Copyright
Edward Bulwer Lytton Lytton.

King Arthur online

. (page 19 of 25)
Online LibraryEdward Bulwer Lytton LyttonKing Arthur → online text (page 19 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


He strode; — the curtains, murmuring, round him closed.



BOOK X. 115

LXIV.

Now while this chanced, without the tortured rock
Raged fierce the war between the rival might

Of beast and man ; the dwarf king's ravenous flock
And Norway's warriors led by Cymri's knight.

For by the foot-prints thro' the snows explored,

On to the rock the bands had track'd their lord.

LXV.

Repell'd, not conquered, back to crag and cave,
Sullen and watchful still, the monsters go ;

And solitude resettles on the wave,
But silence not ; around, aloft, alow.

Roar the couch'd beasts, and answering from the main,

Shrieks the shrill gull and booms the dismal crane.

LXV I,

And now the rock itself from every tomb
Of its dead world within, sends voices forth.

Sounds direr far, than in its ray less gloom
Crash on the midnight of the farthest North.

From beasts our world hath lost, the strident yell,

The shout of giants and the laugh of hell.

LXVII.

Reels all the isle; and every ragged steep

Hurls down an avalanche; — all the crater-cave

Glows into swarthy red, and fire-showers leap
From rended summits, hissing to the wave

Thro' its hard ice ; or in huge crags, wide sounding

Spring where they crash — on rushing and rebounding.



116 KIKG ARTHUE.

LXYIIT.

Dizzy and blind the staggering Northmen fall
On earth that rocks beneath them like a bark ;

Loud and more lond the tumult swells with all
The Acheron of discord. Swift and dark

From every cleft tlie smoke-clouds burst their way,

Eush thro' the void, and sweep from heaven the day.

LXIX.

Smitten beneath the pestilential blast

And the great terror, senseless lay the band.

Till the arrested life, with throes at last,
Gasp'd back : and holy over sea and land

Silence and light reposed. They look'd above,

And calm in calmed air beheld the Dove !

LXX.

And o'er their prostraie lord was poised the wing;

And when they rush'd and reach'd him, shouting joy,
There came no answer from the corpselike King;

And when his true knight raised him, heavily
Drooped his pale front upon the faithful breast,
And the closed lids seemed leaden in their rest.

LXXI.

And all his mail was dinted, hewn, and crush'd.
And the bright falchion dim w^ith foul dark gore ;

And the strong pulse of the strong hand was liush'd ;
Like a spent storm, that might which seemed before

Charged with the bolts of Jove, now from the sky

Drew breath more feeble than an infant's sigh.



BOOK X. IIT

LXXII.

And there was solemn change on that fair face,
Nor, whatsoe'er the fear or scorn had been,

Did the past passion leave its haggard trace ;
But on the rigid beauty awe was seen.

As one who on the Gorgon's aspect fell.

Had gazed, and freezing, yet survived the spell !

LXXIII.

Not by the chasm in which he left the day,

But through a new-made gorge the fires had cleft,

As if with fires, themselves, were forced the way.
Had rush'd the King ; — and sense and sinew left

The form that struggled till the strife was o'er ;

So faints the swimmer when he gains the shore.

LXXIV.

But on his arm was clasp'd the wondrous prize,

Dimm'd, tarnished, grimed, and black with gore and
smoke.

Still the pure metal, thro' each foul disguise.
Like starlight scattered on dark waters, broke ;

Thro' gore, thro' smoke it shone — the silver shield.

Clear as dawns Freedom from her battle-field !

LXXV.

Days followed days, ere from that speechless trance
(Borne to green inlets isled amid the snows

Where led the Dove), the king's reviving glance
Look'd languid round on watchful, joyful brows ;

Ev'n while he slept, new flowers the earth had given,

And on his heart brooded the bird of heaven !



118 ' KING ARTHUR.

LXXVI.

