Yet the great knight in his mid-sickness made Full many a holy vow and pure resolve. These, as but born of sickness, could not live: For when the blood ran lustier in him again, Full often the bright image of one face, Making a treacherous quiet in his heart, Dispersed his resolution like a cloud. Then if the maiden, while that ghostly grace Beamed on his fancy, spoke, he answered not, Or short and coldly, and she knew right well What the rough sickness meant, but what this meant She knew not, and the sorrow dimmed her sight, And drave her ere her time across the fields Far into the rich city, where alone She murmured, 'Vain, in vain: it cannot be. He will not love me: how then? must I die?' Then as a little helpless innocent bird, That has but one plain passage of few notes, Will sing the simple passage o'er and o'er For all an April morning, till the ear Wearies to hear it, so the simple maid Went half the night repeating, 'Must I die?' And now to right she turned, and now to left, And found no ease in turning or in rest; And 'Him or death,' she muttered, 'death or him,' Again and like a burthen, 'Him or death.'
But when Sir Lancelot's deadly hurt was whole, To Astolat returning rode the three. There morn by morn, arraying her sweet self In that wherein she deemed she looked her best, She came before Sir Lancelot, for she thought 'If I be loved, these are my festal robes, If not, the victim's flowers before he fall.' And Lancelot ever prest upon the maid That she should ask some goodly gift of him For her own self or hers; 'and do not shun To speak the wish most near to your true heart; Such service have ye done me, that I make My will of yours, and Prince and Lord am I In mine own land, and what I will I can.' Then like a ghost she lifted up her face, But like a ghost without the power to speak. And Lancelot saw that she withheld her wish, And bode among them yet a little space Till he should learn it; and one morn it chanced He found her in among the garden yews, And said, 'Delay no longer, speak your wish, Seeing I go today:' then out she brake: 'Going? and we shall never see you more. And I must die for want of one bold word.' 'Speak: that I live to hear,' he said, 'is yours.' Then suddenly and passionately she spoke: 'I have gone mad. I love you: let me die.' 'Ah, sister,' answered Lancelot, 'what is this?' And innocently extending her white arms, 'Your love,' she said, 'your love—to be your wife.' And Lancelot answered, 'Had I chosen to wed, I had been wedded earlier, sweet Elaine: But now there never will be wife of mine.' 'No, no,' she cried, 'I care not to be wife, But to be with you still, to see your face, To serve you, and to follow you through the world.' And Lancelot answered, 'Nay, the world, the world, All ear and eye, with such a stupid heart To interpret ear and eye, and such a tongue To blare its own interpretation—nay, Full ill then should I quit your brother's love, And your good father's kindness.' And she said, 'Not to be with you, not to see your face— Alas for me then, my good days are done.' 'Nay, noble maid,' he answered, 'ten times nay! This is not love: but love's first flash in youth, Most common: yea, I know it of mine own self: And you yourself will smile at your own self Hereafter, when you yield your flower of life To one more fitly yours, not thrice your age: And then will I, for true you are and sweet Beyond mine old belief in womanhood, More specially should your good knight be poor, Endow you with broad land and territory Even to the half my realm beyond the seas, So that would make you happy: furthermore, Even to the death, as though ye were my blood, In all your quarrels will I be your knight. This I will do, dear damsel, for your sake, And more than this I cannot.'
While he spoke She neither blushed nor shook, but deathly-pale Stood grasping what was nearest, then replied: 'Of all this will I nothing;' and so fell, And thus they bore her swooning to her tower.
Then spake, to whom through those black walls of yew Their talk had pierced, her father: 'Ay, a flash, I fear me, that will strike my blossom dead. Too courteous are ye, fair Lord Lancelot. I pray you, use some rough discourtesy To blunt or break her passion.'
Lancelot said, 'That were against me: what I can I will;' And there that day remained, and toward even Sent for his shield: full meekly rose the maid, Stript off the case, and gave the naked shield; Then, when she heard his horse upon the stones, Unclasping flung the casement back, and looked Down on his helm, from which her sleeve had gone. And Lancelot knew the little clinking sound; And she by tact of love was well aware That Lancelot knew that she was looking at him. And yet he glanced not up, nor waved his hand, Nor bad farewell, but sadly rode away. This was the one discourtesy that he used.
So in her tower alone the maiden sat: His very shield was gone; only the case, Her own poor work, her empty labour, left. But still she heard him, still his picture formed And grew between her and the pictured wall. Then came her father, saying in low tones, 'Have comfort,' whom she greeted quietly. Then came her brethren saying, 'Peace to thee, Sweet sister,' whom she answered with all calm. But when they left her to herself again, Death, like a friend's voice from a distant field Approaching through the darkness, called; the owls Wailing had power upon her, and she mixt Her fancies with the sallow-rifted glooms Of evening, and the moanings of the wind.
And in those days she made a little song, And called her song 'The Song of Love and Death,' And sang it: sweetly could she make and sing.
'Sweet is true love though given in vain, in vain; And sweet is death who puts an end to pain: I know not which is sweeter, no, not I.
'Love, art thou sweet? then bitter death must be: Love, thou art bitter; sweet is death to me. O Love, if death be sweeter, let me die.
'Sweet love, that seems not made to fade away, Sweet death, that seems to make us loveless clay, I know not which is sweeter, no, not I.
'I fain would follow love, if that could be; I needs must follow death, who calls for me; Call and I follow, I follow! let me die.'
High with the last line scaled her voice, and this, All in a fiery dawning wild with wind That shook her tower, the brothers heard, and thought With shuddering, 'Hark the Phantom of the house That ever shrieks before a death,' and called The father, and all three in hurry and fear Ran to her, and lo! the blood-red light of dawn Flared on her face, she shrilling, 'Let me die!'
As when we dwell upon a word we know, Repeating, till the word we know so well Becomes a wonder, and we know not why, So dwelt the father on her face, and thought 'Is this Elaine?' till back the maiden fell, Then gave a languid hand to each, and lay, Speaking a still good-morrow with her eyes. At last she said, 'Sweet brothers, yesternight I seemed a curious little maid again, As happy as when we dwelt among the woods, And when ye used to take me with the flood Up the great river in the boatman's boat. Only ye would not pass beyond the cape That has the poplar on it: there ye fixt Your limit, oft returning with the tide. And yet I cried because ye would not pass Beyond it, and far up the shining flood Until we found the palace of the King. And yet ye would not; but this night I dreamed That I was all alone upon the flood, And then I said, "Now shall I have my will:" And there I woke, but still the wish remained. So let me hence that I may pass at last Beyond the poplar and far up the flood, Until I find the palace of the King. There will I enter in among them all, And no man there will dare to mock at me; But there the fine Gawain will wonder at me, And there the great Sir Lancelot muse at me; Gawain, who bad a thousand farewells to me, Lancelot, who coldly went, nor bad me one: And there the King will know me and my love, And there the Queen herself will pity me, And all the gentle court will welcome me, And after my long voyage I shall rest!'
'Peace,' said her father, 'O my child, ye seem Light-headed, for what force is yours to go So far, being sick? and wherefore would ye look On this proud fellow again, who scorns us all?'
Then the rough Torre began to heave and move, And bluster into stormy sobs and say, 'I never loved him: an I meet with him, I care not howsoever great he be, Then will I strike at him and strike him down, Give me good fortune, I will strike him dead, For this discomfort he hath done the house.'
To whom the gentle sister made reply, 'Fret not yourself, dear brother, nor be wroth, Seeing it is no more Sir Lancelot's fault Not to love me, than it is mine to love Him of all men who seems to me the highest.'
'Highest?' the father answered, echoing 'highest?' (He meant to break the passion in her) 'nay, Daughter, I know not what you call the highest; But this I know, for all the people know it, He loves the Queen, and in an open shame: And she returns his love in open shame; If this be high, what is it to be low?'
Then spake the lily maid of Astolat: 'Sweet father, all too faint and sick am I For anger: these are slanders: never yet Was noble man but made ignoble talk. He makes no friend who never made a foe. But now it is my glory to have loved One peerless, without stain: so let me pass, My father, howsoe'er I seem to you, Not all unhappy, having loved God's best And greatest, though my love had no return: Yet, seeing you desire your child to live, Thanks, but you work against your own desire; For if I could believe the things you say I should but die the sooner; wherefore cease, Sweet father, and bid call the ghostly man Hither, and let me shrive me clean, and die.'
So when the ghostly man had come and gone, She with a face, bright as for sin forgiven, Besought Lavaine to write as she devised A letter, word for word; and when he asked 'Is it for Lancelot, is it for my dear lord? Then will I bear it gladly;' she replied, 'For Lancelot and the Queen and all the world, But I myself must bear it.' Then he wrote The letter she devised; which being writ And folded, 'O sweet father, tender and true, Deny me not,' she said—'ye never yet Denied my fancies—this, however strange, My latest: lay the letter in my hand A little ere I die, and close the hand Upon it; I shall guard it even in death. And when the heat is gone from out my heart, Then take the little bed on which I died For Lancelot's love, and deck it like the Queen's For richness, and me also like the Queen In all I have of rich, and lay me on it. And let there be prepared a chariot-bier To take me to the river, and a barge Be ready on the river, clothed in black. I go in state to court, to meet the Queen. There surely I shall speak for mine own self, And none of you can speak for me so well. And therefore let our dumb old man alone Go with me, he can steer and row, and he Will guide me to that palace, to the doors.'
She ceased: her father promised; whereupon She grew so cheerful that they deemed her death Was rather in the fantasy than the blood. But ten slow mornings past, and on the eleventh Her father laid the letter in her hand, And closed the hand upon it, and she died. So that day there was dole in Astolat.
