since I was A little child; and so at last I thought Of my true lady: truly, sir, it seem'd No longer gone than yesterday, that this Was the sole reason God let me be born Twenty-five years ago, that I might love Her, my sweet lady, and be loved by her; This seem'd so yesterday, to-day death comes, And is so bitter strong, I cannot see Why I was born. But as a last request, I pray you, O kind Clisson, send some man, Some good man, mind you, to say how I died, And take my last love to her: fare-you-well, And may God keep you; I must go now, lest I grow too sick with thinking on these things; Likewise my feet are wearied of the earth, From whence I shall be lifted upright soon. [As he goes. Ah me! shamed too, I wept at fear of death; And yet not so, I only wept because There was no beautiful lady to kiss me Before I died, and sweetly wish good speed From her dear lips. O for some lady, though I saw her ne'er before; Alice, my love, I do not ask for; Clisson was right kind, If he had been a woman, I should die Without this sickness: but I am all wrong, So wrong, and hopelessly afraid to die. There, I will go. My God! how sick I am, If only she could come and kiss me now.
The Hotel de la Barde, Bordeaux.
The Lady Alice de la Barde looking out of a window into the street.
No news yet! surely, still he holds his own: That garde stands well; I mind me passing it Some months ago; God grant the walls are strong! I heard some knights say something yestereve, I tried hard to forget: words far apart Struck on my heart something like this; one said: What eh! a Gascon with an English name, Harpdon? then nought, but afterwards: Poictou. As one who answers to a question ask'd, Then carelessly regretful came: No, no. Whereto in answer loud and eagerly, One said: Impossible? Christ, what foul play! And went off angrily; and while thenceforth I hurried gaspingly afraid, I heard: Guesclin; Five thousand men-at-arms; Clisson. My heart misgives me it is all in vain I send these succours; and in good time there Their trumpet sounds: ah! here they are; good knights, God up in Heaven keep you. If they come And find him prisoner, for I can't believe Guesclin will slay him, even though they storm. The last horse turns the corner. God in Heaven! What have I got to thinking of at last! That thief I will not name is with Guesclin, Who loves him for his lands. My love! my love! O, if I lose you after all the past, What shall I do? I cannot bear the noise And light street out there, with this thought alive, Like any curling snake within my brain; Let me just hide my head within these soft Deep cushions, there to try and think it out. [Lying in the window-seat. I cannot hear much noise now, and I think That I shall go to sleep: it all sounds dim And faint, and I shall soon forget most things; Yea, almost that I am alive and here; It goes slow, comes slow, like a big mill-wheel On some broad stream, with long green weeds a-sway, And soft and slow it rises and it falls, Still going onward. Lying so, one kiss, And I should be in Avalon asleep, Among the poppies, and the yellow flowers; And they should brush my cheek, my hair being spread Far out among the stems; soft mice and small Eating and creeping all about my feet, Red shod and tired; and the flies should come Creeping o'er my broad eyelids unafraid; And there should be a noise of water going, Clear blue fresh water breaking on the slates, Likewise the flies should creep: God's eyes! God help! A trumpet? I will run fast, leap adown The slippery sea-stairs, where the crabs fight. Ah! I was half dreaming, but the trumpet's true; He stops here at our house. The Clisson arms? Ah, now for news. But I must hold my heart, And be quite gentle till he is gone out; And afterwards: but he is still alive, He must be still alive.
Enter a Squire of Clisson's.
Good day, fair sir, I give you welcome, knowing whence you come.
My Lady Alice de la Barde, I come From Oliver Clisson, knight and mighty lord, Bringing you tidings: I make bold to hope You will not count me villain, even if They wring your heart, nor hold me still in hate; For I am but a mouthpiece after all, A mouthpiece, too, of one who wishes well To you and your's.
Can you talk faster, sir, Get over all this quicker? fix your eyes On mine, I pray you, and whate'er you see, Still go on talking fast, unless I fall, Or bid you stop.
I pray your pardon then, And, looking in your eyes, fair lady, say I am unhappy that your knight is dead. Take heart, and listen! let me tell you all. We were five thousand goodly men-at-arms, And scant five hundred had he in that hold: His rotten sand-stone walls were wet with rain, And fell in lumps wherever a stone hit; Yet for three days about the barrier there The deadly glaives were gather'd, laid across, And push'd and pull'd; the fourth our engines came; But still amid the crash of falling walls, And roar of lombards, rattle of hard bolts, The steady bow-strings flash'd, and still stream'd out St. George's banner, and the seven swords, And still they cried: St. George Guienne! until Their walls were flat as Jericho's of old, And our rush came, and cut them from the keep.
Stop, sir, and tell me if you slew him then, And where he died, if you can really mean That Peter Harpdon, the good knight, is dead?