But ne'er as voice and strength and sense returned,
To his good knight the strife that won the Shield

Did Arthur tell; deep in his soul inui-ned
(As in the grave its secret) nor reveal'd

To mortal ear — that mystery which for ever

Flowed thro' his though t^ as thro' the cave a river ;

Lxxyii.
Whether to Love, how true soe'er its faith,

Whether to Wisdom, whatsoe'er its skill.
Till his last hour the struggle and the scathe

Remained unuttered and unutterable ;
But aye, in solitude, in crowds, in strife.
In joy, that memory lived within his life :

Lxxvni.
It made not sadness, tho' the calm grave smile

Never regained the flash that youth had given, —
But as some shadow from a sacred pile

Darkens the earth from shrines that speak of heaven,
That gloom the grandeur of religion wore,
And seemed to hallow all it rested o'er.

LXXIX.

Such Freedom is, Slave, that would be free !

Never her real struggles into life
Ilath History told ! As it hath been shall be

The Apocalypse of Nations ; nursed in strife
Not with the present, nor with living foes,
But where the centuries shroud their long rejDose.



BOOK X. 119

LXXX.

Out from the graves of earth's primseval bones,
The shield of empire, patient Force must win :

What made the Briton free ? not crashing thrones
Nor parchment laws ? The charter must begin

In Scythian tents, the steel of Nomad spears ;

To date the freedom, count three thousand years !

LXXXI.

Neither is freedom mirth ! Be free, slave.
And dance no n^ore beneath the lazy palm.

Freedom's mild brow with nol)le care is grave,
Her bliss is solemn as her strength is calm ;

And thought mature each childlike sport debars

The forms erect whose look is on the stars.

LXXXII.

Now as the King revived, along the seas

Flowed back, enlarged to life, the lapsing waters,

Kiss'd from their slumber by the loving breeze

Glide, in light dance, the Ocean's silver daughters —

And blithe and hopeful, o'er the sunny strands,

Listing the long-lost billow, rove the bands.

LXXXIII.

At length, sight of joy ! — the gleam of sails
Burst on the solitude ! more near and near

Come the white playmates of the buxom gales. —
The whistling cords, the sounds of man, they hear.

Shout answers shout ; — light sparkles round the oar —

And from the barks the boat skims on to shore.



120 KING ARTHUR.

LXXXIV.

It was a race from Rugen's friendly soil,

Leagued by old ties with Cymri's land and king.

Who, with the spring time, to their wonted spoil
Of seals and furs had spread the canvas wing

To bournes their fathers never yet had known ; —

And found amazed, hearts bolder than their own.

LXXXV.

Soon to the barks the Cymrians and their bands
Are borne : Bright-hair'd, above the gazing crews,

Lone on the loftiest deck, the leader stands.

To whom the King (his rank made known) renews

All that liis tale of mortal hope and fear

Vouc-isafes from truth to thrill a mortal's ear ;

LXXXVI.

And from the barks whose sails the chief obey.

Craves one to waft where yet the fates may guide. —

With rugged wonder in his large survey.

That calm grand brow the son of ^gir* eyed,

And seemed in awe, as of a god, to scan

Him who so moved his homage, vet was man.

LXXXVII.

Smoothing his voice, rough with accustomed swell
Above the storms, and the wild roar of war,

The Northman answered, " Skalds in winter tell
Of the dire dwarf who guards the Shield of Tlior,

For one whose race, with Odin's blent, shall be,

Lords of the only realm which suits the Free,

* ^gir, the God of the Ocean, the Scandinavian Neptune.



BOOK X. 121

LXXXVIII,

'* Ocean ! — I greet thee, and this strong right hand
Phice in thine own to pledge myseh' thy man.

Choose as thou wilt for thee and for thy band,
Amongst the sea steeds in the stalls of Ran.

Need'st thou our arms ascainst the Saxon foe ?

Our flag shall fly where'er thy trumpets blow !"

LXXXIX.

" Men to be free must free themselves," the King
Replied, proud-smiling. " Every father-land

Spurns from its breast the recreant sons that cling
For hope, to standards winds not theirs have fann'd.

