The Quest Of Merlin: A Prelude - Poem by Richard Hovey
Interior of a cavern in the bowels of the earth, beneath Mount Hecla. Huge rock-fragments, amid which twists tortuously a great root of the tree Yggdrasil. A flickering flame, by the light of which are seen the NORNS, colossal but shadowy shapes, about a gigantic but indistinct Loom. Dull, heavy sounds, out of which arises a strange music, which resolves itself continually into imperfect harmonies, which leave the heart in unrest. A sense of striving and struggle beats through the music.
THE NORNS. We are the Recorders!
We are the Finishers!
Nothing we initiate;
All things we fulfil.
And Freyja and Loki,
Divine Balder and the other Immortals.
Whatsoever they begin,
Relentlessly we fulfil.
Ye, too, O men, are as gods;
Ye are free and the free create;
Ye have part in the Imperishable.
Ever as ye follow the Beautiful,
Shall the worm transfigure itself
And the new-born god appear.
But over your destinies we sit in doom;
Whatsoever ye begin,
Relentlessly we fulfil.
Think and we seize the thought;
Act and the deed once done
Sinks into our iron hands.
Only the unthought thought, O man,
Is thine own and the deed forborne.
Thou canst neither love nor doubt
But the doubt and the love alike
Pass into the infrangible weft of the world
That we weave with inexorable fingers.
We are the Queens of Time,
And, while Time is, we endure.
With the calm of the Empyrean
We mix not, neither dwell we therein;
But over the shifting
Our shuttles are inflexible.
God having given us Time,
Over Time we are greater than God.
We are the Finishers.
A low, foreboding roll of thunder.-MERLIN appears on a jutting crag in the cave, with a forked wand in his hand.-The flame flashes into sudden brilliancy, sharply defining the rocky walls of the cavern, but at once sinks back into its former weak and flickering indistinctness.-The NORNS remain motionless, noting none of these things, nor do they actually perceive MERLIN at any time.
Ye monstrous Glooms!
Known and Unknown!
To what avail
Through strifes and storms,
Athwart the Sea that bellows and booms
In the ear
With the threatening of dire dooms,
Strove I once alone
In the starless vast of the night of fear,
Dread Queens, to behold your throne?
Lo, all that passes
From your touch takes shape,
Yet in you I find not any shape at all.
Dimly the dusk glasses
To the view
Shadows that fall
Into the Void; the Verities escape.
Without you seeing is not nor thought,
Woe! I discern you not.
URD. Sisters, how should a man's eyes see the Void?
VERDANDE. Shadows of clouds he scans on a searchless sea.
SKULD. Between two Deeps a film of mist that shifts!
MERLIN. Shadowy ones!
Ye whom my eyes have seemed to see
Many times in the weary years!
Deeper and darker the riddle appears;
Muddier the river runs.
What are ye, Darknesses? Whence have ye risen?
Are ye or seem ye? What is it to seem or to be?
With the same awe I re-behold you
As when I first clave o'er the unroadwayed sea
And through the cavernous darks of Hecla's womb
The way to Odin's tomb-
To your earth-bound prison.
VERDANDE. The shuttle flies. The noise of men far off
Breaks faintly on our ears like a distant surf.
MERLIN. Prison, I call it, I hold you-
You, the Resistless, Monarchs of Days-
As verily slaves as we.
Slaves of the stone sceptre your own hands wield
Over the weirds of the world-
Or of some mightier Silence whose ways
I find not without me revealed
Nor within me enfurled.
URD. I hear a voice above the noise of men,
Like a bird's thin shriek shrilling o'er the surf.
MERLIN. Ever thus!
I pass and return,
But ye remain ever the same.
I see the weft wax and the pale flame burn;
I hear the dark words and ominous:
But never to me ye turn;
Me ye call not by name.
SKULD. The surf booms on, the billows break and cease,
And the gull's cry dissolves into the wind.
MERLIN. Answer my thought!
Ye have answered before,-
So mightily wrought
My strenuous lore.
By the wand in my hand
I command you to show
All the veils may conceal,
That it ails me to know.
Man and wife, is it weal?
Man and wife, is it woe?
Ye see not the wand;
Ye see not the mage:
As two straws in your hand
Are the fool and the sage.
Ye know not I utter;
Ye know not ye heed;
But the words that ye mutter
Shall answer my need.
VERDANDE. Woe to the maiden, for her doom is dark!
SKULD. Woe to the knight! His thread is stained with blood.
URD. Woe to the Prince! For a witless fault great woe!
MERLIN. Alas! for all mortals
Sorrow sits waiting.
Into the Future peers.
From the dark portals
Issue the Fears.
VERDANDE. Weal for the lovers, after many days!
URD. Ay, but they first shall sail a bitter sea!
SKULD. Weal for the King, but not till the kingdom pass!
MERLIN. Weal and woe!
A dark saying!
Yeaing and naying!
How shall I know?
URD. The seer and the seeing and the seen-
Are not these three things known and yet unknown?
VERDANDE. To live is better far than not to live-
Yea, and to live is worse than not to live.
SKULD. The womb-the tomb-and each of these is all-
And he that acts, is wise and is unwise.
MERLIN. A womb and a tomb!
VERDANDE. Who weds this woman hath a royal wife.
URD. Behold the man she loves, a king of men!
SKULD. Each man must choose his wife and bide his lot.
MERLIN. She loves the Prince!-
A queenly one!-
Whom else should he wed?
Who else should share his throne?
Daughters of Time! ye speak and convince.
I have chosen a way to tread.
URD. Marriage the calm gods give, a crown of life;
Marriage we give, not they, a kissing curse.
