King Arthur made new knights to fill the gap

Left by the Holy Quest; and as he sat

In hall at old Caerleon, the high doors

Were softly sundered, and through these a youth,

Pelleas, and the sweet smell of the fields

Past, and the sunshine came along with him.

`Make me thy knight, because I know, Sir King,

All that belongs to knighthood, and I love.’

Such was his cry: for having heard the King

Had let proclaim a tournament–the prize

A golden circlet and a knightly sword,

Full fain had Pelleas for his lady won

The golden circlet, for himself the sword:

And there were those who knew him near the King,

And promised for him: and Arthur made him knight.

And this new knight, Sir Pelleas of the isles–

But lately come to his inheritance,

And lord of many a barren isle was he–

Riding at noon, a day or twain before,

Across the forest called of Dean, to find

Caerleon and the King, had felt the sun

Beat like a strong knight on his helm, and reeled

Almost to falling from his horse; but saw

Near him a mound of even-sloping side,

Whereon a hundred stately beeches grew,

And here and there great hollies under them;

But for a mile all round was open space,

And fern and heath: and slowly Pelleas drew

To that dim day, then binding his good horse

To a tree, cast himself down; and as he lay

At random looking over the brown earth

Through that green-glooming twilight of the grove,

It seemed to Pelleas that the fern without

Burnt as a living fire of emeralds,

So that his eyes were dazzled looking at it.

Then o’er it crost the dimness of a cloud

Floating, and once the shadow of a bird

Flying, and then a fawn; and his eyes closed.

And since he loved all maidens, but no maid

In special, half-awake he whispered, `Where?

O where? I love thee, though I know thee not.

For fair thou art and pure as Guinevere,

And I will make thee with my spear and sword

As famous–O my Queen, my Guinevere,

For I will be thine Arthur when we meet.’

Suddenly wakened with a sound of talk

And laughter at the limit of the wood,

And glancing through the hoary boles, he saw,

Strange as to some old prophet might have seemed

A vision hovering on a sea of fire,

Damsels in divers colours like the cloud

Of sunset and sunrise, and all of them

On horses, and the horses richly trapt

Breast-high in that bright line of bracken stood:

And all the damsels talked confusedly,

And one was pointing this way, and one that,

Because the way was lost.

And Pelleas rose,

And loosed his horse, and led him to the light.

There she that seemed the chief among them said,

`In happy time behold our pilot-star!

Youth, we are damsels-errant, and we ride,

Armed as ye see, to tilt against the knights

There at Caerleon, but have lost our way:

To right? to left? straight forward? back again?

Which? tell us quickly.’

Pelleas gazing thought,

`Is Guinevere herself so beautiful?’

For large her violet eyes looked, and her bloom

A rosy dawn kindled in stainless heavens,

And round her limbs, mature in womanhood;

And slender was her hand and small her shape;

And but for those large eyes, the haunts of scorn,

She might have seemed a toy to trifle with,

And pass and care no more. But while he gazed

The beauty of her flesh abashed the boy,

As though it were the beauty of her soul:

For as the base man, judging of the good,

Puts his own baseness in him by default

Of will and nature, so did Pelleas lend

All the young beauty of his own soul to hers,

Believing her; and when she spake to him,

Stammered, and could not make her a reply.

For out of the waste islands had he come,

Where saving his own sisters he had known

Scarce any but the women of his isles,

Rough wives, that laughed and screamed against the gulls,

Makers of nets, and living from the sea.

Then with a slow smile turned the lady round

And looked upon her people; and as when

A stone is flung into some sleeping tarn,

The circle widens till it lip the marge,

Spread the slow smile through all her company.

Three knights were thereamong; and they too smiled,

Scorning him; for the lady was Ettarre,

And she was a great lady in her land.

Again she said, `O wild and of the woods,

Knowest thou not the fashion of our speech?

Or have the Heavens but given thee a fair face,

Lacking a tongue?’

`O damsel,’ answered he,

`I woke from dreams; and coming out of gloom

Was dazzled by the sudden light, and crave

Pardon: but will ye to Caerleon? I

Go likewise: shall I lead you to the King?’

`Lead then,’ she said; and through the woods they went.

