An Arthurian Miscellany at sacred-texts.com
The sky was one unbroken pall of gray,
Casting a gloom upon the restless sea,
Dulling her sapphire splendour to a dark
And minor beauty. All the rock-bound shore
Was silent, save a widowed song-bird sang
Far off at intervals a mournful note,
And on the broken crags of dark gray rock
The waves dashed ceaselessly. Sir Kathanal
Stood with uncovered head and folded arms,
His soul as restless as the surging sea
Lashed into passion by the coming storm.
His helmet lay upon the sand; its crest,
A floating plume of deep-hued violet,
Was tossed and torn in fury by the wind
Until it seemed a thing of life. He stood
And watched it, only half aware at first
That it was there, then scarce aware of aught
Besides the plume. As in the room of death
Some iterated sound or motion holds
Attent the stricken mind, benumbed, and keeps
The horror of its grief awhile at bay
As by a spell, so now, though Kathanal
Had sought the sea-shore to be free of men
Because of his sore agony of heart,
And all the passion of his daring soul
Was tossing like the sea in fierce revolt,
His thoughts and gaze were centred on his crest.
Before the gray of sea and sky he saw
Naught but the waving, waving of the plume;
Before the vision of his love, Leorre,
Her tender eyes aglow with changeless light,
The golden splendour of her sunny hair,
Her winning smiles of grace and sweetness blent,
There came the waving, waving, of the plume;
Between his sorrow and his weary soul,
Between his trouble and his clear-eyed self,
There came the waving, waving of the plume;
Until he felt, in some half-conscious way,
It was his heart, and he a stranger there
That looked down, from a height, indifferent
Upon it at the mercy of the wind.
Sudden, with that long lingering trace of youth
That gave to him the fascinating charm
Which other men were fain to emulate,
He quickly stooped, and tore it from his helm,
And cast it far out on the tossing sea.
It lighted on the waves a purple bird,
Floating with swan-like grace before the wind.
The action quenched impatience. Kathanal,
Impulsive, passionate and sensitive,
In moods was ever ready with response
To omen and to change of circumstance.
He stood a moment, and then forward sprang
To catch it ere it vanished out of reach.
It was too late--the outward-flowing tide
Bore it from wave to wave beyond his sight.
"Ah, God!" he cried aloud, "what have I done?
It is the omen of a curse to me;
My crest is gone, my knightly symbol lost,
My helm dishonoured through an act of mine."
Then came the memory of early youth,
The recollection of a high resolve
To keep his manhood free from touch of stain,
To be a knight like Galahad, pure and true.
So few short years had passed since that resolve,
And yet he had forgotten loyalty
And truth and honour for the fair Leorre,
The wife of Reginault, his patron knight,--
The brave old man who treated him as son.
Long had he loved her with a knightly love,
And fought for her, and chosen her the queen
Of many a tournament. She still was young,
Fairer than morning in the early spring.
When she had come, a gladsome bride, to grace
The castle of old Reginault, and warm
His grand old spirit into youth again,
Sir Kathanal had bowed before her, saying,
"My gracious lady, take me as your knight";
And she had answered, with her winning smile,
"You are Sir Reginault's, and therefore mine."
Well had he loved her from that very hour,
Giving her honour as his old friend's bride,
Making the castle ring with merriment
To do her service, and fulfil the hest
Of Reginault, who bade him use his grace
To make her life a round of holidays.
But day by day his selfish love had grown
From friendly service to a lover's claim,
Until he had forgotten Reginault
In her fair eyes, and all things else but her,
Who granted him no boon, no smallest act
Of love or tenderness.
At last the strife
Between deep yearning for some touch of love,
And brave endeavour for self-mastery,
Had driven him to madness and despair.
To the lone sea he brought his agony
To face it boldly, and his spirit, quick
To wear new moods, caught a despondent gloom
From the dark omen that oppressed his soul.
"Love is divine," he said, "and it is well
To love Leorre, wife though she be, for love
Is free to noble natures; but at last,
When in her shining eyes I see response,
Albeit unconscious, to my longing pain,
I cannot rest content with boonless love,
Although divine. I fear me, if I stay
Within the circle of her tempting charm,
I shall, through some wild impulse, wantonly
Fling my unsullied knighthood to the winds,
As now I flung the plume from out my helm."
He went at even-song time to Leorre,
And told her of his struggle by the sea,
Of his determined purpose and resolve.
