An Arthurian Miscellany at sacred-texts.com
PASTORAL OF LANCELOT
The field was green, and green the elder-bough;
The land all burnished with unopened bud
Let the large light and wholesome wind blow through
Its airy glades and ragged underwood,
Where now with boisterous breath the early year
Like a young child in lusty hardihood
Stretched out its growing days; the roughcoat steer
Trampled his plashy meadow to a slough,
Or drank his fill at pools of melted snow.
Behold them riding two and two abreast
Along the path that leads from Merlin's hall!
Through the bare copse and o'er the lone hill-crest--
Lancelot, and Galahad, and Percival,
Tristram, and Bors, and many a knight beside,
All sealed in Christ to seek the San Graäl
Wherein men's sinful souls are purified;
All Arthur's Table Round, all Camelot's best
Perilous pilgrims of a holy quest.
Down in the reeds, where marshy ways divide,
Two mournful eyes stare out the stems between;
It is the faun that aye at Easter-tide
Pipes up the sap in boughs and rushes green.
Poor waif of lost and luscious years gone by,
To whom sweet earth hath place of joyance been,
What should he know of doleful Calvary?
Of Jewish spear, or of the Riven Side
That fills the chalice of the Crucified?
He pipeth, and the meadow heareth him,
He calls the little grasses by their name,
He pipeth till the sluices overbrim,
And the green life shoots up like altar-flame;
He pipeth as the knights come trampling nigh--
But now his sweetest song is hushed in shame,
And he is sorrowful he knows not why;
For these have Sabbath at their hearts, and dim
Seems the wild voice beside the river-rim.
Anon he pipes again, and April hears,
And muffles up the parted knights in mist,
And weeps in meadows all her moon of tears,
And bids her warm winds whisper what they list.
Lo! now were holy pilgrimage to pass
Where leaf laps leaf, and bough with bough hath kissed,
Well might it pause: so murmurous is the grass--
So deep--so thick!--Sir Lancelot by the meres,
Hears the wild waters roaring in his ears.
For all life sings, and singing it sucks down
The noble heart of Arthur's noblest knight;
A little soulless faun hath willed him drown
Deep, deep in mounting waves of Spring delight.
"O Lancelot," sigh the branches overhead,
"Come rest awhile: the Grail is not in sight."
"O Lancelot," lisp the grasses, "make thy bed
Here on the kindly earth; forget renown
And thy sick soul of all but dream discrown."
Sir Lancelot lieth in the lone green-wood,
Sir Lancelot wrestleth in the tall grass-spears:
Fain would he think upon the Holy Rood,
And Christ's red cup, and sweet Saint Mary's tears;
But then come memories of the balmy lips
And the soft eyelids that are Guinevere's--
He dreams, and as he dreams, wild apple dips
Her brooding boughs, and flowers of milk and blood
Between his strong convulsèd heart and God.
And times he saith: "Why must man aye forego?
And why is life a nobler thing through pain?"
And times: "Since love's sweet apple hangs so low,
Shall I not strongly grasp and count it gain?"
And thousand times he yearneth for the Grail,
And God's own blood to cleanse his life from stain;
And prays against his love to no avail.
Love's immortality hath root in woe:
All human tragedies do prove it so.
Three cups of life are proffered to his taste:
One is the chalice of forbidden bliss;
But though his lonely spirit lieth waste
In wish thereof, he is too great for this.
One is the chalice of the San Graäl:
For this he is too base: no lip may kiss
The cup wherefrom the pure apostles all
Drank, when their loving Saviour blessed it last,
Save that of meekest men, and maidens chaste.
One cup is left to him: the cup of pain.
O bitter wine! can life be nourished so?
Pain and renouncement ever; these remain
When vision is all too high, and dream too low.
Drink deep, Sir Lancelot, this draught is blest;
Then back to Camelot through young April go;
Though thou hast failed upon a higher quest,
Yet none the less God's chalice shalt thou drain,
And in thine ear the faun will pipe in vain.
But who shall glimpse the Holy Grail of God?
Not Lancelot, bravest man, and sternest knight,
Nor Tristram, nor the hundred more who rode
From Camelot gates that April morning bright.
Yet Galahad still trusteth in his heart,
And of the mystic chalice hopeth sight;
In fast and prayer his days are spent apart;
And wheresoe'er his step hath touched the sod
Spring lily-tuft and angus-castus bud.
Hardby his chapel-cave a blasted thorn
Withdrew in pain from earth its roots accurst:
Long leafless years in agony outworn,
Had left it lone, and naked, and athirst,
With limbs that evermore did rot and twist;
And none to pass that way at even durst;
But Galahad beholding, thought: "The Christ
On some such wood as this was sure up-borne."
And prayed among its shadows night and morn.
Now as he kneeleth underneath the spray,
One cometh stumbling like a hunted beast
That all day long hath kept the hounds at bay,
And falleth blindly on a place of rest.
With hands that grasp the tree this other lies
Like some new growth of its contorted breast;
But can wood breathe or hath it anguished eyes?
And Galahad for pity cannot pray,
Nor "Rise thou noble knight" to Lancelot say.
But from an incorrupted heart he cries:
"O Christ Who camest not to call the just
But sinners, and for them did'st agonise;
Bethink Thee man was moulded out of dust,
Nor lay this sin unto my brother's charge."
Again he cries with tears: "In Thee I trust!"
And eyes through fast and vigil over-large
He raiseth meekly to the evening skies,
As he would pierce the floors of paradise.
Behold! those glorious clouds above the wood
Are stirred with pinions of an angel-quire,
And in their midst, the Chalice of the Blood
The blessed Grail of Galahad's desire.
Impelled and pressed by deathless charity,
Bathes men and angels with a bloom of fire,
Wherein the holy seraphs move, and dye
More deeply red their vesture crimson-hued,
Baptising all things from its burning flood.
O blessed are the pure! They shall not fail
To see the Lord their God as in a glass;
Their souls have eyes, their flesh is but a veil--
Thus Galahad found grace above. Alas
For Arthur's greatest lying at his feet!
The faun is shrivelled like a wisp of grass,
Withered by passage of the Paraclete,
When Lancelot lifteth up his forehead pale--
Sir Lancelot hath not seen the Holy Grail.
Next: A Famous Prediction of Merlin, by Jonathan Swift