Idylls of the King

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The Holy Thing is here again among us, brother, fast thou too and pray, and tell thy brother knights to fast and pray, that so perchance the vision may be seen by thee and those, and all the world be healed.

Idylls of the King is one of Alfred, Lord Tennyson's most famous works, and has influenced many modern treatments of the Arthurian legends and myths. Components of the epic poem were worked upon as early as 1842, and published between 1859 and 1885.

These quotations are derived primarily from the e-texts of Project Gutenberg as compared with the Oxford University Press edition of Tennyson: Poems and Plays, as well as various 19th- and 20th-century editions of his poetry.


Through all this tract of years wearing the white flower of a blameless life, before a thousand peering littlenesses, in that fierce light which beats upon a throne, and blackens every blot...
  • We have lost him: he is gone:
    We know him now: all narrow jealousies
    Are silent; and we see him as he moved,
    How modest, kindly, all-accomplished, wise,
    With what sublime repression of himself,
    And in what limits, and how tenderly;
    Not swaying to this faction or to that;

    Not making his high place the lawless perch
    Of winged ambitions, nor a vantage-ground
    For pleasure; but through all this tract of years
    Wearing the white flower of a blameless life,
    Before a thousand peering littlenesses,
    In that fierce light which beats upon a throne,
    And blackens every blot

The Coming of Arthur

Many a petty king ere Arthur came ruled in this isle, and ever waging war each upon other, wasted all the land...
  • For many a petty king ere Arthur came
    Ruled in this isle, and ever waging war
    Each upon other, wasted all the land
    And still from time to time the heathen host
    Swarmed overseas, and harried what was left.
  • And so there grew great tracts of wilderness,
    Wherein the beast was ever more and more,
    But man was less and less, till Arthur came.
Were I joined with her, then might we live together as one life, and reigning with one will in everything have power on this dark land to lighten it, and power on this dead world to make it live.
  • And Arthur yet had done no deed of arms,
    But heard the call, and came: and Guinevere
    Stood by the castle walls to watch him pass;
    But since he neither wore on helm or shield
    The golden symbol of his kinglihood,
    But rode a simple knight among his knights,
    And many of these in richer arms than he,
    She saw him not, or marked not, if she saw,
    One among many, though his face was bare.
  • What happiness to reign a lonely king,
    Vext — O ye stars that shudder over me,
    O earth that soundest hollow under me,
    Vext with waste dreams? for saving I be joined
    To her that is the fairest under heaven,
    I seem as nothing in the mighty world,
    And cannot will my will, nor work my work
    Wholly, nor make myself in mine own realm
    Victor and lord. But were I joined with her,
    Then might we live together as one life,
    And reigning with one will in everything
    Have power on this dark land to lighten it,
    And power on this dead world to make it live.
  • Man's word is God in man:
    Let chance what will, I trust thee to the death.
I beheld Excalibur ... the sword that rose from out the bosom of the lake...
  • Sir, there be many rumours on this head:
    For there be those who hate him in their hearts,
    Call him baseborn, and since his ways are sweet,
    And theirs are bestial, hold him less than man:
    And there be those who deem him more than man,
    And dream he dropt from heaven
  • When he spake and cheered his Table Round
    With large, divine, and comfortable words,
    Beyond my tongue to tell thee — I beheld
    From eye to eye through all their Order flash
    A momentary likeness of the King.
  • I saw mage Merlin, whose vast wit
    And hundred winters are but as the hands
    Of loyal vassals toiling for their liege.

    And near him stood the Lady of the Lake,
    Who knows a subtler magic than his own —
    Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful.
    She gave the King his huge cross-hilted sword,
    Whereby to drive the heathen out

Take thou and strike! the time to cast away is yet far-off.
  • She dwells
    Down in a deep; calm, whatsoever storms
    May shake the world, and when the surface rolls,
    Hath power to walk the waters like our Lord.
  • There likewise I beheld Excalibur
    Before him at his crowning borne, the sword
    That rose from out the bosom of the lake,

    And Arthur rowed across and took it — rich
    With jewels, elfin Urim, on the hilt,
    Bewildering heart and eye — the blade so bright
    That men are blinded by it — on one side,
    Graven in the oldest tongue of all this world,
    "Take me," but turn the blade and ye shall see,
    And written in the speech ye speak yourself,
    "Cast me away!" And sad was Arthur's face
    Taking it, but old Merlin counselled him,
    "Take thou and strike! the time to cast away
    Is yet far-off." So this great brand the king
    Took, and by this will beat his foemen down.
Wave after wave, each mightier than the last,
Till last, a ninth one, gathering half the deep
And full of voices, slowly rose and plunged
Roaring, and all the wave was in a flame.
  • Descending through the dismal night — a night
    In which the bounds of heaven and earth were lost
  • Wave after wave, each mightier than the last,
    Till last, a ninth one, gathering half the deep
    And full of voices, slowly rose and plunged
    Roaring, and all the wave was in a flame
    And down the wave and in the flame was borne
    A naked babe, and rode to Merlin's feet,
    Who stoopt and caught the babe, and cried "The King!
    Here is an heir for Uther!"
  • Rain, rain, and sun! a rainbow in the sky!
    A young man will be wiser by and by;
    An old man's wit may wander ere he die.
    Rain, rain, and sun! a rainbow on the lea!
    And truth is this to me, and that to thee;
    And truth or clothed or naked let it be.
    Rain, sun, and rain! and the free blossom blows:
    Sun, rain, and sun! and where is he who knows?
    From the great deep to the great deep he goes.
Merlin in our time hath spoken also, not in jest, and sworn though men may wound him that he will not die, but pass, again to come...
  • So Merlin riddling angered me; but thou
    Fear not to give this King thy only child,
    Guinevere: so great bards of him will sing
  • Merlin in our time
    Hath spoken also, not in jest, and sworn
    Though men may wound him that he will not die,
    But pass, again to come; and then or now
    Utterly smite the heathen underfoot,
    Till these and all men hail him for their king.
  • Behold, thy doom is mine.
    Let chance what will, I love thee to the death!
  • Strike for the King and live! his knights have heard
    That God hath told the King a secret word.
    Fall battleaxe, and flash brand! Let the King reign.
  • The old order changeth, yielding place to new;
    And we that fight for our fair father Christ,
    Seeing that ye be grown too weak and old
    To drive the heathen from your Roman wall,
    No tribute will we pay: so those great lords
    Drew back in wrath, and Arthur strove with Rome.
  • And Arthur and his knighthood for a space
    Were all one will, and through that strength the King
    Drew in the petty princedoms under him,
    Fought, and in twelve great battles overcame
    The heathen hordes, and made a realm and reigned.

Gareth and Lynette

As thou sayest, it is enchanted, son, for there is nothing in it as it seems saving the King; though some there be that hold the King a shadow, and the city real...
  • Live pure, speak true, right wrong, follow the King—
    Else, wherefore born?
    • Line 117
  • Eyes of pure women, wholesome stars of love.
    • Line 367
  • A man of plots,
    Craft, poisonous counsels, wayside ambushings.
    • Line 422
  • A damsel of high lineage, and a brow
    May-blossom, and a cheek of apple-blossom,
    Hawk-eyes; and lightly was her slender nose
    Tip-tilted like the petal of a flower.
    • Line 574
  • Who should be King save him who makes us free?
  • The thrall in person may be free in soul
  • There was no gate like it under heaven.
    For barefoot on the keystone, which was lined
    And rippled like an ever-fleeting wave,
    The Lady of the Lake stood: …
    And in the space to left of her, and right,
    Were Arthur's wars in weird devices done,
    New things and old co-twisted, as if Time
    Were nothing
  • We be tillers of the soil,
    Who leaving share in furrow come to see
    The glories of our King: but these, my men,
    (Your city moved so weirdly in the mist)
    Doubt if the King be King at all, or come
    From Fairyland; and whether this be built
    By magic, and by fairy Kings and Queens;
    Or whether there be any city at all,
    Or all a vision: and this music now
    Hath scared them both, but tell thou these the truth.
The King will bind thee by such vows, as is a shame a man should not be bound by, yet the which no man can keep; but, so thou dread to swear, pass not beneath this gateway, but abide without, among the cattle of the field.
  • Son, I have seen the good ship sail
    Keel upward, and mast downward, in the heavens,
    And solid turrets topsy-turvy in air:
    And here is truth; but an it please thee not,
    Take thou the truth as thou hast told it me.

    For truly as thou sayest, a Fairy King
    And Fairy Queens have built the city, son…
    And, as thou sayest, it is enchanted, son,
    For there is nothing in it as it seems
    Saving the King; though some there be that hold
    The King a shadow, and the city real:
    Yet take thou heed of him, for, so thou pass
    Beneath this archway, then wilt thou become
    A thrall to his enchantments, for the King
    Will bind thee by such vows, as is a shame
    A man should not be bound by, yet the which
    No man can keep; but, so thou dread to swear,
    Pass not beneath this gateway, but abide
    Without, among the cattle of the field.

