Arthurian and Grail Poetry

The Grave Of King Arthur[1]
By Thomas Warton

Stately the feast, and high the cheer:
Girt with many an armed peer,
Cilgarran, in thy castle hall,
And canopied with golden pall,
Sublime in formidable state,
And warlike splendour, Henry sate;
Prepar'd to stain the briny flood
Of Shannon's lakes with rebel blood.
Illumining the vaulted roof,
A thousand torches flam'd aloof:
From massy cups, with golden gleam
Sparkled the red metheglin's stream:
To grace the gorgeous festival,
Along the lofty-window'd wall,
The storied tapestry was hung:
With minstrelsy the rafters rung
Of harps, that with reflected light
From the proud gallery glitter'd bright:
While gifted bards, a rival throng,
(From distant Mona, nurse of song,
From Teivi, fring'd with umbrage brown,
From Elvy's vale, and Cader's crown,
From many a shaggy precipice
That shades Ierne's hoarse abyss,
And many a sunless solitude
Of Radnor's inmost mountains rude,)
To crown the banquet's solemn close,
Themes of British glory chose;
And to the strings of various chime
Attemper'd thus the fabling rime.
"O'er Cornwall's cliffs the tempest roar'd,
High the screaming sea-mew soar'd;
On Tintaggel's [2] topmost tower
Darksom fell the sleety shower;
Round the rough castle shrilly sung
The whirling blast, and wildly flung
On each tall rampart's thundering side
The surges of the tumbling tide:
When Arthur rang'd his red-cross ranks
On conscious Camlan's crimson'd banks:
By Mordred's faithless guile decreed
Beneath a Saxon spear to bleed!
Yet in vain a paynim foe
Arm'd with fate the mighty blow;
For when he fell, an elfin queen,
All in secret, and unseen,
O'er the fainting hero threw
Her mantle of ambrosial blue;
And bade her spirits bear him far,
In Merlin's agate-axled car,
To her green isle's enamel'd steep,
In the navel of the deep.
O'er his wounds she sprinkled dew
From flowers that in Arabia grew:
On a rich, inchanted bed,
She pillow'd his majestic head;
O'er his brow, with whispers bland,
Thrice she wav'd an opiate wand;
And, to soft music's airy sound,
Her magic curtains clos'd around.
There, renew'd the vital spring,
Again he reigns a mighty king;
And many a fair and fragrant clime,
Blooming in immortal prime,
By gales of Eden ever fann'd,
Owns the monarch's high command:
Thence to Britain shall return,
(If right prophetic rolls I learn)
Borne on Victory's spreading plume,
His antient scepter to resume;
Once more, in old heroic pride,
His barbed courser to bestride;
His knightly table to restore,
And the brave tournaments of yore."
They ceas'd: when on the tuneful stage
Advanc'd a bard, of aspect sage;
His silver tresses, thin-besprent,
To age a graceful reverence lent;
His beard, all white as spangles frore
That cloath Plinlimmon's forests hoar,
Down to his harp descending flow'd;
With Time's faint rose his features glow'd;
His eyes diffus'd a soften'd fire,
And thus he walk'd the warbling wire.
"Listen, Henry, to my read!
Not from fairy realms I lead
Bright-rob'd Tradition, to relate
In forged colours Arthur's fate;
Tho' much of old romantic lore
On the blest theme I keep in store:
But boastful Fiction should be dumb,
Where Truth the strain might best become.
If thine ear may still be won
With songs of Uther's glorious son;
Henry, I a tale unfold,
Never yet in rime enroll'd,
Nor sung nor harp'd in hall or bower;
Which in my youth's full early flower,
A minstrel, sprung of Cornish line,
Who spoke of kings from old Locrine,
Taught me to chant, one vernal dawn,
Deep in a cliff-encircled lawn,
What time the glistening vapours fled
From cloud-envelop'd Clyder's [3] head;
And on its sides the torrents gray
Shone to the morning's orient ray.
"When Arthur bow'd his haughty crest,
No princess, veil'd in azure vest,
Snatched him, by Merlin's potent spell,
In groves of golden bliss to dwell;
Where, crown'd with wreaths of misletoe,
Slaughter'd kings in glory go:
But when he fell, with winged speed,
His champions, on a milk-white steed,
From the battle's hurricane,
Bore him to Joseph's towered fane,
In the fair vale of Avalon: [4]
There, with chanted orison,
And the long blaze of tapers clear,
The stoled fathers met the bier;
Through the dim iles, in order dread
Of martial woe, the chief they led,
And deep intomb'd in holy ground,
Before the altar's solemn bound.
Around no dusky banners wave,
No mouldering trophies mark the grave:
Away the ruthless Dane has torn
Each trace that Time's slow touch had worn;
And long, o'er the neglected stone,
Oblivion's veil its shade has thrown:
The faded tomb, with honour due,
'Tis thine, O Henry, to renew!
Thither, when Conquest has restor'd
Yon recreant isle, and sheath'd the sword,
When Peace with palm has crown'd thy brows,
Haste thee, to pay thy pilgrim vows.
There, observant of my lore,
The pavement's hallow'd depth explore;
And thrice a fathom underneath
Dive into the vaults of death.
There shall thine eye, with wild amaze,
On his gigantic stature gaze;
There shalt thou find the monarch laid,
All in warriour-weeds array'd;
Wearing in death his helmet-crown,
And weapons huge of old renown.
Martial prince, 'tis thine to save
From dark oblivion Arthur's grave!
So may thy ships securely stem
The western frith: thy diadem
Shine victorious in the van,
Nor heed the slings of Ulster's clan:
Thy Norman pike-men win their way
Up the dun rocks of Harald's bay: [5]
And from the steeps of rough Kildare
Thy prancing hoofs the falcon scare:
So may thy bow's unerring yew
Its shafts in Roderick's heart embrew." [6]
Amid the pealing symphony
The spiced goblets mantled high,
With passions new the song impress'd
The listening king's impatient breast:
Flash the keen lightenings from his eyes;
He scorns awhile his bold emprise;
Ev'n now he seems, with eager pace,
The consecrated floor to trace;
And ope, from its tremendous gloom,
The treasures of the wonderous tomb:
Ev'n now, he burns in thought to rear,
From its dark bed, the ponderous spear,
Rough with the gore of Pictish kings:
Ev'n now fond hope his fancy wings,
To poise the monarch's massy blade,
Of magic-temper'd metal made;
And drag to day the dinted shield
That felt the storm of Camlan's field.
O'er the sepulchre profound
Ev'n now, with arching sculpture crown'd,
He plans the chantry's choral shrine,
The daily dirge, and rites divine.


