Cicely Fox Smith
The Quest Of The Queen - Poem by Cicely Fox Smith
All on a windy morn in lusty March,
Rode Godwin hawking thro' his father's woods
And singing as he rode: stalwart was he,
Knit worthily for deeds of high enterprise:
Ruddy his cheeks were, and his eyes were bright
And wild as his own falcon's: but as yet
Never those sinewy limbs had stretched themselves
To aught of purpose; never those wild eyes
Had roved beyond the boundaries of his home,
Or snatched its hidden magic from the sea,
Or hardened resolute in a perilous hour;
Swiftly the gallant days of youth went by
With hawking, hunting, coursing, sport and joy;
So mightily grew Godwin to his prime.
Wildly the wintry gale off leagues of sea
Rioted thro' the trees, that, stirred by storm,
Flung up bare arms against a steely sky:
Far off the thunder of the boiling surf
Boomed deeply in the caves: and Godwin rein'd
His steed and stood a moment, where one tree,
A giant of the forest, lay a wreck
Blasted by lightning, and its place was clear.
And as he stood there, breathing fast and hard,
(For swiftly had he galloped up the woods)
There came towards him slowly thro' the trees
An old, old, feeble man: stooping with age,
And scored by time, and hoary as the frost:
Slowly he drew along the woodland ways,
And set his hand on Godwin's bridle-rein,
And looked into his face with brave blue eyes,
Open and young and hopeful as a boy's,
And cried to him aloud: 'Where is thy sword,
O Godwin? Where the shield upon thy arm?'
And as the lad gazed wondering, once again
He spake: 'O come thou, come unto my Queen,
For she has sent me forth into the woods
To bring her loitering champion.' And he turned,
Still keeping hold upon the bridle-rein,
And Godwin stayed him not: and so the twain
Went on among the arches of the wood
Where the brown mould was fretted by the sun
Filtered thro' forest rafters: far above
Sweetly the quiring birds made melody,
Last came they out upon a ledge of rock
Over against the rollers of the deep:
There, home of gulls, and beat by wildwing'd storm,
The last jagged remnant of a mighty keep
(Built by grim kings in mystic days ofold)
Clasped the stern cliff with stubborn feet of stone
Welded to rock of ages. Far below
The sea-caves and the surf made harmony.
There, - like a pillar set upon the cliff
To guide the wanderer over 'wildering foam, -
Stood, with her hair blown backward by the breeze,
And parted lips, and eager seaward gaze
Straining across the deep, a wide-eyed Queen.
And Godwin passing silent to her side,
Look'd in those eyes, and knew himself her slave,
And still with face turned seaward, thus she spake.
'I – I am she whose throne is based on rock, -
Whose feet are bathed in illimitable sea, -
Whose garment sweeps the edges of the earth.
O follow, follow, thou whose heart is strong,
Thou who wast bound to serve me from thy birth,
O follow to the edges of the earth.
Follow my lamp, and thy shall find reward, -
Follow where I shall lead until the end, -
Ay, follow to the edges of the earth.
Here is the sword that shall be thine to wield,
A gleam to light the world with victory,
A glory to the edges of the earth.
There lies the way whereon thy feet shall tread,
Whose path is o'er the everlasting sea, -
Whose goal is at the edges of the earth!'
So rang her song: and as her burning voice
Died echoing, came a mighty gust of wind
That beat the forest backward from the sea,
And flung the spray up to the topmost cliff
And made the grim rock quiver: and it seemed
That the great Queen went forth upon the wind
Over the shouting tumult of the sea;
And the bright lamp she held above her head
Clear in the darkening sunset like a star
Gleamed: and she passed in glory o'er the sea.
Then Godwin, looking round him, found himself
Alone upon the rock: and slow and dazed
He wended homeward, through the stormy woods.
His falcon all unheeded onhis wrist
Sat cowering: in his hand the naked sword
Gleamed like a moonbeam: and amid his dreams
Clear as a clarion rang the wild refrain:
'O follow to the edges of the earth!'
And with the morn he rose, and bade farewell
To weeping mother and to mourning sire,
And buckled on the falchion of his Queen,
And so set forth.
The woods were wet with dew:
The budding bracken thrust up-curling fronds;
And all the world was wild with wild birds' song,
And fresh with winds of morning.
And his heart
Gave one wild throb of pain at leaving all, -
Leaving the olden home where he was born,
Leaving the merry woods he held so dear,
Leaving the scenes so full of yesterdays,
And dear old sights of childhood. But again
Sprang to his mind the image of his Queen,
With 'Godwin, follow, follow!' and he past,
Rejoicing, to the port, and there took ship
To set himself down upon a desolate shore
Full of wild war and peril, fire and sword.
Low hung the clouds above a troubled sea
When Godwin came to land. A score poor huts
Straggled beside the shore, where dwelt a few
Who chaffered with the heathen round about:
And, far behind, the wild, waste, homeless land
Stretched in long sweeps of wood and sand and marsh
Up to the high-piled wall of purple crag
Faint in the distance, leagues on leagues away.
And Godwin stood there lonely, knowing not
Whither to seek the lady with the light,
And saw the wide waste land; and sick of soul
His boy-heart yearned for home.
And those who dwelt
In the poor huts beside the barren shore
Pressed him with friendly words to stay with them,
And laughed his eager questionings with scorn,
Saying: 'Why wander out into the wilds
Where you shall surely die?' And when he told,
Shaking his head, how his fair Queen had called:
'Follow my lamp, and thou shalt find reward!'
They cried: 'Here surely is enough reward:
Here we get gold and gems from the wild folk;
Here has your lady led you: false were she
To lead you to your death: here lies your goal.'
And Godwin's heart was lonely and he stayed.
