Half-wroth he had not ended, but all glad, Knightlike, to find his charger yet unlamed, Sir Balin drew the shield from off his neck, Stared at the priceless cognizance, and thought 'I have shamed thee so that now thou shamest me, Thee will I bear no more,' high on a branch Hung it, and turned aside into the woods, And there in gloom cast himself all along, Moaning 'My violences, my violences!'
But now the wholesome music of the wood Was dumbed by one from out the hall of Mark, A damsel-errant, warbling, as she rode The woodland alleys, Vivien, with her Squire.
'The fire of Heaven has killed the barren cold, And kindled all the plain and all the wold. The new leaf ever pushes off the old. The fire of Heaven is not the flame of Hell.
'Old priest, who mumble worship in your quire— Old monk and nun, ye scorn the world's desire, Yet in your frosty cells ye feel the fire! The fire of Heaven is not the flame of Hell.
'The fire of Heaven is on the dusty ways. The wayside blossoms open to the blaze. The whole wood-world is one full peal of praise. The fire of Heaven is not the flame of Hell.
'The fire of Heaven is lord of all things good, And starve not thou this fire within thy blood, But follow Vivien through the fiery flood! The fire of Heaven is not the flame of Hell!'
Then turning to her Squire 'This fire of Heaven, This old sun-worship, boy, will rise again, And beat the cross to earth, and break the King And all his Table.' Then they reached a glade, Where under one long lane of cloudless air Before another wood, the royal crown Sparkled, and swaying upon a restless elm Drew the vague glance of Vivien, and her Squire; Amazed were these; 'Lo there' she cried—'a crown— Borne by some high lord-prince of Arthur's hall, And there a horse! the rider? where is he? See, yonder lies one dead within the wood. Not dead; he stirs!—but sleeping. I will speak. Hail, royal knight, we break on thy sweet rest, Not, doubtless, all unearned by noble deeds. But bounden art thou, if from Arthur's hall, To help the weak. Behold, I fly from shame, A lustful King, who sought to win my love Through evil ways: the knight, with whom I rode, Hath suffered misadventure, and my squire Hath in him small defence; but thou, Sir Prince, Wilt surely guide me to the warrior King, Arthur the blameless, pure as any maid, To get me shelter for my maidenhood. I charge thee by that crown upon thy shield, And by the great Queen's name, arise and hence.'
And Balin rose, 'Thither no more! nor Prince Nor knight am I, but one that hath defamed The cognizance she gave me: here I dwell Savage among the savage woods, here die— Die: let the wolves' black maws ensepulchre Their brother beast, whose anger was his lord. O me, that such a name as Guinevere's, Which our high Lancelot hath so lifted up, And been thereby uplifted, should through me, My violence, and my villainy, come to shame.'
Thereat she suddenly laughed and shrill, anon Sighed all as suddenly. Said Balin to her 'Is this thy courtesy—to mock me, ha? Hence, for I will not with thee.' Again she sighed 'Pardon, sweet lord! we maidens often laugh When sick at heart, when rather we should weep. I knew thee wronged. I brake upon thy rest, And now full loth am I to break thy dream, But thou art man, and canst abide a truth, Though bitter. Hither, boy—and mark me well. Dost thou remember at Caerleon once— A year ago—nay, then I love thee not— Ay, thou rememberest well—one summer dawn— By the great tower—Caerleon upon Usk— Nay, truly we were hidden: this fair lord, The flower of all their vestal knighthood, knelt In amorous homage—knelt—what else?—O ay Knelt, and drew down from out his night-black hair And mumbled that white hand whose ringed caress Had wandered from her own King's golden head, And lost itself in darkness, till she cried— I thought the great tower would crash down on both— "Rise, my sweet King, and kiss me on the lips, Thou art my King." This lad, whose lightest word Is mere white truth in simple nakedness, Saw them embrace: he reddens, cannot speak, So bashful, he! but all the maiden Saints, The deathless mother-maidenhood of Heaven, Cry out upon her. Up then, ride with me! Talk not of shame! thou canst not, an thou would'st, Do these more shame than these have done themselves.'
She lied with ease; but horror-stricken he, Remembering that dark bower at Camelot, Breathed in a dismal whisper 'It is truth.'
Sunnily she smiled 'And even in this lone wood, Sweet lord, ye do right well to whisper this. Fools prate, and perish traitors. Woods have tongues, As walls have ears: but thou shalt go with me, And we will speak at first exceeding low. Meet is it the good King be not deceived. See now, I set thee high on vantage ground, From whence to watch the time, and eagle-like Stoop at thy will on Lancelot and the Queen.'
She ceased; his evil spirit upon him leapt, He ground his teeth together, sprang with a yell, Tore from the branch, and cast on earth, the shield, Drove his mailed heel athwart the royal crown, Stampt all into defacement, hurled it from him Among the forest weeds, and cursed the tale, The told-of, and the teller. That weird yell, Unearthlier than all shriek of bird or beast, Thrilled through the woods; and Balan lurking there (His quest was unaccomplished) heard and thought 'The scream of that Wood-devil I came to quell!' Then nearing 'Lo! he hath slain some brother-knight, And tramples on the goodly shield to show His loathing of our Order and the Queen. My quest, meseems, is here. Or devil or man Guard thou thine head.' Sir Balin spake not word, But snatched a sudden buckler from the Squire, And vaulted on his horse, and so they crashed In onset, and King Pellam's holy spear, Reputed to be red with sinless blood, Redded at once with sinful, for the point Across the maiden shield of Balan pricked The hauberk to the flesh; and Balin's horse Was wearied to the death, and, when they clashed, Rolling back upon Balin, crushed the man Inward, and either fell, and swooned away.
Then to her Squire muttered the damsel 'Fools! This fellow hath wrought some foulness with his Queen: Else never had he borne her crown, nor raved And thus foamed over at a rival name: But thou, Sir Chick, that scarce hast broken shell, Art yet half-yolk, not even come to down— Who never sawest Caerleon upon Usk— And yet hast often pleaded for my love— See what I see, be thou where I have been, Or else Sir Chick—dismount and loose their casques I fain would know what manner of men they be.' And when the Squire had loosed them, 'Goodly!—look! They might have cropt the myriad flower of May, And butt each other here, like brainless bulls, Dead for one heifer! Then the gentle Squire 'I hold them happy, so they died for love: And, Vivien, though ye beat me like your dog, I too could die, as now I live, for thee.'
'Live on, Sir Boy,' she cried. 'I better prize The living dog than the dead lion: away! I cannot brook to gaze upon the dead.' Then leapt her palfrey o'er the fallen oak, And bounding forward 'Leave them to the wolves.'
But when their foreheads felt the cooling air, Balin first woke, and seeing that true face, Familiar up from cradle-time, so wan, Crawled slowly with low moans to where he lay, And on his dying brother cast himself Dying; and he lifted faint eyes; he felt One near him; all at once they found the world, Staring wild-wide; then with a childlike wail And drawing down the dim disastrous brow That o'er him hung, he kissed it, moaned and spake;
'O Balin, Balin, I that fain had died To save thy life, have brought thee to thy death. Why had ye not the shield I knew? and why Trampled ye thus on that which bare the Crown?'
Then Balin told him brokenly, and in gasps, All that had chanced, and Balan moaned again.
'Brother, I dwelt a day in Pellam's hall: This Garlon mocked me, but I heeded not. And one said "Eat in peace! a liar is he, And hates thee for the tribute!" this good knight Told me, that twice a wanton damsel came, And sought for Garlon at the castle-gates, Whom Pellam drove away with holy heat. I well believe this damsel, and the one Who stood beside thee even now, the same. "She dwells among the woods" he said "and meets And dallies with him in the Mouth of Hell." Foul are their lives; foul are their lips; they lied. Pure as our own true Mother is our Queen."
'O brother' answered Balin 'woe is me! My madness all thy life has been thy doom, Thy curse, and darkened all thy day; and now The night has come. I scarce can see thee now.
Goodnight! for we shall never bid again Goodmorrow—Dark my doom was here, and dark It will be there. I see thee now no more. I would not mine again should darken thine, Goodnight, true brother. Balan answered low 'Goodnight, true brother here! goodmorrow there! We two were born together, and we die Together by one doom:' and while he spoke Closed his death-drowsing eyes, and slept the sleep With Balin, either locked in either's arm.
Merlin and Vivien
A storm was coming, but the winds were still, And in the wild woods of Broceliande, Before an oak, so hollow, huge and old It looked a tower of ivied masonwork, At Merlin's feet the wily Vivien lay.
For he that always bare in bitter grudge The slights of Arthur and his Table, Mark The Cornish King, had heard a wandering voice, A minstrel of Caerlon by strong storm Blown into shelter at Tintagil, say That out of naked knightlike purity Sir Lancelot worshipt no unmarried girl But the great Queen herself, fought in her name, Sware by her—vows like theirs, that high in heaven Love most, but neither marry, nor are given In marriage, angels of our Lord's report.
He ceased, and then—for Vivien sweetly said (She sat beside the banquet nearest Mark), 'And is the fair example followed, Sir, In Arthur's household?'—answered innocently:
'Ay, by some few—ay, truly—youths that hold It more beseems the perfect virgin knight To worship woman as true wife beyond All hopes of gaining, than as maiden girl. They place their pride in Lancelot and the Queen. So passionate for an utter purity Beyond the limit of their bond, are these, For Arthur bound them not to singleness. Brave hearts and clean! and yet—God guide them—young.'
Then Mark was half in heart to hurl his cup Straight at the speaker, but forbore: he rose To leave the hall, and, Vivien following him, Turned to her: 'Here are snakes within the grass; And you methinks, O Vivien, save ye fear The monkish manhood, and the mask of pure Worn by this court, can stir them till they sting.'
