THE case of this Falcon was such, that whoso watched it without sleeping for seven days and seven nights, had his first wish granted him by a fay lady, that appeared to him thereon; and some wished one thing, and some another. But a certain King, who watched the Falcon daily, would wish for nought but the love of that fay; which wish being accomplished, was afterwards his ruin.
ACROSS the sea a land there is,
Where, if fate will, may men have bliss,
For it is fair as any land:
There hath the reaper a full hand,
While in the orchard hangs aloft
The purple fig, a-growing soft;
And fair the trellised vine-bunches
Are swung across the high elm-trees;
And in the rivers great fish play,
While over them pass day by day
The laden barges to their place.
There maids are straight, and fair of face,
And men are stout for husbandry,
And all is well as it can be
Upon this earth where all has end.
For on them God is pleased to send
The gift of Death down from above,
That envy, hatred, and hot love,
Knowledge with hunger by his side,
And avarice and deadly pride,
There may have end like everything
Both to the shepherd and the king:
Lest this green earth become but hell
If folk thereon should ever dwell.
Full little most men think of this,
But half in woe and half in bliss
They pass their lives, and die at last
Unwilling, though their lot be cast
In wretched places of the earth,
Where men have little joy from birth
Until they die; in no such case
Were those who tilled this pleasant place.
There soothly men were loth to die,
Though sometimes in his misery
A man would say “Would I were dead!”
Alas! full little likelyhead
That he should live for ever there.
So folk within that country fair
Lived on unable to forget
The longed-for things they could not get,
And without need tormenting still
Each other with some bitter ill;
Yea, and themselves too, growing grey
With dread of some long-lingering day,
That never came ere they were dead
With green sods growing on the head;
Nowise content with what they had,
But falling still from good to bad
While hard they sought the hopeless best;
And seldom happy or at rest
Until at last with lessening blood
One foot within the grave they stood.
Now so it chanced that in this land
There did a certain castle stand,
Set all alone deep in the hills,
Amid the sound of falling rills
Within a valley of sweet grass,
To which there went one narrow pass
Through the dark hills, but seldom trod.
Rarely did horse-hoof press the sod
About the quiet weedy moat,
When unscared did the great fish float;
Because men dreaded there to see
The uncouth things of faërie;
Nathless by some few fathers old
These tales about the place were told
That neither squire nor seneschal
Or varlet came in bower or hall,
Yet all things were in order due,
Hangings of gold and red and blue,
And tables with fair service set;
Cups that had paid the Cæsar’s debt
Could he have laid his hands on them;
Dorsars, with pearls in every hem,
And fair embroidered gold-wrought things,
Fit for a company of kings;
And in the chambers dainty beds,
With pillows dight for fair young heads;
And horses in the stables were,
And in the cellars wine full clear
And strong, and casks of ale and mead;
Yea, all things a great lord could need.
For whom these things were ready there
None knew; but if one chanced to fare
Into that place at Easter-tide,
There would he find a falcon tied
Unto a pillar of the Hall;
And such a fate to him would fall,
That if unto the seventh night,
He watched the bird from dark to light,
And light to dark unceasingly,
On the last evening he should see
A lady beautiful past words;
Then, were he come of clowns or lords,
Son of a swineherd or a king,
There must she grant him anything
Perforce, that he might dare to ask,
And do his very hardest task.
But if he slumbered, ne’er again
The wretch would wake for he was slain
Helpless, by hands he could not see,
And his corpse mangled wretchedly.
Now said these elders — Ere this tide
Full many folk this thing have tried,
But few have got much good thereby;
For first, a many came to die
By slumbering ere their watch was done;
Or else they saw that lovely one,
And mazed, they knew not what to say;
Or asked for some small thing that day
That easily they might have won,
Nor staked their lives and souls thereon;
Or asking, asked for some great thing
That was their bane; as to be king
One asked, and died the morrow morn
That he was crowned, of all forlorn.
Yet thither came a certain man,
Who from being poor great riches wan
Past telling, whose grandsons now are
Great lords thereby in peace and war.
And in their coat-of-arms they bear,
Upon a field of azure fair,
A castle and a falcon, set
Below a chief of golden fret.
