The Ballad Of Elaine
by S. Fowler Wright
Published by Merton Press Ltd.
Abbey House, Westminster.
"What would ye that I did?" said Sir Lancelot.
- "I would have you to my husband," said Elaine.
- "but truly," said he, "I cast me never to be wedded man."
- "Jesu defend me," said Sir Lancelot, "for then I
- for their great goodness."
Le Morte D'Arthur.
Book XVIII Chap. XIX.
SHE came when evening came, - her feet
- The cool grass comforted, -
- Her seeking steps had led
- And nigh whose life was dead.
Lone through the lengthened days he lay
- Within that hermit's cave,
- So deep the lancehead drave
- Nor any love could save.
Was closed that riven hurt where-through
- The restless life had drained.
- No more its healing pained.
- As one whose goal was gained.
Only he would for speech with him
- To whom in life he clave,
- That wound unweening gave,
- How well his heart forgave.
"Damsel, my space of days is sped,
- I wot God's night is near,
- "Till that good knight is here,
- That you should ask in fear."
"I'll ask one boon of God's Mother,
- Ere aught I'll ask of thee.
- That she should grant it me,
- She lay my life in fee."
She searched that closing wound anew,
- Its utter depth she learned.
- With herbs that waked and burned,
- Its aching pain returned.
The changing day was night without,
- The changing night was day.
- In ever pain he lay.
- Only the night was day.
And still her constant watch she kept,
- And gained nor glance nor word,
- Till Mary Virgin heard,
- And then from sleep he stirred.
"Damsel, a lightsome dream was mine:
- A dream of truth, I ween.
- The singing shaws between.
- He should not pass unseen."
She said, "The bending shaws above
- A goodly knight I view.
- No plume is trailed thereto;
- That soareth in the blue;
- He cometh close hereto."
They heard the stamping hooves anear,
- They heard the ringing bit,
- As that good knight alit.
- Sir Bors de Ganis, knight of God,
Beside the lowly couch he knelt
- In grief he might not stay,
- On that sad tourney day,
- Whom most of mortal men loved he,
"Lancelot, there may no grief atone
- The woeful chance," he said,
- Our gathered Table fled,
- The fatal charge I led.
But not thy changed arms had missed
- Thy comrades used of yore
- But that red sleeve you bore:
- Thy never wont before."
"Good friend, for nought you mourn," he said,
- "The day for grief is done.
- This damsel's care hath won,
- And other life begun.
Whate'er device of pride I hid,
- In fameless guise to shine,
- For that sure thrust of thine
- May rest you in good heart content:
But speak what outer chance hath been
- While here my life hath lain,
- For either peace or pain.
- Where that is false is vain."
"When wounded from the lists you drew,
- And no man marked thy way,
- The dying strife to stay,
- Thy questioned name to say.
And spake the King for all that would
- To seek thee wide and near.
- Who loves thee for thy glory's sake,
- Entreated half, and half forbid,
- And half in wrath her fear.
From those who rode thy fate to trace
- Lord Gawain first returned.
- Thy present need he learned,
- Such word of damsel; worth and fair,
- That little thank he earned.
For when I spoke my thought aloud
- That hither ride would I,
- Where the still thunders lie),
- Forgiveness of thy fault denied,
- Until ye twain should die."
NOT God shall stay the ending day
- That closeth dole or good.
- At parting hour they stood.
- To left the hawthorn wood.
"Damsel there is no gold to give
- The price of life shall pay,
- "And in such things I may,
- "It is but thine to say."
"If I have won thy life," she said,
- "I will no gold in fee.
- There were no gain for me.
- From Guildford to the sea, -
- If all be nought to thee."
"Damsel, the bitter boon you would
- I may not grant," said he,
- The Grail I might not see,
- A wrought sin clingeth me,
- Nor fitting mate for thee."
"If word of quick, or word of dead,
- Or word of God Most High,
- "Or any worth deny,
- "That very God could lie."
"I may not change my word," said he,
- "Though well in heart I wot,
- Shall be I loved thee not."
- That I loved Lancelot."
"My Benoic lands are large," he said,
- "My sword is strong to friend;
- "My wealth were thine to spend,
- Were nought for love's amend
- God brushes ere the end."
"I'll ask no holding bond to share,
- "No lengthened price to pay.
- "Is thine to cast away.
The day thy love shall tire," she said,
- "Shall be our parting day,
- Yea, before God, alway."
"I will not waste thy life," he said,
- "God put it far from me.
- "No sin that clingeth me,
- As this you speak should be,
- Who have no love for thee.
There is no woe of mortal kind
- But God may cease," he said,
- A better knight to wed,
- As having loved the dead."
She had no further hope to plead,
- No other word to say.
