Arthurian and Grail Poetry

Camlan
By Robert Buchanan

I.
"I may not trust false Mordred,"
-- 'Twas thus did Arthur say, --
"He will not stint to treason do,
His uncle-King to slay;
So watch ye well when we are met,
And but ye chance to see
One sword unsheathed, upon them!
Be sure 'tis treachery!"
"I may not trust mine uncle,"
-- 'Twas thus did Mordred say, --
"This trick of truce and parleying
But hides some crooked play;
So watch ye well when we are met,
And but ye chance to see
One sword unsheathed, upon them!
Be sure 'tis treachery!"

II.
O gallant sight and goodly,
It was that morn, I ween,
To see these lords their barbed steeds
Rein proudly o'er the green!
Twelve knights on each attended,
Was each a knight renown'd,
Had Saxon slain, and Saracen,
And sat at Table Round.

III.
And kindly sped their parley,
And courteous was their cheer,
Nor sign was there from word or look
Betokened evil near;
But knight with knight of bye-gone times
Held converse blythe and free,
And passed the blood-red Gascon
In pledge of amity.
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IV.
The arrow shot at random
May reach a royal prey;
A wandering spark, in ashes hot,
May tower and temple lay;
The mole may set the torrent free
That sweeps o'er grove and glen,
And swamps the corn-green valley
Into a deadly fen!
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V.
To search for toy or trinket
Dropped from his careless hand,
Amid the tufted heath alights
A knight of Mordred's band, --
An adder stung him fiercely,
In agony he drew
His sword, and severed sheerly
That evil worm in two.

VI.
But when they saw that faulchion's flash,
Burst one loud thunder yell
From either host! and on they dash
In deadly strife to mell.
"As easy bar the proud spring-tide
O'er Solway's sand to run,
Or back the lightning's volley,
As man his weird to shun."
Thus mused Sir Arthur as he turned
His horse's head, and sighed,
Then cheered his host and headlong plunged
Midmost the battle's tide!
Him followed knights three hundred,
Through Christentie renown'd,
The bravest knights in Logres-land, 1
And of the Table Round.

VII.
And thrice through Mordred's battle
A pass did Arthur clear
With Pridwin, and Escaliber, 2
And Rone, his deadly spear: --
No word was there of parley,
No thought was there to yield: --
Ere night a five-score thousand
Lay stark on Camlan's field.
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VIII.
A moment paused Sir Arthur
To cool his burning brow;
Three hundred knights had followed him --
How many follow now?
But only two! And wounded sore,
Beside a brook ran near,
He spied the false Sir Mordred,
Was leaning on his spear.
"Now pay me full, false traitor,
The debt thy treasons owe;
Would'st reive thine uncle's crown, and force
His Queen thy bed-fellowe!"
Then on the false Sir Mordred
Like wolf on fawn he flew,
And Rone his spear a full fathome
He thrust his body through.

IX.
Shrieked wild for pain that traitor knight,
And in his dying throe
On Arthur's helmet blindly strake
So furious fell a blow,
That blow nor bone nor basnet
Might stay its force nor stand:
Then dropped the shivered weapon
From Mordred's lifeless hand!
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X.
The moon is cold on Camlan,
And on its thousands slain,
Save but the pillers pille the dead,
None trode that silent plain!
To help Sir Arthur at his need
But only two were found,
Of all that brave three hundred
Sat at his Table Round!
His boteler and his chamberlain --
Sir Lucan and Bedwere --
And many a gash, and ghastly,
The fainting brothers bare.
Alas for good Sir Lucan!
His wound burst open wide,
And out thereat his bowels gushed,
He groaned aloud, and died!

XI.
And when Sir Arthur's trance was pass'd,
He gazed, and him beside,
Of all his many thousands, none
Save brave Bedwere espied.
And thus he spake -- "Sir Bedwere,
Go get thee haste, and take
My trusty sword Escaliber,
And cast in yonder lake;
And fling it far will all thy might,
What thereupon shall be
Observe it well, and speed thee
To truly tell it me."

