Verse > Edwin A. Robinson > Collected Poems > VI. Lancelot > VI
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Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869–1935).  Collected Poems. 1921.
  
VI. Lancelot
VI
  
NOT having viewed Carleon or Carlisle,
The King came home to Camelot after midnight,      710
Feigning an ill not feigned; and his return
Brought Bedivere, and after him Gawaine,
To the King’s inner chamber, where they waited
Through the grim light of dawn. Sir Bedivere,
By nature stern to see, though not so bleak      715
Within as to be frozen out of mercy,
Sat with arms crossed and with his head weighed low
In heavy meditation. Once or twice
His eyes were lifted for a careful glimpse
Of Gawaine at the window, where he stood      720
Twisting his fingers feverishly behind him,
Like one distinguishing indignantly,
For swift eclipse and for offence not his,
The towers and roofs and the sad majesty
Of Camelot in the dawn, for the last time.      725
 
Sir Bedivere, at last, with a long sigh
That said less of his pain than of his pity,
Addressed the younger knight who turned and heard
His elder, but with no large eagerness:
“So it has come, Gawaine; and we are here.      730
I find when I see backward something farther,
By grace of time, than you are given to see—
Though you, past any doubt, see much that I
See not—I find that what the colder speech
Of reason most repeated says to us      735
Of what is in a way to come to us
Is like enough to come. And we are here.
Before the unseeing sun is here to mock us,
Or the King here to prove us, we are here.
We are the two, it seems, that are to make      740
Of words and of our presences a veil
Between him and the sight of what he does.
Little have I to say that I may tell him:
For what I know is what the city knows,
Not what it says,—for it says everything.      745
The city says the first of all who met
The sword of Lancelot was Colgrevance,
Who fell dead while he wept—a brave machine,
Cranked only for the rudiments of war.
But some of us are born to serve and shift,      750
And that’s not well. The city says, also,
That you and Lancelot were in the garden,
Before the sun went down.”
 
        “Yes,” Gawaine groaned;
“Yes, we were there together in the garden,      755
Before the sun went down; and I conceive
A place among the possibilities
For me with other causes unforeseen
Of what may shake down soon to grief and ashes
This kingdom and this empire. Bedivere,      760
Could I have given a decent seriousness
To Lancelot while he said things to me
That pulled his heart half out of him by the roots,
And left him, I see now, half sick with pity
For my poor uselessness to serve a need      765
That I had never known, we might be now
Asleep and easy in our beds at home,
And we might hear no murmurs after sunrise
Of what we are to hear. A few right words
Of mine, if said well, might have been enough.      770
That shall I never know. I shall know only
That it was I who laughed at Lancelot
When he said what lay heaviest on his heart.
By now he might be far away from here,
And farther from the world. But the Queen came;      775
The Queen came, and I left them there together;
And I laughed as I left them. After dark
I met with Modred and said what I could,
When I had heard him, to discourage him.
His mother was my mother. I told Bors,      780
And he told Lancelot; though as for that,
My story would have been the same as his,
And would have had the same acknowledgement:
“Thanks, but no matter’—or to that effect.
The Queen, of course, had fished him for his word,      785
And had it on the hook when she went home;
And after that, an army of red devils
Could not have held the man away from her.
And I’m to live as long as I’m to wonder
What might have been, had I not been—myself.      790
I heard him, and I laughed. Then the Queen came.”
 
“Recriminations are not remedies,
Gawaine; and though you cast them at yourself,
And hurt yourself, you cannot end or swerve
The flowing of these minutes that leave hours      795
Behind us, as we leave our faded selves
And yesterdays. The surest-visioned of us
Are creatures of our dreams and inferences,
And though it look to us a few go far
For seeing far, the fewest and the farthest      800
Of all we know go not beyond themselves.
No, Gawaine, you are not the cause of this;
And I have many doubts if all you said,
Or in your lightness may have left unsaid,
Would have unarmed the Queen. The Queen was there.”—      805
Gawaine looked up, and then looked down again:
“Good God, if I had only said—said something!”
 
“Say nothing now, Gawaine.” Bedivere sighed,
And shook his head: “Morning is not in the west.
The sun is rising and the King is coming;      810
Now you may hear him in the corridor,
Like a sick landlord shuffling to the light
For one last look-out on his mortgaged hills.
But hills and valleys are not what he sees;
He sees with us the fire—the sign—the law.      815
The King that is the father of the law
Is weaker than his child, except he slay it.
Not long ago, Gawaine, I had a dream
Of a sword over kings, and of a world
Without them.”—“Dreams, dreams.”—“Hush, Gawaine.”      820
 
        King Arthur
Came slowly on till in the darkened entrance
He stared and shivered like a sleep-walker,
Brought suddenly awake where a cliff’s edge
Is all he sees between another step      825
And his annihilation. Bedivere rose,
And Gawaine rose; and with instinctive arms
They partly guided, partly carried him,
To the King’s chair.
 