MERLIN. A rhymeless Rune-
Is and Is Not.
Solve me the riddle!
Is there no overword?
VERDANDE. Darkness and light ring round the globe of things,
And each pursues the other as it flies.
MERLIN. Know ye the wand?
With the wand I compel you.
SKULD. A Dragon slaying forever a deathless Queen!
There is no wit in us to make this clear.
MERLIN. Not in you?
Where then? In myself?
He strikes his own forehead with the wand.- A black formless mark appears on his brow.-He falls in a swoon.
THE NORNS. Over the Loom
Brooding and bending,
Weave we the ending,
A robe for repayment.
Hands from the Nowhere
Reach the threads here to us.
Hands only appear to us.
Knowing not the Living Ones,
Weave we their raiment.
He who beholds us,
Seeing no others
Timeless and Free,
Knows us and knows us not-
But finds not the Mothers.
Into the void deeps,
Blackness of Darkness
Above and about him,
Falls he forever.
As the NORNS sing, the scene becomes more and more indistinct, until, at the last stanza, their words issue from utter darkness.-A confused sound, like a low rumbling. Then a clear tenor voice is heard singing: 'Nonne anima plus est quam esca; et corpus plus quam vestimentum?'-A ray of light breaks through the darkness, and now the song of the SYLPHS is heard. The light grows brighter, until, when the SYLPHS cease singing, the scene is completely illuminated.-It is a grove, with a Greek temple in the background. MERLIN lies, still in his swoon, upon the ground.- The NORNS have disappeared, and beautiful figures, in classic drapery, pass in and out among the trees.
SYLPHS. The fleet wind's footing
Is light on the roses.
Wherever he goes is
The lilt of his luting,
The little green apples
He sways and swings.
The leaves are a-quiver,
Touched by his wings.
The cheek of the river
Dimples and dapples,-
The light mist-wreathing
Is drifted and thinned.
The lark flies flinging
His song on the wind.
The wind with his singing
Mingles its breathing,-
There is no one wisteth
The way that it goeth.
The wind bloweth
Whither it listeth,-
GNOMES [beneath, unseen]. Ho, ho! Ho, ho!
In the earth below,
Like worms that coil
In a slow turmoil,
We huddle and struggle
And delve and toil.
Ho, ho! Ho, ho!
Under the ground,
Clogged and bound,
We strive and strain
To be rid of the chain,
As a caged beast rages
To roam again.
Ho, ho! Ho, ho!
For the brooks to flow!
Hear ye us? Hark!
We're at work in the dark,
And in and out
We burrow about
Amid caves and graves
With a song and a shout-
Ho, ho! Ho, ho!
For the trees to grow!
The old earth
Hears our mirth
As a thing astir
In the womb of her,
A boding of birth
And a harbinger.
Ho, ho! Ho, ho!
For the flowers to blow!
NAIADS [in a stream in the background]. Maidenly strong,
With a joyous song,
Very merrily is the river as it ripples along.
The vales are voicing
A great rejoicing;
Earth laughs with flowers as the sky with morn,
For a child is born,
For a child is born.
From sky and earth
Is the river's birth-
O the gentle joy of the river's mirth!
There is never a staying
In all its playing-
Waylaying and straying from morn to morn-
For a child is born,
For a child is born.
Who knows-who knows
Why the river flows?
Coming and going-what comes and goes?
There is no resting
In all its hasting.
What is it that ripples and leaps along
With a glad, sweet song,
With a ceaseless song?
ANGELS [above, in a burst of sunlight].
Glory to God in the highest!
Behold, His dwelling is the Sun
And the glory thereof His open doors.
He and the blue of heaven are one
And the Sea's dædal-paven floors.
He is the Beholden;
With Him to be is to be seen;
Without Him spring were never green
Nor autumn golden;
By Him the nerves of sight are stirred;
Beside Him there is nought but Night;
He uttereth His eternal word,
'Let there be light,' and there is light.
Glory to God in the highest!
The ANGELS disappear, soaring upward; the NAIADS sink under the waters; and the SYLPHS fade into the air.
MERLIN [awakening]. Sweet goddess, raise thy veil! . . . A dream, a dream!
Methought that I was in the utter night.
So black it was, sight was not, nay, nor thought-
Only a sense of falling. Suddenly
A great light shone about me and a form,
As of a potent goddess, moved across
The circle of my sight. Queen-like, she wore
A threefold crown, and in her hand she kept
A mirror wherein, wonderfully glassed,
Meseemed I saw the mystery of things-
Wried in a sort but rimmed about with wonder.
And by her side there crawled a shackled slave
That kissed the mirror. From her head there fell
A veil that clad whatever form she bore
In awful folds, so that I could not see
If she were fair or foul. Yet from her gait
A sound came singing, as it were the voice
Of many dulcimers. Whereat I cried
Aloud and woke. . . What vale is this? The leaves
Show not the tiniest mote-fleck of decay.
Each little grass-blade-ay, the very mushrooms,
Perfect as in a poet's thought of them!
My boyhood's dream of what the world might be!
Ah me! I dream still. This is a sweet nothing-
The phantasmagory of a thought-crazed brain.
I am too old to cheat myself with dreams.
I have dropped my plummet into the great deeps,
But nowhere found I this. This is a dream. . .
What eyes are those that peer between the leaves
With laughter in their looking? Do I see
Or do I dream I see brown beautiful arms
And breasts half-hidden by the russet gown,
A-shift like jack-a-lanterns in the trees?
DRYADS [half-seen in the trees].
See the queer old fellow
With the moss-gray beard!
