Roden Berkeley Wriothesley Noel

(1834-1894 / England)

Tintagel - Poem by Roden Berkeley Wriothesley Noel

TINTAGEL, from thy precipice of rock,
Thou frownest back the vast Atlantic shock!
Yet purple twilight in cathedral caves,
Moulded to the similitude of waves
Tempestuous by awful hands of storm,
Along whose height the formidable form
Of some tall phantom stands on guard, huge boulders
From iron crags reft, toys of ocean shoulders,
And thine own venerable keep that yields
To slow persuasion ancient Nature wields,
Inevitably sure, forebode thy fall;
For she compels the individual
To merge in the full manifold of Her
His cherished privacy of character.
And therefore Arthur's ancient ramparts range
From human fellowship to Nature, change
To semblance of the fretted weathered stone,
Upreared by mystic elements alone.
That old grey church upon the sheer black crag,
Where generations under the worn flag,
Or in God's acre sleep! There one dark morn
I worshipped - heights of heaven all forlorn
With drifts confused, wild wind, and the blown rain.
I mused of those who in the lonely fane
Halted world-weary through the centuries,
Kelt, Saxon, Norman, English; on their eyes
The dust of Death; oblivion holds the psalms,
Where now in turn we celebrate the calms,
The Sabbath calms, with hymns and chaunted prayer;
But what indignant wail of wild despair
Storms at the doors and windows, shakes the walls?
Before the void unsouled sound that appals
Our human hymns in that dim sheltered place
Seem to fall low, to cower, and hide the face.
Awhile faint praise wins victory; uproars
On overshadowing vans without the doors
Whirlwind insurgent, as in awful scorn,
To be controlled no longer, nor forborne,
Of poor brief fluttering human hopes and breath,
Played with a moment by the winds of death,
Ere dissolution and dismemberment
In the undivine, dim void where all lie shent,-
A shivering foam-flake, or a timid light
Spat upon by the rains, extinguished quite!
We laugh in fair pavilions of light love,
Or worship in the solemn sacred grove;
We rest in warm affection built to last:
And all will leave us naked to the blast!

What means the wind? Yon ruin's proud decay -
We know not who in far-off years did lay
The strong foundations: Arthur, Guinevere,
And Launcelot, were they indeed once here?
Are all fair shadows of a poet's dream?
Or did they ride in the early morning beam,
Armed and resplendent, radiant within,
Champion redressers, quelling tyrant sin,
Slaying grim dragon Wrongs, who held in ward
The maiden Innocence: from Joyous-guard,
Camelot, or Tintagel, brave and glad,
Did they indeed ride, Launcelot, Galahad?
Have lawless love, and Modred swept to ground
That glorious order of the Table Round?
Who knows? they are but creatures of the brain;
Or if they were, behold our mightiest wane
With all their sounding praise, like dream-shadows,
Storm-rack that drifts, or billowy foam! none knows
Whether they were, or were not; sombre keep,
And chapel crown twin crags, one ruin-heap,
While the sea thunders under, and between,
And cliffs no hand hewed mimic what hath been
In weathered buttress, pinnacle, and tower!
Where now the prancing steed, the ladies' bower?
No clang of arms, no battle-bugle blown,
Only in sounding cave the wild sea clarion!

But then my heart responded to the blast,
I deem that in those clouds of the dim past
Tall god-like forms loom verily; with us
Dwell souls who are not less magnanimous.
They pass, yet only to be self-fulfilled;
They pass, yet only as the All hath willed,
To enter on their full-earned heritage,
More righteous, and momentous wars to wage;
And if these heroes were not, then the mind
That holds high visions of our humankind
Is mightier than mighty winds and waves,
And lovelier than emerald floors of caves.
Nature herself is the high utterance
Of holy gods; we, half awake in trance,
Hear it confused; through some half-open door
We hear an awful murmur, and no more:
We are under some enchantment; lift the spell,
What mortal then the wondrous tale may tell?


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Poem Submitted: Thursday, April 22, 2010



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