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Merlin and Vivien
by [?]


A storm was coming, but the winds were still,
And in the wild woods of Broceliande,
Before an oak, so hollow, huge and old
It looked a tower of ivied masonwork,
At Merlin’s feet the wily Vivien lay.

For he that always bare in bitter grudge
The slights of Arthur and his Table, Mark
The Cornish King, had heard a wandering voice,
A minstrel of Caerlon by strong storm
Blown into shelter at Tintagil, say
That out of naked knightlike purity
Sir Lancelot worshipt no unmarried girl
But the great Queen herself, fought in her name,
Sware by her–vows like theirs, that high in heaven
Love most, but neither marry, nor are given
In marriage, angels of our Lord’s report.

He ceased, and then–for Vivien sweetly said
(She sat beside the banquet nearest Mark),
‘And is the fair example followed, Sir,
In Arthur’s household?’–answered innocently:

‘Ay, by some few–ay, truly–youths that hold
It more beseems the perfect virgin knight
To worship woman as true wife beyond
All hopes of gaining, than as maiden girl.
They place their pride in Lancelot and the Queen.
So passionate for an utter purity
Beyond the limit of their bond, are these,
For Arthur bound them not to singleness.
Brave hearts and clean! and yet–God guide them–young.’

Then Mark was half in heart to hurl his cup
Straight at the speaker, but forbore: he rose
To leave the hall, and, Vivien following him,
Turned to her: ‘Here are snakes within the grass;
And you methinks, O Vivien, save ye fear
The monkish manhood, and the mask of pure
Worn by this court, can stir them till they sting.’

And Vivien answered, smiling scornfully,
‘Why fear? because that fostered at THY court
I savour of thy–virtues? fear them? no.
As Love, if Love is perfect, casts out fear,
So Hate, if Hate is perfect, casts out fear.
My father died in battle against the King,
My mother on his corpse in open field;
She bore me there, for born from death was I
Among the dead and sown upon the wind–
And then on thee! and shown the truth betimes,
That old true filth, and bottom of the well
Where Truth is hidden. Gracious lessons thine
And maxims of the mud! “This Arthur pure!
Great Nature through the flesh herself hath made
Gives him the lie! There is no being pure,
My cherub; saith not Holy Writ the same?”–
If I were Arthur, I would have thy blood.
Thy blessing, stainless King! I bring thee back,
When I have ferreted out their burrowings,
The hearts of all this Order in mine hand–
Ay–so that fate and craft and folly close,
Perchance, one curl of Arthur’s golden beard.
To me this narrow grizzled fork of thine
Is cleaner-fashioned–Well, I loved thee first,
That warps the wit.’

Loud laughed the graceless Mark,
But Vivien, into Camelot stealing, lodged
Low in the city, and on a festal day
When Guinevere was crossing the great hall
Cast herself down, knelt to the Queen, and wailed.

‘Why kneel ye there? What evil hath ye wrought?
Rise!’ and the damsel bidden rise arose
And stood with folded hands and downward eyes
Of glancing corner, and all meekly said,
‘None wrought, but suffered much, an orphan maid!
My father died in battle for thy King,
My mother on his corpse–in open field,
The sad sea-sounding wastes of Lyonnesse–
Poor wretch–no friend!–and now by Mark the King
For that small charm of feature mine, pursued–
If any such be mine–I fly to thee.
Save, save me thou–Woman of women–thine
The wreath of beauty, thine the crown of power,
Be thine the balm of pity, O Heaven’s own white
Earth-angel, stainless bride of stainless King–
Help, for he follows! take me to thyself!
O yield me shelter for mine innocency
Among thy maidens!