Sacred Texts  Legends/Sagas  England  Index  Previous  Next 

An Arthurian Miscellany at




For three long nights had King Arthur watch'd,
The light from the turret shone!
For three long nights had King Arthur wak'd,
He pass'd them all alone!

On the fourth, at the first hour's summon bell,
As the warder walk'd his round,
A figure cross'd at the postern gate,
That enters underground;

All wrapt it was in a monkish cowl,
By the gate-lamp burning dim,
When a double shadow slid across,
And another stood by him!

In low and broken tones they spoke,
Till the fourth hour ceas'd to ring:
That monk had Merlin's giant form,
The other was the king.

The morning shone on Camlan hills,
And the summon horn was blown;
But not a knight would mount the tow'r
Where Arthur watch'd alone!

When noon was past, the king came down,
He bore his dragon shield;
And dark and dread was his clouded brow,
On the eve of Camlan field!

Slowly past that fateful eve,
And sad it wore away;
And sad and silent was the king
As he watch'd the break of day;

All down the slope of Camlan hill,
And along the river's side,
The rebel bands were posted round,
Since the fall of eventide:

From the signal posts the shout begins,
When the sky was bright and clear;
And the red sun shone on the steel dragon,
On King Arthur's standard-spear!

Above the rest was Britain's crest
In living flame enroll'd!
And the Virgin's form, in silver wrought,
With the brazon dragon bold! [1]

O! in the field of Camlan fight,
Ere the burning noon was o'er,
The red blood ran, like a river-wave,
On the dry and parched shore:

King Arthur spurr'd his foaming horse
Amid that living flood! [2]
And twice he wav'd his witched sword
Where the dauntless Modred stood!

But who could stand by Arthur's side,
When that steel of terror shone?
When the fire of wroth was in his eye,
And he rais'd his arm alone!

That sun that blaz'd in middle sky,
And flam'd on hill and dell;
Its westering light had sunk in night,
When the mighty Modred fell!

But the blood that flows is Arthur's blood, [3]
His fiery eye is dim!
And a dew like death is on his face,
And over every limb!

He lean'd him down on his dragon shield,
He clasp'd his beaver on!
And the gushing blood it ceas'd at once,
But they heard no dying groan.

O! how they strove till the night came on,
And all to raise that masque again!
And every arm by turns had tried,
But every arm was vain!

They held him in their arms, and wept
With tears of deep despair!
Till they fear'd to touch that plate armour,
For the sound was hollow there!

Then they drew that witched sword,
And they heard the armour ring!
They wav'd it twice in Merlin's name
Before they touch'd the king.

At once the cross-lace open'd wide,
They felt the rushing air!
But that mail was hollow as the grave,
Nor form, nor body there.

As wild they gaz'd, the iron rings
Were clasped as before!
But the tongue that call'd on Merlin's name
Was dumb for ever more!

Mean time, the king was borne away,
In deep and death-like sleep the while,
To the charmed sea, by magic spell,
By the Queen of the Yellow Isle!

And when his tranced soul was rous'd,
He thought, and thought how this might be,
For there was nought but sea and sky
As far as he could see.

King Arthur gaz'd on the calmed surge,
So clear beyond compare!
But neither the form of living man,
Nor the sound of life was there:

The ship it mov'd on the sleeping wave
Like a bird upon the air;
He knew it gained on the deep,
But he felt no motion there!

O, then! he had no trace of time
How long he was on that pathless sea!
But he could have rested there for aye,
So sweet it seem'd to be!

How many times he watch'd the sun,
And saw it sink, he never knew;
For it ne'er was more than faint twilight
In that sky of stainless blue!

Ah! then he thought, within that ship
He ever more was doom'd to be!
And he had not once bethought him yet
Of Merlin's prophecy!

Those sleepless nights he watch'd alone,
When the damps of midnight fell!
That voice, of more than human tone,
He heard in Merlin's cell; [4]

That night, the eve of Camlan fight,
When he felt his courage fail;
When the chill of death was on his brow,
Like a bloodless vision pale;

That night, his knocking knees refus'd
To bear him from the cave;
When, press'd in his, the hand of blood
Its deadly pressure gave!