His eyes are bleared
And his skin is yellow.
Prying and peering-
He can hardly see,
For his eyes grow dark;
And the voice of a tree
Is too fine for his hearing.
For him, when blossoms are blowing,
No fruitage appears.
Deaf are his ears
To the music of growing.
The leaf in the flower,
The flower in the fruit,
The fruit in the seed
And the seed in the root!
There is only the need
Of the eye and the hour.
Come and catch us, Grizzle!
Why stand a-gaze?
Take the sunshiny ways!
Quit the fog and the drizzle!
Break the split wand
And be done with the magic!
Know thyself truly,
Only shown wholly
To the Lover we stand.
MERLIN. Something is stirring in the leaves, but what
My old eyes grow too misty to make out.
I catch a sound of singing, but the words
Escape me. Alas! the wisdom of the old
Is like a miser's hoard-laid up with toil
To lavish on a mistress-she being dead,
The old man counts his useless treasure over,
More joyless that it once had brought such joy.
Enter a rout of FAUNS, crowned with ivy and vine leaves, and dancing and singing to the sound of their tambourines. As they sing, they make mops and mows at MERLIN.
FAUNS. Hear the crickets chirrup!
Jolly little fellows!
Summer's in the stirrup
In his reds and yellows.
The bumble-bee hangs over
The honey-hearted clover-
Lazy, drunken rover!
Buzz! buzz! buzz!
Foxes in the poultry-yard,
Making free with chickens!
Crows in the cornfield,
Scratching like the dickens!
[Enter PAN and SATYRS, with Pan-pipes.]
PAN. Pipe! pipe!
For it's merry to live in the shade-
To lunch on the hillside under the trees,
To munch lush figs and oranges
And crunch fat pig-nuts, lying at ease,
Looking over the summer seas.
SATYRS. Pipe! pipe!
For it's merry to live in the shade!
FAUNS and SATYRS [softly, as PAN pipes.]
While the great god Pan pipes sweetly.
Whist! all whist!
His fingers ripple featly
Over the oaten keys-
A noise as of many trees
And of all sweet sounds together,
Brooks that laugh in the intervales,
Birds and bees in the dreaming dales
The cool breeze whispering low all-hails
Over the sunlit heather
In the sleepy summer weather.
PAN sits by the river, surrounded by SATYRS. The FAUNS gather about MERLIN. The scene becomes cloudier.
On the height to-night-
Speed the news, speed the news!
Sting and smite
The wind with a tempest of shrill halloos!-
When the lynx is abroad and the red moon shines
Through the rents in the roof of the raftered pines,
And the black clouds rise from the muttering east
And the hot winds storm from the tremulous south,
There shall be the pale foam of passionate faces a-surge
With a sea-like iterant urge,
Round the fire and the feast,
And the red blood shall be smirched on the blood-red mouth
There's a feast afoot.
The torrent howls like a hungry brute
And the owls shriek-Tu-whoo! tu-whoo!
FAUNS [about MERLIN].
Tickle his ear!
Tickle his nose!
Hey, old wrinkle-face, isn't it queer?
Sneeze, now-sneeze-ah!--there she goes!
Enter BASSARIDS, with cymbals, noisily. As they sing, BACCHUS appears in a car drawn by leopards. He is surrounded by MÆNADS, bearing beakers of wine.
BASSARIDS. Hark! the lean wolf yelps!
And his eyes are red balls in the dark;
And the whine of the she-bear's whelps
Wails on the wind-hark!
Hasten, Sun, to the dolphining west!
Speed, black Night, from the hooded east!
Bring to our nostrils the smell of the feast!
Bring the locks unbound and the limbs released
And the tigerish lover that bites the breast!
The torn red flesh and the beakers of blood!
And the riot and rush through the maddening wood!
Hark! the wolf! U-lu-lo! U-lu-lo!
BACCHUS. Wine, ho! wine, ho!
Set the goblets ringing!
Clink, clink! clink, clink!
Hail, the laughter-bringing!
Wine that makes the blood beat fast
And sets the senses tingling!
How the world goes reeling past
To the wine-cups jingling-
Reeling, wheeling round about,
In and out, to and fro!-
The trees spin with us in our rout
And leap as long ago-ho, ho!
And leap as long ago
They jigged it to Amphion's lyre-
Wine and Song have one desire.
MÆNADS. Wine, ho! Clink, clink!
-The goblets chime.
Wine, ho! Drink, drink!
So we conquer time.
Time lies drunk among the reeds,
Sleeping off his evil deeds.
BACCHUS. Let the future brood and bode
Let the past go spinning!
Pluck the roses by the road,
You'll find them worth the winning.
Let the tipsy days go by,
Take their gifts! Let them go!
Laugh back at the laughing sky,
And when the storm-winds blow-ho, ho!
And when the storm-winds blow,
Outdin the thunder-throated skies
With tumult of your revelries!
MÆNADS. Wine, ho! wine, ho!
Through the veins a-laughing,
Like a sparkle on the flow
Of the upland brooks that go
Seaward wavering-swift, slow!
Wine, ho! wine, ho!
The god pours out his life-blood so
That madmen may be quaffing.
The SATYRS, BASSARIDS, and FAUNS crowd about BACCHUS and produce cups which they fill from his exhaustless wine-skins. The FAUNS drag MERLIN to the centre and crown him with vine-leaves. The MÆNADS caress him and ply him with wine.
MÆNADS. Come, old wherefore-seeker,
Let the Fates go flying!
See within the beaker
Joy imprisoned lying,
Like a sunbeam taken
In a rougish eye!
