Edward Bulwer Lytton Lytton.

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And darkness wraps him as the cloud a star.


Abruptly, as it came, the charm was past
That bound the circle : as from heavy sleep

Starts the hush'd war-camp at the trumpet's blast,
Fierce into life the voiceless revellers leap ;

Swift to the wood the glittering tumult springs,

And thro' the vale the shrill box-lef-iier rin^rs.*

* The shout of war.



From stream, from tent, from pastime near and far^

All press confusedly to the signal cry-
So from the Rock of Birds* the shout of war

Sends countless wings in clamour thro' the sky —
The cause a word, the track a sign affords,
And all the forest gleams with starry swords.


As on some stag the hunters single, gaze,
Gathering together, and from far, the herd,

So round the margin of the woodland-maze
Pale beauty circles, trembling if a bird

Flutter a bough, or if, without a sound,

Some leaf fall breezeless, eddying to the ground.


An hour or more had towards the western seas
Speeded the golden chariot of the day.

When a white plume came glancing through the trees,
The serried branches groaningly gave way.

And, with a bound, delivered from the wood,

Safe, in the sun-light, royal Arthur stood.


Who shall express the joy that aspect woke !

Some laugh'd aloud, and clapped their snowy hands ;
• Some ran, some knelt, some turn'd aside and broke

Into glad tears : — But all unheeding stands
The King ; and shivers in the glowing light ;
And his breast heaves as panting from a fight.

* The Rock of Birds — Coatr y Deutn — so called from the number of birds
(chiefly those of prey) that breed on it.

BOOK I. 23


Yet still ill those pale features, seen more near.
Speak the stern will, the soul to valour true \

It shames man not to feel man's human fear,
It shames man only if the fear subdue ;

And masking trouble with a noble guile,

Soon the proud heart restores the kingly smile.


But no account could anxious love obtain,
Nor curious wonder, of the portents seen ;

" Bootless his search," he lightly said, " and vain
As haply had the uncourteous summons been.

Some mocking sport, perchance, of merry May."

He ceased ; and shuddering, turn'd his looks awa3^


Now, back, alas, less comely than they went.
Drop, one by one, the seekers from the chase,

With mangled plumes and mantles dreadly rent ; —
Sore bleed the Loves in Elphin's* blooming face ;

Madoc, whose dancing scarcely brush'd the dew,

O grief ! limps, crippled by a stump of j' ew 1


In short, such pranks had briar and bramble played,
And stock and stone, with vest, and face, and limb,

That had some wretch denied the place was made
For sprites, a sprite had soon been made of him !

And sure, nought less than some demoniac power

Had looks so sweet bewitched to lines so sour.

* Ei.pHTN, the youn^ prince who discovered the famous Talicssin, (exposed as
an infant in a leather ba?), appears to have been remarkable for hie good looks,
according; to the poem addressed to him by ihe giaicful baid, and well known to
the culiivdtors of \A'elch literature.



But shame and anger vanish'd when they saw
Him whose warm smile a life had well repaid^

For noble hearts a noble chief can draw
Into that circle where all self doth fade ;

Lost in the sea a hundred waters roll,

And subject natures merge in one great soul.


Now once again quick question, brief reply,

''What saw, what heard the king?" "Nay, gentles, what

Saw and heard ye ?" — " The forest and the sky,
The rustling branches."—" And the phantom not ?

No more," quoth Arthur, " of a thriftless chase,

For cheer so stinted brief may be the grace.


'' But see, the sun descendeth down the w^est,
And graver cares to Carduel now recall :

Gawaine, my steed ; — Sweet ladies, gentle rest^
And dreams of happy morrows to ye all."

Now stirs the movement on the busy plain ;

To horse^ — to boat ; and homeward wind the train,


O'er hill, down stream, the pageant fades aw^ay.
More and more faint the splash of dipping oar ;

Voices, and music, and the steed's shrill neigh.
From the gray twilight dying more and more ;

Till over stream and valley, wide and far,

Eeign the sad silence and the solemn star.

