Edward Bulwer Lytton Lytton.

King Arthur online

. (page 22 of 25)
Online LibraryEdward Bulwer Lytton LyttonKing Arthur → online text (page 22 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Thence when least look'd for, burst upon the foe,

On war's own heart direct the sudden blow ;


Thus front and rear assailed, their numbers, less
(Perplex'd, distraught,) avail the heathen's power.

Dire was the peril, and the sole success
In the nice seizure of the season'd hour ;

The high-soul'd rashness of the bold emprize ;

The fear that smites the fiercest in surprise ;

BOOK XI. 177


Whatever worth the enchanted boons may bear,
The hero heart by which those boons were won ;

The stubborn strength of that supreme despair,
When victory lost is all a land undone ;

In the man's cause and in the Christian's zeal,

And the just God that sanctions Freedom's steel.


Meanwhile, along a cave-like corridor
The stranger guest the gentle abbess led;

Where the voluptuous hypocaust of yore
Left cells for vestal dreams saint-hallowed.

Her own, austerely rude, affords the rest

To which her parting kiss consigns the guest.


But Avelcome not for rest that loneliness !

The iron lamp the imaged cross displays,
And to that guide for souls, what mute distress

Lifts the imploring passion of its gaze ?
Fear like remorse — and sorrow dark as sin ?
Enter that mystic heart and look within !


What broken gleams of memorj^ come and go

Along the dark ! — a silent starry love
Lighting young Fancy's virgin waves below.

But shed from thoughts that rest ensphered above !
Oh, flowers whose bloom had perfumed Carmel, weave
Wreaths for such love as lived in Genevieve !



A May noon resteth on the forest hill ;

A May noon resteth over ruins hoar ;
A maiden muses on the forest hill,

A tomb's vast pile o'ershades the ruins hoar,
With doors now open to each prying blast,
Where once to rot imperial dust had past ;


Glides thro' that tomb of Eld the musing maid,
And slumber drags her down its airy deep.

wondrous trance ! in druid robes array'd,

What form benignant charms the life-like sleep ?

What spells low-chaunted, holy-sweet, like prayer,

Plume the light soul, and waft it through the air ?


Comes a dim sense as of an angel's being,
Bathed in ambrosial dews and liquid day;

Of floating wings, like heavenward instincts, freeing
Thro' azure solitudes a spirit's way, —

An absence of all earthly thought, desire.

Aim — ^liope, — save those which love and which asjiire :


Each harder sense of the mere human mind
Merged into some protective prescience ;

Calm gladness, conscious of a charge consign'd
To the pure ward of guardian innocence ;

And the felt presence, in that charge, of one

Whose smile to life is as to flowers the sun,

BOOK XI. 179


Go on J tliou troubled Memory, wander on !

Dull, o'er the bounds of the departing trance.
Droops the lithe wing the airier life hath known ;

Yet on the confines of the dream, the glance
Sees— where before he stood, the Enchanter stand, —
Bend the vast brow, and stretch the shadowy hand.


And, human sense reviving, on the ear

Fall words ambiguous, now with happy hours

And plighted love, — and now with threats austere
Of demon dangers — of malignant Powers

Whose force might 3^et the counter charm unbind,

If loosed the silence to her lips enjoin'd. —


Then as that Image faded from the verge
Of life's renewed horizon — came the day ;

Yet, ere the vision's last faint gleams submerge
Into earth's common light, their parting ray

On Arthur's brow the faithful memories leave.

And the Dove's heart still beats in Genevieve !


Still she the presence feels, — resumes the guide.
Till slowly, slowly waned the prescient power

That gave the guardian to the pilgrim's side ; —
And only rested, with her human dower

Of gifts sublime to soothe, but weak to save,

And blind to warn^ — the Daughter of the Grave,



Yet the last dream bequeathed for ever more
Thoughts that did, like a second nature, make

Life to that life the Dove had hover'd o'er
Cling as an instinct, — and for that dear sake

Danger and Death had found the woman's love

In realms as near the Angel as the Dove.


And now and now is she herself the one
To launch the bolt on that beloved life ?

Shuddering she starts, again she hears the nun
Denounce the curse that arms the awful strife ;

Again her lips the wild cry stilie,^ — " See

Crida's lost child, thy country's curse, in me !"


Or — if along the world of that despair

Fleet other spectres, — from the ruined steep

Points the dread arm and hisses thro' the air
The avenger's sentence on the father's sleep !

The dead seem rising from the yawning floor,

And the shrine steams as with a shamble's gore.


