Copyright
Edward Bulwer Lytton Lytton.

King Arthur online

. (page 11 of 25)
Online LibraryEdward Bulwer Lytton LyttonKing Arthur → online text (page 11 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


BOOK V. 195

LXIX.

Voiceless she look'd, and voiceless look'd and smiled
On her the priest ; strange though the marvel seem,

The old man, childless, loved her more than child ;
She link'd each thought — she coloured every dream ;

But love, the varying Genius, guides, in turn,

The soft to pity, to revenge the stern.

LXX.

Not his the sympathy which soothes the woe.

But that which, wrathful, feels, and shares, the wrong.

He in the faithless but beheld the foe ;

The weak he righted when he smote the strong ;

In one dread crime a twofold virtue seen,

Here saved the land, and there avenged the queen.

LXXI.

So through the hush his hissing munnur stole —
" Ay, ^gle, blossom on the stem of kings.

Not to fresh altars glides the perjurer's soul,

Not to new maids the vows still thine he brings ;

No rival mocks thee from the bloodless shore,

The dead, at least, are faithful ever more."

LXXII.

As when around the demigod of love.

Whom men Prometheus call, relentless fell

The flashing fires of Zeus, and Heaven above
Open'd in flame, in flame the opening hell ;

While gazing dauntless on the Thunderer's frown.

Sunk from the Earth, the Earth's Light-bringer do;vn



;



196 KING ARTHUR.

LXXIII.

So, while both worlds before its sight lay bare,
And o'er one ruin burst the lightning shock,

Love, the Arch-Titan, in sublime despair,

Faced the rent Hades from the shattered rock ;

And saw in Heaven, the future Heaven foreshown.

When Love shall reign where Force usurps the throne.*

LXXIV.

The Woman heard, and gathering majesty

Beam'd on her front, and crown'd it w ith command ;

The pale priest shrunk before her tranquil eye.
And the light touch of her untrembling hand —

'^ Enjoy," she said, with voice as clear as low,

" Enjoy thy hate ; Avhere love survives I go.

LXXV.

'^ Sweetly thou smilest — sweetly, gentle Death,
Kinder than life ; — that severs, thou unitest !

To realms He spoke of goes this living breath
A living soul, wherever space is brightest —

Fair Love — I trusted, now I claim, thy troth !

Blest be thy couch, for it hath room for both !"

LXXVI.

She said, and from each hand that would restrain
Broke, in the strength of her sublime despair;

Swift as the meteor on the northern main

Fades from the ice-lock'd sea-king's livid stare —

She sprang ; the rolje a sudden glimmer gave,

And o'er the vision swept the closing wave.

* Prometh. Vinci, ^sch.



BOOK Y. 197

LXXVII.

Return, wild Song, to Lancelot ! Behold

Our Lord's lone house beside the placid mere !

There pipes the careless shepherd to his fold,
Or from the crags the shy capellae peer

Through the green rents of many a hanging brake,

Which sends its quivering shadow to the lake.

LXXVIII.

And by the pastoral margins mournfully

Wanders from dawn to eve the earnest knight ;

And ever to the ring he turns his eye,

And ever does the ring perplex the sight ;

The fairy hand that knew no rest before.

Rests now as fix'd as if its task were o'er. ,

LXXIX.

Towards the far head of the calm water turn'd
The unmoving finger ; yet when gain'd the place.

No path for human foot the knight discern'd —
Abrupt and huge, the rocks enclosed the space.

His scath'd front veil'd in everlasting snows.

High above eagles Alpine Atlas rose.

LXXX.

No cleft ! save that a giant torrent clove.

For its fierce hurry to the lake it fed;
Check'd for awhile in chasms conceal'd above.

Thence all its pomp the dazzling horror spread,
And from the beetling ridges, smooth and sheer,
Flash'd in one mass, down-roaring to the mere.



198 KING ARTHUR.

LXXXI.

Still to that spot the fairy hand inclined,
And daily there with wistful searching eyes

Wandered the knight ; each day no path to find ;
And climb in vain the ladder to the skies ;

Still foil'd each step the inexorable wall,

Still the old guide refused its aid in all.

LXXXII.

