Verse > Edwin A. Robinson > Collected Poems > VI. Lancelot > III
Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869–1935).  Collected Poems. 1921.
VI. Lancelot
LANCELOT looked about him, but he saw
No Guinevere. The place where she had sat
Was now an empty chair that might have been      580
The shadowy throne of an abandoned world,
But for the living fragrance of a kiss
That he remembered, and a living voice
That hovered when he saw that she was gone.
There was too much remembering while he felt      585
Upon his cheek the warm sound of her words;
There was too much regret; there was too much
Remorse. Regret was there for what had gone,
Remorse for what had come. Yet there was time,
That had not wholly come. There was time enough      590
Between him and the night—as there were shoals
Enough, no doubt, that in the sea somewhere
Were not yet hidden by the drowning tide.
“So there is here between me and the dark
Some twilight left,” he said. He sighed, and said      595
Again, “Time, tide, and twilight—and the dark;
And then, for me, the Light. But what for her?
I do not think of anything but life
That I may give to her by going now;
And if I look into her eyes again,      600
Or feel her breath upon my face again,
God knows if I may give so much as life;
Or if the durance of her loneliness
Would have it for the asking. What am I?
What have I seen that I must leave behind      605
So much of heaven and earth to burn itself
Away in white and gold, until in time
There shall be no more white and no more gold?
I cannot think of such a time as that;
I cannot—yet I must; for I am he      610
That shall have hastened it and hurried on
To dissolution all that wonderment—
That envy of all women who have said
She was a child of ice and ivory;
And of all men, save one. And who is he?      615
Who is this Lancelot that has betrayed
His King, and served him with a cankered honor?
Who is this Lancelot that sees the Light
And waits now in the shadow for the dark?
Who is this King, this Arthur, who believes      620
That what has been, and is, will be for ever,—
Who has no eyes for what he will not see,
And will see nothing but what’s passing here
In Camelot, which is passing? Why are we here?
What are we doing—kings, queens, Camelots,      625
And Lancelots? And what is this dim world
That I would leave, and cannot leave tonight
Because a Queen is in it and a King
Has gone away to some place where there’s hunting—
Carleon or Carlisle! Who is this Queen,      630
This pale witch-wonder of white fire and gold,
This Guinevere that I brought back with me
From Cameliard for Arthur, who knew then
What Merlin told, as he forgets it now
And rides away from her—God watch the world!—      635
To some place where there’s hunting! What are kings?
And how much longer are there to be kings?
When are the millions who are now like worms
To know that kings are worms, if they are worms?
When are the women who make toys of men      640
To know that they themselves are less than toys
When Time has laid upon their skins the touch
Of his all-shrivelling fingers? When are they
To know that men must have an end of them
When men have seen the Light and left the world      645
That I am leaving now. Yet, here I am,
And all because a king has gone a-hunting….
Carleon or Carlisle!”
        So Lancelot
Fed with a sullen rancor, which he knew      650
To be as false as he was to the King,
The passion and the fear that now in him
Were burning like two slow infernal fires
That only flight and exile far away
From Camelot should ever cool again.      655
“Yet here I am,” he said,—“and here I am.
Time, tide, and twilight; and there is no twilight—
And there is not much time. But there’s enough
To eat and drink in; and there may be time
For me to frame a jest or two to prove      660
How merry a man may be who sees the Light.
And I must get me up and go along,
Before the shadows blot out everything,
And leave me stumbling among skeletons.
God, what a rain of ashes falls on him      665
Who sees the new and cannot leave the old!”
He rose and looked away into the south
Where a gate was, by which he might go out,
Now, if he would, while Time was yet there with him—
Time that was tearing minutes out of life      670
While he stood shivering in his loneliness,
And while the silver lights of memory
Shone faintly on a far-off eastern shore
Where he had seen on earth for the last time
The triumph and the sadness in the face      675
Of Galahad, for whom the Light was waiting.
Now he could see the face of him again,
He fancied; and his flickering will adjured him
To follow it and be free. He followed it
Until it faded and there was no face,      680
And there was no more light. Yet there was time
That had not come, though he could hear it now
Like ruining feet of marching conquerors
That would be coming soon and were not men.
Forlornly and unwillingly he came back      685
To find the two dim chairs. In one of them
Was Guinevere, and on her phantom face
There fell a golden light that might have been
The changing gleam of an unchanging gold
That was her golden hair. He sprang to touch      690
The wonder of it, but she too was gone,
Like Galahad; he was alone again
With shadows, and one face that he still saw.
The world had no more faces now than one
That for a moment, with a flash of pain,      695
Had shown him what it is that may be seen
In embers that break slowly into dust,
Where for a time was fire. He saw it there
Before him, and he knew it was not good
That he should learn so late, and of this hour,      700
What men may leave behind them in the eyes
Of women who have nothing more to give,
And may not follow after. Once again
He gazed away to southward, but the face
Of Galahad was not there. He turned, and saw      705
Before him, in the distance, many lights
In Arthur’s palace; for the dark had come
To Camelot, while Time had come and gone.



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