What shall I be?–I will be a knight
Walled up in armour black,
With a sword of sharpness, a hammer of might.
And a spear that will not crack–
So black, so blank, no glimmer of light
Will betray my darkling track.
Saddle my coal-black steed, my men,
Fittest for sunless work;
Old Night is steaming from her den,
And her children gather and lurk;
Bad things are creeping from the fen,
And sliding down the murk.
Let him go!–let him go! Let him plunge!–Keep away!
He’s a foal of the third seal’s brood!
Gaunt with armour, in grim array
Of poitrel and frontlet-hood,
Let him go, a living castle, away–
Right for the evil wood.
I and Ravenwing on the course,
Heavy in fighting gear–
Woe to the thing that checks our force,
That meets us in career!
Giant, enchanter, devil, or worse–
What cares the couched spear!
Slow through the trees zigzag I ride.
See! the goblins!–to and fro!
From the skull of the dark, on either side,
See the eyes of a dragon glow!
From the thickets the silent serpents glide–
I pass them, I let them go;
For somewhere in the evil night
A little one cries alone;
An aged knight, outnumbered in fight,
But for me will be stricken prone;
A lady with terror is staring white,
For her champion is overthrown.
The child in my arms, to my hauberk prest,
Like a trembling bird will cling;
I will cover him over, in iron nest,
With my shield, my one steel wing,
And bear him home to his mother’s breast,
A radiant, rescued thing.
Spur in flank, and lance in rest,
On the old knight’s foes I flash;
The caitiffs I scatter to east and west
With clang and hurtle and crash;
Leave them the law, as knaves learn it best,
In bruise, and breach, and gash.
The lady I lift on my panting steed;
On the pommel she holds my mace;
Hand on bridle I gently lead
The horse at a gentle pace;
The thickets with martel-axe I heed,
For the wood is an evil place.
What treasure is there in manly might
That hid in the bosom lies!
Who for the crying will not fight
Had better be he that cries!
A man is a knight that loves the right
And mounts for it till he dies.
Alas, ’tis a dream of ages hoar!
In the fens no dragons won;
No giants from moated castles roar;
Through the forest wide roadways run;
Of all the deeds they did of yore
Not one is left to be done!
If I should saddle old Ravenwing
And hie me out at night,
Scared little birds away would spring
An ill-shot arrow’s flight:
The idle fancy away I fling,
Now I will dream aright!
Let a youth bridle Twilight, my dapple-gray,
With broad rein and snaffle bit;
He must bring him round at break of day
When the shadows begin to flit,
When the darkness begins to dream away,
And the owls begin to sit.
Ungraithed in plate or mail I go,
With only my sword–gray-blue
Like the scythe of the dawning come to mow
The night-sprung shadows anew
From the gates of the east, that, fair and slow,
Maid Morning may walk through.
I seek no forest with darkness grim,
To the open land I ride;
Low light, from the broad horizon’s brim,
Lies wet on the flowing tide,
And mottles with shadows dun and dim
The mountain’s rugged side.