But when the next sun brake from underground, Then, those two brethren slowly with bent brows Accompanying, the sad chariot-bier Past like a shadow through the field, that shone Full-summer, to that stream whereon the barge, Palled all its length in blackest samite, lay. There sat the lifelong creature of the house, Loyal, the dumb old servitor, on deck, Winking his eyes, and twisted all his face. So those two brethren from the chariot took And on the black decks laid her in her bed, Set in her hand a lily, o'er her hung The silken case with braided blazonings, And kissed her quiet brows, and saying to her 'Sister, farewell for ever,' and again 'Farewell, sweet sister,' parted all in tears. Then rose the dumb old servitor, and the dead, Oared by the dumb, went upward with the flood— In her right hand the lily, in her left The letter—all her bright hair streaming down— And all the coverlid was cloth of gold Drawn to her waist, and she herself in white All but her face, and that clear-featured face Was lovely, for she did not seem as dead, But fast asleep, and lay as though she smiled.
That day Sir Lancelot at the palace craved Audience of Guinevere, to give at last, The price of half a realm, his costly gift, Hard-won and hardly won with bruise and blow, With deaths of others, and almost his own, The nine-years-fought-for diamonds: for he saw One of her house, and sent him to the Queen Bearing his wish, whereto the Queen agreed With such and so unmoved a majesty She might have seemed her statue, but that he, Low-drooping till he wellnigh kissed her feet For loyal awe, saw with a sidelong eye The shadow of some piece of pointed lace, In the Queen's shadow, vibrate on the walls, And parted, laughing in his courtly heart.
All in an oriel on the summer side, Vine-clad, of Arthur's palace toward the stream, They met, and Lancelot kneeling uttered, 'Queen, Lady, my liege, in whom I have my joy, Take, what I had not won except for you, These jewels, and make me happy, making them An armlet for the roundest arm on earth, Or necklace for a neck to which the swan's Is tawnier than her cygnet's: these are words: Your beauty is your beauty, and I sin In speaking, yet O grant my worship of it Words, as we grant grief tears. Such sin in words Perchance, we both can pardon: but, my Queen, I hear of rumours flying through your court. Our bond, as not the bond of man and wife, Should have in it an absoluter trust To make up that defect: let rumours be: When did not rumours fly? these, as I trust That you trust me in your own nobleness, I may not well believe that you believe.'
While thus he spoke, half turned away, the Queen Brake from the vast oriel-embowering vine Leaf after leaf, and tore, and cast them off, Till all the place whereon she stood was green; Then, when he ceased, in one cold passive hand Received at once and laid aside the gems There on a table near her, and replied:
'It may be, I am quicker of belief Than you believe me, Lancelot of the Lake. Our bond is not the bond of man and wife. This good is in it, whatsoe'er of ill, It can be broken easier. I for you This many a year have done despite and wrong To one whom ever in my heart of hearts I did acknowledge nobler. What are these? Diamonds for me! they had been thrice their worth Being your gift, had you not lost your own. To loyal hearts the value of all gifts Must vary as the giver's. Not for me! For her! for your new fancy. Only this Grant me, I pray you: have your joys apart. I doubt not that however changed, you keep So much of what is graceful: and myself Would shun to break those bounds of courtesy In which as Arthur's Queen I move and rule: So cannot speak my mind. An end to this! A strange one! yet I take it with Amen. So pray you, add my diamonds to her pearls; Deck her with these; tell her, she shines me down: An armlet for an arm to which the Queen's Is haggard, or a necklace for a neck O as much fairer—as a faith once fair Was richer than these diamonds—hers not mine— Nay, by the mother of our Lord himself, Or hers or mine, mine now to work my will— She shall not have them.'
Saying which she seized, And, through the casement standing wide for heat, Flung them, and down they flashed, and smote the stream. Then from the smitten surface flashed, as it were, Diamonds to meet them, and they past away. Then while Sir Lancelot leant, in half disdain At love, life, all things, on the window ledge, Close underneath his eyes, and right across Where these had fallen, slowly past the barge. Whereon the lily maid of Astolat Lay smiling, like a star in blackest night.
But the wild Queen, who saw not, burst away To weep and wail in secret; and the barge, On to the palace-doorway sliding, paused. There two stood armed, and kept the door; to whom, All up the marble stair, tier over tier, Were added mouths that gaped, and eyes that asked 'What is it?' but that oarsman's haggard face, As hard and still as is the face that men Shape to their fancy's eye from broken rocks On some cliff-side, appalled them, and they said 'He is enchanted, cannot speak—and she, Look how she sleeps—the Fairy Queen, so fair! Yea, but how pale! what are they? flesh and blood? Or come to take the King to Fairyland? For some do hold our Arthur cannot die, But that he passes into Fairyland.'
While thus they babbled of the King, the King Came girt with knights: then turned the tongueless man From the half-face to the full eye, and rose And pointed to the damsel, and the doors. So Arthur bad the meek Sir Percivale And pure Sir Galahad to uplift the maid; And reverently they bore her into hall. Then came the fine Gawain and wondered at her, And Lancelot later came and mused at her, And last the Queen herself, and pitied her: But Arthur spied the letter in her hand, Stoopt, took, brake seal, and read it; this was all:
'Most noble lord, Sir Lancelot of the Lake, I, sometime called the maid of Astolat, Come, for you left me taking no farewell, Hither, to take my last farewell of you. I loved you, and my love had no return, And therefore my true love has been my death. And therefore to our Lady Guinevere, And to all other ladies, I make moan: Pray for my soul, and yield me burial. Pray for my soul thou too, Sir Lancelot, As thou art a knight peerless.'
Thus he read; And ever in the reading, lords and dames Wept, looking often from his face who read To hers which lay so silent, and at times, So touched were they, half-thinking that her lips, Who had devised the letter, moved again.
Then freely spoke Sir Lancelot to them all: 'My lord liege Arthur, and all ye that hear, Know that for this most gentle maiden's death Right heavy am I; for good she was and true, But loved me with a love beyond all love In women, whomsoever I have known. Yet to be loved makes not to love again; Not at my years, however it hold in youth. I swear by truth and knighthood that I gave No cause, not willingly, for such a love: To this I call my friends in testimony, Her brethren, and her father, who himself Besought me to be plain and blunt, and use, To break her passion, some discourtesy Against my nature: what I could, I did. I left her and I bad her no farewell; Though, had I dreamt the damsel would have died, I might have put my wits to some rough use, And helped her from herself.'
Then said the Queen (Sea was her wrath, yet working after storm) 'Ye might at least have done her so much grace, Fair lord, as would have helped her from her death.' He raised his head, their eyes met and hers fell, He adding, 'Queen, she would not be content Save that I wedded her, which could not be. Then might she follow me through the world, she asked; It could not be. I told her that her love Was but the flash of youth, would darken down To rise hereafter in a stiller flame Toward one more worthy of her—then would I, More specially were he, she wedded, poor, Estate them with large land and territory In mine own realm beyond the narrow seas, To keep them in all joyance: more than this I could not; this she would not, and she died.'
He pausing, Arthur answered, 'O my knight, It will be to thy worship, as my knight, And mine, as head of all our Table Round, To see that she be buried worshipfully.'
So toward that shrine which then in all the realm Was richest, Arthur leading, slowly went The marshalled Order of their Table Round, And Lancelot sad beyond his wont, to see The maiden buried, not as one unknown, Nor meanly, but with gorgeous obsequies, And mass, and rolling music, like a queen. And when the knights had laid her comely head Low in the dust of half-forgotten kings, Then Arthur spake among them, 'Let her tomb Be costly, and her image thereupon, And let the shield of Lancelot at her feet Be carven, and her lily in her hand. And let the story of her dolorous voyage For all true hearts be blazoned on her tomb In letters gold and azure!' which was wrought Thereafter; but when now the lords and dames And people, from the high door streaming, brake Disorderly, as homeward each, the Queen, Who marked Sir Lancelot where he moved apart, Drew near, and sighed in passing, 'Lancelot, Forgive me; mine was jealousy in love.' He answered with his eyes upon the ground, 'That is love's curse; pass on, my Queen, forgiven.' But Arthur, who beheld his cloudy brows, Approached him, and with full affection said,
'Lancelot, my Lancelot, thou in whom I have Most joy and most affiance, for I know What thou hast been in battle by my side, And many a time have watched thee at the tilt Strike down the lusty and long practised knight, And let the younger and unskilled go by To win his honour and to make his name, And loved thy courtesies and thee, a man Made to be loved; but now I would to God, Seeing the homeless trouble in thine eyes, Thou couldst have loved this maiden, shaped, it seems, By God for thee alone, and from her face, If one may judge the living by the dead, Delicately pure and marvellously fair, Who might have brought thee, now a lonely man Wifeless and heirless, noble issue, sons Born to the glory of thine name and fame, My knight, the great Sir Lancelot of the Lake.'
Then answered Lancelot, 'Fair she was, my King, Pure, as you ever wish your knights to be. To doubt her fairness were to want an eye, To doubt her pureness were to want a heart— Yea, to be loved, if what is worthy love Could bind him, but free love will not be bound.'
'Free love, so bound, were freest,' said the King. 'Let love be free; free love is for the best: And, after heaven, on our dull side of death, What should be best, if not so pure a love Clothed in so pure a loveliness? yet thee She failed to bind, though being, as I think, Unbound as yet, and gentle, as I know.'