BOOK I. 2-5


Save where, like some true poet's lonely soul,

Careless who hears, sings on the unheeded fountain ;

Save where the thin elouds wanly, slowly roll
O'er the mute darkness of the forest mountain —

Where, haply, busied with unholy rite.

Still glides that phantom, and dismays the night.


Sleep, the sole angel left of all below,

O'er the lull'd city sheds the ambrosial wreaths,

Wet with the dews of Eden ; Bliss and Woe
Are equals, and the lowest slave that breathes

Under the shelter of those healing wings,

Eeigns, half his life, in realms too fair for Kings.


Too fair those dreams for Arthur ; long he lay
An exiled suppliant at the gate of dreams,

And vexed, and Avild, and fitful as a ray

Quivering upon the surge of stormy streams ;

Thought broke in glimmering trouble o'er his breast,

And found no billow where its beam could rest.*


He rose, and round him drew his ermined gown,
Pass'd from his chamber, Avound the turret stair.

And from his castle's steep embattled crown
Bared his hot forehead to the freshening air.

How Silence, like a god's tranquility,

Fill'd with delighted peace the conscious sky !

* " Qual d'acqua chiara il trcmolante lurae," etc. — Ariodo, canto viii. stan. 74.



Broo.d, luminous, serene, the sovereign moon
Shone o'er the roofs below, the lands afar —

The vale so joyous with the mirth at noon ;
The pastures virgin of the lust of war ;

Fair waters sparkling as they seaward roll,

As to Time's ocean speeds a happy soul.


" And must these pass from me and mine away ?"
Mui'mured the monarch ; " Must the mountain home

Of those whose fathers, in a ruder day.

With naked bosoms rush'd on shrinking Rome,(^)

Yield this last refuge from the ruthless wave.

And what was Britain be the Saxon's slave?

" Why hymn our harps high music in our hall ?

Doom'd is the tree whose fruit was noble deeds —
Where the axe S23ared the thunder-bolt must fall.

And the wind scatter where it list the seeds !
Fate breathes, and kingdoms wither at the breath,
But kings are deathless, kingly if the death ;"


He ceased, and look'd v/ith a defying eye.

Where the dark forest clothed the mount with awe ;

Gazed, and then proudly turn'd : — when lo, hard by
From a lone turret in his keep, he saw.

Through the horn casement, a clear steadfast light.

Lending meek tribute to the orbs of night.

BOOK I. 27


And fiir and far, I ween, that little ray

Sent its pure streamlet tlirougli the world of air.

The wanderer oft, benighted on his way,
Saw it, and paused in superstitious prayer,

For well he knew the beacon and the tower.

And the great Master of the spells of power.


There He, who yet in faljle's deathless page

Reigns compass'd with the ring of pleasing dread,

Which the true wizard, whether bard or sage.

Draws round him living, and commands when dead —

The solemn Merlin — from the midnight won

The hosts that bowed to starry Solomon.


Not fear that light on Arthur's breast bestowed.
As with a father's smile it met his gaze ;

It cheered, it soothed, it warmed him while it glowed ;
Brought Ijack the memory of young hopeful days.

When the child stood by the great jDrophet's knee.

And drank high thoughts to strengthen years to be.


As with a tender chiding the calm light
Seem'd to reproach him for secreted care,

Seem'd to ask back the old familiar right
Of lore to counsel, or of love to share ;

The prompt heart answers to the voiceless call.

And the step quickens o'er the winding wall.



Before that tower precipitously sink

The walls, down-shelving to the castle base ;

A slender drawbridge, swung from brink to brink, (^)
Alone gives fearful access to the place ;

Now from that tower, the chains the drawbridge raise,

And leave the gulf all pathless to the gaze.


