ROMANCE & LEGEND OF CHIVALRY, by A. R. Hope Moncrieff.

Nineteenth Century Arthurian verse

Completed 10 June 2000.
Last modified 1 March 2003.
© Commentaries Copyright 2000 Michael Wild

I can be reached at:- dagonet_uk 'at',uk


Introductory Comments

This section focusses on lesser known poets, except for William Morris and Matthew Arnold. Alfred Lord Tennyson's epic is given homage here as the earliest Arthurian poetry I read. A work that moved me feel anguish at the fate of the lovelorn Lady of Shalott and sorrow at the death of Arthur.


MR AUBREY DE VERE-born in 1814 __ has written several volumes of poems infused with a genuine poetic spirit, and his drama Alexander the Great, delighted readers with its high qualities of conception, construction and elevated language. the following extract from Mr. de Vere's minor poems graphically depictes the visit of Henry II. to the tomb of King Arthur at Glastonbury.

THROUGH Glastonbury's cloister dim
  The midnight winds were sighing;
Chanting a low funereal hymn
  For those in silence lying,
Death's gentle flock, 'mid shadows grim
Fast bound and unreplying.

Hard by the monks their mass were saying;
  The organ evermore
Its wave in alternation swaying
  On that smooth swell upbore
The voice of their melodious praying
 Toward heaven's eternal shore.

Erelong a princely multitude
  Moved on through arches grey,
Which yet, though shattered, stand where stood
  (God grant they stand for aye!)
St. Joseph's church of woven wood
  On England's baptism day.

The grave they found; their swift strokes fell,
  Piercing dull earth and stone.
They reached ere long an oaken cell,
  And cross of oak, whereon
Was graved, "Here sleeps King Arthur well,
  In the isle of Avalon."

The mail on each knightly breast,
  The steel at each man's side,
Sent forth a sudden gleam; each crest
  Bowed low it's plumèd pride;
Down o'er the coffin stooped a priest-
  But first the monarch cried:

"Great king! in youth I made a vow,
  Earth's mightiest son to greet;
His hand to worship, on his brow
  To gaze,his grace entreat.
Therefore, though dead, till noontide thou
  Shalt fill my royal seat!"

Away the massive lid they roll'd-
  Alas! what found they there?
No kingly brow, no shapely mould;
  But dust where such things were.
Ashes o'er ashes, fold on fold-
  And one bright wreath of hair.

Genevra's hair! like gold it lay;
  For Time, though stern, is just,
And humbler things feel last his sway,
  And Death reveres his trust. __ 
They touched that wreath: it sank away
  From sunshine into dust!

Then Henry lifted from his head
  The Conqueror's iron crown;
That crown upon the dust he laid,
  And knelt in reverence down,
And raised both hands to heaven, and said,
  "Thou, God, art King alone!"

I Have not been able to find any more details of Mr. Aubrey de Vere than those given in my source.

ILLUSTRATED British Ballads OLD AND NEW, Selected and edited by George Barnett Smith, Cassell and Company: London (no date), pp. 23-25

A poem about Sir Aglovaile

George MacDonald's gift for fantasy has been appreciated by many. Among them was C S Lewis, who edited an anthology of his works in 1946 (George MacDonald: an anthology). This collection did not include MacDonald's major fantasy novels such as Phantastes, from which the following verses are taken. Phantastes chronicles the vicissitudes that attended the sojourn of the hero (Anodos) in fairyland. His adventures are presented as a quest to awaken a fairy maiden with whom he has become enamaoured. A parallel is drawn by MacDonald to Percival's giving way to a temptation which diverted him from the Grail quest, but from which he redeemed himself (Chapter III). The poem concerning Sir Aglovaile (Chapter XIX) also illustrates such a failing. It echoes Anodos partial awakening of the fairy maiden he loves and her flight when he breaks the prohibition against touching her (Chapters XV & XVI).

