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“And statesmen at her council met
Who knew the seasons, when to take
Occasion by the hand, and make
The bounds of freedom wider yet
"By shaping some august decree,
Which kept her throne unshaken still,
Broad-based upon her people's will,
And compass'd by the inviolate sea.”
At Francis Allen's on the Christmas-eve,
The game of forfeits done—the girls all kiss'd
Beneath the sacred bush and past away-
The parson Holmes, the poet Everard Hall,
The host, and I sat round the wassail-bowl,
Then half-way ebb’d: and there we held a talk,
How all the old honour had from Christmas gone,
Or gone, or dwindled down to some odd games
In some odd nooks like this ; till I, tired out
With cutting eights that day upon the pond,
Where, three times slipping from the outer edge,
I bump'd the ice into three several stars,
Fell in a doze; and half-awake I heard
The parson taking wide and wider sweeps,
Now harping on the church-commissioners,
Now hawking at Geology and schism ;
Until I woke, and found him settled down
Upon the general decay of faith
Right thro' the world, “at home was little left,
And none abroad : there was no anchor, none,
To hold by.” Francis, laughing, clapt his hand
On Everard's shoulder, with “I hold by him.”
And I," quoth Everard, “by the wassail-bowl.”
"Why yes,” I said, “we knew your gift that way
At college : but another which you had,
I mean of verse (for so we held it then,)
What came of that?” “You know," said Frank, “he
His epic, his King Arthur, some twelve books”-
And then to me demanding why? "Oh, sir,
He thought that nothing new was said, or else
Something so said 'twas nothing—that a truth
Looks freshest in the fashion of the day :
God knows : he has a mint of reasons : ask.
It pleased me well enough." "Nay, nay," said Hall,
"Why take the style of those heroic times ?
For nature brings not back the Mastodon,
Nor we those times; and why should any man
Remodel models ? these twelve books of mine
Were faint Homeric echoes, nothing-worth,
Mere chaff and draff, much better burnt.”
Said Francis, “pick'd the eleventh from this hearth,
And have it : keep a thing, its use will come.
I hoard it as a sugar-plum for Holmes.”
He laugh’d, and I, though sleepy, like a horse
That hears the corn-bin open, prick'd my ears;
For I remember'd Everard's college fame
When we were Freshmen: then at my request
He brought it; and the poet little urged,
But with some prelude of disparagement,
Read, mouthing out his hollow oes and aes,
Deep-chested music, and to this result.
So all day long the noise of battle roll'd
Among the mountains by the winter sea;
Until King Arthur's table, man by man,
Had fall’n in Lyonness about their Lord,
King Arthur: then, because his wound was deep,
The bold Sir Bedivere uplifted him,
Sir Bedivere, the last of all his knights,
And bore him to a chapel nigh the field,
A broken chancel with a broken cross,
That stood on a dark strait of barren land.
On one side lay the Ocean, and on one
Lay a great water, and the moon was full.
Then spake King Arthur to Sir Bedivere :
“The sequel of to-day unsolders all
The goodliest fellowship of famous knights
Whereof this world holds record. Such a sleep
They sleep-the men I loved. I think that we
Shall never more, at any future time,
Delight our souls with talk of knightly deeds,
Walking about the gardens and the halls
Of Camelot, as in the days that were.
I perish by this people which I made,-
Tho' Merlin sware that I should come again
To rule once more—but let what will be, be,
I am so deeply smitten thro' the helm
That without help I cannot last till morn.
Thou therefore take my brand Excalibur,
Which was my pride : for thou rememberest how
In those old days, one summer noon, an arm
from out the bosom of the lake,
Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful,
Holding the sword—and how I row'd across
And took it, and have worn it, like a king :
And, wheresoever I am sung or told
In aftertime, this also shall be known:
But now delay not : take Excalibur,
And fling him far into the middle mere:
Watch what thou seëst, and lightly bring me word.
To him replied the bold Sir Bedivere :
"It is not meet, Sir King, to leave thee thus,
Aidless, alone, and smitten thro' the helm
A little thing may harm a wounded man.
Yet I thy hest will all perform at full,
Watch what I see, and lightly bring thee word.”
So saying, from the ruin'd shrine he stept
And in the moon athwart the place of tombs,
Where lay the mighty bones of ancient men,
Old knights, and over them the sea-wind
Shrill, chill, with flakes of foam. He, stepping down
By zig-zag paths, and juts of pointed rock,
the shining levels of the lake.
