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 Launcelot’s Tale
The Legend of the Holy Grail
From Tennyson’s ‘Idylls of the King’

“‘THOU too, my Lancelot,’ asked the King, ‘my friend,
Our mightiest, hath this Quest availed for thee?’
“‘Our mightiest!’ answered Lancelot, with a groan;
‘O King!’—and when he paused, methought I spied
A dying fire of madness in his eyes—        5
“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,        10
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; and when thy knights
Sware, I sware with them only in the hope        15
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; to whom I vowed        20
That I would work according as he willed.
And 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;        25
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; and then I came
All in my folly to the naked shore,        30
Wide flats, where nothing but coarse grasses grew;
But such a blast, my King, began to blow,
So loud a blast along the shore and sea,
Ye could not hear the waters for the blast,
Tho’ heapt in mounds and ridges all the sea        35
Drove like a cataract, and all the sand
Swept like a river, and the clouded heavens
Were shaken with the motion and the sound.
And blackening in the sea-foam swayed a boat,
Half-swallowed in it, anchored with a chain;        40
And in my madness to myself I said,
“I will embark and I will lose myself,
And in the great sea wash away my sin.”
I burst the chain, I sprang into the boat.
Seven days I drove along the dreary deep,        45
And with me drove the moon and all the stars;
And the wind fell, and on the seventh night
I heard the shingle grinding in the surge,
And felt the boat shock earth, and looking up,
Behold, the enchanted towers of Carbonek,        50
A castle like a rock upon a rock,
With chasm-like portals open to the sea,
And steps that met the breaker! there was none
Stood near it but a lion on each side
That kept the entry, and the moon was full.        55
Then from the boat I leapt, and up the stairs.
There drew my sword. With sudden-flaring manes
Those two great beasts rose upright like a man;
Each gript a shoulder, and I stood between;
And when I would have smitten them, heard a voice,        60
‘Doubt not, go forward; if thou doubt, the beasts
Will tear thee piecemeal.’ Then with violence
The sword was dashed from out my hand, and fell.
And up into the sounding hall I past:
But nothing in the sounding hall I saw,        65
No bench nor table, painting on the wall
Or shield of knight; only the rounded moon
Thro’ the tall oriel on the rolling sea.
But always in the quiet house I heard,
Clear as a lark, high o’er me as a lark,        70
A sweet voice singing in the topmost tower
To the eastward; up I climbed a thousand steps
With pain; as in a dream I seemed to climb
For ever: at the last I reached a door;
A light was in the crannies, and I heard,        75
‘Glory and joy and honor to our Lord
And to the Holy Vessel of the Grail.’
Then in my madness I essayed the door;
It gave; and thro’ a stormy glare, a heat
As from a seven times heated furnace, I,        80
Blasted and burnt and blinded as I was,
With such a fierceness that I swooned away—
Oh yet methought I saw the Holy Grail,
All palled in crimson samite, and around
Great angels, awful shapes, and wings and eyes.        85
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.”
  So speaking, and here ceasing, Lancelot left        90
The hall long silent.

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