"The Coming of Arthur" from Idylls Of The King
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)



1   Leodogran , the King of Cameliard, 
2   Had one fair daughter, and none other child; 
3   And she was fairest of all flesh on earth, 
4   Guinevere, and in her his one delight. 

5   For many a petty king ere Arthur came 
6   Ruled in this isle, and ever waging war 
7   Each upon other, wasted all the land; 
8   And still from time to time the heathen host 
9   Swarm'd overseas, and harried what was left. 
10   And so there grew great tracts of wilderness, 
11   Wherein the beast was ever more and more, 
12   But man was less and less, till Arthur came. 
13   For first Aurelius lived and fought and died, 
14   And after him King Uther fought and died, 
15   But either fail'd to make the kingdom one. 
16   And after these King Arthur for a space, 
17   And thro' the puissance of his Table Round,
18   Drew all their petty princedoms under him, 
19   Their king and head, and made a realm, and reign'd. 

20   And thus the land of Cameliard was waste, 
21   Thick with wet woods, and many a beast therein, 
22   And none or few to scare or chase the beast; 
23   So that wild dog, and wolf and boar and bear 
24   Came night and day, and rooted in the fields, 
25   And wallow'd in the gardens of the King. 
26   And ever and anon the wolf would steal 
27   The children and devour, but now and then, 
28   Her own brood lost or dead, lent her fierce teat 
29   To human sucklings; and the children, housed 
30   In her foul den, there at their meat would growl, 
31   And mock their foster-mother on four feet, 
32   Till, straighten'd, they grew up to wolf-like men,
33   Worse than the wolves. And King Leodogran 
34   Groan'd for the Roman legions here again, 
35   And CŠsar's eagle: then his brother king, 
36   Urien, assail'd him: last a heathen horde, 
37   Reddening the sun with smoke and earth with blood, 
38   And on the spike that split the mother's heart 
39   Spitting the child, brake on him, till, amazed, 
40   He knew not whither he should turn for aid. 

41   But---for he heard of Arthur newly crown'd, 
42   Tho' not without an uproar made by those 
43   Who cried, 'He is not Uther's son'---the King 
44   Sent to him, saying, 'Arise, and help us thou! 
45   For here between the man and beast we die.' 

46   And Arthur yet had done no deed of arms, 
47   But heard the call, and came: and Guinevere 
48   Stood by the castle walls to watch him pass; 
49   But since he neither wore on helm or shield 
50   The golden symbol of his kinglihood, 
51   But rode a simple knight among his knights, 
52   And many of these in richer arms than he, 
53   She saw him not, or mark'd not, if she saw, 
54   One among many, tho' his face was bare. 
55   But Arthur, looking downward as he past, 
56   Felt the light of her eyes into his life 
57   Smite on the sudden, yet rode on, and pitch'd 
58   His tents beside the forest. Then he drave 
59   The heathen; after, slew the beast, and fell'd 
60   The forest, letting in the sun, and made 
61   Broad pathways for the hunter and the knight 
62   And so return'd. 

62                                             For while he linger'd there, 
63   A doubt that ever smoulder'd in the hearts 
64   Of those great Lords and Barons of his realm 
65   Flash'd forth and into war: for most of these, 
66   Colleaguing with a score of petty kings, 
67   Made head against him, crying, 'Who is he 
68   That he should rule us? who hath proven him 
69   King Uther's son? for lo! we look at him, 
70   And find nor face nor bearing, limbs nor voice, 
71   Are like to those of Uther whom we knew. 
72   This is the son of Gorlo´s, not the King; 
73   This is the son of Anton, not the King.' 

74   And Arthur, passing thence to battle, felt 
75   Travail, and throes and agonies of the life, 
76   Desiring to be join'd with Guinevere; 
77   And thinking as he rode, 'Her father said 
78   That there between the man and beast they die. 
79   Shall I not lift her from this land of beasts 
80   Up to my throne, and side by side with me? 
81   What happiness to reign a lonely king, 
82   Vext---O ye stars that shudder over me, 
83   O earth that soundest hollow under me, 
84   Vext with waste dreams? for saving I be join'd 
85   To her that is the fairest under heaven, 
86   I seem as nothing in the mighty world, 
87   And cannot will my will, nor work my work 
88   Wholly, nor make myself in mine own realm 
89   Victor and lord. But were I join'd with her, 
90   Then might we live together as one life, 
91   And reigning with one will in everything 
92   Have power on this dark land to lighten it, 
93   And power on this dead world to make it live.' 