And in our day a certain knight
Prayed to be worsted in no fight,
And so it happed to him: yet he
Died none the less most wretchedly,
And all his prowess was in vain,
For by a losel was he slain,
As on the highway side he slept
One summer night, of no man kept.
Such tales as these the fathers old
About that lonely castle told;
And in their day the king must try
Himself to prove that mystery,
Although, unless the fay could give
For ever on the earth to live,
Nought could he ask that he had not:
For boundless riches had he got,
Fair children, and a faithful wife;
And happily had passed his life,
And all fulfilled of victory,
Yet was he fain this thing to see.
So towards the mountains he set out
One noontide, with a gallant rout
Of knights and lords, and as the day
Began to fail came to the way
Where he must enter all alone,
Between the dreary walls of stone.
Thereon to that fair company
He bade farewell, who wistfully
Looked backward oft as home they rode.
But in the entry he abode
Of that rough unknown narrowing pass,
Where twilight at the high noon was.
Then onward he began to ride:
Smooth rose the rocks on every side,
And seemed as they were cut by man;
Adown them ever water ran,
But they of living things were bare,
Yea, not a blade of grass grew there;
And underfoot rough was the way,
For scattered all about there lay
Great jagged pieces of black stone.
Throughout the pass the wind did moan,
With such wild noises, that the King
Could almost think he heard something
Spoken of men; as one might hear
The voices of folk standing near
One’s chamber wall: yet saw he nought
Except those high walls strangely wrought,
And overhead the strip of sky.
So, going onward painfully,
He met therein no evil thing,
But came about the sunsetting
Unto the opening of the pass,
And thence beheld a vale of grass
Bright with the yellow daffodil;
And all the vale the sun did fill
With his last glory. Midmost there
Rose up a stronghold, built four-square,
Upon a flowery grassy mound,
That moat and high wall ran around.
Thereby he saw a walled pleasance,
With walks and sward fit for the dance
Of Arthur’s court in its best time,
That seemed to feel some magic clime;
For though through all the vale outside
Things were as in the April-tide,
And daffodils and cowslips grew
And hidden the March violets blew,
Within the bounds of that sweet close
Was trellised the bewildering rose;
There was the lily over-sweet,
And starry pinks for garlands meet;
And apricots hung on the wall
And midst the flowers did peaches fall,
And nought had blemish there or spot,
For in that place decay was not.
Silent awhile the King abode
Beholding all, then on he rode
And to the castle-gate drew nigh,
Till fell the drawbridge silently,
And when across it he did ride
He found the great gates open wide,
And entered there, but as he passed
The gates were shut behind him fast,
But not before that he could see
The drawbridge rise up silently.
Then round he gazed oppressed with awe,
And there no living thing he saw
Except the sparrows in the eaves,
As restless as light autumn leaves
Blown by the fitful rainy wind.
Thereon his final goal to find,
He lighted off his war-horse good
And let him wander as he would,
When he had eased him of his gear;
Then gathering heart against his fear.
Just at the silent end of day
Through the fair porch he took his way,
And found at last a goodly hall
With glorious hangings on the wall,
Inwrought with trees of every clime,
And stories of the ancient time,
But all of sorcery they were.
For o’er the dais Venus fair,
Fluttered about by many a dove,
Made hopeless men for hopeless love,
Both sick and sorry; there they stood
Wrought wonderfully in various mood,
But wasted all by that hid fire
Of measureless o’er-sweet desire,
And let the hurrying world go by
Forgetting all felicity.
But down the hall the tale was wrought
How Argo in old time was brought
To Colchis for the fleece of gold.
And on the other side was told
How mariners for long years came
To Circe, winning grief and shame.
Until at last by hardihead
And craft, Ulysses won her bed.
Long upon these the King did look
And of them all good heed he took;
To see if they would tell him aught
About the matter that he sought,
But all were of the times long past;
So going all about, at last
When grown nigh weary of his search
A falcon on a silver perch,
Anigh the daïs did he see,
And wondered, because certainly
At his first coming ’twas not there;
But ’neath the bird a scroll most fair,
With golden letters on the white
He saw, and in the dim twilight
By diligence could he read this:—
Ye who have not enow of bliss,
And in this hard world labour sore,
By manhood here may get you more,
And be fulfilled of everything,
Till ye be masters of the King.