Drink! let life awaken
And grave-mold wisdom die!
Thought is gray and life is green-
These are what men choose between.
FULL CHORUS. Wine, ho! wine, ho!
See it foam and flash-yeo-heigh!
Wine, ho! wine, ho!
Let the cymbals clash!
The deep hill-gorges
Buffet back our orgies.
The heart throbs quicker, quicker,
With a lightning-leap of mirth,
As the madness of the liquor
Turns the blood to flaming ichor
And makes music of the earth.
See the crags shake to and fro,
Toppling to the lake below!
Wine, ho! wine, ho!
Yeo-heigh! merrily, merrily.
A FAUN. Thy lips are teasing to be kissed.
A MÆNAD. Kiss me, then, but catch me first.
A SATYR. Love dries up my throat like thirst.
Let me clasp thee as I list!
A BASSARID. The swift fire slays me.
SATYR. Joy! she wavers
Another FAUN. Leave us, goat-heels! She's for me.
BASSARID. Fight it out! We like to see
Battles for our favors.
FAUNS and SATYRS. The garments slipping in the dance
Show here a breast and there a thigh.
BASSARIDS. The wild beast glares in every glance.
MÆNADS. There are shady coverts nigh.
Exeunt FAUNS and SATYRS tumultuously, chasing MÆNADS and BASSARIDS. BACCHUS, laughing, follows them leisurely in his car. MERLIN attempts to follow, but falls tipsily. The scene lightens.
PAN. O river rippling at my feet
Among the reeds and rushes!
O leaves that lisp applause to greet
The thrilling of the thrushes!
Some prescience of the reedy life hushes the noisy stream,
And whispering leaf to leaf, the listening bushes of bird-songs dream.[Exit PAN.
ANGELS [above, unseen].
The Lord God is a God of the living.
To the works of His word
The Lord's heart is not chary of giving
The life-blood of the Lord.
Through the manifold forms of His moulding
It streams, and its working is rife,
Forever enfleshed and unfolding-
Though the beast rend his fellow asunder
And the hawk on the slain lark feeds,
He hath made them whose voice is the thunder
And He knoweth His deeds.
Without night were no dawn
And day were not known to be day.
But what eye understands?
Who knoweth His way?
Tiger and fawn
Alike are the work of His hands.
Yea, Darkness He maketh and Strife,
Who is Light and Love;
And Death hath He wrought, who is Life;
And Change, who sits changeless above.
But under the earth and the heaven
The arms that uphold them abide,
And Death shall be slain, say the Seven
That stand by His side.
[A pause. Enter MAB and FAIRIES.]
FAIRIES. With the pallid lunar dawn
Trip we forth from Avalon,
And our mirth
Ripples o'er the dreaming earth.
Over hill and valley dancing
Goes the tinkling of the beat
Of our many-twinkling feet
And the sound is as the glancing
Of moonlight on the lake.
Then when only watch-dogs wake,
Though the gates be kept and barred,
It goes hard
But we mock both bars and keepers,
And the sleepers
Rouse not for the silvery din
Of our noisy coming-in.
Or in the glen,
Far from the haunt of men,
Where the solemn owls protest
At our every light-heeled jest,
Like the stupid-wits they are,
With a hoot,
There our mischief is afoot,
And the twinkle of each star
Laughs back at us from afar.
[A dance of FAIRIES.]
MAB. Quick, fairies, to the river and scoop up
With shell-like hands a shower of watery pearls
To sprinkle on this ancient tippler here.
A FAIRY. What see I here? Am I so beautiful?
My Queen, look how the water glasses us.
The FAIRIES are absorbed in the contemplation of their reflection in the water. Enter PUCK and GOBLINS; afterward OBERON, TITANIA, and the ELVES.
GOBLINS. In the night,
Guided by uncertain torches
To pass beyond the porches
Of the templed universe,
To explore with midnight lore
Secrets hidden from the sun-
To seek the many in the one-
Whether the elements be four
How the rose blooms and grows,
With what blood its petal glows-
What meat doth it eat
In the eyeless underground.
Sure, some rare thing's to be found,
If we could but fathom it.
So we delve in doleful places
For its traces,
Where the dead lie inurned
And the paint rots from fair faces,
And the armor crumbles with rust,
And the body is returned
To its elemental dust.
PUCK. Ugk-gnn! Ugk-gnn! What a lugubrious chant!
You're not a whit better than so many frogs
That croak at eve in some o'ershadowed pool.
Why, what a mumbling is here of churchyards! Bats' blood!
We're in Avalon now. Be a little gayer. Surely,
We haven't entirely forgotten to be merry.
For my part, I have small taste for skulls, unless
They be sawn across and mounted for drinking-cups.
Give me a pumpkin every time, with holes
For eyesockets and nostrils, and a candle
To make you think the Devil himself is in it.
The GOBLINS have begun suddenly to dig in the ground. Out of it they produce a shining metal.
GOBLINS. Lo, here! Behold
What the earth doth hold!
Out of the clay
A brightness we bring,
Better than gold,
To the air and the day.
It is moonlight made
A substantial thing-
A splendor laid
Under the dark mould,
By witless gnomes in the days of old.
As the GOBLINS throw the metal up out of the earth, the ELVES take it and build of it a bridge over the stream.
ELVES. We travel with a little pack
Of wonder-tools upon each back,
As light as any feather;
We have a happy, handy knack
Of putting this and that together.
We spin the film of gossamer
The woodsman brushes from his face;
We weave the cobweb's airy lace
No gust can rend, a breath may stir;
We raise the mushroom's gay pavilion,
And duskier toadstools by the million;
We contrive the chestnut-burrs,
One is nothing if another
Be not by to make it more:
Brother atom knows its brother:
Two and two are more than four.
