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What wars, what martyrdoms, what crimes,
may come, Thou knowest not, nor I; but God will
Freedom needs all her poets: it is they
Who give her aspirations wings, And to the wiser law of music sway
Her wild imaginings.
Yet thou hast called him, nor art thou un
kind, O Love Divine, for 't is thy will That gracious natures leave their love be
hind To work for Mercy still.
His epitaph shall mock the short-lived
stone, No lichen shall its lines efface, He needs these few and simple lines
alone To mark his resting-place:
Let laurelled marbles weigh on other
tombs, Let anthems peal for other dead, Rustling the bannered depth of minster
glooms With their exulting spread.
“Here lies a Poet. Stranger, if to thee
His claim to memory be obscure, If thou wouldst learn how truly great was
he, Go, ask it of the poor."
THE VISION OF SIR LAUNFAL
This poem was written apparently early in 1848, for in a letter to Mr. Briggs, dated February 1 of that year, Lowell, referring to it, says: The new poem I spoke of is a sort of a story, and more likely to be popular than what I write generally. Maria thinks very highly of it. I shall probably publish it by itself next summer. .” The poem was published in the middle of December, 1848, and in an exuberant letter to Mr. Briggs shortly after it appeared, Lowell wrote: Last night ... I walked to Watertown over the snow with the new moon before me and a sky exactly like that in Page's evening landscape. Orion was rising behind me, and, as I stood on the hill just before you enter the village, the stillness of the fields around me was delicious, broken only by the tinkle of a little brook which runs too swiftly for Frost to catch it. My picture of the brook in Sir Launfal was drawn from it." The following note was prefixed to the poem by its author.
out of which Jesus partook of the Last Supper with his disciples. It was brought into England by Joseph of Arimathea, and remained there, an object of pilgrimage and adoration, for many years in the keeping of his lineal descendants. It was incumbent upon those who had charge of it to be chaste in thought, word, and deed; but one of the keepers having broken this condition, the Holy Grail disappeared. From that time it was a favorite enterprise of the knights of Arthur's court to go in search of it. Sir Galahad was at last successful in finding it, as may be read in the seventeenth book of the Romance of King Arthur. Tennyson has made Sir Galahad the subject of one of the most exquisite of his poems.
The plot (if I may give that name to anything so slight) of the following poem is my own,
and, to serve its purposes, I have enlarged the circle of competition in search of the miraculous cup in such a manner as to include, not only other persons than the heroes of the Round Table, but also a period of time subsequent to the supposed date of King Arthur's reign.
According to the mythology of the Romancers, the San Greal, or Holy Grail, was the cup
PRELUDE TO PART FIRST
Not only around our infancy
Over our manhood bend the skies;
Against our fallen and traitor lives The great winds utter prophecies; With our faint hearts the mountain
strives; Its arms outstretched, the druid wood
Waits with its benedicite;
And to our age's drowsy blood
Comes flooding back with a ripply cheer, Still shouts the inspiring sea.
Into every bare inlet and creek and
bay; Earth gets its price for what Earth gives Now the heart is so full that a drop over
fills it, us; The beggar is taxed for a corner to die We are happy now because God wills it; in,
No matter how barren the past may have The priest hath his fee who comes and
been, shrives us,
'T is enough for us now that the leaves are We bargain for the graves we lie in;
green; At the devil's booth are all things sold, We sit in the warm shade and feel right Each ounce of dross costs its ounce of
How the sap creeps up and the blossoms For a cap and bells our lives we pay,
swell; Bubbles we buy with a whole soul's task- We may shut our eyes, but we cannot help ing:
knowing 'T is heaven alone that is given away,
That skies are clear and grass is grow'T is only God may be had for the ask- ing; ing;
The breeze comes whispering in our ear, No price is set on the lavish summer; That dandelions are blossoming near, June may be had by the poorest comer. That maize has sprouted, that streams
are flowing, And what is so rare as a day in June ? That the river is bluer than the sky, Then, if ever, come perfect days;
That the robin is plastering his house hard Then Heaven tries earth if it be in tune,
by ; And over it softly her warm ear lays; And if the breeze kept the good news Whether we look, or whether we listen,
back, We hear life murmur, or see it glisten; For other couriers we should not lack; Every clod feels a stir of might,
We could guess it all by yon heifer's An instinct within it that reaches and
And hark! how clear bold chanticleer, And, groping blindly above it for light, Warmed with the new wine of the year,
Climbs to a soul in grass and flowers; Tells all in his lusty crowing !
Thrilling back over hills and valleys; Joy comes, grief goes, we know not how;
'T is as easy now for the heart to be And there's never a leaf nor a blade too
As for grass to be green or skies to be To be some happy creature's palace;
blue, The little bird sits at his door in the sun, 'T is the natural way of living:
Atilt like a blossom among the leaves, Who knows whither the clouds have fled ? And lets his illumined being o'errun
In the unscarred heaven they leave no With the deluge of summer it receives;
wake; His mate feels the eggs beneath her wings, And the eyes forget the tears they have And the heart in her dumb breast flutters
shed, and sings;
The heart forgets its sorrow and ache; He sings to the wide world, and she to her The soul partakes the season's youth, nest,
And the sulphurous rifts of passion and In the nice ear of Nature which song is the best?
