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winding by the foot of the Alps round the valley, gains a lake and a con-
vent; The story now returns to Arthur and iEgle ; Descriptive stanzas ; A
raven brings Arthur news from Merlin ; The King resolves to quit the
valley ; He seeks and finds the Augur ; Dialogue ; Parting scene with
^gle ; Arthur follows the Augur towards the fane of the funereal gud.



Hail, thou, the ever young, albeit of Night

And of primeval Chaos eldest born ;
Thou, at whose birth broke forth the Founts of Light,

And o'er Creation flush'd the earliest Morn !
Life, in thy life, suffused the conscious whole ;
And formless matter took the harmonious soul.


Hail, Love ! the Death-defyer ! age to age

Linking, with flowers, in the still heart of man !

Dream to the bard, and marvel to the sage,
Glor}^ and mystery since the world began.

Shadowing the cradle, bright'ning at the tomb,

Soft as our joys, and solemn as our doom !


Ghostlike amidst the unfamiliar Past,

Dim shadows flit along the streams of Time ;

Vainly our learning trifles with the vast

Unknown of ages ! — Like the wizard's rhyme

We call the dead, and from the Tartarus

'Tis but the dead that rise to answer us !



A^oiceless and Avan, we question them in vain ;

They leave unsolved earth's mighty yesterday.
But wave thy wand — they bloom, they breathe again !

The link is found ! — as we love, so loved they !
Warm to our clasp our human brothers start,
Man smiles on man, and heart speaks out to heart.

V. * . ^

Arch Power, of every power most dread, most sweet,

Ope at thy touch the far celestial gates ;
Yet terror flies with Joy before thy feet,

And, with the Graces, glide unseen the Fates.
Eos and Hesperus ; one, with twofold light,
Bringer of day, and herald of the night.


But, lo ! again, where rise upon the gaze
The Tuscan Virgin in the Alpine bower,

The steel-clad wanderer, in his rapt amaze,
Led thro' the fiowrets to that living flower :

Eye meeting eye, as in that blest survey

Two hearts, unspeaking, breathe themselves away !

Behind the King the dark-robed Augur stood,

And watch'd the meeting with his calm, cold eye ;
As calm, as cokl, as human passions view'd

From the still Dis by iron Destiny.
And setting sunbeams, thro' the blossoms stealing.
Lit circled Childhood round the Virgin kneeling.

BOOK ly. 139


Slow from charm'd wonder woke at last the King,
And the frank mien regain'd the princely grace.

Gently he pass'd amidst the kneeling ring,
Knelt with the infants to that downcast face ;

And on the hand that thrill'd in his to be,

Press'd the pure kiss of courteous chivalry.


And in his bold, rough-music'd mountain tongue.
Spoke the knight's homage and the man's delight.

Is there one common language to the 3'oung

That, with each word more troubled and more bright,

Stirred the quick blush — as when the south wind heaves

Into sweet storm the hush of rosy leaves ? —


But now the listening Augur to the side
Of Arthur moves ; and sighing silently,

The handmaid children from the chamber glide,
And ^gle followeth slow, with drooping eye. —

Then on the King the soothsayer gazed and spoke,

And Arthur started as the accents broke.


For those dim sounds his mother-tongue express

But in some dialect of remotest age ;
Like that in which the far Saronides*

Exchanged dark riddles with the Samian sage.(^)
Ghostlike the sounds ; a founder of his race
Seem'd in that voice the haunter of the place.

* Saronides — the Druids of Gaul : " The Samian Sage" — PrxHAGORAS, The



" Guest/' said the priest, with labour'd words and slow,
" If, as thy language, tho' corrupt, betrays.

Thou art of those great tribes our records show
As the crown'd wanderers of untrodden ways,

Whose eldest god, from pole to pole enshrined,

Gives Greece her Kronos and her Boudu to Ind ;


" Who, from their Syrian parent-stem, spread forth
Their giant roots to everj^ farthest shore,

Sires of young nations in the stormy North,

And slumberous East ; but most renown'd of yore

In purple Tyre ; — if, of Phcenician race,

In truth thou art, — thrice welcome to the place !


