The Defence of Guenevere, by William Morris

Rapunzel

THE PRINCE,
being in the wood near the tower, in the evening.

I could not even think

What made me weep that day,

When out of the council-hall

The courtiers pass’d away —

THE WITCH.

Rapunzel, Rapunzel,

Let down your hair!

RAPUNZEL.

Is it not true that every day

She climbeth up the same strange way,

Her scarlet cloak spread broad and gay,

Over my golden hair?

THE PRINCE.

And left me there alone,

To think on what they said:

‘Thou art a king’s own son,

’Tis fit that thou should’st wed.’

THE WITCH.

Rapunzel, Rapunzel,

Let down your hair!

RAPUNZEL.

When I undo the knotted mass,

Fathoms below the shadows pass

Over my hair along the grass.

O my golden hair!

THE PRINCE.

I put my armour on,

Thinking on what they said:

‘Thou art a king’s own son,

’Tis fit that thou should’st wed.’

THE WITCH.

Rapunzel, Rapunzel,

Let down your hair!

RAPUNZEL.

See on the marble parapet,

I lean my brow, strive to forget

That fathoms below my hair grows wet

With the dew, my golden hair.

THE PRINCE.

I rode throughout the town,

Men did not bow the head,

Though I was the king’s own son:

He rides to dream, they said.

THE WITCH.

Rapunzel, Rapunzel,

Wind up your hair!

RAPUNZEL.

See on the marble parapet,

The faint red stains with tears are wet;

The long years pass, no help comes yet

To free my golden hair.

THE PRINCE.

For leagues and leagues I rode,

Till hot my armour grew,

Till underneath the leaves

I felt the evening dew.

THE WITCH.

Rapunzel, Rapunzel,

Weep through your hair!

RAPUNZEL.

And yet: but I am growing old,

For want of love my heart is cold;

Years pass, the while I loose and fold

The fathoms of my hair.

THE PRINCE, in the morning.

I have heard tales of men, who in the night

Saw paths of stars let down to earth from heaven,

Who followed them until they reach’d the light

Wherein they dwell, whose sins are all forgiven;

But who went backward when they saw the gate

Of diamond, nor dared to enter in;

All their life long they were content to wait,

Purging them patiently of every sin.

I must have had a dream of some such thing,

And now am just awaking from that dream;

For even in grey dawn those strange words ring

Through heart and brain, and still I see that gleam.

For in my dream at sunset-time I lay

Beneath these beeches, mail and helmet off,

Right full of joy that I had come away

From court; for I was patient of the scoff

That met me always there from day to day,

From any knave or coward of them all:

I was content to live that wretched way;

For truly till I left the council-hall,

And rode forth arm’d beneath the burning sun,

My gleams of happiness were faint and few,

But then I saw my real life had begun,

And that I should be strong quite well I knew.

For I was riding out to look for love,

Therefore the birds within the thickets sung,

Even in hot noontide; as I pass’d, above

The elms o’ersway’d with longing towards me hung.

Now some few fathoms from the place where I

Lay in the beech-wood, was a tower fair,

The marble corners faint against the sky;

And dreamily I wonder’d what lived there:

Because it seem’d a dwelling for a queen,

No belfry for the swinging of great bells.

No bolt or stone had ever crush’d the green

Shafts, amber and rose walls, no soot that tells

Of the Norse torches burning up the roofs,

On the flower-carven marble could I see;

But rather on all sides I saw the proofs

Of a great loneliness that sicken’d me;

Making me feel a doubt that was not fear,

Whether my whole life long had been a dream,

And I should wake up soon in some place, where

The piled-up arms of the fighting angels gleam;

Not born as yet, but going to be born,

No naked baby as I was at first,

But an armed knight, whom fire, hate and scorn

Could turn from nothing: my heart almost burst

Beneath the beeches, as I lay a-dreaming,

I tried so hard to read this riddle through,

To catch some golden cord that I saw gleaming

Like gossamer against the autumn blue.

But while I ponder’d these things, from the wood

There came a black-hair’d woman, tall and bold,

Who strode straight up to where the tower stood,

And cried out shrilly words, whereon behold —

THE WITCH, from the tower.

Rapunzel, Rapunzel,

Let down your hair!

THE PRINCE.

Ah Christ! it was no dream then, but there stood

(She comes again) a maiden passing fair,

Against the roof, with face turn’d to the wood,

Bearing within her arms waves of her yellow hair.