    For an ye heard a music, like enow
    They are building still, seeing the city is built
    To music, therefore never built at all,
    And therefore built for ever.
Know ye not then the Riddling of the Bards? Confusion, and illusion, and relation, elusion, and occasion, and evasion?
  • Know ye not then the Riddling of the Bards?
    Confusion, and illusion, and relation,
    Elusion, and occasion, and evasion?

    I mock thee not but as thou mockest me,
    And all that see thee, for thou art not who
    Thou seemest, but I know thee who thou art.
    And now thou goest up to mock the King,
    Who cannot brook the shadow of any lie.
  • Our one white lie sits like a little ghost
    Here on the threshold of our enterprise.
  • Full pardon, but I follow up the quest,
    Despite of Day and Night and Death and Hell.
    • Line 865
  • Say thou thy say, and I will do my deed.
  • Damsel, whether knave or knight,
    Far liefer had I fight a score of times
    Than hear thee so missay me and revile.

    Fair words were best for him who fights for thee.
Thrown have I been, nor once, but many a time. Victor from vanquished issues at the last, and overthrower from being overthrown.
  • Ay, knave, because thou strikest as a knight,
    Being but knave, I hate thee all the more.

    "Fair damsel, you should worship me the more,
    That, being but knave, I throw thine enemies."

    • Line 994
  • O damsel, be you wise
    To call him shamed, who is but overthrown?
    Thrown have I been, nor once, but many a time.
    Victor from vanquished issues at the last,
    And overthrower from being overthrown.
    • Line 1230
  • Well hast thou done; for all the stream is freed,
    And thou hast wreaked his justice on his foes,
    And when reviled, hast answered graciously,
    And makest merry when overthrown. Prince, Knight
    Hail, Knight and Prince, and of our Table Round!
  • I curse the tongue that all through yesterday
    Reviled thee, and hath wrought on Lancelot now
    To lend thee horse and shield: wonders ye have done;
    Miracles ye cannot
  • Here be rules. I know but one —
    To dash against mine enemy and win.
  • High on a nightblack horse, in nightblack arms,
    With white breast-bone, and barren ribs of Death,
    And crowned with fleshless laughter — some ten steps —
    In the half-light — through the dim dawn — advanced
    The monster, and then paused, and spake no word.
  • "Fool, for thou hast, men say, the strength of ten,
    Canst thou not trust the limbs thy God hath given,
    But must, to make the terror of thee more,
    Trick thyself out in ghastly imageries
    Of that which Life hath done with, and the clod,
    Less dull than thou, will hide with mantling flowers
    As if for pity?" But he spake no word;
    Which set the horror higher
    : a maiden swooned;
    The Lady Lyonors wrung her hands and wept,
    As doomed to be the bride of Night and Death;
    Sir Gareth's head prickled beneath his helm;
    And even Sir Lancelot through his warm blood felt
    Ice strike, and all that marked him were aghast.
  • At once Sir Lancelot's charger fiercely neighed,
    And Death's dark war-horse bounded forward with him.
    Then those that did not blink the terror, saw
    That Death was cast to ground, and slowly rose.
  • "My fair child,
    What madness made thee challenge the chief knight
    Of Arthur's hall?" "Fair Sir, they bad me do it.
    They hate the King, and Lancelot, the King's friend,
    They hoped to slay him somewhere on the stream,
    They never dreamed the passes could be past."

The Marriage of Geraint

  • The Prince's blood spirted upon the scarf,
    Dyeing it; and his quick, instinctive hand
    Caught at the hilt, as to abolish him:
    But he, from his exceeding manfulness
    And pure nobility of temperament,
    Wroth to be wroth at such a worm, refrained
    From even a word, and so returning said:
    "I will avenge this insult, noble Queen,
    Done in your maiden's person to yourself:
    And I will track this vermin to their earths"
  • For man is man and master of his fate.
    • Line 355
  • It chanced the song that Enid sang was one
    Of Fortune and her wheel, and Enid sang:

    "Turn, Fortune, turn thy wheel and lower the proud;
    Turn thy wild wheel through sunshine, storm, and cloud;
    Thy wheel and thee we neither love nor hate.

    Turn, Fortune, turn thy wheel with smile or frown;
    With that wild wheel we go not up or down;
    Our hoard is little, but our hearts are great."

    • Line 374

Geraint and Enid

She was deaf to blessing or to cursing save from one...
  • The useful trouble of the rain.
    • Line 770
  • O purblind race of miserable men,
    How many among us at this very hour
    Do forge a life-long trouble for ourselves,
    By taking true for false, or false for true
    Here, through the feeble twilight of this world
    Groping, how many, until we pass and reach
    That other, where we see as we are seen!
  • Yea, my lord, I know
    Your wish, and would obey; but riding first,
    I hear the violent threats you do not hear,
    I see the danger which you cannot see:
    Then not to give you warning, that seems hard;
    Almost beyond me: yet I would obey.
  • She was deaf
    To blessing or to cursing save from one
  • So died Earl Doorm by him he counted dead.
    And all the men and women in the hall
    Rose when they saw the dead man rise, and fled
    Yelling as from a spectre, and the two
    Were left alone together
  • Enid, I have used you worse than that dead man;
    Done you more wrong: we both have undergone
    That trouble which has left me thrice your own:
    Henceforward I will rather die than doubt.
    And here I lay this penance on myself,
    Not, though mine own ears heard you yestermorn —
    You thought me sleeping, but I heard you say,
    I heard you say, that you were no true wife:
    I swear I will not ask your meaning in it:
    I do believe yourself against yourself,
    And will henceforward rather die than doubt.
  • Once, when I was up so high in pride
    That I was halfway down the slope to Hell,
    By overthrowing me you threw me higher.
  • This work of his is great and wonderful.
    His very face with change of heart is changed.

    The world will not believe a man repents:
    And this wise world of ours is mainly right.
    Full seldom doth a man repent, or use
    Both grace and will to pick the vicious quitch
    Of blood and custom wholly out of him,
    And make all clean, and plant himself afresh.
    Edyrn has done it, weeding all his heart
    As I will weed this land before I go.
    • Lines 897-907.
  • The blameless King went forth and cast his eyes
    On each of all whom Uther left in charge
    Long since, to guard the justice of the King:
    He looked and found them wanting; and as now
    Men weed the white horse on the Berkshire hills
    To keep him bright and clean as heretofore,
    He rooted out the slothful officer
    Or guilty, which for bribe had winked at wrong,

    And in their chairs set up a stronger race
    With hearts and hands, and sent a thousand men
    To till the wastes, and moving everywhere
    Cleared the dark places and let in the law,
    And broke the bandit holds and cleansed the land.

Balin and Balan

Be one indeed: consider them, and all
Their bearing in their common bond of love,
No more of hatred than in Heaven itself,
No more of jealousy than in Paradise.
  • To dream
    That any of these would wrong thee, wrongs thyself.

    Witness their flowery welcome. Bound are they
    To speak no evil. Truly save for fears,
    My fears for thee, so rich a fellowship
    Would make me wholly blest: thou one of them,
    Be one indeed: consider them, and all
    Their bearing in their common bond of love,
    No more of hatred than in Heaven itself,
    No more of jealousy than in Paradise.
  • The fire of Heaven has killed the barren cold,
    And kindled all the plain and all the wold.
    The new leaf ever pushes off the old.
    The fire of Heaven is not the flame of Hell.

    Old priest, who mumble worship in your quire —
    Old monk and nun, ye scorn the world's desire,
    Yet in your frosty cells ye feel the fire!
    The fire of Heaven is not the flame of Hell.

  • The fire of Heaven is on the dusty ways.
    The wayside blossoms open to the blaze.
    The whole wood-world is one full peal of praise.
    The fire of Heaven is not the flame of Hell.

    The fire of Heaven is lord of all things good,
    And starve not thou this fire within thy blood,
    But follow Vivien through the fiery flood!
    The fire of Heaven is not the flame of Hell!

    • Lines 442-9
  • Mere white truth in simple nakedness.
    • Line 509
  • This fire of Heaven,
    This old sun-worship, boy, will rise again,
    And beat the cross to earth, and break the King
    And all his Table.
  • Goodnight! for we shall never bid again
    Goodmorrow — Dark my doom was here, and dark
    It will be there. I see thee now no more.
  • We two were born together, and we die
    Together by one doom:

