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The Last Tournament   By: (1809-1892)

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Ted Garvin and the Distributed Proofreading Team







This poem forms one of the "Idyls of the King." Its place is between "Pelleas" and "Guinevere."



Dagonet, the fool, whom Gawain in his moods Had made mock knight of Arthur's Table Round, At Camelot, high above the yellowing woods, Danced like a wither'd leaf before the Hall. And toward him from the Hall, with harp in hand, And from the crown thereof a carcanet Of ruby swaying to and fro, the prize Of Tristram in the jousts of yesterday, Came Tristram, saying, "Why skip ye so, Sir Fool?"

For Arthur and Sir Lancelot riding once Far down beneath a winding wall of rock Heard a child wail. A stump of oak half dead, From roots like some black coil of carven snakes Clutch'd at the crag, and started thro' mid air Bearing an eagle's nest: and thro' the tree Rush'd ever a rainy wind, and thro' the wind Pierced ever a child's cry: and crag and tree Scaling, Sir Lancelot from the perilous nest, This ruby necklace thrice around her neck, And all unscarr'd from beak or talon, brought A maiden babe; which Arthur pitying took, Then gave it to his Queen to rear: the Queen But coldly acquiescing, in her white arms Received, and after loved it tenderly, And named it Nestling; so forgot herself A moment, and her cares; till that young life Being smitten in mid heaven with mortal cold Past from her; and in time the carcanet Vext her with plaintive memories of the child: So she, delivering it to Arthur, said, "Take thou the jewels of this dead innocence, And make them, an thou wilt, a tourney prize."

To whom the King, "Peace to thine eagle borne Dead nestling, and this honor after death, Following thy will! but, O my Queen, I muse Why ye not wear on arm, or neck, or zone, Those diamonds that I rescued from the tarn, And Lancelot won, methought, for thee to wear."

"Would rather ye had let them fall," she cried, "Plunge and be lost ill fated as they were, A bitterness to me! ye look amazed, Not knowing they were lost as soon as given Slid from my hands, when I was leaning out Above the river that unhappy child Past in her barge: but rosier luck will go With these rich jewels, seeing that they came Not from the skeleton of a brother slayer, But the sweet body of a maiden babe. Perchance who knows? the purest of thy knights May win them for the purest of my maids."

She ended, and the cry of a great jousts With trumpet blowings ran on all the ways From Camelot in among the faded fields To furthest towers; and everywhere the knights Arm'd for a day of glory before the King.

But on the hither side of that loud morn Into the hall stagger'd, his visage ribb'd From ear to ear with dogwhip weals, his nose Bridge broken, one eye out, and one hand off, And one with shatter'd fingers dangling lame, A churl, to whom indignantly the King, "My churl, for whom Christ died, what evil beast Hath drawn his claws athwart thy face? or fiend? Man was it who marr'd Heaven's image in thee thus?"

Then, sputtering thro' the hedge of splinter'd teeth, Yet strangers to the tongue, and with blunt stump Pitch blacken'd sawing the air, said the maim'd churl, "He took them and he drave them to his tower Some hold he was a table knight of thine A hundred goodly ones the Red Knight, he

"Lord, I was tending swine, and the Red Knight Brake in upon me and drave them to his tower; And when I call'd upon thy name as one That doest right by gentle and by churl, Maim'd me and maul'd, and would outright have slain, Save that he sware me to a message, saying 'Tell thou the King and all his liars, that I Have founded my Round Table in the North, And whatsoever his own knights have sworn My knights have sworn the counter to it and say My tower is full of harlots, like his court, But mine are worthier, seeing they profess To be none other than themselves and say My knights are all adulterers like his own, But mine are truer, seeing they profess To be none other; and say his hour is come, The heathen are upon him, his long lance Broken, and his Excalibur a straw... Continue reading book >>

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