But close where Arthur stands, a warder's horn,
Fix'd to the stone, to those who dare to win

The enchanter's cell, supplies the note to warn
The mighty weaver of dread webs within.

Loud sounds the horn, the chain descending clanocs

And o'er the abyss the dizzy pathway hangs ;



Mutely the door slides sullen in the stone.

And closes back, the gloomy threshold cross'd ;

There sate the wizard on a Druid throne.

Where sate Duw-Ioii,(^) ere his reign was lost;

His wand uplifted in his solemn hand.

And the weird volume on its brazen stand.


Yast was the front which, o'er as vast a breast.
Hung, as if heavy with the load sublime

Of the piled hoards which Thought, the heavenly guest,
Had wrung from Nature, or despoil'd from Time ;

And the unutterable calmness shows

The toil's great victory by the soul's repose.

BOOK I. 20


Even as the Tyrian \iew.s his argosies,

Moor'd ill the port (the gold of Ophir won),

And heeds no more the billow and the breeze,

And the clouds wandering o'er the the wintry sun,

So calmly Wisdom eyes (its voyage o'er)

The traversed ocean from the beetling shore.


A hundred years press'd o'er that awful head,

As o'er an Alp, their diadem of snow ;
And, as an Alp, a hundred years had fled,

And left as firm the giant form below;
So sate, ere yet discrown'd, in Ida's grove,
The grey-hair'd father of Pelasgian Jove.


Before that power, sublimer than his own.

With downcast looks, the king inclined the knee;

The enchanter smiled, and, bending from his throne,
Drew^ to his breast his pupil tenderly;

And press'd his lips on that 3^oung forehead fair.

And with large hand smoothed back the golden hair.


And, looking in those frank and azure eyes,

"What," said the prophet, "doth my Arthur seek

From the gray wisdom which the young despise?
The young, perchance, are right! — Fair infant, speakl '

Thrice sigh'd the monarch, and at length began :

" Can wisdom ward the storm of fate from man ?



" What spell can tliriist Affliction from the gate ?

What tree is sacred from the lightning flame?"
"Son," said the seer, "the laurel! — even Fate,

Which blasts Ambition, but illumines Fame.
Say on." — The king smiled sternly, and obey'd —
Track we the steps which track'd the warning shade.


"On to the v/ood, and to its its inmost dell
Will-less I went," the monarch thus pursued^

" Before me still, but darkly visible.

The phantom glided through the solitude;

At length it paused, — a sunless pool was near,

As ebon black, and yet as crystal clear.


" ' Look, King, below,' whispered the shadowy One :
What seem'd a hand sign'd beckoning to the wave,

I look'd below, and never realms undone

Show'd war more awful than the mirror gave;

There rusli'd the steed, there glanced on spear the spea.r,

And spectre-squadrons closed in fell career.


" I saw — I saw my dragon standing there, —

There throng'd the Briton, there the Saxon wheel'd ;

1 saw it vanish from that nether air —

I saw it trampled on tha.t phantom field ; —

On poured the Saxon hosts — we lied — we fled !

And the Pale Horse* rose ghastly o'er the dead.

* The White Horse, the stantlard of the Saxons,

BOOK I. 31


" Lo, the wan shadow of a giant hand

Pass'd o'ei^ the pool — the demon war was gone ;

City on city stretch'd, and land on land ;

The wonderons landscape hroadening, lengthening on,

Till that small compass in its clasp contain'd

All this wide isle o'er which my fathers reign'd.


*' There, ]jy the lord of streams, a palace rose ;

On hloodv floors there was a throne of state ;
And in the land there dwelt one race — our foes;

And on the single throne the Saxon sate !
And Cymri's crown was on his knitted hrow ;
And where stands Carduel, went the laborer's plough.


'''And east and west, and north and south I turn'd,
And call'd my people as a king should call ;

Pale in the IioUoav mountains I discern'd

Rude scattered stragglers from the common thrall;

Kingless and armyless, by crag and cave, —

Ghosts on the margin of their country's grave.