There drew he forth the brand Excalibur,
And o'er him, drawing it, the winter moon,
Brightening the skirts of a long cloud, ran forth
And sparkled keen with frost against the hilt :
For all the haft twinkled with diamond studs
Myriads of topaz-lights, and jacinth-work
Of subtlest jewellery. He gazed so long
That both his eyes were dazzled, as he stood,
This way and that dividing the swift mind,
In act to throw : but at the last it seem'd
Better to leave Excalibur conceal'd
There in the many-knotted waterflags,
That whistled stiff and dry about the marge.
So strode he back slow to the wounded king.
Then spake King Arthur to Sir Bedivere :
“Hast thou perform'd my mission which I gave ?
What is it thou hast seen? or what hast heard ?”
And answer made the bold Sir Bedivere : “I heard the ripple washing in the reeds, And the wild water lapping on the crag.”
To whom replied King Arthur, faint and pale:
“ Thou hast betray'd thy nature and thy name,
Not rendering true answer, as beseem'd
Thy fëalty, nor like a noble knight :
For surer sign had follow'd, either hand,
Or voice, or else a motion of the mere.
This is a shameful thing for men to lie.
Yet now, I charge thee, quickly go again
As thou art lief and dear, and do the thing
I bad thee, watch, and lightly bring me word.”
Then went Sir Bedivere the second time
Across the ridge, and paced beside the mere,
Counting the dewy pebbles, fix'd in thought;
But when he saw the wonder of the hilt,
How curiously and strangely chased, he smote
His palms together, and he cried aloud.
“And if indeed I cast the brand away,
Surely a precious thing, one worthy note,
Should thus be lost for ever from the earth,
Which might have pleased the eyes
What good should follow this, if this were done?
What harm, undone? deep harm to disobey,
Seeing obedience is the bond of rule.
Were it well to obey then, if a king demand
An act unprofitable, against himself?
The King is sick, and knows not what he does.
What record, or what relic of my lord
Should be to aftertime, but empty breath
And rumours of a doubt? but were this kept,
Stored in some treasure-house of mighty kings,
Some one might show it at a joust of arms,
Saying, 'King Arthur's sword, Excalibur,
Wrought by the lonely maiden of the Lake.
Nine years she wrought it, sitting in the deeps
Upon the hidden bases of the hills.'
So might some old man speak in the aftertime
To all the people, winning reverence.
But now much honour and much fame were lost."
So spake he, clouded with his own conceit,
And hid Excalibur the second time,
And so strode back slow to the wounded King.
Then spoke King Arthur, breathing heavily:
“What is it thou hast seen? or what hast heard ? "
And answer made the bold Sir Bedivere : “I heard the water lapping on the crag, And the long ripple washing in the reeds."
To whom replied King Arthur, much in wrath :
“Ah, miserable and unkind, untrue,
Unknightly, traitor-hearted ! Woe is me!
Authority forgets a dying king,
Laid widow'd of the power in his eye
That bow'd the will. I see thee what thou art,
For thou, the latest-left of all my knights,
In whom should meet the offices of all,
Thou wouldst betray me for the precious hilt ;
Either from lust of gold,
like a girl
Valuing the giddy pleasure of the eyes.
*Yet, for a man may fail in duty twice,
And the third time may prosper, get thee hence :
But, if thou spare to fiing Excalibur,
I will arise and slay thee with my hands."
Then quickly rose Sir Bedivere, and ran, And, leaping down the ridges lightly, plunged Among the bulrush-beds, and clutch'd the sword, And strongly wheel'd and threw it. The great brand Made lightnings in the splendour of the moon, And flashing round and round, and whirld in an arch, Shot like a streamer of the northern morn, Seen where the moving isles of winter shock By night, with noises of the northern sea. So flash'd and fell the brand Excalibur : But ere he dipt the surface, rose an arm Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful, And caught him by the hilt, and brandish'd him Three times, and drew him under in the mere. And lightly went the other to the King.
Then spoke King Arthur, drawing thicker breath: “Now see I by thine eyes that this is done. Speak out: what is it thou hast heard, or seen ?”
And answer made the bold Sir Bedivere : "Sir King, I closed mine eyelids, lest the gems