Footnotes
[1] King Henry the Second, having undertaken an expedition into Ireland, to suppress a rebellion raised by Roderick king of Connaught, commonly called O Connor Dun, or the brown monarch of Ireland, was entertained, in his passage through Wales, with the songs of the Welsh Bards. The subject of their poetry was king Arthur, whose history had been so long disguised by fabulous inventions, that the place of his burial was in general scarcely known or remembered. But in one of these Welsh poems sung before Henry, it was recited, that king Arthur, after the battle of Camlan in Cornwall, was interred at Glastonbury abbey, before the high altar, yet without any external mark or memorial. Afterwards Henry visited the abbey, and commanded the spot, described by the Bard, to be opened: when digging near twenty feet deep, they found the body, deposited under a large stone, inscribed with Arthur's name. This is the ground-work of the following Ode: but for the better accommodation of the story to our present purpose, it is told with some slight variations from the Cronicle of Glastonbury. The castle of Cilgarran, where this discovery is supposed to have been made, now a most romantic ruin, stands on a rock descending to the river Teivi in Pembrokeshire: and was built by Roger Montgomery, who led the van of the Normans at Hastings.
[2] Tintaggel, or Tintadgel castle, where king Arthur is said to have been born, and to have chiefly resided. Some of its huge fragments still remain, on a rocky peninsular cape, of a prodigious declivity towards the sea, and almost inaccessible from the land side, on the southern coasts of Cornwall.
[3] Or Glyder, a montain in Caernarvonshire.
[4] Glastonbury abbey, said to be founded by Joseph of Arimathea; in a spot, antiently called the island, or valley, of Avalonia.
[5] The bay of Dublin. Harald, or Har-fager, The Fair-haired, king of Norway, is said, in the Life of Gryffudh ap Conan, prince of North Wales, to have conquered Ireland, and to have founded Dublin.
[6] Henry is supposed to have succeeded in this enterprise, chiefly by the use of the long-bow, with which the Irish were entirely unacquainted.