Arthurian and Grail Poetry
In Arthur's House
By William Morris
In Arthur's house whileome was I
When happily the time went by
In midmost glory of his days.
He held his court then in a place
Whereof ye shall not find the name
In any story of his fame:
Caerliel good sooth men called it not,
Nor London Town, nor Camelot;
Yet therein had we bliss enow.--
Ah, far off was the overthrow
Of all that Britain praised and loved;
And though among us lightly moved
A love that could but lead to death,
Smooth-skinned he seemed, of rosy breath,
A fear to sting a lady's lip,
No ruin of goodly fellowship,
No shame and death of all things good.
Forgive the old carle's babbling mood;
As here I sit grey-haired and old,
My life gone as a story told,
Ye bid me tell a story too;
And then the evil days and few,
That yet were overlong for me
Rise up so clear I may not see
The pictures of my minstrel lore.
Well hearken! on a day of yore
From prime of morn the court did ride
Amidmost of the summertide
To search the dwellings of the deer
Until the heat of noon was near;
Then slackening speed awhile they went
Adown a ragged thorn-bushed bent
At whose feet grew a tangled wood
Of oak and holly nowise good:
But therethrough with some pain indeed
And rending of the ladies' weed
They won at last, and after found
A space of green-sward grown around
By oak and holly set full close;
And in the midst of it arose
Two goodly sycamores that made
A wide and little sun-pierced shade
About their high boles straight and green:
A fount was new-born there-between,
And running on as clear as glass,
Flowed winding on amid the grass
Until the thick wood swallowed it.
A place for happy folk to sit
While the hot day grew hotter still
Till eve began to work his will.--
So might those happy people think
Who grudged to see the red sun sink
And end another day of bliss
Although no joy tomorn should miss --
They laughed for joy as they drew nigh
The shade and fount: but lo, thereby
A man beside the fountain laid
The while his horse 'twixt sun and shade
Cropped the sweet grass: but little care
Had these of guile or giant's lair,
And scarce a foot before the Queen
Rode Gawain o'er the daisied green
To see what man his pleasure took;
Who rose up in meanwhile and shook
His tangled hair aback, as one
Who e'en but now his sleep hath done.
Rough-head and yellow-haired was he
Great-eyed, as folk have told to me,
And bib and stout enow of limb:
As one who thinks no harm he smiled,
And cried out: "Well met in the wild,
Fair King and Queen; and ye withal
Sweet dames and damsels! Well befal
This day, whereon I see thee nigh,
O Lancelot, before I die!
And surely shall my heart rejoice
Sir Gawain, when I hear thy voice!"
Then Lancelot laughed: "Thou knowest us then
Full well among a many men?"
"As quoth the lion to the mouse,"
The man said; "in King Arthur's House
Men are not names of men alone,
Bur coffers rather of deeds done."
The Queen smiled blithe of heart, and spake:
"Hast thou done deeds for ladies' sake?"
"Nay Dame," he said, "I am but young;
A little have I lived and sung
And seen thy face this happy noon."
The King said: "May we hearken soon
Some merry tale of thee? for I
Am skilled to know men low and high
And deem thee neither churl nor fool."
Said he, "My fathers went to school
Where folk are taught a many things,
But not by bliss: men called them kings
In days when kings were near to seek;
But as long thread waxeth weak,
So is it with our house; and now
I wend me home from oaken bough
Unto a stead where roof and wall
Shall not have over far to fall
When their last day comes."
As he spake
He reddened: "Nathless for their sake,
Whom the world I loved once, mock not me
O King, if thence I bring to thee
A morsel and a draught of wine,
Though nothing king-like here thou dine."
Of some kind word King Arthur thought,
But ere he spake the woodman caught
His forest-nag and leapt thereon,
And through the tangled brake was gone.