And Lancelot answered nothing, but he went, And at the inrunning of a little brook Sat by the river in a cove, and watched The high reed wave, and lifted up his eyes And saw the barge that brought her moving down, Far-off, a blot upon the stream, and said Low in himself, 'Ah simple heart and sweet, Ye loved me, damsel, surely with a love Far tenderer than my Queen's. Pray for thy soul? Ay, that will I. Farewell too—now at last— Farewell, fair lily. "Jealousy in love?" Not rather dead love's harsh heir, jealous pride? Queen, if I grant the jealousy as of love, May not your crescent fear for name and fame Speak, as it waxes, of a love that wanes? Why did the King dwell on my name to me? Mine own name shames me, seeming a reproach, Lancelot, whom the Lady of the Lake Caught from his mother's arms—the wondrous one Who passes through the vision of the night— She chanted snatches of mysterious hymns Heard on the winding waters, eve and morn She kissed me saying, "Thou art fair, my child, As a king's son," and often in her arms She bare me, pacing on the dusky mere. Would she had drowned me in it, where'er it be! For what am I? what profits me my name Of greatest knight? I fought for it, and have it: Pleasure to have it, none; to lose it, pain; Now grown a part of me: but what use in it? To make men worse by making my sin known? Or sin seem less, the sinner seeming great? Alas for Arthur's greatest knight, a man Not after Arthur's heart! I needs must break These bonds that so defame me: not without She wills it: would I, if she willed it? nay, Who knows? but if I would not, then may God, I pray him, send a sudden Angel down To seize me by the hair and bear me far, And fling me deep in that forgotten mere, Among the tumbled fragments of the hills.'
So groaned Sir Lancelot in remorseful pain, Not knowing he should die a holy man.
The Holy Grail
From noiseful arms, and acts of prowess done In tournament or tilt, Sir Percivale, Whom Arthur and his knighthood called The Pure, Had passed into the silent life of prayer, Praise, fast, and alms; and leaving for the cowl The helmet in an abbey far away From Camelot, there, and not long after, died.
And one, a fellow-monk among the rest, Ambrosius, loved him much beyond the rest, And honoured him, and wrought into his heart A way by love that wakened love within, To answer that which came: and as they sat Beneath a world-old yew-tree, darkening half The cloisters, on a gustful April morn That puffed the swaying branches into smoke Above them, ere the summer when he died The monk Ambrosius questioned Percivale:
'O brother, I have seen this yew-tree smoke, Spring after spring, for half a hundred years: For never have I known the world without, Nor ever strayed beyond the pale: but thee, When first thou camest—such a courtesy Spake through the limbs and in the voice—I knew For one of those who eat in Arthur's hall; For good ye are and bad, and like to coins, Some true, some light, but every one of you Stamped with the image of the King; and now Tell me, what drove thee from the Table Round, My brother? was it earthly passion crost?'
'Nay,' said the knight; 'for no such passion mine. But the sweet vision of the Holy Grail Drove me from all vainglories, rivalries, And earthly heats that spring and sparkle out Among us in the jousts, while women watch Who wins, who falls; and waste the spiritual strength Within us, better offered up to Heaven.'
To whom the monk: 'The Holy Grail!—I trust We are green in Heaven's eyes; but here too much We moulder—as to things without I mean— Yet one of your own knights, a guest of ours, Told us of this in our refectory, But spake with such a sadness and so low We heard not half of what he said. What is it? The phantom of a cup that comes and goes?'
'Nay, monk! what phantom?' answered Percivale. 'The cup, the cup itself, from which our Lord Drank at the last sad supper with his own. This, from the blessed land of Aromat— After the day of darkness, when the dead Went wandering o'er Moriah—the good saint Arimathaean Joseph, journeying brought To Glastonbury, where the winter thorn Blossoms at Christmas, mindful of our Lord. And there awhile it bode; and if a man Could touch or see it, he was healed at once, By faith, of all his ills. But then the times Grew to such evil that the holy cup Was caught away to Heaven, and disappeared.'
To whom the monk: 'From our old books I know That Joseph came of old to Glastonbury, And there the heathen Prince, Arviragus, Gave him an isle of marsh whereon to build; And there he built with wattles from the marsh A little lonely church in days of yore, For so they say, these books of ours, but seem Mute of this miracle, far as I have read. But who first saw the holy thing today?'
'A woman,' answered Percivale, 'a nun, And one no further off in blood from me Than sister; and if ever holy maid With knees of adoration wore the stone, A holy maid; though never maiden glowed, But that was in her earlier maidenhood, With such a fervent flame of human love, Which being rudely blunted, glanced and shot Only to holy things; to prayer and praise She gave herself, to fast and alms. And yet, Nun as she was, the scandal of the Court, Sin against Arthur and the Table Round, And the strange sound of an adulterous race, Across the iron grating of her cell Beat, and she prayed and fasted all the more.
'And he to whom she told her sins, or what Her all but utter whiteness held for sin, A man wellnigh a hundred winters old, Spake often with her of the Holy Grail, A legend handed down through five or six, And each of these a hundred winters old, From our Lord's time. And when King Arthur made His Table Round, and all men's hearts became Clean for a season, surely he had thought That now the Holy Grail would come again; But sin broke out. Ah, Christ, that it would come, And heal the world of all their wickedness! "O Father!" asked the maiden, "might it come To me by prayer and fasting?" "Nay," said he, "I know not, for thy heart is pure as snow." And so she prayed and fasted, till the sun Shone, and the wind blew, through her, and I thought She might have risen and floated when I saw her.
'For on a day she sent to speak with me. And when she came to speak, behold her eyes Beyond my knowing of them, beautiful, Beyond all knowing of them, wonderful, Beautiful in the light of holiness. And "O my brother Percivale," she said, "Sweet brother, I have seen the Holy Grail: For, waked at dead of night, I heard a sound As of a silver horn from o'er the hills Blown, and I thought, 'It is not Arthur's use To hunt by moonlight;' and the slender sound As from a distance beyond distance grew Coming upon me—O never harp nor horn, Nor aught we blow with breath, or touch with hand, Was like that music as it came; and then Streamed through my cell a cold and silver beam, And down the long beam stole the Holy Grail, Rose-red with beatings in it, as if alive, Till all the white walls of my cell were dyed With rosy colours leaping on the wall; And then the music faded, and the Grail Past, and the beam decayed, and from the walls The rosy quiverings died into the night. So now the Holy Thing is here again Among us, brother, fast thou too and pray, And tell thy brother knights to fast and pray, That so perchance the vision may be seen By thee and those, and all the world be healed."
'Then leaving the pale nun, I spake of this To all men; and myself fasted and prayed Always, and many among us many a week Fasted and prayed even to the uttermost, Expectant of the wonder that would be.
'And one there was among us, ever moved Among us in white armour, Galahad. "God make thee good as thou art beautiful," Said Arthur, when he dubbed him knight; and none, In so young youth, was ever made a knight Till Galahad; and this Galahad, when he heard My sister's vision, filled me with amaze; His eyes became so like her own, they seemed Hers, and himself her brother more than I.
'Sister or brother none had he; but some Called him a son of Lancelot, and some said Begotten by enchantment—chatterers they, Like birds of passage piping up and down, That gape for flies—we know not whence they come; For when was Lancelot wanderingly lewd?
'But she, the wan sweet maiden, shore away Clean from her forehead all that wealth of hair Which made a silken mat-work for her feet; And out of this she plaited broad and long A strong sword-belt, and wove with silver thread And crimson in the belt a strange device, A crimson grail within a silver beam; And saw the bright boy-knight, and bound it on him, Saying, "My knight, my love, my knight of heaven, O thou, my love, whose love is one with mine, I, maiden, round thee, maiden, bind my belt. Go forth, for thou shalt see what I have seen, And break through all, till one will crown thee king Far in the spiritual city:" and as she spake She sent the deathless passion in her eyes Through him, and made him hers, and laid her mind On him, and he believed in her belief.
'Then came a year of miracle: O brother, In our great hall there stood a vacant chair, Fashioned by Merlin ere he past away, And carven with strange figures; and in and out The figures, like a serpent, ran a scroll Of letters in a tongue no man could read. And Merlin called it "The Siege perilous," Perilous for good and ill; "for there," he said, "No man could sit but he should lose himself:" And once by misadvertence Merlin sat In his own chair, and so was lost; but he, Galahad, when he heard of Merlin's doom, Cried, "If I lose myself, I save myself!"
'Then on a summer night it came to pass, While the great banquet lay along the hall, That Galahad would sit down in Merlin's chair.
'And all at once, as there we sat, we heard A cracking and a riving of the roofs, And rending, and a blast, and overhead Thunder, and in the thunder was a cry. And in the blast there smote along the hall A beam of light seven times more clear than day: And down the long beam stole the Holy Grail All over covered with a luminous cloud. And none might see who bare it, and it past. But every knight beheld his fellow's face As in a glory, and all the knights arose, And staring each at other like dumb men Stood, till I found a voice and sware a vow.
'I sware a vow before them all, that I, Because I had not seen the Grail, would ride A twelvemonth and a day in quest of it, Until I found and saw it, as the nun My sister saw it; and Galahad sware the vow, And good Sir Bors, our Lancelot's cousin, sware, And Lancelot sware, and many among the knights, And Gawain sware, and louder than the rest.'
Then spake the monk Ambrosius, asking him, 'What said the King? Did Arthur take the vow?'
'Nay, for my lord,' said Percivale, 'the King, Was not in hall: for early that same day, Scaped through a cavern from a bandit hold, An outraged maiden sprang into the hall Crying on help: for all her shining hair Was smeared with earth, and either milky arm Red-rent with hooks of bramble, and all she wore Torn as a sail that leaves the rope is torn In tempest: so the King arose and went To smoke the scandalous hive of those wild bees That made such honey in his realm. Howbeit Some little of this marvel he too saw, Returning o'er the plain that then began To darken under Camelot; whence the King Looked up, calling aloud, "Lo, there! the roofs Of our great hall are rolled in thunder-smoke! Pray Heaven, they be not smitten by the bolt." For dear to Arthur was that hall of ours, As having there so oft with all his knights Feasted, and as the stateliest under heaven.