Sir Aglovaile through the churchyard rode,
     Sing, All alone I lie:
Little recked he whe'er he rode,
     All alone, up in the sky.

Swerved his courser, and plunged with fear;
     All alone, I lie:
His cry might have wakened the dead men near,
     All alone, up in the sky.

The very dead that lay at his feet,
Lapt in the mouldy winding-sheet.

But he curbed him and spurred him, until he stood
Still in his place, like a horse of wood,

With nostrils uplift, and eyes wide and wan;
But the sweat in streams from his fetlocks ran.

A ghost grew out of the shadowy air,
And sat in the midst of her moony hair.

In her gleamy hair she sat and wept;
In the dreamy moon they lay and slept;

The shadows above, and the bodies below,
Lay and slept in the moonbeams slow.

And she sang, like the moan of an autumn wind
Over the stubble left behind:

     Alas, how easily things go wrong!
     A sigh too much, or a kiss too long,
     And there follows a mist and a weeping rain,
     And life is never the same again.

     Alas, how hardly things go right!
     'Tis hard to watch in a summer night,
     For the sigh will come, and the kiss will stay,
     And the summer night is the winter day.

"Oh, lovely ghost, my heart is woe,
To see thee weeping and wailing so.

Oh, lovely Ghost," said the fearless knight,
"Can the sword of a warrior set it right?

Or prayer of bedesman, praying mild,
As a cup of water a feverish child,

Sooth thee at last, in dreamless mood
To sleep the sleep a dead lady should?

Thine eyes they fill me with longing sore,
As if I had known thee for evermore.

Oh, lovely ghost, I could leave the day
To sit with thee in the moon away

If thou wouldst trust me and lay thy head
To rest on a bosom that is not dead."

The lady sprang up with a strange ghost-cry,
And she flung her white ghost-arms on high:

And she laughed a laugh that was not gay,
And it lengthened out till it died away.

And the dead beneath turned and moaned,
And the yew-trees above thay shuddered and groaned.

"Will he love me twice with a love that is vain?
Will he kill the poor ghost yet again?

I thought thou wert good, but I said and wept:
'Can I have dreamed who have not slept?'

And I knew, alas! or ever I would,
Whether I dreamed, or thou wert good.

When my baby died, my brain grew wild.
I awoke, and found I was with my child."

"If thou art the ghost of my Adelaide,
How is it? Thou wert but a village maid,

And thou seemst an angel lady white,
Though thin, and wan, and past delight."

The lady smiled a flickering smile,
And she pressed her temples hard the while.

"Thou seest that death for a woman can
Do more than knighthood for a man."

"But show me the child that thou callest mine,
Is she out to-night in the ghost's sunshine?"

"In St. Peter's Church she is playing on,
At hide-and-seek, with Apostle John.

When the moonbeams right through the window go,
Where the twelve are standing in glorious show,

She says the rest of them do not stir,
But one comes down to play with her.

Then I can go where I list, and weep
For good St. John my child will keep."

"Thy beauty filleth the very air,
Never saw I a woman do fair."

Come, if though darest, and sit by my side;
But touch me not, or woe will betide.

Alas, I am weak: I well might know
This gladness betokens some further woe.

Yet come. It will come. I will bear it. I can.
For thou lovest me yet-though but as a man."

The knight dismounted in earnest speed;
Away through the tombstones thundered the steed,

And fell by the outer wall, and died.
But the knight he kneeled by the lady's side;

Kneeled beside her in wondrous bliss,
Rapt in an everlasting kiss:

Though never his lips come the lady nigh,
And his eyes alone on her beauty lie.

All the night long, till the cock crew loud,
He kneeled by the lady, lapt in her shroud.

And what they said, I may not say:
Dead night was sweeter than living day.

How she made him so blissful glad
Who made her and found her so ghostly sad,

I may not tell, but it needs no touch
To make them blessed who loved so much.

