The Bridal of Triermain (1813) by Sir Walter Scott
Come Lucy! while ’tis morning hour
The woodland brook we needs must pass;
So, ere the sun assume his power,
We shelter in our poplar bower,
Where dew lies long upon the flower,
Though vanish’d from the velvet grass.
Curbing the stream, this stony ridge
May serve us for a silvan bridge;
For here, compell’d to disunite,
Round petty isles the runnels glide,
And chafing off their puny spite,
The shallows murmurers waste their might,
Yielding to footstep free and light
A dry-shod pass from side to side.
Nay, why this hesitating pause?
And, Lucy, as thy step withdraws,
Why sidelong eye the streamlet’s brim?
Titania’s foot without a slip,
Like, thine, though timid, light, and slim,
From stone to stone might safely trip,
Nor risk the glow-worm clasp to dip
That binds her slipper’s silken rim.
Or trust thy lover’s strength; nor fear
That this same stalwart arm of mine,
Which could yon oak’s prone trunk uprear,
Shall shrink beneath, the burden dear
Of form so slender, light, and fine;
So! now, the danger dared at last,
Look back, and smile at perils past!
And now we reach the favourite glade,
Paled in copsewood, cliff, and stone,
Where never harsher sounds invade,
To break affection’s whispering tone,
Than the deep breeze that waves the shade,
Than the small brooklet’s feeble moan.
Come! rest thee on thy wonted seat;
Moss’d is the stone, the turf is green,
A place where lovers best may meet
Who would not that their love be seen.
The boughs, that dim the summer sky,
Shall hide us from each lurking spy,
That fain would spread the invidious tale,
How Lucy of the lofty eye,
Noble in birth, in fortunes high,
She for whom lords and barons sigh,
Meets her poor Arthur in the dale.
How deep that blush! — how deep that sigh!
And why does Lucy shun mine eye?
Is it because that crimson draws
Its colour from some secret cause,
Some hidden movement of the breast
She would not that her Arthur guess’d?
O! quicker far is lovers’ ken
Than the dull glance of common men,
And, by strange sympathy, can spell
The thoughts the loved one will not tell!
And mine, in Lucy’s blush, saw met
The hues of pleasure and regret;
Pride mingled in the sigh her voice,
And shared with Love the crimson glow;
Well pleased that thou art Arthur’s choice,
Yet shamed thine own is placed so low:
Thou turn’st thy self-confessing cheek,
As if to meet the breeze’s cooling:
Then, Lucy, hear thy tutor speak,
For Love, too, has his hours of schooling.
Too oft my anxious eye has spied
That secret grief thou fain wouldst hide,
The passing pang of humbled pride;
Too oft, when through the splendid hall,
The load-star of each heart and eye,
My fair one leads the glittering ball,
Will her stol’n glance on Arthur fall,
With such a blush and such a sigh!
Thou wouldst not yield, for wealth or rank,
The heart thy worth and beauty won,
Nor leave me on this mossy bank,
To meet a rival on a throne:
Why, then, should vain repinings rise,
That to thy lover fate denies
A nobler name, a wide domain,
A Baron’s birth, a menial train,
Since Heaven assign’d him, for his part,
A lyre, a falchion, and a heart?
My sword — its master must be dumb;
But, when a soldier names my name,
Approach, my Lucy! fearless come,
Nor dread to hear of Arthur’s shame.
My heart! ‘mid all yon courtly crew
Of lordly rank and lofty line,
Is there to love and honour true,
That boasts a pulse so warm as mine?
They praised thy diamonds’ lustre rare —
Match’d with thine eyes, I thought it faded;
They praised the pearls that bound thy hair—
I saw only the locks they braided;
They talk’d of wealthy dower and land,
And titles of high birth the token —
I thought of Lucy’s heart and hand,
Nor knew the sense of what was spoken.
And yet, if rank’d in Fortune’s roll,
I might have learn’d their choice unwise,
Who rate the dower above the soul,
And Lucy’s diamonds o’er her eyes.
My lyre — it is an idle toy,
That borrows accents not its own,
Like warbler of Colombian sky,
That sings in a mimic tone.
Ne’er did it sound o’er sainted well,
Nor boasts it aught of Border spell;
It strings no feudal slogan pour,
Its heroes draw no broad claymore;
No shouting clans applauses raise,
Because it sung their father’s praise;
On Scottish moor, or English down,
It ne’er was graced with fair renown;
Norwon — best meed to minstrel true —
One favouring smile from fair BUCCLEUCH!
