An Arthurian Miscellany at sacred-texts.com
OF JOYOUS GARD
(pseudonym of Frank Carr)
In the Volume OF PALOMIDE, the author has chosen Bamborough Castle, Northumberland, as the best authenticated site of the Keep of Joyous Gard and the country up to the Cheviots as its Province. To this he had adhered in the following pages.
Upon the arrival in Logris, from Cornwall, of La Belle Isonde and Sir Tristram (after King Mark's flight to France) they were led to Joyous Gard by Sir Launcelot of the Lake, and the present portion of Arthurian story opens with the return of La Belle Isonde, Sir Tristram and Palomide, after the jousts of Lonazep.
Named of a star, sweet Esther! take thy seat,
There, as last eve, beneath these showers of gold,
Laburnum's bloom, and, midst thy vernal court,
Command conclusion of the knightly tale.
The spear-thrust, and the sword-light, and the storm
Of onset--dash, and clang of arms, and death,
Known in our song. But, patience, gentles, all.
Sweet gentles of our grove, keep patience still!
For scenes of gentle joyaunce shall beguile,
When entered Joyous Gard, once clothed with hues
As of a dream of poësy--a dream
Of peaceful beauteousness--and listening leave
Mistrust and cares to colder minds, or learn
Your own in other hearts, the tread of fate
Sounding through lives divine; for these, of truth,
Are notes preluding, all too sadly near,
The swan-song of the Table Round.
In all your patience, entering Joyous Gard.
Rejoice! The blissful hours--midst those of gloom
And mingled miseries, few as we know
And disproportioned to the events of life--
Rejoice! when known their kindred anywhere;
But now, sequestrate in lone Joyous Gard,
Rejoice, more largely.--Yes, I now begin.--
Yet, in our story, judging from yourselves
Of any weakness, on it be bestowed
Approval from the soul of charity;
Forgiving, purifying, with intent
To yield the myrrh and frankincense where due,
With happier circumstance of light. Rejoice!
In patience, gentles, ere song claims the tear.
Proud Lonazep's high feast-days following tourney,
Its royal week fulfilled, and Joyous Gard
Found of Sir Tristram and Isonde, with them
Associate, curious each to learn the Gard's
Dominions,--Ector, Gareth, Bleoberis,
Dinadin--mirthful Censor of the Ring;
And he, King Arthur's friend, war-proof; and he,
Sir Gareth, fresh from glory of his quest
For skittish, brown Lynette; with Ector fair
Of fancy, face, and soul, his clear device
One star of gold, with words, "For Happiness,
One star is all we need:" and in their rear,
Ever rode Palomide, unasked, unlured,
But captive of Sir Tristram's kindness, felt
The Gard could not reject him.
Great pity, yield we, errant Palomide,
Woe-worn and unregenerate knight, distraught
By love, enmeshed in wiles:--Ah, yet, no more
Distraught than shields which bore the Rood, as knew,
Crossed, chastened, haggard in Tintagel times,
The Lion-knight himself.
Brave, ringing days
Of chase and disport, as their knightly wits
Could best in lusty idleness devise,
Disordered keep, dominions, town--and then,
Sweet quietude. Which, said of Joyous Gard,
Sir Launcelot's fair possession, given this while
To these our lovers flown from Cornwall's lands,
Is to name quietude unknown to haunt
By river set, or midst the heathy hills,
Or valley green where blooms the asphodel,
Now that those fiery spirits, warrior-guests,
Withdrawn to Camelot.
Nay, only four.
The Knight of Odin here remains, unasked
And unbeguiled, except through Love's own guile
Through which we all are self-beguiled, and caught,
Or, confident in Tristram's kindly heart.
Forsooth, of kindliest heart, Belle Isonde's peer;
For when she chode the pagan for his shame--
That stain of honour, done at Lonazep--
Tristram so loveably forgave all wrong
Done or designed, his Queen declined her head,
Nor answered. "Hardest matters," said he, "these
To lovers, since fidelity belongs
But to the angels unfallen. We hold but this,
Our chivalry imbound by faith in Christ,
Contrition cancels sin!" Indeed, no knight
Sorrowed more greatly, in a hapless love
More grievously enthralled, more madly toiled;
None, in such utter ghastliness of soul
Through fell remorse, as he their guest. And, now,
When come the morrow he must leave the bounds
Of Joyous Gard, delirious partings ne'er
Shook the soul's temple, as with Palomide.
For, now, in silence on the sea he looks,
With inquisition of each several isle:
And, now, with moans half-stilled, he eyes the land
As questing for the rills and mossy ways
Known of their later roamings, fixed at length
Far up those shadowy mountain-heights, whereby
Lay mystic Zeemerwater, which bestowed
Last eve's delights: and, now, his lady's hand
He kissed, and wetted with his bright, warm tears:
And, now, it was Sir Tristram he embraced
With thick heart-throbs his corslet might not hide.
Thus parted he, for once and aye. Nay, noon
Finds him returning--next morn, he would go.
Morn waited for the noon, noon for its eve,
Eve, spring of day. Tarrying, he vowed to part,--
Departing, rode a circle of green lanes
Which led him back: noon's greeting came as sure
As "farewell" at the dawn: he vowed, re-vowed,
Promised, undid, as wont of love debarred.
It was great joy to stay. "My heart doth sing:"
Said he, new-vowed, departure new-postponed,
"Sings sweet as saga in a marriage room:"
Yet was there deadliest dolour in his joy.
Thus wayward weeks passed by, till none gave heed
His meek inconstancy; all, heedless seemed,
Considerate of his travail. But, within,
Were ceaseless fightings, and the mastery lay
With grief, whereby his soul grew sere, his frame
Despoiled of manhood's graces. Thus, to go
Worked torment, and to stay none less, as known
When in a silver-bright, brake-girdled spring,
His startled eyes beheld a countenance
Wasted and wan--the former Palomide
Had vanished. Hereupon, with wailing tone
He sang his ruthful pains to this sad worst.
His plainings hovered over Isonde's name,
As autumn's bee above the heather bloom.
The heart she brake, pronounced her virtues, grace,
Beauty, compassion. Loving-kind, was she
Who so forbore the presence of this worn,
Gaunt, tearful, smileless pagan. Hard thereby,
Sir Tristram riding near the river's marge,
Seeking fresh sport, across the brake was ware
This weeping song: drew near: and angered learnt
The purport of those sorrowings by the spring.
Impetuously he burst the thicket-screen,
Laid hands of fury on their guest, with words
Fierce as the stroke of swords; whereon, he gat
Answer as Love can give, when speak it must,
Although such speech be death. "Fair Knight, I shall
Acquit me in the way ye least desire.
La Belle Isonde, once wife of Mark, and Queen
Of Cornwall, nor long since: divorced from Mark
May be, by law, by spiritual powers, but ne'er
Divorced from Love's respect. By grace of Love,
That star of Erin's royal maidenhood
Shines ever golden in my Knighthood's heart,
Which she makes Joyous Gard for me. I love
La Belle Isonde! I love her, as ye wit,
Above all other ladies of the world;
Love her, though it befall me through such love--
That hap of many knights--to die for her.
Yet her sweet grace, well is it worth my life,
Since it hath been best life in life to me.
Isonde, the fountain, centre, hope, and rest
Of all my worship, as best life in life
May claim my life. Without her, I had been
The simplest squire that ever strove for spurs;
But she in my remembrance--well, ye know
The frequent times my spear hath given her name
To victory--chief, in those heroic lists
Of Lonazep's first day, when never knight
Withstood my onset.
"Have respect of one
Whose manhood's years, as by a snap of frost
Smitten, decline--through love. I lack no faith.
Hope may, resurgent, bring fresh hours of green;
St. Brita's summer in my heart may bring
Season more precious than the month of rose.
But wrinkles of despondency, now mine.
No bounty have I had, naught of reward
From Belle Isonde: nor have I in these days.
No treason lies in this my love, ye wit,
Since love is free to all. First known, last know--
Your lady I have loved: do love: whereby,
She is my lady, even as she is thine.
Then, have I not, my brother, wrong of you?
For you rejoice her: such grace never mine,
Nor never like to be. Yet neither scorn,
Nor weariness, nor waters, wastes, nor time
Remove me from La Belle Isonde. My fate
To love her--love her to the uttermost,
And to my end of days, as well as ye."
But Palomide departed, gave no gain;
Nay, took the gain of pleasure in the land
From Tristram's mind. Unconquered soul of love,
A glory in his ruin, Palomide,
Was errant, faithful in that enterprise,
Keen-questing after wrong; whilst, Tristram here,
Love-bound from Honour's strife.
Then, marvel none,
War's passion warm, though languid in his blood,
Rebelled, when now the spring gave birth to hopes,
Desires, love-fancies, as it haps the man,
Or, woman's leaning. In Sir Tristram's arm,
Tumultuous yearnings,--none to be assuaged
But by the blood of evil, riotous then
Within some vineyard, where God's righteous rule
Late thriving. Thus, the gloomed Knight has no ear
For Isonde's pretty heart-conceits: apart,
Walks restless--no regard in eye or speech.
Leading to haunts, endeared by times of mirth,
She hoped some scene, some incident, perchance,
Or impulse, might the pains of phantasy
Hasten to utterance, and, that travail past,
She could dispute the birthright of his thought.
Vainly. In shade, or sun, or bower, still gloomed
His temper in the shadows of evil cast
From southern homes. Then Isonde, grown heart-strong
For such event--one eve, with merriest voice
She blithely, brightly, swiftly sped. O, she,
Now empress of herself--hard thing to do,
Made gay of "Go, my Love!" and sped him forth.
"You must begone, sweet lord. No tarrying, Haste!
Thy purpose as the night--calm, clear--fulfilled;
Then, haste thee back. These shining, peopled heavens
Wait on thy quest. Ah, me, but one lone star
Is mine. But that one star, Love's very own,
Ascending now. Note it each eve, my soul!
Not tarrying here: no tarrying, whilst farewell
Sits sorrowing waiting welcome--not until
That star of Hesper on the edge of morn
Change nature with departure. Faithful heart!
Faithful, unto that token come again."
"Heart of my heart!" he answered, "Now, I know
All conquest is for thee. My Honour's theme,
Art thou; and in my apprehension, single,
Pure and chivalrous, Isonde's love, my quest--
However named that be, in challenged fields,
Or gossip of the halls."
Straightway he left.
When day called from the deep, his silver arms
Glistened upon the hill remote which slopes
To Logris. In these arms, by Belle Isonde
Arrayed, in memory of the olden times
Of Erin, he subdued by marsh and weald,
In murderous ways and forests, beasts and men
Monstrous in kind: within the homely dales
Gave counsel from the Holy Word: gave boon
Of song which sweetened toils and death: abroad,
Spread law for highroad and the household: those
Known of the Table Round, he holped in need
Spear-stricken of the pagans--e'er, for those
Changed darkened fortunes into bright--then, turned
Towards Joyous Gard, star-timed, to seek her bowers.
Here saddens Isonde for her absent Knight:
Yet, hither, wends the Knight of Love, the Light
Of Honour; he whose lone lamenting harp
Companion of her love whene'er her mood
Is loneliest. Now, in this her loneliness
Awaiting--fluttering, sweet, strange, varying notes
Glide through the strings, as kindling to the breeze,
Whereon, she hums the ballad-- "O, he comes,
He comes! His step is near." He, over hill,
By scaur, thick woods, by ford and valley, rides
Carolling to his armour's clink that strain
Of golden-tongued Lolod, the roundelay
Sung at high feast in Carduel's lily halls
Ever at Pentecost, of early wars
When Arthur won his empire. Now he reached
The ragged coast, approached the glittering hold,
Yet knew not of its place; so bright the force
Of day-dream to obscure the natural sight.
Sharp turning on the pebbly frith, a way
Well known, his steed awoke him--he beheld
That massy growth of rocks, their breadths of wall,
Their unassailable, resplendent towers,--
"O, magical, O, blessed Gard," he cried:
"The beauteous marvel of an evil world!"
Then was his heart ensnared by other thoughts.
Along the secret sea-path wending,--lo,
The white flower at yon lofty lattice waves;
Waves wildly in the higher breeze. No flower,
No flower! The kerchief of La Belle Isonde
Shines welcome. Well he knows it: lifts his helm:
And, now, the cavern-portals of the Gard
Receive him, welcome.
