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Is Cain so glorious ?" Caradoc replied.



BOOK VI. 217

XIV.

^^ Permit, Sir Bard, an argament on that,"

True to his fame, said golden-tongued Gawaine,

*' The hawk may save his tiedgehngs from the cat,
Nor yet deserve comparisons with Cain ;

And Abel's fate, to hand's unskilled, proclaims

The use of practice in gymnastic games. ^

XV.

*' Woes that have been are man's best lesson-book —
From Abel's death, his nimbler sons should learn

To add an inch of iron to the crook

And strike, when struck a little in return —

Had Abel known his qu-arterstaff, I Avot,

Those Saxon Ap-Cains ne'er had been begot."

XVI.

More had he said, but a strange, grating note,

Half laugh — half croak, was here discordant heard ;

An ave rose — but died within his throat,

As close before him perch'd the enchanter's bird,

With head aslant, and glittering eye askew.

It near'd the knidit — the knight in haste w^ithdrew.

XVII.

" All saints defend me, and excuse a jest !"

Muttered Sir Gawaine — " bird or fiend avaunt :

Oh, holy Abel, let this matter rest,
I do repent me of my foolish taunt !"

With that the cross upon his sword he kist,

And stared a«:hast — the bird was on his wrist.



218 KING ARTHUR.

XVIII.

*^ Hem — vade Satanas ! — discede I 7-e^ro,"

The raven croak'd, and fixed himself afresh ;

'^ Aves damnata — -juheo et iwpetro^'

Ten pointed claws here fasten'd on his flesh ;

The knight, sore smarting, shook his arm — the bird

Peck'd in reproach, and kept its perch nnstirr'd.

XIX.

Quoth Caradoc — whose time had come to smile,
And smile he did in grave and placid wise —

** Let not thine evil thoughts, my friend, defile
The harmless wing descended from the skies."

** Skies!!!" said the knight — "black imps from skies
descend

With claws like these ! — the world is at an end !"

XX.

*' Now shame, Gawaine; knight of little heart,

How if a small and inoffensive raven
Dismay thee thus, couldst thou have track'd the chart

By which ^neas won his Alban-haven ?
On Harpies, Scylla, Cerberus, reflect —
And undevour'd — rejoice to be but peckt."

XXI.

*' True," said a voice behind them, — " gentle bard.

In life as verse, the art is to compare."
Gawaine turn'd short, gazed keenly, and breathed hard

As on the dark robed magi an streamed the glare
Of the huge watchfire — " Prophet," quoth Gawaine,
*■* My friend scorns pecking — let him try the pain.



BOOK YI. 219



XXII.



'^ Please to call back this — offspring of the skies !

Unworthy I to be his earthly rest !"
" Methought," said Merlin, " that thy King's emprize

Had found in thee a less reluctant breast ;
Again is friendship granted to his side —
Thee the bird summons^ be the bird thy guide."

XXIII.

Dumb stared the knight — stared first upon the seer.
Then on the raven, — who demure and sly,

Turn'd on his master a respectful ear,
And on Gawaine a magisterial eye.

'' What hath a king with ravens, seer, to do ?"

" Woden the king of half the world had two.

XXIV.

" Peace — if thy friendship answer to its boast.
Arm, take thy steed and with the dawn depart —

The bird will lead thee to the ocean coast ;
Strange are thy trials, stalwart be thy heart."

" Seer," quoth Gawaine, " my heart I hope is tough

Nor needs a prop from this portentous chough.

XXV.

" You know the proverb — ' birds of the same feather,'
A proverb much enforced in penal laws,'^'

In certain quarters were we seen together
It might, I fear suffice to damn my cause :

You cite examples apt and edifying —

Woden kept ravens ! — well, and Woden's frying !"

• In Welch laws it was sufficient to condemn a person to be found with noto-
rious offenders.



220 KING ARTHUR.

XXVI.

The enchanter smiled, in pity or in scorn ;

The smile was sad, but loftj^, calm, and cold —
" The straws," he said, " on passing wdnds upborne

Dismay the courser — is the man more bold ?
Dismiss thy terrors, go thy w ays, my son,
To do thy duty is the fiend to shun.

