The Defence of Guenevere, by William Morris

The Judgment of God

Swerve to the left, son Roger, he said,

When you catch his eyes through the helmet-slit,

Swerve to the left, then out at his head,

And the Lord God give you joy of it!

The blue owls on my father’s hood

Were a little dimm’d as I turn’d away;

This giving up of blood for blood

Will finish here somehow today.

So, when I walk’d out from the tent,

Their howling almost blinded me;

Yet for all that I was not bent

By any shame. Hard by, the sea

Made a noise like the aspens where

We did that wrong, but now the place

Is very pleasant, and the air

Blows cool on any passer’s face.

And all the wrong is gather’d now

Into the circle of these lists:

Yea, howl out, butchers! tell me how

His hands were cut off at the wrists;

And how Lord Roger bore his face

A league above his spear-point, high

Above the owls, to that strong place

Among the waters; yea, yea, cry:

What a brave champion we have got!

Sir Oliver, the flower of all

The Hainault knights! The day being hot,

He sat beneath a broad white pall,

White linen over all his steel;

What a good knight he look’d! his sword

Laid thwart his knees; he liked to feel

Its steadfast edge clear as his word.

And he look’d solemn; how his love

Smiled whitely on him, sick with fear!

How all the ladies up above

Twisted their pretty hands! so near

The fighting was: Ellayne! Ellayne!

They cannot love like you can, who

Would burn your hands off, if that pain

Could win a kiss; am I not true

To you for ever? therefore I

Do not fear death or anything;

If I should limp home wounded, why,

While I lay sick you would but sing,

And soothe me into quiet sleep.

If they spat on the recreant knight,

Threw stones at him, and cursed him deep,

Why then: what then? your hand would light

So gently on his drawn-up face,

And you would kiss him, and in soft

Cool scented clothes would lap him, pace

The quiet room and weep oft, oft

Would turn and smile, and brush his cheek

With your sweet chin and mouth; and in

The order’d garden you would seek

The biggest roses: any sin.

And these say: No more now my knight,

Or God’s knight any longer: you,

Being than they so much more white,

So much more pure and good and true,

Will cling to me for ever; there,

Is not that wrong turn’d right at last

Through all these years, and I wash’d clean?

Say, yea, Ellayne; the time is past,

Since on that Christmas-day last year

Up to your feet the fire crept,

And the smoke through the brown leaves sere

Blinded your dear eyes that you wept;

Was it not I that caught you then,

And kiss’d you on the saddle-bow?

Did not the blue owl mark the men

Whose spears stood like the corn a-row?

This Oliver is a right good knight,

And must needs beat me, as I fear,

Unless I catch him in the fight,

My father’s crafty way: John, here!

Bring up the men from the south gate,

To help me if I fall or win,

For even if I beat, their hate

Will grow to more than this mere grin.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:58