Merlin and Vivien

Merlin looked and half believed her true, so tender was her voice, so fair her face, so sweetly gleamed her eyes behind her tears
  • As Love, if Love is perfect, casts out fear,
    So Hate, if Hate is perfect, casts out fear.
    • Line 41
  • It is the little rift within the lute
    That by and by will make the music mute,
    And ever widening slowly silence all.
    • Line 386
  • He grew
    Tolerant of what he half disdained, and she,
    Perceiving that she was but half disdained,
    Began to break her sports with graver fits,
    Turn red or pale, would often when they met
    Sigh fully, or all-silent gaze upon him
    With such a fixt devotion, that the old man,
    Though doubtful, felt the flattery, and at times
    Would flatter his own wish in age for love,
    And half believe her true.
  • Then fell on Merlin a great melancholy;
    He walked with dreams and darkness, and he found
    A doom that ever poised itself to fall,
    An ever-moaning battle in the mist,
    World-war of dying flesh against the life,
    Death in all life and lying in all love,
    The meanest having power upon the highest,
    And the high purpose broken by the worm.
  • Who are wise in love
    Love most, say least
  • "To what request for what strange boon," he said,
    "Are these your pretty tricks and fooleries,
    O Vivien, the preamble? yet my thanks,
    For these have broken up my melancholy."
  • In Love, if Love be Love, if Love be ours,
    Faith and unfaith can ne'er be equal powers:
    Unfaith in aught is want of faith in all.
  • Trust me not at all or all in all.
  • Merlin looked and half believed her true,
    So tender was her voice, so fair her face,
    So sweetly gleamed her eyes behind her tears
    Like sunlight on the plain behind a shower
  • Yet is there one true line, the pearl of pearls:
    Man dreams of Fame while woman wakes to love.
  • The Fame that follows death is nothing to us;
    And what is Fame in life but half-disfame,
    And counterchanged with darkness? ye yourself
    Know well that Envy calls you Devil's son,
    And since ye seem the Master of all Art,
    They fain would make you Master of all vice.
  • Rather use than fame.
  • You, methinks you think you love me well;
    For me, I love you somewhat; rest: and Love
    Should have some rest and pleasure in himself,
    Not ever be too curious for a boon,
    Too prurient for a proof against the grain
    Of him ye say ye love: but Fame with men,
    Being but ampler means to serve mankind,
    Should have small rest or pleasure in herself,
    But work as vassal to the larger love,
    That dwarfs the petty love of one to one.
  • Use gave me Fame at first, and Fame again
    Increasing gave me use.
    Lo, there my boon!
    What other? for men sought to prove me vile,
    Because I fain had given them greater wits:
    And then did Envy call me Devil's son.
  • Sweet were the days when I was all unknown,
    But when my name was lifted up, the storm
    Brake on the mountain and I cared not for it.
    Right well know I that Fame is half-disfame,
    Yet needs must work my work
  • I rather dread the loss of use than fame.
  • Full many a love in loving youth was mine;
    I needed then no charm to keep them mine.
  • Smiling as a master smiles at one
    That is not of his school, nor any school
    But that where blind and naked Ignorance
    Delivers brawling judgments, unashamed,
    On all things all day long, he answered her.
    • Line 662
If they find some stain or blemish in a name of note, not grieving that their greatest are so small, inflate themselves with some insane delight, and judge all nature from her feet of clay, without the will to lift their eyes, and see her godlike head crowned with spiritual fire, and touching other worlds.
  • Thou read the book!
    And ever margin scribbled, crost, and crammed
    With comment, densest condensation,
    To mind and eye; but the long sleepless nights
    Of my long life have made it easy to me.
    And none can read the text, not even I;
    And none can read the comment but myself;
    And in the comment did I find the charm.
  • O selfless man and stainless gentleman,
    Who wouldst against thine own eye-witness fain
    Have all men true and leal, all women pure;
    How, in the mouths of base interpreters,
    From over-fineness not intelligible
    To things with every sense as false and foul
    As the poached filth that floods the middle street,
    Is thy white blamelessness accounted blame!
  • Her words had issue other than she willed.
  • What did the wanton say?
    "Not mount as high;" we scarce can sink as low:
    For men at most differ as Heaven and earth,
    But women, worst and best, as Heaven and Hell
    • Line 812
  • I know the Table Round, my friends of old;
    All brave and many generous and some chaste.
    • Line 814
  • I thought that he was gentle, being great;
    O God, that I had loved a smaller man!
    I should have found in him a greater heart.
    • Line 869
  • There must be now no passages of love
    Betwixt us twain henceforward evermore.
    • Line 911
  • Nine tithes of times
    Face-flatterer and backbiter are the same.
    And they, sweet soul, that most impute a crime
    Are pronest to it, and impute themselves,
    Wanting the mental range; or low desire
    Not to feel lowest makes them level all;
    Yea, they would pare the mountain to the plain,
    To leave an equal baseness
    ; and in this
    Are harlots like the crowd, that if they find
    Some stain or blemish in a name of note,
    Not grieving that their greatest are so small,
    Inflate themselves with some insane delight,
    And judge all nature from her feet of clay,
    Without the will to lift their eyes, and see
    Her godlike head crowned with spiritual fire,
    And touching other worlds.
  • In a wink the false love turns to hate.

Lancelot and Elaine

In me there dwells no greatness, save it be some far-off touch of greatness to know well I am not great...
  • Elaine the fair, Elaine the loveable,
    Elaine, the lily maid of Astolat,
    High in her chamber up a tower to the east
    Guarded the sacred shield of Lancelot;
  • These jewels, whereupon I chanced
    Divinely, are the kingdom's, not the King's —
    For public use
    : henceforward let there be,
    Once every year, a joust for one of these:
    For so by nine years' proof we needs must learn
    Which is our mightiest, and ourselves shall grow
    In use of arms and manhood.
  • Thus he spoke:
    And eight years past, eight jousts had been, and still
    Had Lancelot won the diamond of the year,
    With purpose to present them to the Queen,
    When all were won; but meaning all at once
    To snare her royal fancy with a boon
    Worth half her realm, had never spoken word.
  • Rapt in this fancy of his Table Round,
    And swearing men to vows impossible,
    To make them like himself: but, friend, to me
    He is all fault who hath no fault at all:
    For who loves me must have a touch of earth;
    • Line 130
  • Ye know right well, how meek soe'er he seem,
    No keener hunter after glory breathes.
    • Line 154
  • The tiny-trumpeting gnat can break our dream
    When sweetest; and the vermin voices here
    May buzz so loud — we scorn them, but they sting.
  • The fire of God
    Fills him. I never saw his like; there lives
    No greater leader.
    • Line 314
  • Then Lancelot answered young Lavaine and said,
    "Me you call great: mine is the firmer seat,
    The truer lance: but there is many a youth
    Now crescent, who will come to all I am
    And overcome it; and in me there dwells
    No greatness, save it be some far-off touch
    Of greatness to know well I am not great
    There is the man."
    • Line 443
It is no more Sir Lancelot's fault not to love me, than it is mine to love him of all men who seems to me the highest...
  • "Too courteous are ye, fair Lord Lancelot.
    I pray you, use some rough discourtesy
    To blunt or break her passion."

    Lancelot said,
    "That were against me: what I can I will."

  • I know not if I know what true love is,
    But if I know, then, if I love not him,
    I know there is none other I can love.
    • Line 672
  • The shackles of an old love straitened him,
    His honour rooted in dishonour stood,
    And faith unfaithful kept him falsely true.
    • Line 870
  • Sweet is true love though given in vain, in vain;
    And sweet is death who puts an end to pain:
    I know not which is sweeter, no, not I.

    Love, art thou sweet? then bitter death must be:
    Love, thou art bitter; sweet is death to me.
    O Love, if death be sweeter, let me die.

    I fain would follow love, if that could be;
    I needs must follow death, who calls for me;
    Call and I follow, I follow! let me die.

    • Line 1000
  • He makes no friend who never made a foe.
    • Line 1082
  • It is no more Sir Lancelot's fault
    Not to love me, than it is mine to love
    Him of all men who seems to me the highest.
  • Daughter, I know not what you call the highest;
    But this I know, for all the people know it,
    He loves the Queen, and in an open shame:
    And she returns his love in open shame;
    If this be high, what is it to be low?
  • These are slanders: never yet
    Was noble man but made ignoble talk.
    He makes no friend who never made a foe.
  • To doubt her fairness were to want an eye,
    To doubt her pureness were to want a heart —
    Yea, to be loved, if what is worthy love
    Could bind him, but free love will not be bound.
  • "Free love, so bound, were freëst," said the King.
    "Let love be free; free love is for the best:
    And, after heaven, on our dull side of death,
    What should be best, if not so pure a love
    Clothed in so pure a loveliness?
    yet thee
    She failed to bind, though being, as I think,
    Unbound as yet, and gentle, as I know."
    • Line 1370
  • What am I? what profits me my name
    Of greatest knight? I fought for it, and have it:
    Pleasure to have it, none; to lose it, pain;
    Now grown a part of me: but what use in it?
    To make men worse by making my sin known?
    Or sin seem less, the sinner seeming great?
  • So groaned Sir Lancelot in remorseful pain,
    Not knowing he should die a holy man.

