Edward Bulwer Lytton Lytton.

King Arthur online

. (page 9 of 25)
Online LibraryEdward Bulwer Lytton LyttonKing Arthur → online text (page 9 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

* Combe an old Saxon word, from the British cwm — a valo, hullow, passage
between lv\o rocks.



Here while both man and steeds the welcome rest
Under the sacred roof of Christ receive,

We turn once more to yEgle and her guest.
Lo ! the sweet valley and the flush of eve !

Lo ! side by side, where through the rose-arcade,

Steals the love star, the hero and the maid !


Silent tliej^ gaze into each other's eyes.
Stirring the inmost soul's unquiet sleep ;

So pierce soft star-beams, blending wave and skies,
Some holy fountain tremljling to its deep !

Bright to each eye each human heart is bare.

And scarce a thought to start an angel there !


Love to the soul, whate'er the harsh may say.
Is as the hallowing Naiad to the well —

The linking life between the forms of clay
And those ambrosia nurtures ; from its spell

Fly earth's rank fogs, and Thought's ennobled flow

Shines with the shape that glides in light below.


Taste while ye may, Beautiful ! the brief
Fruit, life but once wins from the Beautiful ;

Ripe to the sun it l)lushes from the leaf.
Hear not the blast that rises while ye cull ;

Brief though it be, how few in after hours

Can say, " at least the Beautiful was ours !"

BOOK IV. 157


Two loves (and both divine and pure) there are ;

One by the roof-tree takes its root for ever,
Nor tempests rend, nor changeful seasons mar —

It clings the stronger for the storm's endeavour ;
Beneath its shade the wayworn find their rest,
And in its boughs the calm bird builds its nest.


But one more frail, (in that more prized, perchance,)
Bends its rich blossoms over lonely streams

In the untrodden ways of wild Eomance,

On earth's far confines, like the Tree of Dreams,*

Few find the path ; — bliss ! woe to find !

What bliss the blossom ! — ah ! what woe the wind !


Oh the short spring ! — the eternal winter ! — All
Branch, — stem all shattered ; fragile as the bloom !

Yet this the love that charms us to recall ;
Life's golden holiday before the tomb ;

Yea ! tliis the love which age again lives o'er.

And hears the heart beat loud with youth once more !


Before them, at the distance o'er the blue
Of the SAveet waves which girt the rosy isle.

Flitted light shapes the inw^oven alleys thro' :
Kemotely mellowed, musical the while,

Floated the hum of voices, and the sweet

Lutes chimed with timbrels to dim-glancing feet.

* "In medio ramos,'' &c. — Virgil, 1. vi. 282.
'•An elm displays her dusky arms abroad,
And empty dreams on every leaf are spread." — Dryden.



The calm swan rested on the breathless glass
Of dreamy waters, and the snow-white steer

Near the opposing margin, motionless,

Stood, knee-deep, gazing wistful on its clear

And life-like shadow, shimmering deep and far,

Where on the lucid darkness fell the star.


Near them, upon its lichen-tinted base.
Gleamed one of those fair fancied imai>:es

Which art hath lost — no god of Id an race.

But the Aving'd symbol which, by Caspian seas,

Or Susa's groves, its parable addrest

To the w^ild faith of Iran's Zendavest.*


Light as the soul, whose archetype it was,
The Genius touch'd yet spurn'd the pedestal ;

Behind, the foliage, in its purple mass.
Shut out the flush'd horizon -, clasping all,

Nature's hush'd giants stood to guard and girth

The only home of peace upon the earth.

* Zexiiavkst. Compare the winjeJ genius of the Etrurians with the Fcroher
of the Persians, in the sculptured reUefs of PersepoHs. (See Heeren's Historical
Researches, Art. Persians.) Micah, vol. ii. p. 174, points out some points of simi-
larity between the Persian and Etrurian cosmogony. It may be here observed, by
the way, that it was peculiar to the Ktrurians, amongst the classic nations of FjU-
rope, to delineate their deities with wings. Even when they borrowed some Hel-
lenic god, they still invested him with this attribute, so especially Eastern. Not
less worth noting by students is tlie resemblance, in many points, between the Scan-
dinavian and Persian mythology.