Give us tools and give us stuff-
We'll make contrivances enough.
PUCK. Bah! You play the sage detestably.
Now, here's one, lying by his trunk,
Proves his wisdom incontestably,
Getting sapiently drunk.
And in that condition, he perceives that marvellous structure you are so proud of, but as a thin line of light in the eastern sky, though it is already high noon. To the inspired vision of this bacchanalian wisdom here, everything is upside down, the trees gambol and pirouette, and the unintelligent ripples wink gravely and confidentially. He sees our heads where our heels are, and our heels where our heads are, our virtues as vices, and vice versa.
Rogues true and heroes scurvy-
So the world goes topsy-turvy.
TITANIA. Mocker of the elfin tribes,
Prithee, thy ungentle gibes.
I will bring the man release.
Mortal, who with weak sight still
To discern the true art fain,
I alone have will and skill
To clear the cobwebs from the brain.
Let the perfume of this flower,
Stealing to the seat of sense,
Free the spirit from their power
By its holy influence.
And yet I know that thou wilt spin
Still subtler films when these be gone,
To wrap the vacant vision in
And dim the light of Avalon.
OBERON. Where's Ariel? His wand shall change
This structure that my elves have wrought,
To something far beyond their thought,
It is a miracle so strange.
PUCK. You never do a thing yourself.
But some poor devil of an elf
Is made through weary leagues to beat
His wings or run on restless feet,
While you lie dreaming in the wood,
Lapped in inactive lassitude,
Wrapped like Morgana in the mist-
Sometimes I think you don't exist.
OBERON. Whimsiest of the fairy brood,
I cannot scold you if I would.
But keep a rein on what you say;
When I command, even you obey,
Who more than all delight to shirk.
I give the law, ye do the work.
[ARIEL has appeared on the bridge, which is completed.]
ARIEL. Far away I heard your call,
Lord and master of us all.
By your wishing I was caught
In the shadow-land of thought,
Where the midnight and the day
Mingle in a twilight gray,
Through which wander here and there
Wondrous fantasies of air,
Throngs of thewless Anakim,
Cities half-discerned, and dim
With a rosy veil of mist
Spreading into amethyst.
There that golden country lies,
Sometimes seen of mortal eyes
As a vision in the skies.
Wretches in the desert straying
See its silver fountains playing,
Hasten forward to their slaying;
For the hungry lion lies
Couched beneath the brazen skies,
And the vision faints and dies.
And the simple sailor flees
From the trancèd ships he sees,
Glamour of diableries.
But the graybeards smile and say,
'Arthur's sister, Morgan Fay,
Is in elfinland at play.
Trust her not, for she entices
Sagest wits with her devices.
Lo, this is not what it seems.'
-Yet it ne'er could haunt their dreams,
If it did not somewhere stand
On the firm unshifting land.
Thence I come and thither go.
Master, what you will I know,
And I do your bidding-so!
He touches the bridge with his wand. It is transfigured and becomes the rainbow-bridge, Bifrost, reaching from earth to heaven. The entire fairy rout march up and out of sight, singing.
[Enter APHRODITE and the LOVES.]
LOVES. Dædal-throned, imperishable Aphrodite!
Child of Zeus, O thou of the many-colored
Spirit, crafty-hearted, devising twofold,
Slayer and savior!
Who shall praise thee? Who shall be found whose fingers
Now may strike the Lesbian lute to greet thee
When thou leav'st the Paphian myrtle-coverts,
Yoking thy chariots
Lesbos-ward to cleave the dissolving ether?
Only inarticulate wild sea-voices
Sound, O sea-born Love, where thy lost sweet singer
Drifts with the sea-tides.
Yet thy lips are sweet as of old with laughters,
Time grows gray, but still in thy golden tresses,
Sunlight lurks and loiters, thou Queen forever,
Deathless and ageless!
[The VALKYRS appear, descending Bifrost.]
VALKYRS. Ho, for the harrying
And havoc of battle!
The crush of the conflict!
The clashing of spears!
Ho, for the hero!
Many and mighty
The foemen that meet him,
A white-hot mass
Of hammered metal!
Weapon and warrior
Welded in the war-forge!
So they surround him,
But he, heavy-handed,
Hacking them dauntlessly,
Does them to death.
We from Valhalla
Hasten and hover
Over the war-valley,
Heartening the heroes.
Ho, for the strong man,
Stout-hearted in strife,
Overthrown but unthralled,
Overborne but unbroken,
Daring and doing,
Mighty of will!
LOVES. What strange goddesses these, slender, with streaming hair,
Clean-limbed, vigorous, tall, fair as the pine is fair?
Lithe, strong, virginal forms treading with martial gait
Down yon sevenfold arch, resolute, stern, elate?
Lo, their helmets upcast splendors that stream to heaven,
Seven lights from the bridge, up from the helmets seven!
Conquest sleeps in their eyes, victory binds their brows,
Strength lies still on their lips, waiting till wars arouse.
Whence and why do they come, halting before our Queen?
What have we for their wills, passionless and serene?
Yet are they wondrous fair, fair in a sweet, strange wise,
With the sunlight in their hair and the blue sky in their eyes.
VALKYRS. Lo, the Goddess we seek!
The Queen from the South!
Lo, her delicate cheek!
Her adorable mouth!
Her eyes that are limpid with laughters, and sparkle as springs never dried by a drouth!
O gentleness, bending
With royal reserve!
