Verse > Edwin A. Robinson > Collected Poems > VI. Lancelot > VIII
  PREVIOUS NEXT  
CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869–1935).  Collected Poems. 1921.
  
VI. Lancelot
VIII
  
FOR longer war they came, and with a fury      2100
That only Modred’s opportunity,
Seized in the dark of Britain, could have hushed
And ended in a night. For Lancelot,
When he was hurried amazed out of his rest
Of a gray morning to the scarred gray wall      2105
Of Benwick, where he slept and fought, and saw
Not yet the termination of a strife
That irked him out of utterance, found again
Before him a still plain without an army.
What the mist hid between him and the distance      2110
He knew not, but a multitude of doubts
And hopes awoke in him, and one black fear,
At sight of a truce-waving messenger
In whose approach he read, as by the Light
Itself, the last of Arthur. The man reined      2115
His horse outside the gate, and Lancelot,
Above him on the wall, with a sick heart,
Listened: “Sir Gawaine to Sir Lancelot
Sends greeting; and this with it, in his hand.
The King has raised the siege, and you in France      2120
He counts no longer with his enemies.
His toil is now for Britain, and this war
With you, Sir Lancelot, is an old war,
If you will have it so.”—“Bring the man in,”
Said Lancelot, “and see that he fares well.”      2125
 
All through the sunrise, and alone, he sat
With Gawaine’s letter, looking toward the sea
That flowed somewhere between him and the land
That waited Arthur’s coming, but not his.
“King Arthur’s war with me is an old war,      2130
If I will have it so,” he pondered slowly;
“And Gawaine’s hate for me is an old hate,
If I will have it so. But Gawaine’s wound
Is not a wound that heals; and there is Modred—
Inevitable as ruin after flood.      2135
The cloud that has been darkening Arthur’s empire
May now have burst, with Arthur still in France,
Many hours away from Britain, and a world
Away from me. But I read this in my heart.
If in the blot of Modred’s evil shadow,      2140
Conjecture views a cloudier world than is,
So much the better, then, for clouds and worlds,
And kings. Gawaine says nothing yet of this,
But when he tells me nothing he tells all.
Now he is here, fordone and left behind,      2145
Pursuant of his wish; and there are words
That he would say to me. Had I not struck him
Twice to the earth, unwillingly, for my life,
My best eye then, I fear, were best at work
On what he has not written. As it is,      2150
If I go seek him now, and in good faith,
My faith may dig my grave. If so, then so.
If I know only with my eyes and ears,
I may as well not know.”
 
        Gawaine, having scanned      2155
His words and sent them, found a way to sleep—
And sleeping, to forget. But he remembered
Quickly enough when he woke up to meet
With his the shining gaze of Lancelot
Above him in a shuttered morning gloom,      2160
Seeming at first a darkness that had eyes.
Fear for a moment seized him, and his heart,
Long whipped and driven with fever, paused and flickered,
As like to fail too soon. Fearing to move,
He waited; fearing to speak, he waited; fearing      2165
To see too clearly or too much, he waited;
For what, he wondered—even the while he knew
It was for Lancelot to say something.
And soon he did: “Gawaine, I thought at first
No man was here.”      2170
 
        “No man was, till you came.
Sit down; and for the love of God who made you,
Say nothing to me now of my three brothers.
Gareth and Gaheris and Agravaine
Are gone; and I am going after them;      2175
Of such is our election. When you gave
That ultimate knock on my revengeful head,
You did a piece of work.”
 
        “May God forgive,”
Lancelot said, “I did it for my life,      2180
Not yours.”
 
        “I know, but I was after yours;
Had I been Lancelot, and you Gawaine,
You might be dead.”
 
        “Had you been Lancelot,      2185
And I Gawaine, my life had not been yours—
Not willingly. Your brothers are my debt
That I shall owe to sorrow and to God,
For whatsoever payment there may be.
What I have paid is not a little, Gawaine.”      2190
 
“Why leave me out? A brother more or less
Would hardly be the difference of a shaving.
My loose head would assure you, saying this,
That I have no more venom in me now
On their account than mine, which is not much.      2195
There was a madness feeding on us all,
As we fed on the world. When the world sees,
The world will have in turn another madness;
And so, as I’ve a glimpse, ad infinitum.
But I’m not of the seers: Merlin it was      2200
Who turned a sort of ominous early glimmer
On my profane young life. And after that
He falls himself, so far that he becomes
One of our most potential benefits—
Like Vivian, or the mortal end of Modred.      2205
Why could you not have taken Modred also,
And had the five of us? You did your best,
We know, yet he’s more poisonously alive
Than ever; and he’s a brother, of a sort,
Or half of one, and you should not have missed him.      2210
A gloomy curiosity was our Modred,
From his first intimation of existence.
God made him as He made the crocodile,
To prove He was omnipotent. Having done so,
And seeing then that Camelot, of all places      2215
Ripe for annihilation, most required him,
He put him there at once, and there he grew.
And there the King would sit with him for hours,
Admiring Modred’s growth; and all the time
His evil it was that grew, the King not seeing      2220
In Modred the Almighty’s instrument
Of a world’s overthrow. You, Lancelot,
And I, have rendered each a contribution;
And your last hard attention on my skull
Might once have been a benison on the realm,      2225
As I shall be, too late, when I’m laid out
With a clean shroud on—though I’d liefer stay
A while alive with you to see what’s coming.
But I was not for that; I may have been
For something, but not that. The King, my uncle,      2230
Has had for all his life so brave a diet
Of miracles, that his new fare before him
Of late has ailed him strangely; and of all
Who loved him once he needs you now the most—
Though he would not so much as whisper this      2235
To me or to my shadow. He goes alone
To Britain, with an army brisk as lead,
To battle with his Modred for a throne
That waits, I fear, for Modred—should your France
Not have it otherwise. And the Queen’s in this,      2240
For Modred’s game and prey. God save the Queen,
If not the King! I’ve always liked this world;
And I would a deal rather live in it
Than leave it in the middle of all this music.
If you are listening, give me some cold water.”      2245
 
