Edward Bulwer Lytton Lytton.

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Then made her choice — the carle had spoken true.


The knight forsaken rubbed astounded eyes.
Then touch'd his steed and slowly rode away —

'* Bird," quoth Gawaine, as on the raven flies,
" Be peace between us, from this blessed day ;

One single act has made me thine for life,

Thou hast shown the path by which I lost a wife !"


While thus his grateful thought Sir Gawaine vents,
He hears, behind, the carle's Stentorian cries ;

He turns, he pales, he groans — " The carle repents !
No, by the saints, he keeps her or he dies !"

Here at his stirrups stands the panting wight —

^' The lady's hound, restore the hound, sir knight."

BOOK yi. 237


" The hound," said Gawaine, much relieved, '- what
hound ?"
And then perceived he that the dog he fed,
With grateful steps the kindly guest had found,

And there stood faithful. — " Friend," Sir Gawaine said
" What's just is just ! the dog must have his due,
The dame had hers, to choose between the two."


The carle demurred; but justice was so clear,

He'd nought to urge against the equal law;
He calls the hound, the hound disdains to hear,

He nears the hound, the hound expands his jaw ;
The fangs were strong and sharp, that jaw within.
The carle drew back — " Sir knight, I fear you win."

" My friend," replies Gawaine, the ever bland,

" I took thy lesson, in return take mine ;
All human ties, alas, are ropes of sand.

My lot to-day to-morrow may be thine;
But never yet the dog our bounty fed,
Betrayed the kindness or forgot the bread."*


With that the courteous hand he gravely w^aived,
Nor deemed it prudent longer to delay;

Tempt not the retlow, from the ebb just saved!
He spurred his steed, and vanished from the way.

Sure of rebuke and troubled in his mind.

An altered man, the carle his fair rejoined.

* The whole of that part of Sir Gavvaine's adventures which includes the inci-
dents of the sword and the hound, is borrowed (with alterations) from one of Lb
Gkanu's Fabliaux.



That day the raven led the knight to dine

Where merry monks spread no abstemious board;

Dainty the meat, and deHcate the wine,

Sir Gawaine felt his sprightlier self restored ;

When towards the eve the raven croaked anew.

And spread the wing for Gawaine to pursue.


With clouded brow the pliant knight obeyed,
And took his leave, and quaffed the stirrup cup;

And briskly rode he thorough glen and glade,
Till the fair moon, to speak in prose, was up;

Then to the raven, now familiar grown.

He said-" Friend bird, night's made for sleeep, you'll own,


" This oak presents a choice of boughs for you,
For me a curtain and a grassy mound."

Straight to the oak the obedient raven flew,
And croak'd with merry, yet malignant sound.

The luckless knight thought nothing of the croak,

And laid him down beneath the Fairy's Oak.


Of evil fame was Nannau's antique tree.

Yet styled " the hollow oak of demon race ;"*

But blithe Gwyn ab Nudd's eljihin family

Were the gay demons of the slandered place;

And ne'er in scene more elphin, near and far.

On dancing fairies glanced the smiling star.

• In the domain of Nannau (which now belongs to the Vaiighans) was standing
to within a period comparati%'ely recent, the legendary oak called Dcrwen Ccubren
yr Ellyll — the hollow oak, the haunt of demons.

BOOK yi. 239


Whether thy chafing torrent, rock-born Caine,
Flash through the deUcate birch and glossy elm,

Or prison'd Mawddach'^' clangs his triple chain
Of waters, fleeing to the happier realm.

Where his course broad'ning smiles along the land ;

So souls grow tranquil as their thoughts expand.


High over subject vales the brow serene

Of the lone mountain look'd on moonlit skies ;

Wide glades far opening into swards of green,
With shimmering foliage of a thousand dies,

And tedded tufts of heath, and ivied boles

Of trees, and wild flowers, scenting bosky knolls.


