Arthurian and Grail Poetry
By Robert Buchanan
Ah fatal thirst -- Ah fond aspire
Forbidden things to know!
Dis-Edener thou of our first sire!
Well-spring of all our woe!
The first device the tempter tried,
Thou art his favourite still,
Dost woo and win him, his witch-bride,
Soul-pledged to work his will.
King Arthur weeps in Carduel,
His Merlin's mystic doom --
Sir Gawayne rides o'er down and dell
In search of Merlin's tomb.
But vain the quest. Betrayed by thee,
With sinful love to aid,
In airy tower that none may see
Is mighty Merlin laid.
"Sir Merlin, thou hast taught me long,
And taught me wondrous well,
The magic power of sign and song,
And necromantic spell."
(Thus spake the Lady Viviane,
It is peerless paramoure,
As they in dalliance fond and fain
Lay in their forest bower.)
"And I can bid the bright noontide
Turn to a midnight gloom,
And toothless crone seem bonny bride
To mock the gay bridegroom.
"And I can tame the proudest knight,
And change to hart or hare,
And crowd with keep and castled height
The void abyme of air.
"And I can bridge the ocean-stream;
On moorland waste and wild,
Bid forest wave, or palace gleam
By silver lake in-isled.
"And I can wake śrial strain,
The moping mood to cheer,
As viol, lute, orpherien,
Did mix sweet music near.
"And I can bid with hound and horn
The mimic huntsman ride
With shout o'er fell and forest borne,
Athwart the welkin wide.
"And I can make knight, countering knight,
Career with levelled lance,
Or dames and squires to bevy bright
In masque or merry dance.
"But there's one thing I cannot do;
I pray thee teach it me --"
(And round his neck her arms she threw,
And kissed him coaxingly.)
"How might a lady have her still
Her lord in loving bower,
Whence he could not, save at her will,
Without or wall or tower?
"Can magic build me bower like this?
O sweet methinks it were
In such a bower in life-long bliss
To hold thee prisoner!
"A happy bondman shouldst thou be --
A gentle jailer I --
When thou would'st forth, mine only fee
A kiss -- thy ransom high."
Sir Merlin frowned -- Sir Merlin sighed,
But as entranced he lay
On that fair breast, his purpose died,
He could not say her nay.
Ne'er loved the Lady Viviane,
It seemed so fondly well,
And long I ween ere morning dawn,
She learned that fatal spell!
In May, when flowers are springing fair,
And woods are bourgeoning,
And lustly love in earth and air
Lordeth each living thing,
Sir Merlin and his peerless make
Are wandering hand in hand
By flowery dell and forest brake
Through fair Broceliande
They drank them of that magic fount
Renowned in minstrel song,
That gusheth from his stony mount --
As by the wizard well they stood
-- To prove the legend true --
Against the rock in sportive mood
Some sprinkled drops they threw.
Amain, aloud, from shivered cloud
It dashed the drenching shower,
Beneath a linden's leafy shroud
The laughing lovers cower.
Then gaily on their way they wend
Thorough that forest fair,
In ferny glade, and briery bend,
Startling the hind and hare.
With linked arm in amorous talk
They stroll the forest through,
And clasp and kiss in lone wood-walk,
As loving pair will do.
Anon they reached the fairest nook
In that fair wood, a bower
O'er which a hoary hawthorn shook
Odorous its blossoms' shower.
The spot was fair, the lovers fain;
Beneath that hawthorn tree
Sir Merlin and fair Viviane
Disport them lovingly.
But summer's ray, and lover's play,
Will medicine kindly sleep;
On Viviane's lap Sir Merlin lay
And sunk in slumber deep.
The lady looked -- "He slumbers well,"
(She thought -- ah wo the hour!)
"Now is the time to prove my spell --
My spell of wondrous power!"
Gently Sir Merlin's head she's placed,
And slowly, on the ground;
Then muttering, with her wimple traced
A ring the hawthorn round.
Nine times that magic ring she made --
Nine times that spell she spoke,
Then on her lap the slumberer laid;
But when Sir Merlin woke,
He looked a wild, he looked a long
Upon his prison-bower;
It seemed a castle fair and strong,
Begirt with trench and tower.
Sir Merlin frown'd, Sir Merlin sigh'd,
Fair Viviane laughed the while;
"Such fortune still must fool betide
Will trust a woman's wile!
"The fatal coil thine art hath wove
Thine art can ne'er undo!"
And long with mightiest spell she strove,
But ah! she found it true.
And there that lady fond and fair --
The Lady of the Lake --
By day, by night, will oft repair
Her sweet solace to take.
But Arthur weeps in Carduel
His Merlin's mystic doom;
And Gawayne seeks, by down and dell,
In vain for Merlin's tomb!
NOTE. -- The above is the account which the Romance of Merlin gives of the final
disappearance of the great enchanter. Other versions of his story, differing altogether in the
circumstances from that adopted in the text, will be found in Drayton's Poly-Olbion, (Song v.);
in Spenser's Fairy Queen, (Book iii.); in the Morte Arthur, (Book iv.); and in Ariosto's
Orlando, Furioso, (Book iii.)
The Forest of Broceliand (or Brecheliant), the scene of so many of the adventures recorded in
the Round Table Romances was in Britany; and in the Twelfth Century it comprehended -- as
Chateaubriand in his Auto-biography informs us -- the districts composing the cantons of
Fougeres, Rennes, Becherel, Dinan, St Malo, and Dol. In it was situated the famous Well of Berenton
(or Belenton), which possessed the rare virtue of procuring for the neighbourhood, whenever needed,
a seasonable supply of rain, all that was necessary in order to this, being, that any one who drank
of it should, when he had done so, sprinkle some of the water on the rock whence the fountain issued.
The loss of Merlin, his counsel and his art, was deeply felt by King Arthur. As his disappearance had
been sudden and mysterious, Sir Gawayne, and other knights of the Round Table, volunteered their
services to go in quest of him. Why their search proved unsuccessful, the preceding poem will