And while they rode, the meaning in his eyes,

His tenderness of manner, and chaste awe,

His broken utterances and bashfulness,

Were all a burthen to her, and in her heart

She muttered, `I have lighted on a fool,

Raw, yet so stale!’ But since her mind was bent

On hearing, after trumpet blown, her name

And title, `Queen of Beauty,’ in the lists

Cried–and beholding him so strong, she thought

That peradventure he will fight for me,

And win the circlet: therefore flattered him,

Being so gracious, that he wellnigh deemed

His wish by hers was echoed; and her knights

And all her damsels too were gracious to him,

For she was a great lady.

And when they reached

Caerleon, ere they past to lodging, she,

Taking his hand, `O the strong hand,’ she said,

`See! look at mine! but wilt thou fight for me,

And win me this fine circlet, Pelleas,

That I may love thee?’

Then his helpless heart

Leapt, and he cried, `Ay! wilt thou if I win?’

`Ay, that will I,’ she answered, and she laughed,

And straitly nipt the hand, and flung it from her;

Then glanced askew at those three knights of hers,

Till all her ladies laughed along with her.

`O happy world,’ thought Pelleas, `all, meseems,

Are happy; I the happiest of them all.’

Nor slept that night for pleasure in his blood,

And green wood-ways, and eyes among the leaves;

Then being on the morrow knighted, sware

To love one only. And as he came away,

The men who met him rounded on their heels

And wondered after him, because his face

Shone like the countenance of a priest of old

Against the flame about a sacrifice

Kindled by fire from heaven: so glad was he.

Then Arthur made vast banquets, and strange knights

From the four winds came in: and each one sat,

Though served with choice from air, land, stream, and sea,

Oft in mid-banquet measuring with his eyes

His neighbour’s make and might: and Pelleas looked

Noble among the noble, for he dreamed

His lady loved him, and he knew himself

Loved of the King: and him his new-made knight

Worshipt, whose lightest whisper moved him more

Than all the rangd reasons of the world.

Then blushed and brake the morning of the jousts,

And this was called `The Tournament of Youth:’

For Arthur, loving his young knight, withheld

His older and his mightier from the lists,

That Pelleas might obtain his lady’s love,

According to her promise, and remain

Lord of the tourney. And Arthur had the jousts

Down in the flat field by the shore of Usk

Holden: the gilded parapets were crowned

With faces, and the great tower filled with eyes

Up to the summit, and the trumpets blew.

There all day long Sir Pelleas kept the field

With honour: so by that strong hand of his

The sword and golden circlet were achieved.

Then rang the shout his lady loved: the heat

Of pride and glory fired her face; her eye

Sparkled; she caught the circlet from his lance,

And there before the people crowned herself:

So for the last time she was gracious to him.

Then at Caerleon for a space–her look

Bright for all others, cloudier on her knight–

Lingered Ettarre: and seeing Pelleas droop,

Said Guinevere, `We marvel at thee much,

O damsel, wearing this unsunny face

To him who won thee glory!’ And she said,

`Had ye not held your Lancelot in your bower,

My Queen, he had not won.’ Whereat the Queen,

As one whose foot is bitten by an ant,

Glanced down upon her, turned and went her way.

But after, when her damsels, and herself,

And those three knights all set their faces home,

Sir Pelleas followed. She that saw him cried,

`Damsels–and yet I should be shamed to say it–

I cannot bide Sir Baby. Keep him back

Among yourselves. Would rather that we had

Some rough old knight who knew the worldly way,

Albeit grizzlier than a bear, to ride

And jest with: take him to you, keep him off,

And pamper him with papmeat, if ye will,

Old milky fables of the wolf and sheep,

Such as the wholesome mothers tell their boys.

Nay, should ye try him with a merry one

To find his mettle, good: and if he fly us,

Small matter! let him.’ This her damsels heard,

And mindful of her small and cruel hand,

They, closing round him through the journey home,

Acted her hest, and always from her side

Restrained him with all manner of device,

So that he could not come to speech with her.

And when she gained her castle, upsprang the bridge,

Down rang the grate of iron through the groove,

And he was left alone in open field.

`These be the ways of ladies,’ Pelleas thought,

`To those who love them, trials of our faith.

Yea, let her prove me to the uttermost,

For loyal to the uttermost am I.’