And yet, since I who promise this
Am nowise God lo give man bliss
Past ending, now in time beware,
And if you live in little care
At this time get you back again,
Lest unknown woe you chance to gain
In wishing for a thing untried.”
A little while did he abide,
When he had read this, deep in thought,
Wondering indeed if there were aught
He had not got, that a wise man
Would wish; yet in his mind it ran
That he might win a boundless realm,
Yea, come to wear upon his helm
The crown of the whole conquered earth;
That all who lived thereon, from birth
To death should call him King and Lord,
And great kings tremble at his word,
Until in turn he came to die.
Therewith a little did he sigh,
But thought, “Of Alexander yet
Men talk, nor would they e’er forget
My name, if this should come to be,
Whoever should come after me:
But while I lay wrapped round with gold
Should tales and histories manifold
Be written of me, false and true;
And as the time still onward drew
Almost a god would folk count me,
Saying, ‘In our time none such be.’
But therewith did he sigh again,
And said, “Ah, vain, and worse than vain!
For though the world forget me nought,
Yet by that time should I be brought
Where all the world I should forget,
And bitterly should I regret
That I, from godlike great renown,
To helpless death must fall adown:
How could I bear to leave it all?”
Then straight upon his mind did fall
Thoughts of old longings half forgot,
Matters for which his heart was hot
A while ago: whereof no more
He cared for some, and some right sore
Had vexed him, being fulfilled at last.
And when the thought of these had passed
Still something was there left behind,
That by no torturing of his mind,
Could he in any language name,
Or into form of wishing frame.
At last he thought, “What matters it,
Before these seven days shall flit
Some great thing surely shall I find,
That gained will not leave grief behind,
Nor turn to deadly injury.
So now will I let these things be
And think of some unknown delight.”
Now, therewithal, was come the night,
And thus his watch was well begun;
And till the rising of the sun,
Waking, he paced about the hall,
And saw the hangings on the wall
Fade into nought, and then grow white
In patches by the pale moonlight,
And then again fade utterly
As still the moonbeams passed them by;
Then in a while, with hope of day,
Begin a little to grow grey,
Until familiar things they grew,
As up at last the great sun drew,
And lit them with his yellow light
At ending of another night.
Then right glad was he of the day,
That passed with him in such like way;
For neither man nor beast came near,
Nor any voices did he hear.
And when again it drew to night
Silent it passed, till first twilight
Of morning came, and then he heard
The feeble twittering of some bird,
That, in that utter silence drear,
Smote harsh and startling on his ear.
Therewith came on that lonely day
That passed him in no other way;
And thus six days and nights went by
And nothing strange had come anigh.
And on that day he well-nigh deemed
That all that story had been dreamed.
Daylight and dark, and night and day,
Passed ever in their wonted way;
The wind played in the trees outside,
The rooks from out the high trees cried;
And all seemed natural and fair,
With little signs of magic there.
Yet neither could he quite forget
That close with summer blossoms set,
And fruit hung on trees blossoming,
When all about was early spring.
Yea, if all this by man were made,
Strange was it that still undecayed
The food lay on the tables still
Unchanged by man, that wine did fill
The golden cups, still bright and red.
And all was so apparelled
For guests that came not, yet was all
As though that servants filled the hall.
So waxed and waned his hopes, and still
He formed no wish for good or ill.
And while he thought of this and that
Upon his perch the falcon sat
Unfed, unhooded, his bright eyes
Beholders of the hard-earned prize,
Glancing around him restlessly,
As though he knew the time drew nigh
When this long watching should be done.
So little by little fell the sun,
From high noon unto sun-setting;
And in that lapse of time the King,
Though still he woke, yet none the less
Was dreaming in his sleeplessness
Of this and that which he had done
Before this watch he had begun;
Till, with a start, he looked at last
About him, and all dreams were past;
For now, though it was past twilight
Without, within all grew as bright
As when the noon-sun smote the wall,
Though no lamp shone within the hall.
