Arthur is gone . . . Tristram in Careol
Sleeps, with a broken sword – and Yseult sleeps
Beside him, where the Westering waters roll
Over drowned Lyonesse to the outer deeps.
Lancelot is fallen . . . The ardent helms that shone
So knightly and the splintered lances rust
In the anonymous mould of Avalon:
Gawain and Gareth and Galahad – all are dust.
Where do the vanes and towers of Camelot
And tall Tintagel crumble? Where do those tragic
Lovers and their bright eyed ladies rot?
We cannot tell, for lost is Merlin’s magic.
And Guinevere – Call her not back again
Lest she betray the loveliness time lent
A name that blends the rapture and the pain
Linked in the lonely nightingale’s lament.
Nor pry too deeply, lest you should discover
The bower of Astolat a smokey hut
Of mud and wattle – find the knightliest lover
A braggart, and his lilymaid a ****.
And all that coloured tale a tapestry
Woven by poets. As the spider’s skeins
Are spun of its own substance, so have they
Embroidered empty legend – What remains?
This: That when Rome fell, like a writhen oak
That age had sapped and cankered at the root,
Resistant, from her topmost bough there broke
The miracle of one unwithering shoot.
Which was the spirit of Britain – that certain men
Uncouth, untutored, of our island brood
Loved freedom better than their lives; and when
The tempest crashed around them, rose and stood
And charged into the storm’s black heart, with sword
Lifted, or lance in rest, and rode there, helmed
With a strange majesty that the heathen horde
Remembered when all were overwhelmed;
And made of them a legend, to their chief,
Arthur, Ambrosius – no man knows his name –
Granting a gallantry beyond belief,
And to his knights imperishable fame.
They were so few . . . We know not in what manner
Or where they fell – whether they went
Riding into the dark under Christ’s banner
Or died beneath the blood-red dragon of Gwent.
But this we know; that when the Saxon rout
Swept over them, the sun no longer shone
On Britain, and the last lights flickered out;
And men in darkness muttered: Arthur is gone . . .