So made his moan; and darkness falling, sought

A priory not far off, there lodged, but rose

With morning every day, and, moist or dry,

Full-armed upon his charger all day long

Sat by the walls, and no one opened to him.

And this persistence turned her scorn to wrath.

Then calling her three knights, she charged them, `Out!

And drive him from the walls.’ And out they came

But Pelleas overthrew them as they dashed

Against him one by one; and these returned,

But still he kept his watch beneath the wall.

Thereon her wrath became a hate; and once,

A week beyond, while walking on the walls

With her three knights, she pointed downward, `Look,

He haunts me–I cannot breathe–besieges me;

Down! strike him! put my hate into your strokes,

And drive him from my walls.’ And down they went,

And Pelleas overthrew them one by one;

And from the tower above him cried Ettarre,

`Bind him, and bring him in.’

He heard her voice;

Then let the strong hand, which had overthrown

Her minion-knights, by those he overthrew

Be bounden straight, and so they brought him in.

Then when he came before Ettarre, the sight

Of her rich beauty made him at one glance

More bondsman in his heart than in his bonds.

Yet with good cheer he spake, `Behold me, Lady,

A prisoner, and the vassal of thy will;

And if thou keep me in thy donjon here,

Content am I so that I see thy face

But once a day: for I have sworn my vows,

And thou hast given thy promise, and I know

That all these pains are trials of my faith,

And that thyself, when thou hast seen me strained

And sifted to the utmost, wilt at length

Yield me thy love and know me for thy knight.’

Then she began to rail so bitterly,

With all her damsels, he was stricken mute;

But when she mocked his vows and the great King,

Lighted on words: `For pity of thine own self,

Peace, Lady, peace: is he not thine and mine?’

`Thou fool,’ she said, `I never heard his voice

But longed to break away. Unbind him now,

And thrust him out of doors; for save he be

Fool to the midmost marrow of his bones,

He will return no more.’ And those, her three,

Laughed, and unbound, and thrust him from the gate.

And after this, a week beyond, again

She called them, saying, `There he watches yet,

There like a dog before his master’s door!

Kicked, he returns: do ye not hate him, ye?

Ye know yourselves: how can ye bide at peace,

Affronted with his fulsome innocence?

Are ye but creatures of the board and bed,

No men to strike? Fall on him all at once,

And if ye slay him I reck not: if ye fail,

Give ye the slave mine order to be bound,

Bind him as heretofore, and bring him in:

It may be ye shall slay him in his bonds.’

She spake; and at her will they couched their spears,

Three against one: and Gawain passing by,

Bound upon solitary adventure, saw

Low down beneath the shadow of those towers

A villainy, three to one: and through his heart

The fire of honour and all noble deeds

Flashed, and he called, `I strike upon thy side–

The caitiffs!’ `Nay,’ said Pelleas, `but forbear;

He needs no aid who doth his lady’s will.’

So Gawain, looking at the villainy done,

Forbore, but in his heat and eagerness

Trembled and quivered, as the dog, withheld

A moment from the vermin that he sees

Before him, shivers, ere he springs and kills.

And Pelleas overthrew them, one to three;

And they rose up, and bound, and brought him in.

Then first her anger, leaving Pelleas, burned

Full on her knights in many an evil name

Of craven, weakling, and thrice-beaten hound:

`Yet, take him, ye that scarce are fit to touch,

Far less to bind, your victor, and thrust him out,

And let who will release him from his bonds.

And if he comes again’–there she brake short;

And Pelleas answered, `Lady, for indeed

I loved you and I deemed you beautiful,

I cannot brook to see your beauty marred

Through evil spite: and if ye love me not,

I cannot bear to dream you so forsworn:

I had liefer ye were worthy of my love,

Than to be loved again of you–farewell;

And though ye kill my hope, not yet my love,

Vex not yourself: ye will not see me more.’

While thus he spake, she gazed upon the man

Of princely bearing, though in bonds, and thought,

`Why have I pushed him from me? this man loves,

If love there be: yet him I loved not. Why?

I deemed him fool? yea, so? or that in him

A something–was it nobler than myself?

Seemed my reproach? He is not of my kind.

He could not love me, did he know me well.

Nay, let him go–and quickly.’ And her knights

Laughed not, but thrust him bounden out of door.