And Vivien answered, smiling scornfully, 'Why fear? because that fostered at thy court I savour of thy—virtues? fear them? no. As Love, if Love is perfect, casts out fear, So Hate, if Hate is perfect, casts out fear. My father died in battle against the King, My mother on his corpse in open field; She bore me there, for born from death was I Among the dead and sown upon the wind— And then on thee! and shown the truth betimes, That old true filth, and bottom of the well Where Truth is hidden. Gracious lessons thine And maxims of the mud! "This Arthur pure! Great Nature through the flesh herself hath made Gives him the lie! There is no being pure, My cherub; saith not Holy Writ the same?"— If I were Arthur, I would have thy blood. Thy blessing, stainless King! I bring thee back, When I have ferreted out their burrowings, The hearts of all this Order in mine hand— Ay—so that fate and craft and folly close, Perchance, one curl of Arthur's golden beard. To me this narrow grizzled fork of thine Is cleaner-fashioned—Well, I loved thee first, That warps the wit.'
Loud laughed the graceless Mark, But Vivien, into Camelot stealing, lodged Low in the city, and on a festal day When Guinevere was crossing the great hall Cast herself down, knelt to the Queen, and wailed.
'Why kneel ye there? What evil hath ye wrought? Rise!' and the damsel bidden rise arose And stood with folded hands and downward eyes Of glancing corner, and all meekly said, 'None wrought, but suffered much, an orphan maid! My father died in battle for thy King, My mother on his corpse—in open field, The sad sea-sounding wastes of Lyonnesse— Poor wretch—no friend!—and now by Mark the King For that small charm of feature mine, pursued— If any such be mine—I fly to thee. Save, save me thou—Woman of women—thine The wreath of beauty, thine the crown of power, Be thine the balm of pity, O Heaven's own white Earth-angel, stainless bride of stainless King— Help, for he follows! take me to thyself! O yield me shelter for mine innocency Among thy maidens!
Here her slow sweet eyes Fear-tremulous, but humbly hopeful, rose Fixt on her hearer's, while the Queen who stood All glittering like May sunshine on May leaves In green and gold, and plumed with green replied, 'Peace, child! of overpraise and overblame We choose the last. Our noble Arthur, him Ye scarce can overpraise, will hear and know. Nay—we believe all evil of thy Mark— Well, we shall test thee farther; but this hour We ride a-hawking with Sir Lancelot. He hath given us a fair falcon which he trained; We go to prove it. Bide ye here the while.'
She past; and Vivien murmured after 'Go! I bide the while.' Then through the portal-arch Peering askance, and muttering broken-wise, As one that labours with an evil dream, Beheld the Queen and Lancelot get to horse.
'Is that the Lancelot? goodly—ay, but gaunt: Courteous—amends for gauntness—takes her hand— That glance of theirs, but for the street, had been A clinging kiss—how hand lingers in hand! Let go at last!—they ride away—to hawk For waterfowl. Royaller game is mine. For such a supersensual sensual bond As that gray cricket chirpt of at our hearth— Touch flax with flame—a glance will serve—the liars! Ah little rat that borest in the dyke Thy hole by night to let the boundless deep Down upon far-off cities while they dance— Or dream—of thee they dreamed not—nor of me These—ay, but each of either: ride, and dream The mortal dream that never yet was mine— Ride, ride and dream until ye wake—to me! Then, narrow court and lubber King, farewell! For Lancelot will be gracious to the rat, And our wise Queen, if knowing that I know, Will hate, loathe, fear—but honour me the more.'
Yet while they rode together down the plain, Their talk was all of training, terms of art, Diet and seeling, jesses, leash and lure. 'She is too noble' he said 'to check at pies, Nor will she rake: there is no baseness in her.' Here when the Queen demanded as by chance 'Know ye the stranger woman?' 'Let her be,' Said Lancelot and unhooded casting off The goodly falcon free; she towered; her bells, Tone under tone, shrilled; and they lifted up Their eager faces, wondering at the strength, Boldness and royal knighthood of the bird Who pounced her quarry and slew it. Many a time As once—of old—among the flowers—they rode.
But Vivien half-forgotten of the Queen Among her damsels broidering sat, heard, watched And whispered: through the peaceful court she crept And whispered: then as Arthur in the highest Leavened the world, so Vivien in the lowest, Arriving at a time of golden rest, And sowing one ill hint from ear to ear, While all the heathen lay at Arthur's feet, And no quest came, but all was joust and play, Leavened his hall. They heard and let her be.
Thereafter as an enemy that has left Death in the living waters, and withdrawn, The wily Vivien stole from Arthur's court.
She hated all the knights, and heard in thought Their lavish comment when her name was named. For once, when Arthur walking all alone, Vext at a rumour issued from herself Of some corruption crept among his knights, Had met her, Vivien, being greeted fair, Would fain have wrought upon his cloudy mood With reverent eyes mock-loyal, shaken voice, And fluttered adoration, and at last With dark sweet hints of some who prized him more Than who should prize him most; at which the King Had gazed upon her blankly and gone by: But one had watched, and had not held his peace: It made the laughter of an afternoon That Vivien should attempt the blameless King. And after that, she set herself to gain Him, the most famous man of all those times, Merlin, who knew the range of all their arts, Had built the King his havens, ships, and halls, Was also Bard, and knew the starry heavens; The people called him Wizard; whom at first She played about with slight and sprightly talk, And vivid smiles, and faintly-venomed points Of slander, glancing here and grazing there; And yielding to his kindlier moods, the Seer Would watch her at her petulance, and play, Even when they seemed unloveable, and laugh As those that watch a kitten; thus he grew Tolerant of what he half disdained, and she, Perceiving that she was but half disdained, Began to break her sports with graver fits, Turn red or pale, would often when they met Sigh fully, or all-silent gaze upon him With such a fixt devotion, that the old man, Though doubtful, felt the flattery, and at times Would flatter his own wish in age for love, And half believe her true: for thus at times He wavered; but that other clung to him, Fixt in her will, and so the seasons went.
Then fell on Merlin a great melancholy; He walked with dreams and darkness, and he found A doom that ever poised itself to fall, An ever-moaning battle in the mist, World-war of dying flesh against the life, Death in all life and lying in all love, The meanest having power upon the highest, And the high purpose broken by the worm.
So leaving Arthur's court he gained the beach; There found a little boat, and stept into it; And Vivien followed, but he marked her not. She took the helm and he the sail; the boat Drave with a sudden wind across the deeps, And touching Breton sands, they disembarked. And then she followed Merlin all the way, Even to the wild woods of Broceliande. For Merlin once had told her of a charm, The which if any wrought on anyone With woven paces and with waving arms, The man so wrought on ever seemed to lie Closed in the four walls of a hollow tower, From which was no escape for evermore; And none could find that man for evermore, Nor could he see but him who wrought the charm Coming and going, and he lay as dead And lost to life and use and name and fame. And Vivien ever sought to work the charm Upon the great Enchanter of the Time, As fancying that her glory would be great According to his greatness whom she quenched.
There lay she all her length and kissed his feet, As if in deepest reverence and in love. A twist of gold was round her hair; a robe Of samite without price, that more exprest Than hid her, clung about her lissome limbs, In colour like the satin-shining palm On sallows in the windy gleams of March: And while she kissed them, crying, 'Trample me, Dear feet, that I have followed through the world, And I will pay you worship; tread me down And I will kiss you for it;' he was mute: So dark a forethought rolled about his brain, As on a dull day in an Ocean cave The blind wave feeling round his long sea-hall In silence: wherefore, when she lifted up A face of sad appeal, and spake and said, 'O Merlin, do ye love me?' and again, 'O Merlin, do ye love me?' and once more, 'Great Master, do ye love me?' he was mute. And lissome Vivien, holding by his heel, Writhed toward him, slided up his knee and sat, Behind his ankle twined her hollow feet Together, curved an arm about his neck, Clung like a snake; and letting her left hand Droop from his mighty shoulder, as a leaf, Made with her right a comb of pearl to part The lists of such a board as youth gone out Had left in ashes: then he spoke and said, Not looking at her, 'Who are wise in love Love most, say least,' and Vivien answered quick, 'I saw the little elf-god eyeless once In Arthur's arras hall at Camelot: But neither eyes nor tongue—O stupid child! Yet you are wise who say it; let me think Silence is wisdom: I am silent then, And ask no kiss;' then adding all at once, 'And lo, I clothe myself with wisdom,' drew The vast and shaggy mantle of his beard Across her neck and bosom to her knee, And called herself a gilded summer fly Caught in a great old tyrant spider's web, Who meant to eat her up in that wild wood Without one word. So Vivien called herself, But rather seemed a lovely baleful star Veiled in gray vapour; till he sadly smiled: 'To what request for what strange boon,' he said, 'Are these your pretty tricks and fooleries, O Vivien, the preamble? yet my thanks, For these have broken up my melancholy.'
And Vivien answered smiling saucily, 'What, O my Master, have ye found your voice? I bid the stranger welcome. Thanks at last! But yesterday you never opened lip, Except indeed to drink: no cup had we: In mine own lady palms I culled the spring That gathered trickling dropwise from the cleft, And made a pretty cup of both my hands And offered you it kneeling: then you drank And knew no more, nor gave me one poor word; O no more thanks than might a goat have given With no more sign of reverence than a beard. And when we halted at that other well, And I was faint to swooning, and you lay Foot-gilt with all the blossom-dust of those Deep meadows we had traversed, did you know That Vivien bathed your feet before her own? And yet no thanks: and all through this wild wood And all this morning when I fondled you: Boon, ay, there was a boon, one not so strange— How had I wronged you? surely ye are wise, But such a silence is more wise than kind.'
