Merlin Part 5

"No, not so bad as that," said Bedivere; "The doctor, like ourselves, may now be learning; And Merlin may have gauged his enterprise Whatever the cost he may have paid for knowing.

We pa.s.s, but many are to follow us, And what they build may stay; though I believe Another age will have another Merlin, Another Camelot, and another King.

Sir Dagonet, farewell."

"Farewell, Sir Knight, And you, Sir Knight: Gawaine, you have the world Now in your fingers--an uncommon toy, Albeit a small persuasion in the balance With one man's hate. I'm glad you're not a fool, For then you might be rickety, as I am, And rational as Bedivere. Farewell.

I'll sit here and be king. G.o.d save the King!"

But Gawaine scowled and frowned and answered nothing As he went slowly down with Bedivere To Camelot, where Arthur's army waited The King's word for the melancholy march To Joyous Gard, where Lancelot hid the Queen And armed his host, and there was now no joy, As there was now no joy for Dagonet While he sat brooding, with his wan cheek-bones Hooked with his bony fingers: "Go, Gawaine,"

He mumbled: "Go your way, and drag the world Along down with you. What's a world or so To you if you can hide an ell of iron Somewhere in Lancelot, and hear him wheeze And sputter once or twice before he goes Wherever the Queen sends him? There's a man Who should have been a king, and would have been, Had he been born so. So should I have been A king, had I been born so, fool or no: King Dagonet, or Dagonet the King; King-Fool, Fool-King; 'twere not impossible.

I'll meditate on that and pray for Arthur, Who made me all I am, except a fool.

Now he goes mad for love, as I might go Had I been born a king and not a fool.

Today I think I'd rather be a fool; Today the world is less than one scared woman-- Wherefore a field of waving men may soon Be shorn by Time's indifferent scythe, because The King is mad. The seeds of history Are small, but given a few gouts of warm blood For quickening, they sprout out wondrously And have a leaping growth whereof no man May shun such harvesting of change or death, Or life, as may fall on him to be borne.

When I am still alive and rickety, And Bedivere's alive and rational-- If he come out of this, and there's a doubt,-- The King, Gawaine, Modred, and Lancelot May all be lying underneath a weight Of b.l.o.o.d.y sheaves too heavy for their shoulders, All spent, and all dishonored, and all dead; And if it come to be that this be so, And it be true that Merlin saw the truth, Such harvest were the best. Your fool sees not So far as Merlin sees: yet if he saw The truth--why then, such harvest were the best.

I'll pray for Arthur; I can do no more."

"Why not for Merlin? Or do you count him, In this extreme, so foreign to salvation That prayer would be a stranger to his name?"

Poor Dagonet, with terror shaking him, Stood up and saw before him an old face Made older with an inch of silver beard, And faded eyes more eloquent of pain And ruin than all the faded eyes of age Till now had ever been, although in them There was a mystic and intrinsic peace Of one who sees where men of nearer sight See nothing. On their way to Camelot, Gawaine and Bedivere had pa.s.sed him by, With lax attention for the pilgrim cloak They pa.s.sed, and what it hid: yet Merlin saw Their faces, and he saw the tale was true That he had lately drawn from solemn strangers.

"Well, Dagonet, and by your leave," he said, "I'll rest my lonely relics for a while On this rock that was mine and now is yours.

I favor the succession; for you know Far more than many doctors, though your doubt Is your peculiar poison. I foresaw Long since, and I have latterly been told What moves in this commotion down below To show men what it means. It means the end-- If men whose tongues had less to say to me Than had their shoulders are adept enough To know; and you may pray for me or not, Sir Friend, Sir Dagonet."

"Sir Fool, you mean,"

Dagonet said, and gazed on Merlin sadly: "I'll never pray again for anything, And last of all for this that you behold-- The smouldering f.a.ggot of unlovely bones That G.o.d has given to me to call Myself.

When Merlin comes to Dagonet for prayer, It is indeed the end."

"And in the end Are more beginnings, Dagonet, than men Shall name or know today. It was the end Of Arthur's insubstantial majesty When to him and his knights the Grail foreshowed The quest of life that was to be the death Of many, and the slow discouraging Of many more. Or do I err in this?"

"No," Dagonet replied; "there was a Light; And Galahad, in the Siege Perilous, Alone of all on whom it fell, was calm; There was a Light wherein men saw themselves In one another as they might become-- Or so they dreamed. There was a long to-do, And Gawaine, of all forlorn ineligibles, Rose up the first, and cried more l.u.s.tily Than any after him that he should find The Grail, or die for it,--though he did neither; For he came back as living and as fit For new and old iniquity as ever.

Then Lancelot came back, and Bors came back,-- Like men who had seen more than men should see, And still come back. They told of Percival, Who saw too much to make of this worn life A long necessity, and of Galahad, Who died and is alive. They all saw Something.