Forth sprang Gawain, and loosed him from his bonds,

And flung them o’er the walls; and afterward,

Shaking his hands, as from a lazar’s rag,

`Faith of my body,’ he said, `and art thou not–

Yea thou art he, whom late our Arthur made

Knight of his table; yea and he that won

The circlet? wherefore hast thou so defamed

Thy brotherhood in me and all the rest,

As let these caitiffs on thee work their will?’

And Pelleas answered, `O, their wills are hers

For whom I won the circlet; and mine, hers,

Thus to be bounden, so to see her face,

Marred though it be with spite and mockery now,

Other than when I found her in the woods;

And though she hath me bounden but in spite,

And all to flout me, when they bring me in,

Let me be bounden, I shall see her face;

Else must I die through mine unhappiness.’

And Gawain answered kindly though in scorn,

`Why, let my lady bind me if she will,

And let my lady beat me if she will:

But an she send her delegate to thrall

These fighting hands of mine–Christ kill me then

But I will slice him handless by the wrist,

And let my lady sear the stump for him,

Howl as he may. But hold me for your friend:

Come, ye know nothing: here I pledge my troth,

Yea, by the honour of the Table Round,

I will be leal to thee and work thy work,

And tame thy jailing princess to thine hand.

Lend me thine horse and arms, and I will say

That I have slain thee. She will let me in

To hear the manner of thy fight and fall;

Then, when I come within her counsels, then

From prime to vespers will I chant thy praise

As prowest knight and truest lover, more

Than any have sung thee living, till she long

To have thee back in lusty life again,

Not to be bound, save by white bonds and warm,

Dearer than freedom. Wherefore now thy horse

And armour: let me go: be comforted:

Give me three days to melt her fancy, and hope

The third night hence will bring thee news of gold.’

Then Pelleas lent his horse and all his arms,

Saving the goodly sword, his prize, and took

Gawain’s, and said, `Betray me not, but help–

Art thou not he whom men call light-of-love?’

`Ay,’ said Gawain, `for women be so light.’

Then bounded forward to the castle walls,

And raised a bugle hanging from his neck,

And winded it, and that so musically

That all the old echoes hidden in the wall

Rang out like hollow woods at hunting-tide.

Up ran a score of damsels to the tower;

`Avaunt,’ they cried, `our lady loves thee not.’

But Gawain lifting up his vizor said,

`Gawain am I, Gawain of Arthur’s court,

And I have slain this Pelleas whom ye hate:

Behold his horse and armour. Open gates,

And I will make you merry.’

And down they ran,

Her damsels, crying to their lady, `Lo!

Pelleas is dead–he told us–he that hath

His horse and armour: will ye let him in?

He slew him! Gawain, Gawain of the court,

Sir Gawain–there he waits below the wall,

Blowing his bugle as who should say him nay.’

And so, leave given, straight on through open door

Rode Gawain, whom she greeted courteously.

`Dead, is it so?’ she asked. `Ay, ay,’ said he,

`And oft in dying cried upon your name.’

`Pity on him,’ she answered, `a good knight,

But never let me bide one hour at peace.’

`Ay,’ thought Gawain, `and you be fair enow:

But I to your dead man have given my troth,

That whom ye loathe, him will I make you love.’

So those three days, aimless about the land,

Lost in a doubt, Pelleas wandering

Waited, until the third night brought a moon

With promise of large light on woods and ways.

Hot was the night and silent; but a sound

Of Gawain ever coming, and this lay–

Which Pelleas had heard sung before the Queen,

And seen her sadden listening–vext his heart,

And marred his rest–`A worm within the rose.’

`A rose, but one, none other rose had I,

A rose, one rose, and this was wondrous fair,

One rose, a rose that gladdened earth and sky,

One rose, my rose, that sweetened all mine air–

I cared not for the thorns; the thorns were there.

`One rose, a rose to gather by and by,

One rose, a rose, to gather and to wear,

No rose but one–what other rose had I?

One rose, my rose; a rose that will not die,–

He dies who loves it,–if the worm be there.’

This tender rhyme, and evermore the doubt,

`Why lingers Gawain with his golden news?’

