The Temptation of Arthur.

Where to the sea the woodlands fair dropped
So close, that ever when the moon was full2
Sea-fairies came and joined the wood-nymphs’
The king walked musing through the summer
morn ;
For in the night strange dreams had vexed his
sleep ;
And sad pathetic voices haunted him ;6
And dim forms beckoned him to glorious deeds ;7
So that he started up with haggard eyes,8
And would have no man’s comfort.
Far and near,9
The blossom-laden boughs were all astir,10
And with delicious murmur filled the land ;11
Like playful children prattling on the beach,12
The waves came up and hung around his feet ;13
Above, the sea-birds cried and flapped their wings ;14
Behind, the herons piped across the plain ;15
Through the dim wood a lark sang clear and shrill.16
The wind-fanned woodlands and the peaceful sea17
Were the familiar objects of his eye,18
Herein naught beautiful or strange he saw ;19
But when the lark sang clearly through the woods,20
And a deep stillness crept o’er sea and land,21
He paused and listened to the bird’s sweet notes.22
Then said the king, “ No common bird is this,23
But some rare spirit poising like a lark,24
And calling me to do some glorious deed25
Which shall ennoble all my Table Round,26
Making me worthiest of worthy knights.”27
Now, far and near, the lark sang clear and shrill.28
O sad, but happy spirit!” said the king,29
No tones of earth in those sweet notes find place ;30
Thou art of finer mould than our poor forms,31
Which move but with the birth of new desires,32
And are of constant elements devoid ;33
Thou dwellest somewhere in this happy place,34
And I will search for thee, and find thy home.35
Now the great boughs bend as I pass along ;36
With silver heads upreared, snakes hiss at me ;37
Now through the deepening gloom glow many
And voices murmur like the midnight sea.”39
Soon, far away, he spied a little grove,40
Through whose twined branches streamed the
morning sun
Upon the soft green grass that waved beneath ;42
And hastening on, and quickly reaching here,43
Behold, there sat upon a fallen tree44
A maiden weeping.
In her saddened face45
The lily and the rose each other vied ;46
Her eyes were violets hung with dewy tears ;47
Caressed by careless winds, her yellow hair48
Lay like a web of gold above the grass ;49
Along her naked feet and soft white hands50
The tangled brambles cruelly had trailed ;51
A samite mantle from her shoulders hung,52
And hid the sleeky roundness of her arms ;53
At two spears’ length there stood a milk-white
Who neighed and watched the maid with blood-
shot eyes.
The king drew near, and took her by the hand,56
Whereat she shrank afraid, and would have fled,57
But, looking up, and seeing a goodly knight,58
She blushed, and bent her head, and plucked a
flower ;
Then, gathering strength, she spoke to him, and
said :
O art thou one of those who yester-eve61
Slew my dear father and my brethren seven,62
And wasted all our lands with fire and sword ?”63
To which the king : “ Alas ! most desolate maid !64
Whose beauty seems as peerless as the skies ;65
Whose sorrows are as eaxly flowers which droop66
When frost-charms glitter in their chilly eyes ;67
Were these the chances strange which drove thee
All unattended, save by this sad steed ?”69
Then, looking up to him, she said : “ Fair knight !70
Thy voice is soft, and low, and free from guile ;71
Thy eyes seem full of pity to behold72
How I have fallen from my good estate ;73
For hither fled I through the weary night,74
My purpose to escape these savage men,75
And come to Guinevere at Camelot ;76
For then, indeed, some noble knight, intent77
On deeds of valour, might adventure forth,78
And re-instate me and my sisters dear,79
Who now are held in bondage by our foes.”80
To which, with eager gladness, said the king :81
Gather thy garments round thee : dry thy tears :82
Mount thy good steed, and lead me to the place.83
For never yet adventure have I had84
So full of wonder, and of promise too ;85
My heart feels younger, fresh blood through my
Rolls madly like a river in the spring ;87
Now through my mind there ever come and go88
Dim visions which the magic mirror threw89
When Merlin showed me all my life to be90
Stretched out before us like a landscape fair ;91
Then felt I as I now feel—never man92
Was moved so much, if the intent were small.”93
Now high in heaven the lark sang clear and shrill,94
While these twain wandered in the trackless woods ;95
And ever as they went upon their way,96
In soft sweet syllables she told him all,97
While on her face he looked, and she on his.98
And like the moon, which comes while yet ’tis day,99
Hanging upon the edge of some dark cloud100
Which serves to throw its saddened beauty forth ;101
So she did place her hands upon her face,102
Hiding her eyes, whose brightness shone the more103
The more she strove their brightness to conceal.104
What eyes are these,” he asked, “ which shine so
bright ?