By one poor streamlet sounds its tone,
And heard by one dear maid alone.
But, if thou bid’st, these tones shall tell
Of errant knight, and damozelle;
Of a dread knot a Wizard tied,
In punishment of maiden’s pride,
In notes of marvel and of fear,
That best may charm romantic ear.
For Lucy loves (like COLLINS, ill-starred name,
Whose lay’s requital was that tardy fame,
Who bound no laurel round his living head,
Should hang it o’er his monument when dead)
For Lucy loves to tread enchanted strand,
And thread, like him, the maze of fairy land;
Of golden battlements to view the gleam,
And slumber soft by some Elysian stream;
Such lays she loves; and, such my Lucy’s choice,
What other song can claim her Poet’s voice?
Where is the maiden of mortal strain
That may match with the Baron of Triermain?
She must be lovely, and constant, and kind,
Holy and pure, and humble of mind,
Blithe of cheer, and gentle of mood,
Courteous, and generous, and noble of blood,
Lovely as the sun’s first ray
When it breaks the clouds of an April day;
Constant and true as the widow’d dove,
Kind as a minstrel that sings of love;
Pure as the fountain in rocky cave,
Where never sunbeam kiss’d the wave;
Humble as a maiden that loves in vain,
Holy as a hermit’s vesper strain;
Gentle as a breeze that but whispers and dies,
Yet blithe as the light leaves that dance in its sighs;
Courteous as monarch the morn he is crown’d,
Generous as spring-dews that bless the glad ground;
Noble her blood as the currents that met
In the veins of the noblest Plantangenet:
Such must her form be, her mood and her strain,
That shall match with Sir Roland of Triermain.
Sir Roland de Vaux he hath laid him to sleep,
His blood it was fever’d, his breathing was deep.
He had been pricking against the Scot,
The foray was long, and the skirmish hot;
His dinted helm and his buckler’s plight
Bore token of a stubborn fight.
All in the castle must hold them still,
Harpers must lull him to his rest
With the slow soft tunes he loves the best,
Till sleep sink down upon his breast
Like the dew on a summer hill.
It was the dawn of an autumn day;
The sun was struggling with a frost-fog grey,
That like a silvery crape was spread
Round Skiddaw’s dim and distant head,
And faintly gleam’d each painted pane
Of the lordly halls of Triermain,
When that Baron bold awoke.
Starting he woke, and loudly did call,
Rousing his menials in bower and hall,
While hastily he spoke.
‘Hearken, my minstrels! which of ye all
Touch’d his harp with that dying fall,
So sweet, so soft, so faint,
It seem’d an angel’s whisper’d call
To an expiring saint?
And harken, my merry men! what time or where
Did she pass, that maid with her heavenly brow,
With her look so sweet and her eyes so fair,
And her graceful step and her angel air,
And the eagle plume in her dark-brown hair,
That pass’d from my bower e’en now?’
Answer’d him Richard de Bretville — he
Was chief of the Baron’s minstrelsy:
‘Silent, noble chieftain, we
Have sat since midnight close,
When such lulling sounds as the brooklet sings
Murmur’d from our melting strings
And hush’d you to repose.
Had a harp-note sounded here
It had caught my watchful ear,
Although it fell as faint and shy
As bashful maiden’s half-form’d sigh,
When she thinks her lover near.’
Answer’d Philip of Fasthwaite tall —
He kept guard in the outer hall:
‘Since at eve our watch took post,
Not a foot has thy portal cross’d;
Else had I heard the steps, though low
And light they fell, as when the earth receives,
In morn of frost, the wither’d leaves
That drop when no winds blow.’
‘Then come thou hither, Henry, my page,
Whom I saved from the sack of Hermitage,
When that dark castle, tower, and spire,
Rose to the skies a pile of fire.
And redden’d all the Nine-stane Hill,
And the shrieks of death, that wildly broke
Through devouring flame and smothering smoke,
Made the warrior’s heart-blood chill.
The trustiest thou of all my train,
My fleetest courser thou must rein,
And ride to Lyulph’s tower,
And from the Baron of Treirmain
Greet well that sage of power.
He is sprung from Druid sires,
And British bards that tuned their lyres
To Arthur’s and Pendragon’s praise,
And his who sleeps at Dunmailraise.