One noon, as thus he gazed in stern despair

On rock and torrent ; — from the tortured spray,

And through the mists, into cserulean air,
A dove descending rush'd its arrowy way ;

Swift as a falling star which, falling, brings

Woe on the helmet-crown of Dorian kings 1*

LXXXIII.

Straight to the wanderer's hand bore down the bird.
With plumage crisp'd with fear, and piercing plaint ;

Oft had he heedful, in his wanderings, heard
Of the great Wrong-Redresser, whom a saint

In the dove's guise directed — " Hail," he cried,

" I greet the token — I accept the guide 1"

LXXXIV.

And sudden as he spoke, arose the wing,
(Warily veering towards the dexter Hank

Of the huge chasm, through which leapt thundering
From Nature's heart her savage) ; on the bank

Of that fell stream, in root, and jag, and stone.

It traced the ladder to the glacier's throne.

* In moonless nights, every eighth year, the Spartan Ephors consulted the hea-
vens ; if there appeared the meteor, which we call the shooting star, they adjudged
their kings to have committed some oHcncc against the gods, and suspended them



BOOK V. 199

LXXXV.

Slow sail'd the dove, and paused, and look'd behind,
As labouring after, crag on crag, the knight

(Close on the deafening roar, and whirling wind
Lash'd from the surges) , through the vaporous night

Of the gray mists, loom'd up the howling wild ;

Strong in the charm the fairy gave the child.

LXXXVI.

With bleeding hands that leave a moment's red
On stone and stem wash'd by the mighty spray,

He gains at length the inter-alpine bed.

Whose lock'd Charybdis checks the torrent's way,

And forms a basin o'er abyssmal caves.

For the grim respite of the headlong waves.

LXXXVII.

Torrents below — the torrents still above !

Above less awful — as precipitous peak
And splinter'd ledge — and many a curve and cove

In the compress'd indented margins, break
That crushing sense of power, in which we see
What, without Nature's God, would Nature be !

LXXXVIII.

Before him, stretch'd the maelstrom of the ab}' ss ;

And, in the central torrent, giant pines,
Uprooted from the bordering wilderness

By some gone winter s blast — in flashing lines
Shot through the whirl — then pluck'd to the profound,
Vanish'd and rose, swift eddying round and round.

from their office till acquitted by the Delphic oracle, or Olympian priests. — Plut.
^g'ts, 11. MuLLEu's Dorians, b. iii. c. 6.



200 KING ARTHUR.

LXXXIX.

But oil the marge as on the wave thou art,

coFiquering Death ! — what human, hueless face

Rests pillow'd on a silenced human heart ?

AVhat arm still clasps in more than love's embrace

That form for which yon vulture flaps its wing ?

Kneel, Lancelot, kneel, thine eyes behold thy King !

xc.

Alas in vain — still in the Death-god's cave.

Ere yet the torrent snatch'd the hurrying stream,

Beside a crag gray-shimmering from the wave,
And near the brink by which the pallid beam

Sliow'd one pent path along the rugged verge.

By which to leave the raft and scape the surge, —

xci.

Alas in vain, that haven to the ark

The dove had given ! — just won the refuge-place,
When, thrice emerging from the sheeted dark.

White glanced a robe, and livid rose a face !
He saw, he sprang, — he iiear'd, he grasp'd the vest !
And both the torrent grappled to its breast.

XCII.

Yet, in the immense and superhuman force.
Love and despair bestow upon the bold.

The strong man battled with the Titan's course,

Grip'd rock and layer, and ledge, with snatching hold,

Bruised, bleeding, broken, onwards, downwards driven,

No wave his treasure from his grasp had riven.



BOOK y. 201

XCIII.

Saved, saved — at last before his reeling eyes
'(Into the pool, that check'd the Fury, hurl'd)

Shone, as he rose, through all the hurtling skies.
The dove's white winix ; and ere the maelstrom whirl'd

The breasted waters to the central shock,

Show'd the gnarl'd roots of the redeeming rock.

XCIV.

Less sense than instinct caught the wing that shone,
The crags that sheltered ; — the wild billows gave

The desperate limbs the force that fail'd their own,
And as he turn'd and sunk, the swerving wave

Swooped round, dash'd on, and to the isthmus sped

The failing life whose arms still lock'd the dead.

xcv.
Long vain were Lancelot's cares and knightly skill.