BOOK IT. 159


And, when, at last, from Ogle's lips, the voice
Came solt as murmur'd hymns at closing day,

The sweet sound seem'd the sweet air to rejoice —
To give the sole charm wanting, — to convey

The crowning music to the Musical ;

As with the soul of love infusing all !


And to the Northman's ear that antique tongue.
Which from the Augur's lips fell weird and cold,

Seem'd as the thread in fairy tales,* which strung
Enchanted pearls, won from the caves of old,

And woven round a sunbeam ; — so was wrought

O'er cordial love the pure and delicate thought. .


She spoke of youth's lost years, so lone before,

And coming to the present, paused and blushed ;
As if Time's wing were spell-bound evermore,
• And Life, the restless, in the hour were hushed :
The pause, the blush, said, more than words, " and thou
Art found! — thou lovest me! — Fate is powerless now!"


That hand in his — that heart his own entwininor
With its life's tendrils, — youth his pardoner be.

If in his heaven no loftier star were shining —
If round the haven boom'd unheard the sea —

If in the wreath forgot the thorny crown.

And the harsh duties of severe renown.

* In a legend of Brctagne, a fairy weaves pearls round a sunbeam, to convince
her lover of her magical powers.



Blame we as well the idlesse of a dream,
As that entranced oblivion from the reign

Of the Great Curse, which glares in every beam
Of labouring suns to the stern race of Cain ;

So life from earth did Nature here withdraw,

That the strange peace seem'd but earth's common law.


Yet some excuse all stronger spirits take

For all repose from toil (to strength the doom)

How sweet in that fair heathen soil to wake
The living palm God planted on the tomb !

And so, and long, did Passion's subtle art

Mask with the soul the impulse of the heart.


Wonderous and lovely in that last retreat
Of the old Gods, — the simple speech to hear

Tell of the Messenger whose beauteous feet
Had gilt the mountain-tops with tidings clear

Of veilless Heaven — while ^gle, thoughtful, said.
This love makes plain — ^yes, love can ne'er be dead !"



Now, as Night gently deepens round them, while
Oft to the moon upturn their happy e^^es —

Still, hand in hand, they range the lulled isle.

Air knows no breeze, scarce sighing to their sighs ;

No bird of night shrieks bode from drowsy trees,

Nought lives between them and the Pleiades :

BOOK lY. 161


Save where the moth strains to the moon its wing,
Deeming the reachless near ; — the prophet race

Of the cold stars forewarn'd them not ; the Ring
Of great Orion, who for the embrace

Of Morn's sweet Maid had died,* look'd calm above

The last unconscious hours of human love.

Each astral influence unrevealing shone

O'er the dark web its solemn thread en wove ;
Mars shot no anger from, his fatal throne,

No beam spoke trouble in the House of Love ;
Their closing path the treacherous smile illumed ;
And the stern Star-kings kiss'd the brows thej doom'd —


' T is morn once more ; upon the shelving green
Of the small isle, alone the Cymrian stood

With his full heart, — when suddenly, between
Him and the sun, the azure solitude

Was broken by a dark and rapid wing,

And a dusk bird swooped downward towards the King.

* Aurora. The scholar will remember the beautiful use Homer makes of this
fable in the 5th Book of the Odyssy. Calypso conaplaining " thai the Gods afflict
niO't their own race," says —

'♦ So when Aurora sought Orion's love.
Her joys disturbed vour blissful hours above,
Till in Ortygia, Dian's winged dart
Had pierced the hapless hunter to the heart." — Pope.




