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An Arthurian Miscellany at




Ganore was standing at the convent gate
With Lancelot, and she held him by the hand,
And in the fierce noon of a harvest day
They both looked forth upon a wasted land;
And Queen Ganore was in her royal state
Of widowhood, as when she kept at bay
The rabble, when they hungered for her death,
Saying, "Surely Arthur will not come again
Till that lewd sorceress be foully slain."
But she had stood for her own life and fame
Until from Lyonnesse Sir Lancelot came,
Unblenching, though old memories choked her breath.
Lancelot was travel-stained, and all his face
Was flushed, and clouded by an eager doubt;
His eyes were heavy with the tears of grace,
And, bending to his love, he faltered out
Penitent words, with stifled sobs between,
"Alas, and yet again alas, my Queen,
That ever we met and one another knew;
For all the ill that reckless hate can do,
My loyal, scrupulous love hath done to you;
For through my loyal love your lord is slain,
Your lord and mine, who bred me up to knight;
And on your womanhood is come a stain
Of treason, which no oaths will e'er wash white,
And all your joy is hidden out of sight.
But I will leave my realm of Lyonnesse
In peace, for Galahad my chaste son to rule;
And in the wilderness my sad heart school
To worship God, and pray for you aright;
Because this world is very pitiless,
To make us buy with sin its brief delight."
   Trembling he spoke, and looking up to her,
But she stood upright, looking far away,
With a hot glory on her golden head;
Her scarcely sunken cheek was flushed full fair,
Not at his words, but at the fierce sun ray:
Then, bending on him eyes which were not red,
With lofty, motherly regard, she said,
Smoothing his tangled curls with soft cool hand,
"Yea, and is Lyonnesse a peaceful land?
God give you comfort of it, as you grow
Sadly to heaven, in your bleak hermitage,
For surely Britain shall sit down in woe,
Since Arthur died with all his baronage.
Farewell, my friend, whom I shall see no more,
For even in heaven we shall dwell apart
Where God, who came between us heretofore,
Seals up within himself weak heart from heart."
   She took him, and she kissed him on the brow,
And bade him go in peace to keep his vow,
And saw him ride away, and did not start,
But listened till his echoing tramp had died
Upon the granite of the bleak hillside;
Then, when she knew that Lancelot would not hear,
She loosed her voice and made complaint aloud.
The nuns behind her shivered in much fear,
Seeing her stand beneath a thundercloud
Which suddenly had overshadowed her;
But where they stood the arch of heaven was clear,
And from the cloud an icy wind, which fell
From heaven to probe the fiery heart of hell,
Through underground, deep-echoing caverns bore
The lamentation of the Queen Ganore:--
   "Alone for evermore.
I watched him, and he did not turn his head,
And I shall be alone till I am dead;
Alone for evermore.
And I would weep a little ere I die,
And all the fountain of my tears is dry,
Which heretofore
With many vain desires my true love fed,
While I believed the oaths that Lancelot swore;
But now I do not weep, I feel no pain;
I tell myself aloud my lord is slain,
I tell myself my love is gone away,
Never to come again;
And find no passionate true word to say,
But only this unmeaning cuckoo cry,
Alone until I die.

   "Surely these words are sharp enough to slay
One who did once love well,
Or scourge me out of the bleak, desolate day
Into meek clositer cell;
But I, I loiter still outside the door,
Alone for evermore.
Through me the fiery river of life hath flowed
Hot and clear with love and sin;
Through me and over me, and I have glowed
Body and soul therein.
And then I was not molten in that heat
Nor broken; I was wise and it was sweet.
And now the river hath gone by,
And left me cold and dark and dry,
Cast on a slimy bank accursed.
Also I know that this is not the worst;
But each day will be drearier till I die.
Arthur could weep for me, why cannot I?
O Arthur, O my perfect knight,
And thou didst pity me,
Not knowing that I loved thee even then,
Who love thee now much more, not pitying thee,
Since now thou judgest in God's tender light
Rightly of me and men.
Yes, God will make you understand
Those bitter things I would not say,
Thinking it easier, kinder to deceive.
But now you will not grieve
Where you are sitting by the glassy sea,
On a great ivory throne at God's right-hand,--
God's hand who cut you off from me,
Who made me of such different clay.
I love thee much too well to weep for thee,
Who art gone home,--gone home to thy reward,
Arthur, my Arthur once, my gentle lord.