" Know us as sons of that old friendly soil

Whose ports, perchance, yet glitter with the prows

Of Punic ships, when resting from their toil
In Luna's* gulf, the sunbeat crews carouse.

Unless in sooth (and here he sigh'd) the day

Caere foretold hath come to Rasena !"-j-

Augur is here supposed to speak Phoenician as the parent language of Arthur's
native Celtic. See Note 1.

• Luna, a trading town on the gulf of Spezia, said to have heen founded by the
Etrurian Tarchun. See Sfruho, lib, v. Cat. Orig. xxv. In a fragment of Ennius,
Luna is mentioned. In Lucan's time it was deserted, " desertaj mocnia Luna;." —
Luc. i. 586.

I Rasexa was the name which the Etrurians gave to themselves. — Tiviss*s
Niebuhr, vol. i. c. vii. Muller die Eirusker: Uion. i. 30.

BOOK IV. 141


-^ Grave sir," quoth Arthur, piteously perplext,
" Or much — forgive me, hath my hearing err'd,

Or of that People quoted in thy text,

(Perish'd long since) — but dimly have I heard :

Phoenicians ! True, that name is found within

Our scrolls ; — they came to Ynys-wen* for tin !


" As for my race, our later bards declare"

It springs from Brut, the famous Knight of Tro}^ ;

But if Sir Hector spoke in Welch, I ne'er

Could clearly learn — meanwhile, I hear with joy.

My native language (pardon the remark)

Much as Noah spoke it when he left the ark.


" More would my pleasure be increased to know
That that fair lady has your own precision

In the dear music which so long ago, [cian."

We taught — observe, not learnd from — the Phoeni-

" Speak as yovi ought to speak the maiden can ;

guttural-grumbling and disvow^ell'd man."(^)

• Ynys-wen — England, " the White Island."

f Sir F. Palgrave bids us remark that Taliessiv, who was a contemporary of
Arthur, or nearly so, addresses his countrymen as "the remnant of Troy." — Pul-
grave^s Commonwen/lh, vol. i. c. x. p. 323. The Britons no doubt received that
legend with many others, to which Welch scholars have too fondly assigned a more
remote antiquity, from the Romans.



Replied the priest " But, ere I yet disclose
The bliss that Northia* singles for your lot,

Fain would I learn what change the gods impose
On the old races and the sceptres ? — what

The latest news from Rasena ?" — " With shame

I own, grave sir, I never heard that name !' "


The Augur stood aghast ! — " 0, ruthless Fates !

Who then rules Italy ?"— " The Ostrogoth."
" The Os — the what ?" — " Except the Papal states ;

Unless the Goth, indeed, has ravished both
The Caesar's throne and the Apostle's chair —
Spite of the knight of Thrace, — Sir Belisair."*j*


" What else the warrior nations of the earth ?"

Groan'd the stunn'd Augur. — "Reverend sir, the Huns,

Franks, Vandals, Lombards — all have warlike worth ;
Nor least, I trust, old Cymri's Druid sons !"

" 0, Northia, Northia ! and the East ?" — " In peace.

Under the Christian Emperor of Greece ;

* Northia, the Etrurian Deity, which corresponds with the Fortune of the
Koraans, but probably with something more of the sterner attributes which the
Greek and the Scandinavian gave to the Fates. I cannot but observe here on the
similarity in sound and signification between the Etrurian Northia and the Scan-
dinavian Noma. Noma with the last is the general term applied to Fate, The
Etrurian name for the deities collectively — ^sars, is not dissimilar to that given
collectively to their deities by the Scandinavians — viz., ^sir, or Asas.

•j- liclisarius, whose fame was just then rising under Justinian. The Ostrogoth,
Theodoric, was on the throne of Italy.