Often thus it happed.
When felt the fang of hunger for the war:
Whene'er his spirit heard dark places call,
Cheerily for the south he brake away;
Varying in venture of his chivalry,
He failed not, leaving songs of gospel-peace
Which held in roughest homes the hearts for truth
And loving-kindness in melodious leash--
And cheerily came back. For him, delight
In search, in trial, and return--return,
Advised within the music of the harp.
When seen by him the curtseying branches, heard
Approaching welcomes faring on the breeze
From children's voices, instruments between,
And notes above the gleemen's sylvan tones
Resounding from proud martial tongues, for him
Then finest joy. And yet, 'twere hard to say,
Which dearest--wounding or the healing--which,
The passionate rapture of the assailing spear,
Or Joyous Gard's affectionate repose.
O Joyous Gard! once more thy flowery lands
Are ours: and would that we could linger here,
Now here returned. Fair Keep of Joyous Gard!
Thy battlements as built of gems and gold
Sparkling, with double joy we hail, returned.
Patience, each gentle of our grove, for here
Be scenes of gentle joyaunce. Gentles, more!
Give the heart's rarest sweetness to a tale,
Too near that full-voiced strain, which must be sung,
The last of glory for the Sacred Ring.
Hither, shall hide another royal love,
But with beleaguering hosts: and with the hosts
Consuming suffering; so, the cordial Keep
Be Dolorous Gard, again. Revolt on ruin,
Roaring, with storms of fire, and sword, and blood,
Follow from here to Camlan's tristful field.
But, now, Isonde, and Tristram, in this Keep,--
Mysterious in its beauty and dark powers,
A dazzling glory, and a hold of might,
This Joyous Gard, queen of the northern seas,
Girdled by emerald waters, clear and calm,
With realm of golden isles, and liberties
Inland, far-stretching to safe-guarding hills--
Herein, our lovers,--blissful terms are theirs.
The distant reefs, with flying clouds of foam
Radiant at day-dawn, are unknown of eyes
Emparadised, where softer fragrance falls,
And fairer lights illume than at this prime,
So deep, so sweet, so long its slumber won
From yester-joys: and noon-tide hath its groves,
Its woodlands, sought when morning's sylvan sports
Close with the ardent hours: cool, silver eve,
Delight dwells in her name, and lovers love
Her silence and her sweetness--O, then, here
Fivefold delight environs this meek time:
And night--the azure and the passionate night--
Hath stars, which gaze to learn if lovers hold
The ecstasies ordained--all of Isonde
And Tristram found, with raptures duly told,
As on the glowing rosary of love,
When came the sacred night. O, Gard! apart
The mischief-making, mischief-shaken world,
The brattling, sore, heart-breaking world: O, Gard!
O, Joyous Gard! sequestered shrine of love:
Thou flowery guerdon for a knightly life;
O, Joyous Gard! love and the valiant heart
Are thine: O, love, sequestrate in thy bowers
Well knows its valiance!--Might this last their lives,
Life far too brief, with gift of patriarch years
And all life's fires enkindled.
Yet, ere long,
Sir Tristram yearned to largely breathe again
Sharp air inspiriting of knightlihood,
And back he fared. The wildness of farewell,
Which whelmed Isonde, and left her as a corse
Whose resurrection bided his return,
Presaged strange doom: but, conscience in his spear,
Christ in his heart, and strenuous in his hope
To find where fraudful, violent evil raged,
Or hid in ambush off the royal roads,
Repress it, cleanse the dens and shades, make straight
The ways of righteous law, establish peace--
Right forth he fared.
But when the moon made good
The circle of her radiance, Joyous Gard
Was ware a knight had crossed the sea-way crowned
With field-flowers, with his brand ensheathed in green,
Its hilt enlaced with briony, his lance
Wreathed with ambrosial leaves and topaz blooms.
To Belle Isonde, quick questioning, his reply,
Gentle, melodious as a river-fall
At time of evensong, thus to her heart.
"Thy Tristram went to conquer: he returns
The conquered one. Of Joyous Gard, no coast
But he hath ranged, and longer as he ranged
More fast-bound he. Isonde! all thou shalt know.
This must be Love's inheritance, its first
And fairest, or, may be, its holiest, last,
Secured retreat: which shall be known of us
By hill and stream, forests and lawns, or hid,
In yonder glittering isles: and, still more fair,
The pious innocence of those who breathe
Beneath our skies,--but thou shalt know, my Love!
Know every whit." Then, Isonde took these robes
Of azure blue, worn when his magic harp
Allured the princess to his couch of pain;
That argent drapery, he,--which once attired
His knightliness within her father's halls--
But bade his squire remain to cleanse his arms,
Dew-stained on his late journeys. Isonde, then,
With wondering accents, "I shall forth with thee.
Ask not, I go. Forbid, yet go I will,
For thou hast said. But this uncertain quest
Requires thy spear: quick dangers lurk in smiles;
Worst hurts are hidden near the quiet way."--
"My spear shall rest amongst its leaves and flowers.
The trust begotten shall not fail in me."
But Isonde, spirit-darkened, as her lord
Bewrayed by sorcery worse than that which won
Dishonoured doom amidst Armida's groves,
Wept long. Last, born in brightness from her tears,
One thought, and, spirit-lightened--"Then, thy harp!
Than its dominion, none of lance or sword
So absolute." He answered. "And my harp
Shall sing within thy casement to the wind--
Tuneful, apprising dwellers here, how we
Amidst our pleasant pathways fare.--My harp!
The goodness dwelling in the evilest soul
Oft gave thee worship, when we two alone
Fought fiery dangers. In her casement rest,
Who best hath loved thee; while with her I search
Where goodness of the good and evilest soul
Lives permanent--as yonder mountain peaks
Enduring clouds and vapours, rain and snow,
Yea, storms of thunder, yet abide the same,
Glorious in intercourse with sun and stars,
Unswerving in their purple blooms what time
The harvest-songs arise--faithful and fair,
Beyond the reach of wrath and tears.--But forth,
And know it of thyself, my soul! There wait
More marvels than of Zeemerwater's lake
Throughout our progress."
As they roved by thorp,
Field, glade, or forest, folk beheld in them
Angels of day, of England's sweetest heaven,
Calm blue and clouds of silver. Everywhere,
Surprised they found expectant faces greet them.
Before the welcome, voices bade them tarry.
And they were no man's charge. Each hamlet's heart,
A central lodge, which in the nearer spring
Greened round with shrubs, within the summer time
Glowing with rose, and named the Stranger's Home,
Stood ready on their ways. This was, in sooth,
The high court of each village: only here,
Plain varlets of the cot gave note of sense
Of beauteous luxury. The golden ewer
With milk fresh brought: the consecrated loaves
On jewelled dish; the varied, rich repast,
Were instant, without question of their faith,
Their people, or intent. Thus, on their paths,
With sunset this wayfarer's harbourage
Failed never, nor its hospitalities;
And often musical in welcome joy
Its bowers--with rushes green already strewn--
Later, for needful rest to be o'erlaid
With satin as of primrose gold. Even thus,
Or as they rode, or tarried, nights and days,
It was on their earliest rest,
Our Knight, alone, soft-pacing near a lea,
Beheld a hind, and strong within him rose
Fresh cravings for the hunt. Waiting a spear,
He gazed, and deemed the creature beautiful
Above all creatures he had seen. It shone
White as the spurging of the sea; her neck
A chaplet circled, woven of blooms and leaves
And beaded jewels: and the chaplet-blooms
Faded and flowered--renewed again, they fell,
Reviving brighter, and her jewels gleamed
With driving splendours. When his lance was brought
He marked the varlet gave it with a smile--
He knew not which--of scorn or doubtfulness;
Therefore, he laid it down, and towards the hind,
Stole with a fowler's step; the grazing hind
Nor nearer seemed for his approach; he ran,
The hind leaped gently as to seek its herd--
No further, and no nearer, was the hind,
For Tristram's fleetness or its gentle pace.
The swiftest horse was called: she patient cropped
The closest knot of grass; the Lion-knight
Used the spur hotly,--she with sportive speed
Sprang as to reach her layer: in fleet pursuit,
Amazed, the rider followed--last, a chasm
Received the hind, nor was she seen again.
When told his tale next day with pictured phrase
For village wonder, good folk shook the head,
"Ah, that sweet hind is EARTH'S FELICITY.
When sought she flies, and comes when undesired."
Nor Tristram well had ended, ere the hind
Drew near most suddenly. She laid her head
Close on his bosom, and the chaplet's leaves
Murmuring threw odours o'er his countenance,
And on it, from the jewels all the lights
Seen ever shrined in gems, a dazzling gleam,
So he an angel seemed. Then, Tristram felt
A painful rapture of strange joyfulness,
And lifted hand to stroke the hind in joy,
When it withdrew: and as he rose, the hind
Entered a thicket: so was lost: and folk
Turned from Sir Tristram: shook their heads again,
Mournfully whispering: "Thus it ever is
With EARTH'S FELICITY!"
The roving pair
Dwelt as within appointed residence
Where'er their place, nor ever failed the view
Of social weal, and faith wherein reposed
The land's habitual peace.
The kindly soul
Of these dominions held the dues of life
Common to all: knew not of change in spirit
By separation on, or under, earth.
The wanderers noted, never any fane
But one appointed green recess lay close,
For those asleep in Christ. A palpable haunt
Of living unity. Some came alone,--
As to a sacred assignation, when
No questioning eyes were near; but sunset's hour
Witnessed the household groups, reclining there
On new-strewn rushes, mingling in their talk
Past, future, present, with a joy serene.
And in each Trysting Place of Life were shewn
The treasuries of memories and hope,
Flowering in beauty--bright on every grave.
May we be so beloved when we are gone.
Flowers had their other intimations, too,
Midst Joyous Gard's amenities. Distinct
Their language as of written characters.
The maiden pinned them on her kirtle--then,
Her saucy spirit spoke,-- "None sick am I,
For love or lover!" But, within her tress
Place one spray blossom, thereby guessed the thorp
Where her heart's hope was placed: if on her breast
White flowers of favour, then the nuptial day
Drew near. When come, O, white, O, rapturous dawn!
A second morn of life, by them revered:
Huts, meadows, hills, and streams, the heavens themselves
Rejoiced upon it.
But day and every day
Was musical, as duty had been joy;
The pastoral labours led the dwellers forth
With choral songs: song charmed the industrious hours,
And evening's homeward march resounded glee,
Answering the sky-lark's airy vesper hymn.
Before were faintly seen the timorous stars,
Through eve's last veil of light, oft were beheld
The folding clouds above the western peaks
Uprisen, and interspace of sky; these drew
Their gaze, who breathed the calm Arcadian air,
Towards this disclosure of a glittering realm
Within heaven's empires; whereupon, they looked,
O, with such eyes, such mirth of heart, such tongues
Of happy wonder. Clearly were descried
Empyrean hills, towns, groves of golden palms
Waving by jasper seas--high over all,
Cope of effulgence, as were earth's mid-day
By sun sixfold the summer strength of ours
Illumed. Thus gazing, frequent sudden phrase
Snapt evening's stillness: with their upward looks
Upon that radiant scene, the uplifted soul,
Bright in the eye, would burn upon the lips
Brightly long-lingering. Was there, now, not seen
The very Kingdom where their father's bode,
And their inheritance? Thus, one would point
Where clustering palaces hung over plains
Verdant as spring-time meads, and rulers name,
Feared or renowned, residing there: and some,
Claimed hamlets, scattered and recluse in vales,
Loaden with shining harvests; other some,
By silver winding waters found a cot,
The home of household loves late lost to earth.
So, till the high celestial pageant vanished.
Then to those homes their own, with softened song,
They turned, nor failed within their dreams to find
The habitations of the just, wherein
With greatest, best beloved, or best desired,
Known by report or known within their lives,
Sojourning until morn. The sight, the dreams
Inwoven with their days, made joy of hope
Their daily food, as wayside talk would show.
When sought, four weeks o'erpast, their sea-girt towers,
If change was there, no loss was there by change.