And herds of deer as slight as Jura's roe,f
Or Iran's shy gazelle, on sheenest places.

Grouped still, or flitted the far allies thro' ;
The fairy quarry for the fairy chases;

Or wheel'd the bat, brushing o'er break and scaur,

Lured by the moth, as lures the moth the star.


Sir Gawaine slept — Sir Gawaine slept not long,
His ears were tickled, and his nose was tweaked ;

Light feet ran quick his stalwart limbs along.

Light fingers pinched him, and light voices squeak'd ;

He oped his eyes, the left and then the right.

Fair was the scene, and hideous was his fright !

* Mawddach, with its three waterfalls.

f The deer in the park of Nannau are singularly small.



The tiny people swarm around, and o'er him,

Here on his breast they lead the morris dance,
There, in each ray diagonal before him.

They wheel, leap, pirouette, caper, shoot askance.
Climb row on row each other's pea-green shoulder,
And mow and point upon the shocked beholder.


And some had faces lovelier than Cupido's,

With rose-bud lips, all dimpling o'er with glee ;

And some had brows as ominous as Dido's,
When Ilion's pious traitor put to sea ;

Some had bull heads, some lion's, but in small.

And some (the finer drest) no heads at all.


By mortal dangers scared, the wise resort

To means fugacious, licet et licehit;
But he who settles in a fairy's court,

Loses that option, sedet et sedehit;
Thrice Gawain strove to stir, nor stirred a jot.
Charms, cramps, and torments nailed him to the spot.


Thus of his limbs deprived, the ingenious knight
Straightway betook him to his golden tongue —

" Angels," quoth he, " or fairies, with delight
I see the race my friends the bards have sung ;

Much honoured that, in any way expedient.

You make a ball-room of your most obedient."

BOOK yi. 241


Floated a sound of laughter, musical —
As when in summer noon, melodious bees

Cluster o'er jasmine roofs, or as the fall
Of silver bells, on the Arabian breeze ;

What time with chiming feet in palmy shades

Move, round the softened Moor, his Georgian maids.


Forth from the rest there stepped a princely fay —
'' And well, sir mortal, dost thou speak," quoth he,

" We elves are seldom froward to the gay,
Rise up, and welcome to our company."

Sir Gawaine won his footing with a spring,

Low bowed the knight, as low the fairy king.


" By the bright diadem of dews congeafd,
And purple robe of prank some butterfly.

Your royal rank," said Gawaine, " is reveal'd,
Yet more, methinks, by yoar majestic eye ;

Of kings with mien august I know but two.

Men have their Arthur, — happier fairies, you."


'^ Methought," replied the elf, " thy first accost
Proclaimed thee one of Arthur's peerless train ;

Elsewhere alas ! — ou^ later age hath lost

The blithe good-breeding of King Saturn's reign,

When, some four thousand years ago, with Fauns,

We Fays made merry on Arcadian lawns.




" Time flees so fast it seems but yesterday !

And life is brief for fairies as for men."
'' Ha," said Gawaine, " can fairies pass away ?"

^' Pass like the mist on Arran's wave, what then ?
At least we 're young as long as we survive ;
Our vears six thousand — I have numbered ^ve.


*^ But we have stumbled on a dismal theme,
As always happens when one meets a man —

Ho ! stop that zephyr ! — Robin, catch that beam !
And now my friend, we '11 feast it while we can."

The moonbeam halts, the zephyr bows his wing.

Light through the leaves the laughing people spring.


Then Gawaine felt as if he skirr'd the air.

His brain grew dizzy, and his breath was gone;

He stopped at last, and such inviting fare
Never plump monk set lustful eyes upon.

Wild sweet-briars girt the banquet, but the brake

Oped where in moonlight rippled Bala's lake.


Such dainty cheer — such rush of revelry —
Such silver laughter — -such arch happy faces —

Such sportive quarrels from excess of glee —
Hush'd up with such sly innocent embraces.