Thankful thro' thee our foe we reach ; — and then

Cymri hath steel eno' for Cymrian men !"

xc.
While these converse. Sir Gawaine, with his hound.

Lured by a fragrant and delightsome smell
From roasts — not meant for Freya, — makes his round,

Shakes hands with all, and hopes their wives are well.
From spit to spit with easy grace he walks,
And chines astounded vanish w^hile he talks.

xci.
At earliest morn the bark to bear the King,

His sa2:e discernment delicatelv stores,
Rejects the blubber and disdains the ling

For hams of rein-deers and for heads of boars,
Connives at seal, to satisfy his men.
But childless leaves each loud-lamentin.2: hen.



122 KING ARTHUR.

XCII.

And now the bark the Cymrian prince ascends,
The large oars chhning to the chaunting crew,

(His leal Norwegian band) the new-found friends
From brazen trumpets blare their loud adieu.

Forth bounds the ship, and Gawaine, while it quickens,

The wind propitiates — with three virgin chickens.

xciir.

Led by the Dove, more brightly day by day,

The vernal azure deepens in the sky ;
Far from the Polar threshold smiles the way —

And lo, white Albion shimmers on the eye,
Nurse of all nations, who to breasts severe
Takes the rude children, the calm men to rear.

xciv.
Doubt and amaze with joy perplex the king,

Not yet the task achieved, the mission done,
Why homeward steers the angel pilot's wdng ?

Of the three labours rests the crowning one ;
Unreached the Iron Gates — Death's sullen hold —
Where waits the Child-guide with the locks of gold.

xcv.

Yet still the Dove cleaves homeward thro' the air;

Glides o'er the entrance of an inland stream ;
And rests at last on bowers of foliage, where

Thick forests close their ramparts on the beam ;
And clasp with dipping boughs a grassy creek,
Whose marge slopes level with the brazen beak.



BOOK X. 123

XCVI.

Around his neck the shield, the Adventurer skmg,
And girt the enchanted sword. Then kneeling, said

The young Ulysses of the golden tongue,

" Not now to phantom foes the dove hath led ;

For, if I err not, this a Mercian haven.

And from the dove peeps forth at last the raven !

XCVII.

" Not lone, nor reckless, in these glooms profound.
Tempt the sure ambush of some Saxon host ;

If out of sight, at least in reach of sound.

Let our stout Northmen follow up the coast ;

Then if thou wilt, from each suspicious tree

Shake laurels doAvn, but share them. Sire, with me ?"

XCVIII.

" Nay," answered Arthur, " ever, as before,
Alone the pilgrim to his bourne must go ;

But range the men concealed along the shore ;
Set watch, from these green turrets, for the foe;

Moor'd to the marge where broadest hangs the bough.

Hide from the sun the glitter of the prow ; —

xcix.
^'' And so farewell!" He said; to land he leapt;

And with dull murmur from its verdant waves,
O'er his high crest the billowy forest swept.

As towards some fitful light the swimmer cleaves
His stalwart way, — -so thro' the woven shades
Where the pale wing now glimmers and now fades,



124 KING ARTHUR.



^- I



With strong hand parting the tough branches, goes
Hour after hour the King ; till light at last

From skies long hid, wide-silvering interflows

Thro' opening glades, — the length of gloom is past,

And the dark pines receding, stand around

A silent hill with antique ruins crown'd.

CI.

Day had long closed ; and from the mournful deeps
Of old volcanoes spent, the livid moon

Which thro' the life of j^lanets lifeless creeps
Her ghostly way, deaf to the choral tune

Of spheres rejoicing, on those ruins old

Look'd down, herself a ruin,^hush'd and cold.

CII.

Mutely the granite wrecks the king survey'd.
And knew the work of hands Cimmerian,

What time in starry robes, and awe, array'd.
Gray Druids spoke the oracles of man —

Solving high riddles to Chaldean Mage,

Or the young wonder of the Samian Sage.

cm.
A date remounting far beyond the day

When Koman legions met the scythed cars,
\Ylien purer founts sublime had lapsed away

Thro' the deep rents of unrecorded wars.
And blooodstained altars cursed the mountain sod,
Where''*" the first faith had hail'd the only God.