Gifted like his gifted race,
He the characters can trace,
Graven deep in elder time,
Upon Helvellyn’s cliffs sublime;
Sign and sigil well doth he know,
And can bode of weal and woe,
Of kingdoms’ fall, and fate of wars,
From mystic dreams and course of stars.
He shall tell if middle earth,
To that enchanting shape gave birth,
Of if t’was but an airy thing,
Such as fantastic slumbers bring,
Fram’d from the rainbow’s varying dyes
Or fading tints of western skies.
For, by the Blessed Rood I swear,
If that fair form breathe vital air,
No other maiden by my side
Shall ever rest De Vaux’s bride!’
The faithful Page he mounts his steed,
And soon he cross’d green Irthing’s mead,
Dash’d o’er Kirkoswald’s verdant plain,
And Eden barr’d his course in vain.
He pass’d red Penrith’s Table Round,
For feats of chivalry renown’d.
Left Mayburgh’s mound and stones of power,
By Druid’s raised in magic hour,
And traced the Eamont’s winding way,
Till Ulfo’s lake beneath him lay.
Onward he rode, the pathway still
Winding betwixt the lake and hill;
Till, on the fragment of a rock,
Struck from its base by lightning shock,
He saw the hoary Sage;
The silver moss and lichen twined,
With fern and deer-hair check’d and lined,
A cushion fit for age;
And o’er him shook the aspen-tree,
A restless, rustling canopy.
Then sprung young Henry from his selle,
And greeted Lyulph grave;
And then his master’s tale did tell,
And then for counsel crave.
The Man of Years mused long and deep,
Of time’s lost treasures taking keep,
And then, as rousing from a sleep,
His solemn answer gave.
‘That maid is born of middle earth,
And may of man be won,
Though there have glided since her birth
Five hundred years and one,
But where’s the knight in all the north
That dare the adventure follow forth,
So perilous to knightly worth,
In the valley of Saint John?
Listen, youth, to what I tell,
And bind it on thy memory well;
Nor muse that I commence the rhyme
Far distant ‘mid the wrecks of time.
The mystic tale, by bard and sage,
Is handed down from Merlin’s age.
‘King Arthur has ridden from merry Carlisle
When Pentecost was o’er:
He journey’d like errant-knight the while,
And sweetly the summer sun did smile
On mountain, moss, and moor.
Above his solitary track
Rose Glaramara’s ridgy back,
Amid whose yawning gulfs the sun
Cast umber’d radiance red and dun,
Though never sunbeam could discern
The surface of that sable tarn,
In whose black mirror you may spy
The stars, while noontide lights the sky.
The gallant King he skirted still
The margin of that mighty hill;
Rock upon rocks incumbent hung,
And torrents down the gullies flung,
Join’d the rude river that brawl’d on,
Recoiling now from crag and stone,
Now diving deep from human ken,
And raving down its darksome glen.
The Monarch judged this desert wild,
With such romantic ruin piled,
Was theatre by Nature’s hand
For feat of high achievement plann’d.
‘O rather he chose, that Monarch bold,
On vent’rous quest to ride,
In plate and mail, by wood and wold,
Than, with ermine trapp’d and cloth of gold,
In princely bower to bide:
The bursting crash of a foeman’s spear
As it shiver’d against his mail,
Was merrier music to his ear
Than courtier’s whisper’d tale:
And the clash of Caliburn more dear,
When on the hostile casque it rung,
Than all the lays
To their monarch’s praise
That the harpers of Reged sung.
He loved better to rest by wood or river,
Than in bower of his bride, Dame Guenever,
For he left that lady, so lovely of cheer,
To follow adventures of danger and fear;
And the frank-hearted Monarch full little did wot
That she smiled in his absence, on brave Lancelot.
‘He rode, till over down and dell
The shade more broad and deeper fell;
And though around the mountain’s head
Flow’d streams of purple, and gold, and red,
Dark at the base, unblest by beam
Frown’d the black rocks, and roar’d the stream.
With toil the King his way pursued
By lonely Threlkeld’s waste and wood,
Till on his course obliquely shone
The narrow valley of SAINT JOHN,
Down sloping to the western sky,
Where lingering sunbeams love to lie.
Right glad to feel those beams again,
The King drew up his charger’s rein;
With gauntlet raised he screen’d his sight,
As dazzled with the level light,
And, from beneath his glove of mail,
Scann’d at his ease his the lovely vale,
While ‘gainst the sun his armour bright
Gleam’d ruddy like the beacon’s light.