O queenliness blending
With langours that swerve
Down the sweep of the lines of imperial limbs, that, stately and splendid of curve,
Rise poised like the calla,
Superb in its grace!
The gods in Valhalla,
O Queen, are a-gaze
With the rapture of rumors that reach them and rouse them to look on the light of thy face!
Come, then, and o'er us
Thy radiance throw!
In the heart of our chorus
Let love lie aglow,
As the breath of the brief northern summer that wakens the May-flowers under the snow.
APHRODITE. Maidens and gods and messengers of gods,
I see you fair and goodly and made bright
With flashing armor and with floating hair.
Not otherwise of old I saw the queen,
Hippolyta, whom yet for all her spears
I made to follow where at first she fled,
Compelling to rebellious loyalty,
Subduing her proud will to Theseus' love,
Even as the smiling of the sun subdues.
For strength is good, but strength that knows not love
Is as a random archer in the dark,
And many shafts are shot whose flight is vain,
And some work evil. Yet not this alone-
Ye bring me gifts as I bring gifts to you.
Love without will and might of the strong arm
Is bitterness and ashes of dead fruit.
Be my attendants, then; I need your spears.
LOVES and VALKYRS. Throw open your arms, O Valhalla!
Cry out and rejoice!
For she comes with the sunlit hair
And the face divinely fair,
And the brook-soft voice;
And a whisper of lutes is heard,
The rustle of unborn leaves in the air
And the song of an unseen bird.
Lift up your heads, O ye gates,
And the Queen of Love shall come in,
With the steel of the north in her hand
And the heart of the south within;
And the snow shall melt from the frozen land,
And the summer leaves be green.
Lift up your heads, O ye gates,
And the Queen of Love shall come in!
[Exeunt, singing, over the bridge Bifrost.]
Enter ARGENTE and eight MAIDENS, crowned with wreaths and carrying garlands in their hands.
MAIDENS. Rosebuds and apple-blossoms!
Fairer than they seem!
In our hair and in our bosoms
Lying in a dream!
Living and dreaming-
Visionless and mute-
Underneath their simple seeming
Lurketh flower and fruit.
Denying and averring
As yet they do not know-
Only an unconscious stirring
Where the thought shall grow.
Dreams of joy and sweetness
Fill each rosy leaf,
And the yearning for completeness
Is a dream of grief.
Wise without intellection,
Dreaming toward their fate,
Perfect in their imperfection,
Let them wait-
Let them wait.
MERLIN. If that thou be a spirit, or a dream,
Or but a wonder of sweet maidenhood,
I know not. But, I pray thee, maid or dream
Or spirit, be as gracious as thy looks.
I am a man much worn with years and sorrows.
Hither have I come I know not how, and where
I am I know not. Guide me hence, I pray,
-Or, since thou seemest attended as a queen,
Bid one of these thy servants go with me
And set my foot upon some way that leads
To many-towered Camelot. There I dwell
And serve King Arthur, counselling his reign.
ARGENTE. Thou sayest; I am a queen. But I reign not in the fashion that thou deemest;
Neither are these servants, but my kinswomen, among whom I am crowned by love only,
Service with service exchanging, their least with my most counted equal.
One, not unknown to thee, Merlin, is near, the ninth of my maidens,
And she, when she cometh, shall conduct thee whithersoever thou wilt. The way is
Not long to the battlements of Camelot, though long from Camelot hither.
MERLIN. I know not how thou knowest my name, and yet
With many marvels I am so distraught
That I no longer gape at anything.
What art thou, lady, and what place is this?
ARGENTE. I am the Lady of the Lake, and this is the valley of Avalon.
The violets of spring and the roses of summer and the fruitage of autumn
Here burgeon together, and the North here mingles with the South and is lost in it
As a lover is that lingers in the arms of his mistress till he swoons and is one with her.
Once hitherto hast thou seen me, O Merlin, when Nimue the water-witch
Sent thee with Arthur to the lake-shore, for a gift that should gain him his kingdom;
And there clave through the sheen of the shield that the lake holds up to the heaven
An arm for the boss of it that bare the great brand, Excalibur, and brandished it;
And Arthur with a cry sprang down to the shore where a light skiff lay for his using
And leaped to the oars, and the boat shot forward like the darting of a kingfisher,
Swift-sent by the urge of his eagerness out into the serene fire-splendor,
Till it stopped in the centre a-quiver as a arrow is that strikes in a target.
Then from my hands he received it.-But lo, she comes-Nimue!
NIMUE. Hail, my Queen!
MERLIN. What, the beautiful Nimue!
NIMUE. Welcome to Avalon, Master!
MERLIN. O lady, I should rather do
Thee reverence. Alas, what kingship sits
In these gray hairs? Master? The child treads firmlier
Over rough ways; but I, the seer, am blind
And grope and stumble like a man in the dark.
NIMUE. Ay, but if thou stumblest in paths where another would perish-!
Blind? Rather say keen-eyed as the hunter that follows
The fleet-foot goat on the mountain, till, lost in the cloud-mist,
Sheer at his feet gulfs gaping, he stops in amazement,
Dizzy and doubting-but another had never dared climb there.
MERLIN. Thy words are like a wood-brook in my ears.
But, gentle lady, I am sick at heart:
Increase of knowledge increaseth mysteries;
And, knowing much, I know that I know nothing.
NIMUE. Yet something I hold it, being man, to put question as thou
To the gods, though the gods render answer in riddles.
MERLIN. Ah, me!
