Arms and the man I sing,—not as of old
The Mantuan bard his mighty verse unrolled,
But in such humbler strains as may beseem
Light changes rung on a fantastic theme.
My tale is ancient, but the sense is new,—
Replete with monstrous fictions, yet half true;—
And, if you’ll follow till the story’s done,
I promise much instruction, and some fun.
THE GREEN KNIGHT
THE GREEN KNIGHT
King Arthur and his court were blithe and gay
In high-towered Camelot, on Christmas day,
For all the Table Round were back again,
At peace with God and with their fellow-men.
Their shields hung idly on the pictured wall;
Their blood-stained banners decked the festal hall
Light footsteps, rustling on the rush-strewn floors,
And laughter, rippling down long corridors,
Attested minds at ease and hearts at play,—
Rude Mars unharnessed for love’s holiday.
In the great hall the Christmas feast was done.
The level sunbeams from the setting sun
Stretched through the mullioned casements to the wall,
And wove fantastic shadows over all.
The revelry was hushed. In tranquil ease
The warriors grouped themselves by twos and threes
About the dames and damsels of the court,
And chattered careless words of small import;
But in an alcove, unobserved, apart,
Young Gawayne sat with Lady Elfinhart,
In Arthur’s court no goodlier knight than he
Wore shirt of mail, or Cupid’s panoply;
And Elfinhart, to Gawayne’s eager eyes.
Of all heaven’s treasures seemed the goodliest prize.
Now daylight faded, and the twilight gloom
Deepened the stillness in the vaulted room,
Save where upon the hearth a fitful glow
Blushed from the embers as the fire burned low.
There is a certain subtle twilight mood,
When two hearts meet in a dim solitude,
That thrills the soul e’en to the finger-tips,
And brings the heart’s dear secrets to the lips.
In Gawayne’s corner, as the shades grew thicker,
Four eyes waxed brighter, and two pulses quicker;
Ten minutes more of quiet talk unbroken,
And heaven alone can tell what might be spoken!
But it was not to be, for fates unequal
Compelled—but this anticipates the sequel.
Just in the nick of time, King Arthur rose
From his sedate post-prandial repose,
And called for lights. Along the shadowy aisles
His pages’ footsteps pattered o’er the tiles,
Speeding to do his errand, and at once
Four tapers flickered from each silver sconce.
The scene was changed, the dreamer’s dream dispelled,
And what might else have been his fate withheld
From Gawayne’s grasp. So may one touch of chance
Shatter the fragile fabric of romance,
And all the heart’s desire,—the joy, the trouble,—
Flash to oblivion with the bursting bubble!