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The Defense of Guenevere
William Morris, 1858

1     But, learning now that they would have her speak,
2     She threw her wet hair backward from her brow,
3     Her hand close to her mouth touching her cheek, 

4     As though she had had there a shameful blow,
5     And feeling it shameful to feel ought but shame
6     All through her heart, yet felt her cheek burned so, 

7     She must a little touch it; like one lame
8     She walked away from Gauwaine, with her head
9     Still lifted up; and on her cheek of flame 

10   The tears dried quick; she stopped at last and said:
11   "O knights and lords, it seems but little skill
12   To talk of well-known things past now and dead. 

13   "God wot I ought to say, I have done ill,
14   And pray you all forgiveness heartily!
15   Because you must be right, such great lords--still 

16   "Listen, suppose your time were come to die,
17   And you were quite alone and very weak;
18   Yea, laid a dying while very mightily 

19   "The wind was ruffling up the narrow streak
20   Of river through your broad lands running well:
21   Suppose a hush should come, then some one speak: 

22   " 'One of these cloths is heaven, and one is hell,
23   Now choose one cloth for ever; which they be,
24   I will not tell you, you must somehow tell 

25   " 'Of your own strength and mightiness; here, see!'
26   Yea, yea, my lord, and you to ope your eyes,
27   At foot of your familiar bed to see 

28   "A great God's angel standing, with such dyes,
29   Not known on earth, on his great wings, and hands
30   Held at two ways, light from the inner skies 

31   "Showing him well, and making his commands
32   Seem to be God's commands, moreover, too,
33   Holding within his hands the cloths on wands; 

34   "And one of these strange choosing cloths was blue,
35   Wavy and long, and one cut short and red;
36   No man could tell the better of the two. 

37   "After a shivering half-hour you said:
38   'God help! heaven's colour, the blue;' and he said: 'hell.'
39   Perhaps you then would roll upon your bed, 

40   "And cry to all good men that loved you well,
41   'Ah Christ! if only I had known, known, known;'
42   Launcelot went away, then I could tell, 

43   "Like wisest man how all things would be, moan,
44   And roll and hurt myself, and long to die,
45   And yet fear much to die for what was sown. 

46   "Nevertheless you, O Sir Gauwaine, lie,
47   Whatever may have happened through these years,
48   God knows I speak truth, saying that you lie." 

49   Her voice was low at first, being full of tears,
50   But as it cleared, it grew full loud and shrill,
51   Growing a windy shriek in all men's ears, 

52   A ringing in their startled brains, until
53   She said that Gauwaine lied, then her voice sunk,
54   And her great eyes began again to fill, 

55   Though still she stood right up, and never shrunk,
56   But spoke on bravely, glorious lady fair!
57   Whatever tears her full lips may have drunk, 

58   She stood, and seemed to think, and wrung her hair,
59   Spoke out at last with no more trace of shame,
60     With passionate twisting of her body there: 

61   "It chanced upon a day that Launcelot came
62   To dwell at Arthur's court: at Christmas time
63   This happened; when the heralds sung his name, 

64   " 'Son of King Ban of Benwick,' seemed to chime
65   Along with all the bells that rang that day,
66   O'er the white roofs, with little change of rhyme. 

67   "Christmas and whitened winter passed away,
68   And over me the April sunshine came,
69   Made very awful with black hail-clouds, yea 

70   "And in the Summer I grew white with flame,
71   And bowed my head down--Autumn, and the sick
72   Sure knowledge things would never be the same, 

73   "However often Spring might be most thick
74   Of blossoms and buds, smote on me, and I grew
75   Careless of most things, let the clock tick, tick, 

76   "To my unhappy pulse, that beat right through
77   My eager body; while I laughed out loud,
78   And let my lips curl up at false or true, 

79   "Seemed cold and shallow without any cloud.
80   Behold my judges, then the cloths were brought;
81   While I was dizzied thus, old thoughts would crowd, 

82   "Belonging to the time ere I was bought
83   By Arthur's great name and his little love;
84   Must I give up for ever then, I thought, 

85   "That which I deemed would ever round me move
86   Glorifying all things; for a little word,
87   Scarce ever meant at all, must I now prove 

88   "Stone-cold for ever? Pray you, does the Lord
89   Will that all folks should be quite happy and good?
90   I love God now a little, if this cord 

91   "Were broken, once for all what striving could
92   Make me love anything in earth or heaven?
93   So day by day it grew, as if one should 

94   "Slip slowly down some path worn smooth and even,
95   Down to a cool sea on a summer day;
96   Yet still in slipping there was some small leaven 

97   "Of stretched hands catching small stones by the way,
98   Until one surely reached the sea at last,
99   And felt strange new joy as the worn head lay 