BOOK IV. 143


" Whose arms of late have scourged the Payniin race.
And worsted Satan !" — " Satan, who is he ?"

Greatly the knight was shock' d, in that fair place,
To find such ignorance of the powers that be :

So then, from Eve and Serpent he began ;

And sketch'd the history of the Foe of Man.


" Ah," said the Augur — " here, I comprehend,
^gypt, and Typhon, and the serpent creed !(^)

So, o'er the East the gods of Greece extend,
And Isis totters ?" — " Truly, and indeed,"

Sighed Arthur, scandalized — " I see, with pain.

You have much to learn my monks could best explain —


" Nathless for this, and all you seek to know
Which I, no clerk, though Christian, can relate,

Occasion meet my sojourn may bestow ; —

Now, wherefore, pray you, through yon granite gate

Have you, with signs of some distress endured,

And succour sought, my wandering steps allured ?"


" Pardon, but first, soul-startling stranger," said
The slow-recovering Augur — " say if fair

The regions seem to whicli those steps were led ?
And next, the maid to whom you knelt compare

With those you leave. Are hers, in sober truth,

The charms that fiK the rovino^ heart of vouth ?"



" Lovelier than all on earth mine eyes have seen
Smiles the gay marvel of this gentle realm ;

Of all earth's beauty that fair maid the queen ;
And, might I place her glove upon my helm,

I would proclaim that truth with lance and shield,

In tilt and tourney, sole against a field !"


*^ Since that be so (though what such custom means
I rather guess than fully comprehend)

Answer again ; — if right my reason gleans
From dismal harvests, and discerns the end

To which the Beautiful and Wise have come,

Hard are the fates beyond our Alpine home :


'' What makes, without, the chief pursuit of life ?"
" War," said the Cj^mrian, with a mournful sigh :

*^ The fierce provoke, the free resist the strife,
The daring perish and the dastard fly ;

Amidst a storm we snatch our troubled breath,

And life is one grim battle-field of death."


^' Then here, stranger, find at last repose !

Here, never smites the thunder-blast of war ;
Here all unknown the very name of foes ;

Here, but with yielding earth men's contests are ;
Our trophies — flower and oUve, corn and wine : —
Accept a sceptre, be this kingdom thine !

BOOK ly. 145

'^ Oar queeiij tlie virgin who liath cliarni'd thine eyes —
Our laws her spouse, in whom the gods shall send,

Decree ; the gods have sent thee ; — what the skies
Allot, receive : — Here, shall thy wanderings end,

Here thy woes cease, and life's voluptuous day

Glide, like yon river through our flowers, away."


" Kind sir," said Arthur gratefully — ^^ such lot
Indeed were fair beyond what dreams display ;

But earth has duties which — " — " Relate them not 1"
Exclaim'd the Augur — " or at least delay,

Till better known the kingdom and the bride.

Then youth, and sense, and nature, shall decide."


With that, the Augur, much too wise as yet
To hint compulsion, and secure from flight,

Arose, resolved each scruple to beset

With all which melteth duty in delight —

Here, for awhile, we leave the tempted King,

And turn to him who owns the crystal ring.


Oh, the old time's divine and fresh romance !
When o'er the lone yet ever-haunted ways
Went frank-eyed Knighthood with the lifted lance.

And life with wonder charm'd adventurous days ;
When light more rich, through prisms that dimm'd it

shone ;
And Nature loom'd more large through the Unknown.




Nature, not then the slave of formal law !

Her each free sport a miracle might be ;
Enchantment clothed the forest with sweet awe ;

Astolfo'*' spoke from out the Bleeding Tree ;
The Fairy wreath'd his dance in moonlit air ;
On golden sands the Mermaid sleek'd her hair —


Then soul learn'd more than barren sense can teach
(Soul with the sense now evermore at strife)

Wherever fancy wandered man could reach —
And what is now called poetry was life.

If the old Ijeauty from the world is fled,

Is it that Truth or that Belief is dead ?


