Idylls of the King, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Gareth and Lynette

The last tall son of Lot and Bellicent,

And tallest, Gareth, in a showerful spring

Stared at the spate. A slender-shafted Pine

Lost footing, fell, and so was whirled away.

‘How he went down,’ said Gareth, ‘as a false knight

Or evil king before my lance if lance

Were mine to use — O senseless cataract,

Bearing all down in thy precipitancy —

And yet thou art but swollen with cold snows

And mine is living blood: thou dost His will,

The Maker’s, and not knowest, and I that know,

Have strength and wit, in my good mother’s hall

Linger with vacillating obedience,

Prisoned, and kept and coaxed and whistled to —

Since the good mother holds me still a child!

Good mother is bad mother unto me!

A worse were better; yet no worse would I.

Heaven yield her for it, but in me put force

To weary her ears with one continuous prayer,

Until she let me fly discaged to sweep

In ever-highering eagle-circles up

To the great Sun of Glory, and thence swoop

Down upon all things base, and dash them dead,

A knight of Arthur, working out his will,

To cleanse the world. Why, Gawain, when he came

With Modred hither in the summertime,

Asked me to tilt with him, the proven knight.

Modred for want of worthier was the judge.

Then I so shook him in the saddle, he said,

“Thou hast half prevailed against me,” said so — he —

Though Modred biting his thin lips was mute,

For he is alway sullen: what care I?’

And Gareth went, and hovering round her chair

Asked, ‘Mother, though ye count me still the child,

Sweet mother, do ye love the child?’ She laughed,

‘Thou art but a wild-goose to question it.’

‘Then, mother, an ye love the child,’ he said,

‘Being a goose and rather tame than wild,

Hear the child’s story.’ ‘Yea, my well-beloved,

An ’twere but of the goose and golden eggs.’

And Gareth answered her with kindling eyes,

‘Nay, nay, good mother, but this egg of mine

Was finer gold than any goose can lay;

For this an Eagle, a royal Eagle, laid

Almost beyond eye-reach, on such a palm

As glitters gilded in thy Book of Hours.

And there was ever haunting round the palm

A lusty youth, but poor, who often saw

The splendour sparkling from aloft, and thought

“An I could climb and lay my hand upon it,

Then were I wealthier than a leash of kings.”

But ever when he reached a hand to climb,

One, that had loved him from his childhood, caught

And stayed him, “Climb not lest thou break thy neck,

I charge thee by my love,” and so the boy,

Sweet mother, neither clomb, nor brake his neck,

But brake his very heart in pining for it,

And past away.’

To whom the mother said,

‘True love, sweet son, had risked himself and climbed,

And handed down the golden treasure to him.’

And Gareth answered her with kindling eyes,

‘Gold?’ said I gold? — ay then, why he, or she,

Or whosoe’er it was, or half the world

Had ventured — had the thing I spake of been

Mere gold — but this was all of that true steel,

Whereof they forged the brand Excalibur,

And lightnings played about it in the storm,

And all the little fowl were flurried at it,

And there were cries and clashings in the nest,

That sent him from his senses: let me go.’

Then Bellicent bemoaned herself and said,

‘Hast thou no pity upon my loneliness?

Lo, where thy father Lot beside the hearth

Lies like a log, and all but smouldered out!

For ever since when traitor to the King

He fought against him in the Barons’ war,

And Arthur gave him back his territory,

His age hath slowly droopt, and now lies there

A yet-warm corpse, and yet unburiable,

No more; nor sees, nor hears, nor speaks, nor knows.

And both thy brethren are in Arthur’s hall,

Albeit neither loved with that full love

I feel for thee, nor worthy such a love:

Stay therefore thou; red berries charm the bird,

And thee, mine innocent, the jousts, the wars,

Who never knewest finger-ache, nor pang

Of wrenched or broken limb — an often chance

In those brain-stunning shocks, and tourney-falls,

Frights to my heart; but stay: follow the deer

By these tall firs and our fast-falling burns;

So make thy manhood mightier day by day;

Sweet is the chase: and I will seek thee out

Some comfortable bride and fair, to grace

Thy climbing life, and cherish my prone year,

Till falling into Lot’s forgetfulness

I know not thee, myself, nor anything.

Stay, my best son! ye are yet more boy than man.’

Then Gareth, ‘An ye hold me yet for child,

Hear yet once more the story of the child.

For, mother, there was once a King, like ours.

The prince his heir, when tall and marriageable,

Asked for a bride; and thereupon the King

Set two before him. One was fair, strong, armed —

But to be won by force — and many men

Desired her; one good lack, no man desired.

And these were the conditions of the King:

That save he won the first by force, he needs

Must wed that other, whom no man desired,

A red-faced bride who knew herself so vile,

That evermore she longed to hide herself,

Nor fronted man or woman, eye to eye —

Yea — some she cleaved to, but they died of her.

And one — they called her Fame; and one — O Mother,

How can ye keep me tethered to you — Shame.

Man am I grown, a man’s work must I do.

Follow the deer? follow the Christ, the King,

Live pure, speak true, right wrong, follow the King —

Else, wherefore born?’

To whom the mother said

‘Sweet son, for there be many who deem him not,

Or will not deem him, wholly proven King —

Albeit in mine own heart I knew him King,

When I was frequent with him in my youth,

And heard him Kingly speak, and doubted him

No more than he, himself; but felt him mine,

Of closest kin to me: yet — wilt thou leave

Thine easeful biding here, and risk thine all,

Life, limbs, for one that is not proven King?

Stay, till the cloud that settles round his birth

Hath lifted but a little. Stay, sweet son.’

And Gareth answered quickly, ‘Not an hour,

So that ye yield me — I will walk through fire,

Mother, to gain it — your full leave to go.

Not proven, who swept the dust of ruined Rome

From off the threshold of the realm, and crushed

The Idolaters, and made the people free?

Who should be King save him who makes us free?’

So when the Queen, who long had sought in vain

To break him from the intent to which he grew,

Found her son’s will unwaveringly one,

She answered craftily, ‘Will ye walk through fire?

Who walks through fire will hardly heed the smoke.

Ay, go then, an ye must: only one proof,

Before thou ask the King to make thee knight,

Of thine obedience and thy love to me,

Thy mother — I demand.

And Gareth cried,

‘A hard one, or a hundred, so I go.

Nay — quick! the proof to prove me to the quick!’

But slowly spake the mother looking at him,

‘Prince, thou shalt go disguised to Arthur’s hall,

And hire thyself to serve for meats and drinks

Among the scullions and the kitchen-knaves,

And those that hand the dish across the bar.

Nor shalt thou tell thy name to anyone.

And thou shalt serve a twelvemonth and a day.’

For so the Queen believed that when her son

Beheld his only way to glory lead

Low down through villain kitchen-vassalage,

Her own true Gareth was too princely-proud

To pass thereby; so should he rest with her,

Closed in her castle from the sound of arms.

Silent awhile was Gareth, then replied,

‘The thrall in person may be free in soul,

And I shall see the jousts. Thy son am I,

And since thou art my mother, must obey.

I therefore yield me freely to thy will;

For hence will I, disguised, and hire myself

To serve with scullions and with kitchen-knaves;

Nor tell my name to any — no, not the King.’

Gareth awhile lingered. The mother’s eye

Full of the wistful fear that he would go,

And turning toward him wheresoe’er he turned,

Perplext his outward purpose, till an hour,

When wakened by the wind which with full voice

Swept bellowing through the darkness on to dawn,

He rose, and out of slumber calling two

That still had tended on him from his birth,

Before the wakeful mother heard him, went.