The garland-daisies, large, foam-white, still culled
For bridal-chaplets--this no change: if change,
As when their steeds, being fetlock-deep in brine
Paced heavily from the shore, the roaming Knight
To Belle Isonde, "What be those flowery rays
New-blooming o'er our rocky doors?" With smile
She answering, "Stars of Bethlehem, my heart!"--
Such change were gain. As felt her Lion-knight
When murmuring, "Ever this fair province barred
From the four judgments of the Lord. More grace
Than grace of Love it owns, since everywhere
Symbols of gospel peace, to soothe the soul
With due remembrance." Spirit-bound in peace
Through summer's months of light he strayed and strayed
In old loved ways, for ever new, with her
His Beautiful, with her his perfect own:
Together strayed, with old love ever new,
Isonde and Tristram. Needs, then, no surprise,
When seen the Rose of Sharon starred the steeps
Beneath the castle's crystal walls, Isonde
With pleading, hopeful eyes, "Here shall we live
Ne'er to remove. Within these pleasant bounds
No strife calls on thee; Love around us, Love
Alone asks service. Tristram! Rove no more;"
He might not answer, for he felt within
These words were good; words not to be gainsaid
By martial phrases, nor hot-brained desires
For noisy fame, mastery in arms, or sway
Of kingship. Thus, he gladly tarried still,
Love-lured, in wandering bliss at Joyous Gard.
The winter came. Then, on the breezy brows
Of distant hills, as for their sole delight,
The mists would gambol: sprites of ether, coy
At near approach of man, and still transformed
Persistently lest they be too well known;
The snow, the frost, showed on the lofty ridge,
In branches, intertwined of dazzling bowers,
In wreaths o'ertopping trees--the silenced rill,
Glistening in moonshine--in the frozen meres
For winter sports--the beauty that has care
For darkest season, and, sublimest sight,
They saw, with feelings as unseen before,
That punctual constellation on his march,
Orion. Ocean-risen, he strode the deeps
Eternal; on the frosty night so near,
In starry mail so terrible, nor less
Appeared than monarch of the innumerous hosts
Reviewed thus nightly.
Tristram tarried still.
The long night of the year--St. Thomas'--past,
The days with lengthening light shone o'er the earth
Exulting. But mid-Lent saw winter's months
Wax wearisome. Whereon, he spake with one,
The patriarch of the church, a hoary man,
Blue-eyed, fair-skinned as youth, and soft of speech,
The father of whose grandsire had report
From one far-travelled who had seen the Christ,
Yea, seen the Christ. And, as the sight had been
Miraculous, it was held from sire to son
A holy thing, which made them holy men,
Lineage of one acquaint, in very truth,
With one whose eyes had seen the Christ. To him,
Sullen Sir Tristram, "Father, you should know
The monthly signs. May these chill barren days
Not soon have end?" "I wot the signs, my son,
Now fourscore years and five. Then, I was young,
But those young times still mine, when first I wot
The signs now wot of. I have felt the breath
Over the sea this morn, sweet, mellow and sweet.
And on our inland waters, since an hour,
One little hour, and I beheld the pearl.
And clouds which sought our Cheviot when the night
O' th' year was darkest, and at Christ-mass tide
Went, but crept back, the mellow-breathing sea
Melted them. Look! They are not. Nay, not flown,
But melted by the breathing o' the sea.
Its breathing brought the pearl upon the mere,
Dissolved the clouds. See! where that form of light,
The mountain rill, descends with silver step;
Long hidden--now, full clear, and musical.
Good signs be these. Wait, gentle Knight, but wait
To-morrow's morn. These five-and-eighty year,
The purposes divine have never erred,
Nor can they now. That is thy token sure.
All eyes may read. Sour days come, yet--but few.
Wait, wait! thyself shalt read it plain. Of flowers
The golden star, the first joy of the year,
Which shines before our winter-days are gone,
Or e'er the crocus breaks its pale green sheath,
Primrose or daffodil in sheltered dene,
Or skylark brings its music for thy love;
That flower of grace abounds with us, and brings
Her message with to-morrow's morn. My son
Shall see it, and his heart have peace."
So was fulfilled the promise; open bank,
Hedge-rows, and mountain-rifts with living gold,
And base of the great Keep, this firstling flower
Thus, that hopeful sight appeased,
Subjected, laid in calm his feverous heart.
But what, when tedious wind-cold times by-past?
Winter is gone. Spring follows. On the white
Succeeds the green. What, in these springing hours?
Grass of the field: leaves in the woodlands; light
Between grey silver clouds; the warbling becks
From mountain-ways, and runnels in the meads,
Springing, ever, everywhere. Spur to all hopes,
This spring! What of aspiring thought? Isonde
Has burden of love-fancies; Tristram's arm,
Tumultuous yearnings--none to be assuaged
But by the blood of evil, riotous now
Within some vineyard of the Lord, where rule
Of righteousness and peace had thriven of yore.
By Zeemerwater, be ye sure, they sate
Upon the first auspicious eve,--the hills
Distinct within the crystal atmosphere,
And tranquil as upon mid-day of June.
This bright tranquillity, disturbed alone
By plaining of the plover on the moors,
Now and again, entranced, and even their mood
Deepened the natural stillness. Tristram's harp,
And he, alike, were silent: silent both,
Master and harp: and silent, Belle Isonde:
In silence near a verdant hillock sate
Intent both lord and lady on a stir
But new-begun by shore and o'er the mere.
Good time had brought the swallows, and this eve,
Their first upon their blithe return. They flew
In their home-coming glee, from marge to marge,
Thither and back, thither and back again,
Close to the lucid, motionless wave--above,
Incessant flight of glossy blue-black wings,--
Beneath, incessant flight of silver breasts.
"Happy the swallows, seeking this our lodge."
The soft eve's stillness undisturbed, so soft
Her low-breathed accents: but the Lion-knight
Loud answered,-- "Ay, the birds of heaven, wot well
Their mission. They leave ocean-severed shores,
Prescient to find. Ah, me! yet man, proud soul,
Divinity of dust, tricks his best sense,
Juggles with reason, as fastidious
The best to know from better--enterprise,
Such while, being guerdon unto weakly arms,
Honour gilds other names." The fretful words,
For Isonde had a bodeful tone. Each left
The mere in silence. Ever, as was heard
The plaining of the plover on the moors,
It seemed the voice of her lost hopes to her
The Beautiful. Yet with his words she strove
To reckon hourly; took him to his sport,
Roused riotous cheer within the forest, brought
Its rarest prey within his range. In vain.
The falcon dozed unheeded on his wrist;
The music of the hounds unheard--past dame
And knight, and squire, and flight of wings, his eye
Made search for something far from Joyous Gard.
He listened ghostly sounds from fields remote,
Loud calling for retributory knight
To quell the raging wrongs; his spirit burned
For meed of honour midst conflicting spears.
Thenceforth, a strong imagination held
Possession of his soul, imperative,
Insufferable, as message of the spring.
Spring's strengthening sun, was as the royal eye
Of his great Dragon King, watching the land,
Finding him derelict: each vernal morn,
Earlier uprising with more angered hues,
Each noon grown fiercer. His forsaken Queen,
Heart-sorrowing, one more sleepless night o'er past,
Felt her dark way to climb the circling stairs
Which reached the castle's eastward tower--and, here
As carved in stone, his garment in the wind
Of morning blown unheeded, Tristram stood
Wide-staring at the opening of the day.
She touched him, yet he moved not; then she spake,
Nor gat reply. Wide-staring, not to her,
But suddenly, as to a form in air
Or other self within him, half remorse
And half despair, with husky, shattered voice
Not heard before. "God's witness risen again!
Faithful to restoration of the earth,
Once more his radiant spear of ministry
Hath struck the heart of darkness. Night is dead.
But night within me holds my spear from night
Investing Arthur's long-forgotten lands."
His Queen held bitter ruth without a tear,
And wreathed around his neck her shining arms,
Whispering, "Away!" Then, silver clear, "Away,
My heart's lord! lord of Honour! ever liege
To noblest thoughts. Go quickly. When Love bids
Seek Joyous Gard again. I have but Love
Which lives in thee." "The angel of my doom,"
Cried Tristram, "now hath given me grace." Whereon,
He bent his head, upon her lips bestowed
Long exiled kisses, with a smile more bright
To Isonde than the day-spring, or all flowers
New-wakened to its blessing. Ere came noon,
She saw him dash along the common way
Adventurous to the south, hastening his horse,
Nor with one backward glance. "Woe me," she sighed,
"The heart of man is not as woman's heart.
The frays of life his need, as his desire.
Hope, action, then repose, o'er which the star
Of hope beams welcoming to fair new fields.
Action--repose--the star--'tis triumph all--
The varied life--but what our life and hope,
Unless our boon the pleasure of our lords?"
Seeking her bower, that day she waited there
In woman's patience, as for some event
Of promise. Twilight's fragrant hour being come,
She called for Tristram's harp. This, Brengwain brought:
Placed it within her lattice, chance the breeze
As from the master's subtle touch, might bring
Past loving thought to her remembrance. Yea,
The softest strings were moved,--thoughts came--and tears--
Which drowned the parting kisses on her lips,
Living in sweetness there till then. Sweet tears,
Made doubly sweet; the lonely spirit drank
Deep comfort from these tears. La Belle Isonde
Was comforted; for hers, a faithful lord:
Foremost in valiance; valiant, faithful, he
Would come again, or glory in his plume,
Or borne within his shield--or hurt, or whole,
Would bring his glory and his harm, her hands,
Her voice, might soothe or praise. "My second soul,
Brengwain!" she cried; "how sinful in our griefs
We lovers." Hearkening, Isonde paused as notes
Changed in the wires: from sailing fancies these
Wafted her thoughts to harbour of an old
Tintagel evening-time: fire from her lips
In passionate flashing phrase burned in the ears
Of Brengwain. Catching hard her maiden's hand,
"This sweet perdition, I were loth to lose
Though now I lost my love. Brave times were ours
Joy-blossoming to the full: o'erflown with light
From the new moon, until the large begat
Love-day of night: the volume of the year,
Leaves of its minutes, every whit inscribed
With Love's dear scriptures. In our grief we sin
Most deeply; for, 'tis clear, the blossoming times
Begat this term of Joyous Gard--these times,
Even in their radiant blessed flight, evince
Love's immortality. We have been here
With loves undulled by absence, or defame,
Or harsh opposing fortune. Mother of Christ!
Be praised, for this forgiveness of our sin
In grieving. Yet, methinks, Brengwain, the grief
Of love hath never with its fire or smoke
Seared or smirched thee." Quick-answering with a smile,
Brengwain, "Dear Queen! Communion of sweet love,
Thorough or liberal, never has been mine.
Only the houselling cloth to catch the crumbs
And sacred fragments of love's joys, of which,
In better favour, those like thee, know well
The fulness and the ecstasy." "My maid,
I say thee, nay: for I have proved, ere now,
Thy knowledge of love's ways." "Of that, too much:
I have had lovers three, and all are gone;
And each of them through love of me, some say.
Yes, I can name the place, and squire. The first,
Guerinus, in thy father's hall: he loved,
He said, me: an folk say, he died. The time?
The very hour, Sir Tristram's harp had oped
The postern door, and drew thee to his lodge.
Thou may'st recall it; from our sleep that night,
A bird awoke us with wild storms of song.
Alway, for years, 'twas with me, so that folk
Called it my bird. Then, Knight of Peril's boy,
The gentliest spirit in Tintagel--but,--
Arthur has said it, Love may not be bound.
I have known most of straits that chasten love;
Pains, trials, tears--but, somehow, all passed by
Unharming. Passable, this love, methought:
But, somehow, Urian died: an, then, there came
Two birds: of richest plumage, as we see
Glancing within the tourmaline, its hues.
Last, Camelot. Bedveer was a winsome squire;
But Dinadin had there my fantasy.
He crossed my peace of heart, but gave it back
With sickness at his games, when Lonazep
Clothed honour with its glories; for a man
Shall be a pretty fool, but not a fool
Too much, or he fools fancy from his grace.
With all the ladies' laughter, I too, laughed,
To know him fallen from my bosom's throne
Sheer, irredeemable, to those dark depths
Of scorn, which, close beneath the throne of love,
Lie for a woman's safety. But enough
Of that old pain. One dashed my peace, awhile,
An, so, a trouble at my heart, awhile.
If Bedveer felt it--why, 'tis nature's way;
No fault of mine. He passed; there came," she raised
A boastful finger towards the sky--"three birds!
