Arthurian and Grail Poetry
How Lancelot Came to the Nunnery in Search of the Queen
By S. Weir Mitchell
Three days on Gawain's tomb Sir Lancelot wept,
Then drew about him baron, knight, and earl,
And cried, "Alack, fair lords, too late we came,
For now heaven hath its own, and woe is mine:
But 'gainst the black knight Death may none avail.
I will that ye no longer stay for me.
In Arthur's realm I go to seek the Queen,
Nor ever more in earthly lists shall ride."
So, heeding none, seven days he westward rode,
And at the sainted mid-hour of the night
Was 'ware of voices, and above them all
One that he knew, and trembled now to hear.
Rose-hedged before him stood a nunnery's walls,
With gates wide open unto foe or friend.
Unquestioned to the cloister court he came,
And in the moonlight, on the balcony, saw
Beneath the arches nuns and ladies stand,
And in their midst a cowled white face he loved,
Whereat he cried aloud, "Lo, I am here!
Lo, I am here!--I, Lancelot, am here!
Would ye I came? I could not help but come."
Spake then the Queen, low-voiced as one in pain:
"Oh, call him here, I pray you call him here."
Then lit Sir Lancelot down, and climbed the stair,
And doffed his helm, and stood before the Queen.
But she that had great fear to see his face:
"Oh, sinless sisters, ye that are so dear,
Lo, this is he through whom great ills were wrought;
For by our love, which we have loved too well,
Is slain my lord and many noble knights.
And therefore, wit ye well, Sir Lancelot,
My soul's health waneth; yet through God's good grace
I trust, when death is come, to sit with Christ,
Because in heaven more sinful souls than I
Are saints in heaven; and therefore, Lancelot,
For all the love that ever bound our souls
I do beseech thee hide again thy face.
On God's behalf I bid thee straitly go,
Because my life is as a summer spent;
Yea, go, and keep thy realm from wrack and war,
For, well as I have loved thee, Lancelot,
My heart will no more serve to see thy face;
Nay, not if thou shouldst know love in mine eyes.
In good haste get thee to thy realm again,
And heartily do I beseech thee pray
That I may make amend of time mislived.
And take to thee a wife, for age is long."
"Ah no, sweet madam," said Sir Lancelot,
"That know ye well I may not while I breathe;
But as thou livest, I will live in prayer."
"If thou wilt do so," said the Queen, "so be.
Hold fast thy promise; yet full well I know
The world will bid thee back." -- "And yet," he cried,
"When didst thou know me to a promise false?
Wherefore, my lady dame, sweet Guinevere,
For all my earthly bliss hath been in thee,
If thou wilt no more take of this world's joy,
I too shall cease to know the bliss of life.
I pray thee kiss me once, and nevermore."
"Nay," said the Queen, "that shall I never do.
No more of earthly lips shall I be kissed."
Then like to one stung through with hurt of spears,
Who stares, death-blinded, round the reeling lists,
At gaze he stood, but saw no more the Queen;
And as a man who gropes afoot in dreams,
Deaf, dumb, and sightless, down the gallery stairs
Stumbling he went, with hands outstretched for aid,
And found his horse, and rode, till in a vale
At evening, 'twixt two cliffs, came Bedevere,
And with his woesome story stayed the knight.
At this, Sir Lancelot's heart did almost break
For sorrow, and abroad his arms he cast,
And cried, "Alas! ah, who may trust this world!"