These are not eyes, but surely two bright stars106
Which glimmer through the mists of coming eve.”107
Fair knight,’ she said, “you blame, but flatter
me ;
These are but eyes : you do not blame the stars109
Because the spirits of the moonlit sea110
Do sing to them: the stars are not to blame.111
So blame not me; and if my eyes seem bright112
To your vain fancy, say it is the gloom113
Which makes them seem so, or the happy fate114
Which led me to you ; and, my heart being full,115
My thanks must needs be spoken by my eyes.”116
To which the king : “ Thine eyes more glorious
And fill me with strange wonder and strange
Then she, in anxious haste : “ Far off I see119
A glimmer in the east, it is the moon ;120
And, see, the trees are fewer, and beyond121
The open country ; further on the wood,122
Where was my father’s castle : let us on.”123
Then through the daisied meadows, where the
Whispering “ Beware !” looked shyly at the king ;125
Along the banks of many languid pools,126
From which came slimy things to gloat at them ;127
By gloomy groves, whence came the mocking
Of “ Cuckoo ! Cuckoo !” all the livelong day ;129
And round the wave-washed melancholy coast,130
O’er which the gathering clouds kept awful watch,131
While sea-gulls wheeled and shrieked around the
cliffs ;
And by the plains where many herons piped,133
He went with her ; until, at length, they came134
Unto the borders of a dismal wood.135
She took his hand, and led him to a path136
Which ran between two rows of savage pines ;137
And down this path she went, and he with her.138
Cooing of ringdoves calling to their mates139
Betokened that the day was waning fast.140
Soon the drear forest and the evening shades141
Enfolded them; and night came on apace.142
Then dark clouds hemmed the sad and passionful
And not one single ray of gentle light144
Lingered amid that weird and awful place.145
Ere long they came to where a mountain gorge146
Lay coiled beneath a dreadful precipice,147
All thick with firs and many a mountain yew,148
High in the sky; and as the tempest rose149
The branches bent and broke, and thickly fell150
Around them ; and huge rocks forsook the cliffs151
And crashed and thundered down the dismal
gorge ;
And from afar a noise of waters came153
Like the dull rolling moan of many seas ;154
And leaping cataracts foamed and hissed along,155
And tumbled to the plains somewhere below.156
Close to his face he felt her tangled hair157
In snake-like folds twining around his neck,158
While wan as wintry dawn did seem his face.159
Then, when a hollow gust swept down the gorge,160
Moaning and mocking like a thing of sin,161
In melancholy mood she crept to him,162
And hid her cold face close to his, and looked163
Into his wildered eyes, and clung to him164
And “ Arthur !” cried, and all the mountain sides165
Echoed “ Arthur!” Then when calmer grown,166
Because the storm was passed and it was light,167
She murmured “ Not far off my land doth lie—168
Soft lawns, cool streams, and woodlands wondrous.169
Come, prithee, sweet, and let us leave this place.”170
So ever on they went, until they came171
To a rare valley nestled ’mid the hills172
Like a sweet thought within a lover’s heart ;173
Wherein there was a little wood all filled174
With choicest scents and most delicious sounds,175
Which the sad clouds withdrew far off to hear ;176
While full of love the tender moon came forth.177
All this is mine, and may be thine,” said she.178
To which the king, a melancholy man :179
Is this thy father’s castle ? Where are they,180
Thy brethren seven and thy sad sisters three ?181
For whose dear sakes, and thine, and to add fame182
Unto my name and to the Table Round,183
Hither came I, led by thy guileful tongue.184
This is no earthly place : these sights and sounds185
Are most unholy ; prithee, lead me forth186
And leave me to myself, and let me go187
To my brave knights and to my Guinevere !”188
And even as he spoke this well-loved name189
His mind ran back unto the happy day190
When all the land was filled with holy joy191
Because he called his Guinevere “ Dear wife !”192
But when he cast his eyes upon the ground193
And they met hers which passionately uplooked,194
A sickly sadness came and stayed with him.195
Which seeing, she with anxious tone outspoke :196
Now, good sir knight, I trow thou art not pleased,197
And wherefore ? For these woods have sights to
And all of them are mine ; say what thou wilt.199
Should’st thou be merry ?— then in truth no lack.200
Of food for merriment shall here be found.201
And why not merry ?  I am never sad,202
Who most have cause to be ; for now, alas !203
I see thou lov’st me not.”