To haunt my life, with rarest voice. You think,
Spirits of lovers be these birds: so said,
By most. I care not guess. An for a fault,
Fault none of mine. It was thy Tristram's harp
Slew these my lovers, since each heard in it,
Parleying with thee, some dearer lover's voice,--
So sank--so rose--and in these spirit-birds,
Thy harp's voice sang. But neither one, nor all,
When lovers were alive, gave me of Love
Its full communion, like thy happy lot.
I have the jest, the flying kiss, the gift,
The promise--'tis gay to promise--these are crumbs,
Poor crumbs, which fall at thy high feast of love."
"I have no queenship o'er thy tongue, pert maid.
Thou, aye, art merriest when I sorrow most.
Where are thy birds?" "There's my just sorrow, Queen.
For since we entered bounds of Joyous Gard
Never one heard or seen." "An this thy tale?
Not worth its words: my mood is still unchanged."
"But though my birds be gone, note that thy words,
Assume no darkening queenship o'er my thoughts.
Never hath grief set crow's-feet by mine eyes;
Nor hast thou known in me, for any loss
The shadow of black samite thrown o'erthwart
My speech or visage." "Thine, indeed, the dower
Of pure and simple happiness, not high
Nor low, but equable as May-dawn's light
Fraught with a daily blessing. Mine the extremes.
Even now my heavenly hope and strong, feels tears,
Hours of still patience."
Nor of less than truth,
Her words. No loved one then, her knight away,
But treasured with a fine idolatry
The helm, or spear, of her beloved, or shield,
Or tabard, or his shoon with golden clasps.
Isonde had Tristram's harp. This she arrayed
In colours manifold as she might see
Flash round the islets, midst the shallows sleep,
Or glancing through the waters: and her eye
Watched it, as one will watch the face adored.
Thus, during day. With eve, her trembling hands,
As touching something to her lonely heart
Too precious, in her casement placed the harp.
Throughout the dusking hours, and far within
The star-lit night, whene'er the cold sea-breeze
Was busied in the strings, with listening ear
And soul she would divine its noise. Perchance,
To harbinger home-coming, spake that strain,
Or ring his welfare--anyhow, it died
And left paled beauty with her patient tears.
Her Knight of the inviolate spear, wrought out
Three worthy quests, of which their fame still rings
An undertone in household stories; quaint,
Disguised, distorted, stretched beyond belief--
For ages have their jealousies, and never
In hot inventions wanting--fateful strength,
Their pride and poverty. The doughty deeds
Ancestral, much too true to be gainsaid,
Transmuted into fables of the hearth,
Extravagant flourish to plain history,
Magnify recent greatness. Give to lies
The majesties of dread antiquity!
Make heroes, marvels! for not worth it, now,
Disturb the glozings of the later times.
Ne'erless, these quests of Tristram, know ye well,
In all the glorious cycle of the deeds
Of Arthur and his Knights, worthiest were these.
Whatever won by spear, a mournful time
Wore slowly by in Joyous Gard. Isonde,
He midst war's labours, sorrowed by his harp,
Closed in her bower, nor of the night or day
Took any counsel. Three weeks, morning winds
Scouring the shores of Jutland, over-sea
Brought mists and fretting rains, which dull and chill,
Saddened the heart forsaken: now a morn,
Morning of light, brake from the unveiled heavens;
Joy of the heart aroused the silent land.
But Isonde, what time Brengwain on her couch
Combed her long golden hair, and song-voiced said,
"My Queen, has cheer of heart to-day; her hair
Springs to my fingers, and gay, glancing lights
Flirt through the shadows," Isonde no reply
Vouchsafed her maiden. Widowed of her Love
She kept its vigils, and, high noon being come,
Heavily leaning upon Brengwain's arm,
The eastward farewell-tower she sought: nor yet
Spake she her maid, but sighed in bitterness.
When Brengwain, sighing too, "O, lack-a-day!
Sharp, sobbing winds again. Methinks, 'tis plain,
That lovers' eyes and lovers' sighs make more
Love, than the rhyme tells. O, contrarious world.
Love pines, yet grows." "So once 'twas whispered me:
An I wit where, an when, by whom. Ay, ay,
Love's simplest words--heart's gospel of a truth--
O'er faith and passions keep the golden seat
Within the halls of memory. Brengwain, list.
Again, to my soul's longing--list, the lark
Above yon field. Of all the birds be mine
The homely, heavenly lark. He sings by love,
Or singeth not: love gives him wing and song,
To which spring flowrets open. I was called
The Beautiful, when one there was who sang
And soared above me. Beauty! 'tis a plume:
But lacks of song. Ah me, he singing soared
High in heaven's light, and as a crimson flower
My heart would open, and as silver rain
Drink his full music. O, what joy divine
Held those old hours, for me! What his--the bird's,
On singing wings of love, nearing the sun--
What joys were his! And yet his myrtle breath
Told me in language sweeter than his song,
His joy of joys to nestle by my side.
Ah, sighing fancies, Brengwain, trouble still,
But I'll no more." "Angling again, sweet Queen!
But will, or no will: say you not, or say:
Love's instant comes to all. Whatever hues
Or shapes in the embroidery of your talk,
Little things please, and sudden give delight--
And o'er them all the primacy of love,
To keep, or sparsely give, or yield entire.
So, thou art not thyself: nor is this mood
Thine own. And when Love orders otherwise,
Thou wilt be very that; the instant's child:
Its very child of Love. So Love ordains."
Upon the hour of Angelus--the sea,
Whose shining noon of sleep the mountain breeze
Shook into diamond dimples, now the sun,
Descending on the hills, effulgent calm
Poured over steep and lands, so, now the sea
Clear mirror for the evening star--Isonde
Gazed from her lattice, in her breast no calm,
Nor strife of hopeful thoughts; her spirit's grief,
Within her heavy, dull, encumbering hair,
Declined from all its prime and life of morn,
Too surely shown.
A watery tract, due south,
Owned of a high-cliffed cove, the Dolphin's Nest
Well named--since there oft seen at close of day,
As now were seen, their natural gambollings
In sparkling foam-breaks blent with iris hues.
These watched she mournful, with the magic harp
Close by her side; not speaking peace to her,
Although its soft, slow, Lydian harmonies
For her content, had made all others gay
On hearing them. But note! there comes no breeze--
Rigid as sculptured image Belle Isonde,
Her dew-cold cheek upon her hand--but stir
Is in her tresses: from their fillet slipped,
And fluctuating in the evening light
Long-lingering--golden now, then dark--in change,
Shadowing and gleaming, troubles they foretell
Of pleasures in approach: quick, she intent
On varying warble in the strings. A voice
High sounding martial carols: clink of steel:
The charger's nimble thunder-steps, pursued,
Distraught the even music. "Praise to thee,
Meek Mother of our Christ! Now yield my soul
Strength in these weakest moments. Duly kept
Great Love's canonical hours," wept Belle Isonde:
"Prayers, lauds, humility and tears, found me
Thy child obedient. Mother! hold my heart,
Now that the sanctus-chimes of ecstasy
Abrupt o'ertake thy child. Brengwain!" she cried,
"My lord! your lord! my peerless knight! my own!
Next to my God, divinity and love--
And never presage from that harp
Misled. Before his radiance in the shades
Augmented, and from eastern deeps his lamp
Led forth the large round moon, bright Hesperus
Sparkled on Tristram's casque beneath the towers
Of Joyous Gard. *****
A month storm struck, the city of the King,
Compassed with clouds, lit by their lightnings, shook
By intermittent thunders, Camelot,
Felt night of fate on Logris. Arthur held
Daily his council with the Table Round:
But oracles of spear and hope sate there,
Silent upon the gathering doom. Last, cried
That dragon-voice, known not in earth or sky
Save from the King in his extremity,
Whereon, till these days of storm and gloom,
Lions, became his sinking knights, and swift
Fury from faintness, victory from dismay,
"Launcelot hath fled in sickness: half my Ring
Be questing after echo of a name;
Our every siege is desolate, save some,
And these be knights of court, of song, of love,
Not of the steadfast war; the Pagan rides
Full-fed with blood and rapine through our lands,
And my own hurt, deep, where the heart receives
All of its earthly strength, and that betrayed,--
Woe, to us men, that our divinity
Suffers upon such visitations--quick,
As from the godhead we descend to dust.
My single valour fails. Be there not one
Inheritor in soul of my best days,
To tell the throne, the good of past still lives,
To thwart the Pagan, of rebellion stay
Its treasonous tide; that this, the land of Christ,
Christ his own trust, shall still support my choice,
And shake the gates of hell. Ye, hear my voice,
Answer!" But answer none, save from each siege
Vacant, his voice gave answer of his words,
Like a weird echo from the mountain caves
Of Cumbria, when the autumn day is dim,
Air still, streams hushed, and dwellers in the dales
Depressed from lack of light, and burdening mists.
This was the time, when Launcelot soul-perplexed,
Eclipsed in mid-most noon of his wild love
For Guinevere, sharp-stricken into dark,
Fled from the court and strayed a savage man.
Wrath was in Arthur's words. The Ring disturbed,
Dissolved, to wait seven days before despair
Usurped their patience. God might send, perchance,
Auxiliar to the sunshine which must come
Favour of armed help.
That day was peace--
Brightest above the Ocean Pleasaunce: then,
Tristram partook his largest rest. His harp,
Long while, within the casement, as they sate,
Our lovers in repose in Isonde's bower,
Rejoiced their hearts; and Tristram, thick in voice,
Had spoken, ending thus, "In all my pains
Each thorn has had its rose; but this the day,
Flower of the times of Joyous Gard, which springs
Surely from perils manifold, and foul,
Unspeakable, on my late quest; such root
In suffering have our joys: and, now, methinks,
This day-flower blown and withered, we must hold
Fast to our pleasure's life, thy hand with mine
Love-leagued, intent on gentliest ways, so thwart
Opposing fate." A marvellous stillness fell
On the harp's seven-fold strings, still tremulous
To the low-breathing breeze. Anon, they hear
Miraculous carol, winging over-sea;
Far, far away, yet sounding as beneath
The lattice eaves; now high in heaven, yet clear
As on the lattice ledge; a song of bird
All of all song of birds that on the spray
Warble at eve and morn, or in the bush,
When summer-fragrant, through the darkness sing,
Or hovering o'er the grassy field. They knew
The harp was mute, and heard the song. Brengwain
Was ware, in bower beneath, the harp was mute,
And knew the song, and cried in joy, "My bird!
O Lover-birds, which of your spirits now,
From Ireland comes, or Camelot, who loved
My younger year? But welcome any one.
O, faëry bird! O, wingèd soul of Love!
O, hither to me, hither; let me hear
The parable within thy wings. Woe, me,
In dread of hurt, my bird of love comes not."
Advised by Brengwain's accents, Tristram rose
And strook his harp. As unto music, strings
Of instrument will answer music, came
Unto the harper's song the bird and perched--
A feathered flame of flickering hues, as tame
To hand and tongue--on the harp's golden crest,
To make the bower a shrine of song and fire
Impetuous, delirious. Eye and ear
O'erwrought, Isonde sank, as from ecstasy
Of love or sorrow. Towards the friendly bird
The Knight stretched forth his hand--two eagle's wings,
Outspread--two plumes of flame--one shrilling note,
Dread as the heart of battle--and no bird,
No flame, no song. Upon the floor there lay
A missive, as of thunder born, which claimed
Seven days, thereafter, sate
For last resolve, in clouded pomp, the King
With Table Round in council. Arthur's heart
Resigned in his despair, cried, "My one speech!
Launcelot fled in his sickness: no help comes:
Go find me Tristram! He wots well a man
Must make himself a bridge, to make him chief."
A proud voice smote the silence of the hall:
In every empty siege rang clashing swords,
And every knight leaped up as newly dubbed
Christ's warrior: Tristram answers! "Here be I.
The ancient oracle of Lyonesse
Finds me, her Knight, as ever, spear and bridge."
Then, Arthur questioned, "Wilt thou aid our throne,
Our faith, our throne's estate?" "'Neath sun and stars,
In watches on the weald, by shore, on sea,
With arms, or prayers, or song, until returns
My brother Launcelot, or unto the death.
Behold!" And Tristram held his hand aloft;
And Arthur cried aloud, "He gives his oath!"