The three were clad like tillers of the soil.

Southward they set their faces. The birds made

Melody on branch, and melody in mid air.

The damp hill-slopes were quickened into green,

And the live green had kindled into flowers,

For it was past the time of Easterday.

So, when their feet were planted on the plain

That broadened toward the base of Camelot,

Far off they saw the silver-misty morn

Rolling her smoke about the Royal mount,

That rose between the forest and the field.

At times the summit of the high city flashed;

At times the spires and turrets half-way down

Pricked through the mist; at times the great gate shone

Only, that opened on the field below:

Anon, the whole fair city had disappeared.

Then those who went with Gareth were amazed,

One crying, ‘Let us go no further, lord.

Here is a city of Enchanters, built

By fairy Kings.’ The second echoed him,

‘Lord, we have heard from our wise man at home

To Northward, that this King is not the King,

But only changeling out of Fairyland,

Who drave the heathen hence by sorcery

And Merlin’s glamour.’ Then the first again,

‘Lord, there is no such city anywhere,

But all a vision.’

Gareth answered them

With laughter, swearing he had glamour enow

In his own blood, his princedom, youth and hopes,

To plunge old Merlin in the Arabian sea;

So pushed them all unwilling toward the gate.

And there was no gate like it under heaven.

For barefoot on the keystone, which was lined

And rippled like an ever-fleeting wave,

The Lady of the Lake stood: all her dress

Wept from her sides as water flowing away;

But like the cross her great and goodly arms

Stretched under the cornice and upheld:

And drops of water fell from either hand;

And down from one a sword was hung, from one

A censer, either worn with wind and storm;

And o’er her breast floated the sacred fish;

And in the space to left of her, and right,

Were Arthur’s wars in weird devices done,

New things and old co-twisted, as if Time

Were nothing, so inveterately, that men

Were giddy gazing there; and over all

High on the top were those three Queens, the friends

Of Arthur, who should help him at his need.

Then those with Gareth for so long a space

Stared at the figures, that at last it seemed

The dragon-boughts and elvish emblemings

Began to move, seethe, twine and curl: they called

To Gareth, ‘Lord, the gateway is alive.’

And Gareth likewise on them fixt his eyes

So long, that even to him they seemed to move.

Out of the city a blast of music pealed.

Back from the gate started the three, to whom

From out thereunder came an ancient man,

Long-bearded, saying, ‘Who be ye, my sons?’

Then Gareth, ‘We be tillers of the soil,

Who leaving share in furrow come to see

The glories of our King: but these, my men,

(Your city moved so weirdly in the mist)

Doubt if the King be King at all, or come

From Fairyland; and whether this be built

By magic, and by fairy Kings and Queens;

Or whether there be any city at all,

Or all a vision: and this music now

Hath scared them both, but tell thou these the truth.’

Then that old Seer made answer playing on him

And saying, ‘Son, I have seen the good ship sail

Keel upward, and mast downward, in the heavens,

And solid turrets topsy-turvy in air:

And here is truth; but an it please thee not,

Take thou the truth as thou hast told it me.

For truly as thou sayest, a Fairy King

And Fairy Queens have built the city, son;

They came from out a sacred mountain-cleft

Toward the sunrise, each with harp in hand,

And built it to the music of their harps.

And, as thou sayest, it is enchanted, son,

For there is nothing in it as it seems

Saving the King; though some there be that hold

The King a shadow, and the city real:

Yet take thou heed of him, for, so thou pass

Beneath this archway, then wilt thou become

A thrall to his enchantments, for the King

Will bind thee by such vows, as is a shame

A man should not be bound by, yet the which

No man can keep; but, so thou dread to swear,

Pass not beneath this gateway, but abide

Without, among the cattle of the field.

For an ye heard a music, like enow

They are building still, seeing the city is built

To music, therefore never built at all,

And therefore built for ever.’

Gareth spake

Angered, ‘Old master, reverence thine own beard

That looks as white as utter truth, and seems

Wellnigh as long as thou art statured tall!

Why mockest thou the stranger that hath been

To thee fair-spoken?’

But the Seer replied,

‘Know ye not then the Riddling of the Bards?

“Confusion, and illusion, and relation,

Elusion, and occasion, and evasion”?

I mock thee not but as thou mockest me,

And all that see thee, for thou art not who

Thou seemest, but I know thee who thou art.

And now thou goest up to mock the King,

Who cannot brook the shadow of any lie.’

Unmockingly the mocker ending here

Turned to the right, and past along the plain;

Whom Gareth looking after said, ‘My men,

Our one white lie sits like a little ghost

Here on the threshold of our enterprise.

Let love be blamed for it, not she, nor I:

Well, we will make amends.’

With all good cheer

He spake and laughed, then entered with his twain

Camelot, a city of shadowy palaces

And stately, rich in emblem and the work

Of ancient kings who did their days in stone;

Which Merlin’s hand, the Mage at Arthur’s court,

Knowing all arts, had touched, and everywhere

At Arthur’s ordinance, tipt with lessening peak

And pinnacle, and had made it spire to heaven.

And ever and anon a knight would pass

Outward, or inward to the hall: his arms

Clashed; and the sound was good to Gareth’s ear.

And out of bower and casement shyly glanced

Eyes of pure women, wholesome stars of love;

And all about a healthful people stept

As in the presence of a gracious king.

Then into hall Gareth ascending heard

A voice, the voice of Arthur, and beheld

Far over heads in that long-vaulted hall

The splendour of the presence of the King

Throned, and delivering doom — and looked no more —

But felt his young heart hammering in his ears,

And thought, ‘For this half-shadow of a lie

The truthful King will doom me when I speak.’

Yet pressing on, though all in fear to find

Sir Gawain or Sir Modred, saw nor one

Nor other, but in all the listening eyes

Of those tall knights, that ranged about the throne,

Clear honour shining like the dewy star

Of dawn, and faith in their great King, with pure

Affection, and the light of victory,

And glory gained, and evermore to gain.

Then came a widow crying to the King,

‘A boon, Sir King! Thy father, Uther, reft

From my dead lord a field with violence:

For howsoe’er at first he proffered gold,

Yet, for the field was pleasant in our eyes,

We yielded not; and then he reft us of it

Perforce, and left us neither gold nor field.’

Said Arthur, ‘Whether would ye? gold or field?’

To whom the woman weeping, ‘Nay, my lord,

The field was pleasant in my husband’s eye.’

And Arthur, ‘Have thy pleasant field again,

And thrice the gold for Uther’s use thereof,

According to the years. No boon is here,

But justice, so thy say be proven true.

Accursed, who from the wrongs his father did

Would shape himself a right!’

And while she past,

Came yet another widow crying to him,

‘A boon, Sir King! Thine enemy, King, am I.

With thine own hand thou slewest my dear lord,

A knight of Uther in the Barons’ war,

When Lot and many another rose and fought

Against thee, saying thou wert basely born.

I held with these, and loathe to ask thee aught.

Yet lo! my husband’s brother had my son

Thralled in his castle, and hath starved him dead;

And standeth seized of that inheritance

Which thou that slewest the sire hast left the son.

So though I scarce can ask it thee for hate,

Grant me some knight to do the battle for me,

Kill the foul thief, and wreak me for my son.’

Then strode a good knight forward, crying to him,

‘A boon, Sir King! I am her kinsman, I.

Give me to right her wrong, and slay the man.’

Then came Sir Kay, the seneschal, and cried,

‘A boon, Sir King! even that thou grant her none,

This railer, that hath mocked thee in full hall —

None; or the wholesome boon of gyve and gag.’