Clear was the sky, and O! with this
What summer could compare?
What woes could press on Arthur's heart,
When he breath'd that blessed air?

Clear was the sky! the ship drew near
Without the aid of wind or toil!
And, lighted by the morning sun,
He saw the charmed Isle!

The ship was steady on her keel,
Wash'd by that soft and lovely flood;
And, blushing, on the yellow beach,
The Queen of Beauty stood.

High in one hand, of snowy white,
A cup of sparkling pearl she bore;
And she reach'd it to the tranced king
As he knelt upon the shore:

All pallid now was Arthur's brow,
While he took the draught she gave;
For he thought on what the hand of blood
Had mingled in the cave:

He thought on what the fiend pronounc'd,
That Merlin's spirit brought;
And he fix'd his eyes on that ladie's face,
And trembled at the thought.

Ah! in these eyes, of softest blue,
What magic dwells, to lull the soul!
And Arthur saw their mild reproach,
And rais'd the fraughted bowl!

His lips have drain'd that sparkling cup,
And he turn'd on her his raptur'd eyes!
When something, like a demon-smile,
Betray'd the smooth disguise!

He started up! he call'd aloud!
And, wild, survey'd her as she stood:
When she rais'd aloof the other arm,
And he knew the hand of blood!

The voice, that answer'd to his call,
Was that he heard within the cave!
When the mighty form of Urien
Was roused from the grave! [5]

It told him, that the hour was come
He too must slumber in the cave;
When nought would reach his burial-place,
But the murmurs of the wave!

It told him of the years to pass
Before his kingdom he could see:
And Arthur knew he would return,
From Merlin's prophecy. [6]

King Arthur's body was not found,
Nor ever laid in holy grave:
And nought has reach'd his burial-place,
But the murmurs of the wave.


1 Arthur's shield had on it the picture of our Lady, and his helm, an engraven dragon.
-----SELDEN'S Notes to the Poly. Olb. Song IV.

2 Pendragon's worthie sonne, who waded there in blood.
-----Poly. Olb. Song IV

3 King Arthur, according to our ancient historians, slew Modred with his own hand; but received his death-wound himself, and retired to Ynys Ofallon, or Glastenbury, where he soon afterwards died. His death was politically concelaed, lest it should dispirit the Britons. Hence arose so many fabulous stories about it.
-----EVANS'S Specimens of Welsh Poetry

There the wise Merlin, whilome he wont, (they say,)
To make his wonne, low underneathe the ground
In a deep delve, farre from the vew of day
That of no living wight he mote be found,
When so he counseld, with his sprights encompast round:
And if thou ever happen that same way
To traveill, go to see that dreadful place:
It is an hideous hollow cave, (they say,)
Under a rock
-----SPENSER'S Faery Queene. Book III. Can. III.
5 Urien Regen, king of Cambria and a great part of Scotland, as far as the river Clyde. His brave actions are celebrated by Taliessin.
-----EVANS'S Specimens.

6 The bard-songs suppose, that, after the battle of Camlan in Cornwall, where Modred was slain and Arthur wounded, Morgan le Fay, an elfin lady, conveyed the body to Glastenbury, to cure it; which done, Arthur is to return to the rule of his country.
By prophecy Merlin set the date,
Among princes king incomparable,
His seat againe to Carlian to translate.
The Parchas sustren sponne so his fate,
His epitaph recordeth so certaine
Here lieth King Arthur that shall raigne againe.
-----DAN LIDGATE, See Notes to the Poly. Olb. Song III.
It will not perhaps be very consonant to popular feeling, that legendary tradition has been violated in the fate and disposal of this great, national hero. But it is all fairy-ground, and a poetical community of right to its appropriation has never been disputed.


Next: From the Diary of Iseult of Brittany, by Maurice Baring [1913]