'O brother, had you known our mighty hall, Which Merlin built for Arthur long ago! For all the sacred mount of Camelot, And all the dim rich city, roof by roof, Tower after tower, spire beyond spire, By grove, and garden-lawn, and rushing brook, Climbs to the mighty hall that Merlin built. And four great zones of sculpture, set betwixt With many a mystic symbol, gird the hall: And in the lowest beasts are slaying men, And in the second men are slaying beasts, And on the third are warriors, perfect men, And on the fourth are men with growing wings, And over all one statue in the mould Of Arthur, made by Merlin, with a crown, And peaked wings pointed to the Northern Star. And eastward fronts the statue, and the crown And both the wings are made of gold, and flame At sunrise till the people in far fields, Wasted so often by the heathen hordes, Behold it, crying, "We have still a King."
'And, brother, had you known our hall within, Broader and higher than any in all the lands! Where twelve great windows blazon Arthur's wars, And all the light that falls upon the board Streams through the twelve great battles of our King. Nay, one there is, and at the eastern end, Wealthy with wandering lines of mount and mere, Where Arthur finds the brand Excalibur. And also one to the west, and counter to it, And blank: and who shall blazon it? when and how?— O there, perchance, when all our wars are done, The brand Excalibur will be cast away.
'So to this hall full quickly rode the King, In horror lest the work by Merlin wrought, Dreamlike, should on the sudden vanish, wrapt In unremorseful folds of rolling fire. And in he rode, and up I glanced, and saw The golden dragon sparkling over all: And many of those who burnt the hold, their arms Hacked, and their foreheads grimed with smoke, and seared, Followed, and in among bright faces, ours, Full of the vision, prest: and then the King Spake to me, being nearest, "Percivale," (Because the hall was all in tumult—some Vowing, and some protesting), "what is this?"
'O brother, when I told him what had chanced, My sister's vision, and the rest, his face Darkened, as I have seen it more than once, When some brave deed seemed to be done in vain, Darken; and "Woe is me, my knights," he cried, "Had I been here, ye had not sworn the vow." Bold was mine answer, "Had thyself been here, My King, thou wouldst have sworn." "Yea, yea," said he, "Art thou so bold and hast not seen the Grail?"
'"Nay, lord, I heard the sound, I saw the light, But since I did not see the Holy Thing, I sware a vow to follow it till I saw."
'Then when he asked us, knight by knight, if any Had seen it, all their answers were as one: "Nay, lord, and therefore have we sworn our vows."
'"Lo now," said Arthur, "have ye seen a cloud? What go ye into the wilderness to see?"
'Then Galahad on the sudden, and in a voice Shrilling along the hall to Arthur, called, "But I, Sir Arthur, saw the Holy Grail, I saw the Holy Grail and heard a cry— 'O Galahad, and O Galahad, follow me.'"
'"Ah, Galahad, Galahad," said the King, "for such As thou art is the vision, not for these. Thy holy nun and thou have seen a sign— Holier is none, my Percivale, than she— A sign to maim this Order which I made. But ye, that follow but the leader's bell" (Brother, the King was hard upon his knights) "Taliessin is our fullest throat of song, And one hath sung and all the dumb will sing. Lancelot is Lancelot, and hath overborne Five knights at once, and every younger knight, Unproven, holds himself as Lancelot, Till overborne by one, he learns—and ye, What are ye? Galahads?—no, nor Percivales" (For thus it pleased the King to range me close After Sir Galahad); "nay," said he, "but men With strength and will to right the wronged, of power To lay the sudden heads of violence flat, Knights that in twelve great battles splashed and dyed The strong White Horse in his own heathen blood— But one hath seen, and all the blind will see. Go, since your vows are sacred, being made: Yet—for ye know the cries of all my realm Pass through this hall—how often, O my knights, Your places being vacant at my side, This chance of noble deeds will come and go Unchallenged, while ye follow wandering fires Lost in the quagmire! Many of you, yea most, Return no more: ye think I show myself Too dark a prophet: come now, let us meet The morrow morn once more in one full field Of gracious pastime, that once more the King, Before ye leave him for this Quest, may count The yet-unbroken strength of all his knights, Rejoicing in that Order which he made."
'So when the sun broke next from under ground, All the great table of our Arthur closed And clashed in such a tourney and so full, So many lances broken—never yet Had Camelot seen the like, since Arthur came; And I myself and Galahad, for a strength Was in us from this vision, overthrew So many knights that all the people cried, And almost burst the barriers in their heat, Shouting, "Sir Galahad and Sir Percivale!"
'But when the next day brake from under ground— O brother, had you known our Camelot, Built by old kings, age after age, so old The King himself had fears that it would fall, So strange, and rich, and dim; for where the roofs Tottered toward each other in the sky, Met foreheads all along the street of those Who watched us pass; and lower, and where the long Rich galleries, lady-laden, weighed the necks Of dragons clinging to the crazy walls, Thicker than drops from thunder, showers of flowers Fell as we past; and men and boys astride On wyvern, lion, dragon, griffin, swan, At all the corners, named us each by name, Calling, "God speed!" but in the ways below The knights and ladies wept, and rich and poor Wept, and the King himself could hardly speak For grief, and all in middle street the Queen, Who rode by Lancelot, wailed and shrieked aloud, "This madness has come on us for our sins." So to the Gate of the three Queens we came, Where Arthur's wars are rendered mystically, And thence departed every one his way.
'And I was lifted up in heart, and thought Of all my late-shown prowess in the lists, How my strong lance had beaten down the knights, So many and famous names; and never yet Had heaven appeared so blue, nor earth so green, For all my blood danced in me, and I knew That I should light upon the Holy Grail.
'Thereafter, the dark warning of our King, That most of us would follow wandering fires, Came like a driving gloom across my mind. Then every evil word I had spoken once, And every evil thought I had thought of old, And every evil deed I ever did, Awoke and cried, "This Quest is not for thee." And lifting up mine eyes, I found myself Alone, and in a land of sand and thorns, And I was thirsty even unto death; And I, too, cried, "This Quest is not for thee."
'And on I rode, and when I thought my thirst Would slay me, saw deep lawns, and then a brook, With one sharp rapid, where the crisping white Played ever back upon the sloping wave, And took both ear and eye; and o'er the brook Were apple-trees, and apples by the brook Fallen, and on the lawns. "I will rest here," I said, "I am not worthy of the Quest;" But even while I drank the brook, and ate The goodly apples, all these things at once Fell into dust, and I was left alone, And thirsting, in a land of sand and thorns.
'And then behold a woman at a door Spinning; and fair the house whereby she sat, And kind the woman's eyes and innocent, And all her bearing gracious; and she rose Opening her arms to meet me, as who should say, "Rest here;" but when I touched her, lo! she, too, Fell into dust and nothing, and the house Became no better than a broken shed, And in it a dead babe; and also this Fell into dust, and I was left alone.
'And on I rode, and greater was my thirst. Then flashed a yellow gleam across the world, And where it smote the plowshare in the field, The plowman left his plowing, and fell down Before it; where it glittered on her pail, The milkmaid left her milking, and fell down Before it, and I knew not why, but thought "The sun is rising," though the sun had risen. Then was I ware of one that on me moved In golden armour with a crown of gold About a casque all jewels; and his horse In golden armour jewelled everywhere: And on the splendour came, flashing me blind; And seemed to me the Lord of all the world, Being so huge. But when I thought he meant To crush me, moving on me, lo! he, too, Opened his arms to embrace me as he came, And up I went and touched him, and he, too, Fell into dust, and I was left alone And wearying in a land of sand and thorns.
'And I rode on and found a mighty hill, And on the top, a city walled: the spires Pricked with incredible pinnacles into heaven. And by the gateway stirred a crowd; and these Cried to me climbing, "Welcome, Percivale! Thou mightiest and thou purest among men!" And glad was I and clomb, but found at top No man, nor any voice. And thence I past Far through a ruinous city, and I saw That man had once dwelt there; but there I found Only one man of an exceeding age. "Where is that goodly company," said I, "That so cried out upon me?" and he had Scarce any voice to answer, and yet gasped, "Whence and what art thou?" and even as he spoke Fell into dust, and disappeared, and I Was left alone once more, and cried in grief, "Lo, if I find the Holy Grail itself And touch it, it will crumble into dust."
'And thence I dropt into a lowly vale, Low as the hill was high, and where the vale Was lowest, found a chapel, and thereby A holy hermit in a hermitage, To whom I told my phantoms, and he said:
'"O son, thou hast not true humility, The highest virtue, mother of them all; For when the Lord of all things made Himself Naked of glory for His mortal change, 'Take thou my robe,' she said, 'for all is thine,' And all her form shone forth with sudden light So that the angels were amazed, and she Followed Him down, and like a flying star Led on the gray-haired wisdom of the east; But her thou hast not known: for what is this Thou thoughtest of thy prowess and thy sins? Thou hast not lost thyself to save thyself As Galahad." When the hermit made an end, In silver armour suddenly Galahad shone Before us, and against the chapel door Laid lance, and entered, and we knelt in prayer. And there the hermit slaked my burning thirst, And at the sacring of the mass I saw The holy elements alone; but he, "Saw ye no more? I, Galahad, saw the Grail, The Holy Grail, descend upon the shrine: I saw the fiery face as of a child That smote itself into the bread, and went; And hither am I come; and never yet Hath what thy sister taught me first to see, This Holy Thing, failed from my side, nor come Covered, but moving with me night and day, Fainter by day, but always in the night Blood-red, and sliding down the blackened marsh Blood-red, and on the naked mountain top Blood-red, and in the sleeping mere below Blood-red. And in the strength of this I rode, Shattering all evil customs everywhere, And past through Pagan realms, and made them mine, And clashed with Pagan hordes, and bore them down, And broke through all, and in the strength of this Come victor. But my time is hard at hand, And hence I go; and one will crown me king Far in the spiritual city; and come thou, too, For thou shalt see the vision when I go."