Not following, step by step, the devious King,
But whither best his later steps are gained,

Moved the sure index of the fairy ring.

And since, at least, a moon hath wax'd and weaned

What time the pilgrim left the father-land —

So towards his fresher footsteps veered the hand.


And now where pure Sabrina'}* on her breast
Hushes sweet Isca, and, like some fair nun

That yearns, earth-wearied for the golden rest.
Unfolds her spotless bosom to the sun ;

Ever and ever glad'ning gloriously,

Till her last wave melts noiseless in the sea :

* Ariosto, canto vi.

I Sahuina, the Severn ; whose legendary tale Milton has so exquisitely told in
the Comus. — Isca, the Usk.

BOOK IT. 147


Across that ford pass'd sprightly Lancelot,

Then, towards those lovely lands which yet retain

The Cymrian freedom, rode, and rested not

Till, rough on Devon,* broke the broaden'd main.

Through rocks abrupt the strong waves force their way,

Here cleave the land — there^ hew the indented bay.


Paused the good knight. Kude huts lay far and wide ;

The dipping sea-gulls wheel'd with startled shriek ;
Drawn on the sand lay coracles of hide,f

And all was desolate ; when towards the creek^
Near which he halts, comes loud the splashing oar ;
A boat shoots in ; the seamen leap to shore.


Three were their number, — two in youthful prime.
One of mid years ; — tall, huge of limb the three ;

Scarce clad, with weapons of a northward clime ;
Clubs, spears, and shields — the uncouth armoury

Of man, while yet the wild beast is his foe.

Yet something still the lords of earth may show.

* The shore which Lancelot reaches (long after his time occupied but by a few
straggling fishermen) appears to be that which now, in ihe harbour of Plymouth,
receives the merchandize of the world.

f The ancient British boats, covered with corii or hyd«s — " The ancient
Britons," as Mr. Pennant observes, " had them of large size, and even made short
voyages in them, according to the accounts we receive from Lucan." — Fennanf,
vol. i. p. 303.



The pride of eye, the majesty of mien,
The front erect that looks upon the star ;

While round each neck the twisted chains are seen
Of Teuton chiefs ; — (and signs of chiefs they are

In Cymrian lands — where still the torque* of gold

Or decks the higliborn or rewards the bold.)


Stern Lancelot frown'd; for in those sturdy forms
The Briton's eye the Saxon foeman fear'd.

" Why come ye hither ? — nor compelled by storms,
Nor proffering barter ?" As he spoke they near'd

The noble knight ; — and thus the elder said,

'^ Nought save his heart the Aleman hath led !


" Ere more I answer, say if this the shore

And thou the friend of him who owns the dove ?

Arthur the King, — who taught us to adore

By the m n's deeds the God whose creed is love?

Then Lancelot answered, with a moistening eye,

'' Arthur's true knight and lealest friend am I."


With that, he leapt from selle to clasp his hand
Who spoke thus gently of the absent one ;

And now behold them seated on the sand,
Frank faces smiling in the cordial sun ;

The absent, there, seemed present; to unite

In loving bonds, his converts and his knight.

* The twisted chain, or oollar, denotecl the chiefs of all the olil tribes, known ns
Hauls to the Roman!'. It is by this badge that the critics in art have riglitly de-
cided that the statue called "The Dying Gladiator'' is in truth nieant to iierponiiy

BOOK IV. 149


Then told the Aleman the tale by sono^

Already told — and we resume its flow
Where the mild hero charm'd the stormy throng

And twined the arm that sheltered round his foe :
Not meanly conquered but sublimely won —
Stern Harold veil'd his plume to Uther's son.


The Saxon troop resought the Vandal king,
And Arthur sojourn'd with the savage race :

More easy such rude proselytes to bring

To Christian truth, than in the wondrous place

Where now he rests, — proud wisdom he shall find !

Clearliest dawns heaven upon the simplest mind.


