Verses from Sir Walter Scott's 'the Bridal of Triermain; or, the Vale of St. John'

Completed 1 March 2003.
Last modified.
© Commentary Copyright 2003 Michael Wild

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


The following is Sir Walter Scott's only essay into the field of Arthurian verse. Published in 1813 it was intended as a romantic counterfoil to the epic of Rokeby (a dark tale of treachery during the English Civil War). The poem is also notable for the joke that Scott played with it, of having its authorship attributed to his very close friend William Erskine (Lord Kinedder).

The Arthurian part of the Bridal of Triermain forms a minor but pivotal part of the poem. In fact King Arthur is not the only Arthur of the poem. There is Arthur who is in love with Lucy, a lady who far outranks him, to whom he tells the story of the Bridal of Triermain. This tale concerns Sir Robert de Vaux, Lord or Triermain (in Cumberland), who had a dream of a vision of Gyneth and falls in love with this. He sends his page, Henry to consult Lyulph, 'a sage of power' descnded from 'Druid sires', on the matter.

Lyulph tells of the affair that King Arthur had with the half-human Guendolen, whose father was a 'Genie of the earth', that resulted in the birth of Gyneth. Also of Arthur's rash promise that the child of himself and Guendolen, if it be a daughter, should have as husband the Round Table knight who wins a tournament. When Gyneth arrives at his court as a young woman Arthur is forced to fulfill his promise, despite his misgivings over the inevitable bloodshed of the tournament. He gives Gyneth the baton which entitles her to command the end of the tournament and pleads with her to end it when the fighting becomes too heated. However she, despite her distress at the killing that is occuring in her name is unable to give the sign that will stop the tournament, being driven by the vengeful spirit of her dead mother which is exacting her vengeance for her abandonment by Arthur.

The appearance of Merlin resolves the situation in Arthur's favour, when he banishes Gyneth to her otherwordly castle of the Vale of St. John that had been her mother's, where she will sleep until some courageous knight enters the castle and awakens her.

This is the end of Lyulph's tale. Now Sir Roland de Vaux, Lord of Triemain, seeks out the castle in the Vale of St. John. At first he sees only jumbled rocks that have the appearance of a castle from the distance. Then twice he sees a vision of the castle that vanishes before he can reach it. Enraged he throws his battle-axe at the rocks and this causes the castle to re-appear and he enters. Here he encounters a number of distracting trials; that of fear, the desire for wealth, the desire for pleasure and for power before he wakes Gyneth. At this the castle tumbles down and both Sir Roland and Gyneth escape.

The Arthurian part of the Bridal of Triermain is of interest as it portrays Arthur's infidelity with a lady with fairy blood in her veins; a clear counterbalance to Lancelot's infidelity with Guinevere. The poem also portrays Arthur in a northern setting, so unlike the generally accepted southern assocaiations of the king with Glastonbury and South Cadbury hillfort.

As verse, the work was popular when it was first published, but Scott was aware of his deficiencies as a poet and compared himself unfavourably with Byron. Not too long after the publication of the Bridal of Triermain he devoted himself to composing the series of novels on which his fame rests.

             CANTO FIRST.


             LYULPH'S TALE

"KING ARTHUR has ridden from merry Carlisle
    When Pentecost was o'er:
He journey'd like errant-knight the while,
And sweetly the summer sun did smile
    On mountain, moss, and moor.
Above his solitary track
Rose Glaramara's ridgy back,
Amid whose yawning gulfs the sun
Cast umber'd radiance red and dun,
Though never sunbeam could discern
The surface of that sable tarn,4
In whose black mirror you may spy
The stars while noontide lights the sky.
The gallant King he skirted still
The margin of that mighty hill;
Rock upon rocks incumbent hung,
And torrents, down the gullies flung,
Join'd the rude river that brawl'd on,
Recoiling now from crag and stone,
Now diving deep from human ken,
And raving down its darksome glen.
the Monarch judged this desert wild,
With romantic ruin piled,
Was theatre by Nature's hand
For feat of high achievement plann'd.

"O rather he chose, that Monarch bold,
   On vent'rous quest to ride,
In plate and mail, by wood and wold,
Than, with ermine trapp'd and cloth of gold,
   In princely bower to bide;
The bursting clash of a foeman's spear
   As it shiver'd against his mail,
Was merrier music to his ear
   Than courtier's whisper'd tale;
And the clash of Caliburn * more dear,
   When on the hostile casque it rung
      Than all the lays
      To their monarch's praise
    That the harpers of Reged sung,
He loved better to rest by wood or river,
Than in the bower of his bride, Dame Guenever,
For he left that lady, so lovely of cheer,
To follow adventures of danger and  fear;
And the frank-hearted Monarch full little did wot,
That she smiled, in his absence, on brave Lancelot.