‘Paled in by many a lofty hill,
The narrow dale lay smooth and still,
And, down its verdant bosom led,
A winding brooklet found its bed.
But, midmost of the vale, a mound
Arose with airy turrets crown’d,
Buttress, and rampire’s circling bound
And mighty keep and tower;
Seem’d some primeval giant’s hand
The castle’s massive walls had plann’d,
A ponderous bulwark to withstand
Ambitious Nimrod’s power.
Above the moated entrance slung,
The balanced drawbridge trembling hung,
As jealous of a foe;
Wicket of oak, as iron hard,
With iron studded, clench’d, and barr’d,
And prong’d portcullis, join’d to guard
The gloomy pass below.
But the grey walls, no banners crown’d,
Upon the watch-tower’s airy round
No warder stood his horn to sound,
No guard beside the drawbridge was found,
And, where the Gothic gateway frown’d
Glanced neither bill nor bow.
‘Beneath the castle’s gloomy pride
In ample round did Arthur ride
Three times; nor living thing he spied,
Nor heard a living sound,
Save that, awakening from her dream,
The owlet now began to scream,
In concert with the rushing stream,
That wash’d the battled mound.
He lighted from his goodly steed,
And left him to graze on bank and mead;
And slowly he climb’d the narrow way
That reach’d the entrance grim and grey,
And he stood the outward arch below,
And his bugle-horn prepared to blow,
In summons blithe and bold,
Deeming to rouse from iron sleep
The guardian of this dismal Keep,
Which well he guess’d the hold
Of wizard stern, or goblin grim,
Or pagan of gigantic limb,
The tyrant of the wold.
‘The ivory bugle’s golden tip
Twice touch’d the Monarch’s manly lip,
And twice his hand withdrew.
Think not but Arthur’s heart was good!
His shield was cross’d by the blessed rood,
Had a pagan host before him stood
He had charged them through and through;
Yet the silence of that ancient place
Sunk on his heart, and he paused a space
Ere yet his horn he blew.
But, instant as its ‘larum rung,
The castle gate was open flung,
Portcullis rose with crashing groan
Full harshly up its groove of stone;
And down the trembling drawbridge cast;
The vaulted arch before him lay,
With nought to bar the gloomy way,
And onward Arthur paced, with hand
On Caliburn’s resistless brand.
‘An hundred torches, flashing bright,
Dispell’d at once the gloomy night
That lour’d along the walls,
And show’d the King’s astonish’d sight
The inmates of the halls.
Nor wizard stern, nor goblin grim,
Nor giant huge of form and limb,
Nor heathen knight, was there;
But the cressets, which odours flung aloft,
Show’d by their yellow light and soft,
A band of damsels fair.
Onward they came, like summer wave
That dances to the shore;
An hundred voices welcome gave,
And welcome o’er and o’er!
An hundred lovely hands assail
The bucklers of the Monarch’s mail,
And busy labour’d to unhasp
Rivet of steel and iron clasp,
One wrapp’d him in a mantle fair,
And one flung odours on his hair;
His short curl’d ringlets one smooth’d down,
One wreath’d them in a myrtle crown.
A bride upon her wedding-day
Was tended ne’er by troop so gay.
‘Loud laugh’d they all,— the King, in vain,
With questions task’d the giddy train;
Let him entreat, or crave, or call,
‘Twas one reply — loud laugh’d they all.
Then o’er him mimic chains they fling,
Framed of the fairest flowers of spring.
While some of their gentle force unite
Onwards to drag the wondering knight;
Some, bolder, urge his pace with blows,
Dealt with the lily or the rose.
Behind him were in triumph borne
The warlike arms he late had worn.
Four of the train combined to rear
The terrors of Tintadgel’s spear;
Two, laughing at their lack of strength,
Dragg’d Caliburn in cumbrous length;
One, while she aped a martial stride,
Placed on her brows the helmit’s pride;
Then scream’d, ‘twixt laughter and surprise,
To feel its depth o’erwhelm her eyes.
With revel-shout, and triumph-song,
Thus gaily march’d the giddy throng.
‘Through many a gallery and hall
They led, I ween, their royal thrall;
At length, beneath a fair arcade
Their march and song at once they staid.