And tlie King's cheek grew pale, for well to Lim,
(As now the raven, settlmg, touch'd his feet,)

Was known the mystic messenger : — where grim
O'er hlack Cwm Idwal,* demon shadows fleet

Glassed on the hosom of that ghastly mere,

Where never wings that love the day will steer,


The Prophet's dauntless childhood stray 'd and found
The weird hird muttering by the waves of dread ;

Three days and nights upon the haunted ground
The raven's beak the solemn infant fed :

And ever after (so the legend ran)

The lone bird tended on that lonely man.

O'er the Child's brow jorest the last snows of age.

As fresh the lustrous ebon of the Bird, —
Less awe had credulous horror of the sage

Than that familiar by the Fiend conferr'd —
So thought the crowd ; nor knew what holy lore
Lives in all things whose instinct is to soar. —


Hoarse croaks the bird, and with its round bright eye.

Fixes the gaze of the recoiling King ;
Slowly the hand, that trembles, cuts the tie

That binds the white scroll gleaming from the wing,
And these the words, " Weak Loiterer from tli}^ toil,
The Saxon's march is on thy father's soil."

• Cwm Itlwal (in Snowtlonia). "A lit place to inspire murderous thonghls, —
environed with horrible i)re( ipiccs shading a lake lodgeil in its bottom. 'J'he shep-

BOOK lY. 163


Bounded the Prince ! — As when the sudden sun
Looses the ice-chains on the halted rill,

Smites the dumb snow-mass, and the cataracts run
In molten thunder down the clanging hill,

So from his heart the fetters burst; and strong

In its rough course the great soul rush'd along.


As looks a warrior on the fort he scales,

Sweeps his broad glance around the eternal steeps —
Not there escape ! — the wildest fancy quails

Before those heights on which the whitening deeps
Of measureless heaven repose : — below their frown.
Planed as a wall, sheers the smooth granite down. —


Marvel, indeed, how even the enchanted wing
Had o'er such rampires won to the abode ;

But not for marvel paused the kindled King,
Swift, as Pelides stung to war, he strode ;

While the dark herald, with its sullen scream,

Rose, and fled, dismal as an evil dream.


Carved as for Love — a slender boat rock'd o'er
The ripple with the murmuring marge at play,

He loosed its chain, he gain'd the adverse shore,
Startled the groups that fluttered round his way,

Awed by the knitted brow and flashing eyes

Of him they deeni'd the native of the skies.

herds' fable that it is the haunt of demons, and that no bird dare fly over its damned
waters.'' — Pennant, v. iii. p. 324.



Towards the far temple, thro' whose tomb-like door
First he had pass'd into the Elysian Land,

He strode — when suddenly, he saw before

His j)ath the seated priest ; — with earnest hand

Turning strange lettered scrolls upon his knee ;

While o'er him spread the platan's murmuring tree :-


On his mysterious leisure broke the cry
Of the imperious Northman, " Rise, unbar

Your granite gates — the eagle seeks the sky,
The captive freedom, and the warrior w^ar !"

Slow rose the Augur, and this answer gave,

" Man, see thy world — its outlet is the grave !

" What ! dost thou think us so in love with fear,

That of our peace we should confide the key ?
Tina hath closed the gates of Janus here.

Shall we expand them ? — never !" Scornfully
He turn'd — but thrill'd wdth priestly wrath to feel
His sacred arm lock'd in a grasp of steel.


" Trifle not, host, — Fate calls me to depart ;

On my shamed soul a prophet's voice hath cried !
Thy secret ! — tliat is safer in the heart

Of a true Man than in an Alp."— ^' Thy bride ?"
Said the pale Augur — " A true man, forsooth !
What says wrong'd ^Egle, boaster, of thy truth ?"

BOOK IV. 165

" Let yEgle answer," cried the noble lover ;

" Let ^gle judge the trust I hold from Heaven.
I faithless ! — I ! a King ? — my labours over,

From mine own soil the surge of carnage driven,
And I will come, as kings should come, to claim
Mates for the throne, and partners for the fame !" —

Long mused the AugUi', and at length replied.