94   Thereafter---as he speaks who tells the tale--- 
95   When Arthur reach'd a field-of-battle bright 
96   With pitch'd pavilions of his foe, the world 
97   Was all so clear about him, that he saw 
98   The smallest rock far on the faintest hill, 
99   And even in high day the morning star. 
100   So when the King had set his banner broad, 
101   At once from either side, with trumpet-blast, 
102   And shouts, and clarions shrilling unto blood, 
103   The long-lanced battle let their horses run. 
104   And now the Barons and the kings prevail'd, 
105   And now the King, as here and there that war 
106   Went swaying; but the Powers who walk the world 
107   Made lightnings and great thunders over him, 
108   And dazed all eyes, till Arthur by main might, 
109   And mightier of his hands with every blow, 
110   And leading all his knighthood threw the kings 
111   Carados, Urien, Cradlemont of Wales, 
112   Claudias, and Clariance of Northumberland, 
113   The King Brandagoras of Latangor, 
114   With Anguisant of Erin, Morganore, 
115   And Lot of Orkney. Then, before a voice 
116   As dreadful as the shout of one who sees 
117   To one who sins, and deems himself alone 
118   And all the world asleep, they swerved and brake 
119   Flying, and Arthur call'd to stay the brands 
120   That hack'd among the flyers, 'Ho! they yield!' 
121   So like a painted battle the war stood 
122   Silenced, the living quiet as the dead, 
123   And in the heart of Arthur joy was lord. 
124   He laugh'd upon his warrior whom he loved 
125   And honour'd most. 'Thou dost not doubt me King, 
126   So well thine arm hath wrought for me to-day.' 
127   'Sir and my liege,' he cried, 'the fire of God 
128   Descends upon thee in the battle-field: 
129   I know thee for my King!' Whereat the two, 
130   For each had warded either in the fight, 
131   Sware on the field of death a deathless love. 
132   And Arthur said, 'Man's word is God in man: 
133   Let chance what will, I trust thee to the death.' 

134   Then quickly from the foughten field he sent 
135   Ulfius, and Brastias, and Bedivere, 
136   His new-made knights, to King Leodogran, 
137   Saying, 'If I in aught have served thee well, 
138   Give me thy daughter Guinevere to wife.' 

139   Whom when he heard, Leodogran in heart 
140   Debating---'How should I that am a king, 
141   However much he holp me at my need, 
142   Give my one daughter saving to a king, 
143   And a king's son?'---lifted his voice, and call'd 
144   A hoary man, his chamberlain, to whom 
145   He trusted all things, and of him required 
146   His counsel: 'Knowest thou aught of Arthur's birth?' 

147   Then spake the hoary chamberlain and said, 
148   'Sir King, there be but two old men that know: 
149   And each is twice as old as I; and one 
150   Is Merlin, the wise man that ever served 
151   King Uther thro' his magic art; and one 
152   Is Merlin's master (so they call him) Bleys, 
153   Who taught him magic; but the scholar ran 
154   Before the master, and so far, that Bleys 
155   Laid magic by, and sat him down, and wrote 
156   All things and whatsoever Merlin did 
157   In one great annal-book, where after-years 
158   Will learn the secret of our Arthur's birth.' 

159   To whom the King Leodogran replied, 
160   'O friend, had I been holpen half as well 
161   By this King Arthur as by thee to-day, 
162   Then beast and man had had their share of me: 
163   But summon here before us yet once more 
164   Ulfius, and Brastias, and Bedivere.' 

165   Then, when they came before him, the King said, 
166   'I have seen the cuckoo chased by lesser fowl, 
167   And reason in the chase: but wherefore now 
168   Do these your lords stir up the heat of war, 
169   Some calling Arthur born of Gorlo´s, 
170   Others of Anton? Tell me, ye yourselves, 
171   Hold ye this Arthur for King Uther's son? 