Then Tristram led forth knights, and squires, with bands
Of yeomen--eagles, lions, serpents--strong,
Swift, subtle--virtues fresh-imbreathed, and clad
Gaily as if for love-quest; and the day,
As fortune-changed, victorious golden showers
Dispensed, of light descending bountiful.
Two years, from eastern to the western coast,
Up through the length of Logris, he the main
Held of the Table Round, of valiance, light,
Honour, each splendour won for it afore
By Launcelot and the Dragon King. Such deeds
Adventurous, dreadless, desperate from the spear
Of aid-in-need, and sword of Pagan-dread,
Clanged through these years, they were of highest fame
In the Pendragon era; all bygone,
But ushered, like to shades of heathen feats,
The morning of this virtuous valiance.
Never wide Logris, ere those years, or since,
In cleanliness of law and peace so shone.
This was the very halcyon time, foretold
When Arthur's golden baby-fingers played
Within the hoar of Merlin's locks, when one,
A diademed maiden, paced from Camelot
Companionless, by outlying loneliest ways,
Through city and by thorp, at dusk and dawn
Unto her northern island-halls--there came
Unharmed, unquestioned, unreproached, alone.
Our chronicles in England's ancient tongue
Set forth, that Tristram on Midsummer's day
In this his final, royallest Logrian quest,
Encountered one of lean and sinewy frame,
Strong-jointed, one whose visage told he fared
In soul more hardly than in three-score fights--
The frenzied Palomide; who, lance in rest,
Or e'er he charged, cried, "Tristram of the Gard
Joyous! best joy be thine. I, from my soul,
Bless thee, although I strike. Since last thy hand
Gave hospitable grace to mine--whereon
Odin reproved me--gracious Hand of Light
Hath overshadowed me from Breidalblick--
Balder's--from whose fair faith was drawn thy Christ's.
And silver May, and roses of thy June,
In thicket and in by-ways of the woods,
For me have blown their fragrance, and my spear
Hath sped on quests of love alone--such grace
Balder bestows, though I none less forlorn;
Which makes me bless thee, Tristram. This day mine;
Thine, too. I shall go back to Joyous Gard,
Its chambers in lament for loss of thee,
But more rejoicing in the sun-god's knight,
Who brings its pleasures to the flower from tears--
From tears and dust of dolour. Both are blest:
Since thou shalt be my conquest, and, thereby,
Death shall approve thee perfect knight. Isonde!
Isonde! Isonde!" That word; then, their career.
Each gave attaint, naming the Beautiful!
Isonde!--What powers of air now countervail
That name, its influent virtues? Both demeaned
Their course so ill, not any knight of youth
In Logris had achieved such meed of shame.
Their steeds from errant bridles swerved, each spear
Struck wide, and had not war-horned hands been theirs
Defiled in dust had lain as well as foiled.
Each at the other gazed aghast, nor spake.
Some moments. Then, the pagan, spear in rest,
Voice charged with madness,--
"By great Balder's glance!
Whence women beautiful, and cowards brave;
By his bright shining voice! heard in my soul,
To hasten doom; by his divinity!
Who highest stands to-day on Himmelberg,
Heaven's hill of endless summer; by his glance,
And utterance! this his own career approved,
Shall, quickly, have his own victorious meed.
Divinity in arms as well as peace!
He subjects thee, and Christian, to his faith."
The Knight of Upsal's golden dome drave hard,
Met by Sir Tristram in mid-course; the attaint,
Well-given, direct, full-forced, both men of proof
Were swept from horse. Mounting, dark Palomide
Breathed heavily, as of the heat o'erborne,
Or thoughts of awe and wonder. "Now, my god!
Patron-prophetic of new light to come,
Thyself earth's Greatest Light, O help thy son,
Thou Greatest Light for men! unless appears
The Light Divine, indeed--the Light no veil
Of flesh could bear. But no, first, fairest god!
None may usurp thy beauteous powers: no more,
Than in mid-winter--when thyself wast slain,
Balder! to rise beyond the verge of spring--
One Light, in dead mid-winter, should appear
Refulgent beyond spring, or summer's prime,
Summer within the soul, high summer more
Than summer of heaven's hills. No, God of smiles!
Of sanctity, and might! in thee, by things
Immutable, I swear, to make this course
Thine own. Death to that other faith. Now, aid
Thy son! Thine inspiration in mine arm
Unto the zeal of hate, quick in my spear,
On this attaint his lance,
As in the noontide shone a shaft of gold;
Its point shot arrowy beams, which backward sprang,
Clothing his helm with radiance of seven suns.
And Tristram's lance nor failed, struck home; but fierce,
So fierce the glory and the fury, both
Unhorsed, lay earth on earth. Sir Tristram kept
That spear-sleep two long hours: awakening, then
The pagan where he fell, lay earth on earth,
Still, as deep-drunken of the draught of death.
And through that night, that soft midsummer's night,
Sorrowing he sate, for solace of his woes
Harping beside the spear-struck Palomide;
Sorrowing unto his harp to lose one lost
In love. And, lo! as rose the sun, the eyes
Of Palomide opened, and amazed he spake:--
"Large comfort in the house of death, my soul
Gained to attend thy music. Now, new light
Making new day, I see! and likewise know
My sun-god entered now the road of Night
Leading to Death in deep mid-winter. List,
There, as before! methought, as, then, thine harp
Played, that its music sprang, or music woke
In heaven. Ah, such soul-healing harmonies:
Earth's voices silent, she, transported heard
Angels in their ethereal choirs, and song
Wherein a name divine--that of thy Christ!--
Spake the soul's everlasting peace."
Tristram astound, as hearing dead lips speak,
Could make no answer; and to charm those tears,
Which knightly hearts must yield to knightly woe,
He bade the pagan rise and prove his sword:
So, forthwith, end their valour's play. But this,
Refused with high, majestic voice, restored
Palomide, as again avowed his love
For Belle Isonde, and what the worship he
Had gotten by her. "Now, since death may come,
As from her hands, through thee her favoured peer,
I take the doom. Blest be thy stroke which brings
Deep night to me: for day without her grace
Is worse than dark, and death's dark with its peace
Most gracious gift, from thy hand as from hers.
Strike, noblest brother of hall or tourney, strike!
There--I unlace my corslet--strike!--And why
This gentleness? that tear? Nay, by thy faith!
Thou conquerest better than with arms of steel.
Upon my waking sense now comes my dream--
Frost, and bright snow, the constellated spheres;
In them, the music, and the angel-song
Which smites earth's serpent-sorrow. Now, no more
Her children lack their comfort: now, no more
Our souls know winter-death: but winter deep
Contains of heavenly joy the living spring.
Thy gentleness!--O, thou of sweetest voice
And sentence, with the utterance of thy harp
Making one music, magical as notes
Blown from the vernal heights when broke the east
Through Asgard's bowers, thy Queen disclaims my love;
Make it thine own! And, now, the sacrifice,
The victory, and the dedication, here
Shall be complete. I have foregone my hope:
My hope but not my love; on that, no more;
I here renounce my heathen heart: from hence,
That of the Cross be mine."
When nine days spent,
Recovering from the ardours of the fight,
Together for King Arthur's court they rode.
Upon their way, so high the pagan felt
The new ascension of his spirit, that nought
Might now delay such sacred rites required
To enclose him in Christ's fold. Thus, Palomide
Bowed at the feet of Cardoyle's suffragan,
The solemn blessing of the water heard,
And known the sprinkling of the holy dew,
Upon his soul arose the Light Divine
From sacrament of baptism, and the man
Became of Christ, and evermore was Christ's.
Mighty the noise of joy at Camelot,
To learn the gain of Faith. Once more, had bloomed
The rose of chivalry--to win the soul
For Christ. Here, seen one of those iron hearts,
Whereby upheld the ritual and the shrines,
Golden on Upsal's plain, arrayed in weeds
Novitiate. Noise of sportive joys rang round
The halls and homes and fields of Camelot,
Mightily, on this gain of Christ's white Faith.
Here, four calm weeks knight-royal Tristram stayed,
Until accomplished in their order due,
Within the quarters of the moon, those rites,
The church's discipline and secret cell,
By Palomide: who, then, at morn received--
Bathed all the chancel with the virgin light
New-risen in east--so, purely he received
The housell from Dubricius' holy hands;
Now, of the church of Christ made one--as one,
Evermore, of his Christ, was Palomide.
Then, to his service Tristram; leaving there,
Detained till next year's jousts at Pentecost,
The convert knight, who, such time, made acquaint
Of court, of courtly ways, and of that bond,
Kept in the Table Round, to keep the flame
Divine of purpose in the spirit quick,
Bright, serviceable for all needs. His heart
Marvelled to learn the cycle of the year
Was consecrate through every month and day:
Noted with various mood and various rite,
The church, upon the numbers of man's life
Its own emblazoned clear. Most at Christ's-mass,
His marvel; in the deep dead-winter set
The living lamp of fervent righteousness,
Unto whose season looked the festival
Dedicate to St. Michael and his host
The angels: with a heart elate he hailed
Felicitous Epiphany: but shared
The spiritual gloom which overcame the Court
Through saddened Lent, till, with rejoicing lauds,
Sunday of Golden Palms rose bright to greet
The church triumphant--sorrowing thence, awhile,
Till agony divine made Golgotha
Dark in the day-shine; sorrowing but this while,
For soon the psalms of victory ascend,
The Grave destroyed, Death quelled, and made the spring
Of Life Eternal--thence, the fair time led
This, now drawn nigh; from hall--
Where held in talk with Guinevere, her friend
Vivien, the sparkle of whose eye bewrayed
The flock of love she leagued with; Mordred--he,
Rarely within the Court or sun's light seen,
But lurking in outlying bowers, or slunk
In council-chamber shadows--Palomide,
Called thence by mandate of the King, first saw
Accomplished every apostolic seat
Of Arthur's Table Round: and rising tiers,
Wherein sat kings, earls, princes, barons and knights,
Seven score and ten, and in the Dragon-throne
Arthur himself, august, supreme in peace;
Within our bosoms still a light and hope;
And over him his shield emblazed with powers
And glories, thirteen golden crowns, with words,
"More crowns, more virtues."
Gentleness and power,
Such ne'er so crowned before in east or west,
Nor since, wherever risen or fallen the state,
Or stands the empire: as o'er Brimham's heights,
Where, like some city's skeleton, the rocks
Lie ranged, upon their central eminence
One proudly peers, of balance all so fine
A babe's hand stirs it, but ten mailed men
Of no more strength to move, so is he moved
By kindness, unremoved by fear or force.
Painfully breathed the faith's new Knight to view
The sight magnifical, beyond desire
Or dreams for earth, or for his warrior's heaven,
Foregone. And as he gazed deep silence lay
On all the sieges of the Table Round,
Attending Arthur's voice, which closed a strain
Of stately, heart-strong, slow, religious speech,
Filling the previous hour.
"We fight the fight
We may not hope to win. Hope, not less ours:
For with our hallowed arms we may deter
Invading evil, nay, decrease the bands
Co-operate against our Lord the Christ.
Honour enough in heathen times to be
Preparers of the way." As Arthur spake,
In chastened tones these humble words and strong,
A murmurous wonder sprang throughout the Ring--
For, lo, with crown celestial, Arthur crowned.
They saw the rarest of all holy sights;
In mid-air, o'er his head, of crimson hues
The thrice-woven mystic sign, presenting seven
Rays silver-tipt, o'er each a silver star
The lustrous miracle dissolved,
Thick-beat the Christian heart of Palomide,
When he regarded one of angel-face,
Upright, within the siege called Perilous.
The light upon that face, as when the priest
Bestows his benediction, and the fane
Grows luminous on assurance to the soul
Of Holy Life there breathed, nor pausing there
But passing o'er Death's deepest deeps to make
The sepulchre a court of light. "And say,
Who may that be?" he asked. "And who the dame
That gives him sunny countenance and cheer
Beyond our brethren of the Table Round?"
Said Launcelot, sighing, "Galahad, my son;
Knight of the Lord! To be the knightly saint
First in our calendar. Our best beloved.
More than our grace is his."
Then, in his voice
Thick trouble, Launcelot spake in undertones:--
"No man hath guided him unto his quest,--
No man. Alone, eye-witness hath he been
Of God his excellent glory. Ministries
From heaven have counselled him--may be, in dreams--
Certes, within the brightness of the east
At dawn, when best he loves to rise for prayer.
