The Defence of Guenevere, by William Morris

Golden Wings

Midways of a wallèd garden,

In the happy poplar land,

Did an ancient castle stand,

With an old knight for a warden.

Many scarlet bricks there were

In its walls, and old grey stone;

Over which red apples shone

At the right time of the year.

On the bricks the green moss grew.

Yellow lichen on the stone,

Over which red apples shone;

Little war that castle knew.

Deep green water fill’d the moat,

Each side had a red-brick lip,

Green and mossy with the drip

Of dew and rain; there was a boat

Of carven wood, with hangings green

About the stern; it was great bliss

For lovers to sit there and kiss

In the hot summer noons, not seen.

Across the moat the fresh west wind

In very little ripples went;

The way the heavy aspens bent

Towards it, was a thing to mind.

The painted drawbridge over it

Went up and down with gilded chains,

’Twas pleasant in the summer rains

Within the bridge-house there to sit.

There were five swans that ne’er did eat

The water-weeds, for ladies came

Each day, and young knights did the same,

And gave them cakes and bread for meat.

They had a house of painted wood,

A red roof gold-spiked over it,

Wherein upon their eggs to sit

Week after week; no drop of blood,

Drawn from men’s bodies by sword-blows,

Came ever there, or any tear;

Most certainly from year to year

’Twas pleasant as a Provence rose.

The banners seem’d quite full of ease,

That over the turret-roofs hung down;

The battlements could get no frown

From the flower-moulded cornices.

Who walked in that garden there?

Miles and Giles and Isabeau,

Tall Jehane du Castel beau,

Alice of the golden hair,

Big Sir Gervaise, the good knight,

Fair Ellayne le Violet,

Mary, Constance fille de fay,

Many dames with footfall light.

Whosoever wander’d there,

Whether it be dame or knight,

Half of scarlet, half of white

Their raiment was; of roses fair

Each wore a garland on the head,

At Ladies’ Gard the way was so:

Fair Jehane du Castel beau

Wore her wreath till it was dead.

Little joy she had of it,

Of the raiment white and red,

Or the garland on her head,

She had none with whom to sit

In the carven boat at noon;

None the more did Jehane weep,

She would only stand and keep

Saying: He will be here soon!

Many times in the long day

Miles and Giles and Gervaise passed,

Holding each some white hand fast,

Every time they heard her say:

Summer cometh to an end,

Undern cometh after noon;

Golden wings will be here soon,

What if I some token send?

Wherefore that night within the hall,

With open mouth and open eyes,

Like some one listening with surprise,

She sat before the sight of all.

Stoop’d down a little she sat there,

With neck stretch’d out and chin thrown up,

One hand around a golden cup;

And strangely with her fingers fair

She beat some tune upon the gold;

The minstrels in the gallery

Sung: Arthur, who will never die,

In Avallon he groweth old.

And when the song was ended, she

Rose and caught up her gown and ran;

None stopp’d her eager face and wan

Of all that pleasant company.

Right so within her own chamber

Upon her bed she sat; and drew

Her breath in quick gasps; till she knew

That no man follow’d after her.

She took the garland from her head,

Loosed all her hair, and let it lie

Upon the coverlet; thereby

She laid the gown of white and red;

And she took off her scarlet shoon,

And bared her feet; still more and more

Her sweet face redden’d; evermore

She murmur’d: He will be here soon;

Truly he cannot fail to know

My tender body waits him here;

And if he knows, I have no fear

For poor Jehane du Castel beau.

She took a sword within her hand,

Whose hilts were silver, and she sung

Somehow like this, wild words that rung

A long way over the moonlit land:

Gold wings across the sea!

Grey light from tree to tree,

Gold hair beside my knee,

I pray thee come to me,

Gold wings!

The water slips,

The red-bill’d moorhen dips.

Sweet kisses on red lips;

Alas! the red rust grips,

And the blood-red dagger rips,

Yet, O knight, come to me!

Are not my blue eyes sweet?

The west wind from the wheat

Blows cold across my feet;

Is it not time to meet

Gold wings across the sea?

White swans on the green moat,

Small feathers left afloat

By the blue-painted boat;

Swift running of the stoat,

Sweet gurgling note by note

Of sweet music.

O gold wings,

Listen how gold hair sings,

And the Ladies Castle rings,

Gold wings across the sea.

I sit on a purple bed,

Outside, the wall is red,

Thereby the apple hangs,

And the wasp, caught by the fangs,

Dies in the autumn night,

And the bat flits till light,

And the love-crazèd knight

Kisses the long wet grass:

The weary days pass,

Gold wings across the sea.

Gold wings across the sea!

Moonlight from tree to tree,

Sweet hair laid on my knee,

O, sweet knight, come to me.

Gold wings, the short night slips,

The white swan’s long neck drips,

I pray thee kiss my lips,

Gold wings across the sea!

No answer through the moonlit night;

No answer in the cold grey dawn;

No answer when the shaven lawn

Grew green, and all the roses bright.

Her tired feet look’d cold and thin,

Her lips were twitch’d, and wretched tears,

Some, as she lay, roll’d past her ears,

Some fell from off her quivering chin.

Her long throat, stretched to its full length,

Rose up and fell right brokenly;

As though the unhappy heart was nigh

Striving to break with all its strength.

And when she slipp’d from off the bed,

Her cramp’d feet would not hold her; she

Sank down and crept on hand and knee,

On the window-sill she laid her head.

There, with crooked arm upon the sill,

She look’d out, muttering dismally:

There is no sail upon the sea,

No pennon on the empty hill.

I cannot stay here all alone,

Or meet their happy faces here,

And wretchedly I have no fear;

A little while, and I am gone.

Therewith she rose upon her feet,

And totter’d; cold and misery

Still made the deep sobs come, till she

At last stretch’d out her fingers sweet,

And caught the great sword in her hand;

And, stealing down the silent stair,

Barefooted in the morning air.

And only in her smock, did stand

Upright upon the green lawn grass;

And hope grew in her as she said:

I have thrown off the white and red,

And pray God it may come to pass

I meet him; if ten years go by

Before I meet him; if, indeed,

Meanwhile both soul and body bleed,

Yet there is end of misery,

And I have hope. He could not come,

But I can go to him and show

These new things I have got to know,

And make him speak, who has been dumb.

O Jehane! the red morning sun

Changed her white feet to glowing gold,

Upon her smock, on crease and fold,

Changed that to gold which had been dun.

O Miles, and Giles, and Isabeau,

Fair Ellayne le Violet,

Mary, Constance fille de fay!

Where is Jehane du Castel beau?

O big Gervaise ride apace!

Down to the hard yellow sand,

Where the water meets the land.

This is Jehane by her face.

Why has she a broken sword?

Mary! she is slain outright;

Verily a piteous sight;

Take her up without a word!

Giles and Miles and Gervaise there,

Ladies’ Gard must meet the war;

Whatsoever knights these are,

Man the walls withouten fear!

Axes to the apple-trees,

Axes to the aspens tall!

Barriers without the wall

May be lightly made of these.

O poor shivering Isabeau;

Poor Ellayne le Violet,

Bent with fear! we miss today

Brave Jehane du Castel beau.

O poor Mary, weeping so!

Wretched Constance fille de fay!

Verily we miss today

Fair Jehane du Castel beau.

The apples now grow green and sour

Upon the mouldering castle-wall,

Before they ripen there they fall:

There are no banners on the tower,

The draggled swans most eagerly eat

The green weeds trailing in the moat;

Inside the rotting leaky boat

You see a slain man’s stiffen’d feet.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 22:07