'While thus he spake, his eye, dwelling on mine, Drew me, with power upon me, till I grew One with him, to believe as he believed. Then, when the day began to wane, we went.
'There rose a hill that none but man could climb, Scarred with a hundred wintry water-courses— Storm at the top, and when we gained it, storm Round us and death; for every moment glanced His silver arms and gloomed: so quick and thick The lightnings here and there to left and right Struck, till the dry old trunks about us, dead, Yea, rotten with a hundred years of death, Sprang into fire: and at the base we found On either hand, as far as eye could see, A great black swamp and of an evil smell, Part black, part whitened with the bones of men, Not to be crost, save that some ancient king Had built a way, where, linked with many a bridge, A thousand piers ran into the great Sea. And Galahad fled along them bridge by bridge, And every bridge as quickly as he crost Sprang into fire and vanished, though I yearned To follow; and thrice above him all the heavens Opened and blazed with thunder such as seemed Shoutings of all the sons of God: and first At once I saw him far on the great Sea, In silver-shining armour starry-clear; And o'er his head the Holy Vessel hung Clothed in white samite or a luminous cloud. And with exceeding swiftness ran the boat, If boat it were—I saw not whence it came. And when the heavens opened and blazed again Roaring, I saw him like a silver star— And had he set the sail, or had the boat Become a living creature clad with wings? And o'er his head the Holy Vessel hung Redder than any rose, a joy to me, For now I knew the veil had been withdrawn. Then in a moment when they blazed again Opening, I saw the least of little stars Down on the waste, and straight beyond the star I saw the spiritual city and all her spires And gateways in a glory like one pearl— No larger, though the goal of all the saints— Strike from the sea; and from the star there shot A rose-red sparkle to the city, and there Dwelt, and I knew it was the Holy Grail, Which never eyes on earth again shall see. Then fell the floods of heaven drowning the deep. And how my feet recrost the deathful ridge No memory in me lives; but that I touched The chapel-doors at dawn I know; and thence Taking my war-horse from the holy man, Glad that no phantom vext me more, returned To whence I came, the gate of Arthur's wars.'
'O brother,' asked Ambrosius,—'for in sooth These ancient books—and they would win thee—teem, Only I find not there this Holy Grail, With miracles and marvels like to these, Not all unlike; which oftentime I read, Who read but on my breviary with ease, Till my head swims; and then go forth and pass Down to the little thorpe that lies so close, And almost plastered like a martin's nest To these old walls—and mingle with our folk; And knowing every honest face of theirs As well as ever shepherd knew his sheep, And every homely secret in their hearts, Delight myself with gossip and old wives, And ills and aches, and teethings, lyings-in, And mirthful sayings, children of the place, That have no meaning half a league away: Or lulling random squabbles when they rise, Chafferings and chatterings at the market-cross, Rejoice, small man, in this small world of mine, Yea, even in their hens and in their eggs— O brother, saving this Sir Galahad, Came ye on none but phantoms in your quest, No man, no woman?'
Then Sir Percivale: 'All men, to one so bound by such a vow, And women were as phantoms. O, my brother, Why wilt thou shame me to confess to thee How far I faltered from my quest and vow? For after I had lain so many nights A bedmate of the snail and eft and snake, In grass and burdock, I was changed to wan And meagre, and the vision had not come; And then I chanced upon a goodly town With one great dwelling in the middle of it; Thither I made, and there was I disarmed By maidens each as fair as any flower: But when they led me into hall, behold, The Princess of that castle was the one, Brother, and that one only, who had ever Made my heart leap; for when I moved of old A slender page about her father's hall, And she a slender maiden, all my heart Went after her with longing: yet we twain Had never kissed a kiss, or vowed a vow. And now I came upon her once again, And one had wedded her, and he was dead, And all his land and wealth and state were hers. And while I tarried, every day she set A banquet richer than the day before By me; for all her longing and her will Was toward me as of old; till one fair morn, I walking to and fro beside a stream That flashed across her orchard underneath Her castle-walls, she stole upon my walk, And calling me the greatest of all knights, Embraced me, and so kissed me the first time, And gave herself and all her wealth to me. Then I remembered Arthur's warning word, That most of us would follow wandering fires, And the Quest faded in my heart. Anon, The heads of all her people drew to me, With supplication both of knees and tongue: "We have heard of thee: thou art our greatest knight, Our Lady says it, and we well believe: Wed thou our Lady, and rule over us, And thou shalt be as Arthur in our land." O me, my brother! but one night my vow Burnt me within, so that I rose and fled, But wailed and wept, and hated mine own self, And even the Holy Quest, and all but her; Then after I was joined with Galahad Cared not for her, nor anything upon earth.'
Then said the monk, 'Poor men, when yule is cold, Must be content to sit by little fires. And this am I, so that ye care for me Ever so little; yea, and blest be Heaven That brought thee here to this poor house of ours Where all the brethren are so hard, to warm My cold heart with a friend: but O the pity To find thine own first love once more—to hold, Hold her a wealthy bride within thine arms, Or all but hold, and then—cast her aside, Foregoing all her sweetness, like a weed. For we that want the warmth of double life, We that are plagued with dreams of something sweet Beyond all sweetness in a life so rich,— Ah, blessed Lord, I speak too earthlywise, Seeing I never strayed beyond the cell, But live like an old badger in his earth, With earth about him everywhere, despite All fast and penance. Saw ye none beside, None of your knights?'
'Yea so,' said Percivale: 'One night my pathway swerving east, I saw The pelican on the casque of our Sir Bors All in the middle of the rising moon: And toward him spurred, and hailed him, and he me, And each made joy of either; then he asked, "Where is he? hast thou seen him—Lancelot?—Once," Said good Sir Bors, "he dashed across me—mad, And maddening what he rode: and when I cried, 'Ridest thou then so hotly on a quest So holy,' Lancelot shouted, 'Stay me not! I have been the sluggard, and I ride apace, For now there is a lion in the way.' So vanished."
'Then Sir Bors had ridden on Softly, and sorrowing for our Lancelot, Because his former madness, once the talk And scandal of our table, had returned; For Lancelot's kith and kin so worship him That ill to him is ill to them; to Bors Beyond the rest: he well had been content Not to have seen, so Lancelot might have seen, The Holy Cup of healing; and, indeed, Being so clouded with his grief and love, Small heart was his after the Holy Quest: If God would send the vision, well: if not, The Quest and he were in the hands of Heaven.
'And then, with small adventure met, Sir Bors Rode to the lonest tract of all the realm, And found a people there among their crags, Our race and blood, a remnant that were left Paynim amid their circles, and the stones They pitch up straight to heaven: and their wise men Were strong in that old magic which can trace The wandering of the stars, and scoffed at him And this high Quest as at a simple thing: Told him he followed—almost Arthur's words— A mocking fire: "what other fire than he, Whereby the blood beats, and the blossom blows, And the sea rolls, and all the world is warmed?" And when his answer chafed them, the rough crowd, Hearing he had a difference with their priests, Seized him, and bound and plunged him into a cell Of great piled stones; and lying bounden there In darkness through innumerable hours He heard the hollow-ringing heavens sweep Over him till by miracle—what else?— Heavy as it was, a great stone slipt and fell, Such as no wind could move: and through the gap Glimmered the streaming scud: then came a night Still as the day was loud; and through the gap The seven clear stars of Arthur's Table Round— For, brother, so one night, because they roll Through such a round in heaven, we named the stars, Rejoicing in ourselves and in our King— And these, like bright eyes of familiar friends, In on him shone: "And then to me, to me," Said good Sir Bors, "beyond all hopes of mine, Who scarce had prayed or asked it for myself— Across the seven clear stars—O grace to me— In colour like the fingers of a hand Before a burning taper, the sweet Grail Glided and past, and close upon it pealed A sharp quick thunder." Afterwards, a maid, Who kept our holy faith among her kin In secret, entering, loosed and let him go.'
To whom the monk: 'And I remember now That pelican on the casque: Sir Bors it was Who spake so low and sadly at our board; And mighty reverent at our grace was he: A square-set man and honest; and his eyes, An out-door sign of all the warmth within, Smiled with his lips—a smile beneath a cloud, But heaven had meant it for a sunny one: Ay, ay, Sir Bors, who else? But when ye reached The city, found ye all your knights returned, Or was there sooth in Arthur's prophecy, Tell me, and what said each, and what the King?'
Then answered Percivale: 'And that can I, Brother, and truly; since the living words Of so great men as Lancelot and our King Pass not from door to door and out again, But sit within the house. O, when we reached The city, our horses stumbling as they trode On heaps of ruin, hornless unicorns, Cracked basilisks, and splintered cockatrices, And shattered talbots, which had left the stones Raw, that they fell from, brought us to the hall.
'And there sat Arthur on the dais-throne, And those that had gone out upon the Quest, Wasted and worn, and but a tithe of them, And those that had not, stood before the King, Who, when he saw me, rose, and bad me hail, Saying, "A welfare in thine eye reproves Our fear of some disastrous chance for thee On hill, or plain, at sea, or flooding ford. So fierce a gale made havoc here of late Among the strange devices of our kings; Yea, shook this newer, stronger hall of ours, And from the statue Merlin moulded for us Half-wrenched a golden wing; but now—the Quest, This vision—hast thou seen the Holy Cup, That Joseph brought of old to Glastonbury?"
'So when I told him all thyself hast heard, Ambrosius, and my fresh but fixt resolve To pass away into the quiet life, He answered not, but, sharply turning, asked Of Gawain, "Gawain, was this Quest for thee?"