Then rose the King upon his feet,
And well-nigh heard his own heart beat,
And grew all pale for hope and fear,
As sound of footsteps caught his ear
But soft, and as some fair lady,
Going as gently as might be,
Stopped now and then awhile, distraught
By pleasant wanderings of sweet thought.
Nigher the sound came, and more nigh,
Until the King unwittingly
Trembled, and felt his hair arise,
But on the door still kept his eyes.
That opened soon, and in the light
There stepped alone a lady bright,
And made straight toward him up the hall.
In golden garments was she clad
And round her waist a belt she had
Of emeralds fair, and from her feet
She held the raiment daintily,
And on her golden head had she
A rose-wreath round a pearl-wrought crown,
Softly she walked with eyes cast down,
Nor looked she any other than
An earthly lady, though no man
Has seen so fair a thing as she.,
So when her face the King could see
Still more he trembled, and he thought
“Surely my wish is hither brought,
And this will be a goodly day
If for mine own I win this may.”
And therewithal she drew anear
Until the trembling King could hear
Her very breathing, and she raised
Her head and on the King’s face gazed
With serious eyes, and stopping there,
Swept from her shoulders her long hair,
And let her gown fall on her feet,
Then spoke in a clear voice and sweet.
“Well hast thou watched, so now O King,
Be bold, and wish for some good thing;
And yet, I counsel thee, be wise.
Behold, spite of these lips and eyes,
Hundreds of years old now am I
And have seen joy and misery.
And thou, who yet hast lived in bliss,
I bid thee well consider this;
Better it were that men should live
As beasts, and take what earth can give,
The air, the warm sun and the grass
Until unto the earth they pass,
And gain perchance nought worse than rest,
Than that not knowing what is best
For sons of men, they needs must thirst
For what shall make their lives accurst.
“Therefore I bid thee now beware,
Lest getting something seeming fair,
Thou com’st in vain to long for more;
Or lest the thing thou wishest for
Make thee unhappy till thou diest,
Or lest with speedy death thou buyest
A little hour of happiness
Or lazy joy with sharp distress.
“Alas, why say I this to thee,
For now I see full certainly,
That thou wilt ask for such a thing,
It had been best for thee to fling
Thy body from a mountain top,
Or in a white hot fire to drop,
Or ever thou hadst seen me here,
Nay then be speedy and speak clear.”
Then the king cried out eagerly,
Grown fearless, “Ah, be kind to me!
Thou knowest what I long for then!
Thou know’st that I, a king of men,
Will ask for nothing else than thee!
Thou didst not say this could not be,
And I have had enow of bliss,
If I may end my life with this.”
“Hearken,” she said, “what men will say
When they are mad; before to-day
I knew that words such things could mean,
And wondered that it could have been.
“Think well, because this wished-for joy,
That surely will thy bliss destroy,
Will let thee live, until thy life
Is wrapped in such bewildering strife
That all thy days will seem but ill —
Now wilt thou wish for this thing still?”
“Wilt thou then grant it?” cried the King;
“Surely thou art an earthly thing,
And all this is but mockery,
And thou canst tell no more than I
What ending to my life shall be.”
“Nay, then,” she said, “I grant it thee
Perforce; come nigh, for I am thine
Until the morning sun doth shine,
And only coming time can prove
What thing I am.”
Dizzy with love,
And with surprise struck motionless
That this divine thing, with far less
Of striving than a village maid,
Had yielded, there he stood afraid,
Spite of hot words and passionate,
And strove to think upon his fate.
But as he stood there, presently
With smiling face she drew anigh,
And on his face he felt her breath.
“O love,” she said, “dost thou fear death?
Not till next morning shalt thou die,
Or fall into thy misery.”
Then on his hand her hand did fall,
And forth she led him down the hall,
Going full softly by his side.
“O love,” she said, “now well betide
The day whereon thou cam’st to me.
I would this night a year might be,
Yea, life-long; such life as we have,
A thousand years from womb to grave.”
And then that clinging hand seemed worth
Whatever joy was left on earth,
And every trouble he forgot,
And time and death remembered not:
Kinder she grew, she clung to him
With loving arms, her eyes did swim
With love and pity, as he strove
To show the wisdom of his love;
With trembling lips she praised his choice,
And said, “Ah, well may’st thou rejoice,
Well may’st thou think this one short night
Worth years of other men’s delight,
If thy own heart as my heart is,
Sunk in a boundless sea of bliss;
O love, rejoice with me! rejoice!”