And Merlin locked his hand in hers and said: 'O did ye never lie upon the shore, And watch the curled white of the coming wave Glassed in the slippery sand before it breaks? Even such a wave, but not so pleasurable, Dark in the glass of some presageful mood, Had I for three days seen, ready to fall. And then I rose and fled from Arthur's court To break the mood. You followed me unasked; And when I looked, and saw you following me still, My mind involved yourself the nearest thing In that mind-mist: for shall I tell you truth? You seemed that wave about to break upon me And sweep me from my hold upon the world, My use and name and fame. Your pardon, child. Your pretty sports have brightened all again. And ask your boon, for boon I owe you thrice, Once for wrong done you by confusion, next For thanks it seems till now neglected, last For these your dainty gambols: wherefore ask; And take this boon so strange and not so strange.'
And Vivien answered smiling mournfully: 'O not so strange as my long asking it, Not yet so strange as you yourself are strange, Nor half so strange as that dark mood of yours. I ever feared ye were not wholly mine; And see, yourself have owned ye did me wrong. The people call you prophet: let it be: But not of those that can expound themselves. Take Vivien for expounder; she will call That three-days-long presageful gloom of yours No presage, but the same mistrustful mood That makes you seem less noble than yourself, Whenever I have asked this very boon, Now asked again: for see you not, dear love, That such a mood as that, which lately gloomed Your fancy when ye saw me following you, Must make me fear still more you are not mine, Must make me yearn still more to prove you mine, And make me wish still more to learn this charm Of woven paces and of waving hands, As proof of trust. O Merlin, teach it me. The charm so taught will charm us both to rest. For, grant me some slight power upon your fate, I, feeling that you felt me worthy trust, Should rest and let you rest, knowing you mine. And therefore be as great as ye are named, Not muffled round with selfish reticence. How hard you look and how denyingly! O, if you think this wickedness in me, That I should prove it on you unawares, That makes me passing wrathful; then our bond Had best be loosed for ever: but think or not, By Heaven that hears I tell you the clean truth, As clean as blood of babes, as white as milk: O Merlin, may this earth, if ever I, If these unwitty wandering wits of mine, Even in the jumbled rubbish of a dream, Have tript on such conjectural treachery— May this hard earth cleave to the Nadir hell Down, down, and close again, and nip me flat, If I be such a traitress. Yield my boon, Till which I scarce can yield you all I am; And grant my re-reiterated wish, The great proof of your love: because I think, However wise, ye hardly know me yet.'
And Merlin loosed his hand from hers and said, 'I never was less wise, however wise, Too curious Vivien, though you talk of trust, Than when I told you first of such a charm. Yea, if ye talk of trust I tell you this, Too much I trusted when I told you that, And stirred this vice in you which ruined man Through woman the first hour; for howsoe'er In children a great curiousness be well, Who have to learn themselves and all the world, In you, that are no child, for still I find Your face is practised when I spell the lines, I call it,—well, I will not call it vice: But since you name yourself the summer fly, I well could wish a cobweb for the gnat, That settles, beaten back, and beaten back Settles, till one could yield for weariness: But since I will not yield to give you power Upon my life and use and name and fame, Why will ye never ask some other boon? Yea, by God's rood, I trusted you too much.'
And Vivien, like the tenderest-hearted maid That ever bided tryst at village stile, Made answer, either eyelid wet with tears: 'Nay, Master, be not wrathful with your maid; Caress her: let her feel herself forgiven Who feels no heart to ask another boon. I think ye hardly know the tender rhyme Of "trust me not at all or all in all." I heard the great Sir Lancelot sing it once, And it shall answer for me. Listen to it.
"In Love, if Love be Love, if Love be ours, Faith and unfaith can ne'er be equal powers: Unfaith in aught is want of faith in all.
"It is the little rift within the lute, That by and by will make the music mute, And ever widening slowly silence all.
"The little rift within the lover's lute Or little pitted speck in garnered fruit, That rotting inward slowly moulders all.
"It is not worth the keeping: let it go: But shall it? answer, darling, answer, no. And trust me not at all or all in all."
O Master, do ye love my tender rhyme?'
And Merlin looked and half believed her true, So tender was her voice, so fair her face, So sweetly gleamed her eyes behind her tears Like sunlight on the plain behind a shower: And yet he answered half indignantly:
'Far other was the song that once I heard By this huge oak, sung nearly where we sit: For here we met, some ten or twelve of us, To chase a creature that was current then In these wild woods, the hart with golden horns. It was the time when first the question rose About the founding of a Table Round, That was to be, for love of God and men And noble deeds, the flower of all the world. And each incited each to noble deeds. And while we waited, one, the youngest of us, We could not keep him silent, out he flashed, And into such a song, such fire for fame, Such trumpet-glowings in it, coming down To such a stern and iron-clashing close, That when he stopt we longed to hurl together, And should have done it; but the beauteous beast Scared by the noise upstarted at our feet, And like a silver shadow slipt away Through the dim land; and all day long we rode Through the dim land against a rushing wind, That glorious roundel echoing in our ears, And chased the flashes of his golden horns Till they vanished by the fairy well That laughs at iron—as our warriors did— Where children cast their pins and nails, and cry, "Laugh, little well!" but touch it with a sword, It buzzes fiercely round the point; and there We lost him: such a noble song was that. But, Vivien, when you sang me that sweet rhyme, I felt as though you knew this cursed charm, Were proving it on me, and that I lay And felt them slowly ebbing, name and fame.'
And Vivien answered smiling mournfully: 'O mine have ebbed away for evermore, And all through following you to this wild wood, Because I saw you sad, to comfort you. Lo now, what hearts have men! they never mount As high as woman in her selfless mood. And touching fame, howe'er ye scorn my song, Take one verse more—the lady speaks it—this:
'"My name, once mine, now thine, is closelier mine, For fame, could fame be mine, that fame were thine, And shame, could shame be thine, that shame were mine. So trust me not at all or all in all."
'Says she not well? and there is more—this rhyme Is like the fair pearl-necklace of the Queen, That burst in dancing, and the pearls were spilt; Some lost, some stolen, some as relics kept. But nevermore the same two sister pearls Ran down the silken thread to kiss each other On her white neck—so is it with this rhyme: It lives dispersedly in many hands, And every minstrel sings it differently; Yet is there one true line, the pearl of pearls: "Man dreams of Fame while woman wakes to love." Yea! Love, though Love were of the grossest, carves A portion from the solid present, eats And uses, careless of the rest; but Fame, The Fame that follows death is nothing to us; And what is Fame in life but half-disfame, And counterchanged with darkness? ye yourself Know well that Envy calls you Devil's son, And since ye seem the Master of all Art, They fain would make you Master of all vice.'
And Merlin locked his hand in hers and said, 'I once was looking for a magic weed, And found a fair young squire who sat alone, Had carved himself a knightly shield of wood, And then was painting on it fancied arms, Azure, an Eagle rising or, the Sun In dexter chief; the scroll "I follow fame." And speaking not, but leaning over him I took his brush and blotted out the bird, And made a Gardener putting in a graff, With this for motto, "Rather use than fame." You should have seen him blush; but afterwards He made a stalwart knight. O Vivien, For you, methinks you think you love me well; For me, I love you somewhat; rest: and Love Should have some rest and pleasure in himself, Not ever be too curious for a boon, Too prurient for a proof against the grain Of him ye say ye love: but Fame with men, Being but ampler means to serve mankind, Should have small rest or pleasure in herself, But work as vassal to the larger love, That dwarfs the petty love of one to one. Use gave me Fame at first, and Fame again Increasing gave me use. Lo, there my boon! What other? for men sought to prove me vile, Because I fain had given them greater wits: And then did Envy call me Devil's son: The sick weak beast seeking to help herself By striking at her better, missed, and brought Her own claw back, and wounded her own heart. Sweet were the days when I was all unknown, But when my name was lifted up, the storm Brake on the mountain and I cared not for it. Right well know I that Fame is half-disfame, Yet needs must work my work. That other fame, To one at least, who hath not children, vague, The cackle of the unborn about the grave, I cared not for it: a single misty star, Which is the second in a line of stars That seem a sword beneath a belt of three, I never gazed upon it but I dreamt Of some vast charm concluded in that star To make fame nothing. Wherefore, if I fear, Giving you power upon me through this charm, That you might play me falsely, having power, However well ye think ye love me now (As sons of kings loving in pupilage Have turned to tyrants when they came to power) I rather dread the loss of use than fame; If you—and not so much from wickedness, As some wild turn of anger, or a mood Of overstrained affection, it may be, To keep me all to your own self,—or else A sudden spurt of woman's jealousy,— Should try this charm on whom ye say ye love.'
And Vivien answered smiling as in wrath: 'Have I not sworn? I am not trusted. Good! Well, hide it, hide it; I shall find it out; And being found take heed of Vivien. A woman and not trusted, doubtless I Might feel some sudden turn of anger born Of your misfaith; and your fine epithet Is accurate too, for this full love of mine Without the full heart back may merit well Your term of overstrained. So used as I, My daily wonder is, I love at all. And as to woman's jealousy, O why not? O to what end, except a jealous one, And one to make me jealous if I love, Was this fair charm invented by yourself? I well believe that all about this world Ye cage a buxom captive here and there, Closed in the four walls of a hollow tower From which is no escape for evermore.'
Then the great Master merrily answered her: 'Full many a love in loving youth was mine; I needed then no charm to keep them mine But youth and love; and that full heart of yours Whereof ye prattle, may now assure you mine; So live uncharmed. For those who wrought it first, The wrist is parted from the hand that waved, The feet unmortised from their ankle-bones Who paced it, ages back: but will ye hear The legend as in guerdon for your rhyme?