*King Arthur's sword, called by Tennyson Excalibur

"He rode, till over down and dell
The shade more broad and deeper fell;
And though around the mountains head
Flowed streams of purple, and gold, and red,
Dark at the base unblest by beam,
Frown's the black rocks, and roar'd the stream.
With toil the King his lonely way pursued
By lonely Threlkeld's waste and wood,
Till on his course obliquely shone
The narrow valley of SAINT JOHN,
Down sloping to the western sky,
Where lingering sunbeams love to lie,
Right glad to feel those beams again,
The King drew up his charger's rein;
With gauntlet raised he screen'd his sight,
As dazzled with the level light,
And, from beneath his glove of mail,
Scann'd at his ease the lovely vale,
Whilst 'gainst the sun his armour bright
Gleam'd ruddy like the beacon's light.

"Paled in by many a lofty hill,
The narrow dale lay smooth and still,
And, down its verdant bosom led,
A winding brooklet found its bed.
But, midmost of the vale, a mound
Arose with airy turrets crown'd,
Buttress, and rampire's circling bound,
    And mighty keep and tower;
Seem'd some primeval giant's hand
The castle's massive walls had plann'd
A ponderous bulwark to withstand
    Ambitious Nimrod's power.
Above the moated entrance slung,
The balanced drawbridge trembling hung,
    As jealous of a foe;
Wicket of oak, as iron hard,
With iron studded, clench'd, and barr'd,
And prong'd portcullis, join'd to guard
    The gloomy pass below.
But the gray walls walls no banners crown'd,
Upon the watch-tower's airy round
No warder stood his horn to sound,
No guard beside the bridge was found,
And where the Gothic gateway frown'd,
    Glanced neither bill nor bow.

"Beneath the castle's gloomy pride
In ample round did Arthur ride
Three times; nor living thing he spied,
    Nor heard a living sound,
Save that, awakening from her dream,
The owlet now began to scream,
In concert with the rushing stream,
    That wash'd the battled mound.
He lighted from his goodly steed,
And he left him to graze on bank and mead;
And slowly he climb'd the narrow way,
That reach'd the entrance grim and gray,
And he stood the outward arch below,
And his bugle-horn prepared to blow,
    In summons blithe and bold,
Deeming to rouse from iron sleep
The guardian of this dismal Keep,
    Which well he guessed the hold
Of wizard stern or goblin grim,
Or pagan of gigantic limb,
    The tyrant of the wold,

"The ivory bugle's golden tip
Twice touch'd the monarch's manly lip,
    And twice his hand withdrew.
__Think not but Arthur's heart was good!
His shield was crossed by the blessed rood,
Had a pagan host before him stood,
    He had charged them through and through;
Yet the silence of that ancient place
Sunk on his heart, and he paused a space
    Ere yet his horn he blew.
But, instant as its 'larum rung,
The castle gate was open flung,
Portcullis rose with crashing groan
Full harshly up its groove of stone;
The balance-beams obey'd the blast,
And down the trembling drawbridge cast;
The vaulted arch before him lay,
With nought to bar the gloomy way,
And onward Arthur paced, with hand
On Caliburn's resistless brand.

"A hundred torches, flashing bright,
Dispell'd at once the gloomy night
  That lour'd along the walls,
And show'd the King's astonish'd sight
    The inmates of the halls.
Nor wizard stern, nor goblin grim,
Nor giant huge of form and limb,
  Nor heathen knight, was there;
But the cressets, which odours flung aloft,
Show'd by their yellow light and soft,
    A band of damsels fair.
Onward they came, like summer wave
    That dances on the shore;
An hundred voices welcome gave,
    And welcome o'er and o'er!
An hundred lovely hands asail
The bucklers of the monarch's mail,
And busy labour's to unhasp
Rivet of steel and iron clasp.
One wrapp'd him in a mantle fair,
And one flung odours on his hair;
Hos short curl'd ringlets one smooth'd down,
One wreathed them with a myrtle crown.
A bride upon her wedding-day,
Was tended ne'er by troop so gay.

"Loud laughed they all,__The King, in vain,
With questions task'd the giddy train;
Let him entreat, or crave, or call,
Twas one reply__loud laughed they all.
Then o'er him mimic chains they fling,
Framed of the fairest flowers of spring.
While some their gentle force unite,
Onward to drag the wondering knight,
Some, bolder, urge his pace with blows,
Dealt with the lily or the rose.
Behind him were in triumph borne
The warlike arms he late had worn.
Four of the train combined to rear
The terrors of Tintadgel's spear;5
Two, laughing at their lack of strength,
Dragg'd Caliburn in cumbrous length;
One, while she aped a martial stride,
Placed on her brows the helmet's pride;
Then scream'd, 'twixt laughter and surprise,
To feel its depth o'erwhelm her eyes.
With revel-shout and triumph-song,
Thus gaily march'd the giddy throng.