Sudden she springs, and, from her veiling hands,
Lifts the pale courage of her calmed brow;

With upward eyes, and murmuring lips, she stands,
Raising to heaven the new-born hope : — and now

Glides from the cell along the galleried caves,

Mute as a moonbeam tiitting over waves.

BOOK XI. 181


Now gained the central grot ; now won the stair ;

The lamp she bore gleamed on the door of stone ;
Why halt ? what hand detains ? — she tiirn'd, and there,

On the nun's serge and brow rebuking, shone
The tremulous light ; then fear her lips unchain'd
From that stern silence by the Dream ordain'd,


And at those holy feet the Saxon fell
Sobbing, " stay me not ! rather free

These steps that fly to save Ids Carduel !
Throne, altars, life — his life ! In me, in me,

To these strange shrines, thy saints in mercy bring

Crida's lost Child ! — Way, way to save thy king !"

Listened the nun; doubt, joy, and awed amaze

Fused in that lambent atmosphere of soul.
Faith in the wise All Good ! — so melt the rays

Of varying Iris in the lucid whole
Of light ; — " Thy people still to Thee are dear,
Lord," she murmured, " and Thy hand is here !"

" Yes," cried the suppliant, " if my loss deplored,

My fate unguest — misled and arm'd my sire ;
When to his heart his child shall be restored,

Sure, war itself will in the cause expire ;
Ruth come with joy, — and in that happy hour
Hate drop the steel, and Love alone have power ?"



Then the nun took the Saxon to her breast,

Round the bow'd neck she hung her sainted cross,

And said, " Go forth — beautiful and blest !
And if my king rebuke me for thy loss,

Be my reply the gain that loss bestow'd, —

Hearths for his peoj)le, altars for his God !"


She ceased ; — on secret valves revolved the door.
Breathed on the silent hill the dawning air ;

One moment paused the steps of Hope, and o'er
The war's vast slumber look'd the Soul of Prayer.

So halts the bird that from the cage hath flown ; —

A light bough rustled, and the Dove was gone.




Preliminary Stanzas ; Scene returns to Carduel ; a day has passed since
the retreat of the Saxons into their encampment ; The Cymrians take
advantage of the enemy's inactivity, to introduce supplies into the fa-
mished city ; Watch all that day, and far into the following night, is
kept round the corpse of Caradoc; Before dawn, the burial takes place;
The Prophet by the grave of the Bard ; Merlin's address to the Cym-
rians, whom he dismisses to the walls, in announcing the renewed as-
sault of the Saxons ; Merlin then demands a sacrifice from Lancelot ;
gives commissions to the two sons of Faul the Aleman, and takes Paul
himself (to whom an especial charge is destined) to the city; The scene
changes to the Temple Fortress of the Saxons ; The superstitious panic
of the heathen hosts at their late defeat ; The magic divination of the
Runic priests ; The magnetic trance of the chosen Soothsayer ; The
Oracle he utters ; He demands the blood of a Christian maid ; The
pause of the priests and the pagan king ; The abrupt entrance of Ge-
nevieve ; Crida's joy ; The priests demand the Victim ; Genevieve's
Christian faith is evinced by the Cross which the Nun had hung round
her neck ; Crida's reply to the priests ; They dismiss one of their
number to inflame the army, and so insure the sacrifice ; The priests
lead the Victim to the Altar, and begin their hymn, as the Soothsayer
wakes from his trance ; The interruption and the compact ; Crida goes
from the Temple to the summit of the tower without ; The invading
march of the Saxon troops under Harold described ; The light from the
Dragon Keep ; The Saxons scale the walls, and disappear within the
town ; The irruption of flames from the fleet ; The dismay of that part
of the army that had remained in the camp ; The flames are seen by
the rest of the heathen army in the streets of Carduel ; The approach
of the Northmen under Gawaine ; The light on the Dragon Keep changes
its hue into blood-red, and the Prophet appears on the height of the
tower; The retreat of the Saxons from the city ; The joy of the Chief
Priest ; The time demanded by the compact has exj)ired ; He summons
Crida to complete the sacrifice ; Crida's answer ; The Priest rushes
back into the Temple ; The ofi'ering is bound to the Altar ; Faul ! the
gleam of the enchanted glaive ; The appearance of Arthur ; The War
takes its last stand within the heathen temple ; Crida and the Teuton
kings ; Arthur meets Crida hand to hand ; Meanwhile Harold saves
the Gonfanon, and follows the bands under his lead to the river side;
He addresses them, re-forms their ranks, and leads them to the brow of
the hill ; His embassy to Arthur ; The various groups in the heathen
temple described; Harold's speech; Arthur's reply ; Merlin's prophetic
address to the chiefs of the two races ; The End.



