Alec de Candole
The Burial Of Arthur - Poem by Alec de Candole
THE night was dark on gentle Avalon,
No moon reflected in the lightless mere
Remembered day; no beams of starlight shone
With tender benediction; far and near
The waste of waters spread, unbroken, drear,
Save for one only crest, a little hill
That stood far-oft, in grandem black and sheer
In the wide lake that else the view did fill.
But could not top this peak, lonely, and calm, and still.
But blacker than the gloom of night, there came
Across the mere's smooth breast, a moving thing,
A boat, in silence and in hue the same
As those dark waters that it first did fling
So soundlessly aside, and after bring
Together, scarce a ripple showing where
The gliding ship had passed, which journeying
Carried them onward whom its bulk did bear,
And touched that lonely hill, and paused, and stranded there.
And three tall figures, vestured as the night.
Came from the boat, and stood upon the shore.
Beneath the silent mount's protecting height;
And as they came, with weary steps and sore
A coffin up the level beach they bore ;
Far had they come, and far from field and town
Had brought their burden ; now they came, once more,
Under the cover of Night's darkest frown.
At their long journey's end, weeping, to lay it down.
For hither from the shores of Lyonnesse
They voyaged, and the gaze of Bedivere,
The last of Arthur's knights whom that distress
Had left, that slew in one dark day of fear
His Table Round, and all his followers dear.
Comrades in many a battle's fierce delights;
Now all are gone, three queens have brought him here,
Him, the slain victor of a hundred fights,
Arthur, the flower of kings, the noblest knight of knights.
And as they bore him slow, uprose the moon,
Touching with darts of light the watery ways
In twinkling silence, calm and sweet; and soon
O'er those sad forms she shot her silver rays.
Whereat the mourners paused a little space.
While newborn hope seemed first their hearts opprest
To melt to peace, as full on Arthur's face
The moonbeams fell, and where upon his breast
His hands were crossed, as there he lay in kingly rest.
So standing there, they prayed a little while
For Arthur, and the land he left forlorn,
And still the moon-rays seemed like Heaven's smile
In answering blessing, promising the morn
Should follow darkness, and the realm so torn
Be healed; and then again they moved, and found
A new-dug grave, where him whom they had borne,
Full reverently, with no profaning sound.
They gave to peace at last, and laid within the ground.
And there they knelt, and each one with her veil
Covered her face in mourning and in prayer.
Yet none, for all their sorrow, with a wail
Profaned the dim and deathly silence there ;
But when they rose, the moonlight soft and fair
Showed them a form majestic, solemn, old.
Robed all in white, but his grey head was bare;
They gazed in awe, such aspect to behold,—
And, ' Who art thou? ' said one, whom wonder had made bold.
'Lo, I am he,' he said, 'who first foreknew
The reign of Arthur; from the raging sea
I took him ; while he then to manhood grew
Strength, wisdom, valour, first he learned of me;
Know ye not Merlin? I who bade him free
The realm of heathen foes, and by my spell
Brought him Excalibur, lo ! now that he
Is fallen where his knights around him fell,
I come to bring you hope, and future lame foretell,
'Arthur shall sleep in gentle Avalon,
And time and solitary sleep shall heal
His grievous wound, and he shall slumber on,
Not dead indeed, for still, unmoved and leal.
Within her heart this mighty realm shall feel
His spirit stirring, and his living; power
And dauntless valour still her soul shall steel;
And when the storm-clouds deepest o'er her lour
Arthur shall come again, to aid her darkest hour.
'So leave him, queenly mourners, who have borne
His body hither, leave him to his rest ;
Here in this vale, through many a night and morn,
He shall be soothed upon the earth's kind breast.
And after so long war, with peace be blest
Long time ; yet still his spirit her watch shall keep.
Though here his flesh repose; and if, opprest.
His country call him, howsoe'er to sleep
He seem, her cry shall rouse him from his slumbers deep.
'But go ye hence, and wait that glorious day.'
And so the three mysterious queens arose.
And o'er the moonlit waters sailed away.
And Merlin that strange way the wisest goes
No long time after went ; and he who knows
Can show where hills remote that gently rise
Shut in a valley where the river flows,
Beside whose stream, 'mid trees, and birds' wild cries.
Beneath an ancient mound the mighty Merlin lies.
But still they tell that tale of ancient time,
The happy years of Arthur's golden reign,
And still they speak of Merlin's wizard rhyme.
And long for Arthur to return again;
And o'er his tomb they built a glorious fane,
And worshipped God that sacred grave upon ;
And 'mid green fields the ruins still remain,
Where men may stand, and muse on Arthur gone,
There in the misty vale of gentle Avalon.
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