But when his cause of wrong the Cymrian showed ;

The heathen foe — the carnage-crimson'd fields ;
With one fierce impulse those fierce converts giow'd,

And their wild war-howl chimed with clashing shields;
But by the past's dark history Arthur taught,
Refused the aid which Yortigern had sought.


Yet to the chief (for there at least no fear)
And his two sons, a slow consent he gave :

Show'd by the prince the stars hj which to steer.
They hew'd a pine and launched it on the wave ;

Bringing rough forms but dauntless hearts to swell

The force that guards the fates of Carduel.

a wounded Gaul. The collar, or torque, was long retained by the chiefs of Britain
— and allusions to it are frequent in the songs of the Welch



The story heard, the son of royal Ban*

Questions the paths to which the King was led.

" Know/' answered Faul (so hight the Aleman,)
" That, in our father's days, our warriors spread

O'er lands wherein eternal summer dwells,

Beyond the snow-storm's siegeless pinnacles ;


" And on the borders of those lands, 't is told,
There lies a lake, some dead great city's grave,

Where, when the moon is at her full, behold
Pillar and palace shines up from the wave 1

And o'er the water glideth, still and dark,


Seen btit by seers, a spectre and a barl

" It chanced, as round our fires w^e sate at night.
And saga-runes to wile our watch were sung,

That with the legends of our father's might

And wandering labours, this old tale was strttng.

Then the roused King much question'd ; — what we knew

We told, still question from each answ^er grew.

* Aconrdins: to the French romance writers, Lancelot was the son of King Ban
of Bcnoic, a tributary to the Cyrnrian crown. The Welch claim him, however, as a
national hero, in spile of his name, which they inter{)ret as a translation from one
of their own — Paladr tldclt, splinten^d spear, (Lady C CJuest's Mabinogion, vol.
i. p 91.) The favourite device, by the way, of [?ichard Corur de Lion was a mailed
hand, holding a splintered lance, with the noble motto. " labor viris convenit," la-
hour becomes men. In a subse(|uent page, Lancelot tells the tale (pretty nearly as
it i.s ti)Id in the French romance) which obtained him the title of "Lancelot of
the Lake." See uotc in Ellis's edition of W ay's Fabliau.v, vol ii. p. 2oG.

BOOK ly. 151



That night he slept not — with the morn was gone ;

And the dove led him where the snow-storms sleep."
Then Lancelot rose, and led his destrier on,

And gained the boat, and motioned to the deep,
His purpose well the Alem^en divine,
And launch once m.ore the bark upon the brine.


And ask to aid — " Know, friends," replied the knight,
" Each wave that roUeth smooths its frown for me ;

My sire and mother, by the lawless might
Of a fierce foe expell'd, and forced to flee

From the fair halls of Benoic, paused to take

Breath for new woes, beside a Fairy's lake.


" With them was I, their new-born helpless heir, —
The hunted exiles gazed afar on home,

And saw the giant fires that dyed the air [dome.

Like blood, spring wreathing round the crushing

They clung, they gazed — no word by either spoken ;

And in that hush the sterner heart was broken.


" The woman felt the cold hand fail her own ;

The head that lean'd fell heavy on the sod ;
She knelt — she kiss'd the lips, — the breath was flown !

She call'd upon a soul that was with God :
For the first time the wife's sweet power was o'er —
She who had soothed till th<3n could soothe no more !



" In the wife's woe, the mother was forgot.

At hist — (for I was all earth held of him
Who had been all to her, and now was not) —

She rose, and look'd, with tearless eyes, but dim,
In the babe's face the father still to see ;
And lo ! the babe was on another's knee ! —


" Another's lip had kissed it into sleep.

And o'er the slee23 another, watchful, smiled ; —

The Fairy sate beside the lake's still deep.

And hush'd with chaunted charms the orphan child !

Scared at the cry the startled mother gave,

It sprang, and snow-like, melted in the wave.