   "I have desired and I have not attained;
And I have given and I have not received;
And I have lived and nought is gained
Of all those goodly things my youth believed.
I have lived, do I say?
And yet I have to live
Long, very long, before I pass away,
Before my beauty and my strength decay,--
My strength, which hath been helpful heretofore;
My beauty, which no knights shall worship more.
I asked of Arthur what he could not give;
I gave what Lancelot could not repay.
My God, what shall I say?
And Arthur asked of me
To live in dreams, hoping what shall not be;
And Arthur asked in vain.
Because we asked how many have been slain!
Wilt thou require their blood of me?
And Lancelot is parted now in pain,
Because I am less sorrowful than he,
And still could have been happy out of thee;
But thou, it seems, dost otherwise ordain.
And unto earth is sunshine after rain,
But unto us no gladness after pain,
Or none that may endure,
None that is pure.
But when the storm is past,
The sky laughs without stain;
While sorrow doth our spirits overcast
With clouds that do not wash them white again.
Yet how shall I complain
That Arthur loved too little, I too much;
That Lancelot's hot love shrivelled at the touch
Of thy disdain?
Yea, how shall I complain
Of thee, my God, with whom I hope to reign?
For this is all of thee.
I made thee not, thou madest me.
Doubtless I might have striven against the stream,
Labouring to live in Arthur's knightly dream.
He might have folded me in arms of love
More closely, though his eyes were set above.
But not by us the river of our woe
Was fed with vain desires, or learned to flow
Through flowery mountains to a barren plain;
And since we drifted many have been slain,
And very many homes are desolate;
And yet, behold, I curse thee not, O God!
Though men curse me;
Because I do not think it is in hate
That we are beaten down before thy rod,
Which flowers, though late.
And I am tired, and it is rest to wait;
And one grief comes to drive another out,
And turbulent desire is purged by doubt;
And this too is of thee,
To bring us very low and set us free.
For Arthur verily is dead,
So I am not in bondage to his bed;
And Lancelot is gone to keep his vow;
I am not debtor unto any now.
I do not think that I shall tarry here,
To teach these pitiful nuns to hold me dear;
But I will out into the wilds, and know
If Lancelot and the priests have told me true,
If I in very deed am fallen so low
That I should be as they,
Whose very hearts are grey;
And yet Christ is their spouse, they say,
Whose mercy I need too."

   And then she paused in her lament, and sighed,
And spake again, "Men only have I tried,
And they have shallow hearts, and so have I.
I will away from them before I die,
And be a little child and taste the summer-tide.
I will away; the sunny world is wide,--
And desolate," her aching heart replied.