'"Nay, lord," said Gawain, "not for such as I. Therefore I communed with a saintly man, Who made me sure the Quest was not for me; For I was much awearied of the Quest: But found a silk pavilion in a field, And merry maidens in it; and then this gale Tore my pavilion from the tenting-pin, And blew my merry maidens all about With all discomfort; yea, and but for this, My twelvemonth and a day were pleasant to me."
'He ceased; and Arthur turned to whom at first He saw not, for Sir Bors, on entering, pushed Athwart the throng to Lancelot, caught his hand, Held it, and there, half-hidden by him, stood, Until the King espied him, saying to him, "Hail, Bors! if ever loyal man and true Could see it, thou hast seen the Grail;" and Bors, "Ask me not, for I may not speak of it: I saw it;" and the tears were in his eyes.
'Then there remained but Lancelot, for the rest Spake but of sundry perils in the storm; Perhaps, like him of Cana in Holy Writ, Our Arthur kept his best until the last; "Thou, too, my Lancelot," asked the king, "my friend, Our mightiest, hath this Quest availed for thee?"
'"Our mightiest!" answered Lancelot, with a groan; "O King!"—and when he paused, methought I spied A dying fire of madness in his eyes— "O King, my friend, if friend of thine I be, Happier are those that welter in their sin, Swine in the mud, that cannot see for slime, Slime of the ditch: but in me lived a sin So strange, of such a kind, that all of pure, Noble, and knightly in me twined and clung Round that one sin, until the wholesome flower And poisonous grew together, each as each, Not to be plucked asunder; and when thy knights Sware, I sware with them only in the hope That could I touch or see the Holy Grail They might be plucked asunder. Then I spake To one most holy saint, who wept and said, That save they could be plucked asunder, all My quest were but in vain; to whom I vowed That I would work according as he willed. And forth I went, and while I yearned and strove To tear the twain asunder in my heart, My madness came upon me as of old, And whipt me into waste fields far away; There was I beaten down by little men, Mean knights, to whom the moving of my sword And shadow of my spear had been enow To scare them from me once; and then I came All in my folly to the naked shore, Wide flats, where nothing but coarse grasses grew; But such a blast, my King, began to blow, So loud a blast along the shore and sea, Ye could not hear the waters for the blast, Though heapt in mounds and ridges all the sea Drove like a cataract, and all the sand Swept like a river, and the clouded heavens Were shaken with the motion and the sound. And blackening in the sea-foam swayed a boat, Half-swallowed in it, anchored with a chain; And in my madness to myself I said, 'I will embark and I will lose myself, And in the great sea wash away my sin.' I burst the chain, I sprang into the boat. Seven days I drove along the dreary deep, And with me drove the moon and all the stars; And the wind fell, and on the seventh night I heard the shingle grinding in the surge, And felt the boat shock earth, and looking up, Behold, the enchanted towers of Carbonek, A castle like a rock upon a rock, With chasm-like portals open to the sea, And steps that met the breaker! there was none Stood near it but a lion on each side That kept the entry, and the moon was full. Then from the boat I leapt, and up the stairs. There drew my sword. With sudden-flaring manes Those two great beasts rose upright like a man, Each gript a shoulder, and I stood between; And, when I would have smitten them, heard a voice, 'Doubt not, go forward; if thou doubt, the beasts Will tear thee piecemeal.' Then with violence The sword was dashed from out my hand, and fell. And up into the sounding hall I past; But nothing in the sounding hall I saw, No bench nor table, painting on the wall Or shield of knight; only the rounded moon Through the tall oriel on the rolling sea. But always in the quiet house I heard, Clear as a lark, high o'er me as a lark, A sweet voice singing in the topmost tower To the eastward: up I climbed a thousand steps With pain: as in a dream I seemed to climb For ever: at the last I reached a door, A light was in the crannies, and I heard, 'Glory and joy and honour to our Lord And to the Holy Vessel of the Grail.' Then in my madness I essayed the door; It gave; and through a stormy glare, a heat As from a seventimes-heated furnace, I, Blasted and burnt, and blinded as I was, With such a fierceness that I swooned away— O, yet methought I saw the Holy Grail, All palled in crimson samite, and around Great angels, awful shapes, and wings and eyes. And but for all my madness and my sin, And then my swooning, I had sworn I saw That which I saw; but what I saw was veiled And covered; and this Quest was not for me."
'So speaking, and here ceasing, Lancelot left The hall long silent, till Sir Gawain—nay, Brother, I need not tell thee foolish words,— A reckless and irreverent knight was he, Now boldened by the silence of his King,— Well, I will tell thee: "O King, my liege," he said, "Hath Gawain failed in any quest of thine? When have I stinted stroke in foughten field? But as for thine, my good friend Percivale, Thy holy nun and thou have driven men mad, Yea, made our mightiest madder than our least. But by mine eyes and by mine ears I swear, I will be deafer than the blue-eyed cat, And thrice as blind as any noonday owl, To holy virgins in their ecstasies, Henceforward."
'"Deafer," said the blameless King, "Gawain, and blinder unto holy things Hope not to make thyself by idle vows, Being too blind to have desire to see. But if indeed there came a sign from heaven, Blessed are Bors, Lancelot and Percivale, For these have seen according to their sight. For every fiery prophet in old times, And all the sacred madness of the bard, When God made music through them, could but speak His music by the framework and the chord; And as ye saw it ye have spoken truth.
'"Nay—but thou errest, Lancelot: never yet Could all of true and noble in knight and man Twine round one sin, whatever it might be, With such a closeness, but apart there grew, Save that he were the swine thou spakest of, Some root of knighthood and pure nobleness; Whereto see thou, that it may bear its flower.
'"And spake I not too truly, O my knights? Was I too dark a prophet when I said To those who went upon the Holy Quest, That most of them would follow wandering fires, Lost in the quagmire?—lost to me and gone, And left me gazing at a barren board, And a lean Order—scarce returned a tithe— And out of those to whom the vision came My greatest hardly will believe he saw; Another hath beheld it afar off, And leaving human wrongs to right themselves, Cares but to pass into the silent life. And one hath had the vision face to face, And now his chair desires him here in vain, However they may crown him otherwhere.
'"And some among you held, that if the King Had seen the sight he would have sworn the vow: Not easily, seeing that the King must guard That which he rules, and is but as the hind To whom a space of land is given to plow. Who may not wander from the allotted field Before his work be done; but, being done, Let visions of the night or of the day Come, as they will; and many a time they come, Until this earth he walks on seems not earth, This light that strikes his eyeball is not light, This air that smites his forehead is not air But vision—yea, his very hand and foot— In moments when he feels he cannot die, And knows himself no vision to himself, Nor the high God a vision, nor that One Who rose again: ye have seen what ye have seen."
'So spake the King: I knew not all he meant.'
Pelleas and Ettarre
King Arthur made new knights to fill the gap Left by the Holy Quest; and as he sat In hall at old Caerleon, the high doors Were softly sundered, and through these a youth, Pelleas, and the sweet smell of the fields Past, and the sunshine came along with him.
'Make me thy knight, because I know, Sir King, All that belongs to knighthood, and I love.' Such was his cry: for having heard the King Had let proclaim a tournament—the prize A golden circlet and a knightly sword, Full fain had Pelleas for his lady won The golden circlet, for himself the sword: And there were those who knew him near the King, And promised for him: and Arthur made him knight.
And this new knight, Sir Pelleas of the isles— But lately come to his inheritance, And lord of many a barren isle was he— Riding at noon, a day or twain before, Across the forest called of Dean, to find Caerleon and the King, had felt the sun Beat like a strong knight on his helm, and reeled Almost to falling from his horse; but saw Near him a mound of even-sloping side, Whereon a hundred stately beeches grew, And here and there great hollies under them; But for a mile all round was open space, And fern and heath: and slowly Pelleas drew To that dim day, then binding his good horse To a tree, cast himself down; and as he lay At random looking over the brown earth Through that green-glooming twilight of the grove, It seemed to Pelleas that the fern without Burnt as a living fire of emeralds, So that his eyes were dazzled looking at it. Then o'er it crost the dimness of a cloud Floating, and once the shadow of a bird Flying, and then a fawn; and his eyes closed. And since he loved all maidens, but no maid In special, half-awake he whispered, 'Where? O where? I love thee, though I know thee not. For fair thou art and pure as Guinevere, And I will make thee with my spear and sword As famous—O my Queen, my Guinevere, For I will be thine Arthur when we meet.'
Suddenly wakened with a sound of talk And laughter at the limit of the wood, And glancing through the hoary boles, he saw, Strange as to some old prophet might have seemed A vision hovering on a sea of fire, Damsels in divers colours like the cloud Of sunset and sunrise, and all of them On horses, and the horses richly trapt Breast-high in that bright line of bracken stood: And all the damsels talked confusedly, And one was pointing this way, and one that, Because the way was lost.
And Pelleas rose, And loosed his horse, and led him to the light. There she that seemed the chief among them said, 'In happy time behold our pilot-star! Youth, we are damsels-errant, and we ride, Armed as ye see, to tilt against the knights There at Caerleon, but have lost our way: To right? to left? straight forward? back again? Which? tell us quickly.'
Pelleas gazing thought, 'Is Guinevere herself so beautiful?' For large her violet eyes looked, and her bloom A rosy dawn kindled in stainless heavens, And round her limbs, mature in womanhood; And slender was her hand and small her shape; And but for those large eyes, the haunts of scorn, She might have seemed a toy to trifle with, And pass and care no more. But while he gazed The beauty of her flesh abashed the boy, As though it were the beauty of her soul: For as the base man, judging of the good, Puts his own baseness in him by default Of will and nature, so did Pelleas lend All the young beauty of his own soul to hers, Believing her; and when she spake to him, Stammered, and could not make her a reply. For out of the waste islands had he come, Where saving his own sisters he had known Scarce any but the women of his isles, Rough wives, that laughed and screamed against the gulls, Makers of nets, and living from the sea.