"Come every night, my ghost, to me;
And one night I will come to thee.

'Tis good to have a ghostly wife:
She will not tremble at clang of strife;

She will only hearken, amid the din,
Behind the door, if he cometh in."

And this is how Sir Aglovaile
Often walked in the moonlight pale.

And oft when the crescent but thinned the gloom,
Full orbéd moonlight filled his room;

And through beneath his chamber door,
Fell a ghostly gleam on the outer floor;

And they that passed, in fear averred
That murmured words they often heard.

'Twas then that the eastern crescent shone
Through the chancel window, and good St. John

Played with the ghost-child all the night,
And the mother was free till the morning light,

And sped through the dawning night, to stay
With Aglovaile till the break of day.

And their love was a rapture, lone and high,
And dumb as the moon in the topomost sky.

One night, Sir Aglovaile, weary, slept,
And dreamed a dream wherein he wept.

A warrior he was, not often wept he,
But this night he wept full bitterly.

He woke-beside him the ghost girl shone
Out of the dark: 'twas the eve of St. John

He had dreamed a dream of a still, dark wood,
Where the maiden of old beside him stood;

But a mist came down and caught her away,
And he sought her in vain through the pathless day,

Till he wept with the grief that can do no more,
And thought he had dreamt the dream before.

From bursting heart the weeping flowed on;
And lo! beside him the ghost-girl shone;

Shone like the light on a harbour's breast,
Over the sea of his dreams unrest;

Shone like the wondrous, nameless boon,
That the heart seeks ever, night or noon:

Warnings forgotten, when needed most,
He clasped to hos bosom the radiant ghost.

She wailed aloud, and faded, and sank.
With upturn'd white face, cold and blank,

In his arms lay the corpse of the maiden pale,
And she came no more to Sir Aglovaile.

Only a voice, when winds were wild,
Sobbed and wailed like a chidden child.

     Alas, how easily things go wrong!
     A sigh too much, or a kiss too long,
     And there follows a mist and a weeping rain,
     And life is never the same again.

MacDonald, George, Phantastes, Lion Publishing: Tring, 1986 (1895), chap. XIX.

La Mort d'Arthur

from 'The Bon Gaultier Ballads'

The Bon Gaultier Ballads was a book of poetic parodies first published in 1865. The authors were Sir Theodore Martin (1816-1909) and William Edmondstone Aytoun (1813-1865). Martin had previously published a number of parodies in magazines using the nom de plume of Bon Gaultier (a name culled from Rabelais) and these led Aytoun to seek an introduction to him. From this developed both the very popular book of Bon Gaultier's ballads and a friendship that lasted to the death of Aytoun. Tennyson, it must be noted, was a frequent target of the two parodists. The MECHI mentioned in the last line was probably John Joseph Mechi (1802-1880), a cutler and inventor who made his fortune from Mechi's 'magic razor strop.'

La Mort d'Arthur

SLOWLY as one who bears a mortal hurt,
Through which the fountain of his life runs dry,
Crept good King Arthur down unto the lake.
A roughening wind was bringing in the waves
With cold dull plash and plunging to the shore,
And a great bank of clouds came sailing up
Athwart the aspect of the gibbous moon,
Leaving no glimpse but starlight as he sank,
With a short stagger, sensless on the stones.

  No man yet knows how long he lay in swound;
But long enough it was to let the rust
Lick half the surface of his polished shield;
For it was made by far inferior hands,
Than forged his helm, his breastplate, and his greaves,
Wheron no canker lighted, for they bore
The magic stamp of MECHI'S SILVER STEEL.



This poem was found in the first edition (1902) of 'AN ANTHOLOGY OF HUMOROUS VERSE' which was edited by Theodore Andrea Cook and published by H Virtue and Company of London. It's author, Henry Newman Howard, was born on the sixteenth of June 1861 and died on the fifth of March 1929. His entry in 'WHO WAS WHO, 1929-1940' says that he was a poet and dramatist: as well as being a chartered accountant!