Flow on, flow on, fair Fable's happy stream,
Vocal for aye with Eld's first music-chaunt,

Where mirror'd far adown the crystal, gleam
The golden domes of Carduel and Komaunt ;

Still one last look on knighthood's peerless ring,

Of mooned dream-land and the Dragon King ! —


Detain me yet amid the lovely throng,

Hold yet thy Sabbat, thou melodious spell !

Still to the circle of enchanted song

Charm the high Mage of Druid parable.

The Fairy, barb-led from her Caspian Sea,

And Genius,* lured from caves in Araby !


Tho' me, less fair if less familiar ways.

Sought in the paths by earlier steps untrod,

Allure — yet ever, in the marvel-maze.
The flowers afar perfume the virgin sod ;

The simplest leaf in fairy gardens cull.

And round thee opens all the Beautiful !

* whether or not the fairy of Great Britain and Ireland be of Celtic or Piclish
origin, in the rude shape it assumes in the simplest legends; — as soon as it appears
in the romance of that later period in which Arthur was the popular hero, it be-
trays unequivocal evidence of its identity with the Persian Peri. The Genius is
still more obviously the creation of the Kast.



Alas ! the sunset of our Northern main

Soon lose the tints Hesperian Fancy weaves ;

Soon the sweet river feels the icy chain,

And haunted forests shed their murmurous leaves ;

The bough must wither, and the bird depart,

And winter clasp the world — as life the heart !


A day had pass'd since first the Saxons fled
Before the Christian, and their war lay still ;

From mom to eve the Cymrian rider spread
Where flocks yet graze on some remoter hill,

Pale, on the walls, fast-sinking Famine waits.

When hark, the droves come lowing thro' the gates !


Yet still, the corpse of Caradoc around.
All day, and far into the watch of night,

The grateful victors guard the sacred ground ;
But in that hour when all his race of light

Leave Eos lone in heaven, — earth's hollow breast

Oped to the dawn-star and the singer's rest


Now, ere they lowered the corpse, with noiseless tread

Still as a sudden shadow. Merlin came
Thro' the arm'd crowd ; and paused before the dead,

And, looking on the face, thrice call'd the name,
Then, hush'd, thro' all an awed compassion ran,
And all gave way to the old quiet man.

BOOK XI. 187


For Cymri knew that of her children none
Had, like the singer, loved the lonely sage ;

All felt, that there a father call'd a son

Out from that dreariest void, — bereaved age ;

Forgot the dread renown, the mystic art,

And saw but sacred there — the human heart !


And thrice the old man kiss'd the lips that smiled.
And thrice he call'd the name, — then to the grave,

Hush'd as the nurse that bears a sleeping child
To its still mother's breast, — the form he gave :

With tender hand composed the solemn rest,

And laid the harp upon the silent breast.


And then he sate him down, a little space

From the dark couch, and so, of none took heed ;

But lifting to the twilight skies his flxce,

That secret soul which never man could read.

Far as the soul it miss'd, from human breath.

Rose — where Thought rises when it follows Death !


And swells and falls in gusts the funeral dirge
As hollow falls the mould, or swells the mound :

And (Cymri's warlike wont) upon the verge.
The orbed shields are placed in rows around ;

Now o'er the dead, grass waves ; — the rite is done :

And a new grave shall greet a rising sun.



Then slowly turned, and calmly moved the sage,
On the Bard's grave his stand the Prophet took.

High o'er the crowd in all his pomp of age
August, a glory brightened from his look ;

Hope flashed in eyes illumined from his own,

Bright^ as if there some sure redemption shone.


Thus spoke the Seer : '^ Hosannah to the brave ;

Lo, the eternal heir-looms of your land !
A realm's great treasure house ! The freeman's grave ;

The hero creed that to the swordless hand
Thought, when heroic, gives an army's might ; —
And song to nations as to plants the light !


" Cymrians, the sun yon towers will scarcely gild.
Ere war will scale them ! Here, your task is o'er.

Your walls your camp, your streets your battle-field ;
Each house a fortress ! — One strong effort more

For God, for Freedom — for your shrines and homes !

After the Martyr the Deliverer comes !"


He ceased ; and such the reverence of the crowd,
No lip presumed to question. Wonder hushed

Its curious guess, and only Hope aloud

Spoke in the dauntless shout : each cheek was flushed ;

Each eye was bright ;■ — each heart beat high ; and all

Ranged in due ranks, resought the shatter'd wall :

BOOK XII. - 189


Save only four, wliom to that holy spot

The Prophet's whisper stay'd : — of these, the one

Of knightly port and arms, was Lancelot ;
But in the ruder three, with garments won

From the wild beast, — long hair'd, large limb'd, agen

See Rhine's strong sons, the convert Alemen !