I read my riddle when I saw her stand,

Poor love! her face quite pale against her hair,

Praying to all the leagues of empty land

To save her from the woe she suffer’d there.

To think! they trod upon her golden hair

In the witches’ sabbaths; it was a delight

For these foul things, while she, with thin feet bare,

Stood on the roof upon the winter night,

To plait her dear hair into many plaits,

And then, while God’s eye look’d upon the thing,

In the very likenesses of Devil’s bats,

Upon the ends of her long hair to swing.

And now she stood above the parapet,

And, spreading out her arms, let her hair flow,

Beneath that veil her smooth white forehead set

Upon the marble, more I do not know;

Because before my eyes a film of gold

Floated, as now it floats. O unknown love,

Would that I could thy yellow stair behold,

If still thou standest the lead roof above!

THE WITCH, as she passes.

Is there any who will dare

To climb up the yellow stair,

Glorious Rapunzel’s golden hair?

THE PRINCE.

If it would please God make you sing again,

I think that I might very sweetly die,

My soul somehow reach heaven in joyous pain,

My heavy body on the beech-nuts lie.

Now I remember what a most strange year,

Most strange and awful, in the beechen wood

I have pass’d now; I still have a faint fear

It is a kind of dream not understood.

I have seen no one in this wood except

The witch and her; have heard no human tones,

But when the witches’ revelry has crept

Between the very jointing of my bones.

Ah! I know now; I could not go away,

But needs must stop to hear her sing that song

She always sings at dawning of the day.

I am not happy here, for I am strong,

And every morning do I whet my sword,

Yet Rapunzel still weeps within the tower,

And still God ties me down to the green sward,

Because I cannot see the gold stair floating lower.

RAPUNZEL sings from the tower.

My mother taught me prayers

To say when I had need;

I have so many cares,

That I can take no heed

Of many words in them;

But I remember this:

Christ, bring me to thy bliss.

Mary, maid withouten wem,

Keep me! I am lone, I wis,

Yet besides I have made this

By myself: Give me a kiss,

Dear God dwelling up in heaven!

Also: Send me a true knight,

Lord Christ, with a steel sword, bright,

Broad, and trenchant; yea, and seven

Spans from hilt to point, O Lord!

And let the handle of his sword

Be gold on silver, Lord in heaven!

Such a sword as I see gleam

Sometimes, when they let me dream.

Yea, besides, I have made this:

Lord, give Mary a dear kiss,

And let gold Michael, who looked down,

When I was there, on Rouen town

From the spire, bring me that kiss

On a lily! Lord do this!

These prayers on the dreadful nights,

When the witches plait my hair,

And the fearfullest of sights

On the earth and in the air,

Will not let me close my eyes,

I murmur often, mix’d with sighs,

That my weak heart will not hold

At some things that I behold.

Nay, not sighs, but quiet groans,

That swell out the little bones

Of my bosom; till a trance

God sends in middle of that dance,

And I behold the countenance

Of Michael, and can feel no more

The bitter east wind biting sore

My naked feet; can see no more

The crayfish on the leaden floor,

That mock with feeler and grim claw.

Yea, often in that happy trance,

Beside the blessed countenance

Of golden Michael, on the spire

Glowing all crimson in the fire

Of sunset, I behold a face,

Which sometime, if God give me grace,

May kiss me in this very place.

Evening in the tower.

RAPUNZEL.

It grows half way between the dark and light;

Love, we have been six hours here alone:

I fear that she will come before the night,

And if she finds us thus we are undone.

THE PRINCE.

Nay, draw a little nearer, that your breath

May touch my lips, let my cheek feel your arm;

Now tell me, did you ever see a death,

Or ever see a man take mortal harm?

RAPUNZEL.

Once came two knights and fought with swords below,

And while they fought I scarce could look at all,

My head swam so; after, a moaning low

Drew my eyes down; I saw against the wall

One knight lean dead, bleeding from head and breast,

Yet seem’d it like a line of poppies red

In the golden twilight, as he took his rest,

In the dusky time he scarcely seemed dead.

But the other, on his face, six paces off,

Lay moaning, and the old familiar name

He mutter’d through the grass, seem’d like a scoff

Of some lost soul remembering his past fame.

His helm all dinted lay beside him there,

The visor-bars were twisted towards the face,

The crest, which was a lady very fair,

Wrought wonderfully, was shifted from its place.