• See Note appended to the end of this book.



BOOK X. 125

CIV.

For all now left us of the parent Celt,

Is of that later and corrupter timej —
Not in rude domeless fanes those Fathers knelt,

Who lured the Brahman from his burning clime,
Who charmed lost science from each lone abyss.
And winged the shaft of Scythian Abaris.*

cv.

Yea, the grand sires of our primaBval race
Saw angel tracks the earlier earth upon.

And as a rising sun, the morning face

Of Truth more near the flush'd horizon shone.

Filling ev'n clouds with many a golden light.

Lost when the orb is at the noonday height.

cvi.

Thro' the large ruins (now no more), the last
Perchance on earth of those diviner sires.

With noiseless step the lone descendant past ;
Not there were seen Bal-huan's amber pyres ;

No circling shafts vfith barbarous fragments strown.

Spoke creeds of carnage to the spectral moon.

CVII.

But art, vast, simple, and sublime, was there
Ev'n in its mournful wrecks, — such art foregone

As the first Builders, when their grand despair
Left Shinar's tower and city half undone.

Taught where they wander'd o'er the newborn world. —

Column, and vault, and roof, in ruin hurl'd,

• The arrow of Abcris (which bore him where he pleased) is supposed by some
VOL. II. 9



126 KING ARTHUR.

CVIII.

Still spoke of hands that founded Babylon !

So in the wrecks, the Lord of young Romance
By fallen pillars laid him musing down.

More large and large the moving shades advance,
Blending in one dim silence sad and wan
The past, the present, ruin and the man.

cix.
Now, o'er his lids life's gentlest influence stole.

Life's gentlest influence yet the likest death !
That nightly proof how little needs the soul

Light from the sense, or being from the breath,
When all life knows a life unknown supplies,
And airy worlds around a Spirit rise.

ex.

Still thro' the hazy mists of stealing sleep,

His eyes explore the watchful guardian's wing.
There, where it broods upon the moss-grown heap,
' With plumes that all the stars are silvering.
Slow close the lids — re-opening with a start
As shoots a nameless terror thro' his heart.

CXI.

That strange wild awe which haunted Childhood thrills,
When waking at the dead of Dark, alone ;

A sense of sudden solitude which chills

The blood ; — a shrinking as from shapes unknown ;

An instinct both of some protection fled.

And of the coming of some ghastly dread.

to have been the loadstone. And Abaris himself has been, by some ingenious
f-peculators, identified with a Druid philosopher.



BOOK X. 127

CXII.

He looked, and lo, the dove was seen no more,
Lone lay the lifeless wrecks beneath the moon.

And the one loss gave all that seemed before
Desolate, — twofold desolation !

How slight a thing, whose love our trust has been.

Alters the world, when it no more is seen !

CXIII.

He strove to speak, but voice was gone from him.

As in that loss, new might the terror took.
His veins congeal'd ; and, interfused and dim,

Shadow and moonlight swam before his look ;
Bristled his hair; and all the strong dismay
Seized as an eagle when it grasps its prey.

CXIV.

Senses and soul confused, and jarr'd, and blent,'
Lay crush'd beneath the intolerable Power;

Then over all, one flash, in lightning, rent

The veil between the Immortal and the Hour;

Life heard the voice of unembodied breath.

And Sleep stood trembling face to face with Death.



NOTE TO BOOK X,



** And blood-stained altars cursed the mountain sod,
Where the first faith had hail'd the only God,"

Page 124, stanza civ.

