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An Arthurian Miscellany at





As I was going to Saint Ives
      I met seven wives.
Every wife had seven sacks;
Every sack had seven cats;
Every cat had seven kits;
Kits, cats, sacks and wives,
      How many were going to Saint Ives?

King Pellinore of Wales, the same who slew
Lot, King of Orkney in the Northern seas,
Three stalwart sons in wedlock lawful had.
Sir Lamoracke de Galis eldest was
Of these, the next Sir Aglavale, the third
The pure Sir Percivale, and these were knights
Of Table Round, and with them Tor, the child
Of shame but brother to the three no less,
And first created knight of Table Round
The Table of the great Pendragonship.
Sir Lamoracke among King Arthur's knights
Was bravest save for three, but since the three
Were Lancelot, Tristram and Geraint, no less
Of honor deem'd it reck'ning fourth with these.
In the mid-strength and hardihood of youth
He was when vision by his sister seen,
A holy nun much worn by fastings long,
Sent half the court in quest of Holy Grail;
And Lamoracke went, as eager as the rest,
And all for the holy longing underwent
Long toilsome days, and nights as wearisome,
And piteous perils manifold he knew,
Until, a twelvemonth past, he set his face
Again toward Camelot with yet no glimpse
Of what he sought, and sorrow in his heart.

One morning chanced it that while pacing slow
With head bent down and gaze upon the ground
On homeward way thro' forest deep that stretched
From Camelot southward many leagues, there crost
His path a ten-tin'd stag, and after rode
A knight he knew to be Sir Sagramour,
In fierce pursuit, who, seeing in the wood
A horseless knight all travel-worn and sad,
Left flying deer to its wild will and leapt
From his own horse and begg'd Sir Lamoracke
Ride in his place as being one of those
Who went in search of Holy Grail. Thus said
The sweet Sir Sagramour and added thence:
"Thy face, Sir Lamoracke, is not unknown
To me."
           Then slowly Lamoracke answer'd him:
"O all for naught my quest and not for one
Like me the vision glorious, but thou,
Methinks, for knightly courtesy the peer
Of any at the court, might well have seen
What I, the son of Pellinore, have not."

"Not I," then spoke the sweet Sir Sagramour,
"Being ensnar'd with earthly things unto
My hurt, but an' I pray you, Lamoracke, ride.
My castle scarce a half league distant stands,
There mayst thou rest, at least until the morn,
And ride to court equipt as knight should be
So far as my poor store shall serve thy turn."

Then Lamoracke lookt up and answer'd him,
"Ah, sweet Sir Sagramour, none other suit
Suits with my sadden'd fortunes like to this
Which now I wear and therefore in array
Like this must I before King Arthur pass
Once more."
                Then answer made Sir Sagramour:
"Thou knowest best, but still I pray you ride
Homeward with me and eat and rest a night;
Else thou wilt never live to see thy lord
At all, in this or any other garb."
Full gentle was the manner of the man,
And Lamoracke for utter weariness
Gave way and past with sweet Sir Sagramour
Unto the other's castle near at hand,
Yet thinking, "on the morrow I will go."
As one who following the chase for days
Scarce heeds his wearied limbs because so full
Of eager haste but home returning finds
Each step a pain and life a mockery,
So now with Lamoracke, who, with the fire
Of zeal and holy purpose quite burnt out,
Tarried for days with sweet Sir Sagramour,
Too weak for further travel and heart-sick
Withal because of failure in the Quest.
To him in those dark days came Sagramour
And whisper'd, "Courage; failure is not a crime."
And after came the wife of Sagramour
Beseeching him to be of cheer, to whom
He heark'n'd listlessly. Then came a child
The son of these, a three-years winsome lad
Who stammer'd "Courage" as he had been taught,
And seeing that Sir Lamoracke took no heed
Stammer'd his lesson o'er again, whereat
The knight, half rising on his elbow, turn'd
And saw the boy with parted lips, and cheeks
All satin soft, and hair and eyes the hue
Of sable pansies, staring full at him;
Then Lamoracke rose and caught the lad in arms
And kiss'd him oft and spoke full tenderly:
"Thou bidd'st me be of courage, little one?
Yea, for thy sake I will," and from that time
Shook off, as far as might be, sad regret.

Yet still strength linger'd on its way to him,
And with these a sennight longer bode,
And after rose refresh'd and went his way.
But ere that time he told to please his host
Full many a tale of what had hapt to him
In Quest of Holy Grail and once the tale
Ran like to this.
                    "One morning after dreams,"
So said Sir Lamoracke, "of Holy Grail
Seen by me who unworthy am to see
With waking eyes, I past, for then was I
In Cornwall by the sea, along a road
That wound past splinter'd crag and shallow cove
To fishing village of Saint Ives. Seaward
Saint Michael's Mount rose like a vision fair
All roseate with dawn and softly broke
Against its base the Cornish sea. A light
Breeze blew that gently stirr'd the leaves and then
Rested content while overhead a flock
Of birds shrill'd one to other, flying south
The sound clear falling thro' the morning air.
The weather-beaten fishers mended nets
Sitting on boats updrawn beside the sea
And hail'd me with 'good-morrow' as I past,
In simple fisher wise. Suddenly round
An angle in the path before me came
Full seven fisher-wives bending beneath
A heavy burden each one bore in sack
Of dusty leather on her shoulders old.
Small trace had these of brow may-blossom, cheek
Of apple blossom or the eye of hawk,
And clumsily the wrinkl'd nose of each,
Tip-tilted, like a thirsty duckling's bill
After much guzzling in the pool, did seem
To point the way. A wailing clamor rose
In air and louder grew as nearer came
The seven, halting where I stood aside
To let them pass, and lowering their sacks
Upon the ground.
                                   In much amaze I ask'd
The seven what their burden was, whereat
The nearest shrilly pip'd forth:
                                   "Cats, sir knight,
To rid the palace of King Mark of rats
That fright the fair Iseult, his Queen."
                                   At this
Each wrinkl'd dame her knotted sack-string loost
And forth from out the seven sacks there stalk'd
With pace sedate, and slowly waving tails,
And deep-ton'd purings of well-fed content,
Full seven times seven cats and every one
The mother proud of seven kittens small
That sprawl'd and mew'd beside the sacks.
                                   Such sight
I never saw in Camelot, altho'
Our Camelot is vaster than Saint Ives
And cats enow contains, as one may deem
Who finds his slumber broken by their wails
On roof and tow'r from midnight till the dawn,
And long I star'd at sprawling kits, and cats,
And sacks, and wives, until within the sacks
The seven wives replaced the cats and kits
And journey'd forward, wives, and sacks, and cats,
And kits, while I with musings curious
Past onward to Saint Ives."
                                   "A sight indeed,"
Here spoke Sir Sagramour, "and speedily
The burden of the seven wives should clear
The Cornish castle of its brood of rats
Save one, its churlish lord, for fouler rat
Than Mark, the craven, lives not upon earth."

To whom Sir Lamoracke:
                                   "True, Sir Sagramour,
But tell me of thy wit, which passes mine,
How many, reck'nest thou, to fair Saint Ives
Were going on that morning, kits, and cats,
And sacks, and wives."
                                   So sweet Sir Sagramour
Knit brows, and tighten'd lips, and fingers told
The space of three long hours till fell the sun
And creeping darkness came upon the land,
And still no nearer was he to result
Than he had been at first when Lamoracke put
The question, nor with morning was it clear,
And with the morning Lamoracke went his way.

Next: The Water Carriers, by Oscar Fay Adams [1886]