XXVII.

" Not for thy sake the bird is given to thee.

But for thy King's." — " Enough," replied the knight,

And bow'd his head. The bird rose jocundly.
Spread its dark wing and rested in the light —

" Sir Bard," to Carodoc the chosen said

In the close whisjoer of a knight well bred :

XXVIII.

" Vow'd to my King — come man, come fiend, I go,
But ne'er expect to see thy friend again.

That bird carnivorous hath designs I know
Most Anthropophagous on doom'd Gawaine ;

I leave you all the goods that most I j^rize —

Three steeds, six hawks, four gre-hounds, two blue eyes.

XXIX.

" Beat back the Saxons — beat them well, my friend.
And when they 're beaten, and your hand 's at leisure,

Set to your harp a ditty on my end —

The most appropriate were the shortest measure :

Forewarn'd by me all light discourses shun.

And mostly — jests on Adam's second son."



BOOK VI. 221

XXX.

He said, and wended down the glowing hill.

Long watch'd the minstrel with a wistful gaze,
Then join'd the musing seer — and both were still,

Still mid the ruins — girded with the rays ;
Twin heirs of light and lords of time, gray Truth
That ne'er is young — and Song the only youth.

XXXI.

At dawn Sir Gawaine through the postern stole,
But first he sought one reverend friend — a bishop,

By him assoil'd and shrived, he felt his soul

Too clean for cooks that fry for fiends to dish up ;

And then suggested, lighter and elater.

To cross the raven with some holy water.

XXXII.

Henricus — so the prelate sign'd his name-



Was lord high chancellor in things religious ;
With him church militant in truth became

[Nam cedant anna togce) church litigious ;
He kept his deacons notably in awe
By flowers epistolar perfumed with law.

XXXIII.

No man more stern, more fortiter in re.

No man more mild, more siiaviter in modo;

When knots grew tough, it was sublime to see
Such polished sheers go clippingly in nodo:

A hand so supple, pliant, glib, and quick,

Ne'er smooth'd a band, or burn'd a heretic.



222 KING ARTHUR.

XXXIV.

He seem'd to turn to you his willing clieek,
And beg you not to smite too hard the other ;

He seized his victim with a smile so meek,
And wept so fondly o'er his erring brother,

No wolf more righteous on a lamb could sup,

You vex'd his stream — he grieved — and eat you up.

XXXV.

" Son," said Henricus, " what you now propose
Is wise and pious — fit for a beginning ;

But sinful things, I fear me, but disclose,
In sin, perverted appetite for sinning ;

Hoj)eless to cure — we only can detect it.

First cross the bird and then (he groaned) dissect itT

XXXVI.

Till now, the raven perch'd on Gawaine's chair,
Had seem'd indulging in a placid doze,

And if he heard, he seem'd no jot to care

For threats of sprinkling his demoniac clothes,

But when the priest the closing words let drop

He hopp'd away as fast as he could hop.

XXXVII.

Gain'd a safe corner, on a pile of tomes,

Tracts against Arius — bulls against Pelagius,

The church of Cymri's controverse with Rome's —
Those fierce materials seem'd to be contagious,

For there, with open beak and glowering eye,

The bird seem'd croaking forth, '^ Dissect me ! try !"



BOOK yi. 223

XXXVIII.

This sight, perchance, the prelate's pious plan
Relax'd ; he gazed, recoifd, and faltering said,

" 'T is clear the monster is the foe of man.
His beak how pointed ! and his eyes how red !

Demons are spirits ; — spirits, on reflexion.

Are forms phantasmal, that defy dissection."

XXXIX.

^^ Truly," sigh'd Gawaine, " but the holy water !"
" No," cried the Prelate, '' ineffective here.

Try, but not now, a simple noster-pater,
Or chaunt a hymn. I dare not yiterfere ;

Act for yourself — and say your catechism ;

Were I to meddle, it would cause a schism."

XL.