"Leorre, I love you with a love unsung
By poets, and unknown by other men,
Undreamed by women; I must leave you, dear;
I cannot see you fair for Reginault,
I cannot watch your sweetness not for me.
I will go far upon some distant quest
Until this frenzy ceases, and the quest
Shall be for you, my love, for you alone.
"Dear, sunny head that lights my darkened way
With its bright, golden glory, let me seek
A crown that well befits it for my quest.
Fair waist that curves beneath the heart I love,
I shall engirdle you with priceless gems
Won by my prowess for your perfect grace.
O wondrous neck! great lustrous, flawless pearls,
That shall be royal in their worth, to match
The white enchantment of your beauty fair,
Shall be my quest for you.
"I will not come
Back to the court of Constantine, Leorre,
Until I bring that which shall honour you,
And winning which, I shall have cooled my pain."
She came and knelt beside him, took his hand,
Looked deep into his ardent eyes,--her own
Like stars that shone into his inmost soul.
"Will you, indeed, go forth," she answered low,
"Across the world upon a quest for me?
And will you falter not, nor swerve, nor fail,
Nor turn aside from seeking, night nor day,
Until you conquer with your prowess rare
The prize for me? And may I choose the quest
I most desire?"
"Ah! surely, what you will,"
Said Kathanal, as echo to his eyes,
Which answered ere the words could form themselves.
She waited, silently; the room was still;
Sir Kathanal was faint from drinking deep,
With thirsty eyes, the beauty of her face.
At last she spoke, almost inaudibly,
But evermore the thought of her low speech
Made melody within his memory.
"Go forth, my knight of love, o'er land and sea,
And purify your spirit and your life,
And seek until you find the Holy Grail,
Keeping the vision ever in your thought,
The inspiration ever in your soul.
Let Tristram yield his loyalty and honour
for fair Isoud, and die inglorious,--
Let Launcelot in Guenever's embrace
Forget the consecrated vows he swore,
And bring dark desolation on the land,--
My knight must grow the greater through his love,
The better for my favour, the more pure!
More than all gifts, or wealth of royal dower,
I want, I crave, I claim this boon of thee."
Between the bronze-brown of his eyes and her,
There sudden came a faint and misty veil;
Through the wide-open window a sun's beam
Flashed on it, making o'er her bowèd head
A halo from his own unfallen tears.
He rose and lifted her, loosed her sweet hands,
And fell upon his knees low at her feet.
"Leorre, my love, my queen, my woman-saint,
I am not worthy, but I take your quest;
I will not falter and I will not swerve
Until I see the Grail, or pass to where
I see the glory it but symbols here,
In Paradise. Beloved, all the world
Is better for your living, all the air
Is sweeter for your breathing, and all love
Is holier, purer, that you may be loved."
"Rise, Kathanal, stand still and let me gaze
Upon you with that purpose in your face!
So brave, so resolute! I love you Kathanal!
Nay! do not touch me, listen to my words!
Surely it cannot be a sin to speak,
Perchance it is a debt I owe my knight
For his life's consecration, once to say
To him, as I have said to my own heart,
Just how I love him.
"I would follow you
Across the world, if it might be, a slave,
To serve you at your bidding night and day;
Or I would rouse me to my highest pride
That I might be your queen, and lead you on
To glory. I am strong to do and bear
The uttermost my mind can think, for you,
To cheer you, help you, strengthen you; and yet--
I am a woman, and my senses thrill
If you but touch the border of my robe,
And if you take my hand, before the court,
And raise it to your lips, I faint, I die,
With the vast tide of my unconquered love."
"Great Christ! how can I hear you and depart?
I did not know you loved me. O my sweet,
Here by your side I stay; my quest shall be
The love-light dawning in your shining eyes."
"Is this your answer, Kathanal," she sighed,
"To the unveiling of my heart of hearts?
No! now, if ever, you will surely go
On the sole quest that makes that action right."
"Leorre, come once to me!" he said with arms
Outstretched to her. Quickly she backward drew
With one swift whispered "Kathanal!"
You cannot love and be so calm and still;
My soul would sacrifice both earth and heaven
For one full, rapturous kiss from those sweet lips
That lure me on to madness by their spell."
"It is my love that keeps me calm," she said;
"Love makes us strong for what is bitterest;
Were we faint-hearted through imperfect love
We could not part; but loving perfectly
We are full strong for that, and all things else.