100 "Back, with the hair like sea-weed; yea all past
101 Sweat of the forehead, dryness of the lips,
102 Washed utterly out by the dear waves o'ercast, 

103 "In the lone sea, far off from any ships!
104 Do I not know now of a day in Spring?
105 No minute of that wild day ever slips 

106 "From out my memory; I hear thrushes sing,
107 And wheresoever I may be, straightway
108 Thoughts of it all come up with most fresh sting: 

109 "I was half mad with beauty on that day,
110 And went without my ladies all alone,
111 In a quiet garden walled round every way; 

112 "I was right joyful of that wall of stone,
113 That shut the flowers and trees up with the sky,
114 And trebled all the beauty: to the bone, 

115 "Yea right through to my heart, grown very shy
116 With weary thoughts, it pierced, and made me glad;
117 Exceedingly glad, and I knew verily, 

118 "A little thing just then had made me mad;
119 I dared not think, as I was wont to do,
120 Sometimes, upon my beauty; if I had 

121 "Held out my long hand up against the blue,
122 And, looking on the tenderly darken'd fingers,
123 Thought that by rights one ought to see quite through, 

124 "There, see you, where the soft still light yet lingers,
125 Round by the edges; what should I have done,
126 If this had joined with yellow spotted singers, 

127 "And startling green drawn upward by the sun?
128 But shouting, loosed out, see now! all my hair,
129 And trancedly stood watching the west wind run 

130 "With faintest half-heard breathing sound--why there
131 I lose my head e'en now in doing this;
132 But shortly listen--in that garden fair 

133 "Came Launcelot walking; this is true, the kiss
134 Wherewith we kissed in meeting that spring day,
135 I scarce dare talk of the remember'd bliss, 

136 "When both our mouths went wandering in one way,
137 And aching sorely, met among the leaves;
138 Our hands being left behind strained far away. 

139 "Never within a yard of my bright sleeves
140 Had Launcelot come before--and now, so nigh!
141 After that day why is it Guenevere grieves? 

142 "Nevertheless you, O Sir Gauwaine, lie,
143 Whatever happened on through all those years,
144 God knows I speak truth, saying that you lie. 

145 "Being such a lady could I weep these tears
146 If this were true? A great queen such as I
147 Having sinn'd this way, straight her conscience sears; 

148 "And afterwards she liveth hatefully,
149 Slaying and poisoning, certes never weeps,--
150 Gauwaine, be friends now, speak me lovingly. 

151 "Do I not see how God's dear pity creeps
152 All through your frame, and trembles in your mouth?
153 Remember in what grave your mother sleeps, 

154 "Buried in some place far down in the south,
155 Men are forgetting as I speak to you;
156 By her head sever'd in that awful drouth 

157 "Of pity that drew Agravaine's fell blow,
158 I pray your pity! let me not scream out
159 For ever after, when the shrill winds blow 

160 "Through half your castle-locks! let me not shout
161 For ever after in the winter night
162 When you ride out alone! in battle-rout 

163 "Let not my rusting tears make your sword light!
164 Ah! God of mercy, how he turns away!
165 So, ever must I dress me to the fight; 

166 "So--let God's justice work! Gauwaine, I say,
167 See me hew down your proofs: yea, all men know
168 Even as you said how Mellyagraunce one day, 

169 "One bitter day in la Fausse Garde, for so
170 All good knights held it after, saw--
171 Yea, sirs, by cursed unknightly outrage; though 

172 "You, Gauwaine, held his word without a flaw,
173 This Mellyagraunce saw blood upon my bed--
174 Whose blood then pray you? is there any law 

175 "To make a queen say why some spots of red
176 Lie on her coverlet? or will you say:
177 `Your hands are white, lady, as when you wed, 

178 " `Where did you bleed?' and I must stammer out: 'Nay,
179 I blush indeed, fair lord, only to rend
180 My sleeve up to my shoulder, where there lay 

181 " `A knife-point last night:' so must I defend
182 The honour of the lady Guenevere?
183 Not so, fair lords, even if the world should end 

184 "This very day, and you were judges here
185 Instead of God. Did you see Mellyagraunce
186 When Launcelot stood by him? what white fear 

187 "Curdled his blood, and how his teeth did dance,
188 His side sink in? as my knight cried and said:
189 'Slayer of unarm'd men, here is a chance! 

190 " `Setter of traps, I pray you guard your head,
191 By God I am so glad to fight with you,
192 Stripper of ladies, that my hand feels lead 

193 " `For driving weight; hurrah now! draw and do,
194 For all my wounds are moving in my breast,
195 And I am getting mad with waiting so.' 

