Saturday, September 27, 2014

Bookshelf Challenge

So, late is better than never, right? I was nominated for the Bookshelf Challenge by Meagan Briggs of The Empty Inkwell.

The Rules for the Bookshelf Tag: 

Answer the following questions about books, and then tag five other bloggers. You can answer the questions any way you want, whether it’s on your blog, in a video, or a combination of the two. Then remember to let whoever tagged you know when your post is up so they can read it.

1) Is there a book that you really want to read but haven’t because you know that it’ll make you cry?

I expect to cry over John J Dwyer's Robert E Lee, and after tearfully chewing through his War Between the States and Stonewall, I was definitely ready to take a break, but the main reason books get put off for me is because I am crazy busy.

2) Pick one book that helped introduce you to a new genre. 

John C Wright's The Golden Age introduced me to super-super-space-opera. It twisted my mind into pretzels and was highly enjoyable. Advisory: John C Wright is only recommended to mature readers.

3) Find a book that you want to reread. 

Just one? Persuasion by Jane Austen. From memory, one of my favourite Austens.

4) Is there a book series you read but wish that you hadn’t?

There are a number, actually, but today I'll just admit to Francine Rivers's Mark of the Lion trilogy. To be fair, Mrs Rivers writes a gripping story with oodles of melodrama, fun historical detail, and an evident desire to please the Lord. All that aside, the books are about the most pressure-cooker-y romance novels I've ever read. While recently I've been coming to firmer convictions on what kind of romance is appropriate (hint: you can have my copy of Much Ado About Nothing when you pry it from my cold dead hands), there's still a line between appropriate and inappropriate. The Mark of the Lion is a sanctified bodice ripper. There, I said it.

5) If your house were burning down and all of your family and pets were safe, which book would you go back inside to save? 

Pendragon's Heir, because losing ten years' work would be horrible. If I had any more time, I'd add my Kobo and my treasured copy of Charles Williams's Taliessin Through Logres/The Region of the Summer Stars, because replacing it would be so difficult.

6) Is there one book on your bookshelf that brings back fond memories?

Perelandra. I have a lot of memories, good and bad, of reading that book.

7) Find a book that has inspired you the most. 

Angels in the Architecture, Douglas Wilson and Douglas Jones. It more or less explains me.

8) Do you have any autographed books?

Rural Australia doesn't grant the opportunity to meet famous authors all that much. Given that, I'm kind of surprised how many I have. Signed first editions of the 100 Cupboards series by ND Wilson, if you're counting authors I haven't met. Otherwise, George Grant kindly autographed a copy of The Micah Mandate for a very star-struck Australian traveller last year, and Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin signed a copy of It's (Not That) Complicated for me around the same time. More recently, I became the proud owner of an autographed copy of Tasmanian author-illustrators Steve and Marion Isham's latest picture book Where The Platypus Sleeps.

9) Find the book that you have owned the longest.

Oh. Wow. I wouldn't have a clue. There are books on my shelf that my parents have given me from the library we had growing up, and books that came from my grandparents' shelves, so maybe the absolutely-fallen-apart Pilgrim's Progress?

10) Is there a book by an author that you never imagined you would read or enjoy?

Bleak House, by Charles Dickens. After being traumatised at an early age by Oliver Twist, I was surprised to enjoy that one.

The bloggers I now nominate are:

Schuyler M of My Lady Bibliophile
Elisabeth Grace Foley of The Second Sentence
Joy C of Fulness of Joy

and anyone else who wants to join in. Let me know if you do! Cheers!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Comus by John Milton

It may surprise you to know that I've never been a great fan of John Milton's. I've tried, and failed, twice, to get all the way through Paradise Lost, and was rather put off to discover that Milton embraced the Arian heresy, seeing Christ as the first-created being rather than the eternal God Himself. However, a spot of heresy doesn't usually prevent me from enjoying a legitimately good book, and when I recently decided on a whim to read Comus, I was astonished how much I enjoyed the thing.

Comus is a masque, maybe the first I've read. The masque was a presentation quite similar to a play, popular through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when Comus was written. One of the differences between a masque and a play was that a masque was a very courtly form of entertainment in which it was not unheard-of (as it would have been in the playhouses) for noblemen and noblewomen to take roles or participate in the songs and dances.