'There lived a king in the most Eastern East, Less old than I, yet older, for my blood Hath earnest in it of far springs to be. A tawny pirate anchored in his port, Whose bark had plundered twenty nameless isles; And passing one, at the high peep of dawn, He saw two cities in a thousand boats All fighting for a woman on the sea. And pushing his black craft among them all, He lightly scattered theirs and brought her off, With loss of half his people arrow-slain; A maid so smooth, so white, so wonderful, They said a light came from her when she moved: And since the pirate would not yield her up, The King impaled him for his piracy; Then made her Queen: but those isle-nurtured eyes Waged such unwilling though successful war On all the youth, they sickened; councils thinned, And armies waned, for magnet-like she drew The rustiest iron of old fighters' hearts; And beasts themselves would worship; camels knelt Unbidden, and the brutes of mountain back That carry kings in castles, bowed black knees Of homage, ringing with their serpent hands, To make her smile, her golden ankle-bells. What wonder, being jealous, that he sent His horns of proclamation out through all The hundred under-kingdoms that he swayed To find a wizard who might teach the King Some charm, which being wrought upon the Queen Might keep her all his own: to such a one He promised more than ever king has given, A league of mountain full of golden mines, A province with a hundred miles of coast, A palace and a princess, all for him: But on all those who tried and failed, the King Pronounced a dismal sentence, meaning by it To keep the list low and pretenders back, Or like a king, not to be trifled with— Their heads should moulder on the city gates. And many tried and failed, because the charm Of nature in her overbore their own: And many a wizard brow bleached on the walls: And many weeks a troop of carrion crows Hung like a cloud above the gateway towers.'
And Vivien breaking in upon him, said: 'I sit and gather honey; yet, methinks, Thy tongue has tript a little: ask thyself. The lady never made unwilling war With those fine eyes: she had her pleasure in it, And made her good man jealous with good cause. And lived there neither dame nor damsel then Wroth at a lover's loss? were all as tame, I mean, as noble, as the Queen was fair? Not one to flirt a venom at her eyes, Or pinch a murderous dust into her drink, Or make her paler with a poisoned rose? Well, those were not our days: but did they find A wizard? Tell me, was he like to thee?
She ceased, and made her lithe arm round his neck Tighten, and then drew back, and let her eyes Speak for her, glowing on him, like a bride's On her new lord, her own, the first of men.
He answered laughing, 'Nay, not like to me. At last they found—his foragers for charms— A little glassy-headed hairless man, Who lived alone in a great wild on grass; Read but one book, and ever reading grew So grated down and filed away with thought, So lean his eyes were monstrous; while the skin Clung but to crate and basket, ribs and spine. And since he kept his mind on one sole aim, Nor ever touched fierce wine, nor tasted flesh, Nor owned a sensual wish, to him the wall That sunders ghosts and shadow-casting men Became a crystal, and he saw them through it, And heard their voices talk behind the wall, And learnt their elemental secrets, powers And forces; often o'er the sun's bright eye Drew the vast eyelid of an inky cloud, And lashed it at the base with slanting storm; Or in the noon of mist and driving rain, When the lake whitened and the pinewood roared, And the cairned mountain was a shadow, sunned The world to peace again: here was the man. And so by force they dragged him to the King. And then he taught the King to charm the Queen In such-wise, that no man could see her more, Nor saw she save the King, who wrought the charm, Coming and going, and she lay as dead, And lost all use of life: but when the King Made proffer of the league of golden mines, The province with a hundred miles of coast, The palace and the princess, that old man Went back to his old wild, and lived on grass, And vanished, and his book came down to me.'
And Vivien answered smiling saucily: 'Ye have the book: the charm is written in it: Good: take my counsel: let me know it at once: For keep it like a puzzle chest in chest, With each chest locked and padlocked thirty-fold, And whelm all this beneath as vast a mound As after furious battle turfs the slain On some wild down above the windy deep, I yet should strike upon a sudden means To dig, pick, open, find and read the charm: Then, if I tried it, who should blame me then?'
And smiling as a master smiles at one That is not of his school, nor any school But that where blind and naked Ignorance Delivers brawling judgments, unashamed, On all things all day long, he answered her:
'Thou read the book, my pretty Vivien! O ay, it is but twenty pages long, But every page having an ample marge, And every marge enclosing in the midst A square of text that looks a little blot, The text no larger than the limbs of fleas; And every square of text an awful charm, Writ in a language that has long gone by. So long, that mountains have arisen since With cities on their flanks—thou read the book! And ever margin scribbled, crost, and crammed With comment, densest condensation, hard To mind and eye; but the long sleepless nights Of my long life have made it easy to me. And none can read the text, not even I; And none can read the comment but myself; And in the comment did I find the charm. O, the results are simple; a mere child Might use it to the harm of anyone, And never could undo it: ask no more: For though you should not prove it upon me, But keep that oath ye sware, ye might, perchance, Assay it on some one of the Table Round, And all because ye dream they babble of you.'
And Vivien, frowning in true anger, said: 'What dare the full-fed liars say of me? They ride abroad redressing human wrongs! They sit with knife in meat and wine in horn! They bound to holy vows of chastity! Were I not woman, I could tell a tale. But you are man, you well can understand The shame that cannot be explained for shame. Not one of all the drove should touch me: swine!'
Then answered Merlin careless of her words: 'You breathe but accusation vast and vague, Spleen-born, I think, and proofless. If ye know, Set up the charge ye know, to stand or fall!'
And Vivien answered frowning wrathfully: 'O ay, what say ye to Sir Valence, him Whose kinsman left him watcher o'er his wife And two fair babes, and went to distant lands; Was one year gone, and on returning found Not two but three? there lay the reckling, one But one hour old! What said the happy sire?' A seven-months' babe had been a truer gift. Those twelve sweet moons confused his fatherhood.'
Then answered Merlin, 'Nay, I know the tale. Sir Valence wedded with an outland dame: Some cause had kept him sundered from his wife: One child they had: it lived with her: she died: His kinsman travelling on his own affair Was charged by Valence to bring home the child. He brought, not found it therefore: take the truth.'
'O ay,' said Vivien, 'overtrue a tale. What say ye then to sweet Sir Sagramore, That ardent man? "to pluck the flower in season," So says the song, "I trow it is no treason." O Master, shall we call him overquick To crop his own sweet rose before the hour?'
And Merlin answered, 'Overquick art thou To catch a loathly plume fallen from the wing Of that foul bird of rapine whose whole prey Is man's good name: he never wronged his bride. I know the tale. An angry gust of wind Puffed out his torch among the myriad-roomed And many-corridored complexities Of Arthur's palace: then he found a door, And darkling felt the sculptured ornament That wreathen round it made it seem his own; And wearied out made for the couch and slept, A stainless man beside a stainless maid; And either slept, nor knew of other there; Till the high dawn piercing the royal rose In Arthur's casement glimmered chastely down, Blushing upon them blushing, and at once He rose without a word and parted from her: But when the thing was blazed about the court, The brute world howling forced them into bonds, And as it chanced they are happy, being pure.'
'O ay,' said Vivien, 'that were likely too. What say ye then to fair Sir Percivale And of the horrid foulness that he wrought, The saintly youth, the spotless lamb of Christ, Or some black wether of St Satan's fold. What, in the precincts of the chapel-yard, Among the knightly brasses of the graves, And by the cold Hic Jacets of the dead!'
And Merlin answered careless of her charge, 'A sober man is Percivale and pure; But once in life was flustered with new wine, Then paced for coolness in the chapel-yard; Where one of Satan's shepherdesses caught And meant to stamp him with her master's mark; And that he sinned is not believable; For, look upon his face!—but if he sinned, The sin that practice burns into the blood, And not the one dark hour which brings remorse, Will brand us, after, of whose fold we be: Or else were he, the holy king, whose hymns Are chanted in the minster, worse than all. But is your spleen frothed out, or have ye more?'
And Vivien answered frowning yet in wrath: 'O ay; what say ye to Sir Lancelot, friend Traitor or true? that commerce with the Queen, I ask you, is it clamoured by the child, Or whispered in the corner? do ye know it?'
To which he answered sadly, 'Yea, I know it. Sir Lancelot went ambassador, at first, To fetch her, and she watched him from her walls. A rumour runs, she took him for the King, So fixt her fancy on him: let them be. But have ye no one word of loyal praise For Arthur, blameless King and stainless man?'
She answered with a low and chuckling laugh: 'Man! is he man at all, who knows and winks? Sees what his fair bride is and does, and winks? By which the good King means to blind himself, And blinds himself and all the Table Round To all the foulness that they work. Myself Could call him (were it not for womanhood) The pretty, popular cause such manhood earns, Could call him the main cause of all their crime; Yea, were he not crowned King, coward, and fool.'
Then Merlin to his own heart, loathing, said: 'O true and tender! O my liege and King! O selfless man and stainless gentleman, Who wouldst against thine own eye-witness fain Have all men true and leal, all women pure; How, in the mouths of base interpreters, From over-fineness not intelligible To things with every sense as false and foul As the poached filth that floods the middle street, Is thy white blamelessness accounted blame!'
But Vivien, deeming Merlin overborne By instance, recommenced, and let her tongue Rage like a fire among the noblest names, Polluting, and imputing her whole self, Defaming and defacing, till she left Not even Lancelot brave, nor Galahad clean.
Her words had issue other than she willed. He dragged his eyebrow bushes down, and made A snowy penthouse for his hollow eyes, And muttered in himself, 'Tell her the charm! So, if she had it, would she rail on me To snare the next, and if she have it not So will she rail. What did the wanton say? "Not mount as high;" we scarce can sink as low: For men at most differ as Heaven and earth, But women, worst and best, as Heaven and Hell. I know the Table Round, my friends of old; All brave, and many generous, and some chaste. She cloaks the scar of some repulse with lies; I well believe she tempted them and failed, Being so bitter: for fine plots may fail, Though harlots paint their talk as well as face With colours of the heart that are not theirs. I will not let her know: nine tithes of times Face-flatterer and backbiter are the same. And they, sweet soul, that most impute a crime Are pronest to it, and impute themselves, Wanting the mental range; or low desire Not to feel lowest makes them level all; Yea, they would pare the mountain to the plain, To leave an equal baseness; and in this Are harlots like the crowd, that if they find Some stain or blemish in a name of note, Not grieving that their greatest are so small, Inflate themselves with some insane delight, And judge all nature from her feet of clay, Without the will to lift their eyes, and see Her godlike head crowned with spiritual fire, And touching other worlds. I am weary of her.'