Beholding him at matins, glorified
By presences invisible, divine,
The effulgence of his purposed, pious quest
Gleams on his visage, and we bow the head
In worship of it. But five hours agone,
The oracular presences have been: he goes
With morrow's morn to find the Holy Grail,
And others go to seek."
The large tears rose,
The first-born Christian tears of Palomide,
With this report, which simply, briefly told
The spiritual mission of that radiant youth,
Whom rival ne'er dispraised, nor slander soiled,
Snow-white unto this hour. The large tears fell.
He wept for very gratefulness: but, soon,
At his exclusion from pursuit, where faith
Should sanction valour. "Woeful knight, am I.
Galahad gains the glory: none is mine;
Evil my heritage. Then, my resolve
Shall seek its direst shape; by it, win fame,
Which glory shall approve!" Pain at his heart
Bound further utterance: silent, he beheld
Wondering, that sight magnifical, first time--
Last time for him, for all men. Nevermore,
In scarlet richly furred--those robes of peace--
Each in his siege: no more, shall be convoked,
In their ascending circles and degrees,
Knights, barons, princes, earls and royalties,
The noble fellowship of the Table Round.
Galahad gone, the belts of brave and strong
Dissevered, most to search lands west and east,
And some by stoutness, some by patience, some
By pious, penitential labours, some
By perilous adventure,--Palomide,
Consecrate for his famous quest, set forth
For that strange creature, spawned of Night, sin-scarred,
The Questing Beast, abhorred of men, whose tongue
Is as a sword, its breath as of hell-fire,
And which may not be slain: but, he it caught
Bound it in bands, preserved man from its hurt.
Since then, broke loose, it rangeth everywhere,
Preying upon man's name, and body, and soul:
Yet, praise to him, that for some while he kept
That shameful scourge of Scandal from our land.
Sir Launcelot healed in spirit, restored to court,
Tristram, the peerless of the Table Round,
Retired, and Launcelot, now its Dragon-knight,
Resumed his place, his powers. Thence, free to north,
Hastened the knight-of-help, to her, Isonde,
Of love and soul his star, that as herself,
And far beyond herself, loved him.
Came whole from fray a knight with cloven helm:
And many broils are grievous howe'er won:
And blows abate at length the pride of war:
And Tristram, spent in spirit and frame, drew home,
Though gems and praise his guerdon. "Faith, my sweet!
This latest month, forsaking halls and cot,
I took chance wayside Cross for nightly host.
Brave cheer, but icy, when the ruddy lips
Of bleeding wounds crave for a care like thine."
Long was his healing, and his chastened soul
Would get fresh hurt at tidings from without:
But drank with grateful joyousness, as from
The four fair springs of Paradise, the love,
The peace, the trust, the beauty, living here
Within the heavenly homes of Joyous Gard.
***** But no sad thought,
Whilst Joyous Gard is ours--ours,--as 'tis theirs,
Our lovers'. Hasten not, then, as ye hear,
Gentles! With Tristram's growing strength, his all
Was all love might desire; seclusion far
From wranglings of the world; health, waiting still
On action: every season of the day
Diverse in aspect of delight.
The sharp and quickening odours of the sea:
Most beautiful, in languid hours to watch
The folding, fleecy, foam-clouds o'er the reefs,
Rising and wreathing, floating, falling--still
To climb and swirl, and heave and sink, and rise,
For ever; dear, to stray where every step
Woke fragrance; seeking tangled forest-paths,
With bird and rill harmonious; thorough fields,
Which lacked the frequent step, to silent heights
Unreached aforetime; or, awearied, learn
Love's rest was claimed by yonder shy green shade.
And then, the eager stir, when woodland ways
Rang merry as of old with Tristram's horn.
Like to his spear, his eye and voice were powers
For judgment; oft, between, there came the chase
In airy fields; his pride might not abate
Its wings; he crowned past glory as the lord
Of sport; he won the eagle to his lure,
And made it tractable as falcon-gentle--
Kingliest of sports.
No wonder, here the Knight
Desired to linger: rather, wonder why
Depart? The peaceable humanities
Of this dominion, silently and strong
Wove those invisible gossamer threads which bind
Man's spirit to his home, his friends, his fields,
Fast to the uttermost, and unto death.
Touched was his heart, to witness all that war
Boasted as glorious boon, accomplished here
In tenderness, simplicity, and trust.
The choral voices of the bands of toil
Gladdened each morning; in their homes, their lives
Defrauded by no rueful memories
Had cloudless cheer: hope rested confident
Upon the change called death--made present, past
With future, one--one placid whole--the gift
Angelic of the Father of our prayers.
Thus every simple heart became a room
For beautiful and pious thoughts.
"All we behold leads unto Life. This seen;
By night, by day, on every side, this seen--
And where we cannot see, Christ is our trust."
And these humanities, and hopes well told
Each Stranger's Home, lawn-girdled, at this time
Roofed with its jasmin, glittering with its stars,
The hermitage for all way-worn; of peace,
The flowery shrine. Whenever they would near
God's acre, now rose-hedged, some new surprise,
As Love had mysteries there, awaited them;
And if they missed revisiting, some man,
Or woman, or child, would beckoning lead them there--
"For, wherefore to your servants were ye sent
But, as of old, angels, to re-assure?
And here the holiest ground whereon to stand
Nay, but themselves were re-assured
In happiest faith. With spring, the primrose spread
Moonlight of memories o'er every grave;
In autumn, central there one letter bloomed
Delectable in gold--the father priest,
Last gone from every household, his earth's dust
Spake to them brightly, then. The live-long day,
The fields of duty were in song; at eve,
Garlanded labourers homeward-bound with pomp
And noisy joys excelling those of war,
The Sanctuary of Remembrance reached, their notes
Rang gentler cadence with soft canticles,
Or circumfluent sounds of murmured psalms.
Bound, then, themselves for home, La Belle Isonde,
And he, her other heart, the Hesper Rose
Within the pensive shadows of the eve
Along their path, to them displayed its prime;
That bloom of gold withdrawn from gold of day,
Shone in the hour of hope's nativity
To lovers dearest, as they hand in hand
Through devious ways, with gentle pace, and speech
Softer than the communion of the leaves,
Once more, enraptured sought their ocean-bowers.
In Isonde's eyes, this while, the noon of love
Was cloudless, clear, and full. Throughout these days,
It were as time had shed his plumes and passed
All unrecorded by the living sense;
And none of Isonde's fears but perished then,
Light-slain, flower-shrouded, sepulchred in song.
In this the closing restful time, came one
Who told it, Mark back to his Christ-less throne
Had crept: but there, sore-wearying, missing knight,
Defence and glory: missing wife of grace
And charms of gentleness. But then the churl,
Abashed in loss of welcome, nerveless spoke
In short his errand, like to one who sings
His verse with all the words of all its thoughts,
Yet lacks the master-key of melody,
Foliage at once and flower of human voice.
Thus, aught of Mark or Mark's estate, were but
Dead-birth of news, its swaddling-clothes its shroud:
Silence on its nativity, no tears,
No sigh of sympathy, no smile of hope,
Buried, forgotten, soon as known--the Gard
Untroubled kept its golden, deep repose,
Cornwall its craven sorrows.
Upon a sobbing eve, which wept the loss
Another love-day gone, far other news,
By one sea-travelled, haggard, soiled and weak.
A requiem wail of many grieving hearts,
Was in that stranger's voice, and of the tomb
Its stillness, coldness, when his homely word
Disburdened.--Isonde of the Lily Hands,
The virgin-wife, in Brittanie long left,
Was taken of the Christ she served. There went
To Tristram's heart a venomed arrow home,
His own the sharpening and its dolorous wound.
Green Brittanie now mourned its vestal gone;
One never much unhappy: for to miss
The love of one who loved not her, sustained
Her faith in love more perfect. Any hope
Was, he might love more throughly, and, thereby,
Be finer Knight of Honour and of Love.
One never much unhappy: hers, the gift
Unconscious, to enjoy the flowers which spring
Within the present: these, avert the sense
From past--flowers of the best grow now, the flowers
Fairer from by-gone winds and rains--nor she
Took usury of the future which despoils
These flowers. Minds modern wisely have foregone
A very woman she, whose time
Was filled with mild and beautiful devoirs,
Whereby, redemption of our kind from coarse
Mad revels of man's passionate strengths. But, then;
She was a king's daughter! Ay, ay, but saints
Can clothe in satin, be saints still, though oft
In satin sinners lost, and of desire,
Wanting the satin, thereby, born some sin.
Yet, saints are saintly still. Midst courtly blooms
First-placed, she as a violet reserved,
Its place best known from hidden perfumes. She,
Nun of the shade: a virtue clothed in robes
And sheen of cheerfulness; sun-ray of home,
Brightening its rooms with labours of its grace;
A sportive angel chasing tediousness
From household hours: midst trials, holding still
The ornament of a meek and quiet spirit,
Of greatest price within the sight of heaven.
Those fragrant fingers done their courteous toils,
The spirit's duties ended, farewell said,
For good and all her gentle sleep she took,
Handmaiden of her Christ unto the end.
The greenest grass in Brittanie, to-day
Grows o'er the dust of Lily Hands. But, brief.
Tongues light have mocked her--named her, a slight flower,
Crushed by the martial foot of life--some, less--
A weed. There is a plant, most known as weed,
Beneath the cruellest step sends forth a breath--
The incense of a sacrifice--say that
Of Lily Hands, and higher laud we ask not.
This vestal wife, her Lion-spouse long mourned
Within the sadness of a cave, still shown
Beneath a headland's yellow cliff. He kept
Vigils of sorrow, smart with tears, and scourged
With worse than serpent-thongs, remorseful thoughts.
Nor after--as in midnight of his woe--
But he, in awe and reverence of a love
That veered not on his own transgression, bent
His head on mention of her name.
Heard once from Palomide, is free. Yes, free,
In bondage to Love's will; for Palomide
Free, had to yield the worship of his soul
To Belle Isonde. Lamenting, Launcelot owned
Thraldom in liberty of love. For truth,
For right, law's righteousness, the foremost spear
Launcelot's; he mourned the flower of Astolat,
Consumed by passion of his fame; he mourned,
Yet, clave to Guinevere. And as these things
Accorded with the counsel of the King
To Launcelot, "Love is free within himself,
Nor ever will be bound: for when 'tis bound
Then loseth Love itself, and is no Love!"
So, I may say no more, who am Love's liege,
Than that it has been writ, and not gainsaid,
These things were done, were spoke, in unison
With times and passion; and his anguish laid
By lengthened, sorrowing showers, he sought the sun,
Tristram--forsook his cavern-hermitage--
His one-love faith, his first, one, only, kept
Rigorous, as vowed, unto his death.
Nothing of death or glooms of doubt, decay
Or change, his spirit less and less required
The melancholy, busy ways of men--
But life of joyaunce, as of summer leaves
Dancing within the prodigal sunshine, vowed
To liberties of mirth. In Joyous Gard
These three years passed. Then came a change, indeed.
Not now, as in past time, may Cornwall's head
Plead and be scorned, its recreant woes despised.
Regal Carduel--there, the Dragon King
Held loud unwonted festival: convened
The beauty and the valour of his realms
For tournament, with minstrels from Norroy,
From Cumbria's hills; but famousest from Wales,
Led by Taliessen's carol of the joy
Launcelot returned from honoured quest--such joy,
As though no Tristram missed, nor wanted more:
As though, some long-lost planet rode again
Brighter, with rarer fortune-gifted beams
Within the Table's firmament of fame.
Deep in these pastimes, Arthur's hand received
A hurried missive.
Mark would holpen be;
Craved grace in his old craven way. "My throne,
Besieged: my good lands everywhere burnt up
With pagan hoofs of fire: doubly down-borne:
Forsaken: O, friend-royal! in my need,
'Neath punishment for sins, I say not how,
Nor when--but thou--forgetting thy past wrongs
From Cornwall, best will know--let thy large love
Be strength unto me." And the gentle King
Felt ruth within him for the dole of Mark:
Led to his chamber, with his counselling Knights.