Lancelot, seeing by now in dim detail
What little was around him to be seen,
Found what he sought and held a cooling cup
To Gawaine, who, with both hands clutching it,
Drank like a child. “I should have had that first,”      2250
He said, with a loud breath, “before my tongue
Began to talk. What was it saying? Modred?
All through the growing pains of his ambition
I’ve watched him; and I might have this and that
To say about him, if my hours were days.      2255
Well, if you love the King and hope to save him,
Remember his many infirmities of virtue—
Considering always what you have in Modred,
For ever unique in his iniquity.
My truth might have a prejudicial savor      2260
To strangers, but we are not strangers now.
Though I have only one spoiled eye that sees,
I see in yours we are not strangers now.
I tell you, as I told you long ago—
When the Queen came to put my candles out      2265
With her gold head and her propinquity—
That all your doubts that you had then of me,
When they were more than various imps and harpies
Of your inflamed invention, were sick doubts:
King Arthur was my uncle, as he is now;      2270
But my Queen-aunt, who loved him something less
Than cats love rain, was not my only care.
Had all the women who came to Camelot
Been aunts of mine, I should have been, long since,
The chilliest of all unwashed eremites      2275
In a far land alone. For my dead brothers,
Though I would leave them where I go to them,
I read their story as I read my own,
And yours, and—were I given the eyes of God—
As I might yet read Modred’s. For the Queen,      2280
May she be safe in London where she’s hiding
Now in the Tower. For the King, you only—
And you but hardly—may deliver him yet
From that which Merlin’s vision long ago,
If I made anything of Merlin’s words,      2285
Foretold of Arthur’s end. And for ourselves,
And all who died for us, or now are dying
Like rats around us of their numerous wounds
And ills and evils, only this do I know—
And this you know: The world has paid enough      2290
For Camelot. It is the world’s turn now—
Or so it would be if the world were not
The world. ‘Another Camelot,’ Bedivere says;
‘Another Camelot and another King’—
Whatever he means by that. With a lineal twist,      2295
I might be king myself; and then, my lord,
Time would have sung my reign—I say not how.
Had I gone on with you, and seen with you
Your Gleam, and had some ray of it been mine,
I might be seeing more and saying less.      2300
Meanwhile, I liked this world; and what was on
The Lord’s mind when He made it is no matter.
Be lenient, Lancelot; I’ve a light head.
Merlin appraised it once when I was young,
Telling me then that I should have the world      2305
To play with. Well, I’ve had it, and played with it;
And here I’m with you now where you have sent me
Neatly to bed, with a towel over one eye;
And we were two of the world’s ornaments.
Praise all you are that Arthur was your King;      2310
You might have had no Gleam had I been King,
Or had the Queen been like some queens I knew.
King Lot, my father—”
 
        Lancelot laid a finger
On Gawaine’s lips: “You are too tired for that.”—      2315
“Not yet,” said Gawaine, “though I may be soon.
Think you that I forget this Modred’s mother
Was mine as well as Modred’s? When I meet
My mother’s ghost, what shall I do—forgive?
When I’m a ghost, I’ll forgive everything …      2320
It makes me cold to think what a ghost knows.
Put out the bonfire burning in my head,
And light one at my feet. When the King thought
The Queen was in the flames, he called on you:
‘God, God,’ he said, and ‘Lancelot.’ I was there,      2325
And so I heard him. That was a bad morning
For kings and queens, and there are to be worse.
Bedivere had a dream, once on a time:
‘Another Camelot and another King,’
He says when he’s awake; but when he dreams,      2330
There are no kings. Tell Bedivere, some day,
That he saw best awake. Say to the King
That I saw nothing vaster than my shadow,
Until it was too late for me to see;
Say that I loved him well, but served him ill—      2335
If you two meet again. Say to the Queen …
Say what you may say best. Remember me
To Pelleas, too, and tell him that his lady
Was a vain serpent. He was dying once
For love of her, and had me in his eye      2340
For company along the dusky road
Before me now. But Pelleas lived, and married.
Lord God, how much we know!—What have I done?
Why do you scowl? Well, well,—so the earth clings
To sons of earth; and it will soon be clinging,      2345
To this one son of earth you deprecate,
Closer than heretofore. I say too much,
Who should be thinking all a man may think
When he has no machine. I say too much—
Always. If I persuade the devil again      2350
That I’m asleep, will you espouse the notion
For a small hour or so? I might be glad—
Not to be here alone.” He gave his hand
Slowly, in hesitation. Lancelot shivered,
Knowing the chill of it. “Yes, you say too much,”      2355
He told him, trying to smile. “Now go to sleep;
And if you may, forget what you forgive.”
 
Lancelot, for slow hours that were as long
As leagues were to the King and his worn army,
Sat waiting,—though not long enough to know      2360
From any word of Gawaine, who slept on,
That he was glad not to be there alone.—
“Peace to your soul, Gawaine,” Lancelot said,
And would have closed his eyes. But they were closed.

CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD

  PREVIOUS NEXT  
 
Loading
Click here to shop the Bartleby Bookstore.

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2014 Bartleby.com · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors