Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE GRAVE OF KING ARTHUR, by THOMAS WARTON THE YOUNGER



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THE GRAVE OF KING ARTHUR, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Stately the feast, and high the cheer
Last Line: The daily dirge, and rites divine.
Subject(s): Arthurian Legend; Graves; Arthur, King; Tombs; Tombstones


Stately the feast, and high the cheer:
Girt with many an armed peer,
And canopied with golden pall,
Amid CILGARRAN'S castle hall,
Sublime in formidable state,
And warlike splendour, Henry sate;
Prepar'd to stain the briny flood
Of Shannon's lakes with rebel blood.
Illumining the vaulted roof,
A thousand torches flam'd aloof:
From massy cups, with golden gleam
Sparkled the red metheglin's stream:
To grace the gorgeous festival,
Along the lofty-window'd wall,
The storied tapestry was hung:
With minstrelsy the rafters rung
Of harps, that with reflected light
From the proud gallery glitter'd bright:
While gifted bards, a rival throng,
(From distant Mona, nurse of song,
From Teivi, fring'd with umbrage brown,
From Elvy's vale, and Cader's crown,
From many a shaggy precipice
That shades Ierne's hoarse abyss,
And many a sunless solitude
Of Radnor's inmost mountains rude,)
To crown the banquet's solemn close,
Themes of British glory chose;
And to the strings of various chime
Attemper'd thus the fabling rime.
"O'er Cornwall's cliffs the tempest roar'd,
High the screaming sea-mew soar'd;
On Tintaggel's topmost tower
Darksom fell the sleety shower;
Round the rough castle shrilly sung
The whirling blast, and wildly flung
On each tall rampart's thundering side
The surges of the tumbling tide:
When Arthur rang'd his red-cross ranks
On conscious Camlan's crimson'd banks:
By Mordred's faithless guile decreed
Beneath a Saxon spear to bleed!
Yet in vain a paynim foe
Arm'd with fate the mighty blow;
For when he fell, an elfin queen,
All in secret, and unseen,
O'er the fainting hero threw
Her mantle of ambrosial blue;
And bade her spirits bear him far,
In Merlin's agate-axled car,
To her green isle's enamel'd steep,
In the navel of the deep.
O'er his wounds she sprinkled dew
From flowers that in Arabia grew:
On a rich, inchanted bed,
She pillow'd his majestic head;
O'er his brow, with whispers bland,
Thrice she wav'd an opiate wand;
And, to soft music's airy sound,
Her magic curtains clos'd around.
There, renew'd the vital spring,
Again he reigns a mighty king;
And many a fair and fragrant clime,
Blooming in immortal prime,
By gales of Eden ever fann'd,
Owns the monarch's high command:
Thence to Britain shall return,
(If right prophetic rolls I learn)
Borne on Victory's spreading plume,
His antient sceptre to resume;
Once more, in old heroic pride,
His barbed courser to bestride;
His knightly table to restore,
And brave the tournaments of yore.'
They ceas'd: when on the tuneful stage
Advanc'd a bard, of aspect sage;
His silver tresses, thin-besprent,
To age a graceful reverence lent;
His beard, all white as spangles frore
That cloath Plinlimmon's forests hoar,
Down to his harp descending flow'd;
With Time's faint rose his features glow'd;
His eyes diffus'd a soften'd fire,
And thus he wak'd the warbling wire.
"Listen, Henry, to my read!
Not from fairy realms I lead
Bright-rob'd Tradition, to relate
In forged colours Arthur's fate;
Though much of old romantic lore
On the blest theme I keep in store:
But boastful Fiction should be dumb,
Where Truth the strain might best become.
If thine ear may still be won
With songs of Uther's glorious son,
Henry, I a tale unfold,
Never yet in rime enroll'd,
Nor sung nor harp'd in hall or bower;
Which in my youth's full early flower,
A minstrel, sprung of Cornish line,
Who spoke of kings from old Locrine,
Taught me to chant, one vernal dawn,
Deep in a cliff-encircled lawn,
What time the glistening vapours fled
From cloud-envelop'd Clyder's head;
And on its sides the torrents gray
Shone to the morning's orient ray.
"When Arthur bow'd his haughty crest,
No princess, veil'd in azure vest,
Snatch'd him, by Merlin's potent spell,
In groves of golden bliss to dwell;
Where, crown'd with wreaths of misletoe,
Slaughter'd kings in glory go:
But when he fell, with winged speed,
His champions, on a milk-white steed,
From the battle's hurricane,
Bore him to Joseph's towered fane,
In the fair vale of Avalon.
There, with chanted orison,
And the long blaze of tapers clear,
The stoled fathers met the bier;
Through the dim iles, in order dread
Of martial woe, the chief they led,
And deep intomb'd in holy ground,
Before the altar's solemn bound.
Around no dusky banners wave,
No mouldering trophies mark the grave:
Away the ruthless Dane has torn
Each trace that Time's slow touch had worn;
And long, o'er the neglected stone,
Oblivion's veil its shade has thrown:
The faded tomb, with honour due,
'Tis thine, O Henry, to renew!
Thither, when Conquest has restor'd
Yon recreant isle, and sheath'd the sword,
When Peace with palm has crown'd thy brows,
Haste the, to pay the pilgrim vows.
There, observant of my lore,
The pavement's hallow'd depth explore;
And thrice a fathom underneath
Dive into the vaults of death.
There shall thine eye, with wild amaze,
On his gigantic stature gaze;
There shalt thou find the monarch laid,
All in warrior-weeds array'd;
Wearing in death his helmet-crown,
And weapons huge of old renown.
Martial prince, 'tis thine to save
From dark oblivion Arthur's grave!
So may thy ships securely stem
The western frith, thy diadem
Shine victorious in the van,
Nor heed the slings of Ulster's clan:
Thy Norman pike-men win their way
Up the dun rocks of Harald's bay:
And from the steeps of rough Kildare
Thy prancing hoofs the falcon scare:
So may thy bow's unerring yew
Its shafts in Roderick's heart embrew.'
Amid the pealing symphony
The spiced goblets mantled high,
With passions new the song impress'd
The listening king's impatient breast:
Flash the keen lightnings from his eyes;
He scorns awhile his bold emprise;
Ev'n now he seems, with eager pace,
The consecrated floor to trace;
And ope, from its tremendous gloom,
The treasure of the wonderous tomb:
Ev'n now, he burns in thought to rear,
From its dark bed, the ponderous spear,
Rough with the gore of Pictish kings:
Ev'n now fond hope his fancy wings,
To poise the monarch's massy blade,
Of magic-temper'd metal made;
And drag to day the dinted shield
That felt the storm of Camlan's field.
O'er the sepulchre profound
Ev'n now, with arching sculpture crown'd,
He plans the chantry's choral shrine,
The daily dirge, and rites divine.






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