The testimony to be found in classical writers as to the origi-
nal purity of the Druid worship, before it was corrupted into the
idolatry wdiich existed in Britain at the time of the Roman con-
quest, is strongly corroborated by the Welch triads. These tri-
ads, indeed, are of various dates, but some bear the mark of a
very remote antiquity — wholly distinct alike from the philosophy
of the Romans, and the mode of thought prevalent in the earlier
ages of the Christian era ; in short, anterior to all the recorded
conquests over the Cymrian people. These, like proverbs, ap-
pear the wrecks and fragments of some primaeval ethics, or philo-
sophical religion. Nor are such remarkable alone for the purity
of the notions they inculcate relative to the Deity ; they have
often, upon matters less spiritual, the delicate observation, as well
as the profound thought, of reflective wisdom. It is easy to see
in them, how identified w^as the Bard with the Sage — that rare
union which produces the highest kind of human knowledge.
Such, perhaps are the relics of that sublimer learning which, ages
before the sacrifice of victims in wicker-idols, won for the Dru-
ids the admiration of the cautious Aristotle, as ranking among
the true enlighteners of men — such the teachers who (we may sup-
pose to have) instructed the mystical Pythagoras; a^d furnished



" NOTE TO BOOK X. 129

new themes for meditation to the musing Brahman. Nor were
the Druids of Britain inferior to those with whom the Sages of the
western and eastern world came more in contact. On the con-
trary, even to the time of Caesar, the Druids of Britain excelled
in science and repute those in Gaul: and to their schools the
Neophites of the Continent were sent.

In the Stanzas that follow the description of the more primi-
tive Cymrians, it is assumed that the rude Druid remains now ex-
istent (as at Stonehenge, &c.), are coeval only with the later and
corrupted state of a people degenerated to idol worship, and
that they previously possessed an architecture, of which no trace
now remains, more suited to their early civilization. If it be true
that they worshipped the Deity only in his own works, and that
it was not until what had been a symbol passed into an idol,
that they deserted the mountain top and the forest for the temple,
they would certainly have wanted the main inducement to per-
manent and lofty architecture. Still it may be allowed, at least to
a poet, to suppose that men so sensible as the primitive Saro-
nides, would have held their schools and colleges in places more
adapted to a northern climate than their favourite oak groves.



KING ARTHUR.



BOOK XL



ARGUMENT.

The Siege of Carcluel ; The Saxon forces ; Stanzas relative to Ludovick
the Vandal, in explanation of the failure of his promised aid, and in
description of the events in Vandal-land ; The preparations of the Saxon
host for the final assault on the City, under cover of the approaching
night ; The state of Carduel ; Discord ; Despondence ; Famine ; The
apparent impossibility to resist the coming Enemy ; Dialogue between
Caradoc and Merlin ; Caradoc hears his sentence, and is resigned ; He
unstrings his harp and descends into the town ; The Progress of Song,
in its effects upon the multitude ; Caradoc' s address to the people he has
roused, and the rush to the Council Hall; Meanwhile the Saxons reach
the walls ; The burst of the Cymrians ; the Saxons retire into the plain
between the Camp and the City, and there take their stand; The battle
described ; The single combat between Lancelot and Harold ; Crida
loads on his reserve; the Cymrians take alarm and waver; The pre-
diction invented by the noble devotion of Caradoc ; His fate ; The en-
tliusiasm of the Cymrians and the retreat of the enemy ta their Camp ;
The first entrance of a Happy Soul into Heaven ; The Ghost that ap-
pears to Arthur, and leads him tlirough the Cimmerian tomb to the
Kealm of Death ; The sense of time and space are annihilated ; Death,
the Phantasmal Everywhere ; Its brevity and nothingness ; The condi-
tion of soul is life, whether here or hereafter ; Fate and Nature iden-
tical ; Arthur accosted by his Guardian Angel ; after the address of
that Angel (which in truth represents what we call Conscience), Arthur
loses his former fear both of the realm and the Phantom ; He addresses
the Ghost, which vanishes without reply to his question; The last boon;
The destined Soother ; Arthur recovering as from a trance, sees the
Maiden of the Tomb ; Her description ; The Dove is beheld no more ;
Strange resemblance between the Maiden and the Dove ; Arthur is led
to his ship, and sails at once for Garduel ; He arrives on the Cymrian
territory, and lands with Gawaine and the Maiden near Carduel, amidst
the ruins of a hamlet devastated b}^ the Saxons ; He seeks a convent, of
which only one tower, built by the Romans, remains ; From the hill top
he surveys the walls of Carduel and the Saxon encampment ; The ap-
pearance of the holy Abbess, who recognizes the king, and conducts
him and his companions to the subterranean grottoes built by the Ro-
mans for a summer retreat ; He leaves the Maiden to the care of the
Abbess, and concerts with GaAvaine in the scheme for attack on the
Saxons ; The Virgin is conducted to the cell of the Abbess ; Her
thoughts and recollections, which explain her history; Her resolution;
She attempts to escape ; Meets the Abbess, who hangs the Cross round
her neck, and blesses her ; She departs to the Saxon Camp.



