Verse > Anthologies > Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. > Parnassus: An Anthology of Poetry
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Ralph Waldo Emerson, comp. (1803–1882).  Parnassus: An Anthology of Poetry.  1880.
 
The Crowning of Arthur
By Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892)
 
        THERE came to Cameliard,
With Gawin and young Modred, her two sons,
Lot’s wife, the Queen of Orkney, Bellicent;
Whom as he could, not as he would, the King
Made feast for, saying, as they sat at meat,        5
 
  “A doubtful throne is ice on summer seas.
Ye come from Arthur’s court. Victor his men
Report him! Yea, but ye,—think ye this king,—
So many those that hate him, and so strong,
So few his knights, however brave they be,—        10
Hath body enow to hold his foemen down?”
 
  “O King,” she cried, “and I will tell thee: few,
Few, but all brave, all of one mind with him;
For I was near him when the savage yells
Of Uther’s peerage died, and Arthur sat        15
Crowned on the dais, and his warriors cried,
‘Be thou the king, and we will work thy will
Who love thee.’ Then the King in low deep tones,
And simple words of great authority,
Bound them by so strait vows to his own self,        20
That when they rose, knighted from kneeling, some
Were pale as at the passing of a ghost,
Some flushed, and others dazed, as one who wakes
Half-blinded at the coming of a light.
 
  “But when he spake and cheered his Table Round        25
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:
And ere it left their faces, through the cross        30
And those around it and the Crucified,
Down from the casement over Arthur, smote
Flame-color, vert and azure, in three rays,
One falling upon each of three fair queens,
Who stood in silence near his throne, the friends        35
Of Arthur, gazing on him, tall, with bright
Sweet faces, who will help him at his need.
 
  “And there I saw mage Merlin, whose vast wit
And hundred winters are but as the hands
Of loyal vassals toiling for their liege.        40
  “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: a mist        45
Of incense curled about her, and her face
Well-nigh was hidden in the minster gloom;
But there was heard among the holy hymns
A voice as of the waters, for she dwells
Down in a deep, calm, whatsoever storms        50
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,        55
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,        60
‘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        65
Is yet far-off.’ So this great brand the king
Took, and by this will beat his foemen down.”
 
 
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