Ere, thro' slow veins congeal'd, pulsed back the blood ;
The very wounds, the valour of the will.

The peaks that broke the fury of the flood
Had help'd to save ; alas the strong to save !
For Strength to toil, till Love re-opes the grave.

XCVI.

Twice down the dismal path (the dove his guide)
The lake's charm'd knight bore twice his helpless load ;

A chamois hunter in the vale descried,
Aided the convoy to the house of God.

Dark — wroth — convulsed, the soul earth holdeth, lay;

Calm from the bier beside it, smiled the clay !



202 KING ARTHUR.

XCVII.

Song — for Lydian elegy too stern,

Song, cradled in the Celt's rough battle-shield ;

Rather from thee should man, the soldier, learn
To hide the wounds — heroic while conceal'd ;

From foes without, the mean the palm may win,

What tries the noble is the war within !

XCVIII.

Let the King's woe its muse in Silence claim,
When sense return'd, and solitary life

Sate in the ShadoAv ! — shade or sun the same.
Toil hath brief respite : man is made for strife.

Woman for rest! — rest, bright with dreams is given.

Child of the heathen, in the Christian heaven !

xcix.
And to the Christian prince's plighted bride,

The simple monks, the Christian's grave accord,
With lifted cross and swinging censer glide

To 23assing bells — the hermits of the Lord ;
And at that hour, in her own native vale.
Her own soft race their mj'Stic loss bewail.

c.

Methinks I see the Tuscan Genius yet.

Lured, lingering by the clay it loved so well,

And listening to the two-fold dirge that met
In upper air ; — here Nazarene anthems swell

Triumphal j)a3ans ! — there, the Alps behind.

Etrurian Na3ni9e,''' load the lagging wind.

* NaDniae, the funeral hymns borrowed by the Romans from the Etrurians.



BOOK V. 203



CI.



Pauses the startled Genius to compare

The notes that mourn the Hfe, at best so brief,

With those that welcome to empyreal air
The bright escaper from a Avorld of grief;

Marvelling what creed, beyond the happy vale,

Can teach the soul the loathed Styx to liail !

THE ETRURIAN N^NI^E.

Where art thou, pale and melancholy ghost ?

No funeral rites appease thy tomhless clay ;
Unburied, glidest thou by the dismal coast.

exile from the day ?

There, where the voice of love is heard no more,
AVhere the dull v^^ave moans back the eternal wail,
, Dost thou recall the summer suns of yore.

Thine own melodious vale ?

Thy Lares stand on thy deserted floors,

And miss their last sweet daughter's holy face,
What hand shall wreathe with flowers the threshold doors?

What child renew the race ?

Thine are the nuptials of the dreary shades,

Of all thy groves what rests ? — the cypress tree !
As from the air a strain of music fades,

Dark silence buries thee !

• Yet no, lost child of more than mortal sires,

Thy stranger bridegroom bears thee to his home,
Where the stars light the ^Esars' nuptial fires

In Tina's azure dome ;



From the fierce wave the god's celestial wing

Rapt thee aloft along the yielding air ;
W^ith amaranths fresh from heaven's eternal spring,

Bright Cupra* braids thy hair.

* Cupra, or Talna, corresponding with Juno, the nuptial goddess.



204 KING ARTHUR.



Ah, in those halls for us thou wilt not mourn,
Far are the /Esars' joys from human woe :
But not the less forsaken and forlorn

Those thou hast left below !

Never, oh never more, shall we behold thee,

The last spark dies upon the sacred hearth :
Art thou less lost, though heavenly arms enfold thee —

Art thou less lost to earth ?

Slow swells the sorrowing N(«nioB's chaunted strain.

Time with slow flutes our leaden footsteps keep ;
Sad earth, whate'er the happier heaven may gain,

Ilath but a loss to weep.



THE CHRISTIAN FUNERAL HYMN.

Sing we Halleluiah — singing

Halleluiah to the Three ;
Where, vain Death, oh, where thy stinging ?

Where, Grave, thy victory ?

As a sun a soul hath risen.

Rising from a stormy main ;
When the captive breaks the prison,

Who but slaves would mourn the chain ?