To which the king :204
Woman with flame-like hair and lustful eyes,205
Thy pretty syllables. and dainty smiles,206
Nought heed I ; for I know now who thou art,207
Not many moons have spent their mellow strength208
Since by such arts as thine was Merlin trapped ;209
But, know thou that I am not one of those210
Whose passions are their masters, not their serfs211
Soft arms and speechful eyes and rosy lips212
I hold as nothing ; therefore let me go !”213
To which the guileful damsel, creeping close,214
And twining both her arms about his neck,215
And hiding his still face amid her hair,216
And pressing her hot lips upon his lips,217
With many a tearful start, replied, and said :218
Some there are who are sad, and, yet, therein219
Find greater pleasure than in all their joys.220
So be it, sweet, with you when you are sad.221
And wherefore sad ?  Answer, ye moonlit woods !222
O sweet ! for thou art sweeter than the dawn,223
Sweeter than violets by south winds kissed,224
Sweeter than coo of doves when love is young,225
Or than the moon when she is in her prime.226
I love thee ! For it fell upon a day227
That coming up to Camelot at the jousts228
(When deeds of daring thick as daisies were)229
I saw thee with thy true and goodly knights,230
And then I swore that I would make thee mine231
Ere the young moon had burnt herself away.”232
While this she said, behold the mellow moon233
Grew wan and wanner ; and the happy stars234
Slid from the sky like smiles from some fair face ;235
All unattended came the simple dawn ;236
The forest was astir with many sounds—237
Birds, brooks, and fairy footfalls everywhere,238
And gleeful laughter only half suppressed ;239
Then high in heaven a lark sang sadly shrill,240
Like a lost spirit in a world of woe.241
Then he : “ If good things in this place there be,242
Or in the heavens above, or earth below,243
Who have of knighthood charge, I pray their aid.”244
Thereat she smiled a weird and hollow smile,245
And put her lips close to his clammy brow,246
And strove to comfort him with honeyed words.247
To which the king : “ Thy tender voice I hear248
Sounding like whispers from the underworld ;249
Thy eyes of flame my weary senses pierce ;250
Thy snake-like tresses coil around my neck ;251
Upon my parched lips hot kisses fall ;252
And soft arms fold me in a fond embrace :—253
But not thy gleeful words, thy eyes of flame,254
Nor tangled hair which coils around my neck,255
Nor kisses hot, nor arms which fondly twine,256
Can make me break mine all-accustomed vows ;257
For I am cold as stone, and cannot melt258
Before the white heat of a woman’s love.259


And thou wilt give me all these wondrous woods,260
And make me lord of many tables round !261
O wily snakes, that show your speckled sides,262
Ye are not wily as a woman’s tongue !263
Take off thy lips, they seem as hot as flame,264
And when they fall upon my haggard face265
Do hiss like sparks that fall into a pool.266


Come forth, O sun ! and cheer me, or I faint.267
Afar thou shinest in the happy south,268
But shunnest this sad place. O, Guinevere !269
Mine own dear wife ! where art thou ? Tristram,
The truest knight of all my Table Round ;271
And thou, most gentle Lady of the Lake,272
Who gavest me my sword, and bid me forth273
To consecrate the right and cleave the wrong,274
Where, too, art thou, when most thy aid I need ?”275
Now high in heaven a lark sang very clear.276
Hush ! what ! that sound ?  Do’st hear it ? ’Tis
the lark
Which called me forth to this adventure sad,278
And now, perchance, doth come to lead me back,279
Sent by the gentle Lady of the Lake.”280
And now the birds stopped half-way in their song,281
The weird sad voices died amid the woods,282
And sudden silence dropped around the place.283
A little breeze up-sprang, and tossed her hair284
In savage splendour round about her face ;285
Her lips were cold and bloodless ; with both hands286
She thrust him from her, while with stony eyes287
She gazed at him ; then, hissing through closed
Fool !” turned away and fled among the woods.289
Then high in heaven sang the happy lark,290
And dropped and dropped, until it rested safe291
Within the spreading branches of an oak.292
And, as with eager haste he raised his hands293
To catch the bird, he heard a rustling sound,294
And, turning round, with wondering eyes he saw295
Sir Tristram and the Lady of the Lake.296
She took his hand, and led him forth to where297
The silly sea toyed with the tangled weed ;298
And in this quiet creek a vessel lay.299
Embarking here with Tristram, from afar300
Up-sprang fair winds; so that in one day’s space301
He found his wistful knights at Camelot.302
And all these wondered where the king had been,303
And marvelled how much older he had grown ;304
But none knew, save those twain who led him forth,305
Sir Tristram and the Lady of the Lake.306