Verse > Anthologies > The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse > 96. From ‘The Holy Grail’
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Nicholson & Lee, eds.  The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse. 1917.
  
96. From ‘The Holy Grail’
By Alfred, Lord Tennyson  (1809–1892)
  
I

BUT she, the wan sweet maiden, shore away
Clean from her forehead all that wealth of hair
Which made a silken mat-work for her feet;
And out of this she plaited broad and long
A strong sword-belt, and wove with silver thread        5
And crimson in the belt a strange device,
A crimson grail within a silver beam;
And saw the bright boy-knight, and bound it on him,
Saying, ‘My knight, my love, my knight of heaven,
O thou, my love, whose love is one with mine,       10
I, maiden, round thee, maiden, bind my belt.
Go forth, for thou shalt see what I have seen,
And break thro’ all, till one will crown thee king
Far in the spiritual city:’ and as she spake
She sent the deathless passion in her eyes       15
Thro’ him, and made him hers, and laid her mind
On him, and he believed in her belief.
 
    Then came a year of miracle: O brother,
In our great hall there stood a vacant chair,
Fashion’d by Merlin ere he past away,       20
And carven with strange figures; and in and out
The figures, like a serpent, ran a scroll
Of letters in a tongue no man could read.
And Merlin call’d it ‘The Siege perilous,’
Perilous for good and ill; ‘for there,’ he said,       25
‘No man could sit but he should lose himself:’
And once by misadvertence Merlin sat
In his own chair, and so was lost; but he,
Galahad, when he heard of Merlin’s doom,
Cried, ‘If I lose myself, I save myself!’       30
 
II

  …When the hermit made an end,
In silver armour suddenly Galahad shone
Before us, and against the chapel door
Laid lance, and enter’d, and we knelt in prayer.
And there the hermit slaked my burning thirst,       35
And at the sacring of the mass I saw
The holy elements alone; but he:
‘Saw ye no more? I, Galahad, saw the Grail,
The Holy Grail, descend upon the shrine:
I saw the fiery face as of a child       40
That smote itself into the bread, and went;
And hither am I come; and never yet
Hath what thy sister taught me first to see,
This Holy Thing, fail’d from my side, nor come
Cover’d, but moving with me night and day,       45
Fainter by day, but always in the night
Blood-red, and sliding down the blacken’d marsh
Blood-red, and on the naked mountain top
Blood-red, and in the sleeping mere below
Blood-red. And in the strength of this I rode,       50
Shattering all evil customs everywhere,
And past thro’ Pagan realms, and made them mine,
And clash’d with Pagan hordes, and bore them down,
And broke thro’ all, and in the strength of this
Come victor. But my time is hard at hand,       55
And hence I go; and one will crown me king
Far in the spiritual city; and come thou, too,
For thou shalt see the vision when I go.’
 
While thus he spake, his eye, dwelling on mine,
Drew me, with power upon me, till I grew       60
One with him, to believe as he believed.
Then, when the day began to wane, we went.
  There rose a hill that none but man could climb,
Scarr’d with a hundred wintry watercourses—
Storm at the top, and when we gain’d it, storm       65
Round us and death; for every moment glanced
His silver arms and gloom’d: so quick and thick
The lightnings here and there to left and right
Struck, till the dry old trunks about us, dead,
Yea, rotten with a hundred years of death,       70
Sprang into fire: and at the base we found
On either hand, as far as eye could see,
A great black swamp and of an evil smell,
Part black, part whiten’d with the bones of men,
Not to be crost, save that some ancient king       75
Had built a way, where, link’d with many a bridge,
A thousand piers ran into the great Sea.
And Galahad fled along them bridge by bridge,
And every bridge as quickly as he crost
Sprang into fire and vanish’d, tho’ I yearn’d       80
To follow; and thrice above him all the heavens
Open’d and blazed with thunder such as seem’d
Shoutings of all the sons of God: and first
At once I saw him far on the great Sea,
In silver-shining armour starry-clear;       85
And o’er his head the Holy Vessel hung
Clothed in white samite or a luminous cloud.
And with exceeding swiftness ran the boat,
If boat it were—I saw not whence it came.
And when the heavens open’d and blazed again       90
Roaring, I saw him like a silver star—
And had he set the sail, or had the boat
Become a living creature clad with wings?
And o’er his head the Holy Vessel hung
Redder than any rose, a joy to me,       95
For now I knew the veil had been withdrawn.
Then in a moment when they blazed again
Opening, I saw the least of little stars
Down on the waste, and straight beyond the star
I saw the spiritual city and all her spires      100
And gateways in a glory like one pearl—
No larger, tho’ the goal of all the saints—
Strike from the sea; and from the star there shot
A rose-red sparkle to the city, and there
Dwelt, and I knew it was the Holy Grail,      105
Which never eyes on earth again shall see.

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