•'And even there, amidst the barren steeps,
I heard the tramp, I saw the Saxon steel;

Aloft, red murder like a deluge sweeps,

Nor rock can save, nor cavern can conceal ;

Hill after hill, the waves devouring rise,

Till in one mist of carnage closed my eyes !





'' Then spoke tlie hell-born shadow by mj side — ■ -
'0 king, who dreamest, amid sweets and bloom,

Life, like one summer holiday, can glide.

Blind to the storm-cloud of the coming doom ;

Arthur Pendragon,* to the Saxon's sway

Thy kingdom and thy crown shall pass away.'


^'^And who art thou, that Heaven's august decrees
Usurpest thus?' I cried, and lo the space

Was void ! — Amidst the horror of the trees.
And by the pool, which mirror'd back the face

Of Dark in crystal darkness — there I stood,

And the sole spectre was the Solitude!


'^ I knew no more — strong as a mighty dream
The trouble seized the soul, and seal'd the sense;

I knew no more, till in the blessed beam,
Life sprung to loving Nature for defence ;

Yale, flower, and fountain laugh'd in jocund spring,

And pride came back, — again I was a king!


" But, even the while with airy sport of tongue
(As with light wing the skylark from its nest

Lures the invading step) I led the throng
From the dark brood of terror in my breast ;

Still frown'd the vision on my haunted eye,

And blood seem'd reddening in the azure sky.

* Pexdragox is here used in its true sense, not as a proper name, but a royal
title — i. e., the head of the Dragon race.



^'0 tliou, the Almi<>litv Lord of earth and heaven.
Without whose will not even a ^sparrow fallsj

If to mv sifi^ht the fearful trutli wa.s <2:iven.
If thy dread hand hath graven on these walls

The Assyrian's doom, and to the stran Goer's swav

My kingdom and my crown shall pass away, —


^^Gi^nt thi'3 — a freeman's, if a monarch's, prayer! —
Life, while my life one man from chains can save;

While earth one ix^^fuge, or the cave one luir,
Yields to tlie closing struggle of the hi^ve ! —

Mine the la^t desperate but avenging hand,

If reft the sceptre, not resigned the brand!"


^•^ Close to my clasp!" the prophet cried, "Impart
. To these iced veins the glow of j^outh once more:
The healthful throb of one great human heart
Baffles more fiends than all a ma^ian's lore.
My boy ! — " young arms eml^racing check'd the rest,
And youth and a52:e stood minf^fled breast to breast.


^* Ho 1" cried the mighty master, while he broke
From the embrace, and round from vault to tkx^r

Mysterious echoes answered a.s he spoke;

And flames twined snake-like round the wand he bore^

And freezing winds swept wheeling through the cell,

As from the winsis of hosts invisible :




" IIo ! ye spiritual Ministers of all

The airy space below the Sapphire Throne^

To the swift axle of this earthly ball —
Yea, to the deep, where evermore alone

Hell's king with memory of lost glory dwells,

And from that memory weaves his hell of hells ; —


'*^Ho! ye who fill the crevices of air,

And speed the whirlwind round the reeling bark —
Or dart destroying in the forked glare,

Or rise — the bloodless People of the Dark,
In the pale shape of Dreams — when to the bed
Of Murder glide the simulated dead !


'' Hither, ye myriad hosts ! — O'er tower and dome,
Wait the high mission, and attend the word :

Whether to pierce the mountain with the gnome,
Or soar to heights where never wing'd the bird;

So that the secret and the boon ye wrest

From Time's cold grasp or Fate's reluctant breast!"


Mute stood the king — when lo, the dragon-keep
Shook to its rack'd foundations, as when all

Corycia's caverns and the Delphic steep
Shook to the foot-tread of invading Gaul;*

Or, as his path when flaming ^tna frees,

Shakes some proud city on Sicilian seas :

• See Pausanias (Phocics, c. 23), for the animated description of the march of
Brennus upon Delphi.