Then leapt the King down, glad at heart,
Thinking, This day shall not depart
Without some voice from days that were;
And lightly leapt down Guenevere,
And man and maid lay presently
Neath the bee-laden branches high,
And sweet the scent of trodden grass
Amid the blossoms' perfume was.
There long they lay, and little spake,
As folk right loth the calm to break;
Till lo upon the forest-breeze
A noise of folk, and from the trees
They came: the first-seen forester,
A grizzled carle in such-like gear,
And then two maidens poorly clad
Though each a silver chaplet had
And round her neck a golden chain:
And at last two varlets led a wain
Drawn by white oxen well bedight
With oaken boughs and lilies white;
Therein lay a cask of wine
And baskets piled with bread full fine,
And flesh of hart and roe and hare;
And in the midst upon a chair
Done over with a cloth of gold
There sat a man exceeding old
With long white locks: and clad was he
No other than his company
Save that a golden crown he bore
Full fairly fashioned as of yore,
And with a sword was girt about
Such as few folk will see I doubt.
Right great it was: the scabbard thin
Was fashioned of a serpent's skin,
In every scale a stone of worth;
Of tooth of sea-lion of the north
The cross was, and the blood-boot stone
That heals the hurt the blade hath done
Hung down therefrom in silken purse:
The ruddy kin of Niblung's curse
O'er tresses of a sea-wife's hair
Was wrapped about the handle fair;
And last a marvellous sapphire stone
Amidst of the great pommel shone,
A blue flame in the forest green.
And Arthur deemed he ne'er had seen
So fair a sword: nay not when he
The wonder of the land-locked sea
Drew from the stone that Christmas-tide.
Now forth the forest youth did ride,
Leapt down beside the King, and spake:
"King Arthur for thy greatness' sake
My grandsire comes to look on thee;
My father standeth here by me;
These maidens are my sisters twain;
My brethren draw out from the wain
Somewhat thy woodland cheer to mend."
Thereat his sire the knee did bend
Before the King, who o'er the brown
Rough sleeve of the man's homespun gown
Beheld a goodly ring:
And fell to greater marvelling
When he beheld how fine and fair
The woodman's kneeling sisters were.
And all folk thereby deemed in sooth
That (save indeed the first seen youth)
These folk were nobler e'en than those
Of Arthur's wonder of a house.
But now the elder drew anigh,
By half a head was he more high
Than Arthur or than Lancelot,
Nor had eld bent him: he kneeled not
Before the King, but smiling took
His hands in hands that nowise shook;
And the King joyed as he who sees
One of his fathers' images
Stand glad before him in a dream.
Then down beside the bubbling stream
They sat together, and the King
Was loth to fall a questioning;
So first the elder spake and said:
"It joys me of thy goodlihead
O great king of our land; and though
Our blood within thee doth not flow,
And I who was a king of yore
May scarcely kneel thy feet before,
Yet do I deem thy right the best
Of all the kings who rule the West.
I love thy name and fame: behold,
King Arthur, I am grown so old
In guilelessness, the Gods have sent,
Be I content or uncontent,
This gift unto my latter days
That I may see as through a haze
The lives and deeds of days to come:
I laugh for some, I weep for some --
I neither laugh nor weep for thee,
But trembling through the clouds I see
Thy life and glory to the end;
And how the sweet and bitter blend
Within the cup that thou must drink.
Good is it that thou shalt not shrink
From either: that the afterdays
Shall still win glory from thy praise
And scarce believe thee laid asleep
When o'er thy deeds the days lie deep."
He ceased but his old lips moved still,
As though they would the tale fulfil
His heart kept secret: Arthur's eyes
Gleamed with the pride that needs would rise
Up from his heart, and low he said:
"I know the living by the dead
I know the future by the past."
Wise eyes and kind the elder cast
Upon him; while a nameless fear
Smote to the heart of Guenevere,
And, fainting there, was turned to love:
And thence a nameless pain did move
The noble heart of Lancelot,
The store of longing unforgot.--
And west a little moved the sun
And noon began, and noon was done.