Copyright
Edward Bulwer Lytton Lytton.

King Arthur online

. (page 18 of 25)
Online LibraryEdward Bulwer Lytton LyttonKing Arthur → online text (page 18 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


" For Lancelot next," quoth Arthur, " be at ease,

The task fulfiU'cI to which he was permitted,
The ring veered home — I left him on the seas.

Ere this, he sure he hails the Cjmrian shore.

And gives to Carduel one great bulwark more."

cxv.

Then Arthur told of fair Genevra flying

From the scorn'd nuptials of the heathen fane ;

Her runic J^ark to his emprize supplying

The steed that bore him to the Northern main ;

While she with cheek that blush'd the prayer to tell,

Implored a Christian's home in Carduel.

CXVI.

The gentle King well versed in woman's heart,
And all the vestal thoughts that tend its shrine,

On Lancelot smiled — and answered, " Maid, depart ;
Though o'er our roofs the thunder clouds combine,

Yet love shall guard, whatever war betide,

The Saxon's daughter — or the Cymrian's bride."

CXVII.

A stately ship from glittering Spezia bore
To Cymrian ports the lovers from the King;

Then on, the Seeker of the Shield, once more,
With patient soul pursued the heavenly wing.

Wild tho' that crew, his heart enthralls their own ;

The great are kings wherever they are thrown.



BOOK IX. - 95

CXVIIT.

Nought of that mystery which the Spirit's priest,
True love, draws round the aisles behind the veil,

Could Arthur bare to that light joyous breast, —
Life hath its inward as its outward tale.

Our lips reveal our deeds, — our sufferings shun ;

What wx have felt, how few can tell to one !

CXIX.

The triple task — the sword not sought in vain,
The shield yet hidden in the caves of Lok,

Of these spoke Arthur, — " Certes," quoth Gawaine,
When the King ceased — " strange legends of a rock

Where a fierce Dwarf doth guard a shield of light.

Oft have I heard my pigmy friends recite ;

cxx.

" Permit me now your royal limbs to wrap.
In these warm relicts of departed bears ;

And while from Morpheus you decoy a nap.
My skill the grain shall gather from the tares.

The pigmy tongue my erudite pursuits

Have traced acZ unguem to the nasal roots !"

CXXT.

Slumbers the King — slumber his ghastly crew ;

How long they know not, guess not — night and dawn
Long since commingled in one livid hue ;

Like that long twilight o'er the portals drawn,
Behind wdiose threshold spreads eternity ! —
When the sleep burst, and sudden in the sky



96 KING ARTHUR.

CXXII.

Stands the great Sun ! — As, on the desperate, — Hope,
As Glory o'er the dead, — as Freedom on

Men who snap chains ; or Ukest Truths that ope
Life, in God's word, on charnels, — stands the Sun !

Ice still on earth — still vapour in the air.

But Light — the victor Lord — hut Light is there !

CXXIII.

On siege- worn cities, when their war is spent,
From the far hill as, gleam on gleam, arise

The spears of some great aiding armament —

Grow the dim splendours, broadening up the skies,

Till bright and brighter, the sublime array

Flings o'er the world the banners of the Day !

cxxiv.
Behold them where they kneel ! the starry King,

The dwarfs of night, the giants of the sea !
Each with the other link'd in solemn ring,

Too blest for words ! — Man's sever'd Family,
All made akin once more beneath those eyes
Which on their Father smiled in Paradise !



V.



KING ARTHUR.



BOOK X.



ARGUMENT.