BOOK T. of)


Reel'd heaving from his feet the dizzy floor;

Swam dreamlike on his gaze the fading cell ;
As Mis the seaman when the waves dash o'er

The plank that glideth from his grasp — he fell.
To eyes ungifted, deadly were the least
Of those last mysteries, Nature yields her priest.


Morn, the joy-hringer, from her sparkling uni
Scatters o'er herb and flower the orient dew ;

The larks to heaven, and souls to thought return —
Life, in each source, leaps rushing forth anew,

Fills every grain in nature's boundless plan.

And wakes new fates in each desire of man,


In each desire, eadi thought, each fear, each hope,
Each scheme, each wish, each fancy, and each end,

That morn calls forth, say, who can span the sco]_>e ?
Who track the arrow which the soul mav send ?

One morning woke Olympia's youthful son.

And long'd for fame — and half the world was won.


Fair shines the sun on stately Carduel ;

The falcon, hoodwink'd, basks upon the wall ;
The tilt-3^ard echoes with the clarion's swell.

And lusty youth comes thronging to the call ;
And martial sports (the daily wont) begin.
The page must practice if the knight would win.



Some spur the palfrey at the distant ring ;

Some, with bkmt lance, in mimic tourney charge ;
Here skirs the pebble from the poised sling,

Or flies the arrow rounding to the targe ;
Yf hile Age and Fame sigh smiling to behold
The young leaves budding to replace the old.


Nor yet forgot amid the special sports
Of polish'd Chivalry, the primal ten*

Athletic contests, known in older courts

Ere knighthood rose from the great father-men.

Beyond the tilt-yard spread the larger space.

For the strong wrestle and the breathless race ;


Here some, the huge dull weights up-heaving throw ;

Some ply the staff, and some the sword and shield ,
And some that falchion with its thunder-blow

Which Heus, ( '" ) the guardian, taught the Celt to wield ;
Ileus, who first guided o'er the " Hazy Sea"
Our Titanf sires from far Defrobnvi.

* The ten manly games (Gwrolgampan), were, first, — six called the "Father-
games" (Tadogion), viz., lifting weights, running, leaping, swimming, wrestling,
riding, or chariot races; — the four last, more devoted to skill in arms, were arches y,
playing with the two-handed stafT, playing with the sword and shield, and espe-
cially the exercise of the Cleddtf DKunnwuN, or two-handed sword (a very early
national weapon).

f " Our Titan sires?'' — according to certain mythologists, the Celts, or Cimme-
rians, were the Titans. On the other hand, some of the early chroniclers make the
giants, or Titans, the aborigines of the island, — whom the Britons very properly ex-

BOOK I. 37


Life thUvS astir, and sport upon the wing,

Why yet doth Arthur dream day's prime away ?

Still in charm'd sluml)er lies the quiet King ;
On his own couch the merry sunbeams play ;

Gleam o'er the arms hung trophied from the wall ;

And Cymri's antique crown surmounting all.


Slowly he woke ; life came back Avith a sigh,
(That herald, or that henchman to the gate

Of all our knoAvledge ;) — and his startled eye
Fell where beside his couch the prophet sate ;

And with that sight rushed back the mystic cell,

The awful summons, the arrested spell.


" Prince," said the prophet, '" with this morn awake
From pomp, from pleasure, to high toils and brave ;

From yonder wall the arms of knighthood take.
But leave the crown the knightly arms may save ;

O'er mount and vale, go, pilgrim, forth alone.

And win the gifts which shall defend a throne.


" So speak the fates — till in the heavens the sun
Rounds his revolving course, King, return

To man's first, noblest birthright, toil : — so won
In Grecian fable, to the ambrosial urn

Of joyous Hebe, and the Olympian grove,

Th(^ labouring son Alcmena bore to Jove.