When these alone remained beside the mound,

The Prophet drew apart the Paladin,
And said, " what time, feud, worse than famine, found

The Cymrian race, like some lost child of sin
That courts, yet cowers from death ; — serene thro' all
The jarring factions of the maddening hall.


" Thou didst in vain breathe high rebuke to pride,
With words sublimely proud. ' No post the man

Ennobles ; — man the post ! did He who died
To crown in death the end His birth began.

Assume the sceptre when the cross He braved ?

Did He wear purple in the world He saved ?


" ' Ye clamour which is worthiest of command,—
Place me, whose fathers led the hosts of Gaul,

Amongst the meanest children of your land ;
Let me owe nothing to my fathers, — all

To such high deeds as raised, ere kings were known,

The boldest savage to the earliest throne !'

VOL. II. 13



'' But none did heed tliee, and in scornful grief
Went thy still footsteps from the raging hall,

Where by the altars of the bright Belief

That spans this cloud-world when its sun-showers fall,

She, thine in heaven at least assured to be,

Pray'd not for safety but for death with thee.


" There, by the altar, did ye join your hands.
And in your vow, scorning malignant Time,

Ye plighted two immortals ! in those bands [clime ;
Hope -still wove flowers, — but earth was not their

Then to the breach alone, resigned, consoled.

Went Gaul's young hero. — Art thou now less bold ?


" Thy smile replies ! Know, while we speak, the King
Is on the march ; each moment that delays

The foeman, speeds the conqueror on its wing ;
If, till the hour is ripe, the Saxon stays

His rush, then idly wastes it on our wall,

Not ours the homes that burn, the shrines that fall !


" But that delay vouchsafed not — -comes in vain
The bright achiever of enchanted powers ;

He comes a king, — no people but the slain,

And round his throne will crash his blazing towers,

This is not all ; for him the morn is rife

With one dire curse that threatens more than life ; —



" A curse which, launched, will wither every leaf
In victory's crown, chill youth itself to age !

Here magic fails — for over love and grief
There is no glamour in the brazen page.

Born of the mind, o'er mind extends mine art : —

Beyond its circle beats the human heart ! —


" Delay the hour — save Carduel for thy king ;

Avert the curse ; from misery save thy brother !"
" Thrice welcome Death," cried Lancelot, "could it bring

The bliss to bless mine Arthur ! As the mother
Lives in her child, the planet in the sky,
Thought in the soul, in Arthur so live I."


" Prepare," the Seer replied, " be firm ! — and yield
The maid thou lovest to her Saxon sire."

Like a man lightning-stricken, Lancelot reel'd,
As if blinded by the intolerant fire.

Covered his face with his convulsive hand.

And groaned aloud, " What woe dost thou demand ?


" Yield her ! and wherefore ? Cruel as thou art !

Can Cymri's king or Carduel's destiny
Need the lone ofiering of a loving heart,

Nothing to kings and states, but all to me ?"
" Son," said the prophet, " can the human eye
Trace by what wave light quivers from the sky ;



" Explore some thought whose utterance shakes the earth

Along the airy galleries of the brain ;
Or can the human judgment gauge the worth

Of the least link in Fate's harmonious chain ?
All doubt is cowardice — all trust is brave —
Doubt^ and desert thy king ; — believe and save."


Then Lancelot fix'd his keen eyes on the sage,
And said, " Am I the sacrifice, or she ?

Risks she no danger from the heathen's rage,

She the new Christian ?" — " Danger more with thee !

Will blazing roofs and trampled altars yield

A shelter surer than her father's shield ?


" If mortal schemes may foil the threatening hour,
Thy heart's reward shall crown thine honour's test ;

And the same fates that crush the heathen power
Restore the Christian to the conqueror's breast ;

Yea, the same lights that gild the nuptial shrine

Of Arthur, shed a beam as blest on thine !"


"I trust and I submit," said Lancelot,

With pale firm lip. "Go thou — I dare not — I!

Say, if I yield, that I abandon not !

Her form may leave a desert to my eye.

But here — but hereT — No more his lips could say,

He smote his bleeding heart, and went his way !



The Enchanter, thoughtful, turned, and on the grave
His look relaxing fell. — " Ah, child, lost child !

To thy young life no youth harmonious gave
Music ; — no love thine exquisite griefs beguil'd ;

Thy soul's deep ocean hid its priceless pearl ; —

And he is loved, and yet repines ! churl !"


And murmuring thus, he saw below the mound

The stoic brows of the stern Alemen,
Their gaunt limbs strewn supine along the ground,

Still as gorged lions couch' d before the den
After the feast ; their life no medium knows.
Here, headlong conflict, there, inert repose !