G.o.d knows the meaning or the end of it, But they saw Something. And if I've an eye, Small joy has the Queen been to Lancelot Since he came back from seeing what he saw; For though his pa.s.sion hold him like hot claws, He's neither in the world nor out of it.

Gawaine is king, though Arthur wears the crown; And Gawaine's hate for Lancelot is the sword That hangs by one of Merlin's fragile hairs Above the world. Were you to see the King, The frenzy that has overthrown his wisdom, Instead of him and his upheaving empire, Might have an end."

"I came to see the King,"

Said Merlin, like a man who labors hard And long with an importunate confession.

"No, Dagonet, you cannot tell me why, Although your tongue is eager with wild hope To tell me more than I may tell myself About myself. All this that was to be Might show to man how vain it were to wreck The world for self, if it were all in vain.

When I began with Arthur I could see In each bewildered man who dots the earth A moment with his days a groping thought Of an eternal will, strangely endowed With merciful illusions whereby self Becomes the will itself and each man swells In fond accordance with his agency.

Now Arthur, Modred, Lancelot, and Gawaine Are swollen thoughts of this eternal will Which have no other way to find the way That leads them on to their inheritance Than by the time-infuriating flame Of a wrecked empire, lighted by the torch Of woman, who, together with the light That Galahad found, is yet to light the world."

A wan smile crept across the weary face Of Dagonet the fool: "If you knew that Before your burial in Broceliande, No wonder your eternal will accords With all your dreams of what the world requires.

My master, I may say this unto you Because I am a fool, and fear no man; My fear is that I've been a groping thought That never swelled enough. You say the torch Of woman and the light that Galahad found Are some day to illuminate the world?

I'll meditate on that. The world is done For me; and I have been, to make men laugh, A lean thing of no shape and many capers.

I made them laugh, and I could laugh anon Myself to see them killing one another Because a woman with corn-colored hair Has pranked a man with horns. 'Twas but a flash Of chance, and Lancelot, the other day That saved this pleasing sinner from the fire That she may spread for thousands. Were she now The cinder the King willed, or were you now To see the King, the fire might yet go out; But the eternal will says otherwise.

So be it; I'll a.s.semble certain gold That I may say is mine and get myself Away from this accurst unhappy court, And in some quiet place where shepherd clowns And cowherds may have more respondent ears Than kings and kingdom-builders, I shall troll Old men to easy graves and be a child Again among the children of the earth.

I'll have no more of kings, even though I loved King Arthur, who is mad, as I could love No other man save Merlin, who is dead."

"Not wholly dead, but old. Merlin is old."

The wizard shivered as he spoke, and stared Away into the sunset where he saw Once more, as through a cracked and cloudy gla.s.s, A crumbling sky that held a crimson cloud Wherein there was a town of many towers All swayed and shaken, in a woman's hand This time, till out of it there spilled and flashed And tumbled, like loose jewels, town, towers, and walls, And there was nothing but a crumbling sky That made anon of black and red and ruin A wild and final rain on Camelot.

He bowed, and pressed his eyes: "Now by my soul, I have seen this before--all black and red-- Like that--like that--like Vivian--black and red; Like Vivian, when her eyes looked into mine Across the cups of gold. A flute was playing-- Then all was black and red."

Another smile Crept over the wan face of Dagonet, Who shivered in his turn. "The torch of woman,"

He muttered, "and the light that Galahad found, Will some day save us all, as they saved Merlin.

Forgive my shivering wits, but I am cold, And it will soon be dark. Will you go down With me to see the King, or will you not?

If not, I go tomorrow to the shepherds.

The world is mad, and I'm a groping thought Of your eternal will; the world and I Are strangers, and I'll have no more of it-- Except you go with me to see the King."

"No, Dagonet, you cannot leave me now,"

Said Merlin, sadly. "You and I are old; And, as you say, we fear no man. G.o.d knows I would not have the love that once you had For me be fear of me, for I am past All fearing now. But Fate may send a fly Sometimes, and he may sting us to the grave, So driven to test our faith in what we see.

Are you, now I am coming to an end, As Arthur's days are coming to an end, To sting me like a fly? I do not ask Of you to say that you see what I see, Where you see nothing; nor do I require Of any man more vision than is his; Yet I could wish for you a larger part For your last entrance here than this you play Tonight of a sad insect stinging Merlin.

The more you sting, the more he pities you; And you were never overfond of pity.

Had you been so, I doubt if Arthur's love, Or Gawaine's, would have made of you a knight.

No, Dagonet, you cannot leave me now, Nor would you if you could. You call yourself A fool, because the world and you are strangers.