His guile scarce mask'd in his malignant gaze,
" Well, guest — thy fate thine ^gle shall decide —

Then, if still wearied of untroubled days —
No more from Mantu Pales shall controuP
And one free gate shall open on thy soul !"


He said, and drew his large robe round his form,
And wrathful swept along, as o'er the sky

A cloud sw^eeps dark, secret with hoarded storm ;
Behind him went the guest as silently ;

Afar the gazing wonders wdiispered, while

They crossed the girdling wave and reach'd the isle.


With violet buds, bright ^gle, in her bower.
Knits the dark riches of her lustrous hair ;

Her heart springs eager to the counted hour
When to loved eyes 't is glorious to be fair :

Gleams of a neck, proud as the swan's, escape

The light-spun tunic rounded to the shape.

* Mintu, the God of the Shades— Pales, the Pastoral Deity.



Now from the locks the airy veil, dividing

Falls, and floats fragrant, from the violet crown.

What happy thought is in that breast presiding
Like some serenest bird that settles down

(Its w^anderings over) on calm summer eves

Into its nest, amid .the secret leaves ?


What happy thought in those large tranquil eyes
Seems prescient of the eternity of love?

The fixed content in conquered destinies
Which makes the being of the lives above,

Which from itself, as from the starred sphere.

Weaves round its own melodious atmosphere ?


Who ever gazed on perfect happiness.
Nor felt it as the shadow cast from God ?

It seems so still in its sublime excess.

So brings all heaven around its hush'd abode,

That in its very beauty awe has birth,

Dismay'd by too much glory for the earth.


Across the threshold now abruptly strode

Her youth's stern guardian. '' Child of Rasena,"

He said, " the lover on thy youth bestowed
For the last time on earth thine eyes survey,

Unless thy })ower can chain the faithless breast,

And sated bliss deigns gracious to be blest."

BOOK IV. 167


" Not so !" cried Arthur, as his loyal kuee

Bent to the earth, and with the knightly truth

Of his right hand he clasped her own ; — " to be
Thine evermore ; youth mingled with thy youth,

Age with thine age ; in thy grave mine ; above,

Spirit beside thy spirit ; — this the love


" God teacheth man to pray for ! Oft thy smile
Shone o'er me, telling of great Knighthood's vow.

Faith without stain, and honour without guile.

To guard. Sweet lady, trust to Knighthood now !"

Hurrying his words rush'd on ; the threatened land,

The fates confided to the sceptred hand,


Here gathering w^oes, and there suspended toil ;

And the stern warning from the distant seer.
" Thine be my people — thine this bleeding soil ;

Queen of my realm, its groaning murmurs hear !
Then ask thyself, what manhood's choice should be;
False to my country, were I worthy thee ?"


Dim through her struggling sense the light came slow,
Struck from those words of fire. Alas, poor child !

What, in thine isle of roses, shouldst thou know
Of earth's grave duties ?— of that stormy wild

Of care and carnage — the relentless strife

Of man with happinesS; and soul with life ?


ex VI I.

Tliou wlio liaclst seen the sun but rise and set

O'er one Saturnian Arcacly of rest,
Snatch'd from the age of Iron ? Ever, yet,

Dwells that high instinct in each nobler breast,
Which truth, like light, intuitive receives.
And what the Reason grasps not, Faith believes.


So in mute woe, one hand to his resign'd,

And one press'd firmly on her swelling heart,

Passive she heard, and in her labouring mind

Strove with the dark enigma — " part ! — to part !"

Till, having solved it by the beams that broke

From that clear soul on hers, struggling she spoke : —


" Trust — trust in thee ! — but no, I will not weep !