Now while he held high revel with his friends
His Lady's image faded in his breast,
And slowly passed her message from his brain.
And there beside the moaning of the surf, -
Drowning sad dreams of home in revelry, -
Sped the swift months, and Godwin loitered still.
But as he sat and feasted in the night,
And gave no thought to those brave dreams of old,
He heard a voice above the roaring sea,
And saw a light against the window-pane:
And, rising, left the merry-making crew,
And took his rusting sword from off the wall,
To follow on the voice he once had heard,
The lamp that once had led him.
Faded the lights that showed the haunts of man:
He heard the lion roaring in the dark:
He saw the stars thro' streaming veils of cloud
Glint on wide pools and quagmires left and right:
But following on the light that went before
Ever his feet were firm upon the way,
And he sped on, and knew not any fear.
So day and night he followed thro' the wilds,
And often was he drenched with rain and dew,
And wasting dearth and fevers sapped his strength
Till he was nigh failing: and more pale
Shone now the guiding star; more faint the voice
Peal'd on before him.
Seven long weeks he toiled:
And yet his straining footsteps seemed to draw
Not any nearer to the fleeting flame.
Till as the pale light of the trembling dawn
Lay faint and glimmering, like a sleeping ghost,
Along the distant ridges, close before
He saw his Queen: for here the winding road,
That led his footsteps thro' the bog and brake,
Swept looping round, and well-nigh joined between
Stretched but a little space of tangled ground.
O, but a few short strides, one swift, bold rush,
And all the grief were over! Who so dull
As drag slow feet along the curving road, -
Die a dog's death, perchance, beside the way, -
When this fair chance held out enticing hands
And bade him on and conquer? So he sprang
Shouting, from off the causeway where he stood,
And struggling onward, gasping. And it seemed
That the far voice broke into passionate sobs,
And the faint light died down to nothingness.
Then treacherous bogs snatched at his weary feet,
And brambles caught and held his struggling limbs:
And as he stumbled, mired, came shouting crowds
That fell upon him in his weariness
And smote his useless sword out of his hand.
Hither and thither in the quaking bog
Reeled the wide tide of combat. Dim and strange,
Veiled by his streaming wounds, saw Godwin then
His lady watching him afar.
Red were her eyes with many tears but stern
She look'd and moveless, like a carven queen.
Then those fierce foemen bound him hand and foot
And led him to her, jeering; and they went
With fiendish scorn and mockery, out of sight,
And left him lying near her: but she turned
And passed with veiled eyes: and he knew she wept.
The time grew long since that dark day of grief,
And Godwin's wounds were healed: but now no more
He saw in darkest night the light that led:
No more the trumpet voice that cheered him on
Made smooth the hill and hollow: so he went
And built himself a lonely tower
On the far border of his ladye's land,
There to do battle for her with the foe,
And make her desert places fair with flowers,
And so perchance, be pardoned. And alone
He dwelt between the desert and the sky.
The years went by: not years of stain and strife,
Full of high hope and resonate renown,
Loud with victorious battles dear to men:
But slow sad years that make a young men old,
Weary with weight of unrewarded care,
And long with thankless toil of little things.
And at the eve he often climbed the stair,
And looked across the rolling desert-land,
And sayw the level sunset light the sea,
Far out to the westward: and his heart grew high
With lingering thoughts of home and beautiful woods
And far-off, dear green places
And, at last,
He saw a light upon the twilight hills -
A light that was not sunset, - and it seemed
As that sweet star, his lady, came to him
To give him pardon; yet again he looked,
And saw the light glint from a score of spears,
And knew the foemen came,
And once again
He felt the joy of battle in his blood,
And the wild light fired up his weary eyes,
And strength returned with peril.
And he went,
Full-armed and glittering like the evening star,
And stood with drawn sword at the castle gate
To await the onslaught.
Fiercely then and loud
Swept down the rush of horsemen from the hill.
And Godwin, with his back against the wall,
Struck down the foremost rider, horse and man,
And they fell, clattering.
Rang along the halls
The clash of arms and the clang of falling men,
And Godwin struck and struck with weakening arm
And knew no more of sorrow.
But at last
They pressed him backward slowly from the gate,
Till in the darkening hall he stood at bay
For one last bout of battle.
Thro' the high traceried windows, all at rest
He saw the golden moon, the glimmering mere,
And hills on fire with sunset.
Came the wild shout and rush of fighting men, -
And Godwin, with the sunset on his face,
Struck one wild cleaving stroke that snapped his sword,
And hurled the fragments from him with a cry,
'I follow, I have followed to the end.'
And so he fell.
And even as he passed
There came a shouting from the outer gate,
And many men came riding from afar,
Led by a lady with a burning torch,
And fell upon the foemen in the hall
Till all within were slain.
And the stern Queen
Came swiftly unto Godwin as he lay,
And knelt beside him on the blood-stained floor,
And took his hands, and kissed his damp chilled brow,
Whispering sweet words of love.
And Godwin woke,
And looking saw who knelt beside him there:
And spoke with failing voice: 'O lady mine,
I am done with dark defeat and toil and care:
I shall not look upon my home again:
But, for this glorious hour of victory,
'T were well to toil, nor rest, a hundred years, -
To follow to the edges of the earth.
O more than all that peaceful lives can give,
O more than boundless riches, boundless ease,
Lo, I have found thee, and I find thee sweet.'
And as the rose-lipped sunrise kissed the hills,
Smiling, he sank to sleep: and far away
Beyond the high cloud and the morning star
God's bugles rang reveille.
So at last
Triumphantly came Godwin to his end.
And those who fain would seek his monument
Shall find a lonely grave across the seas,
Where, in the realm he kept secure from foes,
The wilderness has blossomed like the rose.
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