Into the Wood

Comus is the story of a young Lady and her two brothers lost in "the blind mazes of [a] tangled wood." I have to admit that it was this specific line which induced me to read the masque. Why? I'll go somewhat off-topic and explain. If that line makes you think of Mirkwood, Narnia, or perhaps As You Like It's Forest of Arden or any King Arthur story at all, then congratulations--you are aware of a venerable literary trope with deep roots in the chivalric/romantic tradition. As Charles Williams observed in The Figure of Beatrice,
The image of a wood has appeared often enough in English verse. It has indeed appeared so often that it has gathered a good deal of verse into itself; so that it has become a great forest where, with long leagues of changing green between them, strange episodes of poetry have taken place. Thus in one part there are lovers of a midsummer night, or by day a duke and his followers, and in another men behind branches so that the wood seems moving, and in another a girl separated from her two lordly young brothers, and in another a poet listening to a nightingale but rather dreaming richly of the grand art than there exploring it, and there are other inhabitants, belonging even more closely to the wood, dryads, fairies, an enchanter's rout. The forest itself has different names in different tongues--Westermain, Arden, Birnam, Broceliande; and in places there are separate trees named, such as that on the outskirts against which a young Northern poet saw a spectral wanderer leaning, or, in the unexplored centre of which only rumours reach even poetry, Igdrasil of one myth, or the Trees of Knowledge and Life of another. So that indeed the whole earth seems to become this one enormous forest, and our longest and most stable civilisations are only clearings in the midst of it.
And that puts it in a nutshell, complete with a reference to Comus itself. To continue, the Lady is separated from her brothers and in looking for them, is captured by the enchanter Comus, who as the story goes, is the son of Bacchus and Circe from Greek myth, a minor deity of wine and lust. Comus attempts to talk the Lady into forsaking her morals, and the Lady, though unable to escape and waiting for rescue, continues to refute all of Comus's arguments.

Although the play is quite a short one, it's so jam-packed with thought-provoking goodness that I could spend a long time discussing it. There are a few very fun aspects of this story that I'd love to bring to your attention...

Pagan Imagery in a Christian Story

First, given the time period, it should come as no surprise to us that we find a good bit of imagery lifted from pagan myth here in this story by a man who, despite being a heretic, was a Christian heretic writing for a Christian audience in a Christian tradition. I've written before about how Milton, Spenser, CS Lewis, and other authors in this tradition justified such borrowing--short story, it's all in Augustine and The City of God--but it was fun to see Milton's take on the same kind of story. At one point, his pagan god argues to the Lady:
If all the world  
Should, in a pet of temperance, feed on pulse,
Drink the clear stream, and nothing wear but frieze,  
The All-giver would be unthanked, would be unpraised,  
Not half his riches known, and yet despised.
The milieu, in other words, does include gods and river-nymphs with powers of their own, but these creatures are imagined no less as subjects (whether obedient or rebellious) of the same God.

I'm not sure if I'd write a story the same way, but when reading classic Christian literature like Comus, it can be helpful to remember that the presence of a few lowercase pagan-derived gods should not be taken as evidence of impiety on the author's part. As we see from this passage, even though it comes from the mouth of the villain, a clear distinction is drawn between God Himself and the created "gods" which, although they may have delegated power, take it for granted that all worship and glory belong to the High God.

Reason and Temperance

As you might infer from the fact that the villain is a god of wine and lust, the whole theme of the poem revolves around the virtue of temperance, which as I mentioned in my review of Book II of The Faerie Queene, was defined at this period in history as right behaviour in the physical world (analogous to and of course inseparable from holiness, which is right spiritual conduct). The war is waged in learned debate; anyone who hasn't been living under a rock his whole life will be unsurprised to find how little the arguments of people like Comus have changed in the last 380 years. Still, all the things he says are hollow sophistry; the Lady's counterarguments, by contrast, are both rational and devastating.
Were it a draught for Juno when she banquets,  
I would not taste thy treasonous offer. None
But such as are good men can give good things;  
And that which is not good is not delicious  
To a well-governed and wise appetite.
One thing we might have a little more difficulty recognising is the poem's emphasis on the trained palate. After 250 years of Enlightenment humanism worshipping at the altar of the sweet innate goodness of humanity, all of us have the "follow your heart" mantra in our bones. To Milton, however, the natural appetites tend toward evil, making training, self-government, and discipline both necessary and beneficial. This is what CS Lewis talked about in The Abolition of Man--well-trained affections.

Another of the benefits of a well-governed character: discipline in the face of danger, fear, or apprehension.
Peace, brother: be not over-exquisite  
To cast the fashion of uncertain evils;  
For, grant they be so, while they rest unknown,  
What need a man forestall his date of grief,  
And run to meet what he would most avoid?  
Or, if they be but false alarms of fear,  
How bitter is such self-delusion!

Feminine Authority

This was one of my favourite things about this poem--as you'll be unsurprised to hear. I found the Lady an incredibly inspiring role model. She has complete calm and unassailable logic under pressure, combined with a total lack of feminist girl-power nonsense. 


To begin with, when her brothers discover that the Lady has been kidnapped by someone who's up to no good, one comforts the other like this:
I do not think my sister so to seek,
Or so unprincipled in virtue’s book,  
And the sweet peace that goodness bosoms ever,  
As that the single want of light and noise
(Not being in danger, as I trust she is not)
Could stir the constant mood of her calm thoughts,
And put them into misbecoming plight.
Modern feminists will try to persuade you, surprisingly often, that women of previous years were regarded as little better than infants, expected to scream and faint at the least sign of danger. But the Lady's Brothers, though understandably concerned for her safety, are sure that she has the strength of mind to meet dangers with courage. As the plot demonstrates, they're quite right.

Despite her courage, however, the Lady is quite in earnest a prisoner of Comus, unable to free herself; she is no omnicompetent action girl. On the other hand, the fact that the Lady is in dire need of a rescuer does not mean that she is without freewill or moral agency. Although physically she is in Comus's power, she is mentally and spiritually capable of resisting him: she is neither hoodwinked by his sophistries, nor enticed by his blandishments.

In other words, Comus's Lady doesn't take the easy way out--she doesn't use duress and coercion as an excuse for wrongdoing. I really think this is a huge error made by a lot of our contemporaries: to assume that every woman in a difficult situation, under any kind of pressure or abuse, is somehow a spotless victim, robbed of all moral agency, and helpless to exercise her own reason, will, and responsibilities. I don't debate that this must be difficult to do; but sometimes it just is difficult to do the right thing. We have to do it anyway. And I don't know about you, but I find that requirement far more empowering than the notion that I could have no moral agency in a moment of coercion or duress.

In Praise of Sensational Plots

Lately I have come to meditate on the fact that the difference between a great book and a terrible book does not lie in how interesting, or sensational, or preposterous, the plot is. Down with the idea that a book, to be truly great, must be as dull as dishwater. Even a potboiler full of romance, war, and melodrama is capable of greatness if written with discipline and virtue--and give me that any day, rather than a book which never dares to be either profound or preposterous. In Comus, Milton couches serious philosophy in a melodramatic tale of villainy versus chastity, and it's delightful. Compare that with the spy story I read recently about a genius art restorer superspy wending his respectable bourgeois way across Europe looking for stolen art. I think at one point he even drove a Volvo. And he didn't face the prospect of losing his immortal soul, not once. Pshaw, even Jane Austen wrote plots with higher stakes than that.

Empty-Vaulted Night

Comus was, to conclude, delightful all the way through. I can't finish without saying something about the writing. This may come as news, but Milton could turn a pretty phrase. Here, luxuriate in this:

Can any mortal mixture of earth’s mould
Breathe such divine enchanting ravishment?  
Sure something holy lodges in that breast,  
And with these raptures moves the vocal air
To testify his hidden residence.  
How sweetly did they float upon the wings
Of silence, through the empty-vaulted night,  

At every fall smoothing the raven down  
Of darkness till it smiled!

Find Comus on Amazon, The Book Depository, or Project Gutenberg.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Pendragon's Heir: Snippets

In case you missed it, a few weeks ago I announced my upcoming novel, Pendragon's Heir. At the moment I'm halfway through a stiff edit of the book, an exciting thing to be doing as always!

And so for this update I'd like to post some snippets to introduce you to some of my characters...

Blanche
She stared at the featureless iron and felt more keenly than ever the distance between them. Now. Now was the time to say what might be the last words he would ever hear from her.
  “Fight,” she said at last. “Win.”

Nerys
“Nerys. It’s been fourteen years and you haven’t aged.”
  “No.” Nerys settled back on her footstool, her shoulders falling, her chin lifting. For a moment the veil rose: Blanche sensed a dignity so awful and majestic that she almost expected the footstool to splinter into diamond shards beneath its burden.
  “I am ageless.”

Perceval
The strange knight spoke, his voice echoing inside the iron helm. “Do you seek death, boy?”
  Perceval grinned. “I’ve yanked his beard once or twice. I can do it again.”