Fair lady, in the base-court:
What base-court? What do you talk of? Nay, go on, go on; 'Twas only something gone within my head: Do you not know, one turns one's head round quick, And something cracks there with sore pain? go on, And still look at my eyes.
Almost alone, There in the base-court fought he with his sword, Using his left hand much, more than the wont Of most knights now-a-days; our men gave back, For wheresoever he hit a downright blow, Some one fell bleeding, for no plate could hold Against the sway of body and great arm; Till he grew tired, and some man (no! not I, I swear not I, fair lady, as I live!) Thrust at him with a glaive between the knees, And threw him; down he fell, sword undermost; Many fell on him, crying out their cries, Tore his sword from him, tore his helm off, and:
Yea, slew him: I am much too young to live, Fair God, so let me die! You have done well, Done all your message gently, pray you go, Our knights will make you cheer; moreover, take This bag of franks for your expenses. [The Squire kneels. But You do not go; still looking at my face, You kneel! what, squire, do you mock me then? You need not tell me who has set you on, But tell me only, 'tis a made-up tale. You are some lover may-be or his friend; Sir, if you loved me once, or your friend loved, Think, is it not enough that I kneel down And kiss your feet? your jest will be right good If you give in now; carry it too far, And 'twill be cruel: not yet? but you weep Almost, as though you loved me; love me then, And go to Heaven by telling all your sport, And I will kiss you then with all my heart, Upon the mouth: O! what can I do then To move you?
Lady fair, forgive me still! You know I am so sorry, but my tale Is not yet finish'd: So they bound his hands, And brought him tall and pale to Guesclin's tent, Who, seeing him, leant his head upon his hand, And ponder'd somewhile, afterwards, looking up: Fair dame, what shall I say?
Yea, I know now, Good squire, you may go now with my thanks.
Yet, lady, for your own sake I say this, Yea, for my own sake, too, and Clisson's sake. When Guesclin told him he must be hanged soon, Within a while he lifted up his head And spoke for his own life; not crouching, though, As abjectly afraid to die, nor yet Sullenly brave as many a thief will die, Nor yet as one that plays at japes with God: Few words he spoke; not so much what he said Moved us, I think, as, saying it, there played Strange tenderness from that big soldier there About his pleading; eagerness to live Because folk loved him, and he loved them back, And many gallant plans unfinish'd now For ever. Clisson's heart, which may God bless! Was moved to pray for him, but all in vain; Wherefore I bring this message: That he waits, Still loving you, within the little church Whose windows, with the one eye of the light Over the altar, every night behold The great dim broken walls he strove to keep!
There my Lord Clisson did his burial well. Now, lady, I will go: God give you rest!
Thank Clisson from me, squire, and farewell! And now to keep myself from going mad. Christ! I have been a many times to church, And, ever since my mother taught me prayers, Have used them daily, but to-day I wish To pray another way; come face to face, O Christ, that I may clasp your knees and pray I know not what; at any rate come now From one of many places where you are, Either in Heaven amid thick angel wings, Or sitting on the altar strange with gems, Or high up in the duskness of the apse; Let us go, You and I, a long way off, To the little damp, dark, Poitevin church. While you sit on the coffin in the dark, Will I lie down, my face on the bare stone Between your feet, and chatter anything I have heard long ago. What matters it So I may keep you there, your solemn face And long hair even-flowing on each side, Until you love me well enough to speak, And give me comfort? yea, till o'er your chin, And cloven red beard the great tears roll down In pity for my misery, and I die, Kissed over by you. Eh Guesclin! if I were Like Countess Mountfort now, that kiss'd the knight, Across the salt sea come to fight for her: Ah! just to go about with many knights, Wherever you went, and somehow on one day, In a thick wood to catch you off your guard, Let you find, you and your some fifty friends, Nothing but arrows wheresoe'er you turn'd, Yea, and red crosses, great spears over them; And so, between a lane of my true men, To walk up pale and stern and tall, and with My arms on my surcoat, and his therewith, And then to make you kneel, O knight Guesclin; And then: alas! alas! when all is said, What could I do but let you go again, Being pitiful woman? I get no revenge, Whatever happens; and I get no comfort: I am but weak, and cannot move my feet, But as men bid me. Strange I do not die. Suppose this has not happen'd after all? I will lean out again and watch for news.
I wonder how long I can still feel thus, As though I watch'd for news, feel as I did Just half-an-hour ago, before this news. How all the street is humming, some men sing, And some men talk; some look up at the house, Then lay their heads together and look grave: Their laughter pains me sorely in the heart; Their thoughtful talking makes my head turn round: Yea, some men sing, what is it then they sing? Eh? Launcelot, and love and fate and death: They ought to sing of him who was as wight As Launcelot or Wade, and yet avail'd Just nothing, but to fail and fail and fail, And so at last to die and leave me here, Alone and wretched; yea, perhaps they will, When many years are past, make songs of us: God help me, though, truly I never thought That I should make a story in this way, A story that his eyes can never see.