But Arthur, ‘We sit King, to help the wronged

Through all our realm. The woman loves her lord.

Peace to thee, woman, with thy loves and hates!

The kings of old had doomed thee to the flames,

Aurelius Emrys would have scourged thee dead,

And Uther slit thy tongue: but get thee hence —

Lest that rough humour of the kings of old

Return upon me! Thou that art her kin,

Go likewise; lay him low and slay him not,

But bring him here, that I may judge the right,

According to the justice of the King:

Then, be he guilty, by that deathless King

Who lived and died for men, the man shall die.’

Then came in hall the messenger of Mark,

A name of evil savour in the land,

The Cornish king. In either hand he bore

What dazzled all, and shone far-off as shines

A field of charlock in the sudden sun

Between two showers, a cloth of palest gold,

Which down he laid before the throne, and knelt,

Delivering, that his lord, the vassal king,

Was even upon his way to Camelot;

For having heard that Arthur of his grace

Had made his goodly cousin, Tristram, knight,

And, for himself was of the greater state,

Being a king, he trusted his liege-lord

Would yield him this large honour all the more;

So prayed him well to accept this cloth of gold,

In token of true heart and fealty.

Then Arthur cried to rend the cloth, to rend

In pieces, and so cast it on the hearth.

An oak-tree smouldered there. ‘The goodly knight!

What! shall the shield of Mark stand among these?’

For, midway down the side of that long hall

A stately pile — whereof along the front,

Some blazoned, some but carven, and some blank,

There ran a treble range of stony shields —

Rose, and high-arching overbrowed the hearth.

And under every shield a knight was named:

For this was Arthur’s custom in his hall;

When some good knight had done one noble deed,

His arms were carven only; but if twain

His arms were blazoned also; but if none,

The shield was blank and bare without a sign

Saving the name beneath; and Gareth saw

The shield of Gawain blazoned rich and bright,

And Modred’s blank as death; and Arthur cried

To rend the cloth and cast it on the hearth.

‘More like are we to reave him of his crown

Than make him knight because men call him king.

The kings we found, ye know we stayed their hands

From war among themselves, but left them kings;

Of whom were any bounteous, merciful,

Truth-speaking, brave, good livers, them we enrolled

Among us, and they sit within our hall.

But as Mark hath tarnished the great name of king,

As Mark would sully the low state of churl:

And, seeing he hath sent us cloth of gold,

Return, and meet, and hold him from our eyes,

Lest we should lap him up in cloth of lead,

Silenced for ever — craven — a man of plots,

Craft, poisonous counsels, wayside ambushings —

No fault of thine: let Kay the seneschal

Look to thy wants, and send thee satisfied —

Accursed, who strikes nor lets the hand be seen!’

And many another suppliant crying came

With noise of ravage wrought by beast and man,

And evermore a knight would ride away.

Last, Gareth leaning both hands heavily

Down on the shoulders of the twain, his men,

Approached between them toward the King, and asked,

‘A boon, Sir King (his voice was all ashamed),

For see ye not how weak and hungerworn

I seem — leaning on these? grant me to serve

For meat and drink among thy kitchen-knaves

A twelvemonth and a day, nor seek my name.

Hereafter I will fight.’

To him the King,

‘A goodly youth and worth a goodlier boon!

But so thou wilt no goodlier, then must Kay,

The master of the meats and drinks, be thine.’

He rose and past; then Kay, a man of mien

Wan-sallow as the plant that feels itself

Root-bitten by white lichen,

‘Lo ye now!

This fellow hath broken from some Abbey, where,

God wot, he had not beef and brewis enow,

However that might chance! but an he work,

Like any pigeon will I cram his crop,

And sleeker shall he shine than any hog.’

Then Lancelot standing near, ‘Sir Seneschal,

Sleuth-hound thou knowest, and gray, and all the hounds;

A horse thou knowest, a man thou dost not know:

Broad brows and fair, a fluent hair and fine,

High nose, a nostril large and fine, and hands

Large, fair and fine! — Some young lad’s mystery —

But, or from sheepcot or king’s hall, the boy

Is noble-natured. Treat him with all grace,

Lest he should come to shame thy judging of him.’

Then Kay, ‘What murmurest thou of mystery?

Think ye this fellow will poison the King’s dish?

Nay, for he spake too fool-like: mystery!

Tut, an the lad were noble, he had asked

For horse and armour: fair and fine, forsooth!

Sir Fine-face, Sir Fair-hands? but see thou to it

That thine own fineness, Lancelot, some fine day

Undo thee not — and leave my man to me.’

So Gareth all for glory underwent

The sooty yoke of kitchen-vassalage;

Ate with young lads his portion by the door,

And couched at night with grimy kitchen-knaves.

And Lancelot ever spake him pleasantly,

But Kay the seneschal, who loved him not,

Would hustle and harry him, and labour him

Beyond his comrade of the hearth, and set

To turn the broach, draw water, or hew wood,

Or grosser tasks; and Gareth bowed himself

With all obedience to the King, and wrought

All kind of service with a noble ease

That graced the lowliest act in doing it.

And when the thralls had talk among themselves,

And one would praise the love that linkt the King

And Lancelot — how the King had saved his life

In battle twice, and Lancelot once the King’s —

For Lancelot was the first in Tournament,

But Arthur mightiest on the battle-field —

Gareth was glad. Or if some other told,

How once the wandering forester at dawn,

Far over the blue tarns and hazy seas,

On Caer-Eryri’s highest found the King,

A naked babe, of whom the Prophet spake,

‘He passes to the Isle Avilion,

He passes and is healed and cannot die’—

Gareth was glad. But if their talk were foul,

Then would he whistle rapid as any lark,

Or carol some old roundelay, and so loud

That first they mocked, but, after, reverenced him.

Or Gareth telling some prodigious tale

Of knights, who sliced a red life-bubbling way

Through twenty folds of twisted dragon, held

All in a gap-mouthed circle his good mates

Lying or sitting round him, idle hands,

Charmed; till Sir Kay, the seneschal, would come

Blustering upon them, like a sudden wind

Among dead leaves, and drive them all apart.

Or when the thralls had sport among themselves,

So there were any trial of mastery,

He, by two yards in casting bar or stone

Was counted best; and if there chanced a joust,

So that Sir Kay nodded him leave to go,

Would hurry thither, and when he saw the knights

Clash like the coming and retiring wave,

And the spear spring, and good horse reel, the boy

Was half beyond himself for ecstasy.

So for a month he wrought among the thralls;

But in the weeks that followed, the good Queen,

Repentant of the word she made him swear,

And saddening in her childless castle, sent,

Between the increscent and de-crescent moon,

Arms for her son, and loosed him from his vow.

This, Gareth hearing from a squire of Lot

With whom he used to play at tourney once,

When both were children, and in lonely haunts

Would scratch a ragged oval on the sand,

And each at either dash from either end —

Shame never made girl redder than Gareth joy.

He laughed; he sprang. ‘Out of the smoke, at once

I leap from Satan’s foot to Peter’s knee —

These news be mine, none other’s — nay, the King’s —

Descend into the city:’ whereon he sought

The King alone, and found, and told him all.

‘I have staggered thy strong Gawain in a tilt

For pastime; yea, he said it: joust can I.

Make me thy knight — in secret! let my name

Be hidden, and give me the first quest, I spring

Like flame from ashes.’

Here the King’s calm eye

Fell on, and checked, and made him flush, and bow

Lowly, to kiss his hand, who answered him,

‘Son, the good mother let me know thee here,

And sent her wish that I would yield thee thine.