"Through many a gallery and hall
They led, I ween their royal thrall;
At length, beneath a fair arcade
Their march and song at once they staid.
The eldest maiden of the band,
     (The lovely maid was scarce eighteen.)
Raised, with imposing air her hand,
And reverent silence did command,
     On entrance of their Queen,
And they were mute.__But as a glance
They steal on Arthur's countenance,
    Bewilder'd with surprise,
Their smother'd mirth 'gan speak,
In archly dimpled chin and cheek,
    And laughter-lighted eyes.

"The Attributes of those high days
Now only live in minstrel-lays;
For Nature, now exhausted, still
Was then profuse of good and ill.
Strength was gigantic, valour high,
And wisdom soar'd beyond the sky,
And beauty had such matchless beam
As lights not now a lover's dream
Yet e'en in that romantic age,
    Ne'er were such charms by mortal seen
As Arthur's dazzled eyes engage,
When forth on that enchanted stage,
With glittering train of maid and page,
    Advanced the castle's Queen!
While up the hall she slowly pass'd,
Her dark eye on the King she cast,
    That flash'd expression strong;
The longer dwelt that lingering look,
Her cheek the livelier colour took,
And scarce the shame-faced King could brook
    The gaze that lasted long.
A sage, who had that look espied,
Wher kindling passion strove with pride
    Has whisper'd, 'Prince beware!
From the chafed tiger rend the prey,
Rush on the lion when at bay,
Bar the fell dragon's blighted way,
    but shun that lovely snare!'__

"At once that inward strife suppress'd,
The dame approach'd her warlike guest,
With greeting in that fair degree,
Where female pride and courtesy
Are blended with such passing art
As awes at once and charms the heart.
A courtly welcome first she gave,
Then of his goodness 'gan to crave
    Construction fair and true
Of her light maidens' idle mirth,
Who drew from lonely glens their birth,
Nor knew to pay to stranger worth
    And dignity their due;
And then she pray'd that he would rest
That night her castle's honoured guest.
The Monarch meetly thanks express'd;
The banquet rose at her bequest,
With lay and tale, and laugh and jest,
    Apace the evening flew.

"The Lady sate the Monarch by,
Now in her turn abash'd and shy,
And with indifference seem'd to hear
The toys he whispered in her ear.
Her bearing modest was and fair,
Yet shadows of constraint were there,
That show'd an over-cautious care
    Some inward thought to hide;
Oft did she pause in full reply,
And oft cast down her large dark eye,
Oft check'd the soft voluptuous sigh,
    That heaved her bosom's pride.
Slight symptoms these, but shepherds know
How hot the mid-day sun shall glow,
    From the mist of morning sky;
And so the wily Monarch guess'd,
That this assuming restraint express'd
More ardent passions in the breast,
    Than ventured to the eye.
Closer he pressed, while beakers rang,
While maidens laugh'd and minstrels sang,
    Still closer to her ear__
But why pursue the common tale?
Or wherefore show how knights prevail
    When ladies dare to hear?
Or wherefore trace from what slight cause
Its source one tyrant passion draws,
    Till, mastering all within,
Where lives the man that has not tried,
How mirth can into folly glide,
    And folly into sin?

             CANTO SECOND



"ANOTHER day, another day,
And yet another glides away!
The Saxon stern, the pagan Dane,
Maraud on Britain's shores again.
Arthur, of Christendom the flower,
Lies loitering in a lady's bower;
The horn, that foemen wont to fear,
Sounds but to wake the Cumbrian deer,
And Caliburn, the British pride,
Hangs useless by a lover's side.

"Another day, another day,
And yet another, glides away!
Heroic plans in pleasure drown'd,
He thinks not of the Table Round;
In lawless love dissolved his life,
He thinks not of his beautous wife:
Better he loves to snatch a flower
From bosom of his paramour,
Than from a Saxon knight to wrest
The honours of his heathen crest!
Better to wreathe, 'mid tresses brown,
The heron's plume her hawk struck down,
Than o'er the altar give to flow
The banners of a Paynim foe.
Thus, week by week, and day by day,
His life inglorious glides away:
But she, that soothes his dream, with fear
Beholds his hour of waking near!

"Much force have mortal charms to stay
Our peace in Virtue's toilsome way;
But Guendolen's might far outshine
Each maid of merely mortal line.
Her mother was of human birth,
Her sire a Genie of the earth,
In days of old deem'd to preside
O'er lovers' wiles and beauty's pride,
By youths and virgins worshipp'd long,
With festive dance and choral song,
Till, when the cross to Britain came,
On heathen altars died the flame.
Now, deep in Wastdale solitude,
The downfall of his rights he rued,
And, borne of his resentment heir,
He train'd to guile that lady fair,
To sink in slothful sin and shame
The champions of the Christian name.
Well skill'd to keep vain thoughts alive,
And all the promise, nought to give,__
The timid youth had hope in store,
The bold and pressing gain'd no more.
As wilder'd children leave their home,
After the rainbow's arch to roam,
Her lovers barter'd fair esteem,
Faith, fame, and honour, for a dream.