*^ A schism !" — "The church, though always in the right,
Holds two opinions, both extremely able ;

This makes the Rubric rest on gowns of white.
That makes the church itself depend on sable ;

Were I to exorcise that raven-back,

'T would favour white, and raise the deuce in black.*

• If the celebrated controversy between Black and White which divided the
Cymrian church in King Arthur's days, should seem to suggest a parallel in-
stance in our own, — the Author begs sincerely to say that he is more inclined to
grieve than to jest at a schism which threatens to separate from so large a body
of the lay upholders of the English church, the abilities and learning of no despicable
portion of the English clergy. There is a divsion more dangerous than that between
theologian and theologian — wj, a division between the Pastors and their flocks —
between the teaciiing of the pulpit and the sympathy of the audience. Far from
the Author be the rash presumption to hazard any opinion as to matters of doctrine
on which — such as Regeneration by Baptism — it cannot be expected that, for the
sake of expediency or even concord, the remarkable thinkers who have emerged
from the schools of Oxford should admit of compromise ; — but he asks, with the
respect due to zeal and erudition, whether it be worth while to inflame, dispute, and
risk congregations — for the colour of a gown 1



224 KING ARTHUR.



XLI.



^' Depart, my son — at once, depart, I praj^

Pay up your dues, and keep your mind at ease.

And call that creature — no, the other way —
When fairl}' out, a credo, if you please;

(jo, — pax vohiscum ; — shut the door I beg.

And stay; on Friday, flogging, — with an egg!"

XLII.

Out went the knight, more puzzled than before;

And out, unsprinkled, flew the Stygian bird;
The bishop rose, and doubly locked the door;

His pen he mended, and his fire he stirr'd;
Then solved that problem — '' Pons Diaconorum,"
White equals black, plus x y botherorum.

XLIII.

So through the postern stole the troubled knight;

Still as he rode, from forest, mount, and vale,
Kung lively horns, and in the morning light

Flash'd the sheen banderoll, and the pomp of mail,
The welcome guests of War's blithe festival.
Keen for the feast, and summoned to the hall.

XLIV.

Curt answer gave the knight to greeting gay.
And none to taunt from scurril churl unkind.

Oft asking, ' if he did mistake the way ?' —
Or hinting, 'war was what he left behind;'

As noon came on, such sights and connnents cease,

Lone through the pasture rides the knight in peace.



BOOK VI. 225



XLV.

Grave as a funeral mourner rode Gawaine —
The bird went first in most indecent glee,

Now lost to sight, now gambling back again —
Now munch'd a beetle, and now chased a bee-

Now pluck'd the wool from meditative lamb,

Now pick'd a quarrel with a lusty ram.



XLVI.

Sharp through his vizor Gawaine watch'd the thing,
With dire misgivings at that impish mirth :

Day wax'd — day waned — and still the dusky wing
Seem'd not to find one resting place on earth.

" Saints," groaned Gawaine, " have mercy on a sinner,

And move that devil — just to stop for dinner!"

XLVII.

The bird turn'd round, as if it understood,

Halted the wing, and seem'd awhile to muse ; —

Then dives at once into a dismal wood,

And grumbling much, the hungry knight pursues,

To hear (and hearing, hope once more revives,)

Sweet-clinking horns, and gently-clashing knives.

XLVIII.

An opening glade a pleasant group displays ;

Ladies and knights amidst the woodland feast ;
Around them, reinless, steed and palfrey graze ;

To earth leaps Gawaine — " I shall dine at least."
His casque he doffs — " Good knights and ladies fair,
Vouchsafe a famish'd man your feast to share."

15



226 KING ARTHUR.

XLIX.

Loud laugli'd a big, broad-shouldered, burly host ;

" On two conditions, eat thy fill," quoth he ;
" Before one dines, 't is well to know the cost —

Tliou'lt Aved my daughter, and thou'lt fight with me."
'' Sir Host," said Gawaine, as he stretched his platter,
'^I '11 first the pie discuss, and then the matter."

L.

The ladies looked upon the comely knight.

His arch bright eye provoked the smile it found ;

The men admired that vasty appetite,
Meet to do honour to the Table Kound ;

The host, reseated, sent the guest his horn,

Brimm'd with pure drinks distill'd from barley corn.