[One sings from outside.]
Therefore be it believed Whatsoever he grieved, When his horse was relieved, This Launcelot,
Beat down on his knee, Right valiant was he God's body to see, Though he saw it not.
Right valiant to move, But for his sad love The high God above Stinted his praise.
Yet so he was glad That his son, Lord Galahad, That high joyaunce had All his life-days.
Sing we therefore then Launcelot's praise again, For he wan crownes ten, If he wan not twelve.
To his death from his birth He was mickle of worth, Lay him in the cold earth, A long grave ye may delve.
Omnes homines benedicite! This last fitte ye may see, All men pray for me Who made this history Cunning and fairly.
THE PRINCE, being in the wood near the tower, in the evening.
I could not even think What made me weep that day, When out of the council-hall The courtiers pass'd away,—
Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Let down your hair!
Is it not true that every day She climbeth up the same strange way, Her scarlet cloak spread broad and gay, Over my golden hair?
And left me there alone, To think on what they said: 'Thou art a king's own son, 'Tis fit that thou should'st wed.'
Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Let down your hair!
When I undo the knotted mass, Fathoms below the shadows pass Over my hair along the grass. O my golden hair!
I put my armour on, Thinking on what they said: 'Thou art a king's own son, 'Tis fit that thou should'st wed.'
Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Let down your hair!
See on the marble parapet, I lean my brow, strive to forget That fathoms below my hair grows wet With the dew, my golden hair.
I rode throughout the town, Men did not bow the head, Though I was the king's own son: He rides to dream, they said.
Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Wind up your hair!
See on the marble parapet, The faint red stains with tears are wet; The long years pass, no help comes yet To free my golden hair.
For leagues and leagues I rode, Till hot my armour grew, Till underneath the leaves I felt the evening dew.
Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Weep through your hair!
And yet: but I am growing old, For want of love my heart is cold; Years pass, the while I loose and fold The fathoms of my hair.
THE PRINCE, in the morning.
I have heard tales of men, who in the night Saw paths of stars let down to earth from heaven, Who followed them until they reach'd the light Wherein they dwell, whose sins are all forgiven;
But who went backward when they saw the gate Of diamond, nor dared to enter in; All their life long they were content to wait, Purging them patiently of every sin.
I must have had a dream of some such thing, And now am just awaking from that dream; For even in grey dawn those strange words ring Through heart and brain, and still I see that gleam.
For in my dream at sunset-time I lay Beneath these beeches, mail and helmet off, Right full of joy that I had come away From court; for I was patient of the scoff
That met me always there from day to day, From any knave or coward of them all: I was content to live that wretched way; For truly till I left the council-hall,
And rode forth arm'd beneath the burning sun, My gleams of happiness were faint and few, But then I saw my real life had begun, And that I should be strong quite well I knew.
For I was riding out to look for love, Therefore the birds within the thickets sung, Even in hot noontide; as I pass'd, above The elms o'ersway'd with longing towards me hung.
Now some few fathoms from the place where I Lay in the beech-wood, was a tower fair, The marble corners faint against the sky; And dreamily I wonder'd what lived there:
Because it seem'd a dwelling for a queen, No belfry for the swinging of great bells. No bolt or stone had ever crush'd the green Shafts, amber and rose walls, no soot that tells
Of the Norse torches burning up the roofs, On the flower-carven marble could I see; But rather on all sides I saw the proofs Of a great loneliness that sicken'd me;
Making me feel a doubt that was not fear, Whether my whole life long had been a dream, And I should wake up soon in some place, where The piled-up arms of the fighting angels gleam;
Not born as yet, but going to be born, No naked baby as I was at first, But an armed knight, whom fire, hate and scorn Could turn from nothing: my heart almost burst
Beneath the beeches, as I lay a-dreaming, I tried so hard to read this riddle through, To catch some golden cord that I saw gleaming Like gossamer against the autumn blue.
But while I ponder'd these things, from the wood There came a black-hair'd woman, tall and bold, Who strode straight up to where the tower stood, And cried out shrilly words, whereon behold—
THE WITCH, from the tower.
Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Let down your hair!
Ah Christ! it was no dream then, but there stood (She comes again) a maiden passing fair, Against the roof, with face turn'd to the wood, Bearing within her arms waves of her yellow hair.
I read my riddle when I saw her stand, Poor love! her face quite pale against her hair, Praying to all the leagues of empty land To save her from the woe she suffer'd there.
To think! they trod upon her golden hair In the witches' sabbaths; it was a delight For these foul things, while she, with thin feet bare, Stood on the roof upon the winter night,