"Her sire's soft arts the soul to tame
She practiced thus__till Arthur came;
Then, frail humanity had part,
And all the mother claim'd her heart.
Forgot each rule her father gave,
Sunk from a princess to a slave,
Too late must Guendolen deplore,
He, that has all, can hope no more!
Now must she see her lover strain
At every turn her feeble chain;
Watch, to see each new-bound knot, and shrink
To view each fast decaying link.
Art she invokes to Nature's aid,
Her vest to zone, her locks to braid;
Each varied pleasure heard her call,
The feast, the tourney, and the ball:
Her storied lore she next applies,
Taxing her mind to aid her eyes;
No more than mortal wise, and then
In female softness sunk again:
Now raptured, with each wish complying.
With feign'd reluctance now denying;
Each charm she varied, to retain
A varying heart__and all in vain!

"Thus in the garden's narrow bound,
Flank'd by some castle's Gothic round,
Fain would the artist's skill provide,
The limits of his realms to hide.
The walks in labyrinths he twines,
Shade after shade with skill combines,
With maqny a varied flowery knot,
And copse, and arbour, decks the spot,
Tempting the hasty foot to stay,
And linger on the lovely way______
Vain art! vain hope! 'tis fruiless all!
Atlength we reach the bounding wall,
And, sick of flower and trim-dress'd tree,
Long for rough glades and forest free.

"Three summer months had scantily flown,
When Arthur, in embarrassed tone,
Spoke of his liegmen and his throne;
Said, all too long had been his stay,
And duties, which a Monarch sway,
Duties, unknown to humbler men,
Must tear her knight from Guendolen.__
She listened silently the while,
Her mood express'd in bitter smile;
Beneath her eye must Arthur quail,
And oft resume the unfinish'd tale,
Confessing, by his downcast eye,
The wrong he sought to justify.
He ceased.  A moment mute she gazed,
And then her looks to heaven she raised;
One palm her temples veil'd, to hide
The tear that sprung in spite of pride!
The other for an instant press'd
The foldings of her silken vest!

"At her reproachful sign and look,
The hint the Monarch's  conscience took.
Eager he spoke__'No , lady, no!
Deem not of British Arthur so,
Nor think he can deserter prove
To the dear pledge of mutual love.
I swear by sceptre and by sword,
As belted knight and Britain's lord,
That if a boy shall claim my care,
that boy is borne a kingdom's heir;
But, if a maiden Fate allows,
To choose that maid a fitting spouse,
A summer-day in lists shall strive
My knights,__the bravest knights alive,__
And he, the best and bravest tried,
Shall Arthur's duaghter claim for bride.'__
He spoke, with voice resolved and high__
The lady deign'd him no reply.

"At dawn of morn, ere on the brake
His matins did a warbler make,
Or stirr'd his wing to brush away
A single dew-drop from the spray,
Ere yet a sunbeam through the mist
The castle-battlements had kiss'd,
The gates revolve, the drawbridge falls,
And Arthur sallies from the walls.
Doff'd his soft garb of Persia's loom,
And steel from spur to helmet plume,
His Lybian steed full proudly trode,
And joyful neigh'd beneath his load.
The Monarch gave a passing sigh
To penitance and pleasures by,
When, lo! to his astonish'd ken
Appear'd the form of Guendolen.

"Beyond the outmost wall she stood,
Attired like huntress of the wood:
Sandall'd her feet, her ankles bare,
And eagle-plumage deck'd her hair;
Firm was her look, her bearing bold,
And in her hand a cup of gold.
'Thou goest,' she said ' and ne'er again
Must we two meet, in joy or pain.
Full fain would I this hour delay,
though weak the wish__yet, wilt thou stay?
__No! thou look'st forward.  Still attend,__
Part we like lover and like friend.'
She raised the cup__'Not this the juice
The sluggish vines of earth produce;
Pledge we, at parting, in the draught
Which Genii love!'__she said, and quaff'd;
And strange unwonted lustres fly
From her flush'd cheek and sparkling eye.

"The courteous Monarch bent him low,
And, stooping down from saddlebow,
Lifted the cup, in act to drink.
A drop escaped the goblet's brink__
Intense a liquid fire from hell,
Upon the charger's neck it fell.
Screaming with agony and fright,
He bolted twenty feet upright__
__The peasant still can show the dint,
Where his hoofs lighted on the flint.__
From Arthur's hand the goblet flew,
Scattering a shower of fiery dew,6
Tht burn'd and blighted where it fell!
The frantic steed rush'd up the dell,
As whistles from the bow the reed;
Nor bit nor rein could check his speed,
    Until he gain'd the hill;
Then breath and sinew fail'd apace,
And reeling from the desperate race,
    He stood, exhausted, still.
The Monarch, breathless and amazed,
Back on the fatal castle gazed____
Nor tower nor donjon could he spy,
Darkening against the morning sky;7
But, on the spot where once they frown'd
The lonely streamlet bawled around
A tufted knoll, where dimly shone
Fragments of rock and rifted stone.
Musing on this strange hap the while,
The king wends back to fair Carlisle:
And cares that cumber royal sway,
Wore memory of the past away.