Might well make twice six thousand years appear

To elfin minds a sadly nipped career !

BOOK yi. 243


The banquet o'er, tlie royal Fay intent
To do all honour to King Arthur's knight,

Smote with his rod the banks on which they leant,
And Fairy-land flash'd glorious on the sight;

Flash'd, through a silvery, soft, translucent mist.

The opal shafts and domes of amethyst;

Flash'd founts in shells of pearl, which crystal walls

And phosphor lights of myriad hues redouble ;
There, in the blissful subterranean halls.

When morning wakes the world of human trouble,
Glide the gay race; each sound our discord knows.
Faint-heard above, but lulls them to repose.


Gawaine, blush ! Alas ! that gorgeous sight.
But woke the latent mammon in the man.

While fairy treasures shone u|)on the knight.
His greedy thoughts on lands and castles ran ;

He stretch'd his hands, he felt the fingers itch,

"Sir Fay," quoth he "you must be monstrous rich !"


Scarce fall the words from those unlucky lips.

Than down rush'd darkness, flooding all the place;

His feet a fairy in a twinkle trips ;

A swarm of wasps seem settling on his face ;

Pounce on their prey the tiny torturers flew.

And sang this moral while they pinch'd him blue ;



Joy to him who fhiry treasures
With a fairy's eye can see ;

AVoe to him who counts and measures
What the worth in coin may be.

Gems from withered leaves we fashion
For the spirit pure from stain ;

Grasp them with a sordid passion,
And they turn to leaves again.


Here and there and every where,

Tramp and cramp him inch by inch ;

Fair is fair, — to each his share,

You shall preach and we will pinch.


Fairy treasures are not rated
By their value in the mart;

In thy bosom, earth, created
For the coffers of the heart.

Dost thou covet fairy money ?

Rifle but the blossom bells —
Like the wild bee, shape the honey

Into golden cloister-cells.


Spirit hear it, flesh revere it!

Stamp the lesson inch by inch !
Rightly merit, flesh and spirit.

This the preaching, that the pinch !


Wretched mortal, once invited,
Fairy land was thine at will ;

Every little star had lighted

Revels when the world was still.

Every bank a gate had granted

To the topas-paven halL« —
Every M^ave had roll'd enchanted

From our crystal music-falls.

BOOK YI. 245


Round him winging, sharp and stinging,

Clip him, nip him, inch by inch,
Sermons singing, Avisdom bringing,

Point the moral with a pinch.


Now the spell is lost forever,

And the common earth is thine ;
Count the traffic on the river.

Weigh the ingots in the mine ;

Look around, aloft and under,

With an eye upon the cost;
Gone the happy world of wonder !

WoQ, thy fairy land is lost!


Nature bare is, where thine air is,

Custom cramps thee inch by inch;
And when care is, human fairies

Preach and — vanish at a pinch !


Sudden they cease — for shrill crow'd chanticleer ;

Gray on the darkness broke the glimmering light ;
Slowly assured he was not dead with fear

And pinches, cautious peer'd around the knight ;
He found himself replaced beneath the oak,
And heard with rising wrath the chuckling croak.


" Oh bird of birds, most monstrous and malific,
Were these the inns to which thou wert to lead !

Now gash'd with swords, now clawed by imps horrific ;
Wives — wounds — cramps — pinches ! Precious guide
indeed !

Ossa on Pelion piling, crime on crime ;

Wretch save thy throttle, and repent in time !"


cxxiii. .^1^

Thus spoke the knight — the raven gave a grunt, ^^
(That raven Uked not threats to hfe or limh !)

Then with due sense of the unjust affront,

Hopp'd supercilious forth, and summoned him —

His mail once more the aching knight endued,

Limp'd to his steed, and ruefully pursued.


The sun was high when all the glorious sea

Flash'd through the boughs that overhung the way.

And down a path, as rough as path could be.
The bird flew sullen, delving towards the bay;

The moody knight dismounts, and leads with pain

The stumbling steed, oft backing from the rein.