Thence Arthur, after long debate, retired
With those three, chief in wisdom: hoar Lywarch
Who winnowed purpose from the husk of words
And moved in safety, or so stood, prepared
In watch and arms: the ruddy Cynon--fierce
To charge, pursue and slay: and dark Aron
Matured in guile for backward march, whene'er
The storms and lightnings of his charge had failed
To foil the pagan. All concurred: from heart
And hard advisings, answer there was one,
None other--and one name--none other choice:
Answer and name were--Tristram. Thereupon,
Arthur a loving treaty made with Mark,
Arch-villain-royal. And, since by Table Round
Tristram won safety in his Logrian home,
So now, its will, clothed with word paramount--
The Dragon King's--his Lion-knight was called
To Camelot, with lady of his heart,
La Belle Isonde.
"News-bringer, friend!" quoth he,
"Ruin rings in thy voice: yet, we shall go:
Soon be in readiness." With coldness spake
Sir Tristram, but a tear in either eye,
More truly than nine prayers at nocturns thrice
Repeated, told, within his soul, the deeps
Of sorrow opened. "How my spirits yearn
For Palomide, Knight of the Faith. Methinks,
His great renunciation and his quest
Were good for me: his new-tuned voice, perchance,
Might comfort me. But, friend, I take my barge
For yonder fane, whose worship, oftentimes,
More rapture hath bestowed than may belong
To earth's delight: my spear has done its last
War-service, and those holy hours demand
The dedication of what best hath served
The wantonness of valour. O, good spear!
I may not reckon our companionship
In field, by wayside, midst the hosts, alone,
In tumult of the lists: the past is woe
To measure: but the future hath its hope.
On the high-altar, placed by priestly hands,
We separate, seeking peace by diverse ways.
On my return.--But Brengwain, tend our lady.
Nay, best beloved, loosen thine arms: two hours,
And I am here again, a truer knight
Than thou hast found me yet. Nay, thou, Isonde,
Angel that ever sanctified my strength--
In this contention of thy passion, be
Thy better self. Forsake me not. Again,
My mission is but thine. Sustain her, friends,
On my short absence."
Looking in her eyes
He saw Love's day-star darkening. "Now, with speed,
For my last rites at Joyous Gard." His lance,
By this, was in his hand. Failing in voice,
Isonde, with silent signal to her grooms,
Waved their attendance. Tristram saw the sign.
"Bring me my harp!" he cried. "Naught more my need."
His barge unmoored; within the stem was laid
His battle-spear, ere this enwreathed with flowers
As it had budded, blossomed with a growth
Sweeter than any summer, when it lived,
And birds had hiding in its leaves, amidst
The groves of Ferniehurst. Close by the helm
He sate and strook his harp: the barge moved off:
Thridding the verdant islets towards the fane
Where surpliced priests were waiting. Here, with prayers
He brought his lance, and with it spoils of war,
Jewels and wedge of gold. Then, to the Gard
As music-drawn, his boat sped swiftly back,
Whilst Tristram strook his harp--the sharp-cut wave
Singing beneath her prow to hear his song.
Belle Isonde, when her lord approached, restored
From that heart-faintness which attends the smart
Of unexpected trouble, had woven her hair
In fine new fancies, one broad plait around
Her argent brow, whereon composure slept,
Whilst o'er her face a pensive smile, as light
On moving water, came and went; not glad,
But grateful, and in golden patience held
To undergo what must be. No less he;
Sustained by spiritual solace from the lips
Of holy pastors lately left. None word,
Of fear, or doubt, sad child, spake Tristram, none;
But solemn-sweet his voice: "Heart's queen! Mine own!
We go from Joyous Gard. My spear has turned
From noise and stroke of war: by priestly hand
Received, 'neath yonder fane it lies, shall lie,
In consecrated peace: henceforth, my sword
Suffices for my travails, and my harp
Conjoined for praise. The bedesman, we away
On all our mornings lighted by this sun,
Across these waters of the Joyous Gard,
Will sound his orisons for our twain souls
To keep the peace begotten here, till peace
Heavenliest strikes through the nights of death. My heart!
The stream of earthly happiness, which glides
With never-ending curves, from us departs
Surely--but none less sure, its waters flow;
Whereon, let us have heart's content and cheer.
Their shining feet are hurrying shining hours,
Surely, to lovers everywhere. Our love,
Our own,--sufficient solace that for us:
Since none hath given, no one can take away;
And in its strength divine let us remain
Submissive: trusting in the God of Love,
Abide His will."
Within the dark they sped
Which followed that same day. Morn's windy light
Rose on them far beyond the hills. Their throngs
Of dame and knight were grieved they could not hail
Once, if for ever, dazzling in the dawn
All diamond and gold, the Joyous Keep,
And, green from shore to hills, and silver-laced
With ringing becks, Love's principality.
But they not long forlorn--so soon the sun
Breathed warmly on their way, and woke the flowers.
Love's-liking takes to flowers: these, be at once
Colour, remembrance, and a music heard
Within the spirit, melodies more sweet
Than voice or instrument: thus, hills and seas
Unseen upon their travel, faithful flowers
Attended, in their shining ministries;
By road and leafy copse, by dales and fells,
The month known by their blazonries--as told
Daffodils spreading sunshine by the brooks--
That air from lily-o'-the-valley's bells,
Within their early summer shrines of green
All silver-hung, blown wide abroad--nor less,
By golden salvers of marsh-marigold
Prepared for elfin tribes, high feast and dance
Now near with genial airs--these, kept the life
Of Joyous Gard still rich in every heart
By all their travels.
Arthur, still in north,
Received them in Carduel's palace-hall,
With royal, simple courteousness. His throne
Stood empty: central on the floor, rush-clad,
On velvet carpet placed the golden chair
Wherein sate Arthur: with him, Table Round--
Scant in its company--and courtly suite
Reclined on cushions, those of saffron-hue
These, bloom of rose--when all with voice to each
Of Joyous Gard's fresh-exiled lovers here,
"Welcome of heaven to thee!"
A jocund week,
With joust for morning, sports and minstrelsy
From noon till midnight, nocturns then forgot,
Matins displaced by madrigals, till noon
Was hot again on their carousals,--aye,
Mad merriment, as when midsummer's sun
Keeps all the heavens from night--and not as though
The sun of Love, midst shades, now made descent
Into life's winter. Yet, one might have seen,
That to Isonde or Tristram, none the sports
Made of their happiness: that oft the light,
Which tells the soul, went out from Tristram's face:
And that within her eyes, new-queened Isonde,
For Love's bright day-spring, or the full of noon,
Its evening star shone dim.
The gay time closed,
Arthur unto his Table Round, "This while,
A brother sorrows, prison-bound--nought less,
In castle close-beset: and there be griefs
More sore, of which his clouded hints portend,
More than were kind to name. Whene'er the weak
Beseech us in their needs, 'tis ours to learn
How they may be upheld." Few spake thereon,
And these, in reverence to their King, resigned
Will and suggestion: sought for his command,
His own good-will. The issue was abrupt,
And without words. Their King spake not: nor moved:
His loving, large, and wondrous eyes were laid
On Tristram: noting which, the Table Round
Arose in silence, and in silence bowed
Before the Dragon King: then, turning, bowed
In silence before Tristram, as he sate
Within his siege, so noble in his port,
Such lofty purpose luminous in his eyes,
He scarce seemed second to the kindly King.
Sir Tristram, answering,--"I have read your minds,
Most worthy fellowship! Our will as one,
Hath ever been and must remain. Your will,
My own, I follow to the end."
Submissive, he at matin-song, what time
Caerleon's prelate-lord, who ever placed
The land's sin on the Court, the doubled sin
Of Court on King: sonorous, merciless,
"Thy sin shall find thee out!" of Homily
His burden:--"Keep Thy sheep from wolves!" of Prayer
His burden,--Light of Christ's Church dawning then
On Britain, he repealed the doom so dark
O'er Cornwall's throne: Mark's bridal sacrament
Received original powers, and Tristram's might
But not from either realm withdrawn
The spiritual voices in their tears and prayers:
Nor secret ministers within the hours
Stayed in their swift fulfilment. Belle Isonde
Brought to Tintagel's ribald towers a heart
Void of desire for those delights of Mark
Which filled his days, 'midst idle, sportive dames,
Knights of the drinking horn, and squires of worth
In wantonness. With him the Lion-sword
Brought, self-enjoined, a charge, eftsoons proclaimed,
Accepted and pursued: four years its edge,
As to amend its aught of wrong, should serve
Even as King Mark might ask.
That merriest month,
Flower-crowned, which laughed above their southward march,
Died not before the warm rose-breath of June,
Ere Tristram sped to danger-haunted fields.
He fought; subdued; returned. Sent forth again,
Again his sword, sole comrade of his quest,
From peril's womb brought forth the babe of peace,
Purged evil darkness till its tracks and dens
Gave home and passage, as in lands of light
O'erlooked by Camelot. From time to time,
Arm-wearied grown, or weak from dolorous wounds,
Still to Tintagel he would turn. These times,
Resting, awaiting healing of his hurt,
His harp oft in his hand would sing the tale
Of enterprise and hope, of late complete,
With tones of flame and flashing melodies
To the court's pleasure. Ah, but to the Queen,
Raptures and pride. His valorous deeds o'er-rode
Her loving fearfulness, now dangers gone
And gladness prospers. But with healing, flight--
Whither, in Mark's deranged seven-cornered realm,
Outrage and rapine wildest: given to sleep
The strings of music--splendours of new dawn
Flared from his brand, upon the lawless night
Enkindling righteousness: and, then, his harp,
And that majestic voice of melody,
Exulting, gave the conquest to Christ's faith,
Never to be undone: heart-taught by him
Homes shone with gospel-light, and food divine
He placed on humblest lips for daily use,
Fair golden sentence of the Mountain set
In silver song.
These plighted years fulfilled,
His last return bestowed his chiefest joy
Next to his joy in love. Swart Palomide,
Drawn to Tintagel suddenly, as found
Trail of the Questing Beast anear the throne,
Met him beneath the portal, in his arms
Bound him, with speech of praise and prophecy,--
That, in this mission, better were performed,
Than if seven thunders spake, the great intent
Of chivalry--its dedicated fire,
Impassioned heart, and sacrifice: he told,
What meed his gracious Honour should secure,
Then in his fame flown wide, even as the wind
Searching each quarter, and thereafter known,
When claimed of the divine deliverer Death,
In tongues unborn, and in the leagues of love
First champion: and, as love begetteth love,
His name should never fail, for hearts would burn
To hear the purport of his life, whereon
Love's birth would be assured--in which he erred not.
Palomide's fervency of loving speech,
O'ercame Mark's knight, who slowly spake, held hard
The hand that clasped his own; gazed on the earth--
Beginning and the end--as in his thought--
Thus gently told: "Dear brother-knight, my heart
Hath its desire. Thy words have more content
Than tourney-trophies, and the light of smiles
From ladies when the fresh wound wins the fight.
But, here, no more. The longing of my soul
Shall now be satisfied. Something remains.
Unto the sun-rise limits of Mark's land
I have made clean its ways--and now, myself,
Blameful, unworthy, weakest child of sin,
Heedless of faith whene'er my spear most strong;
Frailest in times of strength; most foul, whene'er
Virtuous in practice,--I must go, be cleansed,
Renounce the way and instruments of war--
Of which," he touched his sword, "this last remains--
And in a fit humility acquire
Initiation to the paths of peace."
The promise of his penitence was kept
At Caerleon's altar. Hallowing of the sword,
That sword whose lightnings seemed to smite more quick
Than either edge, was done with crowded rites
Of prayer, and praise, and song. Good Bedwin's hand,
Chief priest of blessing, who had Arthur's trust
And conscience in his keeping, took the blade,
And midst triumphant psalms, dense fragrant wreaths
From silver censers, nine times murmured vows,
Laid it within a shrine, where sacred light
Fell fullest through the chancel panes, resigned
To peace. The arch-priest's hand upraised, thereon,
Was benediction; soft as Hermon's dew,
His language over the deliverer's head,
Left Tristram consecrate to peace,--its powers,
Benignities, its patience, hope; his arms,
His rest and spiritual sustenance evermore.
In this our tale, we must confess its truth,
As speaks the heart unto itself when heard
The sacring bell. Erring, some pens have told
The sorrowful end of this puissant love,
Most sorrowful at best report. From wounds,--
Erring, they say it,--laid in Brittanie
Was Tristram in the care of Lily Hands,
(As she outlived her lord): the maiden-wife,
He bade forthlook upon the sea and say
Came there from westward, any ship in sail?