"Full fifteen years, and more, were sped,
Each brought new wreaths to Arthur's head.
Twelve bloody fields with glory fought,8
The Saxons to subjection brought:
Rython, the mighty giant, slain
By his good brand, relieved Bretagne:
and Pictish Gillamore in fight,
and Roman Lucius own'd his might;
and wide were through the world renown'd
The glories of his Table Round.
Each knight who sought adventurous fame,
To bold court of Britain came,
And all who suffer'd causeless wrong,
From tyrant proud, or faitour strong,
Sought Arthur's presence to complain,
Nor there for aid implored in vain.

"For this the King, with pomp and pride,
Held solemn court at Whitsuntide,
    And summon'd Prince and Peer,
All who owed homage for their land,
Or who craved knighthood from his hand,
Or who had succour to demand,
    To come from far and near.
At such high tide were glee and game
Mingled with feats of martial fame,
For many a stranger champion came,
    In lists to break a spear;
And not a knight of Arthur's host,
Save that he trode some foreign coast,
But at this feast of Pentecost
    Before him must appear.
Ah, Minstrels! when the Table Round
Arose, with all its warriors crown'd
There was a theme for bards to sound
    In triumph to their string!
Five hundred years are past and gone,
But time shall draw his dying groan,
Ere he behold the British throne
     Begirt with such a ring!

"The heralds named the appointed spot,
As Caerleon or Camelot,
    Or Carlisle fair and free.
At Penrith, now, the feast was set,
And in fair Eamont's vale were met
    The flower of Chivalry.
There Galaad sate with manly grace,
yet maiden meekness in his face;
There Morolt of the iron mace,
    And love-lorn Tristem there:9
And Dinadam with lively glance,
And Lanval with the fairy lance,
And Mordred with his look askance,
    Brunor and  Bedivere.
Why should I tell of numbers more?
Sir Cay, Sir Bannier, and Sir Bore,
    Sir Carodac the keen,
The gentle Gawain's courteous lore,
Hector de Mares and Pellinore,
And Lancelot, that ever more
    Look'd stol'n-wise on the Queen.10

"When wine and mirth did most abound,
And harpers play'd their blithest round,
A shrilly trumpet shook the ground,
    And marshals clear'd the ring;
A maiden, on a palfrey white,
Heading a band of damsels bright,
Paced through the circle, to alight
    And kneel before the King.
Arthur, with strong emotion, saw
Her graceful boldness check'd by awe,
Her dress, like huntress of the wold,
Her bow and baldric trapp'd with gold
Her sandall'd feet, her ankles bare,
And the eagle plume that decked her hair.
Graceful her veil she backward flung____
The King, as from his seat he sprung,
    Almost cried, Guendolen!
But 'twas a face more frank and wild,
Betwixt the woman and the child,
Where less of magic beauty smiled
    Than of the race of men;
And in the forehead's haughty grace,
The lines of Britain's royal race,
    Pendragon's you might ken.

"Faltering, yet graceful, she said__
'Great Prince! behold an orphan maid,
In her departed mother's name,
A father's vow'd protection claim!
The vow was sworn in desert lone,
In the deep valley of St. John
At once the King the suppliant raised,
And kissed her brow, her beauty praised;
His vow, he said, should well be kept,
Ere in the sea the sun was dipp'd,__
Then, conscious, glanced upon his queen;
But she, unruffled at the scene
Of human frailty, construed mild,
Look'd upon Lancelot and smiled.

"'Up! up! each knight of gallent crest
  Take buckler, spear, and brand!
He that to-day shall bear him best,
  Shall win my Gyneth's hand.
And Arthur's daughter, when a bride,
  Shall bring a noble dower;
Both fair Strath-Clyde and Reged wide,
  And Carlisle town and tower.'
Then might you hear each valiant knight,
  To page and squire that cried,
'Bring my armour bright, and my courser wight!
'Tis not each day that a warrior's might
  May win a royal bride.'
Then cloaks and caps of maintenance
  In haste aside they fling;
The helmets glance, and gleams the lance,
  And the steel-weaved hauberks ring.
Small care had they of their peaceful array,
  They might gather it that wolde;
'For brake and bramble glitter'd gay,
  With pearls and cloth of gold.

