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Walking about the gardens and the halls
Of Camelot, as in the days that were.
I perish by this people which I made,-
Though Merlin sware that I should come again
To rule once more-but let what will be, be,
I am so deeply smitten through the helm
That without help I cannot last till morn.
Thou therefore take my brand Excalibur,
Which was my pride: for thou rememberest how
In those old days, one summer noon, an arm
Rose up from out the bosom of the lake,
Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful,
Holding the sword-and how I rowed across
And took it, and have worn it, like a king:
And, wheresoever I am sung or told
In aftertime this also shall be known:
But now delay not: take Excalibur,
And fling him far into the middle meer:
Watch what thou seest, and lightly bring me word.”

To him replied the bold Sir Bedivere :
" It is not meet, Sir King, to leave thee thus,
Aidless, alone, and smitten through the helm.
A little thing may harm a wounded man.
Yet I thy hest will all perform at full,
Watch what I see, and lightly bring thee word.”

So saying, from the ruined shrine he stept,
And in the moon athwart the place of tombs,
Where lay the mighty bones of ancient men,
Old knights, and over them the sea-wind sang
Shrill, chill, with flakes of foam. He, stepping down
By zigzag paths, and juts of pointed rock,
Came on the shining levels of the lake.

There drew he forth the brand Excalibur,
And o'er him, drawing it, the winter moon,
Brightening the skirts of a long cloud, ran forth
And sparkled keen with frost against the hilt:
For all the haft twinkled with diamond sparks,
Myriads of topaz-lights, and jacinth-work
of subtlest jewellery. He gazed so long

That both his eyes were dazzled, as he stood
This way and that dividing the swift mind,
In act to throw; but at the last it seemed
Better to leave Excalibur concealed
There in the many-knotted waterflags,
That whistled stiff and dry about the marge.
So strode he back slow to the wounded King.

Then spake King Arthur to Sir Bedivere : Hast thou performed my mission which I gave ? What is it thou hast seen? or what hast heard ?"

And answer made the bold Sir Bedivere: “ I heard the ripple washing in the reeds, And the wild water lapping on the crag."

To whom replied King Arthur, faint and pale.
“ Thou hast betrayed thy nature and thy name,
Not rendering true answer, as beseemed
Thy fealty, nor like a noble knight:
For surer sign had followed, either hand
Or voice, or else a motion of the meer.
This is a shameful thing for men to lie.
Yet now, I charge thee, quickly go again
As thou art lief and dear, and do the thing
I bade thee, watch, and lightly bring me word.”

Then went Sir Bedivere the second time
Across the ridge, and paced beside the mere,
Counting the dewy pebbles, fixed in thought;
But when he saw the wonder of the hilt,
How curiously and strangely chased, he smote
His palms together, and he cried aloud.

66 And if indeed I cast the brand away,
Surely a precious thing, one worthy note,
Should thus be lost forever from the earth,
Which might have pleased the eyes of many men
What good should follow this, if this were done?
What harm, undone ? deep harm to disobey,
Seeing obedience is the bond of rule.
Were it well to obey then, if a king demand
An act unprofitable, against himself?
The king is sick, and knows not what he does.
What record, or what relic of my lord

Should be to aftertime, but empty breath
And rumors of a doubt ? but were this kept,
Stored in some treasure-house of mighty kings,
Some one might show it at a joust of arms,
Saying, King Arthur's sword, Excalibur,
Wrought by the lonely maiden of the Lake.
Nine years she wrought it, sitting in the deeps
Upon the hidden bases of the hills.'
So might some old man speak in the aftertime
To all the people, winning reverence.
But now much honor and much fame were lost."

So spake he, clouded with his own conceit,
And híd Excalibur the second time,
And so strode back slow to the wounded King.

Then spoke King Arthur, breathing heavily: • What is it thou hast seen ? or what hast heard ?'

And answer made the bold Sir Bedivere: “I heard the water lapping on the crag, And the long ripple washing in the reeds.”

To whom replied King Arthur, much in wrath: " Ah, miserable and unkind, untrue, Unknightly, traitor-hearted ! Woe is me! Authority forgets a dying king, Laid widowed of the power in his eye That bowed the will. I see thee what thou art. For thou, the latest left of all my knights, In whom should meet the offices of all, Thou wouldst betray me for the precious hilt; Either from lust of gold, or like a girl Valuing the giddy pleasure of the eyes. Yet, for a man may fail in duty twice, And the third time may prosper, get thee hence: But, if thou spare to fling Excalibur, I will arise and slay thee with my hands.”

Then quickly rose Sir Bedivere, and ran, And, leaping down the ridges lightly, plunged Among the bulrush-beds, and clutched the sword, And strongly wheeled and threw it. The great brand Made lightnings in the splendor of the moon,

And flashing round and round, and whirled in an

arch, Shot like a streamer of the northern morn, Seen where the moving isles of winter shock By night, with noises of the northern sea. So flashed and fell the brand Excalibur: But ere he dipt the surface, rose an arm Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful, And caught him by the hilt, and brandished him Three times, and drew him under in the meer. And lightly went the other to the King.

Then spoke King Arthur, drawing thicker breath: “Now see I by thine eyes that this is done. Speak out: what is it thou hast heard, or seen!”

And answer made the bold Sir Bedivere: “ Sir King, I closed mine eyelids, lest the gems Should blind my purpose, for I never saw, Nor shall see, here or elsewhere, till I die, Not though I live three lives of mortal men, So great a miracle as yonder hilt. Then with both hands I flung him, wheeling him ; But when I looked again, behold an arm, Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful, That caught him by the hilt, and brandished him Three times, and drew him under in the meer.”

And answer made King Arthur, breathing hard : “ My end draws nigh; 'tis time that I were gone. Make broad thy shoulders to receive my weight, And bear me to the margin; yet I fear My wound hath taken cold, and I shall die.”

So saying, from the pavement he half rose, Slowly, with pain, reclining on his arm, And looking wistfully with wide blue eyes As in a picture. Him Sir Bedivere Remorsefully regarded through his tears, And would have spoken, but he found not words, Then took with care, and kneeling on one knee, O'er both his shoulders drew the languid hands, And rising bore him through the place of tombs.

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66 Quick,

But, as he walked, King Arthur panted hard Like one that feels a nightmare on his bed When all the house is mute. So sighed the King, Muttering and murmuring at his ear,

quick ! I fear it is too late, and I shall die.” But the other swiftly strode from ridge to ridge, Clothed with his breath, and looking, as he walked, Larger than human on the frozen hills. He heard the deep behind him, and a cry Before. His own thought drove him like a goad. Dry clashed his harness in the icy caves And barren chasms, and all to left and right The bare black cliff clanged round him, as he based His feet on juts of slippery crag that rang Sharp-smitten with the dint of armed heels And on a sudden, lo! the level lake, And the long glories of the winter moon.

Then saw they how there hove a dusky barge, Dárk as a funeral scarf from stem to stern, Beneath them ; and descending they were ware That all the decks were dense with stately forms Black-stoled, black-hooded, like a dream—by these Three Queens with crowns of gold—and from them

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rose

A cry that shivered to the tingling stars,
And, as it were one voice, an agony
Of lamentation, like a wind, that shrills
All night in a waste land, where no one comes,
Or hath come, since the making of the world.
Then murmured Arthur, “ Place me in the barge,
And to the barge they came.

There those three
Queens
Put forth their hands, and took the King, and

wept. But she that rose the tallest of them all And fairest, laid his head upon her lap, And loosed the shattered casque, and chafed his hands,

9

VOL. I.

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