One ray of hope alone illumed his soul,

"The bird will lead thee to the ocean coast,"
The wizard's words had clearly mark'd the goal ;

The goal once won — of course the guide was lost :
While thus consoled, its croak the raven gave,
Folded its wings and hopp'd into a cave.


Sir Gawaine paused — Sir Gawaine drew his sword;

The bird vmseen screamed loud for him to follow—
His soul the knight committed to our Lord,

Stepped on — and fell ten yards into a hollow;
No time had he the ground thus gained to note.
Ere six strong hands laid gripe upon his throat.

BOOK yi. 247


It was a creek, three sides with rocks enclosed,
The fourth stretch'd, opening on the golden sand;

Dull on the wave an anchor'd ship reposed;
A boat with peaks of brass lay on the strand ;

And in that creek caroused the grisliest crew

Thor ever nursed, or Rana* ever knew.


But little cared the knight for mortal foes.

From those strong hands he wrench'd himself away,

Sprang to his feet and dealt so dour his blows,
Cleft to the chin a grim Berserker lay,

A Fin fell next, and next a giant Dane —

^^Ten thousand pardons!" said the bland Gawaine.


But e'en in that not democratic age

Too large majorities were stubborn things.

Nor long could one man strive against the rage
Of half a hundred thick-skull'd ocean kings —

Four felons crept between him and the rocks,

Lifted four clubs and fell'd him like an ox.

When next the knight unclosed his dizzy eyes,

His feet were fettered and his arms were bound —
Below the ocean, and above the skies ;

Sails flapp'd — cords crackled ; long he gazed around.
Still where he gazed, fierce eyes and naked swords
Peer'd through the flapping sails and crackling cords —

* Kan, or Rana, the malignant goddess of the sea, in Scandinavian mythology.


CXXXI. ~^ir '

A chief before liim leant upon his club,

With hideous visage bush'd with tawny hair.

" Who plays at bowls must count upon a rub,"
Said the bruised Gawaine with a smiling air ;

" Brave sir, permit me humbly to suggest

You make your gyves too tight across the breast."


Grinn'd the grim chief, vouchsafing no reply ;

The knight resumed — " Your pleasant looks bespeak
A mind as gracious ; — may I ask you why

You fish for Christians in King Arthur's creek?"
" The kings of creeks," replied that hideous man,
"Are we, the Vikings and the sons of Ran!


"Your beacon fires allured us to your strands
The dastard herdsman fled before our feet,

Thee, Odin's raven guided to our hands ;
Thrice happy man, Yalhalla's boar to eat !

The raven's choice suggests it 's God's idea.

And marks thee out — a sacrifice to Freya !"


As spoke the Viking, over Gawaine's head
Circled the raven with triumphal caw ;

Then o'er the cliffs, still hoarse with glee, it fled.
Thrice a deep breath the knight relieved did draw.

Fair seem'd the voyage — pleasant seem'd the haven ;

"Blest saints," he cried, "I have escaped the raven!"








" When Arthur w^as King —
Hearken, now, a marvellous thing."

*' LavaiiiOii's Brut," by Sir F. RJadden, Vol. i. p 413.





^l 'ir




Arthur and the Lady of the Lake ; They land on the Meteor Isle ; Which
then sinks to the Halls below ; Arthur beholds the Forest springing
from a single stem ; He tells his errand to the Phantom, and rejects
the fruits that it proffers him in lieu of the sword ; He is conducted by
the Phantom to the entrance of the caves, through which he must pass
alone ; He reaches the Coral Hall of the Three Kings ; The Statue
crowned with thorns ; the Asps and the Vulture, and the Diamond
Sword ; The Choice of the Three Arches ; He turns from the first and
second arch, and beholds himself, in the third, a corpse ; The sleeping
King rises at Arthur's question — ' if his death shall be in vain V The
Vision of times to be ; Coeur de Lion and the age of Chivalry ; The
Tudors ; Henry VII. ; the restorer of the line of Arthur and the founder
of civil Freedom ; Henry VIII. and the Revolution of Thought ; Eliza-
beth and the Age of Poetry ; the Union of Cymrian and Saxon, under
the Sway of ' Crowned Liberty ;' Arthur makes his choice, and attempts,
but in vain, to draw the Sword from the Rock — the Statue with the
thorn-wreath addresses him ; Arthur called upon to sacrifice the Dove ;
His reply ; The glimpse of Heaven ; The trance which succeeds, and
in which the King is borne to the sea shores.