196 "He struck his hands together o'er the beast,
197 Who fell down flat and grovell'd at his feet,
198 And groan'd at being slain so young `at least.' 

199 "My knight said: `Rise you, sir, who are so fleet
200 At catching ladies, half-arm'd will I fight,
201 My left side all uncover'd!' then I weet, 

202 "Up sprang Sir Mellyagraunce with great delight
203 Upon his knave's face; not until just then
204 Did I quite hate him, as I saw my knight 

205 "Along the lists look to my stake and pen
206 With such a joyous smile, it made me sigh
207 From agony beneath my waist-chain, when 

208 "The fight began, and to me they drew nigh;
209 Ever Sir Launcelot kept him on the right,
210 And traversed warily, and ever high 

211 "And fast leapt caitiff's sword, until my knight
212 Sudden threw up his sword to his left hand,
213 Caught it, and swung it; that was all the fight, 

214 "Except a spout of blood on the hot land;
215 For it was hottest summer; and I know
216 I wonder'd how the fire, while I should stand, 

217 "And burn, against the heat, would quiver so,
218 Yards above my head; thus these matters went;
219 Which things were only warnings of the woe 

220 "That fell on me. Yet Mellyagraunce was shent,
221 For Mellyagraunce had fought against the Lord;
222 Therefore, my lords, take heed lest you be blent 

223 "With all this wickedness; say no rash word
224 Against me, being so beautiful; my eyes,
225 Wept all away to grey, may bring some sword 

226 "To drown you in your blood; see my breast rise,
227 Like waves of purple sea, as here I stand;
228 And how my arms are moved in wonderful wise, 

229 "Yea also at my full heart's strong command,
230 See through my long throat how the words go up
231 In ripples to my mouth; how in my hand 

232 "The shadow lies like wine within a cup
233 Of marvellously colour'd gold; yea now
234 This little wind is rising, look you up, 

235 "And wonder how the light is falling so
236 Within my moving tresses: will you dare
237 When you have looked a little on my brow, 

238 "To say this thing is vile? or will you care
239 For any plausible lies of cunning woof,
240 When you can see my face with no lie there 

241 "For ever? am I not a gracious proof--
242 'But in your chamber Launcelot was found'--
243 Is there a good knight then would stand aloof, 

244 "When a queen says with gentle queenly sound:
245 'O true as steel, come now and talk with me,
246 I love to see your step upon the ground 

247 " 'Unwavering, also well I love to see
248 That gracious smile light up your face, and hear
249 Your wonderful words, that all mean verily 

250 " 'The thing they seem to mean: good friend, so dear
251 To me in everything, come here to-night,
252 Or else the hours will pass most dull and drear; 

253 " 'If you come not, I fear this time I might
254 Get thinking over much of times gone by,
255 When I was young, and green hope was in sight: 

256 " 'For no man cares now to know why I sigh;
257 And no man comes to sing me pleasant songs,
258 Nor any brings me the sweet flowers that lie 

259 " 'So thick in the gardens; therefore one so longs
260 To see you, Launcelot; that we may be
261 Like children once again, free from all wrongs 

262 " 'Just for one night.' Did he not come to me?
263 What thing could keep true Launcelot away
264 If I said, 'Come?' There was one less than three 

265 "In my quiet room that night, and we were gay;
266 Till sudden I rose up, weak, pale, and sick,
267 Because a bawling broke our dream up, yea 

268 "I looked at Launcelot's face and could not speak,
269 For he looked helpless too, for a little while;
270 Then I remember how I tried to shriek, 

271 "And could not, but fell down; from tile to tile
272 The stones they threw up rattled o'er my head
273 And made me dizzier; till within a while 

274 "My maids were all about me, and my head
275 On Launcelot's breast was being soothed away
276 From its white chattering, until Launcelot said-- 

277 "By God! I will not tell you more to-day,
278 Judge any way you will--what matters it?
279 You know quite well the story of that fray, 

280 "How Launcelot still'd their bawling, the mad fit
281 That caught up Gauwaine--all, all, verily,
282 But just that which would save me; these things flit. 

283 "Nevertheless you, O Sir Gauwaine, lie,
284 Whatever may have happen'd these long years,
285 God knows I speak truth, saying that you lie! 

286 "All I have said is truth, by Christ's dear tears."
287 She would not speak another word, but stood
288 Turn'd sideways; listening, like a man who hears 

289 His brother's trumpet sounding through the wood
290 Of his foes' lances. She lean'd eagerly,
291 And gave a slight spring sometimes, as she could 

292 At last hear something really; joyfully
293 Her cheek grew crimson, as the headlong speed
294 Of the roan charger drew all men to see,
295 The knight who came was Launcelot at good need. 
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