XII.
That sword of worth and wonder,
Whose sweep in Arthur's hand
Nor shirt of mail, nor plate of brass,
Nor casque of steel might stand,
A priceless gift gave Merlin,
Won from his peerless make.
Within their bower of pleasure,
The Lady of the Lake.

XIII.
Embossed was hilt and handle
With gem and jewel rare,
And scrolled the blade with magic sign,
And mystic character.
"Ah pity were," -- Sir Bedwere thought, --
To fling in yonder lake
So goodly thing!" and hid it
Within hazle-brake.

XIV.
"What sawest thou, Sir Bedwere?"
"But wave and water free;"
"Nay, nay, thy vision wandered,
Go look more heedfully.
What sawest thou now?" "Nor token
Nor sign the water gave,
But silverly and softly
Did wap with wind and wave."

XV.
He looked a look of anger,
"Shame on the knight would say
A soothless tale twice over,
All for a sword's inlay!
But haste, my life is ebbing fast,
Thy fault and folly through --"
This time the charmed weapon
Far o'er the waters flew.

XVI.
But ere it reached the water,
A giant arm upreared,
And clutched it fast, and waved it thrice
On high, then disappeared;
And when Sir Bedwere told that sign,
"Must now no tarrying --
Haste, lay me down beside the lake,
They're nigh will succour bring."
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XVII.
And swift as arrow shoots from bow,
Shot barge of beauty rare,
Nor steerer had, nor rower,
That barge, but ladies fair:
And of these ladies crowns of gold
Upon their head had three,
And glittered in the moonlight
Their jewelled bravery!

XVIII.
Aloud she wept that queenliest seemed
That crowned three among --
"Alas! alas! my brother dear,
Why tarried'st thou so long?
Nor weeting gavest, nor warning.
Of thine so evil cheer,
Nor spedst that token sooner
When help was all so near!
Light task had been, and speedy,
Thy gashes green to close,
And by mine art, and with mine herbs
To work thy pain's repose;
But now long time and sorely
My leech's art 'twill strain,
And many a year must circle
Ere thou see earth again!"

XIX.
His fainting head they pillowed
That lady's lap upon;
"Now row ye, sisters, row ye
With speed for Avalon!"
As meteor shoots or moon-beam
Across the waters blue,
It shot, that bark of mystery,
Then melted from the view.
And long with fear and wonder
Looked Bedwere from the shore
Across that silent water,
But ne'er saw Arthur more!



NOTE. -- Though Sir Bedwere never saw Arthur more, it is unnecessary to inform the readers of the Morte Arthur, that, by accident or miracle, he eventually discovered his tomb in the chapel of an hermitage at Glastonbury (the Avalon of the Round-Table Romances); that he became forthwith a monk, and spent the residue of his days in praying for the soul of his royal master; that Queen Guinevere took the veil at Ambresbury, and made a good end; that Sir Launcelot, after finding out by chance the place of her retreat, being refused his earnest petition for one parting kiss, and being, moreover, lectured by the former partner of his guilt of the sinfulness of his past life, and admonished to repentance, went on his way sorrowing till he reached Glastonbury; where finding his old comrade-in-arms, Sir Bedwere, now turned monk, he joined his society, assumed the monastic habit, was in due time ordained a priest, and becoming as pre-eminent in piety as he had been in valour, died at a good old age in the odour of sanctity; his body being, at his dying request, removed to Joyous Garde for interment, while his soul was (as the bishop who in a vision had witnessed the whole transaction, with arithmetical fidelity testified) escorted to heaven by "thirty thousand and seven" attending angels!

Footnotes.

1. Logres is England, so named from Locrine (or Logrine), eldest son of the fabulous Brut or Brutus, to whom in the tripartite division of the island, it fell by inheritance.
2. Pridwin, the shield; Escalibur (or Kaliburn), the sword; and Rone, the spear of King Arthur.