The Polar Spring ; The Boreal Lights ; and apparition of a double sun ;
The Rocky Isle ; The Bears ; The mysterious Shadow from the Crater
of the extinct Volcano ; The Bears scent the steps of Man : their move-
ments described ; Arthur's approach ; The Bears emerge from their
covert; The Shadow takes form and life; The Demon Dwarf described ;
His parley with Arthur ; The King follows the Dwarf into the interior
of the volcanic rock ; The Antediluvian Skeletons ; The Troll-Fiends,
and their tasks ; Arthur arrives at the Cave of Lok ; The Corpses of the
armed Giants ; The Yalkyrs at their loom ; The Wars that they weave ;
The Dwarf addresses Arthur ; The King's fear ; He approaches the
sleeping Fiend, and the curtains close around him; Meanwhile Gawaine
and the Norwegians have tracked Artliur's steps on the snow, and ar-
rive at the Isle ; Are attacked by the Bears; The noises and eruption
from the Volcano; The re-appearance of Arthur; TKe change in him ;
Freedom, and its characteristics ; Arthur and his band renew their way
along the coast; ships are seen; How Arthur obtains a bark from the
Rugen Chieftain ; and how Gawaine stores it ; The Dove now leads
homeward ; Arthur reaches England ; and, sailing up a river, enters
the Mercian territory ; He follows the Dove through a forest to the ruins
built by the earliest Cimmerians ; The wisdom and civilization of the
ancestral Druidical races, as compared with their idolatrous successors
at the time of the Roman Conquerors, whose remains alone are left to
our age ; Arthur lies doAvn to rest amidst the moonlit ruins ; The Dove
vanishes; The nameless horror that seizes the King.



BOOK X.



I.

Spring on the Polar Seas ! — not violet-crown'd

By dewy Hours, nor to cerulean halls
Melodious hymn'd, yet Light itself around

Her stately path, sheds starry coronels.
Sublime she comes, as when, from Dis set free,
Came, through the flash of Jove, Persephone :

II.

She comes — that grand Aurora of the North !

By steeds of fire her glorious chariot borne,
From Boreal courts the meteors flaming forth,

Ope heav'n on heav'n, before the mighty Morn.
And round the rebel giants of the Night
On Earth's last confines burst the storm of Light.

III.
Wonder and awe ! lo, where against the Sun

A second Sun* his lurid front uprears !
As if the first-born lost Hyperion,

Hurl'd down of old, from his Uranian spheres,
Kose from the hell-rocks on his writhings pil'd,
And glared defiance on his Titan child.

• The apparition of two or more suns in the polar firmament is well known.
Mr. Ellis saw six — they are most brilliant at day-b'-eak — and though diminished in
splendour are still Visible even after the appearance of the real sua.



100 KING ARTHUR.

IV.

Now life, the polar life, returns once more,
The reindeer roots his mosses from the snows ;

The whirring sea-gulls shriek along the shore ;
Thro' oozing rills the cygnet gleaming goes ;

And where the ice some happier verdure frees,

Laugh into light frank-eyed anemones.

V.

Out from the seas still solid, frown'd a lone
Chaos of chasm and precipice and rock.

There, wdiile the meteors on their revels shone.
Growling hoarse glee, in many a grauly* flock,

With their huge young the sea-bears sprawling play'd

Near the charr'd crater, some mute Hecla made^

VI.

Sullen before that cavern's vast repose.
Like the lorn wrecks of a despairing race

Chased to their last hold by triumphant foes.

Darkness and Horror stood ! But from the space

Within the cave, and o'er the ice-ground wan,

Quivers a Shadow vaguely mocking man.

VII.

Like man's the Shadow falls, yet falling loses
The shape it took, each moment changefully ;

As when the wind on Runic waves confuses

The weird boughs toss'd from some prophetic tree.

Fantastic, goblin-like, and fitful thrown,

Comes the strange Shadow from the drear Unknown.

• Grauli/ atid graiisame, are both adjectives which belong to the Saxon clement
of the language, and are fairly reclaimed from the German. The Scotch indeed
have preserved the first.



BOOK X. 101

\iil.

It is not man's — for they, man's savage foes,

Whose sense ne'er fails them when the scent is blood,

Sport in the shadow the Unseen One throws.
Nor hush their young to sniff the human food ;

But undisturbed as if their home was there,

Pass to and fro the light-defying lair.

IX.

So the bears gamboll'd, so the Shadow play'd.

When sudden halts the uncouth merriment.
Now man — in truth, draws near, man's steps invade

The men-devourers ! — Snorting to the scent,
Lo, where they stretch dread necks of shaggy snow,
Grin with w hite fangs, and greed the blood to flow !

X.

Grotesquely undulating, moves the flock.
Low grumbling as the grisly ranks divide ;

Some heave their slow bulk peering up the rock,
Some stand erect and shift from side to side

The keen quick ear, the red dilating eye,

And steam the hard air wdth a hungry sigh.

