Edward Bulwer Lytton Lytton.

King Arthur online

. (page 20 of 25)
Online LibraryEdward Bulwer Lytton LyttonKing Arthur → online text (page 20 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Stretch'd hissing forth, without a stroke at any.


At first Astutio, wrong but very wise,
Disdain'd the Hydra as a fabled creature,

The vague invention of a Poet's lies.

Unknown to Pliny and the laws of Nature —

Nor till the fact was past philosophizing,

Saitli he, " That 's Hydra, there is no disguising !



'^ A Hydra, Sire, a Hercules demands,
So if not Hercules, assume his vizard."

The advice is oiood — the Vandal wrino^s his hands.
Kicks out the Sage — and rushes to a wizard.

The wizard waves his wand — disarms the sentry.

And (w^ondrous man) enchants the nioh — with entry =


Thus fell, tho' no man touch'd him, Ludovick,

Tripp'd by the slide of his own slippery feet. "^

The crown cajoled from Fortune by a trick.
Fortune, in turn, outcheated from the cheat ;

Clapp'd her sly cap the glittering bauble on.

Cried " Presto !"^ — raised it — and the gaud was gone !


Ev'n at the last, to self and nature true,
No royal heart the breath of danger woke ;

To mean disguise habitual instinct flew.

And the King vanished in a craftsman's cloak.

While his brave princes scampering for their lives,

Relictus parmulis — forgot their wives !


King Mob succeeding to the vacant throne.

Chose for his ministers some wise Chaldeans, —

Who told the sun to close the day at noon.
Nor sweat to death his betters the plebeians ;

And bade the earth, unvexed by plough and spade,

Bring forth its wheat in quarterns ready made.



The sun refused the astronomic feat ;

The earth declined to bake the corn it grew ;
King Mob then ordered that a second riot

Should teach Creation what it had to do.
'-' The sun shines on, the earth demands the tillage,
Down Time and Nature, and hurrah for pillage !"


Then rise en mctsse the burghers of the town ;

Each patriot breast the fires of Brutus fill ;
Gentle as lambs when riot reach'd the crown.

They raged like lions when it touch'd the till.
Rush'd all who boasted of a shop to rob.
And stout King Money soon dethroned King Mob.


This done, much scandalized to note the fact,
That o'er the short tyrannic rise the tall,

The middle-sized a penal law enact

That henceforth height must be the same in all ;

For being each born equal with the other.

What greater crime than to outgrow your brother?


Poor Yandals, do the towers, when foes assail,

So idlv soar above the level wall?
Harmonious Order needs its music-scale ;

The Equal were the discord of the All.
Let the wave undulate, the mountain rise ;
Nor ask from Law what Nature's self denies.



vagrant Muse, deserting all too long,

Freedom's grand war for frenzy's goblin dream,

The hour runs on, and redemands from song.
And from our Father-land the mighty theme.

The Pale Horse rushes and the trumpets swell,

King Crida's hosts are storming Carduel !


Within the inmost fort the pine-trees made,
The hardy women kneel to warrior gods.

For where the Saxons armaments invade^
All life abandons their resign'd abodes.

The tents they pitch the all they prize contain ;

And each new march is for a new domain.


To the stern gods the fair-hair'd women kneel,
As slow to rest the red sun glides along;

And near and far, hammers, and clanking steel,
Neighs from impatient barbs, and runic song

Mutter'd o'er mystic fires by wizard priests,

Invite the Valkyrs to the raven feasts.


For after nine long moons of siege and storm,
Thy hold, Pendragon, trembles to its fall !

Loftier the Roman tower uprears its form.

From the crush'd bastion and the shatter'd wall,

And but till night those iron floods delay

Their rush of thunder: — Blood-red sinks the day.

BOOK XI. i::


Death halts to strike, and swift the moment flies :
Within the walls, (than all without more fell,)

Discord with Babel tongues confounds the wise,
And spectral Panic, like a form of hell

Chased by a Fury, fleets, — or, stone-like, stands

Dull-eyed Despondence, palsying nerveless hands.


