The Ballad of King Arthur

King Arthur on Mount Badon
Bore the Virgin on his back
When Britain trod the Roman way
And the red gods went back.
Back to their desolate lands of dawn
And peace to westward lay
About the crowned and carven thing
He carried all the day.

The light on Badon battle
Was dark with driving darts
And dark with rocking catapults
Reared yet of Roman arts
And dark with Raven banners riven
But not too dark to see
What shape it was above the shields
In the sunburst of victory.

King Arthur on Mount Badon
Bore Our Lady on his shield
High on that human altar held
Above the howling field,
High on that living altar heaved
As a giant heaves a tower
She saw all heathenry appalled
And the turning of the hour.

The sun on Badon battle
In sanguine seas went down
And night had hid the Roman wall
That hid the Christian town
And dim it hung on camp and dyke
But not too dim to show
What statue stood against the stars
On Badon long ago.

Great tales are told of dead men gone
And all men live by tales
And glory be to the endless tale
Whose old news never fails.
Arthur is lost in Lyonesse
Kings sought his grave in vain
And old men quote and question still
If Arthur comes again.

The crawling dragon climbed his crest
The heralds paint his shield,
The fairies stole the Roman sword
Rusted on Badon field.
They mixed his name with dames of France
And witches out of Wales:
Great tales are told of dead men gone,
And dead men tell no tales.

The Queens that bore King Arthur's bier
In many a pageant pass;
Strange ladies walking by still lakes
Like shadows in a glass:
And well it were that on the world
Such splendid shadows shone
Though round his throne a thousand queens
Praised him like Solomon

The Queen that wronged King Arthur's house
Had lovers in all lands
And many a poet praised her pride
At many a queen's commands:
And the King shrank to a shadow
Watching behind a screen
And the Queen walked with Lancelot
And the world walked with the Queen

The presses throbbed, the books piled high,
The chant grew rich and strong:
The Virgin Queen the courtiers knew
Had much esteem for song.
The Faerie Queen the poets praised
Heard every fairy tale
But many a song were broken short
And many a voice would fail —

Stillness like lightning strike the street
And doubt and deep amaze
And many a courtly bard be dumb
Beside his butt and bays
And many a patron prince turned pale —
If one such flash made plain
The Queen that stands at his right hand
If Arthur comes again
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