XI.

At length unquiet and amazed — as rings

On to their haunt direct, the dauntless stride.

With the sharp instinct of all savage things
That doubt a prey by which they are defied,

They send from each to each a troubled stare,

And huddle close suspicious of the snare,



102 KING ARTHUR.

XII.

Then a huge leader with concerted wile,

Creeps lumbering on, and, to his guidance slow

The shagged armies move, in cautious file,
Till one by one, in ambush for the foe.

Drops into chasm and cleft, — and vanishing

With stealthy murther girds the coming King !

XIII.

He comes, — the Conqueror in the Halls of Time,
Known by his silver herald in the Dove,

By his imperial tread, and front sublime

With 230wer as tranquil as the lids of Jove, —

All shapes of death the realms around afford : —

From Fiends God guard him ! — from all else his sword !

XIV.

For he, with spring the huts of ice had left
And the small People of the world of snows :

Their food the seal, their camp at night, the cleft,
His bold Norwegians follow where he goes ;

Now in the rear afar, their chief they miss,

And grudge the danger which they deem a bliss.

XV.

Ere yet the meteors from the morning sky
Chased large Orion, — in the hour when sleep

Reflects its ghost-land stillest on the eye.

Had stol'n the lonely King ; and o'er the deep

Sought by the clue the dwarfmen-legends yield,

And the Dove's wing — the demon-guarded Shield.



BOOK X. 10



Q



XVI.

The Desert of the Desolate is won.

Still lurks, unseen, the ambush horrible-



Nought stirs around beneath the twofold sun
Save that strange shadow where before it fell,
Still falling ; — varying, quivering to and fro,
From the black cavern on the glaring snow.

XVII.

Slow the devourers rise, and peer around:

Now crag and cliff move dire with savage life,

And rolling downward, — all the dismal ground
Shakes with the roar and bristles with the strife :

Not unprepared — (when ever are the brave?)

Stands the firm King, and bares the diamond glaive.

XVill,

Streams in the meteor fires the fulgent brand.
Lightening along the air, the sea, the rock,

Bright as the arrow in that heavenly hand

Which slew the Python ! Blinded halt the flock.

And the great roar, but now so rough and high.

Sinks into terror wailing timidly.

XIX.

Yet the fierce instinct and the rabid sting
Of famine goad again the check'd array;

And close and closer in tumultuous ring.

Keels on the death-mass crushing towards its prey.

A dull groan tells where first the falchion sweeps —

When into shape the cave-born Shadow leaps !



104 KING ARTHUR.

XX.

Out from the dark it leapt — the awful form !

Manlike but sure not human ! on its hair
The ice-barbs bristled : like a coming storm

The breath smote lifeless every wind in air ;
Dread form deform'd, as, ere the birth of Light,
Some son of Chaos and the Antique Night !

XXI.

At once a dwarf and giant — trunk and limb

Knit in gnarl'd strength as by a monstrous chance,

Never Chimera more grotesque and grim,

Paled Egypt's priesthood with its own romance,

When from each dire delirium Fancy knows.

Some Typhon-type of Powers destroying rose.

XXII.

At the dread presence, ice a double cold

Conceived ; the meteors from their dazzling play

Paused ; and appalled into their azure hold

Shrunk back with all their banners ; not a ray

Broke o'er the dead sea and the doleful shore,

Winter's steel grasp lock'd the dumb world once more.

XXIII.

Halted the war — as the wild multitude

Left the King scatheless, and their leaders slain;

And round the giant dwarf the baleful brood

Came with low howls of terror, wrath, and pain.

As children round their father. Tliey depart.

But strife remains ; Fear and the Human Heart ;



BOOK X. ]05

XXIV.

For Fear was on the bold ! Then spoke aloud
The horrent Image. " Child of hateful Day,

What madness snares thee to the glooms that shroud
The realms abandoned to my secret sway?

Why on mine air first breathes the human breath ?

Hath thy far world no fairer path to Death ?"

XXV.

