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

Modified on March 05, 2023

3:50 min read

Quick analysis:

Closest metre Iambic pentameter
Characters 4,319
Words 754
Stanzas 10
Stanza Lengths 9, 23, 6, 12, 5, 6, 3, 3, 21, 5

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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