And pride, that evil angel of the Celt,
Whispers to all " 't is servile to obey,"

Robs ordered Union of its starry belt.

Rends chief from chief and tribe from tribe away,

And leaves the children wrangling for command

Round the wild death-throes of the Father-land.


In breadless marts, the ill-persuading fiend

Famine, stalks maddening with her wolfish stare ;

And hearts, on whose stout anchors Faith had lean'd,
Bound at her look to treason from despair,

Shouting, " Why shrink we from the Saxon's thrall ?

Is slavery worse than Famine smiting all ?"


Thus, in the absence of the sunlike king.

All phantoms stalk abroad ; dissolve and droop

Light and the life of nations — while the wing
Of carnage halts but for its rushing swoop.

Some moan, some rave, some laze the hours away ; —

And down from Carduel blood-red sunk the day !



Leaning against a broken parapet

Alone with Thought, mused Caradoc the Bard,
When a voice smote him, and he turned and met

A gaze prophetic in its sad regard.
Beside him, solemn with his hundred years,
Stood the arch hierarch of the Cymrian seers.


" Dost thou remember," said the Sage, " that hour
When seeking signs to Glory's distant way.

Thou heard'st the night bird in her leafy bower.
Singing sweet death-chaunts to her shining prey.

While thy young poet-heart, with ravished breath,

Hung on the music, nor divin'd the death ?"*


'• Ay," the bard answer'd, " and ev'n now methought
I heard again the ambrosial melody !"

'^ So," sigh'd the Prophet, " to the bard, unsought,
Come the far whispers of Futurity !

Like his own harp, his soul a wind can thrill.

And the chord murmur, tho' the hand be still.


" Wilt thou for ever, even from the tomb.
Live, yet a music, in the hearts of all ;

Arise and save thy country from its doom ;
Arise, Immortal, at the angel's call !

The hour shall give thee all thy life implored.

And make the lyre more glorious than the sword.

• See Book ii , pp 67-8, from stanza xxvii. to stanza xxx.

BOOK XI. 141


" In vain thro' jon dull stupor of despair

Sound Geraint's tromp and Owaine's battle cry ;

In vain where yon rude clamour storms the air,
The Council Chiefs stem mad'ning mutiny ;

From Trystan's mail the lion heart is gone.

And on the breach stands Lancelot alone !


" Drivelling the wise, and impotent the strong ;

Fast into ni2:ht the life of Freedom dies ;
Awake, Light-Bringer, wake bright soul of song,

Kindler, reviver, re-creator rise !
Crown thy great mission with thy parting breath,
And teach to hosts the Bard's disdain of death !"


Thriird at that voice the soul of Caradoc ;

He heard, and knew his glory and his doom.
As when in summer's noon the lightning shock

Smites some fair elm in all its pomp of bloom,
Mid whose green boughs each vernal breeze had play'd,
And air s sweet race melodious homes had made j


So that young life bow'd sad beneath the stroke
That sear'd the Fresh and still'd the Musical,

Yet on the sadness thought sublimely broke :
Holy the tree on which the bolt doth fall !

Wild flowers shall spring the sacred roots around,

And nightly fairies tread the haunted ground ;

VOL. II. 10



There, age by age, shall youth with musing brow,
Hear Legend murmuring of the days of 3^ore ;

There, virgin love more lasting deem the vow.

Breathed in the shade of branches green no more ;

And kind Religion keep the grand decay

Still on the earth while forests pass awa.y.


*' So be it, voice from Heaven," the Bard replied,
" Some grateful tears may yet enbalm my name,

Ever for human love my youth hath sigh'd,
And human love's divinest form is fame.

Is the dream erring? shall the song remain ?

Say, can one Poet ever live in vain ?"


As the warm south on some unfathom'd sea,
Along the Magian's soul, the awful rest

Stirr'd with the soft emotion : tenderly
He laid his hand upon the brows he blest.