LI.

Drinks rare in Cymri, true to milder mead,

But long familiar to Milesian lays.
So huge that draught, it had dispatch'd with speed

Ten Irish chiefs in these degenerate days :
Sir Gawaine drained it, and Sir Gawaine laugh'd,
'' Cool is your drink, though scanty is the draught ;

LII.

^' But, pray you pardon, (sir, a slice of boar,)

Judged by your accent, mantles, beards, and wine,

(If wine this be) ye come from Huerdan's* shore,
To aid no doubt our kindred Celtic line ;

Ye saw the watch-fires on our hills at night.

And march to Carduel ? read I, sirs, aright ?"

* lIuEiiDAN, /*. €. Ireland, pronounced, in the Poem, as a dissyllable.



BOOK yi. 227

LIII.

" Stranger," replied the host, " your guess is wrong,
And shows your lack of history and reflection ;

Huerdan with Cymri is allied too long,

We come, my friend, to sever the connexion :

But first, (your bees are wonderful for honey,)

Yield us your hives — in plainer words, your money."

LIV.

"Friend," said the golden-tongued Gawaine, "methought
Your mines were rich in wealthier ore than ours."

"True," said the host, superbly, "were they wrought!
But shall Milesians waste in work their powers ?

Base was that thought, the heartless insult masking."

" Faith," said Gawaine, " gold's easier got by asking."

LV.

Upsprung the host, upsprung the guests in ire —
Upsprung the gentle dames, and fled affrighted ;

High rose the din, than all the din rose higher
The croak of that cursed raven quite delighted ;

Sir Gawaine finished his last slice of boar.

And said " Good friends, more business and less roar.

LVI.

" If you want peace — shake hands, and peace, I say.
If you want fighting, gramercy ! we '11 fight."

" Ho," cried the host, "your dinner you must pay —
The two conditions." — " Host, you're in the right,

To fight I 'm willing, but to wed I 'm loth ;

I choose the first." — " Your word is bound to hotli :



228 KING ARTHUR.

LVII.

" Me first engaged, if conquered you are — dead,
And then alone your honour is acquitted ;

But conquer me, and then you must be wed ;
You ate ! — the contract in that act admitted."

" Host," cried the knight, half stunned by all the clatter,

" 1 only said I would discuss the matter.

LVIII.

" But if your faith upon my word reposed,

That thought alone King Arthur's knight shall bind."

Few moments more, and host and guest had closed —
For blows come quick when folks are so inclined :

They foined, they fenced, changed play, and hack'd
and hewed —

Paused, panted, eyed each other, and renew'd -,

LIX.

At length a dexterous and back-handed blow.

Clove the host's casque and bow'd him to his knee.

" Host," said the Cymrian to his fallen foe ;

" But for thy dinner, wolves should dine on thee ;

Yield — thou bleed'st badly — yield and ask thy life."

" Content," the host replied — " embrace thy wife."

LX.

" cursed bird," cried Gawaine, with a groan,

" To what fell trap my wretched feet were carried ;

My darkest dreams had ne'er this fate foreshown —
I sate to dine, 1 rise and I am married !

worse than Esau, miserable elf.

He sold his birthright — but he kept himself."



BOOK VI. 229

LXI.

While thus in doleful and heart-rending strain

Mourned the lost knight, the host his daughter led,

Placed her soft hand in that of sad Gawaine —

" Joy be with both !" — the bridegroom shook his head !

" I have a castle which I won by force —

Mount, happy man^ for thither wends our course :

Lxir.

" Page, bind my scalp — to broken scalps we're used.

Your bride, brave son, is worthy of your merit ;
No man alive has Erin's maids accused,

And least that maiden, of a want of spirit ;
She plies a sword as well as you, fair sir,
When out of hand, just try your hand on her."

LXIIT.

Not once Sir Gawaine lifts his leaden eyes.
To mark the bride by partial father praised,

But mounts his steed — the gleesome raven flies
Before ; beside him rides the maid amazed :

" Sir Knight," said she at last, with clear loud voice,

" I hope your musings do not blame your choice ?"