Simon Corbin
“Ah, but even now you fail to understand me. What if it were not the villain doing these dastardly deeds, but your colleague, or your commander?”
  Perceval looked up with quick displeasure. “What do you mean?”
  “I mean,” he said, “that by your own showing, the greatest threat to heaven comes from within the ranks of the angels themselves. Before you can prove to me that heroes can defeat villains with nothing but the purest chivalric ideals, you must convince me that heroes do exist, and that villains are not a fanciful tale for children. You must tell me, sir, if you dare, that you are incorruptible, and that your colleagues and commanders are as pure as you. Your health.”
  And Mr Corbin took a sip of wine.

Gawain
Sir Gawain, whetting his sword, looked up. “We know the Lady Nimue can be trusted.”
  “Why are you defending her? You know better than any of us what harm comes when Elves meddle with men, however good their intentions.”
  Silence fell, as breathless as the space between lightning and thunder. Perceval saw the others slowly straightening to look at the Knight of Orkney.
  No thunder came. Instead Gawain said quietly, “Yes. I know it.”

 Morgan
Blanchefleur swallowed. Moistened dry lips. “He? Who’s he?”
  Sudden silence fell upon the steeple. At last Morgan’s voice slid out from beneath the table with the calm and sinuous grace of a serpent. “Oh, I would tell you. I am willing to tell you. I am waiting to tell you.”

Galahad
“I ask your pardon for falling so silent at the Table today when you told me of your birth. It meant no disdain. Only I can imagine no harder thing befalling a man, than to be cast off by his father.”
  “I knew you thought no ill of me,” said Galahad. “And of your kindness, think no ill of him either. So far as the matter lies between him and me, we have killed and buried it.”
  And again, although he searched for it, Perceval saw no trace of bitterness in Galahad’s eyes.

Elaine
“You were penitent, then,” Blanchefleur said, struggling not to show her loathing. But Elaine’s mouth tightened with resentment: in the flickering candlelight, Blanchefleur saw for the first time that there were deep stubborn lines scored from nose to mouth.
  “Never! I was like the Lady Eve, cast out of my home for a sin Fate demanded of me.”

Arthur and Guinevere
...The gilded knight snatched the cup from the Queen’s hand even while he spoke.
  And flung the wine in her face.
  “A fig for the Table,” the ruffian was shouting, with a laugh, over the uproar of shouts and falling chairs. Perceval saw the King say a word, and a lean grey shadow leaped from under his chair. The gilded knight vaulted to his horse as the hound sprang with bared teeth and straining red maw for his heels. Then the warhorse neighed and lashed out a hoof. The dog scrabbled uselessly across the floor: another heartbeat, and the gilded knight was gone with the drumming of hooves.
  Above it all the Queen of Britain stood still, wine dripping off her face, her mouth pressed shut in a white and wordless fury which swept impersonally across Perceval and all the people gathered in the hall before alighting on the King.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Fall of Arthur by JRR Tolkien

Over the fifty years since his father's death, Christopher Tolkien has made an immense body of work--some finished, some unfinished, some edited into a finished-ish form--available to the public, all of it painstakingly distilled from JRR Tolkien's papers. Without him, there would be no Silmarillion, no Unfinished Tales, and no Lays of Beleriand--none of which I can imagine living without! In more recent years, the Tolkiens have continued strong with the publication of The Children of Hurin, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun, The Fall of Arthur, and a recent prose translation of Beowulf.

While reviews of Hurin and Sigurd will need to wait for another day (both are excellent books, and I thoroughly enjoyed both JRR Tolkien's Sigurd poem and Christopher Tolkien's scholarly and learned commentary, which is a great introduction to the Volsung legend's history and variations), I'm excited to bring you a somewhat thematically appropriate review of one of the latest Tolkiens, The Fall of Arthur.

I have to say I never expected this to come to light. Tolkien, who wished to construct (in his Silmarillion) a myth for England, found the Matter of Britain inadequate to his purposes. The presence of a Christian backdrop to the Arthur legends dissatisfied him, not because he had any enmity with Christendom (on the contrary, he was always a devoted son of the church) but because his interest in myth was how it prefigured, rather than wove into, redemptive history. And so he pushed aside the Matter of Britain and attempted to construct a mythopoeic legend that embodied but did not occur against the backdrop of Christendom.

So I assumed that Tolkien never had any use for the Arthurian legends. I was wrong.

