Arthurian and Grail Poetry
By Algernon Charles Swinburne
The sun was heavy; no more shade at all
Than you might cover with a hollow cup
There was in the south chamber; wall by wall,
Slowly the hot noon filled the castle up.
One hand among the rushes, one let play
Where the loose gold began to swerve and droop
From his fair mantle to the floor, she lay;
Her face held up a little, for delight
To feel his eyes upon it, one would say.
Her grave shut lips were glad to be in sight
Of Tristram's kisses; she had often turned
Against her shifted pillows in the night
To lessen the sore pain wherein they burned
For want of Tristram; her great eyes had grown
Less keen and sudden, and a hunger yearned
Her sick face through, these wretched years agone.
Here eyes said "Tristram" now, but her lips held
The joy too close for any smile or moan
To move them; she was patiently fulfilled
With a slow pleasure that slid everwise
Even into hands and feet, but could not build
The house of its abinding in her eyes,
Nor measure any music by her speech.
Between the sunlight came a noise of flies
To pain sleep from her, thick from peach to peach
Upon the bare wall's hot red level, close
Among the leaves too high for her to reach.
So she drew in and set her feet, and rose
Saying "Too late to sleep; I pray you speak
To save me from the noises, lest I lose
Some minute of this season; I am weak
And cannot answer if you help me not,
When the shame catches on my brow and cheek.
"For in the speaking all her face grew hot,
And her mouth altered with some pain, I deem
Because her word had stung like a bad thought
That makes us recollect some bitter dream.
She bowed to let him kiss her, and went on:
"All things are changed so, will this day not seem
Most sad and evil when I sit alone
Outside your eyes? will it not vex my prayer
To think of laughter that is twin to moan,
And happy words that make not holier?
Nathless I had good will to say one thing,
Though it seems pleasant in the late warm air
To ride alone and see the last of spring.
I cannot lose you, Tristram; (a weak smile
Moved her lips and went out) men say the king
Hath set keen spies about for many a mile,
Quick hands to get them gold, sharp eyes to see
Where your way swerves across them. This long while
Hath Mark grown older with his hate of me,
And now his hand for lust to smite at us
Plucks the white hairs inside his beard that he
This year made thicker. Seeing this he does
I pray you not that we may meet with him
At riding through the branches growth, and then
Our wine grow bitter at the golden rim
And taste of blood and tears, not sweet to drink
As this new honey wherein juices swim
Of fair red vintage." Her voice done, I think
He had no heart to answer; yet some time
The noon outside them seem to throb and sink,
Wrought in the quiet to a rounded rhyme.
Then "certes," said he, "this were harm to both
If spears grew thick between the beech and lime,
Or amid reeds that let the river south,
Yet so I think you might get help of me.
Had I not heart to smile, when Iseult's mouth
Kissed Palomydes under a thick tree?
For I remember, as the wind sets low,
How all that peril ended quietly
In a green place where heavy sunflowers blow."