Make thee my knight? my knights are sworn to vows

Of utter hardihood, utter gentleness,

And, loving, utter faithfulness in love,

And uttermost obedience to the King.’

Then Gareth, lightly springing from his knees,

‘My King, for hardihood I can promise thee.

For uttermost obedience make demand

Of whom ye gave me to, the Seneschal,

No mellow master of the meats and drinks!

And as for love, God wot, I love not yet,

But love I shall, God willing.’

And the King

‘Make thee my knight in secret? yea, but he,

Our noblest brother, and our truest man,

And one with me in all, he needs must know.’

‘Let Lancelot know, my King, let Lancelot know,

Thy noblest and thy truest!’

And the King —

‘But wherefore would ye men should wonder at you?

Nay, rather for the sake of me, their King,

And the deed’s sake my knighthood do the deed,

Than to be noised of.’

Merrily Gareth asked,

‘Have I not earned my cake in baking of it?

Let be my name until I make my name!

My deeds will speak: it is but for a day.’

So with a kindly hand on Gareth’s arm

Smiled the great King, and half-unwillingly

Loving his lusty youthhood yielded to him.

Then, after summoning Lancelot privily,

‘I have given him the first quest: he is not proven.

Look therefore when he calls for this in hall,

Thou get to horse and follow him far away.

Cover the lions on thy shield, and see

Far as thou mayest, he be nor ta’en nor slain.’

Then that same day there past into the hall

A damsel of high lineage, and a brow

May-blossom, and a cheek of apple-blossom,

Hawk-eyes; and lightly was her slender nose

Tip-tilted like the petal of a flower;

She into hall past with her page and cried,

‘O King, for thou hast driven the foe without,

See to the foe within! bridge, ford, beset

By bandits, everyone that owns a tower

The Lord for half a league. Why sit ye there?

Rest would I not, Sir King, an I were king,

Till even the lonest hold were all as free

From cursed bloodshed, as thine altar-cloth

From that best blood it is a sin to spill.’

‘Comfort thyself,’ said Arthur. ‘I nor mine

Rest: so my knighthood keep the vows they swore,

The wastest moorland of our realm shall be

Safe, damsel, as the centre of this hall.

What is thy name? thy need?’

‘My name?’ she said —

‘Lynette my name; noble; my need, a knight

To combat for my sister, Lyonors,

A lady of high lineage, of great lands,

And comely, yea, and comelier than myself.

She lives in Castle Perilous: a river

Runs in three loops about her living-place;

And o’er it are three passings, and three knights

Defend the passings, brethren, and a fourth

And of that four the mightiest, holds her stayed

In her own castle, and so besieges her

To break her will, and make her wed with him:

And but delays his purport till thou send

To do the battle with him, thy chief man

Sir Lancelot whom he trusts to overthrow,

Then wed, with glory: but she will not wed

Save whom she loveth, or a holy life.

Now therefore have I come for Lancelot.’

Then Arthur mindful of Sir Gareth asked,

‘Damsel, ye know this Order lives to crush

All wrongers of the Realm. But say, these four,

Who be they? What the fashion of the men?’

‘They be of foolish fashion, O Sir King,

The fashion of that old knight-errantry

Who ride abroad, and do but what they will;

Courteous or bestial from the moment, such

As have nor law nor king; and three of these

Proud in their fantasy call themselves the Day,

Morning-Star, and Noon-Sun, and Evening-Star,

Being strong fools; and never a whit more wise

The fourth, who alway rideth armed in black,

A huge man-beast of boundless savagery.

He names himself the Night and oftener Death,

And wears a helmet mounted with a skull,

And bears a skeleton figured on his arms,

To show that who may slay or scape the three,

Slain by himself, shall enter endless night.

And all these four be fools, but mighty men,

And therefore am I come for Lancelot.’

Hereat Sir Gareth called from where he rose,

A head with kindling eyes above the throng,

‘A boon, Sir King — this quest!’ then — for he marked

Kay near him groaning like a wounded bull —

‘Yea, King, thou knowest thy kitchen-knave am I,

And mighty through thy meats and drinks am I,

And I can topple over a hundred such.

Thy promise, King,’ and Arthur glancing at him,

Brought down a momentary brow. ‘Rough, sudden,

And pardonable, worthy to be knight —

Go therefore,’ and all hearers were amazed.

But on the damsel’s forehead shame, pride, wrath

Slew the May-white: she lifted either arm,

‘Fie on thee, King! I asked for thy chief knight,

And thou hast given me but a kitchen-knave.’

Then ere a man in hall could stay her, turned,

Fled down the lane of access to the King,

Took horse, descended the slope street, and past

The weird white gate, and paused without, beside

The field of tourney, murmuring ‘kitchen-knave.’

Now two great entries opened from the hall,

At one end one, that gave upon a range

Of level pavement where the King would pace

At sunrise, gazing over plain and wood;

And down from this a lordly stairway sloped

Till lost in blowing trees and tops of towers;

And out by this main doorway past the King.

But one was counter to the hearth, and rose

High that the highest-crested helm could ride

Therethrough nor graze: and by this entry fled

The damsel in her wrath, and on to this

Sir Gareth strode, and saw without the door

King Arthur’s gift, the worth of half a town,

A warhorse of the best, and near it stood

The two that out of north had followed him:

This bare a maiden shield, a casque; that held

The horse, the spear; whereat Sir Gareth loosed

A cloak that dropt from collar-bone to heel,

A cloth of roughest web, and cast it down,

And from it like a fuel-smothered fire,

That lookt half-dead, brake bright, and flashed as those

Dull-coated things, that making slide apart

Their dusk wing-cases, all beneath there burns

A jewelled harness, ere they pass and fly.

So Gareth ere he parted flashed in arms.

Then as he donned the helm, and took the shield

And mounted horse and graspt a spear, of grain

Storm-strengthened on a windy site, and tipt

With trenchant steel, around him slowly prest

The people, while from out of kitchen came

The thralls in throng, and seeing who had worked

Lustier than any, and whom they could but love,

Mounted in arms, threw up their caps and cried,

‘God bless the King, and all his fellowship!’

And on through lanes of shouting Gareth rode

Down the slope street, and past without the gate.

So Gareth past with joy; but as the cur

Pluckt from the cur he fights with, ere his cause

Be cooled by fighting, follows, being named,

His owner, but remembers all, and growls

Remembering, so Sir Kay beside the door

Muttered in scorn of Gareth whom he used

To harry and hustle.

‘Bound upon a quest

With horse and arms — the King hath past his time —

My scullion knave! Thralls to your work again,

For an your fire be low ye kindle mine!

Will there be dawn in West and eve in East?

Begone! — my knave! — belike and like enow

Some old head-blow not heeded in his youth

So shook his wits they wander in his prime —

Crazed! How the villain lifted up his voice,

Nor shamed to bawl himself a kitchen-knave.

Tut: he was tame and meek enow with me,

Till peacocked up with Lancelot’s noticing.

Well — I will after my loud knave, and learn

Whether he know me for his master yet.

Out of the smoke he came, and so my lance

Hold, by God’s grace, he shall into the mire —

Thence, if the King awaken from his craze,

Into the smoke again.’

But Lancelot said,

‘Kay, wherefore wilt thou go against the King,

For that did never he whereon ye rail,

But ever meekly served the King in thee?

Abide: take counsel; for this lad is great

And lusty, and knowing both of lance and sword.’

‘Tut, tell not me,’ said Kay, ‘ye are overfine

To mar stout knaves with foolish courtesies:’

Then mounted, on through silent faces rode

Down the slope city, and out beyond the gate.