"Within trumpet sound of the Table Round
  Were fifty champions free,
And they all arise to fight that prize,__
  They all arise but three.
Nor love's fond troth, nor wedlock's oath,
  One gallant could withold,
For priests will allow of a broken vow,
  For penance or for gold.
But sigh and glance from ladies bright
  Among the troops were thrown,
To plead their right, and true-love plight,
  And 'plain of honour flown.
The knights they busied them so fast,
  With Buckling spear and belt,
That sigh and look, by ladies cast,
  Were neither seen nor felt.
From pleading or upbraiding glance,
  Each gallant turns aside,
And only thought, '¤f speeds my lance,
  A queen becomes my bride!
She has fair Strath-Clyde, and Reged wide,
  And Carlisle tower and town;
She is the loveliest maid, beside,
  That ever heir'd a crown.'
So in haste their coursers they bestride,
  And strike their visors down.

"The champions, arm'd in martial sort,
  Have thronged into the list,
And but three knights of Arthur's court
  Are from the tourney miss'd.
And still these lovers' fame survives
  For faith so constant shown,__
There were two who loved their neighbours wives,
  And one who loved his own.11
The first was Lancelot de Lac,
  The second Tristrem bold,
The third was valiant Carodoc,
  Who won the cup of gold,12
What time, of all King Arthur's crew,
  (Thereof came jeer and laugh,)
He as the mate of lady true,
  Alone the cup could quaff.
Though envy's tounge would fain surmise,
  That but for very shame,
Sir Carodac, to fight that prize,
  Had given both cup and dame;
Yet, since but one of that fair court
  Was true to wedlock's shrine,
Brand him who will with base report,__
  He shall be free from mine.

"Now caracoled the steeds in air,
Now plumes and pennons wanton'd fair,
As all around the lists so wide
In panoply the champions ride.
King Arthur saw with startled eye,
The flower of chivalry march by,
The bulwark of the Christian creed,
The kingdoms shield in hour of need.
Too late he thought him of the woe
Might from their civil conflict flow;
For well he knew they would not part
Till cold was many a gallant heart.
His hasty vow he 'gan to rue,
And Gyneth then apart he drew;
To her his leading-staff resigned,
But added caution grave and kind.

"'Thou seest, my child, as promise-bound,
I bid the trump for tourney sound.
Take thou my warder as the queen
And umpire of the martial scene;
But mark thou this:__as Beauty bright
Is polar star to valiant knight,
As at her word his sword he draws,
His fairest guerdon her applause,
So gentle maid should never ask
Of knighthood vain and dangerous task;
And Beauty's eyes should ever be
Like the twin stars that soothe the sea,
And Beauty's breath shall whisper peace,
And bid the storm of battle cease.
I tell thee this, lest all too far,
These knights urge tourney into war.
Blithe at the trumpet let them go,
And fairly counter blow for blow;__
No striplings these, who succour need
For a razed helm or falling steed.
But, Gyneth, when the strife grows warm,
And threatens death or deadly harm,
Thy sire entreats, thy king commands,
Thou drop the warder from thy hands.
Trust thou thy father with thy fate,
Doubt not he choose thee fitting mate;
Nor be it said, through Gyneth's pride
A rose of Arthur's chaplet died.'

"A proud and discontented glow
OÚrshadowed Gyneth's brow of snow;
    She put the warder by:__
'Reserve thy boon, my liege,' she said,
'Thus chaffer'd down and limited,
Debased and narrow'd, for a maid
    Of less degree than I.
No petty chief but holds his heir
At a more honour'd price and rare
    Than Britain's King holds me!
Although the sun-burned maid, for dower,
Has but her father's rugged tower,
    His barren hill and lee.__
King Arthur swore, "By crown and sword,
As belted knight and Britain's lord,
That a whole summer's day should strive
His knights, the bravest knights alive!"
Recall thine oath! and to her glen
Poor Gyneth can return agen!
Not on thy daughter will the stain,
That soils thy sword and crown remain.
But think not she will e'er be bride
Save to the bravest, proved and tried;
Pendragon's daughter will not fear
For clashing sword or splinter'd spear,
    Nor shrink though blood should flow;
And all too well sad Guendolen
Hath taught the faithlessness of men,
That child of hers should pity, when
    Their meed they undergo.'__

"He frown'd and sigh'd, the Monarch bold:__
'I give__what I may not withold;
For, not for danger, dread, or death,
Must British Arthur break his faith.
Too late I mark, thy mother's art
Hath taught thee this relentless part.
I blame her not, for she had wrong,
But not to these my faults belong.
Use, then, the warder as thou wilt;
But trust me, that, if life be spilt,
In Arthur's love, in Arthur's grace,
Gyneth shall lose a daughter's place.'
With that he turn'd his head aside,
Nor brook'd to gaze upon her pride,
As, with the truncheon raised she sate
The arbitress of mortal fate:
Nor brook'd to mark, in ranks disposed,
How the bold champions stood opposed,
For shrill the trumpet-flourish fell
Upon his ear like passing bell!
Then first from sight of martial fray
Did Britain's hero turn away.

