Verse > Anthologies > Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. > Parnassus: An Anthology of Poetry
Ralph Waldo Emerson, comp. (1803–1882).  Parnassus: An Anthology of Poetry.  1880.
The Gate of Camelot
By Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892)
SO, when their feet were planted on the plain
That broadened toward the base of Camelot,
Far off they saw the silver-misty morn
Rolling her smoke about the Royal mount,
That rose between the forest and the field.        5
At times the summit of the high city flashed;
At times the spires and turrets halfway down
Pricked through the mist: at times the great gate shone
Only, that opened on the field below:
Anon, the whole fair city had disappeared.        10
  Then those who went with Gareth were amazed,
One crying, “Let us go no further, lord.
Here is a city of Enchanters, built
By fairy Kings.” The second echoed him,
“Lord, we have heard from our wise men at home        15
To Northward, that this King is not the King,
But only changeling out of Fairyland,
Who drave the heathen hence by sorcery
And Merlin’s glamour.” Then the first again,
“Lord, there is no such city anywhere,        20
But all a vision.”

              Gareth answered them
With laughter, swearing he had glamour enow
In his own blood, his princedom, youth and hopes,
To plunge old Merlin in the Arabian sea;
So pushed them all unwilling toward the gate.        25
And 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: all her dress
Wept from her sides as water flowing away;        30
But like the cross her great and goodly arms
Stretched under all the cornice, and upheld:
And drops of water fell from either hand;
And down from one a sword was hung, from one
A censer, either worn with wind and storm;        35
And o’er her breast floated the sacred fish;
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, so inveterately, that men        40
Were giddy gazing there; and over all
High on the top were those three Queens, the friends
Of Arthur, who should help him at his need.
  Then those with Gareth for so long a space
Stared at the figures, that at last it seemed        45
The dragon-boughts and elvish emblemings
Began to move, seethe, twine and curl: they called
To Gareth, “Lord, the gateway is alive.”
  And Gareth likewise on them fixt his eyes
So long, that even to him they seemed to move.        50
Out of the city a blast of music pealed.
Back from the gate started the three, to whom
From out thereunder came an ancient man,
Long-bearded, saying, “Who be ye, my sons?”
  Then Gareth, “We be tillers of the soil,        55
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        60
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.”
  Then that old Seer made answer playing on him        65
And saying, “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.        70
For truly, as thou sayest, a Fairy King
And Fairy Queens have built the city, son;
They came from out a sacred mountain-cleft
Toward the sunrise, each with harp in hand,
And built it to the music of their harps.        75
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        80
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,        85
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,        90
And therefore built forever.”

                    Gareth spake
Angered, “Old Master, reverence thine own beard
That looks as white as utter truth, and seems
Well-nigh as long as thou art statured tall!
Why mockest thou the stranger that hath been        95
To thee fair-spoken?”

                But the Seer replied,
“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,        100
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.”
  Unmockingly the mocker ending here        105
Turned to the right, and past along the plain;
Whom Gareth looking after, said, “My men,
Our one white lie sits like a little ghost
Here on the threshold of our enterprise.
Let love be blamed for it, not she, nor I:        110
Well, we will make amends.”

                With all good cheer
He spake and laughed, then entered with his twain
Camelot, a city of shadowy palaces
And stately, rich in emblem and the work
Of ancient kings who did their days in stone;        115
Which Merlin’s hand, the Mage at Arthur’s court,
Knowing all arts, had touched, and everywhere
At Arthur’s ordinance, tipt with lessening peak
And pinnacle, and had made it spire to heaven.
And ever and anon a knight would pass        120
Outward, or inward to the hall: his arms
Clashed; and the sound was good to Gareth’s ear.
And out of bower and casement shyly glanced
Eyes of pure women, wholesome stars of love;
And all about a healthful people stept        125
As in the presence of a gracious king.

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