But as she spoke, her honied voice
Trembled, and midst of sobs she said,
“O love, and art thou still afraid?
Return, then, to thine happiness,
Nor will I love thee any less;
But watch thee as a mother might
Her child at play.”
With strange delight
He stammered out, “Nay, keep thy tears
For me, and for my ruined years
Weep love, that I may love thee more,
My little hour will soon be o’er.”
“Ah, love,” she said, “and thou art wise
As men are, with long miseries
Buying these idle words and vain,
My foolish love, with lasting pain;
And yet, thou wouldst have died at last
If in all wisdom thou hadst passed
Thy weary life: forgive me then,
In pitying the sad life of men.”
Then in such bliss his soul did swim,
But tender music unto him
Her words were; death and misery
But empty names were grown to be,
As from that place his steps she drew,
And dark the hall behind them grew.
BUT end comes to all earthly bliss,
And by his choice full short was his;
And in the morning, grey and cold,
Beside the dais did she hold
His trembling hand, and wistfully
He, doubting what his fate should be,
Gazed at her solemn eyes, that now,
Beneath her calm, untroubled brow,
Were fixed on his wild face and wan;
At last she said, “Oh, hapless man,
Depart! your full wish you have had;
A little time you have been glad,
You shall be sorry till you die.
“And though, indeed, full fain am I
This might not be; nathless, as day
Night follows, colourless and grey,
So this shall follow your delight,
Your joy hath ending with last night —
Nay, peace, and hearken to your fate.
“Strife without peace, early and late,
Lasting long after you are dead,
And laid with earth upon your head;
War without victory shall you have
Defeat, nor honour shall you save;
Your fair land shall be rent and torn,
Your people be of all forlorn,
And all men curse you for this thing.”
She loosed his hand, but yet the King
Said, “Yea, and I may go with thee?
Why should we part? then let things be
E’en as they will!” “Poor man,” she said,
“Thou ravest; our hot love is dead,
If ever it had any life:
Go, make thee ready for the strife
Wherein thy life shall soon be wrapped;
And of the things that here have happed
Make thou such joy as thou may’st do;
But I from this place needs must go,
Nor shalt thou ever see me more
Until thy troubled life is o’er:
Alas! to say ‘farewell’ to thee
Were nought but bitter mockery.
Fare as thou may’st, and with good heart
Play to the end thy wretched part.”
Therewith she turned and went from him,
And with such pain his eyes did swim
He scarce could see her leave the place.
And then, with troubled and pale face,
He gat him thence: and soon he found
His good horse in the base-court bound;
So, loosing him, forth did he ride,
For the great gates were open wide,
And flat the heavy draw-bridge lay.
So by the middle of the day,
That murky pass had he gone through,
And come to country that he knew;
And homeward turned his horse’s head,
And passing village and homestead
Nigh to his palace came at last;
And still the further that he passed
From that strange castle of the fays,
More dreamlike seemed those seven days,
And dreamlike the delicious night;
And like a dream the shoulders white,
And clinging arms and yellow hair,
And dreamlike the sad morning there.
Until at last he ’gan to deem
That all might well have been a dream —
Yet why was life a weariness?
What meant this sting of sharp distress?
This longing for a hopeless love,
No sighing from his heart could move?
Or else, ‘she did not come and go
As fays might do, but soft and slow
Her lovely feet fell on the floor;
She set her fair hand to the door
As any dainty maid might do;
And though, indeed, there are but few
Beneath the sun as fair as she,
She seemed a fleshly thing to be.
Perchance a merry mock this is,
And I may some day have the bliss
To see her lovely face again,
As smiling she makes all things plain.
And then as I am still a king,
With me may she make tarrying
Full long, yea, till I come to die.’
Therewith at last being come anigh
Unto his very palace gate,
He saw his knights and squires wait
His coming, therefore on the ground
He lighted, and they flocked around
Till he should tell them of his fare.