Fear for age subdued by trial,

Heavy with the years of sin :
When the sunlight leaves the dial.

And the solemn shades beo-in.



"o



Not for youth ! — alth(uigh the bosom
With a sharper grief be wrung ;

For the Maywind strews the blossom,
And the angel takes the young !

Saved from sins, while yet forgiven ;

From the joys that lead astray,
From the earth at war with heaven,

Soar, happy soul, away !



BOOK y. 205



From the human love that fadeth,
In the falsehood or the tomi) ;

From the cloud that darkly shadeth ;
From the canker in the bloom ;



Thou hast pass'd to suns unsetting,
Whore the rainbow spans the flood,

Where no moth the garb is fretting,
Where no worm is in the bud.



Let the arrow leave the quiver,
It was fashion' d but to soar ;

Let the wave pass from the river,
Into ocean evermore !



Mindful yet of mortal feeling
In thy fresh immortal birth ;

By the Virgin mother kneeling,
Plead for those beloved on earth.



W^hisper them thou hast forsaken,

"Woe but borders unbelief;"
Comfort smiles in faith unshaken.

Shall thy glory be their grief?

Let one ray on them descending.
From the prophet Future stream ;

Bliss is daylight never ending,
Sorrow but a passing dream.

O'er the grave in far communion,

AVith the choral Seraphim,
Chaunt in notes that hail reunion,

Chaunt the Christian's funeral hymn.

Singing Hallekiiah — singing

Ilallehiiah to the Three,
Where, vain Death, oh where thy stinging?

Where, Grave, thy victory ?



206 KING ARTHUR.

Cll.

So rests the child of creeds before the Greek's,
In our Lord's holy ground — between the walls

Of the gray convent and the verdant creeks
Of the sequestered mere ; afar the falls

Of the fierce torrent from her native vale.

Vex the calm wave, and groan upon the gale.

cm.
Survives that remnant of old races still,

In its strange haven from the surge of Time ?
There yet do Camsee's songs at sunset thrill,

At the same hour when here, the vesper chime
Hymns the sweet Mother ? Ah, can granite gate,
Cataract, and Alp, exclude the steps of Fate ?

CIV.

World-wearied man, thou knowest not on the earth
What regions lie beyond, yet near, thy ken !

But couldst thou find them, where would be the worth ?
Life but repeats its triple tale to men.

Three truths unite the children of the sod —

All love — all suffer — and all feel a God !

cv.

By -/Egle's grave, the royal mourner sate,
And from his bended eyes the veiling hand

Shut out the setting sun ; — thus, desolate,
He sate, with Memory in her spirit-land,

And took no heed of Lancelot's soothing words,

Vain to the oak, bolt-shattered, sing the birds !



BOOK V. 207

CVI.

Vain in their promise of returning spring ;

Spring may give leaves, can spring reclose the core ?
Comfort not sorrow — sorrow's self must bring

Its own stern cure ! — All wisdom's holiest lore,
" The know thyself," descends from heaven in tears ;
The cloud must break before the horizon clears.

cvn.

The dove forsook not : — now its poised wing.
Bathed in the sunset, rested o'er the lake ;

Now brooded o'er the grave beside the King,
Now with liush'd plumes, as if it feared to wake

Sleep, less serene than Death's, it sought his breast,

And o'er the heart of misery claimed its nest.

CVIII.

Night falls — the moon is at her full ; — the mere
Shines with the sheen pellucid ; not a breeze !

And through the liush'd and argent atmosphere
Sharp rise the summits of the breathless trees,

When Lancelot saw, all indistinct and pale,

Glide o'er the liquid glass a mistlike sail.

CIX.

Now, first from Arthur's dreams of fever gained.
And since (for grief unlocks the secret heart)

Briefly confess'd, the triple toil ordained

The knightly brother knew ; — so with a start

He strained the eyes, to which a fairy gave

Vision of fairy forms, along the wave.



208 KING ARTHUR.

ex.

Then ill his own the King's cold hand he took,
And spoke — "Arise, thy mission calls thee now !

Let the dead rest — still lives thy country ! — look,
And nerve thy knighthood to redeem its vow.

This is the lake whose Avaves the falchion hide,

And yon the bark that becks thee to the tide !"