The eldest maiden of the band
(The lovely maid was scarce eighteen)
Raised, with imposing air, her hand
And reverent silence did command,
On entrance of their Queen,
And they were mute, — But as a glance
They steal on Arthur’s countenance
Bewilder’d with surprise,
Their smother’d mirth again ‘gan speak,
In archly dimpled chin and cheek,
And laughter-lighted eyes.
‘The attributes of those high days
Now only live in minstrel lays;
For Nature, now exhausted, still
Was then profuse of good and ill.
Strength was gigantic, valour high,
And wisdom soar’d beyond the sky,
And beauty had such matchless beam
As lights not now a lover’s dream.
Yet e’en in that romantic age,
Ne’er were such charms by mortal seen,
As Arthur’s dazzled eyes engage,
When forth on that enchanted stage,
With glittering train of maid and page,
Advanced the castle’s Queen!
While up the hall she slowly pass’d
Her dark eye on the King she cast,
That flash’d expression strong;
The longer dwelt that lingering look,
Her cheek the livelier colour took,
And scarce the shame-faced King could brook
The gaze that lasted long.
A sage, who had that look espied,
Where kindling passion strove with pride,
Had whispered, “Prince, beware!
From the chafed tiger rend the prey,
Rush on the lion when at bay
Bar the fell dragon’s blighted way,
But shun that lovely snare!”
‘At once, that inward strife suppress’d,
The dame approach’d her warlike guest,
With greeting in that fair degree,
Where female pride and courtesy
Are blended with such passing art
As awes at once and charms the heart.
A courtly welcome first she gave,
Then of his goodness ‘gan to crave
Construction fair and true
Of her light maidens’ idle mirth
Who drew from lovely glens their birth,
Nor knew to pay to stranger worth
And dignity their due;
Then she pray’d that he would rest
That night her castle’s honour’d guest.
The Monarch meetly thanks express’d;
The banquet rose at her behest;
With lay and tale, and laugh and jest,
Apace the evening flew.
‘The Lady sate the Monarch by,
Now in her turn abash’d and shy,
And with indifference seem’d to hear
They toys he whisper’d in her ear.
Her bearing modest was and fair,
Yet shadows of constraint were there,
That show’d an over-cautious care
Some inward thought to hide;
Oft did she pause in full reply,
And oft cast down her large dark eye,
Oft check’d the soft voluptuous sigh
That heav’d her bosom’s pride.
Slight symptoms these, but shepherds know
How hot the mid-day sun shall glow
From the midst of morning sky;
And so the wily Monarch guess’d
That this assumed restraint express’d
More ardent passions in the breast
Than ventured to the eye.
Closer he press’d, while beakers rang,
While maidens laugh’d and minstrels sang,
Still closer to her ear —
But why pursue the common tale?
Or wherefore show how knights prevail
When ladies dare to hear?
Or wherefore, trace, from what slight cause
Its source one tyrant passion draws,
Till, mastering all within,
Where lives the man that has not tried
How mirth can into folly glide,
And folly into sin?
‘Another day, another day,
And yet another, glides away!
The Saxon stern, the pagan Dane,
Maraud on Britain’s shores again.
Arthur, of Christendom the flower,
Lies loitering in a lady’s bower;
The horn, that foemen wont to fear,
Sounds but to wake the Cumbrian deer,
And Caliburn, the British pride,
Hangs useless by a lover’s side.
‘Another day, another day,
And yet another, glides away!
Heroic plans in pleasure drown’d,
He thinks not of the Table Round;
In lawless love dissolved his life,
He thinks not of his beauteous wife:
Better he loves to snatch a flower
From the bosom of his paramour,
Than from a Saxon knight to wrest
The honours of his heathen crest!
Better to wreathe, ‘mid tresses brown,
The heron’s plume her hawk struck down,
Than o’er the alter give to flow
The banners of a Paynim foe.
Thus, week by week, and day by day,
His life inglorious glides away:
But she, that soothes his dream, with fear
Beholds his hour of waking near!
‘Much force have mortal charms to stay
Our peace in Virtue’s toilsome way;
But Guendolen’s might far outshine
Each maid of merely mortal line.
Her mother was of human birth,
Her sire a Genie of the earth,
In days of old deem’d to preside
O’er lovers’ wiles and beauty’s pride,
By youths and virgins worshipp’d long
With festive dance and choral song,
Till, when the cross to Britain came,
On heathen alters died the flame.