BOOK XI.



I.

King Crida's hosts are storming Carduel !

From vale to mount one world of armour shines,
Round castled piles* for which the forest fell,

Spreads the white war town of the Teuton lines ;
To countless clarions, countless standards swell ;
King Crida's hosts are storming Carduel !

II.
There, all its floods the Saxon deluge pours ;

All the fierce trihes ; from those whose fathers first
With their red seaxes from the southward shores.

Carved realms for Hengist, — to the bands that burst
Along the Humber, on the idle wall
Rome built for manhood rotted bj her thrall.

* The Saxons appear from a very remote period to have fortified their encamp-
ments by palisades and strong works of timber. In the centre of these it was the
custom of the Teuton tribes to erect a rude fastness for their gods and women. In
the latter times of Anglo-Saxon warfa'e, when established in the land, their armies
ceased to fight for settlements, and their idols and women did not accompany them,
this latter custom naturally ceased, though they always retained the relics of the
habit in a strong central position, formed by wagons and barricades. Even in the
open battle-field, the Teutons (especially of Scandinavia) were tenacious of a
temporary stronghold, which formed the nucleus of their array, selecting generally
a rising ground, ramparted with shields^ in which the king stationed himself wiiti
his reserve.



134 KING ARTHUR.

III.

There, wild allies from many a kindred race,
In Cymrian lands hail Teuton thrones to be :

Dark Jutland wails her absent populace, —

And large-limb'd sons, his waves no more shall see,

Leave Danube desolate ! afar they roam.

Where halts the Raven there to find a home !

IV.

But wherefore fail the Vandal's j^romised bands ?

Well said the Greek, ' not till his latest hour
Deem man secure from Fortune \ in our hands

We clutch the sunbeam when we grasp at power; —
No strength detains the unsubstantial prize,
The light escapes us as the moment flies.

V.

And monarchs envied Ludovick the Great !

And Wisdom's seers his wiles did wisdom call,
And Force stood sentry at his castle gate ;

And Mammon soothed the murmurers in the hall ;
For Freedom's forms disguised the despot's thought-
lie ruled by synods — and the synods bought !

VI.

Yet empires rest not or on gold or steel ;

The old in habit strike the gnarled root ;
But vigorous faith — the young fresh sap of zeal,

Must make the life-blood of the planted shoot —
And new-born states, like new religions, need
Not the dull code, but the impassion'd creed.



BOOK XL 135

VII.

Give but a cause, a child may be a chief!

What cause to hosts can Ludovick supply ?
Swift flies the Element of Power, Belief,

From all foundations hollowed to a lie.
One morn, a riot in the streets arose,
And left the Vandal crownless at the close.

VIII.

A plump of spears the riot could have crush'd !

" Defend the throne, my spearmen !" cried the king.
The spearmen armed, and forth the sjDearmen rush'd,

When woe ! they took to reason on the thing !
And then conviction smote them on the spot,
That for that throne they did not care a jot.

IX.

With scuff and scum, with urchins loosed from school,
Thieves, gleemen, jugglers, beggars^ swelled the riot;

While, like the gods of Epicurus, cool

On crowd, and crown — the spearmen looked in quiet ;

Till all its heads that Hydra calFd ' The Many,'


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 19 21 22 23 24 25

Online LibraryEdward Bulwer Lytton LyttonKing Arthur → online text (page 19 of 25)