172   And Ulfius and Brastias answer'd, 'Ay.' 
173   Then Bedivere, the first of all his knights 
174   Knighted by Arthur at his crowning, spake--- 
175   For bold in heart and act and word was he, 
176   Whenever slander breathed against the King--- 

177   'Sir, there be many rumours on this head: 
178   For there be those who hate him in their hearts, 
179   Call him baseborn, and since his ways are sweet, 
180   And theirs are bestial, hold him less than man: 
181   And there be those who deem him more than man, 
182   And dream he dropt from heaven: but my belief 
183   In all this matter---so ye care to learn--- 
184   Sir, for ye know that in King Uther's time 
185   The prince and warrior Gorlo´s, he that held 
186   Tintagil castle by the Cornish sea, 
187   Was wedded with a winsome wife, Ygerne: 
188   And daughters had she borne him,---one whereof, 
189   Lot's wife, the Queen of Orkney, Bellicent, 
190   Hath ever like a loyal sister cleaved 
191   To Arthur,---but a son she had not borne. 
192   And Uther cast upon her eyes of love: 
193   But she, a stainless wife to Gorlo´s, 
194   So loathed the bright dishonour of his love, 
195   That Gorlo´s and King Uther went to war: 
196   And overthrown was Gorlo´s and slain. 
197   Then Uther in his wrath and heat besieged 
198   Ygerne within Tintagil, where her men, 
199   Seeing the mighty swarm about their walls, 
200   Left her and fled, and Uther enter'd in, 
201   And there was none to call to but himself. 
202   So, compass'd by the power of the King, 
203   Enforced she was to wed him in her tears, 
204   And with a shameful swiftness: afterward, 
205   Not many moons, King Uther died himself, 
206   Moaning and wailing for an heir to rule 
207   After him, lest the realm should go to wrack. 
208   And that same night, the night of the new year, 
209   By reason of the bitterness and grief 
210   That vext his mother, all before his time 
211   Was Arthur born, and all as soon as born 
212   Deliver'd at a secret postern-gate 
213   To Merlin, to be holden far apart 
214   Until his hour should come; because the lords 
215   Of that fierce day were as the lords of this, 
216   Wild beasts, and surely would have torn the child 
217   Piecemeal among them, had they known; for each 
218   But sought to rule for his own self and hand, 
219   And many hated Uther for the sake 
220   Of Gorlo´s. Wherefore Merlin took the child, 
221   And gave him to Sir Anton, an old knight 
222   And ancient friend of Uther; and his wife 
223   Nursed the young prince, and rear'd him with her own; 
224   And no man knew. And ever since the lords 
225   Have foughten like wild beasts among themselves, 
226   So that the realm has gone to wrack: but now, 
227   This year, when Merlin (for his hour had come) 
228   Brought Arthur forth, and set him in the hall, 
229   Proclaiming, "Here is Uther's heir, your king," 
230   A hundred voices cried, "Away with him! 
231   No king of ours! a son of Gorlo´s he, 
232   Or else the child of Anton, and no king, 
233   Or else baseborn." Yet Merlin thro' his craft, 
234   And while the people clamour'd for a king,
235   Had Arthur crown'd; but after, the great lords 
236   Banded, and so brake out in open war.' 

237   Then while the King debated with himself 
238   If Arthur were the child of shamefulness, 
239   Or born the son of Gorlo´s, after death, 
240   Or Uther's son, and born before his time, 
241   Or whether there were truth in anything 
242   Said by these three, there came to Cameliard, 
243   With Gawain and young Modred, her two sons, 
244   Lot's wife, the Queen of Orkney, Bellicent; 
245   Whom as he could, not as he would, the King 
246   Made feast for, saying, as they sat at meat, 

247   'A doubtful throne is ice on summer seas. 
248   Ye come from Arthur's court. Victor his men 
249   Report him! Yea, but ye---think ye this king--- 
250   So many those that hate him, and so strong, 
251   So few his knights, however brave they be--- 
252   Hath body enow to hold his foemen down?' 

253   'O King,' she cried, 'and I will tell thee: few, 
254   Few, but all brave, all of one mind with him; 
255   For I was near him when the savage yells 
256   Of Uther's peerage died, and Arthur sat 
257   Crown'd on the da´s, and his warriors cried, 
258   "Be thou the king, and we will work thy will 
259   Who love thee." Then the King in low deep tones, 
260   And simple words of great authority, 
261   Bound them by so strait vows to his own self, 
262   That when they rose, knighted from kneeling, some 
263   Were pale as at the passing of a ghost, 
264   Some flush'd, and others dazed, as one who wakes 
265   Half-blinded at the coming of a light. 