But by the field of tourney lingering yet

Muttered the damsel, ‘Wherefore did the King

Scorn me? for, were Sir Lancelot lackt, at least

He might have yielded to me one of those

Who tilt for lady’s love and glory here,

Rather than — O sweet heaven! O fie upon him —

His kitchen-knave.’

To whom Sir Gareth drew

(And there were none but few goodlier than he)

Shining in arms, ‘Damsel, the quest is mine.

Lead, and I follow.’ She thereat, as one

That smells a foul-fleshed agaric in the holt,

And deems it carrion of some woodland thing,

Or shrew, or weasel, nipt her slender nose

With petulant thumb and finger, shrilling, ‘Hence!

Avoid, thou smellest all of kitchen-grease.

And look who comes behind,’ for there was Kay.

‘Knowest thou not me? thy master? I am Kay.

We lack thee by the hearth.’

And Gareth to him,

‘Master no more! too well I know thee, ay —

The most ungentle knight in Arthur’s hall.’

‘Have at thee then,’ said Kay: they shocked, and Kay

Fell shoulder-slipt, and Gareth cried again,

‘Lead, and I follow,’ and fast away she fled.

But after sod and shingle ceased to fly

Behind her, and the heart of her good horse

Was nigh to burst with violence of the beat,

Perforce she stayed, and overtaken spoke.

‘What doest thou, scullion, in my fellowship?

Deem’st thou that I accept thee aught the more

Or love thee better, that by some device

Full cowardly, or by mere unhappiness,

Thou hast overthrown and slain thy master — thou! —

Dish-washer and broach-turner, loon! — to me

Thou smellest all of kitchen as before.’

‘Damsel,’ Sir Gareth answered gently, ‘say

Whate’er ye will, but whatsoe’er ye say,

I leave not till I finish this fair quest,

Or die therefore.’

‘Ay, wilt thou finish it?

Sweet lord, how like a noble knight he talks!

The listening rogue hath caught the manner of it.

But, knave, anon thou shalt be met with, knave,

And then by such a one that thou for all

The kitchen brewis that was ever supt

Shalt not once dare to look him in the face.’

‘I shall assay,’ said Gareth with a smile

That maddened her, and away she flashed again

Down the long avenues of a boundless wood,

And Gareth following was again beknaved.

‘Sir Kitchen-knave, I have missed the only way

Where Arthur’s men are set along the wood;

The wood is nigh as full of thieves as leaves:

If both be slain, I am rid of thee; but yet,

Sir Scullion, canst thou use that spit of thine?

Fight, an thou canst: I have missed the only way.’

So till the dusk that followed evensong

Rode on the two, reviler and reviled;

Then after one long slope was mounted, saw,

Bowl-shaped, through tops of many thousand pines

A gloomy-gladed hollow slowly sink

To westward — in the deeps whereof a mere,

Round as the red eye of an Eagle-owl,

Under the half-dead sunset glared; and shouts

Ascended, and there brake a servingman

Flying from out of the black wood, and crying,

‘They have bound my lord to cast him in the mere.’

Then Gareth, ‘Bound am I to right the wronged,

But straitlier bound am I to bide with thee.’

And when the damsel spake contemptuously,

‘Lead, and I follow,’ Gareth cried again,

‘Follow, I lead!’ so down among the pines

He plunged; and there, blackshadowed nigh the mere,

And mid-thigh-deep in bulrushes and reed,

Saw six tall men haling a seventh along,

A stone about his neck to drown him in it.

Three with good blows he quieted, but three

Fled through the pines; and Gareth loosed the stone

From off his neck, then in the mere beside

Tumbled it; oilily bubbled up the mere.

Last, Gareth loosed his bonds and on free feet

Set him, a stalwart Baron, Arthur’s friend.

‘Well that ye came, or else these caitiff rogues

Had wreaked themselves on me; good cause is theirs

To hate me, for my wont hath ever been

To catch my thief, and then like vermin here

Drown him, and with a stone about his neck;

And under this wan water many of them

Lie rotting, but at night let go the stone,

And rise, and flickering in a grimly light

Dance on the mere. Good now, ye have saved a life

Worth somewhat as the cleanser of this wood.

And fain would I reward thee worshipfully.

What guerdon will ye?’

Gareth sharply spake,

‘None! for the deed’s sake have I done the deed,

In uttermost obedience to the King.

But wilt thou yield this damsel harbourage?’

Whereat the Baron saying, ‘I well believe

You be of Arthur’s Table,’ a light laugh

Broke from Lynette, ‘Ay, truly of a truth,

And in a sort, being Arthur’s kitchen-knave! —

But deem not I accept thee aught the more,

Scullion, for running sharply with thy spit

Down on a rout of craven foresters.

A thresher with his flail had scattered them.

Nay — for thou smellest of the kitchen still.

But an this lord will yield us harbourage,

Well.’

So she spake. A league beyond the wood,

All in a full-fair manor and a rich,

His towers where that day a feast had been

Held in high hall, and many a viand left,

And many a costly cate, received the three.

And there they placed a peacock in his pride

Before the damsel, and the Baron set

Gareth beside her, but at once she rose.

‘Meseems, that here is much discourtesy,

Setting this knave, Lord Baron, at my side.

Hear me — this morn I stood in Arthur’s hall,

And prayed the King would grant me Lancelot

To fight the brotherhood of Day and Night —

The last a monster unsubduable

Of any save of him for whom I called —

Suddenly bawls this frontless kitchen-knave,

“The quest is mine; thy kitchen-knave am I,

And mighty through thy meats and drinks am I.”

Then Arthur all at once gone mad replies,

“Go therefore,” and so gives the quest to him —

Him — here — a villain fitter to stick swine

Than ride abroad redressing women’s wrong,

Or sit beside a noble gentlewoman.’

Then half-ashamed and part-amazed, the lord

Now looked at one and now at other, left

The damsel by the peacock in his pride,

And, seating Gareth at another board,

Sat down beside him, ate and then began.

‘Friend, whether thou be kitchen-knave, or not,

Or whether it be the maiden’s fantasy,

And whether she be mad, or else the King,

Or both or neither, or thyself be mad,

I ask not: but thou strikest a strong stroke,

For strong thou art and goodly therewithal,

And saver of my life; and therefore now,

For here be mighty men to joust with, weigh

Whether thou wilt not with thy damsel back

To crave again Sir Lancelot of the King.

Thy pardon; I but speak for thine avail,

The saver of my life.’

And Gareth said,

‘Full pardon, but I follow up the quest,

Despite of Day and Night and Death and Hell.’

So when, next morn, the lord whose life he saved

Had, some brief space, conveyed them on their way

And left them with God-speed, Sir Gareth spake,

‘Lead, and I follow.’ Haughtily she replied.

‘I fly no more: I allow thee for an hour.

Lion and stout have isled together, knave,

In time of flood. Nay, furthermore, methinks

Some ruth is mine for thee. Back wilt thou, fool?

For hard by here is one will overthrow

And slay thee: then will I to court again,

And shame the King for only yielding me

My champion from the ashes of his hearth.’

To whom Sir Gareth answered courteously,

‘Say thou thy say, and I will do my deed.

Allow me for mine hour, and thou wilt find

My fortunes all as fair as hers who lay

Among the ashes and wedded the King’s son.’

Then to the shore of one of those long loops

Wherethrough the serpent river coiled, they came.

Rough-thicketed were the banks and steep; the stream

Full, narrow; this a bridge of single arc

Took at a leap; and on the further side

Arose a silk pavilion, gay with gold

In streaks and rays, and all Lent-lily in hue,

Save that the dome was purple, and above,

Crimson, a slender banneret fluttering.