  “I thank you, gentlemen,      830
Though I am not so shaken, I dare say,
As you would have me. This is not the hour
When kings who do not sleep are at their best;
And had I slept this night that now is over,
No man should ever call me King again.”      835
He pulled his heavy robe around him closer,
And laid upon his forehead a cold hand
That came down warm and wet. “You, Bedivere,
And you, Gawaine, are shaken with events
Incredible yesterday,—but kings are men.      840
Take off their crowns and tear away their colors
And let them see with my eyes what I see—
Yes, they are men, indeed! If there’s a slave
In Britain with a reptile at his heart
Like mine that with his claws of ice and fire      845
Tears out of me the fevered roots of mercy,
Find him, and I will make a king of him!
And then, so that his happiness may swell
Tenfold, I’ll sift the beauty of all courts
And capitals, to fetch the fairest woman      850
That evil has in hiding; after that,
That he may know the sovran one man living
To be his friend, I’ll prune all chivalry
To one sure knight. In this wise our new king
Will have his queen to love, as I had mine,—      855
His friend that he may trust, as I had mine,—
And he will be as gay, if all goes well,
As I have been: as fortunate in his love,
And in his friend as fortunate—as I am!
And what am I?… And what are you—you two!      860
If you are men, why don’t you say I’m dreaming?
I know men when I see them, I know daylight;
And I see now the gray shine of our dreams.
I tell you I’m asleep and in my bed!…
But no—no… I remember. You are men.      865
You are no dreams—but God, God, if you were!
If I were strong enough to make you vanish
And have you back again with yesterday—
Before I lent myself to that false hunting,
Which yet may stalk the hours of many more      870
Than Lancelot’s unhappy twelve who died,—
With a misguided Colgrevance to lead them,
And Agravaine to follow and fall next,—
Then should I know at last that I was King,
And I should then be King. But kings are men,      875
And I have gleaned enough these two years gone
To know that queens are women. Merlin told me:
“The love that never was.’ Two years ago
He told me that: ‘The love that never was!’
I saw—but I saw nothing. Like the bird      880
That hides his head, I made myself see nothing.
But yesterday I saw—and I saw fire.
I think I saw it first in Modred’s eyes;
Yet he said only truth—and fire is right.
It is—it must be fire. The law says fire.      885
And I, the King who made the law, say fire!
What have I done—what folly have I said,
Since I came here, of dreaming? Dreaming? Ha!
I wonder if the Queen and Lancelot
Are dreaming!… Lancelot! Have they found him yet?      890
He slashed a way into the outer night—
Somewhere with Bors. We’ll have him here anon,
And we shall feed him also to the fire.
There are too many faggots lying cold
That might as well be cleansing, for our good,      895
A few deferred infections of our state
That honor should no longer look upon.
Thank heaven, I man my drifting wits again!
Gawaine, your brothers, Gareth and Gaheris,
Are by our royal order there to see      900
And to report. They went unwillingly,
For they are new to law and young to justice;
But what they are to see will harden them
With wholesome admiration of a realm
Where treason’s end is ashes. Ashes. Ashes!      905
Now this is better. I am King again.
Forget, I pray, my drowsy temporizing,
For I was not then properly awake….
What? Hark! Whose crass insanity is that!
If I be King, go find the fellow and hang him      910
Who beats into the morning on that bell
Before there is a morning! This is dawn!
What! Bedivere? Gawaine? You shake your heads?
I tell you this is dawn!… What have I done?
What have I said so lately that I flinch      915
To think on! What have I sent those boys to see?
I’ll put clouts on my eyes, and I’ll not see it!
Her face, and hands, and little small white feet,
And all her shining hair and her warm body—
No—for the love of God, no!—it’s alive!      920
She’s all alive, and they are burning her—
The Queen—the love—the love that never was!
Gawaine! Bedivere! Gawaine!—Where is Gawaine!
Is he there in the shadow? Is he dead?
Are we all dead? Are we in hell?—Gawaine!…      925
I cannot see her now in the smoke. Her eyes
Are what I see—and her white body is burning!
She never did enough to make me see her
Like that—to make her look at me like that!
There’s not room in the world for so much evil      930
As I see clamoring in her poor white face
For pity. Pity her, God! God!… Lancelot!”

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