" Which of these feet could overtake the roe ?

Which of these arms could grap23le with the bear?"
" My first-born," answered Faul, " outstrips the roe ;

My youngest crushes in his grasp the bear."
" Thou, then, the swift one, gird thy loins, and rise ;
See o'er the lowland where the vapour lies,


" Far to the right, a mist from Sabra's wave ;

Amidst that haze explore a creek rush-grown,
Screen'd from the w^aters less remote, which lave

The Saxon's anchor'd barks, and near a lone
Gray crag where bitterns boom ; within that creek
Gleams thro' green boughs a galley's brazen peak j



" This gain'd, demand the chief, a Christian knight,
The bear's rough mantle o'er his rusted mail ;

Tell him from me, to tarry till a light

Burst from the Dragon keep; — then crowd his sail,

Fire his own ship — and, blazing to the bay.

Cleave thro' yon fleet his red destroying way;


^^ No arduous feat ; the gallies are unman n'd,
Moor'd each to each ; let fire consume them all !

Then, the shore won, lead hitherwards the band
Between the Saxon camp and Cymrian wall.

What next behooves, the time itself will show,

Here counsel ceases ; — there, ye find the foe !"


Heard the wild youth, and no reply made he.

But braced his belt and grip'd his spear, and straight

As the bird flies, he flew. " My son, to thee,"
Next said the Prophet, " a more urgent fate

And a more perilous duty are consign'd ;

Mark, the strong arm requires the watchful mind.


'' Thou hast to pass the Saxon sentinels ;

Thou hast to thread the Saxon hosts alone ;
Many are there whom thy far Rhine expels

His swarming war-hive, — and their tongue thine own ;
Take from yon Teuton dead the mail'd disguise.
Thy speech their ears, thy garb shall dupe their eyes ;



" The watcli-pass ' Yingolf '"■" wins thee thro' the van,
The rest shall danger to thy sense inspire,

And that quick light in the hard sloth of man
Coil'd till sharp need strikes forth the sudden fire.

The encampment traversed, where the woods behind

Slope their green gloom, thj stealthy pathway wind ;


'' Keep to one leftward track, amidst the chase
Clear d for the hunter's sport in hap]3ier days ;

Till scarce a mile from the last tent, a space

Clasping gray crommell stones, will close the maze.

There, in the centre of that Druid ring,

Arm'd men will stand around the Cymrian King : —


'' Tell him to set upon the tallest pine

Keen watch, and wait, until from Carduel's tower.
High o'er the wood, a starry light shall shine ;

Not that the signal, tho' it nears the hour.
But when the light shall change its hues, and form
One orb blood-dyed, as sunsets red with storm ;


" Then, while the foe their camp unguarded leave,
And round our walls their tides tempestuous roll,

To yon wood pile, the Saxon fortress, cleave ;
Be Odin's idol the Deliverer's goal.

Say to the King, ' In that funereal fane

Complete thy mission and thy guide regain

I' "

* Vingolf. Literally, *' The Abode of Friends ;" the name fur the place in which
the heavenly goddesses assemble.



While spoke the seer, the Teuton's garb of mail
The son of Faul had donn'd, and bending now,

He kissed his father's cheek, " And if I fail,"
He munnur'd, " leave thy blessing on my brow,

My father !" Then the convert of the wild

Look'd up to Heaven, and mutely blessed his child.


" Thou wend with me, proud sire of dauntless men,"
Resumed the seer : — '' On thy arm let my age

Lean, as shall thine upon tJieir children !" — Then
The loreless savage — the all gifted-sage,

By the strong bonds of will and heart allied ;

Went towards the towers of Carduel, side by side.

To Crida's camp the swift song rushing flies ;

Round Odin's* shrine wild Priests, rune-muttering.
Task the weird omens hateful to the skies ;

Pale by the idol stands the gray-hair'd king ;
And, from without, the unquiet armament
Booms, in hoarse surge, its chafing discontent.


For in defeat (when first that multitude

Shrunk from a foe, and fled the Cymrian sword,)

The pride of man the wrath of gods had viewed ;
Religious horror smote the palsied horde ;

The field refused, till priest, and seid, and charm.

Explore the offence, and wrath divine disarm.

• As throughout this twelfth book, Odin representing more than the mere Woden
of the Saxons, assumes the general character of the great War God of the universal
Teuton Family, and as it would be here both perplexing and pedantic to mark the


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 22 24 25

Online LibraryEdward Bulwer Lytton LyttonKing Arthur → online text (page 22 of 25)