And therebefore the lawless warrior paced

Unarmed, and calling, ‘Damsel, is this he,

The champion thou hast brought from Arthur’s hall?

For whom we let thee pass.’ ‘Nay, nay,’ she said,

‘Sir Morning-Star. The King in utter scorn

Of thee and thy much folly hath sent thee here

His kitchen-knave: and look thou to thyself:

See that he fall not on thee suddenly,

And slay thee unarmed: he is not knight but knave.’

Then at his call, ‘O daughters of the Dawn,

And servants of the Morning-Star, approach,

Arm me,’ from out the silken curtain-folds

Bare-footed and bare-headed three fair girls

In gilt and rosy raiment came: their feet

In dewy grasses glistened; and the hair

All over glanced with dewdrop or with gem

Like sparkles in the stone Avanturine.

These armed him in blue arms, and gave a shield

Blue also, and thereon the morning star.

And Gareth silent gazed upon the knight,

Who stood a moment, ere his horse was brought,

Glorying; and in the stream beneath him, shone

Immingled with Heaven’s azure waveringly,

The gay pavilion and the naked feet,

His arms, the rosy raiment, and the star.

Then she that watched him, ‘Wherefore stare ye so?

Thou shakest in thy fear: there yet is time:

Flee down the valley before he get to horse.

Who will cry shame? Thou art not knight but knave.’

Said Gareth, ‘Damsel, whether knave or knight,

Far liefer had I fight a score of times

Than hear thee so missay me and revile.

Fair words were best for him who fights for thee;

But truly foul are better, for they send

That strength of anger through mine arms, I know

That I shall overthrow him.’

And he that bore

The star, when mounted, cried from o’er the bridge,

‘A kitchen-knave, and sent in scorn of me!

Such fight not I, but answer scorn with scorn.

For this were shame to do him further wrong

Than set him on his feet, and take his horse

And arms, and so return him to the King.

Come, therefore, leave thy lady lightly, knave.

Avoid: for it beseemeth not a knave

To ride with such a lady.’

‘Dog, thou liest.

I spring from loftier lineage than thine own.’

He spake; and all at fiery speed the two

Shocked on the central bridge, and either spear

Bent but not brake, and either knight at once,

Hurled as a stone from out of a catapult

Beyond his horse’s crupper and the bridge,

Fell, as if dead; but quickly rose and drew,

And Gareth lashed so fiercely with his brand

He drave his enemy backward down the bridge,

The damsel crying, ‘Well-stricken, kitchen-knave!’

Till Gareth’s shield was cloven; but one stroke

Laid him that clove it grovelling on the ground.

Then cried the fallen, ‘Take not my life: I yield.’

And Gareth, ‘So this damsel ask it of me

Good — I accord it easily as a grace.’

She reddening, ‘Insolent scullion: I of thee?

I bound to thee for any favour asked!’

‘Then he shall die.’ And Gareth there unlaced

His helmet as to slay him, but she shrieked,

‘Be not so hardy, scullion, as to slay

One nobler than thyself.’ ‘Damsel, thy charge

Is an abounding pleasure to me. Knight,

Thy life is thine at her command. Arise

And quickly pass to Arthur’s hall, and say

His kitchen-knave hath sent thee. See thou crave

His pardon for thy breaking of his laws.

Myself, when I return, will plead for thee.

Thy shield is mine — farewell; and, damsel, thou,

Lead, and I follow.’

And fast away she fled.

Then when he came upon her, spake, ‘Methought,

Knave, when I watched thee striking on the bridge

The savour of thy kitchen came upon me

A little faintlier: but the wind hath changed:

I scent it twenty-fold.’ And then she sang,

‘“O morning star” (not that tall felon there

Whom thou by sorcery or unhappiness

Or some device, hast foully overthrown),

“O morning star that smilest in the blue,

O star, my morning dream hath proven true,

Smile sweetly, thou! my love hath smiled on me.”

‘But thou begone, take counsel, and away,

For hard by here is one that guards a ford —

The second brother in their fool’s parable —

Will pay thee all thy wages, and to boot.

Care not for shame: thou art not knight but knave.’

To whom Sir Gareth answered, laughingly,

‘Parables? Hear a parable of the knave.

When I was kitchen-knave among the rest

Fierce was the hearth, and one of my co-mates

Owned a rough dog, to whom he cast his coat,

“Guard it,” and there was none to meddle with it.

And such a coat art thou, and thee the King

Gave me to guard, and such a dog am I,

To worry, and not to flee — and — knight or knave —

The knave that doth thee service as full knight

Is all as good, meseems, as any knight

Toward thy sister’s freeing.’

‘Ay, Sir Knave!

Ay, knave, because thou strikest as a knight,

Being but knave, I hate thee all the more.’

‘Fair damsel, you should worship me the more,

That, being but knave, I throw thine enemies.’

‘Ay, ay,’ she said, ‘but thou shalt meet thy match.’

So when they touched the second river-loop,

Huge on a huge red horse, and all in mail

Burnished to blinding, shone the Noonday Sun

Beyond a raging shallow. As if the flower,

That blows a globe of after arrowlets,

Ten thousand-fold had grown, flashed the fierce shield,

All sun; and Gareth’s eyes had flying blots

Before them when he turned from watching him.

He from beyond the roaring shallow roared,

‘What doest thou, brother, in my marches here?’

And she athwart the shallow shrilled again,

‘Here is a kitchen-knave from Arthur’s hall

Hath overthrown thy brother, and hath his arms.’

‘Ugh!’ cried the Sun, and vizoring up a red

And cipher face of rounded foolishness,

Pushed horse across the foamings of the ford,

Whom Gareth met midstream: no room was there

For lance or tourney-skill: four strokes they struck

With sword, and these were mighty; the new knight

Had fear he might be shamed; but as the Sun

Heaved up a ponderous arm to strike the fifth,

The hoof of his horse slipt in the stream, the stream

Descended, and the Sun was washed away.

Then Gareth laid his lance athwart the ford;

So drew him home; but he that fought no more,

As being all bone-battered on the rock,

Yielded; and Gareth sent him to the King,

‘Myself when I return will plead for thee.’

‘Lead, and I follow.’ Quietly she led.

‘Hath not the good wind, damsel, changed again?’

‘Nay, not a point: nor art thou victor here.

There lies a ridge of slate across the ford;

His horse thereon stumbled — ay, for I saw it.

‘“O Sun” (not this strong fool whom thou, Sir Knave,

Hast overthrown through mere unhappiness),

“O Sun, that wakenest all to bliss or pain,

O moon, that layest all to sleep again,

Shine sweetly: twice my love hath smiled on me.”

What knowest thou of lovesong or of love?

Nay, nay, God wot, so thou wert nobly born,

Thou hast a pleasant presence. Yea, perchance —

‘“O dewy flowers that open to the sun,

O dewy flowers that close when day is done,

Blow sweetly: twice my love hath smiled on me.”

‘What knowest thou of flowers, except, belike,

To garnish meats with? hath not our good King

Who lent me thee, the flower of kitchendom,

A foolish love for flowers? what stick ye round

The pasty? wherewithal deck the boar’s head?

Flowers? nay, the boar hath rosemaries and bay.

‘“O birds, that warble to the morning sky,

O birds that warble as the day goes by,

Sing sweetly: twice my love hath smiled on me.”

‘What knowest thou of birds, lark, mavis, merle,

Linnet? what dream ye when they utter forth

May-music growing with the growing light,

Their sweet sun-worship? these be for the snare

(So runs thy fancy) these be for the spit,

Larding and basting. See thou have not now

Larded thy last, except thou turn and fly.