" There, in calm halls of lucent crystalline.
Fed by the dews that fell from golden stars.

But through the lymph I saw the sunbeams shine.
Nor dreamed a world beyond the glistening spars ;

And my nurse blessed me with the charm that saves

On stream, on sea — no matter where the waves.



" In my fifth year, to Uther's royal towers
The fairy bore me, and her charge resign'd.

My mother took the veil of Christ — the Hours
With Arthur's life the orphan's life entwined.

O'er mine own element my course I take —

All oceans smile on Lancelot of the Lake !"

BOOK lY. 153


He said, and waived his hand : around the boat
The curlews hovered, as it shot to sea.

The wild men, lingering, watch'd the lessening float,
Till in the far expanse lost desolately,

Then slowly towards the hut they bent their way,

And the lone waves moaned up the lifeless bay.


Pass we the voyage. Hunger-worn, to shore

Gain'd man and steed; there food and rest they found

In humble roofs. The course, resumed once more,
Stretch'd inland o'er not unfamiliar ground ;

Pleased, as he rides by tower and town, to see

Cymri's old oak rebloom in Brettanie. .


Nathless, no pause, save such as needful rest
demands, delays him in the friendly land.

No tidings here of Arthur gain'd, his breast

Springs to the goal of the quick-moving hand,

Howbeit not barren of adventurous days,

Sweet Danger found him in the devious ways.


What foes encountered or what damsels freed —
What demon spells in lonely forests braving,

Leave we to songs yet vocal to the reed
On every bank, beloved by poets, waving;

Our task reluctant from the muse of old,

Takes but the tale by nobler bards untold.



Now as he journeys, frequent more and more
Tiie traces of the steps he tracks are found ;

Fame, Hke a hght, shines broadening on before
His path, and cleaves the shadows on the ground ;

High deeds and gentle, bruited near and far,

Show where that soul went flashing as a star.


At length he gains the Ausonian Alpine walls ;

Here, castle, convent, town, and hamlet fade ;
Lone, through the rolling mists, the hoof-tread falls ;

Lone, earth's mute giants loom amidst the shade ;
Yet still, as sure of hope, he tracks the king.
Up steep, through gorge, v/here guides the crystal ring.


One day — along by daedal chasms his course —

He saw before him indistinctly pass
Through the dun fogs, what seemed a phantom hor;'e,

Like that which oft, amidst the dank morass,
Bestrid by goblin-meteor, starts the eye —
So fleshles>s flitting — wan and shadowy.


By a bare rock it paused, and feebly neigh'd.
As the good knight descending, seized the rein ;

Dew-rusted mail the shrunken front array'd ;
The rich selle rotted with the moulder stain ;

And on the selle were slung helm, axe, and mace ;

And the great lance lay careless near the place.

BOOK ly. 155


Then first tlie seeker's stricken spirit fell ;

Too well that helmet, with its dragon crest,
Speaks of the mighty owner ; and too well

That steed, so oft by snowy hands carest,
When bright-eyed Beauty from the balcon Ijent
To crown the victor-lord of tournament.


Near and afar he searched — he call'd in vain, [seen ;

By crag and combe* nought answering, and nought
Return'd, the charger long refused the rein,

Clinging, poor slave, where last its lord had been.
At length the slow reluctant hoofs obey'd
The soothing words ; so went they through the shade :


Following the gorge that wound the Alpine wall,
Like the huge fosse of some Cyclopean town,

(While roaring round, invisible cataracts fall) ;
On the black rocks twilight comes ghostly down,

And deep and deeper still the windings go,

And dark and darker as to worlds below.


Night halts the course, resumed at earliest day,
Through day pursued, till the last sunbeams fell

On a broad mere whose margin closed the way.
Hark ! o'er the waters swung the holy bell

From a gray convent on the rising ground.

Amidst the subject hamlet stretch'd around.

Online LibraryEdward Bulwer Lytton LyttonKing Arthur → online text (page 8 of 25)