" All ways to Death, but one to Glory leads,
That which alike thro' earth, or air, or wave,

Bears a bold thought to goals in noble deeds,"

Said the pale King. "And this, methinks, the cave

Which hides the Shield that rock'd the sleep of one

By whom ev'n Fable shows what deeds were done !

XXVI.

" I seek the talisman which guards the free,

And tread where erst the Sire of freemen trod."*

" Ho !" laugh'd the dwarf, " Walhalla's child was He !
Man gluts the fiend when he assumes the god." —

" No god, Deceiver, tho' man's erring creeds

Make gods of men when godlike are their deeds ;

XXVII.

"And if the Only and Eternal One

Hath, ere his last illuminate Word Reveal'd,

Left some grand Memory on its airy throne.

Nor smote the nations when to names they kneel'd —

It is that each false god was some great truth ! —

To races Heroes are as Bards to j^outh !"

• Tiioii's visit to the realms of Hela and Lok forms a pr>)mincnt incident in (he
romance of Scandlnavijn mythology. With the i^candinavian branch of the 'I'eu-



106 KING ARTHUR.

XXVIII.

Thus spoke the King, to whom the Enchanted Lake,
Where from all sources Wisdom ever springs,

Had given unknown the subtle powers that wake
Our Lutuitions into cloudiest things,

Won but by those, who, after passionate dreams,

Taste the sharp herb and dare the solemn streams.

XXIX.

The Demon heard ; and as a moon that shines,

Rising behind Arcturus, cold and still
O'er Baltic headlands black with rigid pines, —

So on his knit and ominious brows a chill
And livid smile, revealed the gloomy night.
To leave the terror, sterner for the light.

XXX.

Thus spoke the Dwarf, " Thou would'st survive to tell
Of trophies wrested from the halls of Lok,

Yet wherefore singly face the hosts of Hell ?
Return, and lead thy comrades to the rock ;

Never to one, on earth's less dreadful field,

The prize of chiefs do War's fierce Valkyrs yield,"

XXXI.

" War," said the King, " is waged on mortal life
By men with men : — that dare I with the rest ;

In conflicts awful with no human strife.

Mightiest methinks, that soul the loneliest !

When starry charms from Afrite's caves were won.

No Judah march'd with dauntless Solomon !"

Ion family Thor waff the favourite deity — and it was natural to that free and valiant
i-ace to identify liberty with war.



h



BOOK X. 107

xxxrr.
Fell fangs the demon gnash'd, and o'er the crowd

Wild cumbering round his feet, with hungry stare
Greeding the man, his drooping visage bowed ;

" Go elsewhere, sons — your prey escapes the snare :
Yours but the food which flesh to flesh supplies ;
Plere not the mortal but the soul defies."

XXXIII.

Then striding to the cave, he plunged w^ithin;

" Follow," he cried, and like a prison'd blast
Along the darkness, the reverberate din,

Roll'd from the rough sides of the viewless Yast ;
As goblin echoes, thro' the haunted hollow, ["Follow !"
'^ Twixt groan and laughter, chim'd hoarse-gibbering

XXXIV.

The King recoiling paused irresolute.

Till thro' the cave the white wing went its way ;
Then on his breast he sign'd the cross, and mute

With solemn prayer, he left the world of day.
Thick stood the night, save where the falchion gave
Its clear sharp glimmer lengthening down the cave.

XXXV.

Advancing ; flashes rush'd irregular

Like subterranean lightning, fork'd and red :

From warring matter — wandering shot the star
Of poisonous gases ; and the tortured bed

Of th' old Yolcano show'd in trailing fires.

Where the numb'd serpent dragged its mangled spires.



108 KING ARTHUR.

XXXVI.

Broader and ruddier on the Dove's pale wings
Now glowed the lava of the widening spaces ;

Grinn'd from the rock the jaws of giant things.
The lurid skeletons of vanished races,

Thej who, perchance ere man himself had birth,

Kuled the moist slime of uncompleted earth.

XXXVII.

Enormous couch'd fang'd Iguanodon,*
To which the monster-lizard of the Nile

Were prey too small, — whose dismal haunts were on
The swamps where now such golden harvest smile

As had sufficed those myriad hosts to feed

Yv^hen all the Orient march'd behind the Mede.