266   'But when he spake and cheer'd his Table Round 
267   With large, divine, and comfortable words, 
268   Beyond my tongue to tell thee---I beheld 
269   From eye to eye thro' all their Order flash 
270   A momentary likeness of the King: 
271   And ere it left their faces, thro' the cross 
272   And those around it and the Crucified, 
273   Down from the casement over Arthur, smote 
274   Flame-colour, vert and azure, in three rays, 
275   One falling upon each of three fair queens,
276   Who stood in silence near his throne, the friends 
277   Of Arthur, gazing on him, tall, with bright 
278   Sweet faces, who will help him at his need. 

279   'And there I saw mage Merlin, whose vast wit 
280   And hundred winters are but as the hands 
281   Of loyal vassals toiling for their liege. 

282   'And near him stood the Lady of the Lake,
283   Who knows a subtler magic than his own--- 
284   Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful. 
285   She gave the King his huge cross-hilted sword, 
286   Whereby to drive the heathen out: a mist 
287   Of incense curl'd about her, and her face 
288   Wellnigh was hidden in the minster gloom; 
289   But there was heard among the holy hymns 
290   A voice as of the waters, for she dwells 
291   Down in a deep; calm, whatsoever storms 
292   May shake the world, and when the surface rolls, 
293   Hath power to walk the waters like our Lord. 

294   'There likewise I beheld Excalibur
295   Before him at his crowning borne, the sword 
296   That rose from out the bosom of the lake, 
297   And Arthur row'd across and took it---rich 
298   With jewels, elfin Urim, on the hilt, 
299   Bewildering heart and eye---the blade so bright 
300   That men are blinded by it---on one side, 
301   Graven in the oldest tongue of all this world, 
302   "Take me," but turn the blade and ye shall see, 
303   And written in the speech ye speak yourself, 
304   "Cast me away!" And sad was Arthur's face 
305   Taking it, but old Merlin counsell'd him, 
306   "Take thou and strike! the time to cast away 
307   Is yet far-off." So this great brand the king 
308   Took, and by this will beat his foemen down.' 

309   Thereat Leodogran rejoiced, but thought 
310   To sift his doubtings to the last, and ask'd, 
311   Fixing full eyes of question on her face, 
312   'The swallow and the swift are near akin, 
313   But thou art closer to this noble prince, 
314   Being his own dear sister;' and she said, 
315   'Daughter of Gorlo´s and Ygerne am I;' 
316   'And therefore Arthur's sister?' ask'd the King 
317   She answer'd, 'These be secret things,' and sign'd 
318   To those two sons to pass, and let them be. 
319   And Gawain went, and breaking into song 
320   Sprang out, and follow'd by his flying hair 
321   Ran like a colt, and leapt at all he saw: 
322   But Modred laid his ear beside the doors, 
323   And there half-heard; the same that afterward 
324   Struck for the throne, and striking found his doom. 

325   And then the Queen made answer, 'What know I? 
326   For dark my mother was in eyes and hair, 
327   And dark in hair and eyes am I; and dark 
328   Was Gorlo´s, yea and dark was Uther too, 
329   Wellnigh to blackness; but this King is fair 
330   Beyond the race of Britons and of men. 
331   Moreover, always in my mind I hear 
332   A cry from out the dawning of my life, 
333   A mother weeping, and I hear her say, 
334   "O that ye had some brother, pretty one, 
335   To guard thee on the rough ways of the world."' 

336   'Ay,' said the King, 'and hear ye such a cry? 
337   But when did Arthur chance upon thee first?' 

338   'O King!' she cried, 'and I will tell thee true: 
339   He found me first when yet a little maid: 
340   Beaten I had been for a little fault 
341   Whereof I was not guilty; and out I ran 
342   And flung myself down on a bank of heath, 
343   And hated this fair world and all therein, 
344   And wept, and wish'd that I were dead; and he--- 
345   I know not whether of himself he came, 
346   Or brought by Merlin, who, they say, can walk 
347   Unseen at pleasure---he was at my side, 
348   And spake sweet words, and comforted my heart, 
349   And dried my tears, being a child with me. 
350   And many a time he came, and evermore 
351   As I grew greater grew with me; and sad 
352   At times he seem'd, and sad with him was I, 
353   Stern too at times, and then I loved him not, 
354   But sweet again, and then I loved him well. 
355   And now of late I see him less and less, 
356   But those first days had golden hours for me, 
357   For then I surely thought he would be king. 

