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I am so deeply smitten thro’ 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 row'd 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 mere:
Watch what thou seëst : 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 thro' the helm -
A little thing may harm a wounded man;
Yet I thy hest will all perform full,
Watch what I see, and lightly bring thee word.'
So saying, from the ruin'd 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 jewelry. 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 seem'd
Better to leave Excalibur conceal'd
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 perform'd 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 betray'd thy nature and thy name,
Not rendering true answer, as beseem'd
Thy fëalty, nor like a noble knight:
For surer sign had follow'd, either hand,
Or voice, or else a motion of the mere.
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, fix'd 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 :
• And if indeed I cast the brand away,
Surely a precious thing, one worthy note,
Should thus be lost for ever 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 hid 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 widow'd of the power in his eye
That bow'd 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 pleasures 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 clutch'd the sword,
And strongly wheeld and threw it. The great brand
Made lightnings in the splendor of the moon,
And flashing round and round, and whirl'd 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 flash'd and fell the brand Excalibur:
310 But ere he dipt the surface, rose an arm Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful, And caught him by the hilt, and brandish'd him Three times, and drew him under in the mere. And lightly went the other to the King.
315 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 tho' I live three lives of mortal men,
So great a miracle as yonder hilt.
Then with both hands I Aung him, wheeling him ;
But when I looked again, behold an arm,
Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful,
That caught him by the hilt, and brandish'd him
Three times, and drew him under in the mere.'
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 thro' 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 thro’ the place of tombs.
But, as he walk’d, King Arthur panted hard, Like one that feels a nightmare on his bed
345 When all the house is mute. So sigh'd the King, Muttering and murmuring at his ear, • Quick, 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 walk'd,
350 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 clash'd his harness in the icy caves And barren chasms, and all to left and right
355 The bare black cliff clang'd round him, as he based His feet on juts of slippery crag that rang Sharp-smitten with the dint of arméd heels – And on a sudden, lo! the level lake, And the long glories of the winter moon.
360 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 365 Three Queens with crowns of gold: and from them rose A cry that shiver'd 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, 370 Or hath come, since the making of the world.
Then murmur'd Arthur, Place me in the barge;'
So to the barge they came. There those three Queens