"But Gyneth heard the clangour high,
As hears the hawk the partridge cry.
Oh, blame her not! the blood was hers,
That at the trumpet's summons stirs!__
And e'en the gentlest female eye
Might brave strife of chivalry
    A while untroubled view;
So well accolmplish'd was each knight,
To strike and to defend in fight,
Their meeting was a goodly sight,
    While plate and mail held true.
The lists with painted plumes were strewn,
Upon the wind at random thrown,
But helm and breastplate bloodless shone,
It seem'd their feathered crests alone
    Should this encounter rue.
And ever, as the combat grows
The trumpet's cheery voice arose,
Like lark's shrill song the flourish flows,
Heard while the gale of April blows
    The merry greenwood through.

"But soon to earnest grew their game,
The spears drew blood, the swords struck flame,
And, horse and man, to ground there came
    Knights, who shall rise no more!
Gone was the pride the war that graced,
Gay shields were cleft, and crests defaced,
And steel coats riven, and helms unbraced,
    and pennons stream'd with gore.
Gone, too, were fence and fair array,
And desparate strength made deadly way
At random through the bloody fray,
And blows were dealt with headlong sway,
    Unheeding where they fell;
And now the trumpet's clamours seem
Like the shrill sea-bird's wailing scream,
Heard o'er the whirlpool's gulfing stream,
    The sinking seaman's knell!

"Seem'd in this dismal hour, that Fate
Would Camlan's ruin antedate,
    And spare dark Mordred's crime;
Already gasping on the ground
Lie twenty of the Table Round,
    Of chivalry the prime.
Arthur, in anguish, tore away
From head nad beard his tresses gray,
And she, proud Gyneth, felt dismay,
    And quaked with ruth and fear;
But still she deem'd her mother's shade
Hung o'er the tumult, and forbade
The sign that had the slaughter staid,
    And chid the rising tear.
Then Brunor, Taulas, Mador, fell,
Helias the White, and Lionel,
    And many a champion more;
Rochemont and Dinadam are down,
And Ferrand of the Forest Brown
    Lies gasping in his gore,
Vanoc, by mighty Morolt press'd
Even to the confines of the list,
Young Vanoc of the beardless face,
(Fame spoke the youth of Merlin's race,)
O'erpower'd at Gyneth's footstool bled,
His heart's-blood dyed her sandals red.
But then the sky was overcast,
Then howl'd at once a whirlwind's blast,
    And, rent by sudden throes,
Yawn'd in mid lists the quaking earth,
And from the gulf,__tremendous birth!__
    The form of Merlin rose.

"sternly the Wizard Prophet eyed
The dreary lists with slaughter dyed,
    And sternly raised his hand:__
'Madmen,' he said, 'your strife forbear;
And thou, fair cause of mischief hear
    The doom thy fates demand!
Long shall close in stony sleep
Eyes for ruth that would not weep;
Iron lethargy shall seal
Heart that pity scorn'd to feel.
Yet, because thy mother's art
Warp'd thine unsuspicious heart,
And for love of Arthur's race,
Punishment is blent with grace,
Thou shalt bear thine penance lone
In the Valley of Saint John,
And this weird * shall overtake thee;
Sleep, until a knight shall wake thee,
For feats of arms far renown'd
As warrior of the Table Round.
Long endurance of thy slumber
Well amy teach the world to number
All their woes from Gyneth's pride,
When the Red Cross champions died.'


"As Merlin speaks, on Gyneth's eye
Slumber's load begins to lie;
Fear and anger vainly strive
Still to keep its light alive.
Twice, with effort and with pause,
O'er her brow her hand she draws;
Twice her strength in vain she tries,
From the fatal chair to rise,
Merlin's magic doom is spoken,
Vanoc's death must now be wroken
slow the dark-fringed eyelids fall,
Curtaining each azure ball,
Slowly as on summer eves
Violets fold their dusky leaves.
The weighty baton of command
Now bears down her sinking hand,
On her shoulder droops her head;
Net of pearl and golden thread,
Bursting, gave her locks to flow
O'er her arm and breast of snow.
And so lovely seem'd she there,
Spell-bound in her ivory chair,
That her angry sire, repenting,
Craved stern Merlin for relenting,
And the champions, for her sake,
Would again the contest wake;
Till, in necromantic night,
Gyneth vanishe'd from their sight.

"Still she bears her weird alone
in the Valley of Saint John;
And her semblance oft will seem,
Mingling in a champion's dream,
Of her weary lot to 'plain,
and crave his aid to burst her chain.
While her wondrous tale was new,
Warriors to her rescue drew,
East and west, and south and north,
From the Liffy, Thames, and Forth.
Most have sought in vain the glen,
Tower nor castle could they ken;
Not at every time or tide,
Nor by every eye descried.
Fast and vigil must be borne,
Many a night in watching worn,
Ere an eye of mortal powers
Can discern those magic towers.
Of the persevering few,
Some from hopeless task withdrew,
When they read the dismal threat
Graved upon the gloomy gate.
Few have braved the yawning door,
And those few return'd no more.
Wellnigh lost is Gyneth's lot;
Sound her sleep as in the tomb,
Till waken'd by the trump of doom.'