The Holy Grail

If a man could touch or see it, he was healed at once, by faith, of all his ills. But then the times grew to such evil that the holy cup was caught away to Heaven, and disappeared...
  • The sweet vision of the Holy Grail
    Drove me from all vainglories, rivalries,
    And earthly heats that spring and sparkle out
    Among us in the jousts, while women watch
    Who wins, who falls; and waste the spiritual strength
    Within us, better offered up to Heaven.
  • The Holy Grail! —
    … What is it?
    The phantom of a cup that comes and goes?
  • "Nay, monk! what phantom?' answered Percivale.
    "The cup, the cup itself, from which our Lord
    Drank at the last sad supper with his own.…
    If a man
    Could touch or see it, he was healed at once,
    By faith, of all his ills. But then the times
    Grew to such evil that the holy cup
    Was caught away to Heaven, and disappeared."
  • When she came to speak, behold her eyes
    Beyond my knowing of them, beautiful,
    Beyond all knowing of them, wonderful,
    Beautiful in the light of holiness.
Galahad, when he heard my sister's vision, filled me with amaze; his eyes became so like her own, they seemed hers, and himself her brother more than I...
  • Sweet brother, I have seen the Holy Grail…
    The Holy Thing is here again
    Among us, brother, fast thou too and pray,
    And tell thy brother knights to fast and pray,
    That so perchance the vision may be seen
    By thee and those, and all the world be healed.
  • One there was among us, ever moved
    Among us in white armour, Galahad.
  • Galahad, when he heard
    My sister's vision, filled me with amaze;
    His eyes became so like her own, they seemed
    Hers, and himself her brother more than I.
  • Sister or brother none had he; but some
    Called him a son of Lancelot, and some said
    Begotten by enchantment — chatterers they,
    Like birds of passage piping up and down,
    That gape for flies — we know not whence they come;
    For when was Lancelot wanderingly lewd?
Merlin called it "The Siege perilous,"
Perilous for good and ill; "for there," he said,
"No man could sit but he should lose himself..."
  • "Go forth, for thou shalt see what I have seen,
    And break through all, till one will crown thee king
    Far in the spiritual city:" and as she spake
    She sent the deathless passion in her eyes
    Through him, and made him hers, and laid her mind
    On him, and he believed in her belief.
  • Then came a year of miracle...
  • In our great hall there stood a vacant chair,
    Fashioned by Merlin ere he past away,
    And carven with strange figures
    ; and in and out
    The figures, like a serpent, ran a scroll
    Of letters in a tongue no man could read.
    And Merlin called it "The Siege perilous,"
    Perilous for good and ill; "for there," he said,
    "No man could sit but he should lose himself..."
  • All at once, as there we sat, we heard
    A cracking and a riving of the roofs,
    And rending, and a blast, and overhead
    Thunder, and in the thunder was a cry.
  • And in the blast there smote along the hall
    A beam of light seven times more clear than day:
    And down the long beam stole the Holy Grail
    All over covered with a luminous cloud.
    And none might see who bare it, and it past.
    But every knight beheld his fellow's face
    As in a glory, and all the knights arose,
    And staring each at other like dumb men
    Stood, till I found a voice and sware a vow.
  • Four great zones of sculpture, set betwixt
    With many a mystic symbol, gird the hall:
    And in the lowest beasts are slaying men,
    And in the second men are slaying beasts,
    And on the third are warriors, perfect men,
    And on the fourth are men with growing wings,
    And over all one statue in the mould
    Of Arthur, made by Merlin, with a crown,
    And peaked wings pointed to the Northern Star.
  • Twelve great windows blazon Arthur's wars,
    And all the light that falls upon the board
    Streams through the twelve great battles of our King.
    Nay, one there is, and at the eastern end,
    Wealthy with wandering lines of mount and mere,
    Where Arthur finds the brand Excalibur.
    And also one to the west, and counter to it,
    And blank: and who shall blazon it? when and how? —
    O there, perchance, when all our wars are done,
    The brand Excalibur will be cast away.
  • "Had I been here, ye had not sworn the vow."
    Bold was mine answer, "Had thyself been here,
    My King, thou wouldst have sworn." "Yea, yea," said he,
    "Art thou so bold and hast not seen the Grail?"

    "Nay, lord, I heard the sound, I saw the light,
    But since I did not see the Holy Thing,
    I sware a vow to follow it till I saw."

  • I, Sir Arthur, saw the Holy Grail,
    I saw the Holy Grail and heard a cry —
    "O Galahad", and "O Galahad, follow me."
  • "Ah, Galahad, Galahad," said the King, "for such
    As thou art is the vision, not for these.
  • Lancelot is Lancelot, and hath overborne
    Five knights at once, and every younger knight,
    Unproven, holds himself as Lancelot,

    Till overborne by one, he learns — and ye,
    What are ye? Galahads? — no, nor Percivales
  • One hath seen, and all the blind will see.
    Go, since your vows are sacred, being made.
  • How often, O my knights,
    Your places being vacant at my side,
    This chance of noble deeds will come and go
    Unchallenged, while ye follow wandering fires
    Lost in the quagmire! Many of you, yea most,
    Return no more: ye think I show myself
    Too dark a prophet: come now, let us meet
    The morrow morn once more in one full field
    Of gracious pastime, that once more the King,
    Before ye leave him for this Quest, may count
    The yet-unbroken strength of all his knights,
    Rejoicing in that Order which he made.
  • Thou hast not true humility,
    The highest virtue, mother of them all
  • Thou hast not lost thyself to save thyself
    As Galahad.
  • Saw ye no more? I, Galahad, saw the Grail,
    The Holy Grail, descend upon the shrine:
    I saw the fiery face as of a child
    That smote itself into the bread, and went;
    And hither am I come; and never yet
    Hath what thy sister taught me first to see,
    This Holy Thing, failed from my side, nor come
    Covered, but moving with me night and day.
  • In the strength of this I rode,
    Shattering all evil customs everywhere,
    And past through Pagan realms, and made them mine,

    And clashed with Pagan hordes, and bore them down,
    And broke through all, and in the strength of this
    Come victor. But my time is hard at hand,
    And hence I go; and one will crown me king
    Far in the spiritual city; and come thou, too,
    For thou shalt see the vision when I go.
  • On either hand, as far as eye could see,
    A great black swamp and of an evil smell,
    Part black, part whitened with the bones of men,
    Not to be crost, save that some ancient king
    Had built a way, where, linked with many a bridge,
    A thousand piers ran into the great Sea.
    And Galahad fled along them bridge by bridge,
    And every bridge as quickly as he crost
    Sprang into fire and vanished, though I yearned
    To follow; and thrice above him all the heavens
    Opened and blazed with thunder such as seemed
    Shoutings of all the sons of God
    : and first
    At once I saw him far on the great Sea,
    In silver-shining armour starry-clear;
    And o'er his head the Holy Vessel hung
    Clothed in white samite or a luminous cloud.
  • O'er his head the Holy Vessel hung
    Redder than any rose, a joy to me,
    For now I knew the veil had been withdrawn.
  • I saw the spiritual city and all her spires
    And gateways in a glory like one pearl —
    No larger, though the goal of all the saints —
    Strike from the sea; and from the star there shot
    A rose-red sparkle to the city, and there
    Dwelt, and I knew it was the Holy Grail,
    Which never eyes on earth again shall see.
  • All men, to one so bound by such a vow,
    And women were as phantoms.
  • I chanced upon a goodly town
    With one great dwelling in the middle of it;
    Thither I made, and there was I disarmed
    By maidens each as fair as any flower
  • The Princess of that castle was the one,
    Brother, and that one only, who had ever
    Made my heart leap;
    for when I moved of old
    A slender page about her father's hall,
    And she a slender maiden, all my heart
    Went after her with longing: yet we twain
    Had never kissed a kiss, or vowed a vow.
    And now I came upon her once again,
    And one had wedded her, and he was dead,
    And all his land and wealth and state were hers.
  • We have heard of thee: thou art our greatest knight,
    Our Lady says it, and we well believe:
    Wed thou our Lady, and rule over us,
    And thou shalt be as Arthur in our land.
  • I rose and fled,
    But wailed and wept, and hated mine own self,
    And even the Holy Quest, and all but her;

    Then after I was joined with Galahad
    Cared not for her, nor anything upon earth.
  • Poor men, when yule is cold,
    Must be content to sit by little fires.
  • O the pity
    To find thine own first love once more — to hold,
    Hold her a wealthy bride within thine arms,
    Or all but hold, and then — cast her aside,
    Foregoing all her sweetness, like a weed.
    For we that want the warmth of double life,
    We that are plagued with dreams of something sweet
    Beyond all sweetness in a life so rich, —

    Ah, blessd Lord, I speak too earthlywise,
    Seeing I never strayed beyond the cell.
  • "Hail, Bors! if ever loyal man and true
    Could see it, thou hast seen the Grail;" and Bors,
    "Ask me not, for I may not speak of it:
    I saw it;" and the tears were in his eyes.
  • Our Arthur kept his best until the last;
    "Thou, too, my Lancelot," asked the king, "my friend,
    Our mightiest, hath this Quest availed for thee?"
  • O King, my friend, if friend of thine I be,
    Happier are those that welter in their sin,
    Swine in the mud, that cannot see for slime,
    Slime of the ditch: but in me lived a sin
    So strange, of such a kind, that all of pure,
    Noble, and knightly in me twined and clung
    Round that one sin, until the wholesome flower
    And poisonous grew together, each as each,
    Not to be plucked asunder
  • When thy knights
    Sware, I sware with them only in the hope
    That could I touch or see the Holy Grail
    They might be plucked asunder. Then I spake
    To one most holy saint, who wept and said,
    That save they could be plucked asunder, all
    My quest were but in vain
  • Forth I went, and while I yearned and strove
    To tear the twain asunder in my heart,
    My madness came upon me as of old,
    And whipt me into waste fields far away;
    There was I beaten down by little men,
    Mean knights, to whom the moving of my sword
    And shadow of my spear had been enow
    To scare them from me once
Blessed are Bors, Lancelot and Percivale,
For these have seen according to their sight.
  • Blasted and burnt, and blinded as I was,
    With such a fierceness that I swooned away —
    O, yet methought I saw the Holy Grail,
    All palled in crimson samite, and around
    Great angels, awful shapes, and wings and eyes
    And but for all my madness and my sin,
    And then my swooning, I had sworn I saw
    That which I saw; but what I saw was veiled
    And covered; and this Quest was not for me.
  • Thy holy nun and thou have driven men mad,
    Yea, made our mightiest madder than our least.