Too well I know the bridgeless vast between
The most high gods and men. Let but these limbs
Be once more lithe and tense, and so endure-
These smouldering eyes flame with immortal fire-
What do I say?-Make the soul young again
To tread with step perennially light
The ways of thought and passion, and o'erleap
The hedges and the dykes of circumstance-
There were the god-like!-then I might dare think . . .
Of what is less than a day-defeated dream.
NIMUE. Why breakest thou so suddenly off, too modest?
Dreams are from God. So oft is an oracle spoken.
MERLIN. Thy words are as a lure to the fatal springe
Of mine own folly. Nimue, Nimue! . . .
First time I saw thee, 't was in a frail skiff
Among the water-lilies of the lake-
Standing upright, borne on without wind or oar,
As if the spirit of the flowers had risen
Over them in a mist and, floating there,
Rounded at last to definite shape-in thee.
Since then at night I have seen thee by my bed
And in the day-But I have not been a fool.
Mere man am I and weak with years, nor choose,
Leaping at godhood, to fall back to earth,
Crippled and bleeding.
NIMUE. Manhood is godhood in germ-
Aught less is brutishness. Anywise, whoso would win,
Be it godhood or devilhood, must leap.
MERLIN. I have talked face to face
With gods and demons, and have dared to seek
The awful cavern of the Norns and held
Strange questionings with them; yet none the less
I know myself-mere man. Not mine to hope
Youth and the goal, the joy of mastership,
The poise of achievement-these are for the gods.
ARGENTE. Thou camest from Hecla hither?
MERLIN. Ay, but by some strange route I know not of.
NIMUE. Dark riddles speak they, the sullen-muttering Norns.
Why wouldst thou scan their searchless mysteries?
ARGENTE. Concerning what didst thou demand of them?
MERLIN. Of Arthur and the maiden, Guenevere.
ARGENTE. Seeks Arthur, then, a queen?
MERLIN. He would be wed.
ARGENTE. Beware lest he find a queen, but not a wife!
Let him not marry her, Merlin!
Ah, woe! I see a great woe in the land.
MERLIN. Shall all his might be lost with which he strove,
Building the mightiest throne in the round world,
The noblest-for failure of a hand to keep
His conquests? For a child is as oursleves,
Renewed, corrected, wiser for our lives,
Achieving wholly where we partly failed.
ARGENTE. With much devising we shall change no whit
What God shall do with that which we have done.
MERLIN. What, shall our labors fail?
ARGENTE. The kingdom shall pass utterly.
But he, the king, shall wear a greater crown.
MERLIN. Knowing all this, why questionest thou me?
ARGENTE. Yon world of days and nights where Arthur lives,
I know but as thou knowest.
MERLIN. Over it they rule,
The Norns, the unfaltering.
Why keepest thou me here, then
With empty words?
ARGENTE. O weak in wisdom!
Knowest thou not, then, that here
Thou, too, wert born.
Camelot? The world? A dream,
Wherein thou movest about
Amid thin apparitions!
NIMUE. Here, here, O Merlin,
Delights await thee,
Soft lips that smite and sweet hands that kiss,
Love that decays not,
Joy that delays not,
Thought that grows thing
Without groaning, a gladsome travailing.
MERLIN. O subtly fair and beautifully wise,
With what device wouldst thou ensnare my mind?
ARGENTE. Understandest thou not?
Thou, who art subtle beyond thought!
NIMUE. O slow of faith!
Lo, I invite thee
Out of the shadows
To the firm and the free.
ARGENTE. I charge thee, as thou wouldst avert great woe,
Let not the king take Guenevere to wife.
MERLIN. Wouldst thou be mightier than the Norns?
ARGENTE. Over the beginnings
They have no power.
Theirs but to conclude.
MERLIN. Who shall persuade their wills?
Who shall unspeak their words?
ARGENTE. Even thou understandest not as yet their speech.
MERLIN. A brittle anchor is thought;
But the storm bellows and ramps and the gods in heaven are earless.
Weak as it is, I cast it out to the tide.
NIMUE. Yet are there winds that blow to a secure haven.
ARGENTE. Wilt thou trust the hope of the world to a slender cord?
MERLIN. Nay, what seems best to my divided soul,
That must I do, let it be well or ill.
ARGENTE. Ai, ai!
The fate of the king, the grandly-defeated!
For over many ways he toils, with hope
High-set, to find a darkness and a chasm.
MERLIN. What ill is this, whereof she prophesies?
ARGENTE. Woe, woe!
The dream of the new earth
Is broken and shattered.
It drives before the wind
As torn clouds after the spent storm.
MERLIN. What shall endure? For, although one should build
Upon a rock, there is the earthquake. Ay,
The earth itself shall be cast as straw in the fire,
And there shall none know where in the trackless gulfs
Of interstellar darkness, thundering,
It charioted once its swift predestined way.
ARGENTE. Ah me!
A blessed lot is the lily's in the lake,
That waits the rounding of its circled life
Without the sense of unfulfilled desire.
MAIDENS. Comfort thee, O our Queen!
The best is yet unseen.
Even we, as the earth-born,
See not the very end
To which our footsteps tend,
Through tears and mirth borne.
This use may lie in sorrow,-
To drive the soul to strive and strain,
Building its vast and sunsetless to-morrow,
To escape to-day's intolerable pain.
If to all grief a sweet surcease were given,
How should the spirit unfold to larger scope?
Why should we strive for heaven,
If earth fulfilled our hope?
[ARGENTE and the maidens have withdrawn a little space.]
MERLIN. O Nimue, had it been but possible,
That thou an earthly maiden, I a lad,
With nought to know or to forbode beyond
The thoughts that stir the thrushes in the coverts-!