So shook him that he could not rest, but rode

Ere midnight to her walls, and bound his horse

Hard by the gates. Wide open were the gates,

And no watch kept; and in through these he past,

And heard but his own steps, and his own heart

Beating, for nothing moved but his own self,

And his own shadow. Then he crost the court,

And spied not any light in hall or bower,

But saw the postern portal also wide

Yawning; and up a slope of garden, all

Of roses white and red, and brambles mixt

And overgrowing them, went on, and found,

Here too, all hushed below the mellow moon,

Save that one rivulet from a tiny cave

Came lightening downward, and so spilt itself

Among the roses, and was lost again.

Then was he ware of three pavilions reared

Above the bushes, gilden-peakt: in one,

Red after revel, droned her lurdane knights

Slumbering, and their three squires across their feet:

In one, their malice on the placid lip

Frozen by sweet sleep, four of her damsels lay:

And in the third, the circlet of the jousts

Bound on her brow, were Gawain and Ettarre.

Back, as a hand that pushes through the leaf

To find a nest and feels a snake, he drew:

Back, as a coward slinks from what he fears

To cope with, or a traitor proven, or hound

Beaten, did Pelleas in an utter shame

Creep with his shadow through the court again,

Fingering at his sword-handle until he stood

There on the castle-bridge once more, and thought,

`I will go back, and slay them where they lie.’

And so went back, and seeing them yet in sleep

Said, `Ye, that so dishallow the holy sleep,

Your sleep is death,’ and drew the sword, and thought,

`What! slay a sleeping knight? the King hath bound

And sworn me to this brotherhood;’ again,

`Alas that ever a knight should be so false.’

Then turned, and so returned, and groaning laid

The naked sword athwart their naked throats,

There left it, and them sleeping; and she lay,

The circlet of her tourney round her brows,

And the sword of the tourney across her throat.

And forth he past, and mounting on his horse

Stared at her towers that, larger than themselves

In their own darkness, thronged into the moon.

Then crushed the saddle with his thighs, and clenched

His hands, and maddened with himself and moaned:

`Would they have risen against me in their blood

At the last day? I might have answered them

Even before high God. O towers so strong,

Huge, solid, would that even while I gaze

The crack of earthquake shivering to your base

Split you, and Hell burst up your harlot roofs

Bellowing, and charred you through and through within,

Black as the harlot’s heart–hollow as a skull!

Let the fierce east scream through your eyelet-holes,

And whirl the dust of harlots round and round

In dung and nettles! hiss, snake–I saw him there–

Let the fox bark, let the wolf yell. Who yells

Here in the still sweet summer night, but I–

I, the poor Pelleas whom she called her fool?

Fool, beast–he, she, or I? myself most fool;

Beast too, as lacking human wit–disgraced,

Dishonoured all for trial of true love–

Love?–we be all alike: only the King

Hath made us fools and liars. O noble vows!

O great and sane and simple race of brutes

That own no lust because they have no law!

For why should I have loved her to my shame?

I loathe her, as I loved her to my shame.

I never loved her, I but lusted for her–


He dashed the rowel into his horse,

And bounded forth and vanished through the night.

Then she, that felt the cold touch on her throat,

Awaking knew the sword, and turned herself

To Gawain: `Liar, for thou hast not slain

This Pelleas! here he stood, and might have slain

Me and thyself.’ And he that tells the tale

Says that her ever-veering fancy turned

To Pelleas, as the one true knight on earth,

And only lover; and through her love her life

Wasted and pined, desiring him in vain.

But he by wild and way, for half the night,

And over hard and soft, striking the sod

From out the soft, the spark from off the hard,

Rode till the star above the wakening sun,

Beside that tower where Percivale was cowled,

Glanced from the rosy forehead of the dawn.

For so the words were flashed into his heart

He knew not whence or wherefore: `O sweet star,

Pure on the virgin forehead of the dawn!’

And there he would have wept, but felt his eyes

Harder and drier than a fountain bed

In summer: thither came the village girls

And lingered talking, and they come no more

Till the sweet heavens have filled it from the heights

Again with living waters in the change

Of seasons: hard his eyes; harder his heart

Seemed; but so weary were his limbs, that he,

Gasping, `Of Arthur’s hall am I, but here,

Here let me rest and die,’ cast himself down,

And gulfed his griefs in inmost sleep; so lay,

Till shaken by a dream, that Gawain fired

The hall of Merlin, and the morning star

Reeled in the smoke, brake into flame, and fell.