    But by mine eyes and by mine ears I swear,
    I will be deafer than the blue-eyed cat,
    And thrice as blind as any noonday owl,
    To holy virgins in their ecstasies,
    • Gawain to Arthur
Deafer... and blinder unto holy things hope not to make thyself by idle vows, being too blind to have desire to see.
  • "Deafer," said the blameless King,
    "Gawain, and blinder unto holy things
    Hope not to make thyself by idle vows,
    Being too blind to have desire to see.

    But if indeed there came a sign from heaven,
    Blessed are Bors, Lancelot and Percivale,
    For these have seen according to their sight.
    For every fiery prophet in old times,
    And all the sacred madness of the bard,
    When God made music through them, could but speak
    His music by the framework and the chord;
    And as ye saw it ye have spoken truth.
  • — But thou errest, Lancelot: never yet
    Could all of true and noble in knight and man
    Twine round one sin, whatever it might be,
    With such a closeness, but apart there grew,
    Save that he were the swine thou spakest of,
    Some root of knighthood and pure nobleness;
    Whereto see thou, that it may bear its flower.
Let visions of the night or of the day come, as they will; and many a time they come, until this earth he walks on seems not earth, this light that strikes his eyeball is not light, this air that smites his forehead is not air but vision...
  • And spake I not too truly, O my knights?
    Was I too dark a prophet when I said
    To those who went upon the Holy Quest,
    That most of them would follow wandering fires,
    Lost in the quagmire? — lost to me and gone,
    And left me gazing at a barren board,
    And a lean Order — scarce returned a tithe —
    And out of those to whom the vision came
    My greatest hardly will believe he saw;
    Another hath beheld it afar off,
    And leaving human wrongs to right themselves,
    Cares but to pass into the silent life.
    And one hath had the vision face to face,
    And now his chair desires him here in vain,
    However they may crown him otherwhere.
...In moments when he feels he cannot die, and knows himself no vision to himself, nor the high God a vision, nor that One who rose again: ye have seen what ye have seen.
  • Some among you held, that if the King
    Had seen the sight he would have sworn the vow:
    Not easily, seeing that the King must guard
    That which he rules, and is but as the hind
    To whom a space of land is given to plow.
    Who may not wander from the allotted field
    Before his work be done; but, being done,
    Let visions of the night or of the day
    Come, as they will; and many a time they come,
    Until this earth he walks on seems not earth,
    This light that strikes his eyeball is not light,
    This air that smites his forehead is not air
    But vision — yea, his very hand and foot —
    In moments when he feels he cannot die,
    And knows himself no vision to himself,
    Nor the high God a vision, nor that One
    Who rose again: ye have seen what ye have seen.
  • So spake the King: I knew not all he meant.

Pelleas and Ettarre

As the base man, judging of the good, puts his own baseness in him by default of will and nature, so did Pelleas lend all the young beauty of his own soul to hers...
  • Make me thy knight, because I know, Sir King,
    All that belongs to knighthood, and I love.
  • While he gazed
    The beauty of her flesh abashed the boy,
    As though it were the beauty of her soul:
    For as the base man, judging of the good,
    Puts his own baseness in him by default
    Of will and nature, so did Pelleas lend
    All the young beauty of his own soul to hers
  • She muttered, "I have lighted on a fool,
    Raw, yet so stale!"
  • When they reached
    Caerleon, ere they past to lodging, she,
    Taking his hand, "O the strong hand," she said,
    "See! look at mine! but wilt thou fight for me,
    And win me this fine circlet, Pelleas,
    That I may love thee?"
  • The men who met him rounded on their heels
    And wondered after him, because his face
    Shone like the countenance of a priest of old
    Against the flame about a sacrifice
    Kindled by fire from heaven: so glad was he.
  • Pelleas looked
    Noble among the noble, for he dreamed
    His lady loved him, and he knew himself
    Loved of the King: and him his new-made knight
    Worshipt, whose lightest whisper moved him more
    Than all the rangd reasons of the world.
  • Then rang the shout his lady loved: the heat
    Of pride and glory fired her face; her eye
    Sparkled; she caught the circlet from his lance,
    And there before the people crowned herself:
    So for the last time she was gracious to him.
  • Said Guinevere, "We marvel at thee much,
    O damsel, wearing this unsunny face
    To him who won thee glory!
    " And she said,
    "Had ye not held your Lancelot in your bower,
    My Queen, he had not won." Whereat the Queen,
    As one whose foot is bitten by an ant,
    Glanced down upon her, turned and went her way.
  • I cannot bide Sir Baby. Keep him back
    Among yourselves. Would rather that we had
    Some rough old knight who knew the worldly way,
    Albeit grizzlier than a bear, to ride
    And jest with: take him to you, keep him off,
    And pamper him with papmeat, if ye will
  • "If he fly us,
    Small matter! let him." This her damsels heard,
    And mindful of her small and cruel hand,
    They, closing round him through the journey home,
    Acted her hest, and always from her side
    Restrained him with all manner of device,
    So that he could not come to speech with her.
    And when she gained her castle, upsprang the bridge,
    Down rang the grate of iron through the groove,
    And he was left alone in open field.
  • "These be the ways of ladies," Pelleas thought,
    "To those who love them, trials of our faith.
    Yea, let her prove me to the uttermost,
    For loyal to the uttermost am I."
  • This persistence turned her scorn to wrath.
    Then calling her three knights, she charged them, "Out!
    And drive him from the walls." And out they came
    But Pelleas overthrew them as they dashed
    Against him one by one; and these returned,
    But still he kept his watch beneath the wall.
  • Thereon her wrath became a hate; and once,
    A week beyond, while walking on the walls
    With her three knights, she pointed downward, "Look,
    He haunts me — I cannot breathe — besieges me;
    Down! strike him! put my hate into your strokes,
    And drive him from my walls." And down they went,
    And Pelleas overthrew them one by one;
    And from the tower above him cried Ettarre,
    "Bind him, and bring him in."
  • He heard her voice;
    Then let the strong hand, which had overthrown
    Her minion-knights, by those he overthrew
    Be bounden straight, and so they brought him in.
  • Then when he came before Ettarre, the sight
    Of her rich beauty made him at one glance
    More bondsman in his heart than in his bonds.
    Yet with good cheer he spake, "Behold me, Lady,
    A prisoner, and the vassal of thy will;
    And if thou keep me in thy donjon here,
    Content am I so that I see thy face
    But once a day: for I have sworn my vows,
    And thou hast given thy promise, and I know
    That all these pains are trials of my faith,
    And that thyself, when thou hast seen me strained
    And sifted to the utmost, wilt at length
    Yield me thy love and know me for thy knight.
  • Then she began to rail so bitterly,
    With all her damsels, he was stricken mute;
    But when she mocked his vows and the great King,
    Lighted on words: "For pity of thine own self,
    Peace, Lady, peace: is he not thine and mine?"
    "Thou fool," she said, "I never heard his voice
    But longed to break away. Unbind him now,
    And thrust him out of doors; for save he be
    Fool to the midmost marrow of his bones,
    He will return no more." And those, her three,
    Laughed, and unbound, and thrust him from the gate.
  • And after this, a week beyond, again
    She called them, saying, "There he watches yet,
    There like a dog before his master's door!
    Kicked, he returns: do ye not hate him, ye?
    Ye know yourselves: how can ye bide at peace,
    Affronted with his fulsome innocence?