As when In Autumn nights and Arctic skies,
An angel makes the cloud his noiseless car,

And, thro' cgerulean silence, silent flies

From antique Hesper to some dawning star,

So still, so sw^ift, along the windless tides

Her vapour-sail the Lake's mute Lady guides.

Along the sheen, along the glassy sheen.
Amid the lull of lucent night they go ;

Till, in the haven of an islet green.

Murmuring thro' reeds, the gentle waters flow :

Shoots the dim pinnace to the gradual strand.

And the pale Phantom, beck'ning, glides to land.

VOL. II. 1



Follow'd tlie King — yet scarcely toucli'd the shore.
When slowly, slowly sunk the meteor-isle,

Fathom on fiithom, to the sparry floor
Of alabaster shaft and porphyr-pile,

Built as by Nereus for his own retreat,

Or the Nymph-mother of the silver feet.*


Far, thro' the crystal lymph, the pillar'd halls
Went lengthening on in vista'd majesty;

The waters sapp'd not the enchanted walls,
Nor shut their roofless silence from the sky ;

But every beam that gilds this world of ours

Broke sparkling downward into diamond showers.


And the strange magic of the Place bestow'd
Its own strange life upon the startled King,

Round him, like air, the subtle waters flow'd ;
As round the Naiad flows her native spring ;

Domelike collapsed the azure ; — moonlight clear

Fill'd the melodious silvery atmosphere —


Melodius with the chaunt of distant falls

Of sportive waves, within the waves at play.

And infant springs that bubble up the halls
Thro' sparry founts, (on which the broken ray

Weaves its slight iris) — hymning while they ris e

To that smooth calm their restless life supplies,

• < The silver-footed Thetis.' — Hoher.



Like secret thoughts in some still poet's soul,
That swell the deep while yearning to the stars :

But overhead a trembling shadow stole,

A gloom that leaf-like quiver'd on the spars,

And that quick shadow, ever moving, fell

From a vast Tree with root immoveable ;


In link'd arcades, and interwoven bowers
Swept the long forest from that single stem !

And, flashing through the foliage, fruits or flowers
In jewell'd clusters glow'd with every gem

Golgonda liideth from the greed of kings ;

Or Lybian gryphons guard with drowsy wings.


Here blush'd the ruby, warm as Charity,*

There the mild topaz, wrath-assuaging, shone

Radiant as mercy; — like an angel's eye.

Or a stray splendour from the Father's throne,

The sapphire chaste a heavenlier lustre gave

To that blue heaven reflected on the wave.


Never from India's cave, or Oman's sea

Swart Afrite wreathed for scornful Peri's brow.

Such gems as wasted on that Wonder-tree,

Paled Sheban treasures in each careless bough ;

And every bough the gilding wavelet heaves.

Quivers to music with the quivering leaves.

• In heraldic mysteries, the ruby is the emblem of charity — the topaz assuages
choler and frenzy — the sapphire preserves chastity, &c. See Stlvanus Morgan's
Sphere of Gentry.



Then first the Sovereign Lady of tlie deep

Spoke ; and the waves and whispering leaves were still,

" Ever I rise before the eyes that w^eep

When, born from sorrow, Wisdom makes the will :

But few behold the shadow thro' the dark

And few will dare the venture of the bark.