LXIV.

"' Damsel," replied the knight of golden tongue,

As with some effort he replied at all,
" Sith our two skeins in one the Fates have strumr,

My thoughts were guessing when the shears would fall ;
Much irks it me, lest vowed to toil and strife,
I doom a widow where I make a wife.



230 KING ARTHUR.

LXV.

" And sooth to say, despite those matchless charms
Which well might fire our last new saint, Dubricius,

To-morrow's morn must snatch me from thine arms ;
Led to far lands by auguries, not auspicious —

Wise to postpone a bond, how dear soever,

Till my return." — " Return ! that may be never ;

LXVI.

" What if you fall ? (since thus you tempt the fates)
The yew will flourish where the lily fades 5

The laidliest widows find consoling mates

With far less trouble than the comeliest maids ;

Wherefore, Sir Husband, have a cheerful mind,

Wliate'er may chance your wife will be resign'd."

LXVII.

That loving comfort, arguing sense discreet.
But coldly pleased the knight's ungrateful ear,

But while devising still some vile retreat.

The trumpets flourish and the walls frown near ;

Just as the witching night begins to fall

They pass the gates and enter in the hall.

LXVIII.

Soon in those times prima3val came the hour
When balmy sleep did wasted strength repair,

They led Sir Gawaine to the lady's bower,
Unbraced his mail and left him with the fair j

Then first demurely seated side by side,

The dolorous bridegroom gazed upon the bride.



BOOK yi. 231

LXIX.

No iron heart had he of golden tongue,
To beauty none by nature were 23oliter ;

The bride was tall and buxom, fresh and young,

And while he gazed, his tearful eyes grew brighter —

" ' For good, for better,' runs the sacred verse,

Sith now no better — let me brave the worse."

LXX.

With that he took and kiss'd the lady's hand,

The lady smiled and GaAvaine's heart grew bolder,

When from the roof by some unseen command

Flash'd down a sword and smote him on the shoulder ;

The knight leapt up, sore-bleeding from the stroke,

While from the lattice cawed the merriest croak !

LXXI,

Aghast he gazed — the sword within the roof
Again had vanished ; nought was to be seen —

He felt his shoulder, and remain'd aloof. [mean."

" Fair dame," quoth he, " explain what this may

The bride replied not, hid her face and wept;

Moved, to her side, with caution, Gawaine crept.

LXXII.

" Nay, weep not, sweetheart, but a scratch — no more,"
He bent to kiss the dew-drops from his rose,

When presto down the glaive enchanted shore —
Gawaine leapt back in time to save his nose.

" Ah, cruel father," groaned the lady then,

" I hoped at least thou wert content with ten !"



232 KING ARTHUR.

LXXIII.

'' Ten what ?" said Gawaine. — "Gallant knights like thee,
Who fonght and conquer d my deceitful sire ;

Married, as thou, to miserable me.

And doom'd as thou, beneath the sword to expire —

By this device he gains their arms and steeds,

So where force fails him, there the fraud succeeds."

LXXIV.

" Foul felon host," the wrathful knight exclaims,
" Foul w^izard bird, no doubt in league with him !

Have they no dread lest all good knights and dames
Save fiends their task, and rend them limb from limb ?

But thou for Gawaine ne'er shalt be a mourner.

Thou keep the couch, and I — yon farthest corner !"

LXXV.

This said, the prudent knight on tiptoe stealing
Went from his bride as far as he could go,

Then laid him down, intent upon the ceiling ;
Noses, once lost, no second crop will grow —

So watch'd Sir Gawaine, so the lady wept,

Perch'd on the lattice-sill the raven slept.

LXXVI.

Uprose the sun and uprose blithe Gawaine —
Steps climb the stair, a hand unbars the door —

" Saints," cries the host, and stares upon the tw^ain,
Amazed to see that living guest once more —

" Did you sleep well ?" — " Why, yes," replied the knight,

" One gnat, indeed ; — but gnats were made to bite.



BOOK yi. 233

LXXVII.

" Man must leave insects to their insect law ; —

Now thanks, kind host, for board and bed and all —

Depart I must," — the raven gave a caw.