XXXVIII,

There the foul, earliest reptile spectra lay,
Distinct as when the chaos was their home ;

Half plant, half serpent, some subside away

Into gnarl'd roots (now stone) — more hideous some

Half bird — half fish — seem struggling yet to spring,

Shark-like the maw, and dragon-like the wing.

XXXIX.

But, life-like more, from later layers emerge

With their fell tusks deep-stricken in the stone,

Herds,f that thro' all the thunders of the surge,
Had to the Ark which swept relentless on

(Denied to them) — knell'd the despairing roar

Of sentenced races time shall know no more.

* Uii. Mantkll, in his IVonders nf Grolngij, computes (he len<>th of the Igua-
notliin (formerly an inhabitant of the Wealds of Sussex) at 100 feet.

•[ The Deinotherium — supposed to have been a colossal species of hippopotamus. ^



BOOK X. 109

XL.

Under the limbs of mammoths went the path,
Or thro' the arch immense of Dragon jaws,

And ever on the King — in watchful wrath
Gazed the attendant Fiend, with artful pause

Where dread was dreadliest ; had the mortal one

Faltered or quail'dj the Fiend his prey had won,

XLT.

And rent it limb by limb ; but on^the Dove

Arthur look'd steadfast, and the Fiend was foil'd.

Now, as along the skeleton world they move,

Strange noises jar, and flit strange shadows. Toil'd

T he Troll's"-' swart people, in their inmost home

At work on ruin for the days to come.

XLII.

A baleful race, whose anvils forge the flash

Of iron murder for the limbs of war ;
Who ripen hostile embryos, for the crash

Of earthquakes rolling slow to towers aflirj
Or train from Hecla's fount the lurid rills.
To cities sleeping under shepherd hills ;

XLIII.

Or nurse the seeds, thro' patient ages rife
With the full harvest of that crowning fire.

When for the sentenced Three, — Time, Death, and Life,
Our globe itself shall be the funeral pyre;

And, awed in orbs remote some race ui known

Shall miss one star, whose smile had lit their own !

* In Scandinavian rnythoL->gy, the evil spirits arc generally called Trolls (or
VOL. II. 8



110 KING ARTHUR.

XLIV.

Thro' the Phlegraean glare, innumerous eyes,
Fierce Avith the murther-kist, scowl ravening,

And forms on which had never look'd the skies
Stalk near and nearer, swooping round the King,

Till from the blazing sword the foul array

Shrink back, and wolf-like follow on the way.

XLV.

Now thro' waste mines of iron, whose black peaks
Frown o'er dull Phlegethons of fire below.

While, vague as worlds unform'd, sulphureous reeks
Roll on before them huge and dun, — they go.

Vanish abrupt the vapours ! From the night

Springs, and spreads rushing, like a flood, the light.

r

XLYI.

A mighty cirque with lustre belts the mine ;

Its walls of iron glittering into steel ;
Wall upon wall reflected flings the shine

Of armour ! Vizorless the Corpses kneel,
Their glazed eyes fixed upon a couch where, screen'd
With whispering curtains, sleeps the Kingly Fiend :

XLVII.

Corpses of giants, who perchance had heard
The tromps of Tubal, and had leapt to strife.

Whose guilt provoked the Deluge : sepulchred
In their w^orld's ruins, still a frown like life

Hung o'er vast brows, — and spears like turrets shone

In hands whose grasp had crush'd the Mastodon. "<

(or Trolds). The name is here applied to the malignant race of Dwarfs, whose homes
were in the earih, and who could not endure the suili



BOOK X. Ill

XLVIII.

Around the couch, a silent solemn ring,

They whom the Teuton call the Valkj^rs, sate.

Shot thro' pale webs their spindles glistening ;
Dread tissues woven out of human hate

For heavenly ends ! — for there is spun the woe

Of every war that ever earth shall know.

XLIX.

Below their feet a bottomless pit of gore [done,

Yawned, where each web, when once the woof was

Was scornful cast. Yet rising evermore
Out of the surface, wandered airy on

(Till lost in upper space) pale winged seeds

The future heaven-fruit of the hell-born deeds ;

L.