He spoke in words part heard, in whispers part, Half-suffocated in the hoary fell And many-wintered fleece of throat and chin. But Vivien, gathering somewhat of his mood, And hearing 'harlot' muttered twice or thrice, Leapt from her session on his lap, and stood Stiff as a viper frozen; loathsome sight, How from the rosy lips of life and love, Flashed the bare-grinning skeleton of death! White was her cheek; sharp breaths of anger puffed Her fairy nostril out; her hand half-clenched Went faltering sideways downward to her belt, And feeling; had she found a dagger there (For in a wink the false love turns to hate) She would have stabbed him; but she found it not: His eye was calm, and suddenly she took To bitter weeping like a beaten child, A long, long weeping, not consolable. Then her false voice made way, broken with sobs:
'O crueller than was ever told in tale, Or sung in song! O vainly lavished love! O cruel, there was nothing wild or strange, Or seeming shameful—for what shame in love, So love be true, and not as yours is—nothing Poor Vivien had not done to win his trust Who called her what he called her—all her crime, All—all—the wish to prove him wholly hers.'
She mused a little, and then clapt her hands Together with a wailing shriek, and said: 'Stabbed through the heart's affections to the heart! Seethed like the kid in its own mother's milk! Killed with a word worse than a life of blows! I thought that he was gentle, being great: O God, that I had loved a smaller man! I should have found in him a greater heart. O, I, that flattering my true passion, saw The knights, the court, the King, dark in your light, Who loved to make men darker than they are, Because of that high pleasure which I had To seat you sole upon my pedestal Of worship—I am answered, and henceforth The course of life that seemed so flowery to me With you for guide and master, only you, Becomes the sea-cliff pathway broken short, And ending in a ruin—nothing left, But into some low cave to crawl, and there, If the wolf spare me, weep my life away, Killed with inutterable unkindliness.'
She paused, she turned away, she hung her head, The snake of gold slid from her hair, the braid Slipt and uncoiled itself, she wept afresh, And the dark wood grew darker toward the storm In silence, while his anger slowly died Within him, till he let his wisdom go For ease of heart, and half believed her true: Called her to shelter in the hollow oak, 'Come from the storm,' and having no reply, Gazed at the heaving shoulder, and the face Hand-hidden, as for utmost grief or shame; Then thrice essayed, by tenderest-touching terms, To sleek her ruffled peace of mind, in vain. At last she let herself be conquered by him, And as the cageling newly flown returns, The seeming-injured simple-hearted thing Came to her old perch back, and settled there. There while she sat, half-falling from his knees, Half-nestled at his heart, and since he saw The slow tear creep from her closed eyelid yet, About her, more in kindness than in love, The gentle wizard cast a shielding arm. But she dislinked herself at once and rose, Her arms upon her breast across, and stood, A virtuous gentlewoman deeply wronged, Upright and flushed before him: then she said:
'There must now be no passages of love Betwixt us twain henceforward evermore; Since, if I be what I am grossly called, What should be granted which your own gross heart Would reckon worth the taking? I will go. In truth, but one thing now—better have died Thrice than have asked it once—could make me stay— That proof of trust—so often asked in vain! How justly, after that vile term of yours, I find with grief! I might believe you then, Who knows? once more. Lo! what was once to me Mere matter of the fancy, now hath grown The vast necessity of heart and life. Farewell; think gently of me, for I fear My fate or folly, passing gayer youth For one so old, must be to love thee still. But ere I leave thee let me swear once more That if I schemed against thy peace in this, May yon just heaven, that darkens o'er me, send One flash, that, missing all things else, may make My scheming brain a cinder, if I lie.'
Scarce had she ceased, when out of heaven a bolt (For now the storm was close above them) struck, Furrowing a giant oak, and javelining With darted spikes and splinters of the wood The dark earth round. He raised his eyes and saw The tree that shone white-listed through the gloom. But Vivien, fearing heaven had heard her oath, And dazzled by the livid-flickering fork, And deafened with the stammering cracks and claps That followed, flying back and crying out, 'O Merlin, though you do not love me, save, Yet save me!' clung to him and hugged him close; And called him dear protector in her fright, Nor yet forgot her practice in her fright, But wrought upon his mood and hugged him close. The pale blood of the wizard at her touch Took gayer colours, like an opal warmed. She blamed herself for telling hearsay tales: She shook from fear, and for her fault she wept Of petulancy; she called him lord and liege, Her seer, her bard, her silver star of eve, Her God, her Merlin, the one passionate love Of her whole life; and ever overhead Bellowed the tempest, and the rotten branch Snapt in the rushing of the river-rain Above them; and in change of glare and gloom Her eyes and neck glittering went and came; Till now the storm, its burst of passion spent, Moaning and calling out of other lands, Had left the ravaged woodland yet once more To peace; and what should not have been had been, For Merlin, overtalked and overworn, Had yielded, told her all the charm, and slept.
Then, in one moment, she put forth the charm Of woven paces and of waving hands, And in the hollow oak he lay as dead, And lost to life and use and name and fame.
Then crying 'I have made his glory mine,' And shrieking out 'O fool!' the harlot leapt Adown the forest, and the thicket closed Behind her, and the forest echoed 'fool.'
Lancelot and Elaine
Elaine the fair, Elaine the loveable, Elaine, the lily maid of Astolat, High in her chamber up a tower to the east Guarded the sacred shield of Lancelot; Which first she placed where the morning's earliest ray Might strike it, and awake her with the gleam; Then fearing rust or soilure fashioned for it A case of silk, and braided thereupon All the devices blazoned on the shield In their own tinct, and added, of her wit, A border fantasy of branch and flower, And yellow-throated nestling in the nest. Nor rested thus content, but day by day, Leaving her household and good father, climbed That eastern tower, and entering barred her door, Stript off the case, and read the naked shield, Now guessed a hidden meaning in his arms, Now made a pretty history to herself Of every dint a sword had beaten in it, And every scratch a lance had made upon it, Conjecturing when and where: this cut is fresh; That ten years back; this dealt him at Caerlyle; That at Caerleon; this at Camelot: And ah God's mercy, what a stroke was there! And here a thrust that might have killed, but God Broke the strong lance, and rolled his enemy down, And saved him: so she lived in fantasy.
How came the lily maid by that good shield Of Lancelot, she that knew not even his name? He left it with her, when he rode to tilt For the great diamond in the diamond jousts, Which Arthur had ordained, and by that name Had named them, since a diamond was the prize.
For Arthur, long before they crowned him King, Roving the trackless realms of Lyonnesse, Had found a glen, gray boulder and black tarn. A horror lived about the tarn, and clave Like its own mists to all the mountain side: For here two brothers, one a king, had met And fought together; but their names were lost; And each had slain his brother at a blow; And down they fell and made the glen abhorred: And there they lay till all their bones were bleached, And lichened into colour with the crags: And he, that once was king, had on a crown Of diamonds, one in front, and four aside. And Arthur came, and labouring up the pass, All in a misty moonshine, unawares Had trodden that crowned skeleton, and the skull Brake from the nape, and from the skull the crown Rolled into light, and turning on its rims Fled like a glittering rivulet to the tarn: And down the shingly scaur he plunged, and caught, And set it on his head, and in his heart Heard murmurs, 'Lo, thou likewise shalt be King.'
Thereafter, when a King, he had the gems Plucked from the crown, and showed them to his knights, Saying, 'These jewels, whereupon I chanced Divinely, are the kingdom's, not the King's— For public use: henceforward let there be, Once every year, a joust for one of these: For so by nine years' proof we needs must learn Which is our mightiest, and ourselves shall grow In use of arms and manhood, till we drive The heathen, who, some say, shall rule the land Hereafter, which God hinder.' Thus he spoke: And eight years past, eight jousts had been, and still Had Lancelot won the diamond of the year, With purpose to present them to the Queen, When all were won; but meaning all at once To snare her royal fancy with a boon Worth half her realm, had never spoken word.
Now for the central diamond and the last And largest, Arthur, holding then his court Hard on the river nigh the place which now Is this world's hugest, let proclaim a joust At Camelot, and when the time drew nigh Spake (for she had been sick) to Guinevere, 'Are you so sick, my Queen, you cannot move To these fair jousts?' 'Yea, lord,' she said, 'ye know it.' 'Then will ye miss,' he answered, 'the great deeds Of Lancelot, and his prowess in the lists, A sight ye love to look on.' And the Queen Lifted her eyes, and they dwelt languidly On Lancelot, where he stood beside the King. He thinking that he read her meaning there, 'Stay with me, I am sick; my love is more Than many diamonds,' yielded; and a heart Love-loyal to the least wish of the Queen (However much he yearned to make complete The tale of diamonds for his destined boon) Urged him to speak against the truth, and say, 'Sir King, mine ancient wound is hardly whole, And lets me from the saddle;' and the King Glanced first at him, then her, and went his way. No sooner gone than suddenly she began:
'To blame, my lord Sir Lancelot, much to blame! Why go ye not to these fair jousts? the knights Are half of them our enemies, and the crowd Will murmur, "Lo the shameless ones, who take Their pastime now the trustful King is gone!"' Then Lancelot vext at having lied in vain: 'Are ye so wise? ye were not once so wise, My Queen, that summer, when ye loved me first. Then of the crowd ye took no more account Than of the myriad cricket of the mead, When its own voice clings to each blade of grass, And every voice is nothing. As to knights, Them surely can I silence with all ease. But now my loyal worship is allowed Of all men: many a bard, without offence, Has linked our names together in his lay, Lancelot, the flower of bravery, Guinevere, The pearl of beauty: and our knights at feast Have pledged us in this union, while the King Would listen smiling. How then? is there more? Has Arthur spoken aught? or would yourself, Now weary of my service and devoir, Henceforth be truer to your faultless lord?'
