by Sydney Fowler Wright

I | II | IV


LOOKED Arthur from a casement high,
O'er the long waterside.
He marked a black barge gliding by,
Down the full stream and wide;
And white as Mary's lilies lie,
On the dark shrine when night is nigh,
And tired like a bride,
It seemed a sleeping damsel lay,
And while he watched await,
In marvel if some moonland fey
Besought a mortal mate,
The barge with steady lapse and slow
Turned to the watergate.

Then bade he two good knights anigh
That sleeping maid to meet,
And of her grace and courtesy
Her biding days entreat.
In haste of eager steps they sped,
But came they from that damsel dead
With slower-moving feet.

"None there," they told, "for bridal sleeps,
But timeless tryst with death she keeps,
Nor showeth cause therefor,
Of violence in the wildwood ways,
Nor leaping plague that loathly slays,
Nor the slow feet of wasting days,
Nor wrong of rape or war.
But in the barge its course to steer,
There sits, and pointeth inward here,
A silent servitor.

No mortal maid thine eyes shall see,
Though the sweet life be there,
No damsel of the Southland sea,
Or lands where Freya's daughters be,
Nor the fey-grace of Nimue,
More fainly formed and fair."
Then to Brandiles spake the King
And Agravaine to inward bring
That wonder dole and rare.

Brandiles bent and Agravaine
That burden worth to bear,
Watched of the wonder-silenced throng
That leaned those terraced walls along,
And lined the shining stair.
For there, that marvelled sight to see,
Were dame and lord of most degree,
And chiefs of song and minstrelsy,
And knights in steel and cramoisie,
And gay-clad damsels fair.

No snowdrop of the breaking snows,
When the long snows delay;
Nor flower the sweet mid-season knows,
Wood-lilies white as they;
Nor fuller summer's guelder-rose,
That falleth where the dogwood glows;
Nor the white chalice-flower that grows
In the green heart of May;
At lift of dawn or evenclose,
Unflawed than she or fairer shows,
As there in death she lay.

But Arthur marked a script secure
In the cold hand contained,
And spake he that its word be read.
"For haply shall it prove," he said,
"That this way from the silent dead
Her living tale be gained,
By those with swords to venge her wrong,
If craft or guile or treason strong,
Or darker powers that night belong,
Her blossomed life have baned."

Was silence while the scroll was read,
"Lo, that Elaine am I
Whose tourney sleeve Sir Lancelot wore,
Whose rootless hope was high,
And in reverse of heart therefor
Of love rejected die.

For this may ladies all who hear,
And know my passing day,
Even from the high queen Guenevere,
And thou, Sir Lancelot, pray,
Who wast God's knight without a peer,
And my good lord alway."

"O Lancelot," said the King, "is wrought
A seldom tale and sad.
If every ventured realm ye sought
You might no fairer bride have brought.
For the pure love she had
I would thine heart some grace had thought,
Awhile to make her glad;
For thee no vow to Heaven withheld,
Nor other bond forbad."

And answered Lancelot, "Sooth ye say,
That treadeth earthly ground,
Or mortal maid or night-land fey,
There were no fairer found.
All else I gaged of gain or good,
But nought but of my love she would,
And love will not be bound.

And grieving o'er this damsel's death,
And whence its cause should spring,
For her much love that witnesseth,
Appeal to God I bring,
That ne'er in open wrong have I
Distressed her that her life should die,
Or any secret thing."

Then drew the high queen Guenevere,
(In green and gold was she),
Out from the silent throng more near
That damsels face to see.
She knew not if her heart were glad
That death had loosed her free,
Though well she knew the joy she had
His living love to be.

"Fair lord," she said, "such grace was here,
That whom she sought to grant her cheer
There were but few to shun.
I would that in thine heart had lain
Such comfort of her longing fain
As had her death foredone."
"O Queen," he said, "such love she sought
To take or yield as no man ought,
Save of clean heart and single thought,
And other might I none."

And Arthur answered, "Yea, perde,
Is none may speak thee nay,
There was no better end to be,
Nor any blame to say.
The High God's thought is mystery,
It is no mortal's way.
Yet were it to our worship seen,
This maid of noble heart and clean,
And worth as any here, I ween,
In the like ground to lay."


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