   Yet not the less she bade the nuns farewell
In courteous words, and covered up her pride,
Saying, "O my sisters, it is yours to hide
For ever in your Husband's wounded side.
Yet He, you know, ere he was crucified,
Went forth into the wilderness to dwell,
And taste, before the Cross, the might of Hell;
And I must meet Him there, and there be tried."
Nor knew she whether she spake truth, or lied,
Of some fierce trial which she thought to bide.
So the nuns kissed her, and they shut the door,
Who neither on that day nor any more
Beheld again the beauty of Ganore.
But, as one stealing silently from thrall,
The Queen went softly by the cloister-wall,
Where the green moss deadened her light footfall.
Turning away from the waste harvest-lands,
Which at that time were desolate with war,
Upon whose edge the quaint peaked convent stands
Upon a little knoll of jutting moor,
Jutting into a sea of yellow corn,
Bounded by a grey scoop of granite shore,
Too thinly veiled by withered bents forlorn,
Where Lancelot had ridden, but Ganore
Would have died rather than have followed him.
And round the knoll the fringe of copse was dim
With tangled glades she had not trod before,
And she passed into them, and was content;
For through the copse a leaping river went,
Tawny between the purple-lichened rocks:
Ripe iris-heads were green among the bent,
And here and there a spike of foxglove grew,
Where through the twisted oaks the sun broke through;
And overhead was a soft noise of flocks,
Feeding on purple, overarched with blue.
So she went stumbling softly through the shade,
By a green path made rough with roots and stones,
Where still, I think, the fly of summer drones,
But no queen stumbles upward through the glade.
But then a dreamy queen went fingering
At reddening berries and at fading flowers,
Kissing them often as she wandered on,
In happy memory of those early hours,
Unclouded by the grim dreams of the King,
When she and Lancelot had often gone
Together, in glad lowland woods, in May;
And all that happiness was past away
For ever, and she knew it, but a sleep
Was on her soul; she saw quaint shadows play
Under the leaves, and she forgot to weep;
And something in her heart began to pray,
And magnify God's mother, queen of spring
And harvest, in a little childish lay,
For very gladness of that glorious day.
And from the birckenshaw a milk-white doe
Kissed the Queen's feet, who went on pilgrimage;
Then fluttering out of her fair woodland cage,
Her eyes took wing, seeing a great lake glow
In azure set between two golden hills,
Golden with furze and fading birch below;
Above was purple heath, which fed the rills
That leapt in silver round the rocky head,
With double cirque of green encompassed;
Where grey turf hung between grey crags of stone,
But in the light the grass was golden green.
Then at her left Ganore espied a crone,
Branded as bondmaid to the Holy Grail,
Who wore her white hair woven for a veil,
Crowned with gold rays, for she too was a queen,
And sat upon the black coils of a snake,
And her blue feet hung down in the blue lake,
Nailed to an iron cross, but did not bleed;
And backwards she was spelling out a creed.
But higher up she saw a white flock feed,
And upon each there were three locks of red,
And in the figure of the cross they fed;
Their shepherd was a boy in gay attire
Of many colours, with a crook of gold;
He lay as haply fifteen summers old,
But where his face should be there was a fire,
Whence came a carolling how the stars should pale
Before the radiance of the Holy Grail.
Ganore beheld, and did not think it strange,
For all these sights were fixed in the bright day,
And seemed as if they could not pass away,
But had been uncontaminate by change
Since the world was, abiding in one stay.
Wherefore Ganore, beholding, only sighed,
"How many of the Table would have died,
And held the forfeit of life's earthly bliss
Too cheap a purchase for a sight like this!"
But to the shepherd-boy the old Queen cried,
"When wilt thou take her captive to the Grail?"
But from the fire there came a sighing wail,
"How can I, for her love is crucified?"
Whereat Ganore fled up the steep hillside
Towards the right, but one of that fair flock
Leapt from the shadow of a brambly rock,
And thenceforth went before her for a guide;
But when Ganore laid hand upon its head,
Her hand, and all the wool it touched, were red.
So they pushed on together through the brake,
And ever as they clomb Ganore looked down
Over the steep green slope to the blue lake,
And marvelled, "How if once my steps should slide!"
And thought she saw far off the old Queen frown.
But when they won the crest of that glad slope,
Ganore was disappointed of her hope
To look upon new lands and a new sky;
Only she saw an upward stretching moor,
Where in the treacherous peat the black pools lie,
And no heath grew thereon, but rushes hoar:
And these were autumn hued, and all the green
Was moss, wherethrough the still moor waters run.
And as she journeyed on, the lonely queen
Looked up into the sky, and missed the sun,
And missed the shapely peaks of splintered rock,
And missed the shepherd with his magic flock,
And shuddered in the wailing evening wind,
And saw the country gleam below, behind,
In the warm brilliance of the sun's broad ray;
And said, "Alas for those who walk on high,
Because for them the sun makes haste to set!"
And then she spake again, "O God, forget
My sin, and give me light before I die,"
For the chill purple air was full of death;
Nor knew she how one little ridge of clay
Shut out the glorious deathbed of the day.
And then she went a little further on,
Hanging her head because the light was gone,
And stumbled in the reeds, and caught her breath;
For suddenly she stood against the sky,
And close beneath her lay a breadth of sea,
Plashing against a space of weedy shore,
Still dripping from the ebbing waves, and bright
With bars of purple, flecked with ruddier gold,
For on the left the thunderclouds were rolled
Each upon each, to slumber through the night,
And through their curtains glared the fiery sun.
But in the east, upon the right, Ganore
Saw a dim purple clinging round the sea,
Like a dim veil that clings about a nun;
And a soft rose flushed the chill middle sky,
And in the rose, the young moon rode on high;
But Queen Ganore fell down, and bent the knee,
Trembling alone at God's great majesty.
Then she went down, slowly with knocking knees,
Catching at tufts of grass and stunted trees,
By a dry watercourse, and heard the breeze
Hiss over the steep slope of loose dry stone,
And crossed her bleeding hands, and bowed her head:
"If I die here,--what matter were I dead!
None will lament for me, I am alone."
But she died not, but gained the lonely shore,
And saw the white sheep skipping on before,
And waxed more hopeful following where it led
Still to the west, and it was twilight now,
And in the twilight every rocky brow
Showed sharp and clear against the ghost of day,
Against clear hungry spiritual grey.
But, with the sun, the wind had died away;
So all was peace, and you could scarcely hear
The loving plash of the returning tide,
As though some tender angel hovering near
Made all things to forget their strength and pride.
And so in peace, Ganore turned round a rock
Sharply, and she was in a little bay,
Fronting the perfect circle of the west;
And on the sands a little shallop lay
Ready to float upon the ebb to sea,
Wherein was neither anchor, helm, nor oar,
But one fair sail of purple wrought with gold,
And in the sheets a little crimson fold,
Wherein a scroll in silver words to say,
"For the espousals of the Queen Ganore."
Whereat the queen was troubled when she read,
And knew that she was taken in the bay,
For now on either side the full sea rolled;
So she, adventuring on the mystery,
Sat in the boat, and took upon her knee
The patient firstling of the magic flock,
And waited, bowing down her black veiled head
Over her white hands folded on her breast,
And after her long journey took sweet rest,
Where, on the solitary, rock-bound shore,
The balmy night came down upon Ganore.

Next: Camelford, by Douglas B. W. Sladan [1885]