Then mocking said he, “Ye may dare,
The worst man of you all, to go
And watch as I was bold to do;
For nought I heard except the wind;
And nought I saw to call to mind.”
So said he, but they noted well
That something more he had to tell
If it had pleased him; one old man,
Beholding his changed face and wan,
Muttered, “Would God it might be so!
Alas! I fear what fate may do;
Too much good fortune hast thou had
By anything to be more glad
Than thou hast been, I fear thee then
Lest thou becom’st a curse to men.”
But to his place the doomed King passed,
And all remembrance strove to cast
From out his mind of that past day,
And spent his life in sport and play.
GREAT among other kings, I said
He was before he first was led
Unto that castle of the fays,
But soon he lost his happy days
And all his goodly life was done.
And first indeed his best-loved son,
The very apple of his eye,
Waged war against him bitterly;
And when this son was overcome
And taken, and folk led him home,
And him the King had gone to meet,
Meaning with gentle words and sweet
To win him to his love again,
By his own hand he found him slain.
I know not if the doomed King yet
Remembered the fay lady’s threat,
But troubles upon troubles came:
His daughter next was brought to shame,
Who unto all eyes seemed to be
The image of all purity,
And fleeing from the royal place
The King no more beheld her face.
Then next a folk that came from far
Sent to the King great threats of war,
But he, full-fed of victory,
Deemed this a little thing to be,
And thought the troubles of his home
Thereby he well might overcome
Amid the hurry of the fight.
His foemen seemed of little might,
Although they thronged like summer bees
About the outlying villages,
And on the land great ruin brought.
Well, he this barbarous people sought
With such an army as seemed meet
To put the world beneath his feet;
The day of battle came, and he,
Flushed with the hope of victory,
Grew happy, as he had not been
Since he those glorious eyes had seen.
They met — his solid ranks of steel
There scarcely more the darts could feel
Of those new foemen, than if they
Had been a hundred miles away:—
They met — a storied folk were his
To whom sharp war had long been bliss,
A thousand years of memories
Were flashing in their shielded eyes;
And grave philosophers they had
To bid them ever to be glad
To meet their death and get life done
Midst glorious deeds from sire to son.
And those they met were beasts, or worse,
To whom life seemed a jest, a curse;
Of fame and name they had not heard;
Honour to them was but a word,
A word spoke in another tongue;
No memories round their banners clung,
No walls they knew, no art of war,
By hunger were they driven afar
Unto the place whereon they stood,
Hungry for bestial joys and blood.
No wonder if these barbarous men
Were slain by hundreds to each ten
Of the King’s brave well-armoured folk,
No wonder if their charges broke
To nothing, on the walls of steel,
And back the baffled hordes must reel.
So stood throughout a summer day
Scarce touched the King’s most fair array,
Yet as it drew to even-tide
The foe still surged on every side,
As hopeless hunger-bitten men,
About his folk grown wearied then.
Therewith the King beheld that crowd
Howling and dusk, and cried aloud,
“What do ye, soldiers? and how long
Shall weak folk hold in check the strong.
Nay, forward banners! end the day
And show these folk how brave men play.”
The young knights shouted at his word,
But the old folk in terror heard
The shouting run adown the line,
And saw men flush as if with wine —
“O Sire” they said “the day is sure,
Nor will these folk the night endure
Beset with misery and fears.”
Alas! they spoke to heedless ears;
For scarce one look on them he cast
But forward through the ranks he passed,
And cried out, “Who will follow me
To win a fruitful victory?”
And toward the foe in haste he spurred,
And at his back their shouts he heard,
Such shouts as he ne’er heard again.
They met — ere moonrise all the plain
Was filled by men in hurrying flight
The relics of that shameful fight;
The close array, the full-armed men,
The ancient fame availed not then,
The dark night only was a friend
To bring that slaughter to an end;
And surely there the King had died,
But driven by that back-rushing tide
Against his will he needs must flee;
And as he pondered bitterly
On all that wreck that he had wrought,
From time to time indeed he thought
Of the fay woman’s dreadful threat.