Now, deep in Wastdale solitude,
The downfall of his rights he rued,
And, born of his resentment heir,
He train’d to guile that lady fair,
To sink in slothful sin and shame
The champions of the Christian name.
Well skill’d to keep vain thoughts alive,
And all to promise, nought to give;
The timid youth had hope in store,
The bold and pressing gain’d no more.
As wilder’d children leave their home
After the rainbow’s arch to roam,
Her lovers barter’d fair esteem,
Faith, fame, and honour, for a dream.
‘Her sire’s soft arts the soul to tame
She practised thus, till Arthur came;
Then frail humanity had part,
And all the mother claim’d her heart.
Forgot each rule her father gave,
Sunk from a princess to a slave,
Too late must Guendolen deplore;
He, that has all, can hope no more!
Now must she see her lover strain,
At every turn, her feeble chain;
Watch, to new-bind each knot, and shrink
To view each fast-decaying link.
Art she invokes to Nature’s aid,
Her vest to zone, her locks to braid;
Each varied pleasure heard her call,
The feast, the tourney, and the ball:
Her storied lore she next applies,
Taxing her mind to aid her eyes;
Now more than mortal wise, and then
In female softness sunk again;
Now, raptured, with each wish complying,
With feigned reluctance now denying:
Each charm she varied, to retain
A varying heart, and all in vain!
‘Thus in the garden’s narrow bound,
Flank’d by some castle’s Gothic round,
Fain would the artist’s skill provide
The limits of his realms to hide.
The walks in labyrinths he twines,
Shade after shade with skill combines,
With many a varied flowery knot,
And copse, and arbour, decks the spot,
Tempting the hasty foot to stay,
And linger on the lovely way;
Vain art! vain hope! ’tis fruitless all!
At length we reach the bounding wall,
And, sick of flower and trim-dress’d tree,
Long for rough glades and forest free.
‘Three summer months had scantly flown
When Arthur, in embarrass’d tone,
Spoke of his liegemen and his throne;
Said, all too long had been his stay,
And duties, which a monarch sway,
Duties, unknown to humbler men,
Must tear her knight from Guendolen.
She listen’d silently the while,
Her mood express’d in bitter smile;
Beneath her eye must Arthur quail,
And oft resume the unfinish’d tale.
Confessing, by his downcast eye,
The wrong he sought to justify.
He ceased. A moment mute she gazed,
And then her looks to heaven she rais’d;
One palm her temples veiled, to hide
The tear that sprung in spite of pride;
The other for an instant press’d
The foldings of her silken vest!
‘At her reproachful sign and look,
The hint the Monarch’s conscience took.
Eager he spoke — “No, lady, no!
Deem not of British Arthur so,
Nor think he can deserter prove
To the dear pledge of mutual love.
I swear by sceptre and by sword,
As belted knight and Britain’s lord,
That if a boy shall claim my care,
That boy is born a kingdom’s heir;
But if a maiden Fate allows,
To choose that maid a fitting spouse,
A summer-day in lists shall strive
My knights, the bravest knights alive,
And he, the best and bravest tried,
Shall Arthur’s daughter claim for bride.”
He spoke, with voice resolved and high;
The lady deign’d him not reply.
‘At dawn of morn, ere on the brake
His matins did a warbler make,
Or stirr’d his wing to brush away
A single dewdrop from the spray,
Ere yet a sunbeam, through the mist,
The castle-battlements had kiss’d,
The gates revolve, the drawbridge falls,
And Arthur sallies from the walls.
Doff’d his soft garb of Persia’s loom,
And steel from spur to helmet-plume,
His Lybian steed full proudly trode,
And joyful neigh’d beneath his load.
The Monarch gave a passing sigh
To penitence and pleasures by,
When, lo! to his astonish’d ken
Appear’d the form of Guendolen.
‘Beyond the outmost wall she stood,
Attired like huntress of the wood:
Sandall’d her feet, her ankles bare,
And eagle-plumage deck’d her hair;
Firm was her look, her bearing bold,
And in her hand a cup of gold.
“Thou goest!” she said, “and ne’er again
Must we two meet, in joy or pain.
Full fain would I this hour delay,
Though weak the wish — yet, wilt thou stay?
No! thou look’st forward. Still, attend!
Part we like lover and like friend.”