The Poem

Another reason to assume that Tolkien would not have been particularly interested in Arthurian legend is that he was proudly and very eald-fashionedly English, in the sense of Anglo-Saxon, in his tastes, and there has always been something rather un-English, something definitely and distinctively Welsh-with-French-glosses, about the Matter of Britain. Insofar as Saxons ever do appear in the myths or retellings of the Arthur legends, they're the bad guys, fought off by the heroic Welsh or Roman Arthur. Of all the medieval Arthurian legends, a good deal are in Latin, French, and even German, by comparison to the few authors--Brut, Wace, Layamon, and Malory--who wrote in English (and Malory is always adding, "as the French book telleth" to his tale). The exception seems to be an intensely English, and largely overlooked pair of Middle English alliterative poems that hark back, stylistically, to Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse like Beowulf or--if you've read The Lord of the Rings at all, the Rohir poetry (which itself is occasionally cribbed from original Anglo-Saxon poems like The Wanderer)--"Where now is the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing?/Where is the helm and the hauberk, and the bright hair flowing?"

One of these old-fashioned Middle-English alliterative poems, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a rattling good yarn, was translated into modern English by JRR Tolkien and published during his lifetime. The other, known commonly as "the alliterative Morte," is less well-known to history since it has more in common with the pseudo-history of Geoffrey of Monmouth than with the more courtly and congenial French romances of Chretien de Troyes. Lots of fellows being split from the nave to the chaps, and not so much courtly knight-errantry in the twisted woods.

Which brings us to Tolkien's Fall of Arthur, a fragment little more than 4 cantos long, written alliteratively in the style of these Middle-English poems and apparently based on the alliterative Morte with a few influences from the French romances, such as the addition of the guilty love of Lancelot and Guinever.

Why It's Awesome

Please. It's JRR Tolkien writing an epic verse retelling of the Arthur myth, taking a good deal of inspiration from obscure sources and adding his own neat twists. Imagine one of your favourite authors writing fanfiction for one of your favourite books. That's what makes The Fall of Arthur a treat for fans of both Tolkien and Arthur.

The plot includes some fresh and refreshing differences to the usual story: I particularly loved what Tolkien did with Gawain. The writing is, as always, meticulous and staggering:

On Benwick's beaches breakers pounding
ground gigantic grumbling boulders
with ogre anger.

In addition, there are repetitions and chiasms in the structure of the poem that give it an odd and mesmerising power. But it's the characters that I most admired.

The poem focuses--indeed, it only has time to focus--on five major characters: Arthur, Guinevere, Mordred, Gawain, and Lancelot. With Tolkien's pen, they each come to life--or something much larger. Gawain, always my favourite of the knights, gets better treatment here than from any other writer since, well, since the anonymous author of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight:

Greatest was Gawain, whose glory waxed
as times darkened, true and dauntless,
among knights peerless ever anew proven,
defence and fortress of a falling world.
As in last sortie from leaguered city
so Gawain led them.

But I was most astonished by Tolkien's treatment of two of my least favourite characters from the legends, Guinever and Lancelot. His description of Lancelot's plight is wonderfully, surprisingly moving--and according to Tolkien's notes for the unfinished remainder to the poem, it would have culminated in a completely original (and rather Wandereresquely Anglo-Saxon) end to Lancelot's story. But in the poem as it stands, it's his Guinever who steals the show. In most versions of the legend, you don't get much of a look into the inner motivations of any of the characters, least of all hers. But in Tolkien's hands, in a few deft lines, we glimpse someone cold and calculating and somehow, despite all this, glorious--a woman we admire even as we condemn her:

Dear she loved him
with love unyielding, lady ruthless,
fair as fay-woman and fell-minded
in the world walking for the woe of men.

In most tellings of the Arthur legends, you always feel like smacking someone over the head. Not in this one: Tolkien has pruned, simplified, tweaked, and adjusted the raw materials of the legend into pure nobility and splendour. Add to all this one final thing to love: my favourite author writing a story set against the backdrop of Christendom: of Lancelot's fathers it is said in an early draft that they

to the western world wandering journeyed,
Christendom bearing, kingdoms founding,
walls uprearing against the wild peoples.

The only thing that's not awesome about The Fall of Arthur? The fact that it ends almost before it's gotten underway. A tragedy!