And said, " Complete beneath a brighter sun

That course. The Beautiful, which life begun.


Joyous and light, and fetterless thro' all

The blissful, infinite, empyreal space,
If then thy spirit stoopeth to recall

The ray it shed upon the human race,
See where the ray had kindled from the dearth,
Seeds that shall glad the garners of the earth 1

BOOK XI. 143


" Never true Poet lived and sung in vain !

Lost if his name, and withered if his wreath,
The thoughts he woke — an element remain

Fused in our light and blended with our breath ;
All life more noble, and all earth more fair,
Because that soul refined man's common air !"*


Then rose the Bard, and smilingly unstrung
His harp of ivory sheen, from shoulders broad,

Kissing the hand that doom'd his life, he sprung
Light from the shatter'd wall, — and swiftly strode

Where, herdlike huddled in the central space,

Droop'd, in dull pause, the cowering populace.


There, in the midst he stood ! The heavens were pale
With the first stars unseen amidst the glare

Cast from large pine-brands on the sullen mail
Of listless legions, and the streaming hair

Of women, wailing for the absent dead.

Or bow'd o'er infant lips that moan'd for bread.

» Perhaps it is in this sense that Taliessin speaks in his mystical pjem, called
" Taliessin's History," still extant :

"I have been an instructor
To the whole universe.
I shall remain till the day of doom
On the face of the earlh."



From out the illumed cathedral hollowly

Swell'd, like a dirge, the hymn \ and thro' the throng

Whose looks had lost all commerce with the sky,
With lifted rood the slow monks swept along,

And vanish'd hopeless : From those wrecks of man

Fled ev'n Religion : — Then the Bard began.


Slow, pitying, soft it glides, the liquid lay,
Sad with the burthen of the Singer's soul ;

Into the heart it coil'd its lulling way ;
Wave upon wave the golden river stole;

Ilush'd to his feet forgetful Famine crept.

And Woe, reviving, veil'd the eyes that wept.


Then stern, and harsh, clash'd the ascending strain,
Telling of ills more dismal yet in store ;

Rough with the iron of the grinding chain,
Dire with the curse of slavery evermore :

Wild shrieks from lips beloved pale warriors hear.

Her child's last death-groan rends the mother's ear ;


Then trembling hands instinctive griped the swords ;

And men unquiet sought each other's eyes ;
Loud into pomp sonorous swell the chords.

Like linked legions march the melodies ;
Till the full rapture swept the Bard along,
And o'er the listeners rushed the storm of song !



And the Dead spoke ! From cairns and kingly graves
The Heroes call'd ; — and Saints from earliest shrines ;

And the Land spoke ! — Mellifluous river-waves ;
Dim forests awful with the roar of pines ;

Mysterious caves from legend-haunted deeps;

And torrents flashing from untrodden steeps ; —


The Land of Freedom call'd upon the Free !

All Nature spoke ; the clarions of the wind ;
The organ swell of the majestic sea;

The choral stars; the Universal Mind
Spoke, like the voice from which the world hegan,
" No chain for Nature and the Soul of Man !"


Then loud thro' all, as if mankind's reply,

Burst from the Bard the Cymrian battle hymn !

That song which swell'd the anthems of the Sky,
The Alleluia of the Seraphim ;

When Saints led on the Children of the Lord,

And smote the heathen with the Angel's sword.*

• The Bishops, Gerrnanus and Lupus, having baptized the Britons in the River
Alyn, led them against the Picts and Saxons, to the cry of "Alleluia." The cry
itself, uttered with all the enthusiasm of the Christian host, struck terror into the
enemy, who at once took to flight. Most of those who escaped the sword perished in
the river. This victory, achieved at Maes Garmon, was called " Victoria Alleluiatica."
Brit. Eccles. Axxia-, 335 ; Btn., lib i., c. i , 20.