She raised the cup — “Not this the juice
The sluggish vines of earth produce;
Pledge we, at parting, in the draught
Which Genii love!” She said, and quaff’d;
And strange unwonted lustres fly
From her flush’d cheek and sparkling eye.
‘The courteous Monarch bent him low,
And, stooping down from saddlebow,
Lifted the cup, in act to drink.
A drop escaped the goblet’s brink —
Intense as liquid fire from hell,
Upon the charger’s neck it fell.
Screaming with agony and fright,
He bolted twenty feet upright!
The peasant still can show the dint
Where his hoofs lighted on the flint.
From Arthur’s hand the goblet flew,
Scattering a shower of fiery dew,
That burn’d and blighted where it fell!
The frantic steed rush’d up the dell,
As whistles from the bow the reed;
Nor bit nor rein could check his speed
Until he gain’d the hill;
Then breath and sinew fail’d apace
And, reeling from the desperate race,
He stood, exhausted, still.
The Monarch, breathless and amazed,
Back on the fatal castle gazed:
Nor tower nor donjon could he spy,
Darkening against the morning sky;
But, on the spot where they once frown’d,
The lonely streamlet brawl’d around
A tufted knoll, where dimly shone
Fragments of rock and rifted stone.
Musing on this strange hap a while,
The King wends back to fair Carlisle;
And cares, that cumber royal sway,
Wore memory of the past away.
‘Full fifteen years and more were sped,
Each brought new wreaths to Arthur’s head.
Twelve bloody fields, with glory fought,
The Saxons to subjection brought:
Rython, the mighty giant, slain
By his good brand, relieved Bretagne:
The Pictish Gillamore in fight,
And Roman Lucius, own’d his might;
And wide were through the world renown’d
The glories of his Table Round.
Each knight who sought adventurous fame,
To the bold court of Britain came,
And all who suffer’d causeless wrong,
From tyrant proud, or faitour strong,
Sought Arthur’s presence, to complain,
Nor there for aid implored in vain.
‘For this the King, with pomp and pride,
Held solemn court at Whitsuntide,
And summon’d Prince and Peer,
All who owed homage for their land
Or who craved knighthood from his hand,
Or who had succour to demand,
To come from far and near.
At such high tide were glee and game
Mingled with feats of martial fame,
For many a stranger champion came
In lists to break a spear;
And not a knight in Arthur’s host,
Save that he trode on some foreign coast,
But at this Feast of Pentecost
Before him must appear.
Ah, Minstrels! when the Table Round
Arose, with all its warriors crown’d,
There was a theme for bards to sound
In triumph to their string!
Five hundred years are past and gone,
But Time shall draw his dying groan
Ere he behold the British throne
Begirt with such a ring!
‘The heralds named the appointed spot,
As Caerleon or Camelot,
Or Carlisle fair and free.
At Penrith, now, the feast was set,
And in fair Eamont’s vale were met
The flower of Chivalry.
There Galahad sate with manly grace,
Yet maiden meekness in his face;
There Morolt of the iron mace,
And love-lorn Tristrem there:
And Dinadam with lively glance,
And Lanval with the fairy lance,
And Mordred with his look askance,
Brunor and Bevidere.
Why should I tell of numbers more?
Sir Cay, Sir Banier, Sir Bore,
Sir Carodac the keen,
The gentle Gawain’s courteous lore,
Hector de Mares and Pellinore,
And Lancelot, that evermore
Look’d stol’n-wise on the Queen.
‘When wine and mirth did most abound,
And harpers play’d their blithest round,
A shrilly trumpet shook the ground,
And marshals cleared the ring;
A maiden, on a palfrey white,
Heading a band of damsels bright,
Paced through the circle, to alight
And kneel before the King.
Arthur, with strong emotion, saw
Her graceful boldness check’d by awe,
Her dress, like huntress of the wold,
Her bow and baldric trapp’d with gold,
Her sandall’d feet, her ankles bare,
And the eagle-plume that deck’d her hair.
Graceful her veil she backward flung;
The King, as from his seat he sprung,
Almost cried “Guendolen!”
But ’twas a face more frank and wild,
Betwixt the woman and the child,
Where less of magic beauty smiled
Than of the race of men;
And in the forehead’s haughty grace
The lines of Britain’s royal race,
Pendragon’s, you might ken.
‘Faltering, yet gracefully she said —
“Great Prince! behold an orphan maid,
In her departed mother’s name,
A father’s vow’d protection claim!