CXI.

Listless arose the King, and looked abroad.

Nor saw the sail ; — though nearer, clearer gliding.

The Fairy nurseling by the vapoury shroud
And vapoury helm, beheld a phantom guiding,

" Not this," replied the King, " the lake decreed ;

Where points thy hand but floats a broken reed !

CXII.

" Where are the dangers on that placid tide ?

Where are the fiends that guard the enchanted boon ?
Behold, where rests the pilgrim's plumed guide

On the cold grave — beneath the quiet moon !
So night gives rest to grief — with labouring day
Let the dove lead, and life resume, the way !"

CXIII.

Then answered Lancelot — for he was wise

In each mysterious Druid parable : —
" Oft in the things most simple to our eyes,

The real genii of our doom may dwell —
The enchanter spoke of trials to befall ;
And the lone heart has trials worse than all !



BOOK V. 209

cxiv.

'' Weird triads tell us that our nature knows
In its own cells the demons it should brave ;

And oft the calm of after glory flows

Clear round the marge of early passion's grave ;"

And the dove came, ere Lancelot ceased to speak,

To its lord's hand — a leaflet in its beak.

cxv.

A leaflet from the grave ! — Then Arthur's heart
Awoke within him, and the prophet word

Of bitter charms which could alone impart
The vision of the lake's dark Lady — stirr'd

The kindled memories — to his tips he placed

The grave's true moly ; — bitter was the taste !

ex VI.

And straight the film fell from his heavy eyes ;

And, moored beside the marge, he saw the bark.
Its fair sails swelling, though in windless skies,

And the fair Lady in the robes of dark.
O'er moonlit tracks she stretched the shadowy hand,
And lo, beneath the waters bloomed the land!

CXVII.

Forests of emerald verdure spread below.
With palaced-pillars gleaming far and wide.

On to the bark the mourner's footsteps go ;

The pale King stands by the pale phantom's side ;

And Lancelot sprang — but sudden from his reach

Glanced the wan skiff, and left him on the beach.

14



210 KING ARTHUR.

CXVIII.

Chain'd to the earth by spells, more strong than love,
He saw the pinnace steal its noiseless way,

And on the mast there sate the steadfast dove,
With white plume shining in the steadfast ray —

Slow from the sight the waves the Vision bear,

And not a speck is in the purple air.



KING ARTHUR.



BOOK VI.



ARGUMENT.

Description of the Cymrian fire-beacons ; Dialogue between Gawaine and
Caradoc ; The raven ; Merlin announces to Gawaine that the bird selects
him for the aid of the King ; The knight's pious scruples ; He yields
reluctantly, and receives the raven as his guide ; His pathetic farewell
to Caradoc ; He confers with Henricus on the propriety of exorcising
the raven ; Character of Henricus ; The knight sets out on his ad-
ventures ; The company he meets and the obligation he incurs ; The
bride and the sword ; The bride's choice and the hound's fidelit}^ ; Sir
Gawaine lies down to sleep under the fairy's oak; What there befalls"
him ; The fairy banquet ; The temptation of Sir Gawaine ; The rebuke
of the fairies ; Sir Gawaine, much displeased with the raven, resumes
his journey ; His adventure with the Vikings, and how he comforts
himself in his captivity.



BOOK VI.



I.

On the bare summit of the loftiest peak —

Crowning the hills round Cymri's Iscan home,

Rose the gray temple of the Faith Antique,

Before whose priests had paused the march of Rome,

When the dark isle revealed its drear abodes,

And the last Hades of Cimmerian gods ;

II.
While dauntless Druids by their shrines profaned,

Stretch'd o'er the steelclad hush their swordless hands,*
And dire Religion, horror-breathing, chain'd

The frozen eagles, — till the shuddering bands
Shamed into slaughter, broke the ghastly spell.
And, lost in reeks of carnage, sunk the hell.

III.

Quivered on column-shafts the poised rock.
As if a breeze could shake the ruin dow n ;

But storm on storm had sent its thunder-shock,
Nor reft the temple of its charmed crown —

So awe of power Divine on human breasts

Vibrates for ever, and for ever rests.