The poem is of interest as it describes an incident only mentioned in one of the lesser known grail texts: one that is usually known as 'Perlesvaus'. As Howard spells the name of Arthur's son 'Lohot', rather than the more conventional Loholt, I feel that he may have discovered his theme in the translation of 'Perlesvaus' made by Sebastian Evans (pp. 230-235). This was published under the title of 'THE HIGH HISTORY OF THE HOLY GRAAL'. The translation may still be available, in a modern reprinting, as 'The High History of the Holy Grail' published by James Clarke & Co. of Cambridge. A more modern translation, for those who would find Evans contrived archaisms grating, comes from Nigel Bryant and is published by D. S. Brewer of Cambridge. In this the shaming of Sir Kay is described in pages 173-176.

Howard follows his source in portraying Kay as a boastful knight who is ambitious to perform feats of chivalry that are really beyond his courage and toughness, and who will engage in the most nefarious trickery to make it appear that he has accomplished an outstanding knightly feat. This failure of Kay's as a knight and his duplicity of character survives in the orthodox Arthurian cycle. Notably where Kay asserts that he must be the true king of Btitain because he has the sword from the stone in his possession. Only when questioned by his father does he admit that the sword was given him by Arthur, who had accomplished the feat that only the rightful king of Britain could achieve. Howard does not explain why Kay was able to escape punishment for killing Arthur's son. Arthur had agreed to the request made by the damsel who was the agent who revealed the killing that the murderer of the knight (Loholt) whose head she was carrying in a coffer should not be executed till forty days after the grail quest was finished. He also omits to relate that Kay fled to Brittany where he joined forces with an enemy of Arthur's, Brian of the Isles.

               PART I.

WHAT, ho?
Kay the Seneschal,
Fare ye forth in the woods alone?
Yea, 'sooth,
And who shall hinder me?
Hardier Knight, by the Rood, there is none!

Tangled thorn, and the gliding snake,
  And the whistle of owls he liketh not,
Nor the glimmer of eyes in the ashen brake,
  Nor the hooves of tuskèd boars, God wot!

Wit ye well
A giant is bellowing!
Take to thy heels thou brave Sir Kay!
Ride! Hide!
Belike he is following:
Knights are his caudle, and fattened to flay.

Eftsoons the woful echoes die, __ 
  The birds are merry again, I ween:
Braver Knight there is none than I:
  Creep on thy belly the boughs between.

Hush! Ho!
Logrin is lying there, __ 
Logrin the giant, shaggy of head:
King's Son
Lohot beside him:
Which is the sleeper? Which is the dead?

Creep and crawl, a blade in thy teeth, __ 
  Reach ye an arm, and sever a neck.
Doughtily done! __ Now delve in the heath:
  Bury a body and no man shall reck.

Hack thy shield,
Gallop to Camelot,
Brag of the buffets ye got in the fray;
Look ye, Knights,
Tied to my saddle bow,
Head of the giant, slain by Sir Kay!

                  PART II.

King Arthur sits at his table round,
  A year and a day hath passed and gone,
And Kay the Seneschal, still renowned,
  A second marvellous deed hath done:

Cometh a maiden, and in her hand
  A coffer, carven of gold ywis:
__ Oh King, I have travelled many lands,
  But never a Knight may open this!

Stand forth, Sir Lancelot, quoth the King:
  Thou art full hardy and deft withal;
Right craftily shalt thou do this thing.
  __ But, alack, it might not so befall.

Then followeth many a cunning elf, __ 
  Galahad, Bors and wight Gawain;
And last of them all the King himself:
  Nor ever the lid might open amain.

Then spake the lady: The saying is true
  "A mettlesome carle is he that shall come
To open the coffer," for lo he slew
  The hardiest Knight in Christendom!

