ALFRED, LORD TENNYSON
PELLEAS AND ETTARRE
KING ARTHUR made new knights to fill the gap
Left by the Holy Quest ; and as he sat
In hall at old Caerleon, the high doors
Were softly sunder’d, and thro’ these a youth,
Pelleas, and the sweet smell of the fields
Past, and the sunshine came along with him.
‘Make me thy knight, because I know, Sir King,
All that belongs to knighthood, and I love. ’
Such was his cry : for having heard the King
Had let proclaim a tournament—the prize
A golden circlet and a knightly sword,
Full fain had Pelleas for his lady won
The golden circlet, for himself the sword :
And there were those who knew him near the King,
And promised for him : and Arthur made him knight.
And this new knight, Sir Pelleas of the isles—
But lately come to his inheritance,
And lord of many a barren isle was he—
Riding at noon, a day or twain before,
Across the forest call’d of Dean, to find
Caerleon and the King, had felt the sun
Beat like a strong knight on his helm, and reel’d
Almost to falling from his horse ; but saw
Near him a mound of even-sloping side,
Whereon a hundred stately beeches grew,
And here and there great hollies under them ;
But for a mile all round was open space,
And fern and heath : and slowly Pelleas drew
To that dim day, then binding his good horse
To a tree, cast himself down ; and as he lay
At random looking over the brown earth
Thro’ that green-glooming twilight of the grove,
It seem’d to Pelleas that the fern without
Burnt as a living fire of emeralds,
So that his eyes were dazzled looking at it.
Then o'er it crost the dimness of a cloud
Floating, and once the shadow of a bird
Flying, and then a fawn ; and his eyes closed.
And since he loved all maidens, but no maid
In special, half-awake he whisper’d, ‘Where ?
O where ? I love thee, tho’ I know thee not.
For fair thou art and pure as Guinevere,
And I will make thee with my spear and sword
As famous—O my Queen, my Guinevere,
For I will be thine Arthur when we meet.’
Suddenly waken’d with a sound of talk
And laughter at the limit of the wood,
And glancing thro’ the hoary boles, he saw,
Strange as to some old prophet might have seem’d
A vision hovering on a sea of fire,
Damsels in divers colours like the cloud
Of sunset and sunrise, and all of them
On horses, and the horses richly trapt
Breast-high in that bright line of bracken stood :
And all the damsels talk’d confusedly,
And one was pointing this way, and one that,
Because the way was lost.
And Pelleas rose,
And loosed his horse, and led him to the light.
There she that seem’d the chief among them said,
‘In happy time behold our pilot-star !
Youth, we are damsels-errant, and we ride,
Arm’d as ye see, to tilt against the knights
There at Caerleon, but have lost our way :
To right ? to left ? straight forward ? back again ?
Which ? tell us quickly.’
Pelleas gazing thought,
‘Is Guinevere herself so beautiful ?’
For large her violet eyes look’d, and her bloom
A rosy dawn kindled in stainless heavens,
And round her limbs, mature in womanhood ;
And slender was her hand and small her shape ;
And but for those large eyes, the haunts of scorn,
She might have seem’d a toy to trifle with,
And pass and care no more. But while he gazed
The beauty of her flesh abash’d the boy,
As tho’ it were the beauty of her soul :
For as the base man, judging of the good,
Puts his own baseness in him by default
Of will and nature, so did Pelleas lend
All the young beauty of his own soul to hers,
Believing her ; and when she spake to him,
Stammer’d, and could not make her a reply.
For out of the waste islands had he come,
Where saving his own sisters he had known
Scarce any but the women of his isles,
Rough wives, that laughed and screamed against the gulls,
Makers of nets, and living from the sea.