• See Tacitus, 1. xiv. cap. 30, for the celebrated description of the attack on the
Druids, in their refuge in Mona, under Publius Suetonius.



214 KING ARTHUR.

IV.

Within the fane awaits a giant pyre,

Around the pyre assembled warriors stand;

A pause of prayer ; — and suddenly the fire

Flings its broad banner reddening o'er the land.

Shoot the fierce sparks and groan the crackling pines,

Toss'd on the Wave of Shields the glory shines.



V.

Lo, from dark night flash Carduel's domes of gold,
Glow the jagg'd rampires like a belt of light.

And to the stars springs up the dragon-hold,
With one lone image on the lonely height —

O'er those who saw a thrilling silence fell ;

There the still Prophet watch'd o'er Carduel !



VI.

Forth on their mission rush'd the wings of flame ;

Hill after hill the land's gray warders rose ;
First to the Mount of Bards* the splendour came,

Wreath'd with large halo Trigarn's f stern repose ;
On, post by post, the fiery courier rode.
Blood red Edeirnion'sJ dells of verdure glow'd ;



' Twm Barlwm, in Monmouthshire, on vvijich the bards are Ripposed to have
assembled.

t Moel Trigarn in Pembrokeshire ; it has on its summit the remains of an old
encampment enclosing three immense cairns.

4 The beautiful valley of Edeirnion watered by the Dee.



BOOK VI. 215

VII.

Uprose the hardy men of Merioneth,

When o'er the dismal strata parch'd and bleak,

Like some revived volcano's lurid breath

Sprang the fierce fire-jet from the herbless peak ;

Flash'd down on meeting streams the basalt walls,*

In molten flame Ehaiadyr's thunder falls.

VIII.

Thy Faban Mount,*}* Caernarvon, seized the sign.
And pass'd the watchword to the Fairies' Hill ; J

All Mona blazed — as if the isle divine
To Bel the sun-god drest her altars still ;

Menai reflects the prophet hues, and far

To twofold ocean knells the coming war.

IX.

Then wheeling round, the lurid herald swept

To quench the stars yet struggling with the glare,

Blithe to his task, resplendent Golcun§ leapt —
The bearded giant rose on Moel-y-Gaer —

Rose his six giant brothers, — Eifle rose.

And great Eryri|| lit his chasms of snows.

* The confluence of the Machno with the Conwy ; in that neighbourhood i? a
range of basalt rocks, bending over the water. Near where the streams meet are
the celebrated falls of Rhaiadyr-y-Craig Llwyd.

f Moel-Faban, Caernarvonshire. ^ Moelwnnion.

§ Cop-yr-Golcuni, or Mount of Lighc — probably the signal mount of the great
chain of beacons on that side of Wales, Moel y-Gaer (the Hill of the Camp),
Moel-Arihur, Moel Fenlli, &c., in all six principal beacon hills. The classical
reader wdl perceive how much in this description has been borrowed from the cele-
brated passage in the Clytemnestra of ^'Eschylus.

\ Eryri, Snowdon.



216 KING ARTHUR.

X.

So one vast altar was that father-land !

But nobler altars fiash'd in souls of men,
Sublinier than the mountahi-tops the brand

Found pyres in every lowUest hamlet glen :
Soon on the rocks shall die the grosser fire —
Souls lit to freedom burn till suns expire.

XI.

Slowly the chiefs desert the blazing fane,

(Sure of steel-harvests from the dragon seed)

Descend the mountain and the walls regain ;
As suns to S3^stems, there to each decreed

His glorious task, — to marshal star on star,

And weave with fate the harmonious pomp of war.

XII.

Last of the noble conclave, lingered two ;

Gawaine the mirthful, Caradoc the mild.
And, as the watchfires thicken'd on their view.

War's fearless playmate raised his hand and smiled,
Pointing each splendour, linking rock to rock ; —
And while he smiled — sighed earnest Caradoc.

XIII.

" Now by my head — (an empty oath, and light !)

No taller tapers ever lit to rest
Rome's stately Caesar ; — sigh'st thou, at the sight,

For cost o'er-lavish, when so mean the guest ?"
" Was it for this the gentle Saviour died ?


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25

Online LibraryEdward Bulwer Lytton LyttonKing Arthur → online text (page 11 of 25)