What thou deem'st good is the sole good to me.
Let my heart l^reak, before thy heart it keep

From aught, which lost, could give a pang to thee.
Thou speak'st of dread and terror, strife and woe ;
And I might wonder why they tempt thee so ;


" And I might ask how more can mortals please
The heavens, than thankful to enjoy the earth ?

But through its mist my soul, though faintly, sees
Where thine sweeps on beyond tliis mountain girth,

And, awed and dazzled, bending T confess

Life may have holier ends than happiness !

BOOK IV. 169


'' For something bright and high thyself without,
Thou makest thy heart an offering ; so my heart

Could sacrifice to thee ! Then wherefore doubt
There are to thy soul what to mine thou art ?"

She paused and raised her earnest eyes above,

Bright with the trust devotion breathes in love.


Then as she felt his tears upon her hand,

Earth call'd her back ; — o'er him her face she bow'd :

As when the silver gates of heaven expand,
And on the earth descends the melting cloud,

So sunk the spirit from sublimer air.

And all the woman rush'd on her despair.


" To lose thee — oh, to lose thee ! To live on

And see the sun — not thee ! Will the sun shine,

Will the birds sing, flowers bloom, wdien thou art gone ?
Desolate, desolate ! Thy right hand in mine.

Swear, \yy the Past, thou wilt return ! — Oh, say,

Say it again !" — voice died in sobs away !

Mute look'd the Augur, with his deathful eyes.

On the last anguish of their lock'd embrace.
•^ Priest," cried the lover, " canst thou deem this prize

Lost to my future ? — No, tho' round the place
Yon Alps took life, with all your rites obey
Of demon legions. Love would force the way.


" Hear me, adored one !" On the silent ear

The promise fell, and o'er the unconscious frame

Wound the protecting arm. — '^ Since neither fear
Of the great Powers thou dost blaspheming name,

Nor the soft impulse native in man's heart

Kestrains thee, doom'd one — hasten to depart.


" Come, in thy treason merciful at least,

Come, while those eyes by Sleep the Pityer bound,

See not thy shadow pass from earth !" — The priest
Spoke, — and now call'd the infant handmaids round -,

But o'er that form with arms that vainly cling,

And words that idly comfort, kneels the King.


" Nay, nay, look up ! It is these arms that fold ; —
I still am here ; — this hand, these tears, are mine."

Then, when they sought to loose her from his hold,
He waived them back with a fierce jealous sign ;

O'er her hush'd breath his listening ear he bow'd,

And the awed children round him wept aloud.


But when the soul broke faint from its eclipse,
And his own name came, shaping life's first sigh,

His very heart seem'd breaking in the lips

Press'd to those faithful ones ; — then, tremblingly.

He rose ; — he moved; — he paused ; — his nerveless liand

Veil'd the dread agony of man unmanned.

BOOK IV. 171


Thus, from the chamber, as an infant meek

The priest's weak arm led forth the mighty King ;

In vain wide air came fresh upon his cheek,
Passive he went in his great sorrowing ;

Hate, the mute guide, — the waves of death, the goal ; —

So, following Hermes, glides to Styx a soul.


1 " Like that in which the fur Saroiiides

Exchano-ed dark riddles with the Samian sag-e/'

rage 139, stanza xi.

DioDORUS SicuLUs speaks with great respect of the Saro-
NiDES as the Druid priest of Gaul.* Pythagoras and the Druids
held similar notions as to the transmigration of souls, and other
intricate points of Heathen theology. For the initiation of this
very legendary philosopher (whose name sometimes represents
a personage genuinely historical — sometimes a sect partly scho-
lastic, partly political) into the Druid mysteries, see Clem. Alex.
Strom. L. i. Ex. Alex. Polyhist. It will be observed that the
author here takes advantage of the well-known assertions of
many erudite authorities that the Phcenician language is the
parent of the Celtic, in order to obtain a channel of oral com-
munication between Arthur and the Etrurian ;* though, con-

* Mr. Davis, in his Celtic Researches, insists upon it that Saronides is a British
word, compounded from s^r, stars ; and honydd, " one who discriminates or points
out;" in fine, according to him the Saronides are Seronyddion, i. e. astronomers.

