ALONE in the forest, Sir Lancelot rode
O’er the neck of his courser the reins lightly flowed
And beside hung his helmet, for bare was his brow
To meet the soft breeze that was fanning him now.
And ‘the flowers of the forest’ were many and sweet,
Which, crushed at each step by his proud courser’s feet,
Gave forth all their fragrance, while thick over-head
The boughs of the oak and the elm-tree were spread.
The wind stirred its branches, as if its low suit
Were urged, like a lover who wakens the lute,
And through the dark foliage came sparkling and bright
Like rain from the green leaves, in small gems of light.
There was stillness, not silence, for dancing along,
A brook went its way like a child with a song;
Now hidden, where rushes and water-flags grow;
Now clear, while white pebbles were glistening below.
Lo, bright as a vision, and fair as a dream,
The face of a maiden is seen in the stream;
With her hair like a mantle of gold to her knee,
Stands a lady as lovely as lady can be.
Short speech tells a love-tale;—the bard’s sweetest words
Are poor, beside those which each memory hoards;
Sound of some gentle whisper, the haunting and low,
Such as love may have murmured—ah, long, long ago.
She led him away to an odorous cave,
Where the emerald spars shone like stars in the wave,
And the green moss and violets crowded beneath,
And the ash at the entrance hung down like a wreath.
They might have been happy, if love could but learn
A lesson from some flowers, and like their leaves turn
Round their own inward world, their own lone fragrant nest,
Content with its sweetness, content with its rest.
But the sound of the trumpet was heard from afar,
And Sir Lancelot rode forth again to the war;
And the wood-nymph was left as aye woman will be,
Who trusts her whole being, oh, false love, to thee.
For months, every sunbeam that brightened the gloom,
She deemed was the waving of Lancelot’s plume;
She knew not of the proud and the beautiful queen,
Whose image was treasured as hers once had been.
There was many a fair dame, and many a knight,
Made the banks of the river like fairy-land bright;
And among those whose shadow was cast on the tide,
Was Lancelot kneeling at Genevra’s side.
With purple sails heavily drooping around
The mast, and the prow, with the vale lily bound;
And towed by two swans, a small vessel drew near
But high on the deck was a pall-covered bier.
They oared with their white wings, the bark thro’ the flood,
Till arrived at the bank where Sir Lancelot stood:
A wind swept the river, and flung back the pall,
And there lay a lady, the fairest of all.
But pale as a statue, like sunshine on snow,
The bright hair seemed mocking the cold face below:
Sweet truants, the blush and the smile both are fled—
Sir Lancelot weeps as he kneels by the dead.
And these are love’s records; a vow and a dream,
And the sweet shadow passes away from life’s stream:
Too late we awake to regret—but what tears
Can bring back the waste to our hearts and our years?