She broke into a little scornful laugh: 'Arthur, my lord, Arthur, the faultless King, That passionate perfection, my good lord— But who can gaze upon the Sun in heaven? He never spake word of reproach to me, He never had a glimpse of mine untruth, He cares not for me: only here today There gleamed a vague suspicion in his eyes: Some meddling rogue has tampered with him—else Rapt in this fancy of his Table Round, And swearing men to vows impossible, To make them like himself: but, friend, to me He is all fault who hath no fault at all: For who loves me must have a touch of earth; The low sun makes the colour: I am yours, Not Arthur's, as ye know, save by the bond. And therefore hear my words: go to the jousts: The tiny-trumpeting gnat can break our dream When sweetest; and the vermin voices here May buzz so loud—we scorn them, but they sting.'
Then answered Lancelot, the chief of knights: 'And with what face, after my pretext made, Shall I appear, O Queen, at Camelot, I Before a King who honours his own word, As if it were his God's?'
'Yea,' said the Queen, 'A moral child without the craft to rule, Else had he not lost me: but listen to me, If I must find you wit: we hear it said That men go down before your spear at a touch, But knowing you are Lancelot; your great name, This conquers: hide it therefore; go unknown: Win! by this kiss you will: and our true King Will then allow your pretext, O my knight, As all for glory; for to speak him true, Ye know right well, how meek soe'er he seem, No keener hunter after glory breathes. He loves it in his knights more than himself: They prove to him his work: win and return.'
Then got Sir Lancelot suddenly to horse, Wroth at himself. Not willing to be known, He left the barren-beaten thoroughfare, Chose the green path that showed the rarer foot, And there among the solitary downs, Full often lost in fancy, lost his way; Till as he traced a faintly-shadowed track, That all in loops and links among the dales Ran to the Castle of Astolat, he saw Fired from the west, far on a hill, the towers. Thither he made, and blew the gateway horn. Then came an old, dumb, myriad-wrinkled man, Who let him into lodging and disarmed. And Lancelot marvelled at the wordless man; And issuing found the Lord of Astolat With two strong sons, Sir Torre and Sir Lavaine, Moving to meet him in the castle court; And close behind them stept the lily maid Elaine, his daughter: mother of the house There was not: some light jest among them rose With laughter dying down as the great knight Approached them: then the Lord of Astolat: 'Whence comes thou, my guest, and by what name Livest thou between the lips? for by thy state And presence I might guess thee chief of those, After the King, who eat in Arthur's halls. Him have I seen: the rest, his Table Round, Known as they are, to me they are unknown.'
Then answered Sir Lancelot, the chief of knights: 'Known am I, and of Arthur's hall, and known, What I by mere mischance have brought, my shield. But since I go to joust as one unknown At Camelot for the diamond, ask me not, Hereafter ye shall know me—and the shield— I pray you lend me one, if such you have, Blank, or at least with some device not mine.'
Then said the Lord of Astolat, 'Here is Torre's: Hurt in his first tilt was my son, Sir Torre. And so, God wot, his shield is blank enough. His ye can have.' Then added plain Sir Torre, 'Yea, since I cannot use it, ye may have it.' Here laughed the father saying, 'Fie, Sir Churl, Is that answer for a noble knight? Allow him! but Lavaine, my younger here, He is so full of lustihood, he will ride, Joust for it, and win, and bring it in an hour, And set it in this damsel's golden hair, To make her thrice as wilful as before.'
'Nay, father, nay good father, shame me not Before this noble knight,' said young Lavaine, 'For nothing. Surely I but played on Torre: He seemed so sullen, vext he could not go: A jest, no more! for, knight, the maiden dreamt That some one put this diamond in her hand, And that it was too slippery to be held, And slipt and fell into some pool or stream, The castle-well, belike; and then I said That if I went and if I fought and won it (But all was jest and joke among ourselves) Then must she keep it safelier. All was jest. But, father, give me leave, an if he will, To ride to Camelot with this noble knight: Win shall I not, but do my best to win: Young as I am, yet would I do my best.'
'So will ye grace me,' answered Lancelot, Smiling a moment, 'with your fellowship O'er these waste downs whereon I lost myself, Then were I glad of you as guide and friend: And you shall win this diamond,—as I hear It is a fair large diamond,—if ye may, And yield it to this maiden, if ye will.' 'A fair large diamond,' added plain Sir Torre, 'Such be for queens, and not for simple maids.' Then she, who held her eyes upon the ground, Elaine, and heard her name so tost about, Flushed slightly at the slight disparagement Before the stranger knight, who, looking at her, Full courtly, yet not falsely, thus returned: 'If what is fair be but for what is fair, And only queens are to be counted so, Rash were my judgment then, who deem this maid Might wear as fair a jewel as is on earth, Not violating the bond of like to like.'
He spoke and ceased: the lily maid Elaine, Won by the mellow voice before she looked, Lifted her eyes, and read his lineaments. The great and guilty love he bare the Queen, In battle with the love he bare his lord, Had marred his face, and marked it ere his time. Another sinning on such heights with one, The flower of all the west and all the world, Had been the sleeker for it: but in him His mood was often like a fiend, and rose And drove him into wastes and solitudes For agony, who was yet a living soul. Marred as he was, he seemed the goodliest man That ever among ladies ate in hall, And noblest, when she lifted up her eyes. However marred, of more than twice her years, Seamed with an ancient swordcut on the cheek, And bruised and bronzed, she lifted up her eyes And loved him, with that love which was her doom.
Then the great knight, the darling of the court, Loved of the loveliest, into that rude hall Stept with all grace, and not with half disdain Hid under grace, as in a smaller time, But kindly man moving among his kind: Whom they with meats and vintage of their best And talk and minstrel melody entertained. And much they asked of court and Table Round, And ever well and readily answered he: But Lancelot, when they glanced at Guinevere, Suddenly speaking of the wordless man, Heard from the Baron that, ten years before, The heathen caught and reft him of his tongue. 'He learnt and warned me of their fierce design Against my house, and him they caught and maimed; But I, my sons, and little daughter fled From bonds or death, and dwelt among the woods By the great river in a boatman's hut. Dull days were those, till our good Arthur broke The Pagan yet once more on Badon hill.'
'O there, great lord, doubtless,' Lavaine said, rapt By all the sweet and sudden passion of youth Toward greatness in its elder, 'you have fought. O tell us—for we live apart—you know Of Arthur's glorious wars.' And Lancelot spoke And answered him at full, as having been With Arthur in the fight which all day long Rang by the white mouth of the violent Glem; And in the four loud battles by the shore Of Duglas; that on Bassa; then the war That thundered in and out the gloomy skirts Of Celidon the forest; and again By castle Gurnion, where the glorious King Had on his cuirass worn our Lady's Head, Carved of one emerald centered in a sun Of silver rays, that lightened as he breathed; And at Caerleon had he helped his lord, When the strong neighings of the wild white Horse Set every gilded parapet shuddering; And up in Agned-Cathregonion too, And down the waste sand-shores of Trath Treroit, Where many a heathen fell; 'and on the mount Of Badon I myself beheld the King Charge at the head of all his Table Round, And all his legions crying Christ and him, And break them; and I saw him, after, stand High on a heap of slain, from spur to plume Red as the rising sun with heathen blood, And seeing me, with a great voice he cried, "They are broken, they are broken!" for the King, However mild he seems at home, nor cares For triumph in our mimic wars, the jousts— For if his own knight cast him down, he laughs Saying, his knights are better men than he— Yet in this heathen war the fire of God Fills him: I never saw his like: there lives No greater leader.'
While he uttered this, Low to her own heart said the lily maid, 'Save your own great self, fair lord;' and when he fell From talk of war to traits of pleasantry— Being mirthful he, but in a stately kind— She still took note that when the living smile Died from his lips, across him came a cloud Of melancholy severe, from which again, Whenever in her hovering to and fro The lily maid had striven to make him cheer, There brake a sudden-beaming tenderness Of manners and of nature: and she thought That all was nature, all, perchance, for her. And all night long his face before her lived, As when a painter, poring on a face, Divinely through all hindrance finds the man Behind it, and so paints him that his face, The shape and colour of a mind and life, Lives for his children, ever at its best And fullest; so the face before her lived, Dark-splendid, speaking in the silence, full Of noble things, and held her from her sleep. Till rathe she rose, half-cheated in the thought She needs must bid farewell to sweet Lavaine. First in fear, step after step, she stole Down the long tower-stairs, hesitating: Anon, she heard Sir Lancelot cry in the court, 'This shield, my friend, where is it?' and Lavaine Past inward, as she came from out the tower. There to his proud horse Lancelot turned, and smoothed The glossy shoulder, humming to himself. Half-envious of the flattering hand, she drew Nearer and stood. He looked, and more amazed Than if seven men had set upon him, saw The maiden standing in the dewy light. He had not dreamed she was so beautiful. Then came on him a sort of sacred fear, For silent, though he greeted her, she stood Rapt on his face as if it were a God's. Suddenly flashed on her a wild desire, That he should wear her favour at the tilt. She braved a riotous heart in asking for it. 'Fair lord, whose name I know not—noble it is, I well believe, the noblest—will you wear My favour at this tourney?' 'Nay,' said he, 'Fair lady, since I never yet have worn Favour of any lady in the lists. Such is my wont, as those, who know me, know.' 'Yea, so,' she answered; 'then in wearing mine Needs must be lesser likelihood, noble lord, That those who know should know you.' And he turned Her counsel up and down within his mind, And found it true, and answered, 'True, my child. Well, I will wear it: fetch it out to me: What is it?' and she told him 'A red sleeve Broidered with pearls,' and brought it: then he bound Her token on his helmet, with a smile Saying, 'I never yet have done so much For any maiden living,' and the blood Sprang to her face and filled her with delight; But left her all the paler, when Lavaine Returning brought the yet-unblazoned shield, His brother's; which he gave to Lancelot, Who parted with his own to fair Elaine: 'Do me this grace, my child, to have my shield In keeping till I come.' 'A grace to me,' She answered, 'twice today. I am your squire!' Whereat Lavaine said, laughing, 'Lily maid, For fear our people call you lily maid In earnest, let me bring your colour back; Once, twice, and thrice: now get you hence to bed:' So kissed her, and Sir Lancelot his own hand, And thus they moved away: she stayed a minute, Then made a sudden step to the gate, and there— Her bright hair blown about the serious face Yet rosy-kindled with her brother's kiss— Paused by the gateway, standing near the shield In silence, while she watched their arms far-off Sparkle, until they dipt below the downs. Then to her tower she climbed, and took the shield, There kept it, and so lived in fantasy.