" By the stout heart to peril's sight enured,

By the wise brain which toil hath stored and skill'd,

Valour is school'd and glory is secured,

And the large ends of fame and fate fulfill'd :

But hear the gifts thy year of proof must gain,

One left unwon, and all the quest is vain.


" The Falchion, welded from a diamond gem^

Guarded by Genii in the sparry caves
Where springs a forest from a single stem.

Shadowing a temple built beneath the waves;
Where bitter charms grant gifted eyes to mark
The Lake's weird Lady in her noiseless bark.


" The silver Shield in which the infant sleep
Of Thor was cradled, — ^now the jealous care

Of the fierce Dwarf whose home is on the deep^
Where drifting icerocks clash in lifeless air;

And War's pale Sisters smile to see the shock

Stir the still curtains round the couch of Lok.


" And last of all — before the Iron Gate

Which 023es its entrance at the faintest breath.

But hath no egress; where remorseless Fate
Sits, weaving life, witliin the porch of Death ;

There with meek fearless eye, and locks of gold^

Back to warm earth thy childlike guide behold.

BOOK I. 39


" The sword, the shield, and that young phijmate guide,
Win; and the liend predicting wrath, >shall He;

Be danger hraved, and be dehght defied,

Front death with dauntless, but with solemn eye ;

And tho' dark wings hang o'er these threatened halls,

Tho' war's red surge break thundering round thy walls.

" Tho', in the rear of time, these prophet eyes

See to thy sons, thy Cymrians, manj^ a woe ;
Yet from thy loins a race of kings shall rise.

Whose throne shall shadow all the seas that How;
Whose empire, broader than the Cassar won.
Shall clasp a realm Avhere never sets the sun.C')


" And thou, thyself, slialt live from age to age,
A thought of beauty and a type of fame ; —

Not the faint memory of some mouldering page,
But by the hearths of men a household name !

Theme to all sono;, and marvel to all vouth —

Beloved as Fable, yet believed as Truth.


" But if thou fail — thrice Avoe !" Up sprang the King :
" Let the Avoe fall on feeble kings who fail

Their country's need ! When falcons spread the wing
They face the sun, not tremble at the gale :

With such rewards, when ever failed the brave,

A name to conquer and a land to save?"



Ere jet tlie tsliadows from tlie castle's base

Sliow'd lapsing noon — in Carcluel's council hall.

To the high princes of the dragon race,
The mighty prophet, whom the awe of all

As Fate's unerring oracle adored, —

Told the self exile of the parted lord.


For his throne's safety and his country's weal
On high emprize to distant regions bound ;

The cause must wisdom for success conceal ;
For each sage counsel is, as fate, profound :

And none mav trace the travail in the seed.

Till the blade burst to glory in the deed>


Few were the orders, as wise orders are,
For the upholding of the chiefiess throne ;

To strengthen peace and yet prepare for war;
Lest the fierce Saxon (Arthur's absence known).

Loose Death's pale charger from the broken rein,

To its grim pastures on the bloody plain.


Leave we the startled Princes in the hall ;

Leave we the wondering babblers in the mart.
The grief, the guess, the hope, the doubt, and all

That stir a nation to its inmost heart.
When some portentous Chance, unseen till then.
Strides in the circles of unthinking men.

BOOK I. 41

Where the screen'cl portal from the embattled town,

Opes midway on the hill, the lonely King,
Forth issuing, guides his barbed charger down

The steep descent. Amidst the pomp of spring
Lapses the lucid river ; jocund May
Waits in the vale to strew with flowers liis way.


Of brightest steel, (but not emboss'd Avith gold,
As when in tourneys rode the royal knight),

His arms Hash sunshine back ; the azure fold
Of the broad mantle, like a wave of light.

Floats tremulous, and leaves the sword-arm free.

Fair was that darling of all Poetry!


Online LibraryEdward Bulwer Lytton LyttonKing Arthur → online text (page 2 of 25)