    Are ye but creatures of the board and bed,
    No men to strike? Fall on him all at once,
    And if ye slay him I reck not: if ye fail,
    Give ye the slave mine order to be bound,
    Bind him as heretofore, and bring him in:
    It may be ye shall slay him in his bonds."
  • Gawain passing by,
    Bound upon solitary adventure, saw
    Low down beneath the shadow of those towers
    A villainy, three to one: and through his heart
    The fire of honour and all noble deeds
    Flashed, and he called, "I strike upon thy side —
    The caitiffs!" "Nay," said Pelleas, "but forbear;
    He needs no aid who doth his lady's will."
  • So Gawain, looking at the villainy done,
    Forbore, but in his heat and eagerness
    Trembled and quivered, as the dog, withheld
    A moment from the vermin that he sees
    Before him, shivers, ere he springs and kills.
  • And Pelleas overthrew them, one to three;
    And they rose up, and bound, and brought him in.
    Then first her anger, leaving Pelleas, burned
    Full on her knights in many an evil name
    Of craven, weakling, and thrice-beaten hound
  • Lady, for indeed
    I loved you and I deemed you beautiful,
    I cannot brook to see your beauty marred
    Through evil spite: and if ye love me not,
    I cannot bear to dream you so forsworn:
    I had liefer ye were worthy of my love,
    Than to be loved again of you — farewell;
    And though ye kill my hope, not yet my love,
    Vex not yourself: ye will not see me more.
  • While thus he spake, she gazed upon the man
    Of princely bearing, though in bonds, and thought,
    "Why have I pushed him from me? this man loves,
    If love there be: yet him I loved not. Why?
    I deemed him fool? yea, so? or that in him
    A something — was it nobler than myself?
    Seemed my reproach? He is not of my kind.
    He could not love me, did he know me well.
    Nay, let him go — and quickly." And her knights
    Laughed not, but thrust him bounden out of door.
  • A rose, but one, none other rose had I,
    A rose, one rose, and this was wondrous fair,
    One rose, a rose that gladdened earth and sky,
    One rose, my rose, that sweetened all mine air —
    I cared not for the thorns; the thorns were there.
  • One rose, a rose to gather by and by,
    One rose, a rose, to gather and to wear,
    No rose but one — what other rose had I?
    One rose, my rose; a rose that will not die, —
    He dies who loves it, — if the worm be there.
  • "Alas that ever a knight should be so false."
    Then turned, and so returned, and groaning laid
    The naked sword athwart their naked throats,
    There left it, and them sleeping; and she lay,
    The circlet of her tourney round her brows,
    And the sword of the tourney across her throat.
  • Let the fox bark, let the wolf yell. Who yells
    Here in the still sweet summer night, but I —
    I, the poor Pelleas whom she called her fool?
    Fool, beast — he, she, or I? myself most fool;
    Beast too, as lacking human wit — disgraced,
    Dishonoured all for trial of true love —
  • She, that felt the cold touch on her throat,
    Awaking knew the sword, and turned herself
    To Gawain: "Liar, for thou hast not slain
    This Pelleas! here he stood, and might have slain
    Me and thyself." And he that tells the tale
    Says that her ever-veering fancy turned
    To Pelleas, as the one true knight on earth,
    And only lover; and through her love her life
    Wasted and pined, desiring him in vain.
  • "Am I but false as Guinevere is pure?
    Or art thou mazed with dreams? or being one
    Of our free-spoken Table hast not heard
    That Lancelot" — there he checked himself and paused.
  • Then fared it with Sir Pelleas as with one
    Who gets a wound in battle, and the sword
    That made it plunges through the wound again,
    And pricks it deeper: and he shrank and wailed,
    "Is the Queen false?" and Percivale was mute.
    "Have any of our Round Table held their vows?"
    And Percivale made answer not a word.
  • "O young knight,
    Hath the great heart of knighthood in thee failed
    So far thou canst not bide, unfrowardly,
    A fall from HIM?" Then, for he answered not,
    "Or hast thou other griefs? If I, the Queen,
    May help them, loose thy tongue, and let me know."
    But Pelleas lifted up an eye so fierce
    She quailed; and he, hissing "I have no sword,"
    Sprang from the door into the dark.
  • Then a long silence came upon the hall,
    And Modred thought, "The time is hard at hand."
  • O great and sane and simple race of brutes
    That own no lust because they have no law
    • Line 471

The Last Tournament

All the ways were safe from shore to shore, but in the heart of Arthur pain was lord.
  • Strength of heart
    And might of limb, but mainly use and skill,
    Are winners in this pastime.
    • Line 197
  • Into the hall staggered, his visage ribbed
    From ear to ear with dogwhip-weals, his nose
    Bridge-broken, one eye out, and one hand off,
    And one with shattered fingers dangling lame,
    A churl, to whom indignantly the King,

    "My churl, for whom Christ died, what evil beast
    Hath drawn his claws athwart thy face? or fiend?
    Man was it who marred heaven's image in thee thus?"

  • Lord, I was tending swine, and the Red Knight
    Brake in upon me and drave them to his tower;
    And when I called upon thy name as one
    That doest right by gentle and by churl,
    Maimed me and mauled, and would outright have slain,
    Save that he sware me to a message, saying,
    "Tell thou the King and all his liars, that I
    Have founded my Round Table in the North,
    And whatsoever his own knights have sworn
    My knights have sworn the counter to it — and say
    My tower is full of harlots, like his court,
    But mine are worthier, seeing they profess
    To be none other than themselves — and say
    My knights are all adulterers like his own,
    But mine are truer, seeing they profess
    To be none other; and say his hour is come,
    The heathen are upon him, his long lance
    Broken, and his Excalibur a straw."
  • I am but a fool to reason with a fool —
  • Harken if my music be not true.

    "Free love — free field — we love but while we may:
    The woods are hushed, their music is no more:
    The leaf is dead, the yearning past away:
    New leaf, new life — the days of frost are o'er:
    New life, new love, to suit the newer day:
    New loves are sweet as those that went before:
    Free love — free field — we love but while we may."

    "Ye might have moved slow-measure to my tune,
    Not stood stockstill. I made it in the woods,
    And heard it ring as true as tested gold."

  • When the King
    Had made thee fool, thy vanity so shot up
    It frighted all free fool from out thy heart;
    Which left thee less than fool, and less than swine,
    A naked aught — yet swine I hold thee still,
    For I have flung thee pearls and find thee swine.
  • I have had my day.
    The dirty nurse, Experience, in her kind
    Hath fouled me — an I wallowed, then I washed —
    I have had my day and my philosophies —
    And thank the Lord I am King Arthur's fool.
    Swine, say ye? swine, goats, asses, rams and geese
    Trooped round a Paynim harper once, who thrummed
    On such a wire as musically as thou
    Some such fine song — but never a king's fool.
    • Line 316
  • My brother fool, the king of fools!
    Conceits himself as God that he can make
    Figs out of thistles, silk from bristles, milk
    From burning spurge, honey from hornet-combs,
    And men from beasts — Long live the king of fools!
  • So all the ways were safe from shore to shore,
    But in the heart of Arthur pain was lord.
  • What rights are his that dare not strike for them?
Her beauty is her beauty, and thine thine,
And thine is more to me — soft, gracious, kind...
  • Softly laughed Isolt;
    "Flatter me not, for hath not our great Queen
    My dole of beauty trebled?" and he said,
    "Her beauty is her beauty, and thine thine,
    And thine is more to me — soft, gracious, kind —"
  • O my soul, be comforted!
    If this be sweet, to sin in leading-strings,
    If here be comfort, and if ours be sin,
    Crowned warrant had we for the crowning sin
    That made us happy: but how ye greet me — fear
    And fault and doubt — no word of that fond tale —
    Thy deep heart-yearnings, thy sweet memories
    Of Tristram in that year he was away.
  • Tristram, ever dallying with her hand,
    "May God be with thee, sweet, when old and gray,
    And past desire!" a saying that angered her.
  • The greater man, the greater courtesy.
    • Line 628
The vow that binds too strictly snaps itself —
My knighthood taught me this — ay, being snapt —
We run more counter to the soul thereof
Than had we never sworn. I swear no more.
  • How darest thou, if lover, push me even
    In fancy from thy side, and set me far
    In the gray distance, half a life away,
    Her to be loved no more? Unsay it, unswear!
    Flatter me rather, seeing me so weak,
    Broken with Mark and hate and solitude,
    Thy marriage and mine own, that I should suck
    Lies like sweet wines: lie to me: I believe.
    Will ye not lie? not swear, as there ye kneel,
    And solemnly as when ye sware to him,
    The man of men, our King — My God, the power
    Was once in vows when men believed the King!
    They lied not then, who sware, and through their vows
    The King prevailing made his realm: — I say,
    Swear to me thou wilt love me even when old,
    Gray-haired, and past desire, and in despair.
  • Then Tristram, pacing moodily up and down,
    "Vows! did you keep the vow you made to Mark
    More than I mine? Lied, say ye? Nay, but learnt,
    The vow that binds too strictly snaps itself —
    My knighthood taught me this — ay, being snapt —
    We run more counter to the soul thereof
    Than had we never sworn. I swear no more.
    • Line 649
  • I swore to the great King, and am forsworn.
    For once — even to the height — I honoured him.
    "Man, is he man at all?"…
    That weird legend of his birth,
    With Merlin's mystic babble about his end
    Amazed me; then, his foot was on a stool
    Shaped as a dragon; he seemed to me no man,
    But Michaël trampling Satan; so I sware,
    Being amazed
  • They failed to trace him through the flesh and blood
    Of our old kings: whence then? a doubtful lord
    To bind them by inviolable vows,
    Which flesh and blood perforce would violate
  • Can Arthur make me pure
    As any maiden child? lock up my tongue
    From uttering freely what I freely hear?
    Bind me to one? The wide world laughs at it.
    And worldling of the world am I, and know
    The ptarmigan that whitens ere his hour
    Woos his own end; we are not angels here

    Nor shall be
  • We love but while we may;
    And therefore is my love so large for thee,
    Seeing it is not bounded save by love.
  • For courtesy wins woman all as well
    As valour may, but he that closes both
    Is perfect, he is Lancelot — taller indeed,
    Rosier and comelier, thou — but say I loved
    This knightliest of all knights, and cast thee back
    Thine own small saw, "We love but while we may,"
    Well then, what answer?
    • Line 702
  • I will love thee to the death,
    And out beyond into the dream to come.
  • So then, when both were brought to full accord,
    She rose, and set before him all he willed
  • "What art thou?" and the voice about his feet
    Sent up an answer, sobbing, "I am thy fool,
    And I shall never make thee smile again.