There stands the third fool of their allegory.’

For there beyond a bridge of treble bow,

All in a rose-red from the west, and all

Naked it seemed, and glowing in the broad

Deep-dimpled current underneath, the knight,

That named himself the Star of Evening, stood.

And Gareth, ‘Wherefore waits the madman there

Naked in open dayshine?’ ‘Nay,’ she cried,

‘Not naked, only wrapt in hardened skins

That fit him like his own; and so ye cleave

His armour off him, these will turn the blade.’

Then the third brother shouted o’er the bridge,

‘O brother-star, why shine ye here so low?

Thy ward is higher up: but have ye slain

The damsel’s champion?’ and the damsel cried,

‘No star of thine, but shot from Arthur’s heaven

With all disaster unto thine and thee!

For both thy younger brethren have gone down

Before this youth; and so wilt thou, Sir Star;

Art thou not old?’

‘Old, damsel, old and hard,

Old, with the might and breath of twenty boys.’

Said Gareth, ‘Old, and over-bold in brag!

But that same strength which threw the Morning Star

Can throw the Evening.’

Then that other blew

A hard and deadly note upon the horn.

‘Approach and arm me!’ With slow steps from out

An old storm-beaten, russet, many-stained

Pavilion, forth a grizzled damsel came,

And armed him in old arms, and brought a helm

With but a drying evergreen for crest,

And gave a shield whereon the Star of Even

Half-tarnished and half-bright, his emblem, shone.

But when it glittered o’er the saddle-bow,

They madly hurled together on the bridge;

And Gareth overthrew him, lighted, drew,

There met him drawn, and overthrew him again,

But up like fire he started: and as oft

As Gareth brought him grovelling on his knees,

So many a time he vaulted up again;

Till Gareth panted hard, and his great heart,

Foredooming all his trouble was in vain,

Laboured within him, for he seemed as one

That all in later, sadder age begins

To war against ill uses of a life,

But these from all his life arise, and cry,

‘Thou hast made us lords, and canst not put us down!’

He half despairs; so Gareth seemed to strike

Vainly, the damsel clamouring all the while,

‘Well done, knave-knight, well-stricken, O good knight-knave —

O knave, as noble as any of all the knights —

Shame me not, shame me not. I have prophesied —

Strike, thou art worthy of the Table Round —

His arms are old, he trusts the hardened skin —

Strike — strike — the wind will never change again.’

And Gareth hearing ever stronglier smote,

And hewed great pieces of his armour off him,

But lashed in vain against the hardened skin,

And could not wholly bring him under, more

Than loud Southwesterns, rolling ridge on ridge,

The buoy that rides at sea, and dips and springs

For ever; till at length Sir Gareth’s brand

Clashed his, and brake it utterly to the hilt.

‘I have thee now;’ but forth that other sprang,

And, all unknightlike, writhed his wiry arms

Around him, till he felt, despite his mail,

Strangled, but straining even his uttermost

Cast, and so hurled him headlong o’er the bridge

Down to the river, sink or swim, and cried,

‘Lead, and I follow.’

But the damsel said,

‘I lead no longer; ride thou at my side;

Thou art the kingliest of all kitchen-knaves.

‘“O trefoil, sparkling on the rainy plain,

O rainbow with three colours after rain,

Shine sweetly: thrice my love hath smiled on me.”

‘Sir — and, good faith, I fain had added — Knight,

But that I heard thee call thyself a knave —

Shamed am I that I so rebuked, reviled,

Missaid thee; noble I am; and thought the King

Scorned me and mine; and now thy pardon, friend,

For thou hast ever answered courteously,

And wholly bold thou art, and meek withal

As any of Arthur’s best, but, being knave,

Hast mazed my wit: I marvel what thou art.’

‘Damsel,’ he said, ‘you be not all to blame,

Saving that you mistrusted our good King

Would handle scorn, or yield you, asking, one

Not fit to cope your quest. You said your say;

Mine answer was my deed. Good sooth! I hold

He scarce is knight, yea but half-man, nor meet

To fight for gentle damsel, he, who lets

His heart be stirred with any foolish heat

At any gentle damsel’s waywardness.

Shamed? care not! thy foul sayings fought for me:

And seeing now thy words are fair, methinks

There rides no knight, not Lancelot, his great self,

Hath force to quell me.’

Nigh upon that hour

When the lone hern forgets his melancholy,

Lets down his other leg, and stretching, dreams

Of goodly supper in the distant pool,

Then turned the noble damsel smiling at him,

And told him of a cavern hard at hand,

Where bread and baken meats and good red wine

Of Southland, which the Lady Lyonors

Had sent her coming champion, waited him.

Anon they past a narrow comb wherein

Where slabs of rock with figures, knights on horse

Sculptured, and deckt in slowly-waning hues.

‘Sir Knave, my knight, a hermit once was here,

Whose holy hand hath fashioned on the rock

The war of Time against the soul of man.

And yon four fools have sucked their allegory

From these damp walls, and taken but the form.

Know ye not these?’ and Gareth lookt and read —

In letters like to those the vexillary

Hath left crag-carven o’er the streaming Gelt —

‘PHOSPHORUS,’ then ‘MERIDIES’—‘HESPERUS’—

‘NOX’—‘MORS,’ beneath five figures, armed men,

Slab after slab, their faces forward all,

And running down the Soul, a Shape that fled

With broken wings, torn raiment and loose hair,

For help and shelter to the hermit’s cave.

‘Follow the faces, and we find it. Look,

Who comes behind?’

The Cave Scene
The Cave Scene

For one — delayed at first

Through helping back the dislocated Kay

To Camelot, then by what thereafter chanced,

The damsel’s headlong error through the wood —

Sir Lancelot, having swum the river-loops —

His blue shield-lions covered — softly drew

Behind the twain, and when he saw the star

Gleam, on Sir Gareth’s turning to him, cried,

‘Stay, felon knight, I avenge me for my friend.’

And Gareth crying pricked against the cry;

But when they closed — in a moment — at one touch

Of that skilled spear, the wonder of the world —

Went sliding down so easily, and fell,

That when he found the grass within his hands

He laughed; the laughter jarred upon Lynette:

Harshly she asked him, ‘Shamed and overthrown,

And tumbled back into the kitchen-knave,

Why laugh ye? that ye blew your boast in vain?’

‘Nay, noble damsel, but that I, the son

Of old King Lot and good Queen Bellicent,

And victor of the bridges and the ford,

And knight of Arthur, here lie thrown by whom

I know not, all through mere unhappiness —

Device and sorcery and unhappiness —

Out, sword; we are thrown!’ And Lancelot answered, ‘Prince,

O Gareth — through the mere unhappiness

Of one who came to help thee, not to harm,

Lancelot, and all as glad to find thee whole,

As on the day when Arthur knighted him.’

Then Gareth, ‘Thou — Lancelot! — thine the hand

That threw me? An some chance to mar the boast

Thy brethren of thee make — which could not chance —

Had sent thee down before a lesser spear,

Shamed had I been, and sad — O Lancelot — thou!’

Whereat the maiden, petulant, ‘Lancelot,

Why came ye not, when called? and wherefore now

Come ye, not called? I gloried in my knave,

Who being still rebuked, would answer still

Courteous as any knight — but now, if knight,

The marvel dies, and leaves me fooled and tricked,

And only wondering wherefore played upon:

And doubtful whether I and mine be scorned.

Where should be truth if not in Arthur’s hall,

In Arthur’s presence? Knight, knave, prince and fool,

I hate thee and for ever.’