- Where once had blown the may.
- But dark as blood were they.
- There is no man that may.
But slow she clomb the upward way,
- And slow she toiled the flat.
- No word her heart forgat.
- The towers of Astolat.
No more to meet the morn she rose,
- No more she sought the sun,
- And while she walked as one
- Whose use of days was done.
"Bethink thy gentle birth," they said,
- "Bethink thy virgin name.
- "There is no greater shame.
- Ere to these lonely towers aside
But hotly in his sisters plea
- Spake the young knight, Lavaine,
- In urging customs vain?
- The nobler that themselves they be,
- And are not whole again.
Myself since that red dusk of day
- When here in hall he stood,
- Nor other life I would,
- For evil days or good."
She said, "What God hath in me wrought,
- That shall not God deny.
- And no way shamed am I,
- And glad of grief I die.
But you shall bear and lay me dead
- The river barge within,
- Of maid of loftiest kin,
- "That only death should win.
Shall be one silent hand to steer
- Down the still stream and wide,
- That rise in terraced marble sheer
- And he shall turn his course anear,
LOOKED Arthur from a casement high,
- O'er the long waterside.
- Down the full stream and wide;
- On the dark shrine when night is nigh,
- It seemed a sleeping damsel lay,
- In marvel if some moonland fey
- The barge with steady lapse and slow
Then bade he two good knights anigh
- That sleeping maid to meet,
- Her biding days entreat.
- But came they from that damsel dead
"None there," they told, "for bridal sleeps,
- But timeless tryst with death she keeps,
- Of violence in the wildwood ways,
- Nor the slow feet of wasting days,
- But in the barge its course to steer,
- A silent servitor.
No mortal maid thine eyes shall see,
- Though the sweet life be there,
- Or lands where Freya's daughters be,
- More fainly formed and fair."
- And Agravaine to inward bring
Brandiles bent and Agravaine
- That burden worth to bear,
- That leaned those terraced walls along,
- For there, that marvelled sight to see,
- And chiefs of song and minstrelsy,
- And gay-clad damsels fair.
No snowdrop of the breaking snows,
- When the long snows delay;
- Wood-lilies white as they;
- That falleth where the dogwood glows;
- In the green heart of May;
- Unflawed than she or fairer shows,
But Arthur marked a script secure
- In the cold hand contained,
- "For haply shall it prove," he said,
- Her living tale be gained,
- If craft or guile or treason strong,
- Her blossomed life have baned."
Was silence while the scroll was read,
- "Lo, that Elaine am I
- Whose rootless hope was high,
- Of love rejected die.
For this may ladies all who hear,
- And know my passing day,
- And thou, Sir Lancelot, pray,
- And my good lord alway."
"O Lancelot," said the King, "is wrought
- A seldom tale and sad.
You might no fairer bride have brought.
- For the pure love she had
- Awhile to make her glad;
- Nor other bond forbad."
And answered Lancelot, "Sooth ye say,
- That treadeth earthly ground,
- There were no fairer found.
- But nought but of my love she would,
And grieving o'er this damsel's death,
- And whence its cause should spring,
- Appeal to God I bring,
- Distressed her that her life should die,
Then drew the high queen Guenevere,
- (In green and gold was she),
- That damsels face to see.
- That death had loosed her free,
- His living love to be.
"Fair lord," she said, "such grace was here,
- That whom she sought to grant her cheer
- I would that in thine heart had lain
- As had her death foredone."
- To take or yield as no man ought,
- And other might I none."
And Arthur answered, "Yea, perde,
- Is none may speak thee nay,
- Nor any blame to say.
- It is no mortal's way.
- This maid of noble heart and clean,
- In the like ground to lay."
THEY laid her in the holy ground
- Where the dead kings are laid.
- That whoso knelt and prayed
- Earth's best, when showed her seeking vain,
- And was of nought afraid.
But in a privy tower they met,
- His queen and Lancelot.
- Of whom unblest his hurt had cured,
- Sufficing, recked she not.
Who when wellnear its sun was set
- Had love itself forgot?
"O Lancelot, in thy love," she said,
- "You will not bear it blame,
- And tale of whispers round me spread
- To thine, whose faith was hereward plight,
- And scorn to in like scorn requite,
- I spake thee wrath and shame."
"O Queen," he said, "my service still,
- For any tale untrue,
- Thy given hest to do;
- As ever yet you knew."
When weaker faith shall pardon need
- Shall surer love forgive.
- His larger joy to give;
- A further hope may live
That when shall God his bounty share,
- And none her meed shall lack,
- Who brought his life to wrack,
- And died at Carbonac.
Allied in that new mystery,
- Which none of earth may wot,
- Her nearer place allot,
- Elaine and Lancelot.