O Age! what better boon hast thou to bring
Than love and song? But Arthur waits for me,
And what should I, an old man, have to do
With dreams of a completion for myself
Who daily weaken toward the undoing of all
The half-wrought in me-death. Elsewhere I look
To find the fruit grown ripe that fell in me,
Blasted in flower-time. Arthur waits for us.
NIMUE. Be it so, then. I summon my ministers. -Ho!
Arise, ye that turmoil beneath there!-Yet once again
I shall pass from thy sight as the violet light on the sea
When the sun sinks into a cloud.-Arise, ye starvelings!-
But, oh, my master and lord!
Thou shalt hear in the teasing of leaves stirred by the wind,
In the lisp of the lake through the reeds and the swan's harsh cry,
Made strangely, mournfully sweet in the cool and the dusk
As it comes from afar o'er the waters, a message of me;
For I wait for thee-there in the reeds!
As a glen in the woodland waits, with the touch of the sun
Slant-struck through the leaves on the brook and the grasses (a throstle
A-lilt in the bush), till the man, world-weary, appearing,
Worn with contention and evil, rests in her arms,
And his fever is cooled and his limbs wax youthful and strong,
And the sin is cleansed from his soul and the mist from his eyes,
And the bird in his heart wakes, singing of love and peace.-
Arise, I say, monsters!
Arise! Earth waits and the carrion of earth!
Hunger ye not?
The ground opens and flames appear. Through the opening a car rises, drawn by dragons. NIMUE enters the car and extends her hand to MERLIN who follows her. The car rises into the air and disappears in the distance.
ARGENTE. With grinning jaws
They gape horridly,
Bearing him back where body and soul
Gnaw juiceless bones continually.
Jag-toothed dragons, shutting and opening your eyes
With hideous slowness!
In my soul, too, is a hunger.
The bite of the tooth in flesh that cannot waste!
MAIDENS. Comfort thee, O our Queen!
Sorrow is dear to the wise,
Who know that Love is leading,
And believe-for have they not seen?
Mystery of mysteries!
The crowned brow is bleeding.
ARGENTE. Alas, my sisters! you are good to me.
Your presence is as starlight to my spirit.
Your words are as a bird's song in the trees
When all the woodland sorrows under clouds.
I know the end is sweet-I see it plain,
As the jay yonder the bough to which it flies.
But oh, the way is long and the heart weak!
Is the physician's wound less sore
Because his cunning knows that it will heal?
The fallen warrior
With the broken shaft of the spear driven as a nail
Through muscle, sinew, bone, lung, heart-
Feels he not, though Valhalla open
And the Valkyrs wait with cup and crown,
Sharp anguish, intolerable gaspings that pierce
Each with keen torture the frayed nerves, killing him
A hundred times for once?
It is not all a good to see the things
That shall be. He that will soar to topmost heaven,
Must plunge, too, down to the voiceless lowest of hell.
Ye shall not know the good without the evil,
Saith the Lord God.
Ai, ai! I see the maiden stand in the choir.
The royal robes are girt upon her. Priests
And choristers intone monotonously.
The sunlight falling bloodily through the panes,
Is dim and thick with incense. The King comes!
I see him take her fatal hand in his.
Otototoi! The breath of the god
Tingles on my forehead!
My flesh quivers with its power!
The dread that hung over me sunders as a cloud.
A sunlit garden-lay this behind the gloom?
And he-is he my fear?
Beautiful as Balder he stands by the beautiful queen,
High-thoughted, kingly as a cedar.
From the high hills the woe cometh,
A desolating avalanche! . . . .
The scabbard, Arthur!
Quick! The intriguing fingers close on it.
Awake! The sword itself is less precious. Ah! . .
The stark bodies of the slain!-
Spare me, Spirit that overbroods me!
I endure not the vision!
I am slain with intense whirling of tumultuous life!
Back, bodeful clouds! Once again, as with inrolling waters,
Engulf the insufferable sight!
The din of shields and the shouts of the warriors!
The death-birds hovering afar off! . . . .
Where is he, my king, my beloved?
Over the sea-like sparkle of shields I seek him-in vain.
There, in the crest of the war-surf-
He struggles toward the treacherous chief. Their swords clash.
O valiant prince! O misbegotten traitor! . . . .
He falls-the King! the King!
The battle sweeps away like a black cloud.
What, ho! a rescue! knights! Kaye! Bedevere!
Quick! To the lake! to the lake!
Arthur, I wait for thee!
She falls back exhausted and is surrounded by her maidens, screening her from sight.
MAIDENS. Comfort thee, O our Queen!
Through warring and woe
The man and the woman
Build heaven for themselves.
From the deeps where it delves
Uplifted, the human
Soars to the divine,
Though the void intervene.
Pierce through the veils and lo,
The sevenfold light of the shrine!
[Exeunt slowly, singing.]
ANGELS [above]. Holy! holy! holy!
Which wert and which art and which shalt be,
World without end! Alleluia!
In Thyself is the end
And the cause of Thy being,
O Thou beyond name!
In the mystery of Thy seeing,
The eye and the vision blend.
'Mid the shifting and fleeing
Thou abidest the same.
Death and birth
Are the garments of Thee!
The seed and the bud;-
But ere these is the thought of a tree.
Behold, the bread of the earth
And the wine of the sea
Are Thy body and blood.
Love, which is light,
Brings to earth the far sun.
Love, which is life,
Blood-red through Thy body doth run.
Love, which is spirit, shall smite
Thought and thing into one,
As a man and a wife.
Holy! holy! holy!
Which art in all and through all and beyond all!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Comments about The Quest Of Merlin: A Prelude by Richard Hovey
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