Sir Gawayne, wandering on in aimless mood,
Pondered the tomb-stone legends, quaint and rude,
Wherein the pensive dreamer might divine
A tragic history in every line;
For so does fate, with bitterest irony,
Epitomize fame’s immortality,
Perpetuating for all after days
Mute lamentations and unnoted praise.
And Gawayne, reading here and there the story
Of fame obscure and unremembered glory,
Found on a tablet these words: “Where he lies,
The gray wave breaks and the wild sea-mew flies:
If any be that loved him, seek not here,
But in the lone hills by the Murmuring Mere.”
A nameless cenotaph!—perhaps of one
Like Gawayne’s self deluded and undone
By the green stranger; and the legend brought
A tide of passion flooding Gawayne’s thought;
A flood-tide, not of fear,—for Gawayne’s breast
Shrank never at the perilous behest
Of noble knighthood,—but the love of life,
Compassion, and soul-sickness of the strife.
“If any be that loved him!” Oh, to die
Far from green-swarded Camelot, and lie
Among these bleak and barren hills alone,
His end unwept for and his grave unknown,—
Never again to see the glad sunrise
That brightened all his world in those dear eyes!
Half suffocating in the charneled air
Of that low vault, he staggered up the stair,
Out of the dim-lit halls of silent death
Into the living light, and drew quick breath
Where, through a casement-arch of ivied stone,
Bright from the clear blue sky the warm sun shone.
The whole of life’s glad rapture thrilled his heart;
Till a quick step behind him made him start,
And there, deep-veiled, in muffling cloak and hood,
Once more the lady of the castle stood.
Low-voiced she spoke, as if with studied care
Weighing the syllables of her parting prayer.
“Sir Gawayne—nay, I pray you, turn not yet,
But hear me;—though my heart may not forget
That once, for one sweet moment, you were kind,
I come not to recall that to your mind;—
Between us two be love’s words aye unspoken!
Yet ere you go, I pray you, leave some token
That in the long, long years may comfort me
For the dear face I nevermore shall see.”
“Nay, lady,” said the knight, “I have no gifts
To give you. Errant knighthood ever drifts
From shore to shore, by wandering breezes blown,
With naught save its good name to call its own.
In friendship, then, I pray you keep for me
My name untarnished in your memory.”
“Ah, sir,” she said, “my memory bears that name
Burnt in with characters of living flame.
But though you give me naught, I pray you take
This girdle from me;—wear it for my sake;
Nay, but refuse me not; you little know
Its magic power. I had it long ago
From Fairyland; and its encircling charm
Keeps scathless him who wears it from all harm;
No evil thing can touch him. Gird it on,
If but to ease my heart when you are gone.”