The Defence of Guenevere, by William Morris

A Good Knight in Prison

SIR GUY, being in the court of a Pagan castle.

This castle where I dwell, it stands

A long way off from Christian lands,

A long way off my lady’s hands,

A long way off the aspen trees,

And murmur of the lime-tree bees.

But down the Valley of the Rose

My lady often hawking goes,

Heavy of cheer; oft turns behind,

Leaning towards the western wind,

Because it bringeth to her mind

Sad whisperings of happy times,

The face of him who sings these rhymes.

King Guilbert rides beside her there,

Bends low and calls her very fair,

And strives, by pulling down his hair,

To hide from my dear lady’s ken

The grisly gash I gave him, when

I cut him down at Camelot;

However he strives, he hides it not,

That tourney will not be forgot,

Besides, it is King Guilbert’s lot,

Whatever he says she answers not.

Now tell me, you that are in love,

From the king’s son to the wood-dove,

Which is the better, he or I?

For this king means that I should die

In this lone Pagan castle, where

The flowers droop in the bad air

On the September evening.

Look, now I take mine ease and sing,

Counting as but a little thing

The foolish spite of a bad king.

For these vile things that hem me in,

These Pagan beasts who live in sin,

The sickly flowers pale and wan,

The grim blue-bearded castellan,

The stanchions half worn-out with rust,

Whereto their banner vile they trust:

Why, all these things I hold them just

As dragons in a missal book,

Wherein, whenever we may look,

We see no horror, yea delight

We have, the colours are so bright;

Likewise we note the specks of white,

And the great plates of burnish’d gold.

Just so this Pagan castle old,

And everything I can see there,

Sick-pining in the marshland air,

I note: I will go over now,

Like one who paints with knitted brow,

The flowers and all things one by one,

From the snail on the wall to the setting sun.

Four great walls, and a little one

That leads down to the barbican,

Which walls with many spears they man,

When news comes to the castellan

Of Launcelot being in the land.

And as I sit here, close at hand

Four spikes of sad sick sunflowers stand;

The castellan with a long wand

Cuts down their leaves as he goes by,

Ponderingly, with screw’d-up eye,

And fingers twisted in his beard.

Nay, was it a knight’s shout I heard?

I have a hope makes me afeard:

It cannot be, but if some dream

Just for a minute made me deem

I saw among the flowers there

My lady’s face with long red hair,

Pale, ivory-colour’d dear face come,

As I was wont to see her some

Fading September afternoon,

And kiss me, saying nothing, soon

To leave me by myself again;

Could I get this by longing? vain!

The castellan is gone: I see

On one broad yellow flower a bee

Drunk with much honey.

Christ! again,

Some distant knight’s voice brings me pain,

I thought I had forgot to feel,

I never heard the blissful steel

These ten years past; year after year,

Through all my hopeless sojourn here,

No Christian pennon has been near.

Laus Deo! the dragging wind draws on

Over the marshes, battle won,

Knights’ shouts, and axes hammering;

Yea, quicker now the dint and ring

Of flying hoofs; ah, castellan,

When they come back count man for man,

Say whom you miss.

THE PAGANS, from the battlements.

Mahound to aid!

Why flee ye so like men dismay’d?

THE PAGANS, from without.

Nay, haste! for here is Launcelot,

Who follows quick upon us, hot

And shouting with his men-at-arms.

SIR GUY.

Also the Pagans raise alarms,

And ring the bells for fear; at last

My prison walls will be well past.

SIR LAUNCELOT, from outside.

Ho! in the name of the Trinity,

Let down the drawbridge quick to me,

And open doors, that I may see

Guy the good knight!

THE PAGANS, from the battlements.

Nay, Launcelot,

With mere big words ye win us not.

SIR LAUNCELOT.

Bid Miles bring up la perriere,

And archers clear the vile walls there.

Bring back the notches to the ear,

Shoot well together! God to aid!

These miscreants will be well paid.

Hurrah! all goes together; Miles

Is good to win my lady’s smiles

For his good shooting: Launcelot!

On knights apace! this game is hot!

SIR GUY sayeth afterwards.

I said, I go to meet her now,

And saying so, I felt a blow

From some clench’d hand across my brow,

And fell down on the sunflowers

Just as a hammering smote my ears;

After which this I felt in sooth,

My bare hands throttling without ruth

The hairy-throated castellan;

Then a grim fight with those that ran

To slay me, while I shouted: God

For the Lady Mary! deep I trod

That evening in my own red blood;

Nevertheless so stiff I stood,

That when the knights burst the old wood

Of the castle-doors, I was not dead.

I kiss the Lady Mary’s head,

Her lips, and her hair golden red,

Because today we have been wed.

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