As leaps the warfire on the beacon hills,
Leapt in each heart the lofty flame divine ;

As into sunlight flash the molten rills,

Flash'd the glad claymores,* lightening line on line ;

From cloud to cloud as thunder speeds along,

From rank to rank — rush'd forth the choral song. —

Woman and child — all caught the fire of men,

To its own heaven that Alleluia rang,
Life to the spectres had returned agen !

And from the grave an armed Nation sprang !
Then spoke the Bard, — each crest its plumage bow'd,
As the large voice went lengthening thro' the crowd.


'^ Hark to the measured march ! — The Saxons come !

The sound earth quails beneath the hollow tread !
Your fathers rush'd upon the swords of Rome

And climb'd her war-ships — when the Caesar fled !
The Saxons come ! why wait within the wall ?
They scale the mountain : — let its torrents fall !


" Mark, ye have swords, and shields, and armour, ye !

No mail defends the Cymrian Child of Song,-}-
But where the warrior — there the Bard shall be !

All fields of glory to the Bard belong !
His realm extends wherever god-like strife
Spurns the base death, and wins immortal life.

• "The claymore of the Highlanders of Scotland was no other than the cledd
mawr (cle'mawr) of the Welch." (JrMnonouioN, vol. ii , p 106.

t J\o Cymrian bard, according to the primitive law, was allowed the use of

BOOK XI. 147


*' Unarmed he goes — his guard the shields of all,
Where he bounds foremost on the Saxon spear !

Unarmed he goes, that, falling, ev'n his fall

Shall bring no shame, and shall bequeath no fear !

Does the song cease ? — avenge it by the deed,

And make the sepulchre — a nation freed !"


He said, and where the chieftains wrangling sate,
Led the grand army marshall'd by his song ;

Into the hall — and on the wild debate,

King of all kings, A People, poured along ;

And from the heart of man — the trumpet cry

Smote faction down^ " Arms, arms, and liberty !"


Meanwhile roU'd on the Saxon's long array ;

On to the wall the surge of slaughter roll'd ;
Slow up the mount — slow heaved its awful way ;

The moonlight rested on the domes of gold ;
No warder peals alarum from the Keep,
And Death comes mute, as on the realm of Sleep ;


When, as their ladders touch'd the ruined wall.
And to the van, high-towering, Harold strode,

Sudden expand the brazen gates, and all
The awful arch as with the lava glow'd ;

Torch upon torch the deathful sweep illumes,

The burst of armour and the flash of plumes !



Kings 0\vaine's shout ; — rings Geraint's tlmnder-cry ;

The Saxon's death-knell in a hundred wars ;
And Cador's laugh of joy ; — rush through the sky

Bright tossing banderolls — swift as shooting stars. —
Try Stan's white lion — Lancelot's cross of red.
And Tudor's* standard with the Saxon's head.


And high o'er all, its scaled splendour rears
The vengeful emblem of the Dragon Kings.

Full on the Saxon bursts the storm of spears ;
Far down the vale the charging whirlwind rings ;

While thro' the ranks its barbed knighthood clave,

All Carduel follows with its roaring wave.


And ever in the van, with robes of white
And ivory harp, shone swordless Caradoc !

And ever floated in melodious night.

The clear song buoyant o'er the battle shock ;

Calm as an eagle when the Olympian King

Sends the red bolt upon the tranquil wing.


Borne back, and wedged within the ponderous weight
Of their own jarr'd and multitudinous crowd,

Eecoifd the Saxons ! As adown the height
Of some gray mountain, rolls the cloven cloud,

Smit by the shafts of the resistless day, —

Down to the vale sunk dun the rent array.

* The old arms of the Tudors were three Saxons' heads.

BOOK XI. 149


Midway between the camp and Carduel,

Halting their slow retreat, the Saxons stood ;

There as the wall-like ocean ere it fell

On Egypt's chariots, gathered up the flood ;

There, in suspended deluge, solid rose,

And hung expectant o'er the hurrying foes !