Then with a slow smile turned the lady round And looked upon her people; and as when A stone is flung into some sleeping tarn, The circle widens till it lip the marge, Spread the slow smile through all her company. Three knights were thereamong; and they too smiled, Scorning him; for the lady was Ettarre, And she was a great lady in her land.
Again she said, 'O wild and of the woods, Knowest thou not the fashion of our speech? Or have the Heavens but given thee a fair face, Lacking a tongue?'
'O damsel,' answered he, 'I woke from dreams; and coming out of gloom Was dazzled by the sudden light, and crave Pardon: but will ye to Caerleon? I Go likewise: shall I lead you to the King?'
'Lead then,' she said; and through the woods they went. And while they rode, the meaning in his eyes, His tenderness of manner, and chaste awe, His broken utterances and bashfulness, Were all a burthen to her, and in her heart She muttered, 'I have lighted on a fool, Raw, yet so stale!' But since her mind was bent On hearing, after trumpet blown, her name And title, 'Queen of Beauty,' in the lists Cried—and beholding him so strong, she thought That peradventure he will fight for me, And win the circlet: therefore flattered him, Being so gracious, that he wellnigh deemed His wish by hers was echoed; and her knights And all her damsels too were gracious to him, For she was a great lady.
And when they reached Caerleon, ere they past to lodging, she, Taking his hand, 'O the strong hand,' she said, 'See! look at mine! but wilt thou fight for me, And win me this fine circlet, Pelleas, That I may love thee?'
Then his helpless heart Leapt, and he cried, 'Ay! wilt thou if I win?' 'Ay, that will I,' she answered, and she laughed, And straitly nipt the hand, and flung it from her; Then glanced askew at those three knights of hers, Till all her ladies laughed along with her.
'O happy world,' thought Pelleas, 'all, meseems, Are happy; I the happiest of them all.' Nor slept that night for pleasure in his blood, And green wood-ways, and eyes among the leaves; Then being on the morrow knighted, sware To love one only. And as he came away, The men who met him rounded on their heels And wondered after him, because his face Shone like the countenance of a priest of old Against the flame about a sacrifice Kindled by fire from heaven: so glad was he.
Then Arthur made vast banquets, and strange knights From the four winds came in: and each one sat, Though served with choice from air, land, stream, and sea, Oft in mid-banquet measuring with his eyes His neighbour's make and might: and Pelleas looked Noble among the noble, for he dreamed His lady loved him, and he knew himself Loved of the King: and him his new-made knight Worshipt, whose lightest whisper moved him more Than all the ranged reasons of the world.
Then blushed and brake the morning of the jousts, And this was called 'The Tournament of Youth:' For Arthur, loving his young knight, withheld His older and his mightier from the lists, That Pelleas might obtain his lady's love, According to her promise, and remain Lord of the tourney. And Arthur had the jousts Down in the flat field by the shore of Usk Holden: the gilded parapets were crowned With faces, and the great tower filled with eyes Up to the summit, and the trumpets blew. There all day long Sir Pelleas kept the field With honour: so by that strong hand of his The sword and golden circlet were achieved.
Then rang the shout his lady loved: the heat Of pride and glory fired her face; her eye Sparkled; she caught the circlet from his lance, And there before the people crowned herself: So for the last time she was gracious to him.
Then at Caerleon for a space—her look Bright for all others, cloudier on her knight— Lingered Ettarre: and seeing Pelleas droop, Said Guinevere, 'We marvel at thee much, O damsel, wearing this unsunny face To him who won thee glory!' And she said, 'Had ye not held your Lancelot in your bower, My Queen, he had not won.' Whereat the Queen, As one whose foot is bitten by an ant, Glanced down upon her, turned and went her way.
But after, when her damsels, and herself, And those three knights all set their faces home, Sir Pelleas followed. She that saw him cried, 'Damsels—and yet I should be shamed to say it— I cannot bide Sir Baby. Keep him back Among yourselves. Would rather that we had Some rough old knight who knew the worldly way, Albeit grizzlier than a bear, to ride And jest with: take him to you, keep him off, And pamper him with papmeat, if ye will, Old milky fables of the wolf and sheep, Such as the wholesome mothers tell their boys. Nay, should ye try him with a merry one To find his mettle, good: and if he fly us, Small matter! let him.' This her damsels heard, And mindful of her small and cruel hand, They, closing round him through the journey home, Acted her hest, and always from her side Restrained him with all manner of device, So that he could not come to speech with her. And when she gained her castle, upsprang the bridge, Down rang the grate of iron through the groove, And he was left alone in open field.
'These be the ways of ladies,' Pelleas thought, 'To those who love them, trials of our faith. Yea, let her prove me to the uttermost, For loyal to the uttermost am I.' So made his moan; and darkness falling, sought A priory not far off, there lodged, but rose With morning every day, and, moist or dry, Full-armed upon his charger all day long Sat by the walls, and no one opened to him.
And this persistence turned her scorn to wrath. Then calling her three knights, she charged them, 'Out! And drive him from the walls.' And out they came But Pelleas overthrew them as they dashed Against him one by one; and these returned, But still he kept his watch beneath the wall.
Thereon her wrath became a hate; and once, A week beyond, while walking on the walls With her three knights, she pointed downward, 'Look, He haunts me—I cannot breathe—besieges me; Down! strike him! put my hate into your strokes, And drive him from my walls.' And down they went, And Pelleas overthrew them one by one; And from the tower above him cried Ettarre, 'Bind him, and bring him in.'
He heard her voice; Then let the strong hand, which had overthrown Her minion-knights, by those he overthrew Be bounden straight, and so they brought him in.
Then when he came before Ettarre, the sight Of her rich beauty made him at one glance More bondsman in his heart than in his bonds. Yet with good cheer he spake, 'Behold me, Lady, A prisoner, and the vassal of thy will; And if thou keep me in thy donjon here, Content am I so that I see thy face But once a day: for I have sworn my vows, And thou hast given thy promise, and I know That all these pains are trials of my faith, And that thyself, when thou hast seen me strained And sifted to the utmost, wilt at length Yield me thy love and know me for thy knight.'
Then she began to rail so bitterly, With all her damsels, he was stricken mute; But when she mocked his vows and the great King, Lighted on words: 'For pity of thine own self, Peace, Lady, peace: is he not thine and mine?' 'Thou fool,' she said, 'I never heard his voice But longed to break away. Unbind him now, And thrust him out of doors; for save he be Fool to the midmost marrow of his bones, He will return no more.' And those, her three, Laughed, and unbound, and thrust him from the gate.
And after this, a week beyond, again She called them, saying, 'There he watches yet, There like a dog before his master's door! Kicked, he returns: do ye not hate him, ye? Ye know yourselves: how can ye bide at peace, Affronted with his fulsome innocence? Are ye but creatures of the board and bed, No men to strike? Fall on him all at once, And if ye slay him I reck not: if ye fail, Give ye the slave mine order to be bound, Bind him as heretofore, and bring him in: It may be ye shall slay him in his bonds.'
She spake; and at her will they couched their spears, Three against one: and Gawain passing by, Bound upon solitary adventure, saw Low down beneath the shadow of those towers A villainy, three to one: and through his heart The fire of honour and all noble deeds Flashed, and he called, 'I strike upon thy side— The caitiffs!' 'Nay,' said Pelleas, 'but forbear; He needs no aid who doth his lady's will.'
So Gawain, looking at the villainy done, Forbore, but in his heat and eagerness Trembled and quivered, as the dog, withheld A moment from the vermin that he sees Before him, shivers, ere he springs and kills.
And Pelleas overthrew them, one to three; And they rose up, and bound, and brought him in. Then first her anger, leaving Pelleas, burned Full on her knights in many an evil name Of craven, weakling, and thrice-beaten hound: 'Yet, take him, ye that scarce are fit to touch, Far less to bind, your victor, and thrust him out, And let who will release him from his bonds. And if he comes again'—there she brake short; And Pelleas answered, 'Lady, for indeed I loved you and I deemed you beautiful, I cannot brook to see your beauty marred Through evil spite: and if ye love me not, I cannot bear to dream you so forsworn: I had liefer ye were worthy of my love, Than to be loved again of you—farewell; And though ye kill my hope, not yet my love, Vex not yourself: ye will not see me more.'
While thus he spake, she gazed upon the man Of princely bearing, though in bonds, and thought, 'Why have I pushed him from me? this man loves, If love there be: yet him I loved not. Why? I deemed him fool? yea, so? or that in him A something—was it nobler than myself? Seemed my reproach? He is not of my kind. He could not love me, did he know me well. Nay, let him go—and quickly.' And her knights Laughed not, but thrust him bounden out of door.
Forth sprang Gawain, and loosed him from his bonds, And flung them o'er the walls; and afterward, Shaking his hands, as from a lazar's rag, 'Faith of my body,' he said, 'and art thou not— Yea thou art he, whom late our Arthur made Knight of his table; yea and he that won The circlet? wherefore hast thou so defamed Thy brotherhood in me and all the rest, As let these caitiffs on thee work their will?'
And Pelleas answered, 'O, their wills are hers For whom I won the circlet; and mine, hers, Thus to be bounden, so to see her face, Marred though it be with spite and mockery now, Other than when I found her in the woods; And though she hath me bounden but in spite, And all to flout me, when they bring me in, Let me be bounden, I shall see her face; Else must I die through mine unhappiness.'
