An Arthurian Miscellany at sacred-texts.com
The sun shines fair on holm and hill,
On wood and waving corn,
But there is wail in Carleil
On that fair summer's morn.
The noblest lady in the land
Is doomed, ah, wo the while!
To shameful death, with lighted brand,
At yonder fatal pile.
And hark, the dede-bell's dolesome sound!
And pacing sad and slow,
Two score were knights of Table Round
Compass that place of wo.
Sir Gareth and Sir Gaherys 1
Are of that knightly band,
But loth I ween, and weaponless,
To do the king's command.
And helm'ed heads adown are hung
For pity and for pain;
And sobs are shrieked, and hands are wrung,
And tears like summer-rain
From gentle eyes are showering fast,
To see that lady fair,
Like Beauty's ghost, walk palely past
With feet and tresses bare.
Diskirtled to her snowy shift,
She's reached that fatal spot,
Then knelt her down and made her shrift --
Ah! where was Launcelot?
As up she rose, one hurried look
To east, and then to west --
Then mournfully her head she shook,
And to her death address'd.
O ne'er did sculptor's hand, I ween,
Shape marble half so fair,
As stood on green that matchless queen,
And maidens swooned and warriors wept,
As slowly to the stake,
All in her smock, that lady stept
Her doleful doom to take.
They've lit the brand -- they've bound her fast;
But hark! blown long and loud
From far a blast! and all aghast
Disparts the flying crowd!
"A Launcelot! A Launcelot!"
It nears their battle-cry --
And man and horse all reeking hot
Dash in that chivalry!
All armèd knights of gallant strain,
And of the Table Round;
Sir Bors, Sir Blamor, Sir Lavayne,
Sir Palamede renown'd:
Sir Ector, and Sir Lionel,
Sir Urre of Hungarie,
And others more it needs not tell,
A twenty knights and three.
O madly right and madly left
Sir Launcelot blindly strake,
And helms and heads in sunder cleft,
To reach that deadly stake.
Nor wist not in that maddening press
Two knights unarmed he slew,
Sir Gareth and Sir Gaherys,
And both his lovers true.
That evil chance hath bred him pain,
I ween, and meikle wo;
For it hath made the brave Gawayne
His fierce for ever foe.
With lance a'rest and sword a'sweep,
So fell onslaught they made
Of that two score, in mortal sleep
A thirty knights are laid.
And onward dashed Sir Launcelot
To save his lady fair;
With bloody brand the cords he cut --
Joy, joy, for Guinevere!
With haste his mantle's screen he wound
To hap his lady's charms;
She sobbed her thanks to Heaven, and swoon'd
Within his clasping arms.
Gently he's placed her on his selle,
Then leapt him light afore,
And spurred his steed o'er flood and fell --
A precious freight he bore.
And blythe that lady was I wot,
And oft her circling arm
Caressed her loving Launcelot,
Nor foe she drad nor harm.
And oft his ladye-love he cheered,
And oft his gallant steed;
Nor drew his rein until he neared
His castle-bower on Tweed --
His castle fair of Joyous Garde,
Whereat a live-long year
In worship, and in loving ward,
Abode Queen Guinevere!
1. Gareth and Gaherys were brothers of Sir Gawayne, and consequently nephews of King Arthur, their mother (wife of King Lot) being his half-sister. Sir Gawayne had protested against the act of putting the Queen to death, and refused to be present at the execution of the sentence.
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