“But everything was not lost yet;”
Next day he said, great was the rout
And shameful beyond any doubt,
But since indeed at eventide
The rout began, not many died,
And gathering all the stragglers now
His troops still made a gallant show —
Alas! it was a show indeed;
Himself desponding, did he lead
His beaten men against the foe,
Thinking at least to lie alow
Before the final rout should be;
But scarce upon the enemy
Could these, whose shaken banners shook
The frightened world, now dare to look;
Nor yet could the doomed King die there
A death he once had held most fair;
Amid unwounded men he came
Back to his city, bent with shame,
Unkingly, midst his great distress,
Yea, weeping at the bitterness
Of women’s curses that did greet
His passage down the troubled street.
But sight of all the things they loved,
The memory of their manhood moved
Within the troops, and aged men
And boys must think of battle then,
And men that had not seen the foe
Must clamour to the war to go.
So a great army poured once more
From out the city, and before
The very gates they fought again,.
But their late valour was in vain;
They died indeed, and that was good,
But nought they gained for all the blood
Poured out like water; for the foe,
Men might have stayed a while ago,
A match for very gods were grown,
So like the field in June-tide mown
The king’s men fell, and but in vain
The remnant strove the town to gain;
Whose battlements were nought to stay
An untaught foe upon that day,
Though many a tale the annals told
Of sieges in the days of old,
When all the world then knew of war
From that fair place was driven afar.
As for the King, a charmed life
He seemed to bear; from out that strife
He came unhurt, and he could see,
As down the valley he did flee
With his most wretched company,
His palace flaming to the sky.
Then in the very midst of woe
His yearning thoughts would backward go
Unto the castle of the fay;
He muttered, “Shall I curse that day,
The last delight that I have had,
For certainly I then was glad?
And who knows if what men call bliss
Had been much better now than this
When I am hastening to the end.”
That fearful rest, that dreaded friend,
That Death, he did not gain as yet;
A band of men he soon did get,
A ruined rout of bad and good,
With whom within the tangled wood,
The rugged mountain, he abode,
And thenceforth oftentimes they rode
Into the fair land once called his,
And yet but little came of this,
Except some added misery
Unto that miserable realm:
The barbarous foe did overwhelm
The cities and the fertile plain,
And many a peaceful man was slain,
And many a maiden brought to shame,
And yielded towns were set aflame;
For all the land was masterless.
Long dwelt the King in great distress
From wood to mountain ever tost,
Mourning for all that he had lost,
Until it chanced upon a day,
Asleep in early morn he lay,
And in a vision there did see
Clad all in black, that fay lady
Whereby all this had come to pass,
But dim as in a misty glass:
She said “I come thy death to tell
Yet now to thee may say ‘farewell,’
For in a short space wilt thou be
Within an endless dim country
Where thou mayest well win woe or bliss.”
Therewith she stooped his lips to kiss
And vanished straightway from his sight,
So waking there he sat upright
And looked around, but nought could see
And heard but song-birds’ melody,
For it was the first hour of day.
Then with a sigh adown he lay
And slept, nor ever woke again,
For that same hour was he slain
By stealthy traitors as he slept.
He of a few was much bewept,
But of most men was well forgot
While that town’s ashes still were hot
The foeman on that day did burn.
As for the land, great Time did turn
The bloody fields to deep green grass,
And from the minds of men did pass
The memory of that time of woe,
And at this day all things are so
As first I said; a land it is
Where men may dwell in rest and bliss
If so they will — Who yet will not,
Because their hasty hearts are hot
With foolish hate, and longing vain
The sire and dam of grief and pain.
NEATH the bright sky cool grew the weary earth,
And many a bud in that fair hour had birth
Upon the garden bushes; in the west
The sky got ready for the great sun’s rest,
And all was fresh and lovely; none the less
Although those old men shared the happiness
Of the bright eve, ’twas mixed with memories
Of how they might in old times have been wise,
Not casting by for very wilfulness
What wealth might come their changing life to bless;
Lulling their hearts to sleep, amid the cold
Of bitter times, that so they might behold
Some joy at last, e’en if it lingered long.
That, wearing not their souls with grief and wrong,
They still might watch the changing world go by,
Content to live, content at last to die.
Alas! if they had reached content at last,
It was perforce when all their strength was past;
And after loss of many days once bright,
With foolish hopes of unattained delight.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:11