The vow was sworn in desert lone,
In the deep valley of Saint John.”
At once the King the suppliant raised,
And kiss’d her brow, her beauty praised;
His vow, he said, should well be kept,
Ere in the sea the sun was dipp’d;
Then, conscious, glanced upon his queen;
But she, unruffled at the scene
Of human frailty, construed mild,
Look’d upon Lancelot, and smiled.
‘”Up! up! each knight of gallant crest,
Take buckler, spear, and brand!
He that to-day shall bear him best
Shall win my Gyneth’s hand.
And Arthur’s daughter, when a bride,
Shall bring a noble dower;
Both fair Strath-Clyde and Reged wide,
And Carlisle town and tower.”
Then might you hear each valiant knight
To page and squire that cried,
“Bring my armour bright, and my courser wight!
‘Tis not each day that a warrior’s might
May win a royal bride.”
Then cloaks and caps of maintenance
In haste aside they fling;
The helmets glance, and gleams the lance,
And the steel-weaved hauberks ring.
Small care had they of their peaceful array, —
They might gather it that wolde;
For brake and bramble glitter’d gay
With pearls and cloth of gold.
‘Within trumpet sound of the Table Round
Were fifty champions free,
And they all arise to fight that prize,
They all arise but three.
Nor love’s fond troth, nor wedlock’s oath,
One gallant could withhold,
For priests will allow of a broken vow
For penance or for gold.
But sigh and glance from ladies bright
Among the troop were thrown,
To plead their right, and true-love plight,
And ‘plain of honor flown.
The knights they busied them so fast,
With buckling spur and belt,
That sigh and look, by ladies cast,
Were neither seen or felt.
From pleading, or upbraiding glance,
Each gallant turns aside,
And only thought, “If speeds my lance,
A queen becomes my bride!
She has fair Strath-Clyde, and Reged wide,
And Carlisle tower and town;
She is the loveliest maid, beside,
That ever heir’d a crown.”
So in haste their coursers they bestride,
And strike their visors down.
‘The champions, arm’d in martial sort,
Have throng’d into the list,
And but three knights of Arthur’s court
Are from the tourney miss’d.
And still these lovers’ fame survives
For faith so constant shown, —
There were two who loved their neighbors’ wives,
And one who loved his own.
The first was Lancelot de Lac,
The second Tristrem bold,
The third was valiant Carodac,
Who won the cup of gold,
What time, of all King Arthur’s crew
(Thereof came jeer and laugh)
He, as the mate of lady true,
Alone the cup could quaff.
Though envy’s tongue would fain surmise
That, but for very shame,
Sir Carodac, to fight that prize,
Had given both cup and dame;
Yet, since but one of that fair court
Was true to wedlock’s shrine,
Brand him who will with base report,
He shall be free from mine.
‘Now caracoled the steeds in air,
Now plumes and pennons wanton’d fair,
As all around the lists so wide
In panoply the champions ride.
King Arthur saw, with startled eye,
The flower of chivalry march by,
The bulwark of the Christian creed,
The kingdom’s shield in hour of need.
Too late he thought him of the woe
Might from their civil conflict flow;
For well he knew they would not part
Till cold was many a gallant heart.
His hasty vow he ‘gan to rue,
And Gyneth then apart he drew;
To her his leading-staff resign’d,
But added caution grave and kind.
‘”Thou see’st, my child, as promise-bound,
I bid the trump for tourney sound.
Take thou my warder, as the queen
And umpire of the martial scene;
But mark thou this: as Beauty bright
Is polar star to valiant knight,
As at her word his sword he draws,
His fairest guerdon her applause,
So gentle maid should never ask
Of knighthood vain and dangerous task;
And Beauty’s eyes should ever be
Like the twin stars that soothe the sea,
And Beauty’s breath shall whisper peace,
And bid the storm of battle cease.
I tell thee this, lest all too far
These knights urge tourney into war.
Blithe at the trumpet let them go,
And fairly counter blow for blow;
No striplings these, who succour need
For a razed helm or a falling steed.
But, Gyneth, when the strife grows warm,
And threatens death or deadly harm,
Thy sire entreats, thy king commands,
Thou drop the warder from thy hands.
Trust thou thy father with thy fate,
Doubt not he choose thee fitting mate;
Nor be it said, through Gyneth’s pride
A rose of Arthur’s chaplet died.”