Arthurian and Grail Poetry
Peredur, The Son Of Evrawc Part 1
By Madison Cawein
Beyond the walls, past wood and twilight field,
The Usk slipped onward under wharf and wall
Of old Caerleon, rolling down, it seemed,--
Incarnadined with splendor of the west,--
The heathen blood of all of Arthur's wars.
So she had left him; and he stood alone
Within the carven casement, where a ray
Of sunset laid a bleeding spear athwart
The dark oak hall, and, on the arras gaunt
A crimson blade of battle red that dripped.--
And now life's bitterness took Peredur
By all his heart's strings, smiting. He would go,
Equipped for quest, through all the savagery
Of mountain and of forest. And this girl?--
Forget her! and her game of shuttlecock,
Of battledore and shuttlecock with his heart,
This Angharad! this child the Court had spoiled!
Now he remembered how he once had ridd'n,
Spurring his piebald stallion down the square,
Upon the King's quest, and a girl had laughed
From some be-dragoned balcony of walls
That faced the gateway; and in passing he
Had glimpsed her beauty. It was she. And then
He thought how she had haunted him for days,
For weeks; and how, returning to Caerleon,
His long quest ended, how it thus befell:
Deep snow had fallen and the winter wood
Lay carpeted with silence. And he rode
Into a vista where a raven lay
Slain of a hawk; some blood-drops dyed the snow.
He lost himself in quaint comparisons
Of how the sifted drift was as her skin;
The raven's feathers as her heavy hair;
And in her cheeks the health of maidenhood
Red as the blood-drops. So he sat and dreamed:
When one rode up in angry steel and spoke
Thrice to no answer, and in anger dashed
A gauntlet in his face and made at him:
And how he slew him and rode over him,
Fiercer than fire; then how he returned
To find her fairer than their Gwenddolen,--
Who, ere the coming of this loveliness,
Divided all men's hearts with Gwenhwyvar:--
Crowned beauty of the beautiful at Court,
With Gwenhwyvar, and fair among the fair.
Thus while he mused he thought he heard her voice:
Or was it fancy? teasing him with sounds
Of music and of words: or did he hear
Her lute below the creepered walls? whose leaves,
Crimson with autumn, reddened all the court,
Burning continual sunset, where she sat
Beside the ceaseless whisper of the foam
Of one faint fountain. Sweeter mockery
Had never held him: and he heard her sing:--
"Ask me not now to sing to thee
Songs I have loved to sing before.
I love thee not; it can not be:
The dream is done; the song is o'er.
"Come, hold my hands: look deep into
The heartbreak of my eyes that bore
Glad welcome erst and now adieu;
Adieu, adieu forevermore!
"Once more shalt kiss my mouth and brow;
Once more my hair,--as oft of yore
When it was love and I and thou,--
Then nevermore! ah, nevermore!
"Thou must not weep; I can not weep:
I love thee not; should I regret?--
Nay! go; forget my face and sleep,
Sleep and forget! sleep and forget!"
"Aye! that I will! thy face, thy form, thy voice,
O bird of spring! whose beak is in my heart.
Take out thy beak, and sing me back my soul!
O bird of spring," he said, "when flowers are dead
Thy wing will winter underneath the pine,
And hunger, for the summer that is gone,
Will slay thy music with the memory.
God give thou find no winter in thy heart
Whenas dost find the frost invades thy voice!
Ah, lovelier than thy song, there 's that in me
That harps and sings of thee; that troubadours
Thy beauty! ballades, sonnets it! and makes
A lyric of each heart-beat--all in vain:
Thou dost not heed, thou wilt not hear it sing.
Or, if thou dost, 'tis but in wantonness,
Indifference pretending interest: then praise,
A moiety, in mockery. And this
To one who 'd love thee over all belief,
Above all women and beyond all men."
She strummed her lute. He listened, and then laughed,
"God's life! our Dagonet might teach me sense,
The folly that I am!--What? have I slept
A sennight in the taking of the moon,
Or danced, sleep-footed, with the forest fays?--
One would imagine . . . No! . . . O silken Lust,
O Wantonness! whose soft, voluptuous skirts
Trail sweet contamination through these halls!
O lawless Love, whose evil influence
Haunts and parades Caerleon corridors!
O Vanity and Falsehood, throned within
The faithless Court, here is another soul,
Fresh, fragrant, like a wild-flower of the woods,
Ready and willing to be plucked and worn,
And placed among those soiled and hothouse flowers,
You long have worn, Isolt and Gwenhwyvar!
The forest flower, innocent as yet,--
The fairest, hence the more to be desired,
The quickest, too, to wither,--whose sweet name
Is Angharad! . . . Ho! page! my horse! my mail!--
God's wounds! my horse! my arms!--I will away!"
And many knights he passed, nor saw; who asked
What quest he rode. Inscrutable deeds behind
His visor, and along his sullen spear
Adventure bitter as a burning ray,
Into the night he galloped with the stars.
. . . . . . .