And Gawain answered kindly though in scorn, 'Why, let my lady bind me if she will, And let my lady beat me if she will: But an she send her delegate to thrall These fighting hands of mine—Christ kill me then But I will slice him handless by the wrist, And let my lady sear the stump for him, Howl as he may. But hold me for your friend: Come, ye know nothing: here I pledge my troth, Yea, by the honour of the Table Round, I will be leal to thee and work thy work, And tame thy jailing princess to thine hand. Lend me thine horse and arms, and I will say That I have slain thee. She will let me in To hear the manner of thy fight and fall; Then, when I come within her counsels, then From prime to vespers will I chant thy praise As prowest knight and truest lover, more Than any have sung thee living, till she long To have thee back in lusty life again, Not to be bound, save by white bonds and warm, Dearer than freedom. Wherefore now thy horse And armour: let me go: be comforted: Give me three days to melt her fancy, and hope The third night hence will bring thee news of gold.'
Then Pelleas lent his horse and all his arms, Saving the goodly sword, his prize, and took Gawain's, and said, 'Betray me not, but help— Art thou not he whom men call light-of-love?'
'Ay,' said Gawain, 'for women be so light.' Then bounded forward to the castle walls, And raised a bugle hanging from his neck, And winded it, and that so musically That all the old echoes hidden in the wall Rang out like hollow woods at hunting-tide.
Up ran a score of damsels to the tower; 'Avaunt,' they cried, 'our lady loves thee not.' But Gawain lifting up his vizor said, 'Gawain am I, Gawain of Arthur's court, And I have slain this Pelleas whom ye hate: Behold his horse and armour. Open gates, And I will make you merry.'
And down they ran, Her damsels, crying to their lady, 'Lo! Pelleas is dead—he told us—he that hath His horse and armour: will ye let him in? He slew him! Gawain, Gawain of the court, Sir Gawain—there he waits below the wall, Blowing his bugle as who should say him nay.'
And so, leave given, straight on through open door Rode Gawain, whom she greeted courteously. 'Dead, is it so?' she asked. 'Ay, ay,' said he, 'And oft in dying cried upon your name.' 'Pity on him,' she answered, 'a good knight, But never let me bide one hour at peace.' 'Ay,' thought Gawain, 'and you be fair enow: But I to your dead man have given my troth, That whom ye loathe, him will I make you love.'
So those three days, aimless about the land, Lost in a doubt, Pelleas wandering Waited, until the third night brought a moon With promise of large light on woods and ways.
Hot was the night and silent; but a sound Of Gawain ever coming, and this lay— Which Pelleas had heard sung before the Queen, And seen her sadden listening—vext his heart, And marred his rest—'A worm within the rose.'
'A rose, but one, none other rose had I, A rose, one rose, and this was wondrous fair, One rose, a rose that gladdened earth and sky, One rose, my rose, that sweetened all mine air— I cared not for the thorns; the thorns were there.
'One rose, a rose to gather by and by, One rose, a rose, to gather and to wear, No rose but one—what other rose had I? One rose, my rose; a rose that will not die,— He dies who loves it,—if the worm be there.'
This tender rhyme, and evermore the doubt, 'Why lingers Gawain with his golden news?' So shook him that he could not rest, but rode Ere midnight to her walls, and bound his horse Hard by the gates. Wide open were the gates, And no watch kept; and in through these he past, And heard but his own steps, and his own heart Beating, for nothing moved but his own self, And his own shadow. Then he crost the court, And spied not any light in hall or bower, But saw the postern portal also wide Yawning; and up a slope of garden, all Of roses white and red, and brambles mixt And overgrowing them, went on, and found, Here too, all hushed below the mellow moon, Save that one rivulet from a tiny cave Came lightening downward, and so spilt itself Among the roses, and was lost again.
Then was he ware of three pavilions reared Above the bushes, gilden-peakt: in one, Red after revel, droned her lurdane knights Slumbering, and their three squires across their feet: In one, their malice on the placid lip Frozen by sweet sleep, four of her damsels lay: And in the third, the circlet of the jousts Bound on her brow, were Gawain and Ettarre.
Back, as a hand that pushes through the leaf To find a nest and feels a snake, he drew: Back, as a coward slinks from what he fears To cope with, or a traitor proven, or hound Beaten, did Pelleas in an utter shame Creep with his shadow through the court again, Fingering at his sword-handle until he stood There on the castle-bridge once more, and thought, 'I will go back, and slay them where they lie.'
And so went back, and seeing them yet in sleep Said, 'Ye, that so dishallow the holy sleep, Your sleep is death,' and drew the sword, and thought, 'What! slay a sleeping knight? the King hath bound And sworn me to this brotherhood;' again, 'Alas that ever a knight should be so false.' Then turned, and so returned, and groaning laid The naked sword athwart their naked throats, There left it, and them sleeping; and she lay, The circlet of her tourney round her brows, And the sword of the tourney across her throat.
And forth he past, and mounting on his horse Stared at her towers that, larger than themselves In their own darkness, thronged into the moon. Then crushed the saddle with his thighs, and clenched His hands, and maddened with himself and moaned:
'Would they have risen against me in their blood At the last day? I might have answered them Even before high God. O towers so strong, Huge, solid, would that even while I gaze The crack of earthquake shivering to your base Split you, and Hell burst up your harlot roofs Bellowing, and charred you through and through within, Black as the harlot's heart—hollow as a skull! Let the fierce east scream through your eyelet-holes, And whirl the dust of harlots round and round In dung and nettles! hiss, snake—I saw him there— Let the fox bark, let the wolf yell. Who yells Here in the still sweet summer night, but I— I, the poor Pelleas whom she called her fool? Fool, beast—he, she, or I? myself most fool; Beast too, as lacking human wit—disgraced, Dishonoured all for trial of true love— Love?—we be all alike: only the King Hath made us fools and liars. O noble vows! O great and sane and simple race of brutes That own no lust because they have no law! For why should I have loved her to my shame? I loathe her, as I loved her to my shame. I never loved her, I but lusted for her— Away—' He dashed the rowel into his horse, And bounded forth and vanished through the night.
Then she, that felt the cold touch on her throat, Awaking knew the sword, and turned herself To Gawain: 'Liar, for thou hast not slain This Pelleas! here he stood, and might have slain Me and thyself.' And he that tells the tale Says that her ever-veering fancy turned To Pelleas, as the one true knight on earth, And only lover; and through her love her life Wasted and pined, desiring him in vain.
But he by wild and way, for half the night, And over hard and soft, striking the sod From out the soft, the spark from off the hard, Rode till the star above the wakening sun, Beside that tower where Percivale was cowled, Glanced from the rosy forehead of the dawn. For so the words were flashed into his heart He knew not whence or wherefore: 'O sweet star, Pure on the virgin forehead of the dawn!' And there he would have wept, but felt his eyes Harder and drier than a fountain bed In summer: thither came the village girls And lingered talking, and they come no more Till the sweet heavens have filled it from the heights Again with living waters in the change Of seasons: hard his eyes; harder his heart Seemed; but so weary were his limbs, that he, Gasping, 'Of Arthur's hall am I, but here, Here let me rest and die,' cast himself down, And gulfed his griefs in inmost sleep; so lay, Till shaken by a dream, that Gawain fired The hall of Merlin, and the morning star Reeled in the smoke, brake into flame, and fell.
He woke, and being ware of some one nigh, Sent hands upon him, as to tear him, crying, 'False! and I held thee pure as Guinevere.'
But Percivale stood near him and replied, 'Am I but false as Guinevere is pure? Or art thou mazed with dreams? or being one Of our free-spoken Table hast not heard That Lancelot'—there he checked himself and paused.
Then fared it with Sir Pelleas as with one Who gets a wound in battle, and the sword That made it plunges through the wound again, And pricks it deeper: and he shrank and wailed, 'Is the Queen false?' and Percivale was mute. 'Have any of our Round Table held their vows?' And Percivale made answer not a word. 'Is the King true?' 'The King!' said Percivale. 'Why then let men couple at once with wolves. What! art thou mad?'
But Pelleas, leaping up, Ran through the doors and vaulted on his horse And fled: small pity upon his horse had he, Or on himself, or any, and when he met A cripple, one that held a hand for alms— Hunched as he was, and like an old dwarf-elm That turns its back upon the salt blast, the boy Paused not, but overrode him, shouting, 'False, And false with Gawain!' and so left him bruised And battered, and fled on, and hill and wood Went ever streaming by him till the gloom, That follows on the turning of the world, Darkened the common path: he twitched the reins, And made his beast that better knew it, swerve Now off it and now on; but when he saw High up in heaven the hall that Merlin built, Blackening against the dead-green stripes of even, 'Black nest of rats,' he groaned, 'ye build too high.'
Not long thereafter from the city gates Issued Sir Lancelot riding airily, Warm with a gracious parting from the Queen, Peace at his heart, and gazing at a star And marvelling what it was: on whom the boy, Across the silent seeded meadow-grass Borne, clashed: and Lancelot, saying, 'What name hast thou That ridest here so blindly and so hard?' 'No name, no name,' he shouted, 'a scourge am I To lash the treasons of the Table Round.' 'Yea, but thy name?' 'I have many names,' he cried: 'I am wrath and shame and hate and evil fame, And like a poisonous wind I pass to blast And blaze the crime of Lancelot and the Queen.' 'First over me,' said Lancelot, 'shalt thou pass.' 'Fight therefore,' yelled the youth, and either knight Drew back a space, and when they closed, at once The weary steed of Pelleas floundering flung His rider, who called out from the dark field, 'Thou art as false as Hell: slay me: I have no sword.' Then Lancelot, 'Yea, between thy lips—and sharp; But here I will disedge it by thy death.' 'Slay then,' he shrieked, 'my will is to be slain,' And Lancelot, with his heel upon the fallen, Rolling his eyes, a moment stood, then spake: 'Rise, weakling; I am Lancelot; say thy say.'