Quoth Arthur, Let call brave Sir Kay
  A coffer of gold for a giants head,
In sooth were a guerdon meet to pay: __ 
  And the Seneschal nought thereto gainsaid.

Shout, Ho!
Kay the Senescal,
Kay who Logrin the giant bestrid, __ 
Kay hath taken it,
Kay hath conquered it,
Kay hath opened the golden lid!

Gramercy, Knight, __ King Arthur cried, __ 
  'Tis mickle fame that deed shall win!
__ The coffer hath gotten a scroll inside,
  And the grimly head of a Knight therein!

What, Ho!
Read ye the writing there!

The first they saw of the bold Sir Kay
  Was a smile and an orgulous port;
The last they saw of the Knight that day
  Was his heels as he fled the court.
      *       *       *       *       *

Sing, Ho!
The story is told!
Rascals may thrive for a year and a day:
Shout, Ho!
In their coffers of gold
Are the head of a corpse, and the heels of Sir Kay.



King Arthur trying the test of St Madron's Well
An illustration in 'Illustrated British Ballads',edited by G. B. Smith.

Robert Stephen Hawker (1803-1875) had a deep fascination with the traditions and old tales of Cornwall and the following poem is a product of this engrossing interest. He produced one substantial Arthurian work, 'The Quest of the Sangreal'. For most of his life he was a clergymen in the Church of England, but made a deathbed conversion to Roman Catholicism. He was something of an eccentric who had a deep knowledge of Western mysticism and magic and who was addicted to opium for a number of years. He married twice. Firstly, before he was twenty he married a much older woman and remained happily married till her death aged eighty-one. Then he married a much younger woman, the daughter of a Polish nobleman, and they had three daughters.
The Saint Madron of the poem should be named Madern. He is the patron of Modron in Cornwall. The saint's well was near a ruined chapel, 'St. Madern's Oratory', and was noted for giving miraculous cures. To this day people come and drink the waters in hope of a cure and leave 'votive rags' on the surounding bushes (Bellingham, D., An Introduction to Celtic Mythology, Eagle Editions: Royston, 2002, P.115).

"PLUNGE thy right hand in St. Madron's Spring,
If true to it's troth be the palm you bring;
But if a false sigil thy fingers bear,
Lay them the rather on the burning share"

Loud laughed King Arthur when as he heard
That solemn friar his boding word;
And blithely he swore, as a king he may,
"We tryst for St. Madron's at the break of day."

"Now horse and hattock, both but and ben,"
Was the cry at Lands, with Dundagel men;
And forth they pricked upon Routorr side,
As goodly a raid as a king could ride.

Proud Gwennivar rode like a queen of the land,
With page and with squire at her bridle hand;
And the twice six Knights of the Stony Ring,
They girded and guarded their Cornish king.

Then they halted their steeds at St. Madron's cell,
And they stood by the monk of the Cloistered Well.
"Now off with your gauntlets!" King Arthur he cried;
"And glory or shame for our Tamar side."

'Twere sooth to sing how Gauvain smiled,
When he grasped the waters so soft and mild;
How Lancelot dashed the glistening spray
O'er the rugged beard of the rough Sir Kay.

Sir Bevis he touched and he found no fear;
'Twas a benitée stoup to Sir Bedivere;
How the fountain flashed o'er King Arthur's Queen,
Say, Cornish dames, for ye guess the scene.

"Now rede me my riddle, Sir Mordred, I pray,
My kinsman, mine ancient, my Bien-aimé;
Now rede me my riddle , and read it aright,
Art though traitorous knave knave or my trusty knight?"

He plunged his right arm in the judgement well,
It bubbled and boiled like a cauldron of hell;
He drew and he lifted his quivering limb __ 
Ha! Sir Judas, how Madron had sodden him.

Now let Uter Pendragon do what he can,
Still the Tamar River will run as it ran;
Let king or let kaiser be fond or be fell,
Ye may harowe their troth in St. Madron's Well.

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