And Lancelot said,

‘Blessed be thou, Sir Gareth! knight art thou

To the King’s best wish. O damsel, be you wise

To call him shamed, who is but overthrown?

Thrown have I been, nor once, but many a time.

Victor from vanquished issues at the last,

And overthrower from being overthrown.

With sword we have not striven; and thy good horse

And thou are weary; yet not less I felt

Thy manhood through that wearied lance of thine.

Well hast thou done; for all the stream is freed,

And thou hast wreaked his justice on his foes,

And when reviled, hast answered graciously,

And makest merry when overthrown. Prince, Knight

Hail, Knight and Prince, and of our Table Round!’

And then when turning to Lynette he told

The tale of Gareth, petulantly she said,

‘Ay well — ay well — for worse than being fooled

Of others, is to fool one’s self. A cave,

Sir Lancelot, is hard by, with meats and drinks

And forage for the horse, and flint for fire.

But all about it flies a honeysuckle.

Seek, till we find.’ And when they sought and found,

Sir Gareth drank and ate, and all his life

Past into sleep; on whom the maiden gazed.

‘Sound sleep be thine! sound cause to sleep hast thou.

Wake lusty! Seem I not as tender to him

As any mother? Ay, but such a one

As all day long hath rated at her child,

And vext his day, but blesses him asleep —

Good lord, how sweetly smells the honeysuckle

In the hushed night, as if the world were one

Of utter peace, and love, and gentleness!

O Lancelot, Lancelot’— and she clapt her hands —

‘Full merry am I to find my goodly knave

Is knight and noble. See now, sworn have I,

Else yon black felon had not let me pass,

To bring thee back to do the battle with him.

Thus an thou goest, he will fight thee first;

Who doubts thee victor? so will my knight-knave

Miss the full flower of this accomplishment.’

Said Lancelot, ‘Peradventure he, you name,

May know my shield. Let Gareth, an he will,

Change his for mine, and take my charger, fresh,

Not to be spurred, loving the battle as well

As he that rides him.’ ‘Lancelot-like,’ she said,

‘Courteous in this, Lord Lancelot, as in all.’

And Gareth, wakening, fiercely clutched the shield;

‘Ramp ye lance-splintering lions, on whom all spears

Are rotten sticks! ye seem agape to roar!

Yea, ramp and roar at leaving of your lord! —

Care not, good beasts, so well I care for you.

O noble Lancelot, from my hold on these

Streams virtue — fire — through one that will not shame

Even the shadow of Lancelot under shield.

Hence: let us go.’

Silent the silent field

They traversed. Arthur’s harp though summer-wan,

In counter motion to the clouds, allured

The glance of Gareth dreaming on his liege.

A star shot: ‘Lo,’ said Gareth, ‘the foe falls!’

An owl whoopt: ‘Hark the victor pealing there!’

Suddenly she that rode upon his left

Clung to the shield that Lancelot lent him, crying,

‘Yield, yield him this again: ’tis he must fight:

I curse the tongue that all through yesterday

Reviled thee, and hath wrought on Lancelot now

To lend thee horse and shield: wonders ye have done;

Miracles ye cannot: here is glory enow

In having flung the three: I see thee maimed,

Mangled: I swear thou canst not fling the fourth.’

‘And wherefore, damsel? tell me all ye know.

You cannot scare me; nor rough face, or voice,

Brute bulk of limb, or boundless savagery

Appal me from the quest.’

‘Nay, Prince,’ she cried,

‘God wot, I never looked upon the face,

Seeing he never rides abroad by day;

But watched him have I like a phantom pass

Chilling the night: nor have I heard the voice.

Always he made his mouthpiece of a page

Who came and went, and still reported him

As closing in himself the strength of ten,

And when his anger tare him, massacring

Man, woman, lad and girl — yea, the soft babe!

Some hold that he hath swallowed infant flesh,

Monster! O Prince, I went for Lancelot first,

The quest is Lancelot’s: give him back the shield.’

Said Gareth laughing, ‘An he fight for this,

Belike he wins it as the better man:

Thus — and not else!’

But Lancelot on him urged

All the devisings of their chivalry

When one might meet a mightier than himself;

How best to manage horse, lance, sword and shield,

And so fill up the gap where force might fail

With skill and fineness. Instant were his words.

Then Gareth, ‘Here be rules. I know but one —

To dash against mine enemy and win.

Yet have I seen thee victor in the joust,

And seen thy way.’ ‘Heaven help thee,’ sighed Lynette.

Then for a space, and under cloud that grew

To thunder-gloom palling all stars, they rode

In converse till she made her palfrey halt,

Lifted an arm, and softly whispered, ‘There.’

And all the three were silent seeing, pitched

Beside the Castle Perilous on flat field,

A huge pavilion like a mountain peak

Sunder the glooming crimson on the marge,

Black, with black banner, and a long black horn

Beside it hanging; which Sir Gareth graspt,

And so, before the two could hinder him,

Sent all his heart and breath through all the horn.

Echoed the walls; a light twinkled; anon

Came lights and lights, and once again he blew;

Whereon were hollow tramplings up and down

And muffled voices heard, and shadows past;

Till high above him, circled with her maids,

The Lady Lyonors at a window stood,

Beautiful among lights, and waving to him

White hands, and courtesy; but when the Prince

Three times had blown — after long hush — at last —

The huge pavilion slowly yielded up,

Through those black foldings, that which housed therein.

High on a nightblack horse, in nightblack arms,

With white breast-bone, and barren ribs of Death,

And crowned with fleshless laughter — some ten steps —

In the half-light — through the dim dawn — advanced

The monster, and then paused, and spake no word.

But Gareth spake and all indignantly,

‘Fool, for thou hast, men say, the strength of ten,

Canst thou not trust the limbs thy God hath given,

But must, to make the terror of thee more,

Trick thyself out in ghastly imageries

Of that which Life hath done with, and the clod,

Less dull than thou, will hide with mantling flowers

As if for pity?’ But he spake no word;

Which set the horror higher: a maiden swooned;

The Lady Lyonors wrung her hands and wept,

As doomed to be the bride of Night and Death;

Sir Gareth’s head prickled beneath his helm;

And even Sir Lancelot through his warm blood felt

Ice strike, and all that marked him were aghast.

At once Sir Lancelot’s charger fiercely neighed,

And Death’s dark war-horse bounded forward with him.

Then those that did not blink the terror, saw

That Death was cast to ground, and slowly rose.

But with one stroke Sir Gareth split the skull.

Half fell to right and half to left and lay.

Then with a stronger buffet he clove the helm

As throughly as the skull; and out from this

Issued the bright face of a blooming boy

Fresh as a flower new-born, and crying, ‘Knight,

Slay me not: my three brethren bad me do it,

To make a horror all about the house,

And stay the world from Lady Lyonors.

They never dreamed the passes would be past.’

Answered Sir Gareth graciously to one

Not many a moon his younger, ‘My fair child,

What madness made thee challenge the chief knight

Of Arthur’s hall?’ ‘Fair Sir, they bad me do it.

They hate the King, and Lancelot, the King’s friend,

They hoped to slay him somewhere on the stream,

They never dreamed the passes could be past.’

Then sprang the happier day from underground;

And Lady Lyonors and her house, with dance

And revel and song, made merry over Death,

As being after all their foolish fears

And horrors only proven a blooming boy.

So large mirth lived and Gareth won the quest.

And he that told the tale in older times

Says that Sir Gareth wedded Lyonors,

But he, that told it later, says Lynette.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/tennyson/alfred/idylls/chapter2.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 20:04