The shower’d mail-rings on the speedwell lay,

Perhaps my eyes were dazzled with the light

That blazed in the west, yet surely on that day

Some crimson thing had changed the grass from bright

Pure green I love so. But the knight who died

Lay there for days after the other went;

Until one day I heard a voice that cried:

Fair knight, I see Sir Robert we were sent

To carry dead or living to the king.

So the knights came and bore him straight away

On their lance truncheons, such a batter’d thing,

His mother had not known him on that day,

But for his helm-crest, a gold lady fair

Wrought wonderfully.

THE PRINCE.

Ah, they were brothers then,

And often rode together, doubtless where

The swords were thickest, and were loyal men,

Until they fell in these same evil dreams.

RAPUNZEL.

Yea, love; but shall we not depart from hence?

The white moon groweth golden fast, and gleams

Between the aspens stems; I fear, and yet a sense

Of fluttering victory comes over me,

That will not let me fear aright; my heart,

Feel how it beats, love, strives to get to thee;

I breathe so fast that my lips needs must part;

Your breath swims round my mouth, but let us go.

THE PRINCE.

I, Sebald, also, pluck from off the staff

The crimson banner; let it lie below,

Above it in the wind let grasses laugh.

Now let us go, love, down the winding stair,

With fingers intertwined: ay, feel my sword!

I wrought it long ago, with golden hair

Flowing about the hilts, because a word,

Sung by a minstrel old, had set me dreaming

Of a sweet bow’d down face with yellow hair;

Betwixt green leaves I used to see it gleaming,

A half smile on the lips, though lines of care

Had sunk the cheeks, and made the great eyes hollow;

What other work in all the world had I,

But through all turns of fate that face to follow?

But wars and business kept me there to die.

O child, I should have slain my brother, too,

My brother, Love, lain moaning in the grass,

Had I not ridden out to look for you,

When I had watch’d the gilded courtiers pass

From the golden hall. But it is strange your name

Is not the same the minstrel sung of yore;

You call’d it Rapunzel, ’tis not the name.

See, love, the stems shine through the open door.

Morning in the woods.

RAPUNZEL.

O love! me and my unknown name you have well won;

The witch’s name was Rapunzel: eh! not so sweet?

No! but is this real grass, love, that I tread upon?

What call they these blue flowers that lean across my feet?

THE PRINCE.

Dip down your dear face in the dewy grass, O love!

And ever let the sweet slim harebells, tenderly hung,

Kiss both your parted lips; and I will hang above,

And try to sing that song the dreamy harper sung.

He sings.

‘Twixt the sunlight and the shade

Float up memories of my maid:

God, remember Guendolen!

Gold or gems she did not wear,

But her yellow rippled hair,

Like a veil, hid Guendolen!

‘Twixt the sunlight and the shade,

My rough hands so strangely made,

Folded Golden Guendolen.

Hands used to grip the sword-hilt hard,

Framed her face, while on the sward

Tears fell down from Guendolen.

Guendolen now speaks no word,

Hands fold round about the sword:

Now no more of Guendolen.

Only ‘twixt the light and shade

Floating memories of my maid

Make me pray for Guendolen.

GUENDOLEN.

I kiss thee, new-found name! but I will never go:

Your hands need never grip the hammer’d sword again,

But all my golden hair shall ever round you flow,

Between the light and shade from Golden Guendolen.

Afterwards, in the Palace.

KING SEBALD.

I took my armour off,

Put on king’s robes of gold;

Over the kirtle green

The gold fell fold on fold.

THE WITCH, out of hell.

Guendolen! Guendolen!

One lock of hair!

GUENDOLEN.

I am so glad, for every day

He kisses me much the same way

As in the tower: under the sway

Of all my golden hair.

KING SEBALD.

We rode throughout the town,

A gold crown on my head;

Through all the gold-hung streets,

Praise God! the people said.

THE WITCH.

Gwendolen! Guendolen!

Lend me your hair!

GUENDOLEN.

Verily, I seem like one

Who, when day is almost done,

Through a thick wood meets the sun

That blazes in her hair.

KING SEBALD.

Yea, at the palace gates,

Praise God! the great knights said,

For Sebald the high king,

And the lady’s golden head.

THE WITCH.

Woe is me! Guendolen

Sweeps back her hair.

GUENDOLEN.

Nothing wretched now, no screams;

I was unhappy once in dreams,

And even now a harsh voice seems

To hang about my hair.

THE WITCH.

WOE! THAT ANY MAN COULD DARE

TO CLIMB UP THE YELLOW STAIR,

GLORIOUS GUENDOLEN’S GOLDEN HAIR.

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