Right in the centre, rampired round with shields,
King Crida stood, — o'er him, its livid mane

The horse whose pasture is the Valkyr's fields

Flung wide; — but, foremost thro' the javelin-rain,

Blazed Harold's helm, as when, thro' all the stars

Distinct, pale soothsayers see the dooming Mars.


Down dazzling sweeps the Cymrian Chivalry ;

Round the bright sweep closes the Saxon wall ;
Snatch'd from the glimmer of the funeral sky.

Raves the blind murder; and enclasp'd with all
Its own stern hell, against the iron bar
Pants the fierce heart of the imprisoned War.


Only b}^ gleaming banners and the flash

Of some large sword, the vex'd Obscure once more

Sparkled to light. In one tumultuous clash

Merged every sound — as when the maelstrom's roar

By dire Lofoden, dulls the seaman's groan.

And drowns the voice of tempests in its OAvn.



The Cymrian ranks, — disparted from their van,

And their hemm'd horsemen, — stubborn, but in vain,

Press thro' the levelled spears j yet, man by man.
And shield to shield close-serried, they sustain

The sleeting hail against them hurtling sent

From every cloud in that dread armament.


But now, at length, cleaving the solid clang,
And o'er the dead men in their frowning sleep,

The rallying shouts of chiefs confronted rang

" Thor and Walhalla !" — answered swift and deep

By " Alleluia !" and thy chaunted cry,

Young Bard sublime, " For Christ and Liberty !"


Then the ranks opened, and the midnight moon
Streamed where the battle, like the scornful main

Ebb'd from the dismal wrecks its WTath had strown.
Paused either host ; — lo, in the central plain

Two chiefs had met, and in that breathless pause,

Each to its champion left a Nation's cause.


Now, heaven defend thee, noble Lancelot !

For never yet such danger thee befell,
Tho' loftier deeds than thine emblazon not

The peerless Twelve of golden Carduel,
Tho' oft thy breast hath singly stemm'd a field, —
As when thy claymore clanged on Harold's shield !

BOOK XI. 151


And Lancelot knew not his majestic foe,
Save by his deeds ; by Cador's cloven crest ;

By Modred's corpse ; by rills of blood below,

And shrinking helms above ; — when from the rest

Spurring, — the steel of his uplifted brand

Drew down the lightning of that red right hand.


Full on the Saxon's shield the sword descends ;

The strong shield clattering shivers at the stroke,
And the bright crest with all its plumage bends.

As to the blast with all its boughs an oak :
As from the blast an oak with all its boughs,
Re towering slow, the crest sublime arose.


Grasp'd with both hands, above the Cymrian swung
The axe that Woden taught his sons to wield,

Tlirice thro' the air the circling iron sang,

Thencrash'd resounding: — horse and horseman reel'd,

Tho' slant from sword and casque the weapon shore,

Down sword and casque the weight resistless bore.


The bright plume mingles with the charger's mane ;

Light leaves the heaven, and sense forsakes the breath;
Aloft the axe impatient whirrs again, —

The steed wild-snorting bounds and foils the death ;
While on its neck the reins unheeded flow.
It shames and saves its Lord, and flies the foe.



" Lo, Saxons, lo, what chiefs these Walloons* lead !"
Laugh'd hollow from his helm the scornful Thane.

Then towards the Christian knights he spurr'd his steed
When midway in his rush — rushes again

The foe that rallied while he seemed to fly,

As wheels the falcon ere it swoops from high ; —


And as the falcon, while its talons dart

Into the crane's broad bosom, splits its own

On the sharp beak, and, clinging heart to heart,
Both in one plumage blent, spin whirling down, —

So in that shock each found, and dealt the blow ;

Horse roll'd on horse, fell grappling foe on foe.


First to his feet the slighter Cymrian leapt.
And on the Saxon's breast set firm his knee ;

Then o'er the heathen host a shudder crept.
Rose all their voices, — wild and wailingly;

" Woe, Harold, woe !" as from one bosom came,

The groan of thousands, and the mighty name.