No knight of Arthur's noblest dealt in scorn...
  • Queen Guinevere had fled the court, and sat
    There in the holy house at Almesbury
    For hither had she fled, her cause of flight
    Sir Modred; he that like a subtle beast
    Lay couchant with his eyes upon the throne,
    Ready to spring, waiting a chance
  • In those days
    No knight of Arthur's noblest dealt in scorn;
    But, if a man were halt or hunched, in him
    By those whom God had made full-limbed and tall,
    Scorn was allowed as part of his defect,
    And he was answered softly by the King
    And all his Table.
  • She half-foresaw that he, the subtle beast,
    Would track her guilt until he found, and hers
    Would be for evermore a name of scorn.
  • O Lancelot, get thee hence to thine own land,
    For if thou tarry we shall meet again,
    And if we meet again, some evil chance
    Will make the smouldering scandal break and blaze
    Before the people, and our lord the King.
  • And Lancelot ever promised, but remained,
    And still they met and met. Again she said,
    "O Lancelot, if thou love me get thee hence."
    And then they were agreed upon a night
    (When the good King should not be there) to meet
    And part for ever. Vivien, lurking, heard.
    She told Sir Modred.
  • And when she came to Almesbury she spake
    There to the nuns, and said, "Mine enemies
    Pursue me, but, O peaceful Sisterhood,
    Receive, and yield me sanctuary, nor ask
    Her name to whom ye yield it, till her time
    To tell you:" and her beauty, grace and power,
    Wrought as a charm upon them, and they spared
    To ask it.
  • O pray you, noble lady, weep no more;
    But let my words, the words of one so small,
    Who knowing nothing knows but to obey,
    And if I do not there is penance given —
    Comfort your sorrows; for they do not flow
    From evil done; right sure am I of that,
    Who see your tender grace and stateliness.
    But weigh your sorrows with our lord the King's,

    And weighing find them less; for gone is he
    To wage grim war against Sir Lancelot there,
    Round that strong castle where he holds the Queen;
    And Modred whom he left in charge of all,
    The traitor — Ah sweet lady, the King's grief
    For his own self, and his own Queen, and realm,
    Must needs be thrice as great as any of ours.
  • For me, I thank the saints, I am not great.
    For if there ever come a grief to me
    I cry my cry in silence, and have done.
    None knows it, and my tears have brought me good:

    But even were the griefs of little ones
    As great as those of great ones, yet this grief
    Is added to the griefs the great must bear,
    That howsoever much they may desire
    Silence, they cannot weep behind a cloud:
    As even here they talk at Almesbury
    About the good King and his wicked Queen,
    And were I such a King with such a Queen,
    Well might I wish to veil her wickedness,
    But were I such a King, it could not be.
  • Then to her own sad heart muttered the Queen,
    "Will the child kill me with her innocent talk?"
  • They found a naked child upon the sands
    Of dark Tintagil by the Cornish sea;
    And that was Arthur; and they fostered him
    Till he by miracle was approven King:
    And that his grave should be a mystery
    From all men, like his birth; and could he find
    A woman in her womanhood as great
    As he was in his manhood, then, he sang,
    The twain together well might change the world.
    But even in the middle of his song
    He faltered, and his hand fell from the harp,
    And pale he turned, and reeled, and would have fallen,
    But that they stayed him up; nor would he tell
    His vision; but what doubt that he foresaw
    This evil work of Lancelot and the Queen?
  • "Of the two first-famed for courtesy —
    And pray you check me if I ask amiss-
    But pray you, which had noblest, while you moved
    Among them, Lancelot or our lord the King?"

    Then the pale Queen looked up and answered her,
    "Sir Lancelot, as became a noble knight,
    Was gracious to all ladies, and the same
    In open battle or the tilting-field
    Forbore his own advantage, and the King
    In open battle or the tilting-field
    Forbore his own advantage, and these two
    Were the most nobly-mannered men of all;
    For manners are not idle, but the fruit
    Of loyal nature, and of noble mind.

    • Line 321
  • No more subtle master under heaven
    Than is the maiden passion for a maid,
    Not only to keep down the base in man
    But teach high thought and amiable words
    And courtliness and the desire of fame
    And love of truth and all that makes a man.
    • Line 475
  • O closed about by narrowing nunnery-walls,
    What knowest thou of the world, and all its lights
    And shadows, all the wealth and all the woe?
    If ever Lancelot, that most noble knight,
    Were for one hour less noble than himself,
    Pray for him that he scape the doom of fire,
    And weep for her that drew him to his doom.
  • "Yea," said the little novice, "I pray for both;
    But I should all as soon believe that his,
    Sir Lancelot's, were as noble as the King's,
    As I could think, sweet lady, yours would be
    Such as they are, were you the sinful Queen."

    So she, like many another babbler, hurt
    Whom she would soothe, and harmed where she would heal;

    For here a sudden flush of wrathful heat
    Fired all the pale face of the Queen

  • The simple, fearful child
    Meant nothing, but my own too-fearful guilt,
    Simpler than any child, betrays itself.
  • I was first of all the kings who drew
    The knighthood-errant of this realm and all
    The realms together under me, their Head,
    In that fair Order of my Table Round,
    A glorious company, the flower of men,
    To serve as model for the mighty world,
    And be the fair beginning of a time.
  • I did not come to curse thee, Guinevere,
    I, whose vast pity almost makes me die
    To see thee, laying there thy golden head,
    My pride in happier summers, at my feet.
  • The pang — which while I weighed thy heart with one
    Too wholly true to dream untruth in thee,
    Made my tears burn — is also past — in part.
    And all is past, the sin is sinned, and I,
    Lo! I forgive thee, as Eternal God
    Forgives: do thou for thine own soul the rest.
  • O imperial-moulded form,
    And beauty such as never woman wore,
    Until it became a kingdom's curse with thee —
    I cannot touch thy lips, they are not mine,
    But Lancelot's: nay, they never were the King's.
  • My doom is, I love thee still.
    Let no man dream but that I love thee still.
  • Gone — my lord!
    Gone through my sin to slay and to be slain!
    And he forgave me, and I could not speak.
    Farewell? I should have answered his farewell.
    His mercy choked me. Gone, my lord the King,
    My own true lord! how dare I call him mine?
What might I not have made of thy fair world,
Had I but loved thy highest creature here?
  • Shall I kill myself?
    What help in that? I cannot kill my sin,
    If soul be soul; nor can I kill my shame;
    No, nor by living can I live it down.
    The days will grow to weeks, the weeks to months
    The months will add themselves and make the years,
    The years will roll into the centuries,
    And mine will ever be a name of scorn.
  • I must not dwell on that defeat of fame.
    Let the world be; that is but of the world.
    What else? what hope? I think there was a hope,
    Except he mocked me when he spake of hope;
    His hope he called it; but he never mocks,
    For mockery is the fume of little hearts.

    And blessd be the King, who hath forgiven
    My wickedness to him, and left me hope
    That in mine own heart I can live down sin
    And be his mate hereafter in the heavens
    Before high God.
  • Now I see thee what thou art,
    Thou art the highest and most human too,
    Not Lancelot, nor another. Is there none
    Will tell the King I love him though so late?

    Now — ere he goes to the great Battle? none:
    Myself must tell him in that purer life,
    But now it were too daring. Ah my God,
    What might I not have made of thy fair world,
    Had I but loved thy highest creature here?
    It was my duty to have loved the highest:
    It surely was my profit had I known:
    It would have been my pleasure had I seen.
    We needs must love the highest when we see it
  • Here her hand
    Grasped, made her vail her eyes: she looked and saw
    The novice, weeping, suppliant, and said to her,
    "Yea, little maid, for am I not forgiven?"
    Then glancing up beheld the holy nuns
    All round her, weeping; and her heart was loosed
    Within her, and she wept with these and said,

    "Ye know me then, that wicked one, who broke
    The vast design and purpose of the King.

    O shut me round with narrowing nunnery-walls,
    Meek maidens, from the voices crying 'shame.'

    I must not scorn myself: he loves me still.
    Let no one dream but that he loves me still.

  • So let me, if you do not shudder at me,
    Nor shun to call me sister, dwell with you;
    Wear black and white, and be a nun like you,
    Fast with your fasts, not feasting with your feasts;
    Grieve with your griefs, not grieving at your joys,
    But not rejoicing; mingle with your rites;
    Pray and be prayed for; lie before your shrines;
    Do each low office of your holy house;
    Walk your dim cloister, and distribute dole
    To poor sick people, richer in His eyes
    Who ransomed us, and haler too than I;
    And treat their loathsome hurts and heal mine own;
    And so wear out in almsdeed and in prayer
    The sombre close of that voluptuous day,
    Which wrought the ruin of my lord the King.
  • They took her to themselves; and she
    Still hoping, fearing "is it yet too late?"
    Dwelt with them, till in time their Abbess died.
    Then she, for her good deeds and her pure life,
    And for the power of ministration in her,
    And likewise for the high rank she had borne,
    Was chosen Abbess, there, an Abbess, lived
    For three brief years, and there, an Abbess, past
    To where beyond these voices there is peace.