"Farewell, my Kathanal, take as you go
This spotless scarf, the girdle from my robe,
And put it where the purple plume has been,
And wear it as my favour in your helm.
If that lost plume was darksome omen ill,
Let this defy it with an omen fair,
A prophecy to spur you on your quest.
My heart says it is better as it is;
I joy me that you flung into the sea
That purple plume my loving, longing gaze
Has often followed in the tournament.
Remember, purple doth betoken pain,
And white betokens conquest, purity;
Look, Kathanal, beloved, in my eyes!
I know that you will find the Holy Grail."
She stood immaculate, and from those eyes
That oft had kindled passionate desire
He drew an inspiration high and pure,
A prescient sense of victory and peace;
And falling on his knees once more, he bowed,
Kissed her white robe, and left her standing there.
Then followed days of struggle and dark gloom.
Far from the court he found a lonely cell,
Where morn and night he prayed, and, praying, wrought
A score of earnest, unrecorded deeds
To purify and cleanse himself from sin.
Oft the old passion would arise and sweep
His spirit bare of every conquest. Once
The longing and the yearning were so great,
So strong beyond all thought of holiness,
He sprang up from his bed at dead of night
And stopped not, night nor day, until he reached
His old home by the sea, and saw Leorre.
Her hair had its untarnished golden glow,
Her beauty was unchanged, but her sweet mouth
Had caught a touch of pathos in its smile;
She wore a purple robe, and stood in state
Beside Sir Reginault,--who greeted him
With tender, grave, and kind solicitude,--
And lifted eyes that smote upon his heart
With a long gaze of passionate appeal
That held a pain at bay deep in their depths.
"So weak," he whispered to his heart, "for self,
I will be strong for her; she needs my strength."
Again he hurried from her sight, half glad
For the remembered pain within her eyes;
Ashamed of his own soul that it was glad.
For years he struggled, prayed, and fought his fight;
And sometimes when his soul was desolate
And he was weary from his eager quest,
When such a sense of deep humility
Would fall upon his praying, watching heart
That he would fain forego all in despair,
A marvellous ray of light, mysterious,
Would slant athwart the darkness of his cell,
Then he would rouse him to his quest once more
And say, "Perchance the Holy Grail is near!"
One night at midnight came the ray again,
And with it came a strange expectancy
Of spirit as the light waxed radiant.
The cell was filled with spicy odours sweet,
And on the midnight stillness song was borne
As sweet as heaven's harmony--the words,--
The same Sir Launcelot had heard of old,--
"Honour and joy be to the Father of Heaven."
With wide eyes searching his lone cell for cause
He waited: as the ray became more clear
And more effulgent than the mid-day sun,
He trembled with that chill of mortal flesh
Beholding spiritual things. At last--
Now vaguely as though veiled by light, and then
With shining clearness, perfectly--he saw
The sight unspeakable, transcending words .
Forth from his barren cell came Kathanal,
Strong and inspired, born anew for deeds.
Straightway he grew to be the bravest knight
Under King Constantine, since Sir Sanpeur;
The boldest in the battles for the right;
The kindest in his judgment of the wrong.
His eyes that held the vision of the Grail
Were ever clear to see and know the truth;
His lips that had been touched by holy chrism
Were strong to utter holy living words;
He sang of life in life, and life in death,
And taught the lesson that his heart had learned--
All love should be a glory, not a doom;
Love for love's sake, albeit bliss-denied.
To his old home beside the sapphire sea
Floated his songs and his far-reaching fame;
For in the land no name was loved so well
As Kathanal the peerless Minstrel Knight.
Lone in her chamber sat Leorre, and heard
The songs of Kathanal by courtiers sung--
Arousing words, like a clear clarion call
To truth and virtue, purity and faith.
She clasped her hands and bent her head, and wept
In silent passion pent-up tears, for joy;
For now she knew--far off, beyond her sight--
Her love had seen the sacred Holy Grail.
And as she listened, inspiration came,
Irradiating all her spirit, lifting it
Beyond her sorrow and her daily want
Of Kathanal. soft through her soul there crept
The echo of a benedicite,
Enwrapping her in calm, triumphant peace.
Then she arose, put on her whitest robe,
And went out radiant, strong, and full of joy.
Next: Merlin, by John Veitch