Masefield's Midsummer Night

THE BIRTH OF ARTHUR

WHEN the wind from East changes
Through South into West,
And the hard-frozen brooklets
Thaw out from their rest,

And come shining and leaping
Past the snowdrop's drooped head
Through the green-pushing pastures
Where moles burrow red;

Then the rooks call from elm-tops,
And lambs from the fold;
And the larks joy in heaven
For death of the cold;

And the blackbird calls clearest
Of sweet birds that sing,
And the dear becomes dearest
Because it is Spring;

And a joy of rejoicing
Springs green in the corn;
Such a joy was Ygerna's
When Arthur was born.

When the midsummer dog-rose
Was sweet in each hedge,
She took little Arthur
To Pendragon Ledge,

And at moonrise she laid him
On the Dragon's stone chair
Looking out over ocean,
Grey rock in keen air.

For the wise ones had told her
That to children so laid
Come the Powers who fill them,
And the Helpers who aid.

She laid the child sleeping
When all things were still
Save the sea-water creeping
And wind on the hill,

And the full moon came climbing
Till Time made the hour
For the foot of the Helper
And the wing of the Power.

Then at midnight Ygerna
Bent low at a cry,
For a night-laughing curlew
Laughed loud in the sky;

Such a night-laughing curlew
As never was heard:
It laughed in grey heaven,
But was not a bird.

Then again there was silence;
Then, whirling on wings,
Came the long-ago heroes,
The Queens and the Kings,

All the beast-quelling heroes
Who ruled and made tame,
All the women of glory,
All the spirits of flame

Who had wrought in this island
To make her more fair,
And exist now forever
In the beauty they bare.

There they gazed upon Arthur
With their light-giving eyes,
All the lovely true-hearted,
True-sighted and wise.

And a King said: "Our harvest . .
This corn coming green."
And a Queen said: "This captain
Will be loved by a Queen."

Then they laughed all together,
And the babe laughed in sleep,
And they said: "Little Arthur,
What we made you will keep."

Then, as seabirds at sunrise
Fly seawards from ken
To a rock of fair fishing
Untrodden by men,

Flying after their leader,
White wings on red sky,
So those heroes flew seawards
And a wonder drew nigh.

For from out of the water
A mailed man arose,
Fierce-eyed as the eagle,
But bearing a rose.

And as manes stream from racers
In wind on the down,
So flames streamed behind him
From under his crown.

He said: "Thoughts are many
But wisdom is one.
Your way being wisdom,
Will shine like the sun.

You will shine on this island
Till green corn be gold,
And the tale of your harvest
Will never be told.

All the Power within me
Shall stablish your peace;
But at evening comes darkness
When sunlight must cease."

He ceased into darkness
As meteors that die;
A night-laughing curlew
Laughed loud in the sky:

The night-laughing curlew
Cried loud in the air,
A wonder stole forward
And stood by the chair.

He was dim as an evening
Whose moon sets apace,
Green light as of glow-worms
'Was pale on his face.

He said: "Little Arthur,
Our passings will meet:
My moon will be sickle
To garner thy wheat.

Thyself shall create me
To ruin thy joy,
Yet though I shall break thee,
I cannot destroy."

He ceased into darkness
As sea-mist that dies;
The night-laughing curlew
Made mirth in the skies.

Then a wonder most lovely
Swept in from the west,
As a sea-bird white-pinioned
Who glides to her rest;

Her face had the quiet
Of night at an end,
Her gift was the glory
Of beauty for friend;

In the gold of her crownal
White flowers were fair;
She stood like the morning
With stars in her hair.

And as Arthur woke laughing
And stretcht out his hands,
She said: "The deep currents
Stir even the sands;

As high as the planets
And deep as the sea
Are the currents of living
That bind you to me.

To each spirit fashioned,
To each creature born,
Is a Helper from Heaven,
A Rose to the Thorn.

Myself am your Helper;
My beauty will stir
As a dream in your spirit,
As the prick of a spur:

Though others' the Power
And yours be the seed,
My beauty as Helper
Will bring it to deed.

You are frail now as snowdrops
That come before Spring;
My beauty as Helper
Shall crown you the King.

And thrice in your kingship
Your manhood shall quail;
My beauty as Helper
Shall not let you fail.

And at passing, my Arthur,
I'll bring you to fold
In the violet meadows
Where nothing grows old."

She ceased into twilight;
A lark carolled sweet,
The blue-blossomed speedwell
Were bright at her feet.

As Ygrain took her baby
The seabirds flew low,
Singing: "Whither man wanders
No mortal can know.

But rise, little Arthur,
Like the green corn in pride,
And a Power shall fill you
And a Helper shall guide."