'^ And now amid the Cuthites' temple halls
O'er which the waters undestroying flow,

Heark'ning the mysterious hymned from silver falls
Or from the sj^rings that, gushing up below,

Gleam to the surface, whence to heaven updrawn,

They form the clouds that harbinger of dawn, —


" Say what the treasures which my deeps enfold
That thou wouldst bear to the terrestrial day ?"

Then Arthur answered — and his quest he told,
The prophet mission which his steps obey —

" Here springs the forest from the single stem :

I seek the falchion welded from the gem !"


'^ Pause," said the Phantom, " and survey the tree !

More worth one fruit that weighs a branchlet down,
Than all which mortals in the sword can see.

Thou ask'st the falchion to defend a crown —
But seize the fruit, and to thy grasp decreed
More realms than Ormuzd lavish'd on the Mede ;



'' Than great Darius left his doomed son,
From Scythian wastes to Abyssinian caves ;

From Nimrod's tomb in silenced Babylon
To Argive islands fretting Asian waves ;

Than chang'd to sceptres the rude Lictor-rods,

And placed the worm call'd Cassar with the gods !


" Pause — take thy choice — each gem a host can buy,
Link race on race to Conquest's rushing car;

No ghastly Genius here thou need'st defy,
The fruits un2:uarded, and the fiends afar —

But dark the perils that surround the Sword,

And slight its worth — ambitious if its Lord ;


" Powerless to win, though potent to defend,
Its blade will shiver in a conqueror's clasp ;

A weapon meeter for the herdsman's end,

When ploughshares turn to falchions in his grasp,

Some churl w^ho seeks to guard his humble hearth —

A Hero's soul should hunger for the Earth !"


" Spirit or Sorceress," — said the frowning King,
" Fame like the Sun illumes an Universe ;

But life and joy both Fame and Sun should bring ;
And God ordains no glory for a curse.

What need of falchions save to guard a land ?

'T is the Churl's cause that nerves the Hero's hand.




" Not mine the crowns the Persian lost or won,
Tiaras glittering over kneeling slaves ;

Mine be the sword that freed at Marathon,
The unborn races by the Father-graves —

Or stay'd the Orient in the Spartan pass,

And carved on Time, thy name, Leonidas 1"


The Sybil of the Sources of the Deep

Heard nor replied, but indistinct and w^an

Went as a Dream that thro' the w^orlds of Sleep
Leads the charm'd soul of labour-wearied man ;

And even as man and dream, so, side by side,

Glideth the mortal with the gliding guide.


Glade after glade, beneath that forest tree

They pass, — till sudden, looms amid the Avaves,

A dismal rock, hugely and heavily,

With crags distorted vaulting horrent caves ;

A single moonbeam thro' tlie hollow creeps :

Glides with the beam the Lady of the deeps.


Then Arthur felt the dove that at his breast
Lay nestling warm — stir up and quivering,

Ilis soothing hand the cris23ed plumes carest ;
Slow wxnt they on, the Lady and the King :

And, ever as they went, before their way

O'er prison'd waters lengthening stretched the ray.



Now the black jaws as of a hell they gain ;

Pauses the Lake's pale Hecate. " Lo," she said,
" Within, the Genii thou invadest reign. '^

Alone thy feet the threshold floors must tread —
No aid from Powers not human canst thou win
Lonely the man must dare the Shapes within."


She spoke to vanish — but the single ray

Shot from the unseen moon, still palely breaketh
The awe that rests with midnight on the way ;

Faithful as Hope when Wisdom's self forsaketh —
The buoyant beam the lonely man pursued —
And, feeling God, he felt not Solitude.


No fiend obscene, no giant spectre grim,

(Born or of Runic or Arabian Song,)
Affronts the progress — thro' the gallery dim,

Into the sudden light which flames along
The waves, and dyes the stillness of their flood

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Online LibraryEdward Bulwer Lytton LyttonKing Arthur → online text (page 13 of 25)