The Cymrian starts, and stays his lifted hand,
For at that name from Harold's visor shone

Genevra's eyes ! Back in its sheath the brand

He plung'd : — sprang Harold — and the foe was gone, —

Lost where the Saxons rush'd along the plain,

To save the livinor or avensre the slain.

• Walloons, — the name given by the Saxons, in contumely, to the Cymrians.

BOOK XI. 153


Spurr'd to the rescue every Cymrian knight,
Again confused, the onslaught raged on high ;

Again the war-shout swell'd above the fight,
Again the chaunt " for Christ and Liberty/'

When with fresh hosts unbreathed, the Saxon king

Forth from the wall of shields leapt thundering.


Behind the chief the dreadful gonfanon

Spread ; — the Pale Horse went rushing down the wind.
^' On where the Valkyrs rest on Carduel, on !

On o'er the corpses to the wolf consign'd !
On, that the Pale Horse, ere the night be o'er,
Stall'd in yon tower, may rest his hoofs of gore !"


Thus spoke the king and all his hosts replied ;

Fill'd by his sword and kindled by his look —
For helmless with his gray hair streaming wide.

He strided thro' the spears — the mountains shook —
Shook the dim city — as that answer rang !
The fierce shout chiming to the buckler's clang !


Aghast the Cymrians see, like Titan sons

New-born from earth, — leap forth the sudden bands :

As when the wind's invisible tremor runs

Thro' corn-sheaves ripening for the reaper's hands,

The glittering tumult undulating flows.

And the field quivers where the panic goes.



Tlie Cymrians waver — shrink — recoil — give w^y,
Strike with weak hands amazed ; half turn to flee ;

In vain with knightly charge the chiefs delay
The hostile mass that rolls resistlessly,

And the pale hoofs for aye had trampled down

The Cymrian freedom and the Dragon Crown,


But for that arch preserver, — under heaven

Of names and states, the Bard ! the hour was come

To prove the ends for which the lyre was given : —
Each thought divine demands its martyrdom.

Where round the central standard rallying flock

The Dragon Chiefs — paused and spoke Caradoc !


'' Ye Cymrian men !" Hushed at the calm sweet sound,
Droop'd the wild murmur, bow'd the loftiest crest,

Meekly the haughty paladins group'd round
The s wordless hero with the mailless breast.

Whose front, serene amid the spears, had taught

To humbled Force the chivalry of Thought.


'^ Ye Cymrian men — from Heus the Guardian's tomb
I speak the oracular j^romise of the Past.

Fear not the Saxon ! Till the judgment doom.
Free on their hills the Dragon race shall last.

If from yon heathen, ye this night can save

One spot not wider than a single grave.

BOOK XI. 155


" For thus the antique prophecy's decree, —

' When where the Pale Horse crushes down the dead,

War's sons shall see the lonely child of peace
Grasp at the mane to fall beneath the tread —

There where he falleth let his dust remain.

There bid the Dragon rest above the slain ;


" ' There let the steel-clad living watch the clay,
Till on that spot their swords the grave have made.

And the Pale Horse shall melt in cloud away,
No stranger's steps the sacred mound invade :

A people's life that single death shall save,

And all the land be hallowed by the grave/

'' So be the Guardian's prophecy fulfill'd,

Advance the Dragon, for the grave is mine."
He ceased ; while yet the silver accents thrill'd

Each mailed bosom down the listening line
Bounded his steed, and like an arrow went
His plume, swift glancing thro' the armament.


On thro' the tempest went it glimmering.

On thro' the rushing barbs and levelled spears ;

On where, far streaming o'er the Teuton king.
Its horrent pomp the ghastly standard rears.

On rush'd to rescue all to whom his breath

Left what saves Nations, — the disdain of death !



Alike the loftiest kniglit and meanest man,
All the roused host, but now so panic chill'd,

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 20 22 23 24 25

Online LibraryEdward Bulwer Lytton LyttonKing Arthur → online text (page 20 of 25)