Reference > Anthologies > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library > Verse

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Sir Percivale’s Tale to Ambrosius
The Legend of the Holy Grail
From Tennyson’s ‘Idylls of the King’

“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        5
Within us, better offered up to Heaven.”
  To whom the monk:—“The Holy Grail!—I trust
We are green in Heaven’s eyes; but here too much
We molder,—as to things without, I mean:
Yet one of your own knights, a guest of ours,        10
Told us of this in our refectory,
But spake with such a sadness and so low
We heard not half of what he said. What is it?
The phantom of a cup that comes and goes?”
  “Nay, monk! what phantom?” answered Percivale.        15
“The cup, the cup itself, from which our Lord
Drank at the last sad supper with his own.
This, from the blessed land of Aromat—
After the day of darkness, when the dead
Went wandering o’er Moriah—the good saint        20
Arimathean Joseph, journeying brought
To Glastonbury, where the winter thorn
Blossoms at Christmas, mindful of our Lord,
And there awhile it bode; and if a man
Could touch or see it, he was healed at once,        25
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.”
  To whom the monk: “From our old books I know
That Joseph came of old to Glastonbury,        30
And there the heathen Prince Arviragus
Gave him an isle of marsh whereon to build;
And there he built with wattles from the marsh
A little lonely church in days of yore;
For so they say, these books of ours but seem        35
Mute of this miracle, far as I have read.
But who first saw the holy thing to-day?”
  “A woman,” answered Percivale, “a nun,
And one no further off in blood from me
Than sister: and if ever holy maid        40
With knees of adoration wore the stone,
A holy maid; tho’ never maiden glowed,
But that was in her earlier maidenhood,
With such a fervent flame of human love,
Which being rudely blunted, glanced and shot        45
Only to holy things; to prayer and praise
She gave herself, to fast and alms. And yet,
Nun as she was, the scandal of the court,
Sin against Arthur and the Table Round,
And the strange sound of an adulterous race,        50
Across the iron grating of her cell
Beat, and she prayed and fasted all the more….
And so she prayed and fasted, till the sun
Shone, and the wind blew thro’ her, and I thought
She might have risen and floated when I saw her.        55
  “For on a day she sent to speak with me.
And 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.        60
And ‘O my brother Percivale,’ she said,
‘Sweet brother, I have seen the Holy Grail:
For waked at dead of night, I heard a sound
As of a silver horn from o’er the hills
Blown, and I thought, “It is not Arthur’s use        65
To hunt by moonlight;” and the slender sound
As from a distance beyond distance grew
Coming upon me—oh never harp nor horn,
Nor aught we blow with breath, or touch with hand,
Was like that music as it came; and then        70
Streamed thro’ my cell a cold and silver beam,
And down the long beam stole the Holy Grail,
Rose-red with beatings in it, as if alive,
Till all the white walls of my cell were dyed
With rosy colors leaping on the wall;        75
And then the music faded, and the Grail
Past, and the beam decayed, and from the walls
The rosy quiverings died into the night.
So now the Holy Thing is here again
Among us, brother, fast thou too and pray,        80
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.’
  “Then leaving the pale nun, I spake of this
To all men; and myself fasted and prayed        85
Always, and many among us many a week
Fasted and prayed even to the uttermost,
Expectant of the wonder that would be….
  “Then on a summer night it came to pass,
While the great banquet lay along the hall,        90
That Galahad would sit down in Merlin’s chair.
  “And 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.        95
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.        100
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.
  “I sware a vow before them all, that I,        105
Because I had not seen the Grail, would ride
A twelvemonth and a day in quest of it,
Until I found and saw it, as the nun
My sister saw it; and Galahad sware the vow,
And good Sir Bors, our Lancelot’s cousin, sware,        110
And Lancelot sware, and many among the knights,
And Gawain sware, and louder than the rest.”

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