He woke, and being ware of some one nigh,

Sent hands upon him, as to tear him, crying,

`False! and I held thee pure as Guinevere.’

But Percivale stood near him and replied,

`Am I but false as Guinevere is pure?

Or art thou mazed with dreams? or being one

Of our free-spoken Table hast not heard

That Lancelot’–there he checked himself and paused.

Then fared it with Sir Pelleas as with one

Who gets a wound in battle, and the sword

That made it plunges through the wound again,

And pricks it deeper: and he shrank and wailed,

`Is the Queen false?’ and Percivale was mute.

`Have any of our Round Table held their vows?’

And Percivale made answer not a word.

`Is the King true?’ `The King!’ said Percivale.

`Why then let men couple at once with wolves.

What! art thou mad?’

But Pelleas, leaping up,

Ran through the doors and vaulted on his horse

And fled: small pity upon his horse had he,

Or on himself, or any, and when he met

A cripple, one that held a hand for alms–

Hunched as he was, and like an old dwarf-elm

That turns its back upon the salt blast, the boy

Paused not, but overrode him, shouting, `False,

And false with Gawain!’ and so left him bruised

And battered, and fled on, and hill and wood

Went ever streaming by him till the gloom,

That follows on the turning of the world,

Darkened the common path: he twitched the reins,

And made his beast that better knew it, swerve

Now off it and now on; but when he saw

High up in heaven the hall that Merlin built,

Blackening against the dead-green stripes of even,

`Black nest of rats,’ he groaned, `ye build too high.’

Not long thereafter from the city gates

Issued Sir Lancelot riding airily,

Warm with a gracious parting from the Queen,

Peace at his heart, and gazing at a star

And marvelling what it was: on whom the boy,

Across the silent seeded meadow-grass

Borne, clashed: and Lancelot, saying, `What name hast thou

That ridest here so blindly and so hard?’

`No name, no name,’ he shouted, `a scourge am I

To lash the treasons of the Table Round.’

`Yea, but thy name?’ `I have many names,’ he cried:

`I am wrath and shame and hate and evil fame,

And like a poisonous wind I pass to blast

And blaze the crime of Lancelot and the Queen.’

`First over me,’ said Lancelot, `shalt thou pass.’

`Fight therefore,’ yelled the youth, and either knight

Drew back a space, and when they closed, at once

The weary steed of Pelleas floundering flung

His rider, who called out from the dark field,

`Thou art as false as Hell: slay me: I have no sword.’

Then Lancelot, `Yea, between thy lips–and sharp;

But here I will disedge it by thy death.’

`Slay then,’ he shrieked, `my will is to be slain,’

And Lancelot, with his heel upon the fallen,

Rolling his eyes, a moment stood, then spake:

`Rise, weakling; I am Lancelot; say thy say.’

And Lancelot slowly rode his warhorse back

To Camelot, and Sir Pelleas in brief while

Caught his unbroken limbs from the dark field,

And followed to the city. It chanced that both

Brake into hall together, worn and pale.

There with her knights and dames was Guinevere.

Full wonderingly she gazed on Lancelot

So soon returned, and then on Pelleas, him

Who had not greeted her, but cast himself

Down on a bench, hard-breathing. `Have ye fought?’

She asked of Lancelot. `Ay, my Queen,’ he said.

`And hast thou overthrown him?’ `Ay, my Queen.’

Then she, turning to Pelleas, `O young knight,

Hath the great heart of knighthood in thee failed

So far thou canst not bide, unfrowardly,

A fall from HIM?’ Then, for he answered not,

`Or hast thou other griefs? If I, the Queen,

May help them, loose thy tongue, and let me know.’

But Pelleas lifted up an eye so fierce

She quailed; and he, hissing `I have no sword,’

Sprang from the door into the dark. The Queen

Looked hard upon her lover, he on her;

And each foresaw the dolorous day to be:

And all talk died, as in a grove all song

Beneath the shadow of some bird of prey;

Then a long silence came upon the hall,

And Modred thought, `The time is hard at hand.’





Lord Alfred Tennyson

More poems by Baron Alfred, Lord Tennyson