Earl Gawain wooed the Lady Barbara,—
High-thoughted Barbara, so white and cold !
‘Mong broad-branched beeches in the summer shaw,
In soft green light his passion he has told.
When rain-beat winds did shriek across the wold,
The Earl to take her fair reluctant ear
Framed passion-trembled ditties manifold ;
Silent she sat his am’rous breath to hear,
With calm and steady eyes, her heart was otherwhere.
He sighed for her through all the summer weeks ;
Sitting beneath a tree whose fruitful boughs
Bore glorious apples with smooth-shining cheeks,
Earl Gawain came and whispered, “Lady, rouse !
Thou art no vestal held in holy vows;
Out with our falcons to the pleasant heath.
“Her father’s blood leapt up unto her brows—
He who, exulting on the trumpet’s breath,
Came charging like a star across the lists of death,
Trembled, and passed before her high rebuke :
And then she sat, her hands clasped round her knee :
Like one far-thoughted was the lady’s look,
For in a morning cold as misery
She saw a lone ship sailing on the sea ;
Before the north ’twas driven like a cloud,
High on the poop a man sat mournfully :
The wind was whistling thorough mast and shroud.
And to the whistling wind thus did he sing aloud :—
“Didst look last night upon my native vales,
Thou Sun! that from the drenching sea hast clomb ?
Ye demon winds! that glut my gaping sails,
Upon the salt sea must I ever roam,
Wander for ever on the barren foam ?
O happy are ye, resting mariners.
O Death, that thou wouldst come and take me home !
A hand unseen this vessel onward steers,
And onward I must float through slow moon-measured years.
“Ye winds! when like a curse ye drove us on,
Frothing the waters, and along our way,
Nor cape nor headland through red mornings shone,
One wept aloud, one shuddered down to pray,
One howled, ‘Upon the Deep we are astray !’
On our wild hearts his words fell like a blight :
In one short hour my hair was stricken grey,
For all the crew sank ghastly in my sight
As we went driving on through the cold starry night.
“Madness fell on me in my loneliness,
The sea foamed curses, and the reeling sky
Became a dreadful face which did oppress
Me with the weight of its unwinking eye.
It fled, when I burst forth into a cry—
A shoal of fiends came on me from the deep ;
I hid, but in all corners they did pry,
And dragged me forth, and round did dance and leap ;
They mouthed on me in dream, and tore me from sweet sleep.
“Strange constellations burned above my head,
Strange birds around the vessel shrieked and flew,
Strange shapes, like shadows, through the clear sea fled,
As our lone ship, wide-winged, came rippling through,
Angering to foam the smooth and sleeping blue.
“The lady sighed, “Far, far upon the sea,
My own Sir Arthur, could I die with you !
The wind blows shrill between my love and me.”
Fond heart! the space between was but the apple-tree.
There was a cry of joy, with seeking hands
She fled to him, like worn bird to her nest ;
Like washing water on the figured sands,
His being came and went in sweet unrest,
As from the mighty shelter of his breast
The Lady Barbara her head uprears
With a wan smile, “Methinks I’m but half blest :
Now when I’ve found thee, after weary years,
I cannot see thee, love! so blind I am with tears.”