358   'But let me tell thee now another tale: 
359   For Bleys, our Merlin's master, as they say, 
360   Died but of late, and sent his cry to me, 
361   To hear him speak before he left his life. 
362   Shrunk like a fairy changeling lay the mage; 
363   And when I enter'd told me that himself 
364   And Merlin ever served about the King, 
365   Uther, before he died; and on the night 
366   When Uther in Tintagil past away 
367   Moaning and wailing for an heir, the two 
368   Left the still King, and passing forth to breathe, 
369   Then from the castle gateway by the chasm 
370   Descending thro' the dismal night---a night 
371   In which the bounds of heaven and earth were lost--- 
372   Beheld, so high upon the dreary deeps 
373   It seem'd in heaven, a ship, the shape thereof 
374   A dragon wing'd, and all from stem to stern 
375   Bright with a shining people on the decks, 
376   And gone as soon as seen. And then the two 
377   Dropt to the cove, and watch'd the great sea fall, 
378   Wave after wave, each mightier than the last, 
379   Till last, a ninth one, gathering half the deep 
380   And full of voices, slowly rose and plunged 
381   Roaring, and all the wave was in a flame: 
382   And down the wave and in the flame was borne 
383   A naked babe, and rode to Merlin's feet, 
384   Who stoopt and caught the babe, and cried "The King! 
385   Here is an heir for Uther!" And the fringe 
386   Of that great breaker, sweeping up the strand, 
387   Lash'd at the wizard as he spake the word, 
388   And all at once all round him rose in fire, 
389   So that the child and he were clothed in fire. 
390   And presently thereafter follow'd calm, 
391   Free sky and stars: "And this same child," he said, 
392   "Is he who reigns; nor could I part in peace 
393   Till this were told." And saying this the seer 
394   Went thro' the strait and dreadful pass of death, 
395   Not ever to be question'd any more 
396   Save on the further side; but when I met 
397   Merlin, and ask'd him if these things were truth--- 
398   The shining dragon and the naked child 
399   Descending in the glory of the seas--- 
400   He laugh'd as is his wont, and answer'd me 
401   In riddling triplets of old time, and said: 

402   '"Rain, rain, and sun! a rainbow in the sky! 
403   A young man will be wiser by and by; 
404   An old man's wit may wander ere he die. 

405   Rain, rain, and sun! a rainbow on the lea! 
406   And truth is this to me, and that to thee; 
407   And truth or clothed or naked let it be. 

408   Rain, sun, and rain! and the free blossom blows: 
409   Sun, rain, and sun! and where is he who knows? 
410   From the great deep to the great deep he goes." 

411   'So Merlin riddling anger'd me; but thou 
412   Fear not to give this King thine only child, 
413   Guinevere: so great bards of him will sing 
414   Hereafter; and dark sayings from of old 
415   Ranging and ringing thro' the minds of men, 
416   And echo'd by old folk beside their fires 
417   For comfort after their wage-work is done, 
418   Speak of the King; and Merlin in our time 
419   Hath spoken also, not in jest, and sworn 
420   Tho' men may wound him that he will not die, 
421   But pass, again to come; and then or now 
422   Utterly smite the heathen underfoot, 
423   Till these and all men hail him for their king.' 

424   She spake and King Leodogran rejoiced, 
425   But musing 'Shall I answer yea or nay?' 
426   Doubted, and drowsed, nodded and slept, and saw, 
427   Dreaming, a slope of land that ever grew, 
428   Field after field, up to a height, the peak 
429   Haze-hidden, and thereon a phantom king, 
430   Now looming, and now lost; and on the slope 
431   The sword rose, the hind fell, the herd was driven, 
432   Fire glimpsed; and all the land from roof and rick, 
433   In drifts of smoke before a rolling wind, 
434   Stream'd to the peak, and mingled with the haze 
435   And made it thicker; while the phantom king 
436   Sent out at times a voice; and here or there 
437   Stood one who pointed toward the voice, the rest 
438   Slew on and burnt, crying, 'No king of ours, 
439   No son of Uther, and no king of ours;' 
440   Till with a wink his dream was changed, the haze 
441   Descended, and the solid earth became 
442   As nothing, but the King stood out in heaven, 
443   Crown'd. And Leodogran awoke, and sent 
444   Ulfius, and Brastias and Bedivere, 
445   Back to the court of Arthur answering yea. 

