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Idylls of the King: The Last Tournament (excerpt)

Dagonet, the fool, whom Gawain in his mood
  Had made mock-knight of Arthur's Table Round,
  At Camelot, high above the yellowing woods,
  Danced like a wither'd leaf before the hall.
  And toward him from the hall, with harp in hand,
  And from the crown thereof a carcanet
  Of ruby swaying to and fro, the prize
  Of Tristram in the jousts of yesterday,
  Came Tristram, saying, "Why skip ye so, Sir Fool?"

  For Arthur and Sir Lancelot riding once
  Far down beneath a winding wall of rock
  Heard a child wail. A stump of oak half-dead.
  From roots like some black coil of carven snakes,
  Clutch'd at the crag, and started thro' mid air
  Bearing an eagle's nest: and thro' the tree
  Rush'd ever a rainy wind, and thro' the wind
  Pierced ever a child's cry: and crag and tree
  Scaling, Sir Lancelot from the perilous nest,
  This ruby necklace thrice around her neck,
  And all unscarr'd from beak or talon, brought
  A maiden babe; which Arthur pitying took,
  Then gave it to his Queen to rear: the Queen
  But coldly acquiescing, in her white arms
  Received, and after loved it tenderly,
  And named it Nestling; so forgot herself
  A moment, and her cares; till that young life
  Being smitten in mid heaven with mortal cold
  Past from her; and in time the carcanet
  Vext her with plaintive memories of the child:
  So she, delivering it to Arthur, said,
  "Take thou the jewels of this dead innocence,
  And make them, an thou wilt, a tourney-prize."

  To whom the King, "Peace to thine eagle-borne
  Dead nestling, and this honour after death,
  Following thy will! but, O my Queen, I muse
  Why ye not wear on arm, or neck, or zone
  Those diamonds that I rescued from the tarn,
  And Lancelot won, methought, for thee to wear."

  "Would rather you had let them fall," she cried,
  "Plunge and be lost--ill-fated as they were,
  A bitterness to me!--ye look amazed,
  Not knowing they were lost as soon as given--
  Slid from my hands, when I was leaning out
  Above the river--that unhappy child
  Past in her barge: but rosier luck will go
  With these rich jewels, seeing that they came
  Not from the skeleton of a brother-slayer,
  But the sweet body of a maiden babe.
  Perchance--who knows?--the purest of thy knights
  May win them for the purest of my maids."

  She ended, and the cry of a great jousts
  With trumpet-blowings ran on all the ways
  From Camelot in among the faded fields
  To furthest towers; and everywhere the knights
  Arm'd for a day of glory before the King.

  But on the hither side of that loud morn
  Into the hall stagger'd, his visage ribb'd
  From ear to ear with dogwhip-weals, his nose
  Bridge-broken, one eye out, and one hand off,
  And one with shatter'd fingers dangling lame,
  A churl, to whom indignantly the King,

  "My churl, for whom Christ died, what evil beast
  Hath drawn his claws athwart thy face? or fiend?
  Man was it who marr'd heaven's image in thee thus?"

  Then, sputtering thro' the hedge of splinter'd teeth,
  Yet strangers to the tongue, and with blunt stump
  Pitch-blacken'd sawing the air, said the maim'd churl,

  "He took them and he drave them to his tower--
  Some hold he was a table-knight of thine--
  A hundred goodly ones--the Red Knight, he--
  Lord, I was tending swine, and the Red Knight
  Brake in upon me and drave them to his tower;
  And when I cal'd upon thy name as one
  That doest right by gentle and by churl,
  Maim'd me and maul'd, and would outright have slain,
  Save that he aware me to a message, saying,
  'Tell thou the King and all his liars, that I
  Have founded my Round Table in the North,
  And whatsoever his own knights have sworn
  My knights have sworn the counter to it--and say
  My tower is full of harlots, like his court,
  But mine are worthier, seeing they profess
  To be none other than themselves--and say
  My knights are all adulterers like his own,
  But mine are truer, seeing they profess
  To be none other; and say his hour is come,
  The heathen are upon him, his long lance
  Broken, and his Excalibur a straw.' "

  Then Arthur turn'd to Kay the seneschal,
  "Take thou my churl, and tend him curiously
  Like a king's heir, till all his hurts be whole.
  The heathen--but that ever-climbing wave,
  Hurl'd back again so ofte
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

3:50 min read
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Alfred Lord Tennyson

Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson, FRS was Poet Laureate of Great Britain and Ireland during much of Queen Victoria's reign and remains one of the most popular British poets.  more…

All Alfred Lord Tennyson poems | Alfred Lord Tennyson Books

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