You are a proud man, Dagonet; you have suffered What I alone have seen. You are no fool; And surely you are not a fly to sting My love to last regret. Believe or not What I have seen, or what I say to you, But say no more to me that I am dead Because the King is mad, and you are old, And I am older. In Broceliande Time overtook me as I knew he must; And I, with a fond overplus of words, Had warned the lady Vivian already, Before these wrinkles and this hesitancy Inhibiting my joints oppressed her sight With age and dissolution. She said once That she was cold and cruel; but she meant That she was warm and kind, and over-wise For woman in a world where men see not Beyond themselves. She saw beyond them all, As I did; and she waited, as I did, The coming of a day when cherry-blossoms Were to fall down all over me like snow In springtime. I was far from Camelot That afternoon; and I am farther now From her. I see no more for me to do Than to leave her and Arthur and the world Behind me, and to pray that all be well With Vivian, whose unquiet heart is hungry For what is not, and what shall never be Without her, in a world that men are making, Knowing not how, nor caring yet to know How slowly and how grievously they do it,-- Though Vivian, in her golden sh.e.l.l of exile, Knows now and cares, not knowing that she cares, Nor caring that she knows. In time to be, The like of her shall have another name Than Vivian, and her laugh shall be a fire, Not shining only to consume itself With what it burns. She knows not yet the name Of what she is, for now there is no name; Some day there shall be. Time has many names, Unwritten yet, for what we say is old Because we are so young that it seems old.

And this is all a part of what I saw Before you saw King Arthur. When we parted, I told her I should see the King again, And, having seen him, might go back again To see her face once more. But I shall see No more the lady Vivian. Let her love What man she may, no other love than mine Shall be an index of her memories.

I fear no man who may come after me, And I see none. I see her, still in green, Beside the fountain. I shall not go back.

We pay for going back; and all we get Is one more needless ounce of weary wisdom To bring away with us. If I come not, The lady Vivian will remember me, And say: 'I knew him when his heart was young, Though I have lost him now. Time called him home, And that was as it was; for much is lost Between Broceliande and Camelot.'"

He stared away into the west again, Where now no crimson cloud or phantom town Deceived his eyes. Above a living town There were gray clouds and ultimate suspense, And a cold wind was coming. Dagonet, Now crouched at Merlin's feet in his dejection, Saw multiplying lights far down below, Where lay the fevered streets. At length he felt On his lean shoulder Merlin's tragic hand And trembled, knowing that a few more days Would see the last of Arthur and the first Of Modred, whose dark patience had attained To one precarious half of what he sought: "And even the Queen herself may fall to him,"

Dagonet murmured.--"The Queen fall to Modred?

Is that your only fear tonight?" said Merlin; "She may, but not for long."--"No, not my fear; For I fear nothing. But I wish no fate Like that for any woman the King loves, Although she be the scourge and end of him That you saw coming, as I see it now."

Dagonet shook, but he would have no tears, He swore, for any king, queen, knave, or wizard-- Albeit he was a stranger among those Who laughed at him because he was a fool.

"You said the truth, I cannot leave you now,"

He stammered, and was angry for the tears That mocked his will and choked him.

Merlin smiled, Faintly, and for the moment: "Dagonet, I need your word as one of Arthur's knights That you will go on with me to the end Of my short way, and say unto no man Or woman that you found or saw me here.

No good would follow, for a doubt would live Unstifled of my loyalty to him Whose deeds are wrought for those who are to come; And many who see not what I have seen, Or what you see tonight, would prattle on For ever, and their children after them, Of what might once have been had I gone down With you to Camelot to see the King.

I came to see the King,--but why see kings?

All this that was to be is what I saw Before there was an Arthur to be king, And so to be a mirror wherein men May see themselves, and pause. If they see not, Or if they do see and they ponder not,-- I saw; but I was neither Fate nor G.o.d.

I saw too much; and this would be the end, Were there to be an end. I saw myself-- A sight no other man has ever seen; And through the dark that lay beyond myself I saw two fires that are to light the world."

On Dagonet the silent hand of Merlin Weighed now as living iron that held him down With a primeval power. Doubt, wonderment, Impatience, and a self-accusing sorrow Born of an ancient love, possessed and held him Until his love was more than he could name, And he was Merlin's fool, not Arthur's now: "Say what you will, I say that I'm the fool Of Merlin, King of Nowhere; which is Here.

With you for king and me for court, what else Have we to sigh for but a place to sleep?

I know a tavern that will take us in; And on the morrow I shall follow you Until I die for you. And when I die ..."-- "Well, Dagonet, the King is listening."-- And Dagonet answered, hearing in the words Of Merlin a grave humor and a sound Of graver pity, "I shall die a fool."

He heard what might have been a father's laugh, Faintly behind him; and the living weight Of Merlin's hand was lifted. They arose, And, saying nothing, found a groping way Down through the gloom together. Fiercer now, The wind was like a flying animal That beat the two of them incessantly With icy wings, and bit them as they went.

The rock above them was an empty place Where neither seer nor fool should view again The stricken city. Colder blew the wind Across the world, and on it heavier lay The shadow and the burden of the night; And there was darkness over Camelot.

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