The Passing of Arthur

I found Him in the shining of the stars, I marked Him in the flowering of His fields, but in His ways with men I find Him not.
  • I found Him in the shining of the stars,
    I marked Him in the flowering of His fields,
    But in His ways with men I find Him not.

    I waged His wars, and now I pass and die.
  • O me! for why is all around us here
    As if some lesser god had made the world,
    But had not force to shape it as he would,
    Till the High God behold it from beyond,
    And enter it, and make it beautiful?
    Or else as if the world were wholly fair,
    But that these eyes of men are dense and dim,
    And have not power to see it as it is
    Perchance, because we see not to the close; —
    For I, being simple, thought to work His will,
    And have but stricken with the sword in vain;
    And all whereon I leaned in wife and friend
    Is traitor to my peace, and all my realm
    Reels back into the beast, and is no more.
    My God, thou hast forgotten me in my death;
    Nay — God my Christ — I pass but shall not die.
    • Line 13
  • Ill doom is mine
    To war against my people and my knights.
    The king who fights his people fights himself.
    And they my knights, who loved me once, the stroke
    That strikes them dead is as my death to me.

    Yet let us hence, and find or feel a way
    Through this blind haze, which ever since I saw
    One lying in the dust at Almesbury,
    Hath folded in the passes of the world.
  • On the waste sand by the waste sea they closed.
    Nor ever yet had Arthur fought a fight
    Like this last, dim, weird battle of the west.
    A deathwhite mist slept over sand and sea:
    Whereof the chill, to him who breathed it, drew
    Down with his blood, till all his heart was cold
    With formless fear; and even on Arthur fell
    Confusion, since he saw not whom he fought.
  • For friend and foe were shadows in the mist,
    And friend slew friend not knowing whom he slew
    And some had visions out of golden youth,
    And some beheld the faces of old ghosts
    Look in upon the battle; and in the mist
    Was many a noble deed, many a base,
    And chance and craft and strength in single fights,
    And ever and anon with host to host
    Shocks, and the splintering spear, the hard mail hewn,
    Shield-breakings, and the clash of brands, the crash
    Of battleaxes on shattered helms, and shrieks
    After the Christ, of those who falling down
    Looked up for heaven, and only saw the mist;
    And shouts of heathen and the traitor knights,
    Oaths, insults, filth, and monstrous blasphemies,
    Sweat, writhings, anguish, labouring of the lungs
    In that close mist, and cryings for the light,
    Moans of the dying, and voices of the dead.
King am I, whatsoever be their cry; and one last act of kinghood shalt thou see yet, ere I pass.
  • On my heart hath fallen
    Confusion, till I know not what I am,
    Nor whence I am, nor whether I be King.
    Behold, I seem but King among the dead.
  • Then spake the bold Sir Bedivere: "My King,
    King everywhere! and so the dead have kings,
    There also will I worship thee as King.
    Yet still thy life is whole, and still I live
    Who love thee; but who hates thee, he that brought
    The heathen back among us, yonder stands,
    Modred, unharmed, the traitor of thine house."
  • "Well for thee, saying in my dark hour,
    When all the purport of my throne hath failed,
    That quick or dead thou holdest me for King.
    King am I, whatsoever be their cry;
    And one last act of kinghood shalt thou see
    Yet, ere I pass.
    " And uttering this the King
    Made at the man: then Modred smote his liege
    Hard on that helm which many a heathen sword
    Had beaten thin; while Arthur at one blow,
    Striking the last stroke with Excalibur,
    Slew him, and all but slain himself, he fell.
  • So all day long the noise of battle rolled
    Among the mountains by the winter sea;
    Until King Arthur's Table, man by man,
    Had fallen in Lyonnesse about their lord,
    King Arthur. Then, because his wound was deep,
    The bold Sir Bedivere uplifted him,
    And bore him to a chapel nigh the field,
    A broken chancel with a broken cross,
    That stood on a dark strait of barren land:
    On one side lay the Ocean, and on one
    Lay a great water, and the moon was full.
  • The sequel of today unsolders all
    The goodliest fellowship of famous knights
    Whereof this world holds record. Such a sleep
    They sleep — the men I loved. I think that we
    Shall never more, at any future time,
    Delight our souls with talk of knightly deeds,
    Walking about the gardens and the halls
    Of Camelot, as in the days that were.
    I perish by this people which I made, —
    Though Merlin sware that I should come again
    To rule once more; but, let what will be, be,
    I am so deeply smitten through the helm
    That without help I cannot last till morn.
  • Delay not: take Excalibur,
    And fling him far into the middle mere:
    Watch what thou seëst, and lightly bring me word.
  • I heard the ripple washing in the reeds,
    And the wild water lapping on the crag.
  • Thou hast betrayed thy nature and thy name,
    Not rendering true answer, as beseemed
    Thy fëalty, nor like a noble knight:
    For surer sign had followed, either hand,
    Or voice, or else a motion of the mere.
    This is a shameful thing for men to lie.

    Yet now, I charge thee, quickly go again,
    As thou art lief and dear, and do the thing
    I bade thee, watch, and lightly bring me word.
  • If indeed I cast the brand away,
    Surely a precious thing, one worthy note,
    Should thus be lost for ever from the earth,
    Which might have pleased the eyes of many men.
    What good should follow this, if this were done?
    What harm, undone?…
    Were it well to obey then, if a king demand
    An act unprofitable, against himself?
    The King is sick, and knows not what he does.
    What record, or what relic of my lord
    Should be to aftertime, but empty breath
    And rumours of a doubt?
So flashed and fell the brand Excalibur: But ere he dipt the surface, rose an arm clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful, and caught him by the hilt...
  • Authority forgets a dying king,
    Laid widowed of the power in his eye
    That bowed the will. I see thee what thou art,
    For thou, the latest-left of all my knights,
    In whom should meet the offices of all,
    Thou wouldst betray me for the precious hilt;
    Either from lust of gold, or like a girl
    Valuing the giddy pleasure of the eyes.
    Yet, for a man may fail in duty twice,
    And the third time may prosper, get thee hence:
    But, if thou spare to fling Excalibur,
    I will arise and slay thee with my hands.
  • The great brand
    Made lightnings in the splendour of the moon,
    And flashing round and round, and whirled in an arch,
    Shot like a streamer of the northern morn,…
    So flashed and fell the brand Excalibur:
    But ere he dipt the surface, rose an arm
    Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful,
    And caught him by the hilt, and brandished him
    Three times, and drew him under in the mere.
  • Now see I by thine eyes that this is done.
    Speak out: what is it thou hast heard, or seen?
  • Sir King, I closed mine eyelids, lest the gems
    Should blind my purpose, for I never saw,
    Nor shall see, here or elsewhere, till I die,
    Not though I live three lives of mortal men,
    So great a miracle as yonder hilt.
    Then with both hands I flung him, wheeling him;
    But when I looked again, behold an arm,
    Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful,
    That caught him by the hilt, and brandished him
    Three times, and drew him under in the mere.
The old order changeth, yielding place to new, and God fulfils himself in many ways, lest one good custom should corrupt the world.
  • My Lord Arthur, whither shall I go?
    Where shall I hide my forehead and my eyes?
    For now I see the true old times are dead,
    When every morning brought a noble chance,
    And every chance brought out a noble knight.

    But now the whole Round Table is dissolved
    Which was an image of the mighty world,
    And I, the last, go forth companionless,
    And the days darken round me, and the years,
    Among new men, strange faces, other minds.
  • The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
    And God fulfils himself in many ways,
    Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.
    • Line 408
More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of.
  • If thou shouldst never see my face again,
    Pray for my soul. More things are wrought by prayer
    Than this world dreams of.
    Wherefore, let thy voice
    Rise like a fountain for me night and day.
    For what are men better than sheep or goats
    That nourish a blind life within the brain,
    If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer
    Both for themselves and those who call them friend?
  • The whole round earth is every way
    Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.
    • Line 422
  • Farewell. I am going a long way
    With these thou seëst — if indeed I go
    (For all my mind is clouded with a doubt) —
    To the island-valley of Avilion;
    Where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow,
    Nor ever wind blows loudly; but it lies
    Deep-meadowed, happy, fair with orchard lawns
    And bowery hollows crowned with summer sea,
    Where I will heal me of my grievous wound.
    • Line 424
  • Then from the dawn it seemed there came, but faint
    As from beyond the limit of the world,
    Like the last echo born of a great cry,
    Sounds, as if some fair city were one voice
    Around a king returning from his wars.

To the Queen

The goal of this great world lies beyond sight...
  • That which knows not, ruling that which knows
    To its own harm: the goal of this great world
    Lies beyond sight:
    yet — if our slowly-grown
    And crowned Republic's crowning common-sense,
    That saved her many times, not fail — their fears
    Are morning shadows huger than the shapes
    That cast them, not those gloomier which forego
    The darkness of that battle in the West,
    Where all of high and holy dies away.