And when espied--the sail or black or white?
If white!--wot Lily Hands--the freight she brings
Is Belle Isonde, who comes to cure the wounds
Defeating other skill.--The sail was white.--
That moment's hate o'ermastered love. Isonde
Of Lily Hands recked not the healing craft,
Her lord's one need. As she beheld it shine,
A star upon the sea, she cried--"A sail!
The sail, be black!" Whereon, the knight as struck
By treacherous glaive, groaned, and the draught of death
Took instantly. La Belle Isonde arrived--
They fable--when were told the news, she sank,
And seeing her dead lover, died. Ah, well!
In truth, we know, Isonde of Britannie
Close by her home, kept sweetest sleep and last
Beneath the still green billows of life's haven--
Would we were there, sigh some--and we must speak
By our antique report, when Launcelot spake
As brother of Sir Tristram in his faith
And chivalry, best knowing--and the worst
Stricken when Tristram passed.
There came a day,
Recognisant of Tristram--shadows lie
Deepest upon that day--though glories gild,
As those of love must ever do, death's dark,
The dark of death remains. There came a day,
Recognisant of Tristram. Cornwall's scath
Flown from before his saviour-sword, remote,
Sea-banished, now, unheard: his valourous deeds
Had worship from the realm. War's iron cries
Were tuned to festal-songs; the battle spear
Clanged in the merry tourney: found of grace,
Sorrow put on the garments of delight
And ruin wreathed itself in smiles and flowers:
And foremost in the fire of revelry
And storm of lauds, Tintagel on that day.
Proudest was Palomide. His brother-knight
To praise, was his best glory. But, behold,
Caerleon's consecrated sword he wears,
Sought by his hand unconscious, when his mood
Lost light of the day's joy. He had to speak
To the enquiring wonder of Mark's eye,--
"This sword, you see, once thy arch-knight's, now mine,
Redeemed with golden booty earned in wars
With godless spoilers of Christ's land, best serves
To hasten me, may best serve on my quest."
As yet unsaid, and best unsaid; if said,
Then briefest.--Mordred during these last days
Came to Tintagel with adulterous news
From Camelot, with greetings no less vile
From temptress Vivien: unction to Mark's spirit,
Dearest through evilness. This northern snake
Crept into covert corners of the bowers
Whispering the Caiaphas prophecy--"One man
Should die for all men's good!" 'Tis said, this while,
Arthur was chilled even at high noon; his halls
Were filled with bodeful murmurs--but men talk
Of travail of the event, when the event
Comes to the birth, and, more its marvel, more
Certain the signs of travail. All must wot
This whispering serpent's tale: if so, why then
Must Palomide! And Mark bade Mordred mark
His sword, and spoke its tale, which stopped the hiss,
And woke the dread. Thence, Mordred's secret eyes--
And Mark had mirth of Mordred for his fear--
Held to the sword, as if foreboding ill.
So works the Will Divine: the evil thought
Near to an ending, lives: the good secure,
Or seeming, perishes: the evil lives,
Acts ruin far from present place or time,
Until,--until,--the perfect end doth come,
Whereby the Will Divine is justified.
Within the pleasaunce of La Belle Isonde,
Eve's light found Tristram harp in hand. He sang,
Of spirit purified, known by his theme,
And singing softly smote the mystic strings:
His instrument was as a second voice
True daughter of his spirit: voice, spirit, harp,
Were blended in exalted song. He sang;
In full assembly of the dames and knights,
Sang to Isonde alone. But each ear won,
All needs must hearken: or, in silent groups,
Laid on the grass: or, gathered midst the trees
For silence of the shadows: or, on flowers
With hushed and perfumed footsteps moved. Isonde,
Though hers the lay, the ears of all being won
They needs must hearken.--Palomide alone
Stood solitary, dull in vision,--entranced
Most woefully,--for, woe, when evil charm
Flies not from music--and his battle-spear
All unremembered, slanting 'gainst a yew,
Within the failing light grew black. Not so,
King Mark. Nor, as his guests beguiled: nor, still,
Bound by a sorcerous spell, like Palomide,
But in a neighbouring aisle obscure of elms,
Hearing the harmonies, the furies rose
Tormenting thought and sense: and as he paced
Delirious, wilder still the furies raged;
Such force hath sweetest song on evil minds.
Before La Belle Isonde, the king's knight sang,
Sang like to one whose earthly love foregone,
A holier hath arisen. War's perils past,
Fled from his tongue: the present held him not,
Nor with its loves, or glories. Now, his eye,
Held by the evening star, his voice had ranged
From Belle Isonde: his spirit's wing sustained
On the still rapture of imagination
Sailed to far times, and unto these he sang,
Clear to his inner vision as to hope.
"Those times all splendour-clad, and sweet, and sure
As is yon star: that retinue, I see,
Radiant in its approach, when with their powers
A gentle hand shall rule: that Queenly rule,
Odour of peace on all its functions, spreads
A morning sweetness through these realms: that power
Ascends to undreamed heights of glory!" Heard
That rising note, Mark heard no more, but heard
A whispering as of Mordred's serpent-tongue:--
"More hath he been than King: much more, than King.
Thrice, hath he purged my lands: thrice, kept my crown
Firm on my forehead. Happy are my homes:
My burghs and thorpes increase--and through his might.
So easy, then, for him to be the King,
Displacing Mark--Mark, the anointed King!
Is he, forsooth, not prophesying now
Of his great self? Ay, truly, let one churl
Cry 'King' of him, and all breaths would conspire
To puff the purple from me, and himself
Make King! Or she, my wife, sole sovereign Queen,
Make her, awhile, till he soon found to be
Sole King!--And I, King Mark, think thus!"--And one
Needs die! And I think thus!" Blind, murder-drunk,
Cornwall, from out the darkened aisle of elms,
Reeled: stretched his arms abroad, as if to find
Support in failing strength, and seeking, grasped
The spear of Palomide. A crimson light
Broke o'er Mark's maddened brain; and as his thought
He heard and saw--no more--that instant fell
Tristram, the Light of Honour, by the king
Spear-stricken through the heart.
La Belle Isonde
Beheld that face--which as the morning shone--
Bloodless and disinherited of light:
Those clear, large eyes--whose purest life was drawn
Ever from her, and were to her as life--
Dead-staring at the sky. Nor on the king
She looked, nor any dame, nor any knight,
But from her height of life and joy at once
Sank into the irrevocable dark.
The starless night possessed those eyes of love--
And stooping, sinking, gently, like to one
Grown suddenly weary, silently her lips
Partook from his the sacrament of death.
As all must die, the question is--how best
It were to die?--Methinks, hers no ill speed.
Above all mourners, one, that other heart
Of Tristram in his chivalry, was struck
Once and for ever--Launcelot. Not for him
The sparkling sorrow, and its cloud is gone.
Death to his spirit's valiance was the news,
To every hope the night of death, a night
Without a morning. And unchanged, or changed
To finer knightly true-love in his heart,
This season of his woe unto the last.
The voices and the silences which haunt
Man's closing years, now with him, left him not,
Immediate, dread companions of his time
Till time was none for him. His trembling heart
Shook paradise from Joyous Gard, those months
He sought our lovers' joys with Guinevere,
The swerving Queen. Sir Tristram's way of love,
Was twin unto his own; he might not gain,
Nor did he gain the rarer ecstasies,
But his to walk the self-same road, and end
In rarer bitterness. His silent pain,
Showed outward to his fellowship how keen
Its edge. His majesty was dimmed--the form,
The power, and the informing soul--though long
Puissance of his nobleness maintained
Within his voice. He asked, and Arthur gave,
His choicest troop of barons, harnessed black,
With black recognisances, helm and shield,
For honour of the burial; as required,
So gave the Dragon King. But Mark was known
Unchastened by remorse. Acquainted naught
With knightly temper, he the peaceful dead
Held stronger in his hate: a hardened soul
Unto its own perdition Mark's, nor feared
Launcelot's dismay, nor sorrowing wrath of those
Within his own Tintagel. Mark deferred
The natural obsequies. Let them be named--
And the cold, contumelious sneer replied
In language of his heart: he fain had laid
Their bodies within ground unconsecrate:
Naught, in his wild despite by word or deed,
Too baleful in effect. When Launcelot asked
He might attend death's fitting rites, and praised
The dead, Mark's wan lips twitched. "Like as they played,
Play you with fancies in thy love. By tale,
Your flattering thoughts, which please yourselves, I know;
Fine loves, I know them well. Now, barter these--
'Love's foliage in the hyacinth tress; its rose
'Upon the cheek, and violet in the eye!'
Love's passion-flowers like these, pray, barter me
For boorish truth. I have a chosen love
Which clips, and hurts, and cries with pain's delight
Plain, lusty love is mine. Yet, in thy phrase,
Take these death's lilies, and their virtuous dust
Through which the worm glides noiseless--his high feast
Asks for no minstrel-jangle, for his grace
The abbot's lips are mouldering 'neath the shroud,
And wassail waits him in the warrior's heart
Whose wonted throbs, the thunders of the tilt
Once answered--to the royal worm yield these
Thy lovers with all proper pomp." The knight,
Palsied by shame, so near his hallowed dead,
His not the hand to slay the crowned shame.
Silent, some seconds' space: wherein, his mind
Weighed this dark hate of Mark, and therefrom drew
A purpose late beyond his hope. "Fair king,
My love is apt to parley with thy hurt.
Say, in thy graciousness, with these my knights,
May I provide a burial for the twain
Beyond Tintagel's bounds?" Sharp, hissing came
With curl o' the lip this answer. "Ay, my halls
Are purer for that speech. But, speedily.
The charnel vapours reached my bower this morn:
Let them not taint the merry morrow here."
And turning sharp on heel, that was the last
Amazed Sir Launcelot saw of Mark, or Mark
Spake of his bright Queen dead, and Tristram dead.
A weeping haste of preparation lacked
Help of Tintagel's court, loth to offend
The tarnished crown they loathed; but, more of strange,
Lacked help of Palomide. He paced the bowers
Astonied, as it seemed: dull in his sense
To all the current trouble; yet, alert,
Listening half-bent, his head aside, to hear
Of footsteps, as with Clustfain's ear which heard
The dew-drop falling from the grass in June
Throughout the region of high summer's reign;
Listening, as for a sound within a sound,
A spirit listening, in foot-steps to hear
The spirit-step, as of the thing itself.
And when the sun in large cloud-glories robed
Descended for his rest in ocean's halls,
Out from Tintagel, with funereal hymns,
And pageant clad in sable samite, went,
To seek their rest, the still forms of Isonde
And Tristram, on the bier; as in their lives
Nearest and best beloved, in white of death
Upon one bier.
Across the eastward plain
The pageant, with its pace of woe and tears
Wound slowly. Mark upon his topmost tower
Beholding, regal-robed and diademed--
A sight of horror--hate within the sun--
Glory within its glories, passion-struck,
In the mid-tempest of his mood, his face
Worked fiercely, with a pall of crimson glooms--
His face and flickering splendour of his robes
Wore horrors of the radiance of hell:
But paled that face, one moment, ere he lost
Those lovers, until passion in his soul
Rose higher, the pageant nearing Cadon's woods:
Now, reached; now, entered; and now, hid--and, then,
The hate found voice. "For Vivien, now, my soul!
For Vivien!" Last words these for him. A cry
Behind, "Whelp of the Questing Beast!" One flash,
White-circling, and the royal miscreant head,
And bulk of frame into the stagnant fosse
Fell heavily. A sable form erect,
With eyes of fire, stood in the place of Mark.
Lifting on high a dripping sword, it waved--
Caerleon's consecrated sword it was
That waved adieus towards the hidden train
Winding through Cadon's groves. All night was heard
In Isonde's bower a piteous, pleading cry,
Broken with shriek for Mordred. But, as doom
Expected least had come, the doom most feared
Escaped. Sleuth-hound of empire, Mordred, sped
Those hours to Camelot.
With rising morn,
Rode forth a knight distraught, on whom no man
Dared lay his hands. A furlong from the keep,
He sharp drew rein, turned in his selle, upraised
His mailed fist and cried: "I've slain the whelp!
Now for the sire!" Then, frenzied Palomide,
With haste of hope, dashed on his Perilous Quest.
Next: The Prophecy of Merlin, by John Reade