Meanwhile the new companions past away Far o'er the long backs of the bushless downs, To where Sir Lancelot knew there lived a knight Not far from Camelot, now for forty years A hermit, who had prayed, laboured and prayed, And ever labouring had scooped himself In the white rock a chapel and a hall On massive columns, like a shorecliff cave, And cells and chambers: all were fair and dry; The green light from the meadows underneath Struck up and lived along the milky roofs; And in the meadows tremulous aspen-trees And poplars made a noise of falling showers. And thither wending there that night they bode.
But when the next day broke from underground, And shot red fire and shadows through the cave, They rose, heard mass, broke fast, and rode away: Then Lancelot saying, 'Hear, but hold my name Hidden, you ride with Lancelot of the Lake,' Abashed young Lavaine, whose instant reverence, Dearer to true young hearts than their own praise, But left him leave to stammer, 'Is it indeed?' And after muttering 'The great Lancelot, At last he got his breath and answered, 'One, One have I seen—that other, our liege lord, The dread Pendragon, Britain's King of kings, Of whom the people talk mysteriously, He will be there—then were I stricken blind That minute, I might say that I had seen.'
So spake Lavaine, and when they reached the lists By Camelot in the meadow, let his eyes Run through the peopled gallery which half round Lay like a rainbow fallen upon the grass, Until they found the clear-faced King, who sat Robed in red samite, easily to be known, Since to his crown the golden dragon clung, And down his robe the dragon writhed in gold, And from the carven-work behind him crept Two dragons gilded, sloping down to make Arms for his chair, while all the rest of them Through knots and loops and folds innumerable Fled ever through the woodwork, till they found The new design wherein they lost themselves, Yet with all ease, so tender was the work: And, in the costly canopy o'er him set, Blazed the last diamond of the nameless king.
Then Lancelot answered young Lavaine and said, 'Me you call great: mine is the firmer seat, The truer lance: but there is many a youth Now crescent, who will come to all I am And overcome it; and in me there dwells No greatness, save it be some far-off touch Of greatness to know well I am not great: There is the man.' And Lavaine gaped upon him As on a thing miraculous, and anon The trumpets blew; and then did either side, They that assailed, and they that held the lists, Set lance in rest, strike spur, suddenly move, Meet in the midst, and there so furiously Shock, that a man far-off might well perceive, If any man that day were left afield, The hard earth shake, and a low thunder of arms. And Lancelot bode a little, till he saw Which were the weaker; then he hurled into it Against the stronger: little need to speak Of Lancelot in his glory! King, duke, earl, Count, baron—whom he smote, he overthrew.
But in the field were Lancelot's kith and kin, Ranged with the Table Round that held the lists, Strong men, and wrathful that a stranger knight Should do and almost overdo the deeds Of Lancelot; and one said to the other, 'Lo! What is he? I do not mean the force alone— The grace and versatility of the man! Is it not Lancelot?' 'When has Lancelot worn Favour of any lady in the lists? Not such his wont, as we, that know him, know.' 'How then? who then?' a fury seized them all, A fiery family passion for the name Of Lancelot, and a glory one with theirs. They couched their spears and pricked their steeds, and thus, Their plumes driven backward by the wind they made In moving, all together down upon him Bare, as a wild wave in the wide North-sea, Green-glimmering toward the summit, bears, with all Its stormy crests that smoke against the skies, Down on a bark, and overbears the bark, And him that helms it, so they overbore Sir Lancelot and his charger, and a spear Down-glancing lamed the charger, and a spear Pricked sharply his own cuirass, and the head Pierced through his side, and there snapt, and remained.
Then Sir Lavaine did well and worshipfully; He bore a knight of old repute to the earth, And brought his horse to Lancelot where he lay. He up the side, sweating with agony, got, But thought to do while he might yet endure, And being lustily holpen by the rest, His party,—though it seemed half-miracle To those he fought with,—drave his kith and kin, And all the Table Round that held the lists, Back to the barrier; then the trumpets blew Proclaiming his the prize, who wore the sleeve Of scarlet, and the pearls; and all the knights, His party, cried 'Advance and take thy prize The diamond;' but he answered, 'Diamond me No diamonds! for God's love, a little air! Prize me no prizes, for my prize is death! Hence will I, and I charge you, follow me not.'
He spoke, and vanished suddenly from the field With young Lavaine into the poplar grove. There from his charger down he slid, and sat, Gasping to Sir Lavaine, 'Draw the lance-head:' 'Ah my sweet lord Sir Lancelot,' said Lavaine, 'I dread me, if I draw it, you will die.' But he, 'I die already with it: draw— Draw,'—and Lavaine drew, and Sir Lancelot gave A marvellous great shriek and ghastly groan, And half his blood burst forth, and down he sank For the pure pain, and wholly swooned away. Then came the hermit out and bare him in, There stanched his wound; and there, in daily doubt Whether to live or die, for many a week Hid from the wide world's rumour by the grove Of poplars with their noise of falling showers, And ever-tremulous aspen-trees, he lay.
But on that day when Lancelot fled the lists, His party, knights of utmost North and West, Lords of waste marches, kings of desolate isles, Came round their great Pendragon, saying to him, 'Lo, Sire, our knight, through whom we won the day, Hath gone sore wounded, and hath left his prize Untaken, crying that his prize is death.' 'Heaven hinder,' said the King, 'that such an one, So great a knight as we have seen today— He seemed to me another Lancelot— Yea, twenty times I thought him Lancelot— He must not pass uncared for. Wherefore, rise, O Gawain, and ride forth and find the knight. Wounded and wearied needs must he be near. I charge you that you get at once to horse. And, knights and kings, there breathes not one of you Will deem this prize of ours is rashly given: His prowess was too wondrous. We will do him No customary honour: since the knight Came not to us, of us to claim the prize, Ourselves will send it after. Rise and take This diamond, and deliver it, and return, And bring us where he is, and how he fares, And cease not from your quest until ye find.'
So saying, from the carven flower above, To which it made a restless heart, he took, And gave, the diamond: then from where he sat At Arthur's right, with smiling face arose, With smiling face and frowning heart, a Prince In the mid might and flourish of his May, Gawain, surnamed The Courteous, fair and strong, And after Lancelot, Tristram, and Geraint And Gareth, a good knight, but therewithal Sir Modred's brother, and the child of Lot, Nor often loyal to his word, and now Wroth that the King's command to sally forth In quest of whom he knew not, made him leave The banquet, and concourse of knights and kings.
So all in wrath he got to horse and went; While Arthur to the banquet, dark in mood, Past, thinking 'Is it Lancelot who hath come Despite the wound he spake of, all for gain Of glory, and hath added wound to wound, And ridden away to die?' So feared the King, And, after two days' tarriance there, returned. Then when he saw the Queen, embracing asked, 'Love, are you yet so sick?' 'Nay, lord,' she said. 'And where is Lancelot?' Then the Queen amazed, 'Was he not with you? won he not your prize?' 'Nay, but one like him.' 'Why that like was he.' And when the King demanded how she knew, Said, 'Lord, no sooner had ye parted from us, Than Lancelot told me of a common talk That men went down before his spear at a touch, But knowing he was Lancelot; his great name Conquered; and therefore would he hide his name From all men, even the King, and to this end Had made a pretext of a hindering wound, That he might joust unknown of all, and learn If his old prowess were in aught decayed; And added, "Our true Arthur, when he learns, Will well allow me pretext, as for gain Of purer glory."'
Then replied the King: 'Far lovelier in our Lancelot had it been, In lieu of idly dallying with the truth, To have trusted me as he hath trusted thee. Surely his King and most familiar friend Might well have kept his secret. True, indeed, Albeit I know my knights fantastical, So fine a fear in our large Lancelot Must needs have moved my laughter: now remains But little cause for laughter: his own kin— Ill news, my Queen, for all who love him, this!— His kith and kin, not knowing, set upon him; So that he went sore wounded from the field: Yet good news too: for goodly hopes are mine That Lancelot is no more a lonely heart. He wore, against his wont, upon his helm A sleeve of scarlet, broidered with great pearls, Some gentle maiden's gift.'
'Yea, lord,' she said, 'Thy hopes are mine,' and saying that, she choked, And sharply turned about to hide her face, Past to her chamber, and there flung herself Down on the great King's couch, and writhed upon it, And clenched her fingers till they bit the palm, And shrieked out 'Traitor' to the unhearing wall, Then flashed into wild tears, and rose again, And moved about her palace, proud and pale.