" And I with thee," chimed in that damsel tall.

" Nay," said Gawaine, " I wend on ways of strife,"

'' Sir, hold your tongue — I choose it ) I'm your wife."

LXXVIII.

With that the lady took him by the hand.
And led him, fall'n of crest, adown the stair ;

Buckled his mail, and girded on his brand,

Brimm'd full the goblet nor disdained to share —

The host saith nothing, or to knight or bride ;

Forth comes the steed — a palfrey by its side.

LXXIX.

Then Gawaine flung from the untasted board
His manchet to a hound with hungry face ;

Sprung to his selle, and wish'd, too late, that sword
Had closed his miseries with a coup de grace.

They clear the walls, the open road they gain ;

The bride rode dauntless — daunted much Gawaine.

LXXX.

Gaily the fair discoursed on many things.

But most on those ten lords — his time before,

Unhappy wights, who, as old Homer sings,
Had gone, ' Proiapsoi,' to the Stygian shore ;

Then, each described and praised, — she smiled and said,

" But one live dog is worth ten lions dead."



234 KING ARTHUR.

LXXXI.

The kniglit prepared that proverb to refute,
When the bird beckoned down a delving lane,

And there the bride provoked a new dispute :

That path was frightful — she preferred the plain.

" Dame," said the knight, " not I your steps compel-

Take thou the 2:)lain ! — adieu ! I take the dell."

LXXXII.

^5 Ah, cruel lord," with gentle voice and mien
The lady murmur'd, and regained his side ;

" Little thou know'st of woman's faith, I ween.
All paths alike save those that would divide ;

Ungrateful knight — too dearly loved." — " But then,"

Falter'd Gawaine, "you said the same to tenT

LXXXIII.

" Ah no ; their deaths alone their lives endeared.

Slain for my sake, as I could die for thine ;"
And while she spoke so lovely she apjDcared

The knight did, blissful, towards her cheek incline-
But, ere a tender kiss his thanks could say,
A strong hand jerked the palfrey's neck away.

LXXXI V.

Unseen till then, from out the bosky dell

Had leapt a huge, black-brow'd, gigantic wight ;

Suddenly he swung the lady from her selle.

And seized that kiss defrauded from the kniglit,

While, with loud voice and gest uncouth, he swore

So fair a cheek he ne'er had kiss'd before !



BOOK YI. 235

LXXXV.

With mickle wrath Sir Gawaine sprang from steed,
And, quite forgetful of his wonted j^arle,

He did at once without a word proceed
To make a ghost of that presuming carle.

The carle, nor ghost nor flesh inclined to yield.

Took to his club, and made the bride his shield.

LXXXVI.

" Hold, stay thine hand !" the hapless lady cried.
As high in air the knight his falchion rears ;

The carle his laidly jaws distended wide.

And — " Ho," he laughed, " for me the sweet one fears,

Strike, if thou durst, and pierce two hearts in one,

Or yield the prize — by love already won."

LXXXVII.

In high disdain, the knight of golden tongue

Looked this way, that, revolving where to smite ;

Still as he looked, and turned, the giant swung
The unknightly buckler round from left to right.

Then said the carle — " What need of steel and strife ?

A word in time may often save a life.

LXXXVIII.

" This lady me prefers, or I mistake.

Most ladies like an honest hearty wooer ;

Abide the issue, she her choice shall make ;
Dare you, sir rival, leave the question to her ?

If so, resheathe your sword, remount your steed,

I loose the lady and retire." — "Agreed,"



236 KING ARTHUR.

LXXXIX.

Sir Gawaine answered — sure of the result,
And charmed the fair so cheaply to deliver;

But ladies' hearts are hidden and occult,
Deep as the sea, and changeful as the river.

The carle released the fair, and left her free —

'^ Caw," said the raven, from the willow tree.

xc.
A winsome knight all know was fair Gawaine

(No knight more winsome shone in Arthur s court -)
The carle's rough features were of homeliest grain.

As shaped by Nature in burlesque and sj^ort ;
The lady looked and mused, and scanned the two.


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