The Commentary

Accompanying the poem fragment are plenteous notes, and also three essays by Christopher Tolkien examining first, the poem's place in the larger Arthurian tradition (very interesting to Arthur nerds), second, the poem's relation to Tolkien's larger mythos (very interesting to Tolkien nerds, especially considering the remarkable link between the Arthurian Avalon and Middle-Earth's Tol Eressea/Avallone), and third, some commentary on the history of the composition of the poem (very distressing to authors who can't slap down glorious epic alliterative verse more or less on command). Finally, there's a brief essay on Old English alliterative verse, a sort of whirlwind tour of the artform. All these are very interesting, if not quite as informative as the commentary on Sigurd and Gudrun.

Sadly, The Fall of Arthur will probably only appeal to that niche audience with an intersecting interest in Tolkien, Arthurian legend, and Old English alliterative verse. But if any of these things appeals to you, you're going to love The Fall of Arthur.

Find The Fall of Arthur on Amazon or The Book Depository.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Matter of Brittany by Dorothy L Sayers

One of the things I do from time to time is light out and spend a few weeks (even, sometimes, months) staying with friends to help out in times of need. That's what I'm up to for the next 3 weeks, and I don't mind, actually, since it gives me the excuse to post one of my current favourite poems!

I never knew Dorothy Sayers wrote poetry until I went trawling through the University of Rochester's Camelot Project, an extremely useful resource on Arthurian legend. (If you're wondering what such a webpage would be useful for, the short answer is: I'm writing a novel).  Here I found two poems by Sayers from a book of poems published in 1916, both inspired by Arthurian myth and both extremely evocative. This is the one I liked best.

The Matter of Brittany

Draw to the fire, and let us weave a web
Of sounds and splendours intertwined
Of warriors riding two by two
In silken surcoats stiched with blue,
To seek and strive the whole world through
For a scarlet fruit with silver rind;
Of unsteered ships that drift for miles on miles
Amid the creeks of myriad magic isles
Over enchanted seas, that leave at ebb
A beach of glittering gold behind.

Hark! how the rain is rippling over the roofs
And knocking hard on the window-pane!
It rattles down the gutter-spout
And beats the laurel-leaves about;
So let us tell of a kempy stout
With bells upon his bridle-rein —
How, as he rode beneath the chattering boughs,
He clashed the iron visor over his brows,
Hearing upon his heel the hurried hoofs
Of Breunor, Breuse or Agravaine.

Of names like dusky jewels wedged in gold
The tale shall cherish goodly store,
 Of Lionel and Lamorak
And of Sir Lancelot du Lak,
And him that bore upon his back
Arms for the Lady Lyonor;
Persant, Perimones and Pertolepe,
And Arthur laid in Avalon asleep,
Dinas and Dinadan and Bors the bold,
And many a mighty warrior more.

And grimly crouched in every woodland way
A dragon with his emerald eyes
Shall sit and blink on passing knights;
In the deep dells, old eremites,
Victors once of a thousand fights,
Shall sing their masses at sunrise;
And weary men shall stumble unaware
On damsels dancing in a garden fair,
And there, like Meraugis of Portlesguez,
Dance, cheated of their memories.

To towns where we shall feast at Pentecost,
Carlion or Kynke Kenadon,
Each day shall come a faery dame,
Or else a giant with eyes of flame
Shall bid to the beheading game
Knights that the king sets store upon;
And some shall find, at hour of day's decline,
The house beside the fountain and the pine,
And learning much of marvel from their host,
Shall hasten greatly to begone.

Some, by the help of charm├Ęd steeds shall – just –
Leap through the whirling barriers
That guard about the pleasant bower
Where every moment is an hour,
And with an elfin paramour
Drowse and dream for a hundred years,
But setting foot again on Middle Earth,
Or tasting wheaten bread in hour of dearth,
Shall crumble to a little cloud of dust
Blown by the wind across the furze.

Or sometimes through the arches of the wood
The sad Good Friday bells will ring
Loud in the ear of Percivale,
Through many a year of ban and bale
Yet questing after the Sangraal
For comfort of the Fisher King;
And suddenly across a vault of stars
Shall drive a network of enchanted spars,
And Lancelot and Galahad the good
Behold the ship of hallowing.

And first of all I'll tell the tale to you,
And you shall tell the next to me:
How gentle Enid made complaint
While riding with her lord Geraint,
 Or how the merry Irish Saint
Went ever westward oversea;
While your dim shadow moving on the wall
Might be Sir Tristram's, as he harped in hall
Before Iseult of Ireland, always true,
Or white Iseult of Brittany.

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