Gawain the while through all the region round Rode with his diamond, wearied of the quest, Touched at all points, except the poplar grove, And came at last, though late, to Astolat: Whom glittering in enamelled arms the maid Glanced at, and cried, 'What news from Camelot, lord? What of the knight with the red sleeve?' 'He won.' 'I knew it,' she said. 'But parted from the jousts Hurt in the side,' whereat she caught her breath; Through her own side she felt the sharp lance go; Thereon she smote her hand: wellnigh she swooned: And, while he gazed wonderingly at her, came The Lord of Astolat out, to whom the Prince Reported who he was, and on what quest Sent, that he bore the prize and could not find The victor, but had ridden a random round To seek him, and had wearied of the search. To whom the Lord of Astolat, 'Bide with us, And ride no more at random, noble Prince! Here was the knight, and here he left a shield; This will he send or come for: furthermore Our son is with him; we shall hear anon, Needs must hear.' To this the courteous Prince Accorded with his wonted courtesy, Courtesy with a touch of traitor in it, And stayed; and cast his eyes on fair Elaine: Where could be found face daintier? then her shape From forehead down to foot, perfect—again From foot to forehead exquisitely turned: 'Well—if I bide, lo! this wild flower for me!' And oft they met among the garden yews, And there he set himself to play upon her With sallying wit, free flashes from a height Above her, graces of the court, and songs, Sighs, and slow smiles, and golden eloquence And amorous adulation, till the maid Rebelled against it, saying to him, 'Prince, O loyal nephew of our noble King, Why ask you not to see the shield he left, Whence you might learn his name? Why slight your King, And lose the quest he sent you on, and prove No surer than our falcon yesterday, Who lost the hern we slipt her at, and went To all the winds?' 'Nay, by mine head,' said he, 'I lose it, as we lose the lark in heaven, O damsel, in the light of your blue eyes; But an ye will it let me see the shield.' And when the shield was brought, and Gawain saw Sir Lancelot's azure lions, crowned with gold, Ramp in the field, he smote his thigh, and mocked: 'Right was the King! our Lancelot! that true man!' 'And right was I,' she answered merrily, 'I, Who dreamed my knight the greatest knight of all.' 'And if I dreamed,' said Gawain, 'that you love This greatest knight, your pardon! lo, ye know it! Speak therefore: shall I waste myself in vain?' Full simple was her answer, 'What know I? My brethren have been all my fellowship; And I, when often they have talked of love, Wished it had been my mother, for they talked, Meseemed, of what they knew not; so myself— I know not if I know what true love is, But if I know, then, if I love not him, I know there is none other I can love.' 'Yea, by God's death,' said he, 'ye love him well, But would not, knew ye what all others know, And whom he loves.' 'So be it,' cried Elaine, And lifted her fair face and moved away: But he pursued her, calling, 'Stay a little! One golden minute's grace! he wore your sleeve: Would he break faith with one I may not name? Must our true man change like a leaf at last? Nay—like enow: why then, far be it from me To cross our mighty Lancelot in his loves! And, damsel, for I deem you know full well Where your great knight is hidden, let me leave My quest with you; the diamond also: here! For if you love, it will be sweet to give it; And if he love, it will be sweet to have it From your own hand; and whether he love or not, A diamond is a diamond. Fare you well A thousand times!—a thousand times farewell! Yet, if he love, and his love hold, we two May meet at court hereafter: there, I think, So ye will learn the courtesies of the court, We two shall know each other.'
Then he gave, And slightly kissed the hand to which he gave, The diamond, and all wearied of the quest Leapt on his horse, and carolling as he went A true-love ballad, lightly rode away.
Thence to the court he past; there told the King What the King knew, 'Sir Lancelot is the knight.' And added, 'Sire, my liege, so much I learnt; But failed to find him, though I rode all round The region: but I lighted on the maid Whose sleeve he wore; she loves him; and to her, Deeming our courtesy is the truest law, I gave the diamond: she will render it; For by mine head she knows his hiding-place.'
The seldom-frowning King frowned, and replied, 'Too courteous truly! ye shall go no more On quest of mine, seeing that ye forget Obedience is the courtesy due to kings.'
He spake and parted. Wroth, but all in awe, For twenty strokes of the blood, without a word, Lingered that other, staring after him; Then shook his hair, strode off, and buzzed abroad About the maid of Astolat, and her love. All ears were pricked at once, all tongues were loosed: 'The maid of Astolat loves Sir Lancelot, Sir Lancelot loves the maid of Astolat.' Some read the King's face, some the Queen's, and all Had marvel what the maid might be, but most Predoomed her as unworthy. One old dame Came suddenly on the Queen with the sharp news. She, that had heard the noise of it before, But sorrowing Lancelot should have stooped so low, Marred her friend's aim with pale tranquillity. So ran the tale like fire about the court, Fire in dry stubble a nine-days' wonder flared: Till even the knights at banquet twice or thrice Forgot to drink to Lancelot and the Queen, And pledging Lancelot and the lily maid Smiled at each other, while the Queen, who sat With lips severely placid, felt the knot Climb in her throat, and with her feet unseen Crushed the wild passion out against the floor Beneath the banquet, where all the meats became As wormwood, and she hated all who pledged.
But far away the maid in Astolat, Her guiltless rival, she that ever kept The one-day-seen Sir Lancelot in her heart, Crept to her father, while he mused alone, Sat on his knee, stroked his gray face and said, 'Father, you call me wilful, and the fault Is yours who let me have my will, and now, Sweet father, will you let me lose my wits?' 'Nay,' said he, 'surely.' 'Wherefore, let me hence,' She answered, 'and find out our dear Lavaine.' 'Ye will not lose your wits for dear Lavaine: Bide,' answered he: 'we needs must hear anon Of him, and of that other.' 'Ay,' she said, 'And of that other, for I needs must hence And find that other, wheresoe'er he be, And with mine own hand give his diamond to him, Lest I be found as faithless in the quest As yon proud Prince who left the quest to me. Sweet father, I behold him in my dreams Gaunt as it were the skeleton of himself, Death-pale, for lack of gentle maiden's aid. The gentler-born the maiden, the more bound, My father, to be sweet and serviceable To noble knights in sickness, as ye know When these have worn their tokens: let me hence I pray you.' Then her father nodding said, 'Ay, ay, the diamond: wit ye well, my child, Right fain were I to learn this knight were whole, Being our greatest: yea, and you must give it— And sure I think this fruit is hung too high For any mouth to gape for save a queen's— Nay, I mean nothing: so then, get you gone, Being so very wilful you must go.'
Lightly, her suit allowed, she slipt away, And while she made her ready for her ride, Her father's latest word hummed in her ear, 'Being so very wilful you must go,' And changed itself and echoed in her heart, 'Being so very wilful you must die.' But she was happy enough and shook it off, As we shake off the bee that buzzes at us; And in her heart she answered it and said, 'What matter, so I help him back to life?' Then far away with good Sir Torre for guide Rode o'er the long backs of the bushless downs To Camelot, and before the city-gates Came on her brother with a happy face Making a roan horse caper and curvet For pleasure all about a field of flowers: Whom when she saw, 'Lavaine,' she cried, 'Lavaine, How fares my lord Sir Lancelot?' He amazed, 'Torre and Elaine! why here? Sir Lancelot! How know ye my lord's name is Lancelot?' But when the maid had told him all her tale, Then turned Sir Torre, and being in his moods Left them, and under the strange-statued gate, Where Arthur's wars were rendered mystically, Past up the still rich city to his kin, His own far blood, which dwelt at Camelot; And her, Lavaine across the poplar grove Led to the caves: there first she saw the casque Of Lancelot on the wall: her scarlet sleeve, Though carved and cut, and half the pearls away, Streamed from it still; and in her heart she laughed, Because he had not loosed it from his helm, But meant once more perchance to tourney in it. And when they gained the cell wherein he slept, His battle-writhen arms and mighty hands Lay naked on the wolfskin, and a dream Of dragging down his enemy made them move. Then she that saw him lying unsleek, unshorn, Gaunt as it were the skeleton of himself, Uttered a little tender dolorous cry. The sound not wonted in a place so still Woke the sick knight, and while he rolled his eyes Yet blank from sleep, she started to him, saying, 'Your prize the diamond sent you by the King:' His eyes glistened: she fancied 'Is it for me?' And when the maid had told him all the tale Of King and Prince, the diamond sent, the quest Assigned to her not worthy of it, she knelt Full lowly by the corners of his bed, And laid the diamond in his open hand. Her face was near, and as we kiss the child That does the task assigned, he kissed her face. At once she slipt like water to the floor. 'Alas,' he said, 'your ride hath wearied you. Rest must you have.' 'No rest for me,' she said; 'Nay, for near you, fair lord, I am at rest.' What might she mean by that? his large black eyes, Yet larger through his leanness, dwelt upon her, Till all her heart's sad secret blazed itself In the heart's colours on her simple face; And Lancelot looked and was perplext in mind, And being weak in body said no more; But did not love the colour; woman's love, Save one, he not regarded, and so turned Sighing, and feigned a sleep until he slept.
Then rose Elaine and glided through the fields, And past beneath the weirdly-sculptured gates Far up the dim rich city to her kin; There bode the night: but woke with dawn, and past Down through the dim rich city to the fields, Thence to the cave: so day by day she past In either twilight ghost-like to and fro Gliding, and every day she tended him, And likewise many a night: and Lancelot Would, though he called his wound a little hurt Whereof he should be quickly whole, at times Brain-feverous in his heat and agony, seem Uncourteous, even he: but the meek maid Sweetly forbore him ever, being to him Meeker than any child to a rough nurse, Milder than any mother to a sick child, And never woman yet, since man's first fall, Did kindlier unto man, but her deep love Upbore her; till the hermit, skilled in all The simples and the science of that time, Told him that her fine care had saved his life. And the sick man forgot her simple blush, Would call her friend and sister, sweet Elaine, Would listen for her coming and regret Her parting step, and held her tenderly, And loved her with all love except the love Of man and woman when they love their best, Closest and sweetest, and had died the death In any knightly fashion for her sake. And peradventure had he seen her first She might have made this and that other world Another world for the sick man; but now The shackles of an old love straitened him, His honour rooted in dishonour stood, And faith unfaithful kept him falsely true.