For out of every evil born of time,

God shapes a good for his eternity.
Lo where the spindles, weaving crime on crime,

Form the world-work of Charlemains to be ; —
How in that hall of iron lengthen forth
The fates that ruin, to rebuild, the North !

LI.

Here, one stern Sister smiling on the King,

Hurries the thread that twines his Nation's doom,

And, farther down, the whirring spindles sing
Around the woof which from his Baltic home

Shall charm the avenging Norman, to control

The shattered races into one calm whole.



112 KING ARTHUR.

LII.

Already here, tlie liueless lines along,

Grows the red creed of the Arabian horde ;

Already here, the arm'd Chivalric Wrong

Which made the cross the symbol of the sword,

Which thy worst idol, Rome, to Judah gave.

And worshipp'd Mars upon the Saviour's grave !

LIII.

Already the wild Tartar in his tents.

Dreamless of thrones — and the fierce Visigoth*

Who on Colombia's golden armaments

Shall loose the hell-hounds,— nurse the age-long growth

Of Desolation — as the noiseless skein

Clasps in its web, thy far descendants, Cain !

LIV.

Already, in the hearts of sires remote

In their rude Isle, the spell ordains the germ

Of what shall be a Name of w^onder, wrought "
From that fell feast which Glory gives the worm.

When Rome's dark bird shall shade with thunder wings

Calm brows that brood the doom of breathless kings !f

LV.

Already, tho' the s:^d unheeded eyes

Of Bards alone foresee, and none believe,

The lightning, hoarded from the farthest skies,
Into the mesh the race-destrovers weave,

When o'er our marts shall graze a stranger s fold,

And the new Tarshish rot, as rots the old.

• * V'sigoth, jDoe//ce for the Spanish Ravagers of Mexico and Peru,
t Napoleon.



BOOK X. 113

LVI.

Yea, ever there, each spectre hand the birth
Weaves of a war — until the angel-blast

(Peal'd from the tromp that knells the doom of earth)
Shall start the livid legions from their last;
* And man, with arm uplifted still to slay,

Reel on some Alp that rolls in smoke away !

LVII.

Fierce glared the dwarf upon the silent King,
" There is the prize thy vision would achieve !

There, where the hush'd inexorable ring

Murder the myriads in the webs they weave,

Behind the curtains of Incarnate War,

Whose lightest tremor topples thrones afar, —

Lviir.
" Which even the Yalkyrs with their bloodless hands

Ne'er dare aside to draw, — go, seek the Shield !
Yet be what follows known ! — yon kneeling bands

Whose camps Avere Andes, and whose battle-field
Left plains, now empires, rolling seas of gore,
Shall hear the clang and leap to life once more.

LIX.

" Roused from their task, revengeful shall arise
The never baffled 'Choosers of the Slain,

The Fiend thy hand shall wake, unclose the eyes
That flash'd on heavenly hosts their storms again,

And thy soul wither in the mighty frown

Before whose night, an earlier sun sunk down.



114 KING ARTHUR.

LX.

" The rocks shall close all path for flight save one,
Where now the Troll-fiends wait to rend their prey,

And each malign and monster skeleton.
Re-clothed with life as in the giant day

When yonder seas were valleys — scent thy gore

And grin with fangs that gnash for food once more.

LXI.

" Ho, dost thou shudder, pale one ? Back and live."
Thrice strove the King for speech, and thrice in vain,

For he was man, and till our souls survive
The instinct born of flesh, shall Horror reign

In that unknown beyond the realms of Sense,

Where the soul's darkness seems the man's defence.

Lxir.
Yet as when thro' uncertain troublous cloud

Breaks the sweet morning star, and from its home
Smiles lofty peace, so thro' the phantom crowd

Of fears — the Eos of the world to come,
Faith, look'd — revealing how earth-nourish'd are
The clouds ] and how beyond their reach the star !

LXIII.

Mute on his knee, amidst the kneeling dead
He sank — the dead the dreaming fiend revered^

And he, the living, God ! Then terror fled.
And all the king illumed the front he reared.

Firm to the couch on which the fiend reposed


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 18 20 21 22 23 24 25

Online LibraryEdward Bulwer Lytton LyttonKing Arthur → online text (page 18 of 25)