446   Then Arthur charged his warrior whom he loved 
447   And honour'd most, Sir Lancelot, to ride forth 
448   And bring the Queen;---and watch'd him from the gates: 
449   And Lancelot past away among the flowers, 
450   (For then was latter April) and return'd 
451   Among the flowers, in May, with Guinevere. 
452   To whom arrived, by Dubric the high saint, 
453   Chief of the church in Britain, and before 
454   The stateliest of her altar-shrines, the King 
455   That morn was married, while in stainless white, 
456   The fair beginners of a nobler time, 
457   And glorying in their vows and him, his knights 
458   Stood round him, and rejoicing in his joy. 
459   Far shone the fields of May thro' open door, 
460   The sacred altar blossom'd white with May, 
461   The Sun of May descended on their King, 
462   They gazed on all earth's beauty in their Queen, 
463   Roll'd incense, and there past along the hymns 
464   A voice as of the waters, while the two 
465   Sware at the shrine of Christ a deathless love: 
466   And Arthur said, 'Behold, thy doom is mine. 
467   Let chance what will, I love thee to the death!' 
468   To whom the Queen replied with drooping eyes, 
469   'King and my lord, I love thee to the death!' 
470   And holy Dubric spread his hands and spake, 
471   'Reign ye, and live and love, and make the world 
472   Other, and may thy Queen be one with thee, 
473   And all this Order of thy Table Round 
474   Fulfil the boundless purpose of their King!' 
475   So Dubric said; but when they left the shrine 
476   Great Lords from Rome before the portal stood,
477   In scornful stillness gazing as they past; 
478   Then while they paced a city all on fire 
479   With sun and cloth of gold, the trumpets blew, 
480   And Arthur's knighthood sang before the King:--- 


481   'Blow trumpet, for the world is white with May; 
482   Blow trumpet, the long night hath roll'd away! 
483   Blow thro' the living world---"Let the King reign." 

484   'Shall Rome or Heathen rule in Arthur's realm? 
485   Flash brand and lance, fall battleaxe upon helm, 
486   Fall bettleaxe, and flash brand! Let the King reign. 

487   'Strike for the King and live! his knights have heard 
488   That God hath told the King a secret word. 
489   Fall battleaxe, and flash brand! Let the King reign. 

490   'Blow trumpet! he will lift us from the dust. 
491   Blow trumpet! live the strength and die the lust! 
492   Clang battleaxe, and clash brand! Let the King reign. 

493   'Strike for the King and die! and if thou diest, 
494   The King is King, and ever wills the highest. 
495   Clang battleaxe, and clash brand! Let the King reign. 

496   'Blow, for our Sun is mighty in his May! 
497   Blow, for our Sun is mightier day by day! 
498   Clang battleaxe, and clash brand! Let the King reign. 

499   'The King will follow Christ, and we the King 
500   In whom high God hath breathed a secret thing. 
501   Fall battleaxe, and flash brand! Let the King reign.' 

502   So sang the knighthood, moving to their hall. 
503   There at the banquet those great Lords from Rome, 
504   The slowly-fading mistress of the world, 
505   Strode in, and claim'd their tribute as of yore. 
506   But Arthur spake, 'Behold, for these have sworn 
507   To wage my wars, and worship me their King; 
508   The old order changeth, yielding place to new; 
509   And we that fight for our fair father Christ, 
510   Seeing that ye be grown too weak and old 
511   To drive the heathen from your Roman wall,
512   No tribute will we pay:' so those great lords 
513   Drew back in wrath, and Arthur strove with Rome. 

514   And Arthur and his knighthood for a space 
515   Were all one will, and thro' that strength the King 
516   Drew in the petty princedoms under him, 
517   Fought, and in twelve great battles overcame 
518   The heathen hordes, and made a realm and reign'd.