■j- It may perhaps occur to the reader that Latin, with which Arthur (in an age
so shortly subsequent to the Iloman occupation of Britain) could scarcely fail to
he well acijuainted, might have furnished a belter mode of communication between
himself and the Augur. But the Latin language would have been very jmper-
fectly settled at the time of the supposed Etrurian eniigration ; would have liad no
connexion with the literature, sacred or profane, of the Etrurians ; and would long
have been despised as a rude medley of various tongues and dialects, by the proud
and polished race which the Romans subjected.



tented with those authorities, as sufficing for all poetic purpose,
he prudently declines entering into a controversy equally abstruse
and interminable, as to the affinity between the countrymen of
Dido and the scattered remnants of the Briton. Arthur, with
that generous pride of descent which characterizes his people,
takes care, in a subsequent passage, to insinuate that the Cyn,-
rians taught the Phoenicians to speak Welch — not that they
taught the Welch to speak Phoenician ; this hero is always
tenacious of the honour of his country ! It is not surprising
that the Augur should know Phoenician, for we have only to
suppose that he maintained, as well as he could in his retreat,
the knowledge common with his priestly forefathers. The in-
tercourse between Etruria and the Phoenician states, (especially
Carthage), was too considerable not to have rendered the lan-
guage of the last familiar to the learning of the first, to say
nothing of those more disputable affinities of origin and reli-
gion, which, if existing, would have made an acquaintance
with Phoenician necessary to the solution of their historical
chronicles and sacred books. Nor, w^hen the Augur afterwards
assures Arthur that Mgle also understands Phoenician, is any
extravagant demand made upon the credulity of the indulgent
reader ; for those who have consulted such lights as research
has thrown upon Etrurian records, are aware that their more
high-born women appear to have received no ordinary mental

2 "0, guttural-grumbling, and disYowelled man."

Page 141, stanza xvii.

The Etrurian here insinuates a charge very common, but sin-
gularly unjust, against the Welch language. Want of vowels
is certainly not the fault of that tongue, though it must be owned
that it often appears so to an uninitiated ear. Owen, in his
Welch grammar, proposes to English jaws the following some-
w^hat hard nut to crack — " Gwaewawr." Now, as I before
remarked, the w is a vowel answering to our oo, and the word
may therefore be written ^* Gooaeooaoor." Will any candid
man sav there are not vowels enoup-h there?


3 " Ah," said the Augur, "here, I comprehend,
^gypt, and Tvphun, and the serpent creed."

Page 143, stanza xxii.

It is clear that all which the poor bewildered Augur could
comprehend, from the theological relations with w^hich Arthur
(no doubt with equal glibness and obscurity) relieves his histo-
rical narrative, would be that, in " worsting Satan," the Em-
peror of Greece is demolishing the Typhon worship of the Egyp-
tians, and enforcing the adoration of the Dorian Apollo — that
deity who had passed a probation on earth, and expiated a mys-
terious sin by descending to the shades; and it would require a
more erudite teacher than we can presume Arthur to be before
the Augur would cease to confuse with the Pagan divinity the
Divine Foun ler of the Christian gospel. Such confusion existed
long among the heathens, and to this day the sabbath of the
Christians retains its Pagan appellation, "The day of our Lord
the Sun."




The council-hall hi Carduel ; The twelve knif»hts of the round Tal>le de-
scribed, viz., the three Knij^hts of Council, the three Knights of Battle,
the three Knights of Eloquence, and the three Lovers ; Merlin warns
the chiefs of the coming Saxons, and enjoins the fire beacons to be light-

Online LibraryEdward Bulwer Lytton LyttonKing Arthur → online text (page 9 of 25)