Scott's original notes to the poem

4 The small lake called Scales-tarn lies so deeply embosomed in the recesses of the huge mountain called Saddleback, more poetically Glaramara, is of such great depth, and so completely hidden from the sun, that it is said its beams never reach it, and that the reflection of the stars may be seen at mid-day.
Sabbleback is also called Blencathra on modern maps. Scales Tarn is on the Eastern slopes of this mountain (54° 38 · 7´ N 3° 2 · 5´ W).

5 Tintadgel Castle, in Cornwall, is reported to have been the birth-place of King Arthur.

6The author has an indistinct recollection of an adventure somewhat similar to that which is here ascribed to King Arthur, having befallen one of the ancient Kings of Denmark. The horn in which the burning liquid was presented to that Monarch, is said to be preserved in the Royal Museum at Copenhagen.

7__"We now gained a view of the Vale of St. John's, a very narrow dell, hemmed in by mountains, through which a small brook makes many meanderings, washing little enclosures of grass-ground, which stretch up to the rising of the hills. In the widest part of the dale you are struck with the appearance of an ancient ruined castle, which seems to stand upon the summit of a little mount, the mountains around forming an ampitheatre. The massive bulwark shows a front of various towers, and makes an awful, rude, and Gothic appearance, with its lofty turrets and rugged battlements; we traced the galleries, the bending arches, the buttresses. The greatest antiquity stands characterized in its architecture; the inhabitants near it asert it is an antediluvian structure.
"The traveller's curiosity is roused, and he prepares to make a nearer approach, when that curiosity is put upon the rack, by his being assured, that, if he advances, certain genii who govern the place, by virtue of their supernatural art and necromancy, will strip it of all its beauties, and by enchantment, transform the magic walls. The vale seems adapted for the habitation of such beings; its gloomy recesses and retirements look like the haunts of evil spirits There was no delusion on the report; we were soon convinced of its truth; for this piece of antiquity, so venerable and noble in its aspect, as we drew near, changed its figure, and proved no other than a shaken massive pile of rocks, which stand in the midst of this little vale, disunited from the adjoining mountains, and have so much the real from and resemblance of a castle that they bear the name of the Castle Rocks of St. John."__HUTCHINSON' Excursion to the Lakes, p. 121.
Castle Rocks are situated to the south of the town of Keswick (54° 34· 1´ N 3° 2· 9´ W).

8Arthur is said to have defeated the Saxons in twelve pitched battles, and to have achieved the other feats alluded to in the text.

9The characters named in the stanza are all of them more or less distinguished in the romances which treat of King Arthur and his Round Table, and their names are strung together, according to the established custom of minstrels upon such occasions, for example, in the ballad of the Marriage of Sir Gawaine:__

"Sir Lancelot, Sir Stephen bolde,
   They rode with him that daye,
 And foremost of the companye,
   There rode the stewarde Kaye.

"Soe did Sir Sir Banier, and Sir Bore,
   And eke Sir Garratte keen,
 Sir Tristrem, too, that gentle knight,
   To the forest fresh and greene."

10Upon this delicate subject hear Richard Robinson, citizen of London, in his Assertion of King Arthur:__"But as it is a thing sufficiently apparent that she (Guenver, wife of King Arthur) was beautiful, so it is a thing doubted whether she were chaste, yea or no. Truly, so far as I can with all honestie, I would spare the impayred honor of noble women. But yet the truth of the historie plckes me by the eare, and willeth not onely, but commandeth me to declare what the ancients have deemed of her. To wrestle or contend with so great authoritie were indeed unto me a controversie, and that greate."__Assertion of King Arthure. Imprinted by John Wolfe, London, 1582.

11"In our forefathers' tyme, when Papistrie, as a standyng poole, covered and overflowed all England, few books were read in our tounge, savying ceraine bookes of chevalrie, as they said, for pastime and pleasure; which, as some say, were made in the monastries, by idle monks or wanton chanons. As one, for example, La Morte d'Arthure; the whole pleasure of which book standeth in two special poyntes, in open manslaughter and bold bawdrye; in which booke they be counted the noblest knyghtes that do kill most men without any quarrell, and commit foulest adulteries by by subtlest shiftes; as Sir Launcelot, with the wife of King Arthur, his master; Sir Tristram, with the wife of King Marke, his uncle; sir Lamerocke, with the wife of King Lote, that was his own aunt. this is good stuff for wise men to laugh at; or honest men to take pleasure at: yet I know when God's Bible was banished the Court, and La Morte d'Arthure received into the Prince's chamber."__ASCHAM'S Schoolmaster.

12See the comic tale of the Boy and the Mantle, in the third volume of Percy's Reliques of Ancient Poetry, from the Breton or Norman original of which Ariosto is supposed to have taken his Tale of the Enchanted Cup.

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