Lie deep 'neath a silence pure and smooth,
Like burnt-out craters healed with snow. Now is the high-tide of the year,
What wonder if Sir Launfal now
And, binding them all in one blazing sheaf,
mail, To seek in all climes for the Holy Grail.
I “ My golden spurs now bring to me,
And bring to me my richest mail,
In search of the Holy Grail;
Slowly Sir Launfal's eyes grew dim,
Slumber fell like a cloud on him, And into his soul the vision flew.
It was morning on hill and stream and tree,
And gloomed by itself apart;
As Sir Launfal made morn through the The crows flapped over by twos and threes,
darksome gate, In the pool drowsed the cattle up to their He was 'ware of a leper, crouched by the knees,
same, The little birds sang as if it were Who begged with his hand and moaned as The one day of suinmer in all the year,
he sate; And the very leaves seemed to sing on the And a loathing over Sir Launfal came; trees:
The sunshine went out of his soul with a The castle alone in the landscape lay
thrill, Like an outpost of winter, dull and gray: The flesh 'neath his armor 'gan shrink 'T was the proudest hall in the North
and crawl, Countree,
And midway its leap his heart stood still And never its gates might opened be,
Like a frozen waterfall; Save to lord or lady of high degree;
For this man, so foul and bent of stature, Summer besieged it on every side,
Rasped harshly against his dainty nature, But the churlish stone her assaults defied; And seemed the one blot on the summer She could not scale the chilly wall,
morn, Though around it for leagues her pavilions So he tossed him a piece of gold in scorn.
tall Stretched left and right, Over the hills and out of sight;
The leper raised not the gold from the Green and broad was every tent,
dust: And out of each a murmur went
“ Better to me the poor man's crust, Till the breeze fell off at night.
Better the blessing of the poor,
That is no true alms which the hand can
Who gives from a sense of duty; Bearing Sir Launfal, the maiden knight, But he who gives but a slender mite, In his gilded mail, that flamed so bright And gives to that which is out of sight, It seemed the dark castle had gathered all That thread of the all-sustaining Beauty Those shafts the fierce sun had shot over Which runs through all and doth all its wall
unite, In his siege of three hundred summers The hand cannot clasp the whole of his long,
The heart outstretches its eager palms,
PRELUDE TO PART SECOND
Within the ball are song and laughter,
jolly, And sprouting is every corbel and rafter
With lightsome green of ivy and holly; Through the deep gulf of the chimney
wide Wallows the Yule-log's roaring tide; The broad flame-pennons droop and flap
And belly and tug as a flag in the wind; Like a locust shrills the imprisoned sap,
Hunted to death in its galleries blind; And swift little troops of silent sparks, Now pausing, now scattering away as in
fear, Go threading the soot-forest's tangled darks
Like herds of startled deer.
Down swept the chill wind from the moun
tain peak, From the snow five thousand summers
old; On open wold and hilltop bleak
It had gathered all the cold, And whirled it like sleet ou the wanderer's
cheek; It carried a shiver everywhere From the unleafed boughs and pastures
bare; The little brook heard it and built a roof 'Neath which he could house him, winter
proof; All night by the white stars' frosty gleams He groined his arches and matched his
beams; Slender and clear were his crystal spars As the lashes of light that trim the stars: He sculptured every summer delight In his halls and chambers out of sight; Sometimes his tinkling waters slipt Down through a frost-leaved forest-crypt, Long, sparkling aisles of steel-stemmed
trees Bending to counterfeit a breeze; Sometimes the roof no fretwork knew But silvery mosses that downward grew; Sometimes it was carved in sharp relief With quaint arabesques of ice-fern leaf; Sometimes it was simply smooth and clear For the gladness of heaven to shine
through, and here He had caught the nodding bulrush-tops And hung them thickly with diamond
drops, That crystalled the beams of moon and sun, And made a star of every one : No mortal builder's most rare device Could match this winter-palace of ice; 'T was as if every image that mirrored lay In his depths serene through the summer
day, Each fleeting shadow of earth and sky,
Lest the happy model should be lost, Had been miinicked in fairy masonry
By the elfin builders of the frost.
But the wind without was eager and sharp, Of Sir Launfal's gray hair it makes a harp,
And rattles and wrings
The icy strings, Singing, in dreary monotone, A Christmas carol of its own, Whose burden still, as he might guess, Was “Shelterless, shelterless, shelter
less !” The voice of the seneschal flared like a
torch As he shouted the wanderer away from the
porch, And he sat in the gateway and saw all
night The great hall-fire, so cheery and bold, Through the window-slits of the castle
old, Build out its piers of ruddy light Against the drift of the cold.