The Lady of the
It's hard to do a piece of writing straight--
If readers think they know what you're about,
They're sure your meaning is not what you state
But what they think, themselves; if not, no doubt
You're fascist, fraud, or fool. So, saint or lout--
If that's the choice, I'll take the former, please,
And what the reader gets is what he sees.
I'll be a Marxist first, and say the spikes
That cut our hero's horse in half, and penned
Him in are capital, and if you like,
Owain is labor, sword drawn to defend
The workers' revolution to the end.
I like that, rather; almost everything
Fits in, from Lunette to the magic spring.
My problem with the Marxists is their view
That everything comes down to class and wealth,
A view they share with snobs. Of course it's true;
It's true of law and freedom, and of health,
And who knows what as well. We must have health,
But though it takes all kinds, and all approaches,
I think I'd loathe a world run by coaches.
Perchance you've read that little book, Rats, Lice
And History; it tells how these determine
A nation's fate, though likely something nice,
Bluebirds, perhaps, would serve as well for sermon.
But to move up the scale from petty vermin--
All Freud's disciples, I imagine, will
Consider this same image vaginal.
And toothed as well--that's rather a pop theme;
Why, even in heroic fantasy,
Those big, well-muscled amazons all seem
To think they can't wear loincloths stylishly,
Unless a demon's head gapes hungrily
From a large brooch in front. Such amazons!--
Long limbed, big breasted, golden bodied blondes.
But then, those teeth! But to the point--I've strayed
A bit, I guess. The Freudians, oh yes;
They have the right of it, I am afraid.
I say that from the gate and passage less
Than from the fountain, which one ought to guess
Belonged to womankind. And then . . . but wait;
I'll simply have to recapitulate.
We have a knight--the masculine ideal,
Out on a quest, alone, unfettered by
A wife, or child, or social weal--
Autonomous. And that, I think, is why
He meets the youthful archers first, for I
Conceive of these as sun archetypes, the man,
A gracious, golden, Apollonian.
(Recall, Apollo is an archer too,
Who shoots with golden shafts.) He is polite,
Restrained, quite handsome, wise--entirely true
To our conception of the god of light.
Here woman lives to serve. But next the knight
Descends to nature's savage heart, and dares
Discover that of what he should beware--
The world of woman--subtle, dark, complex,
And guarded by a man in black, and here,
Since woman is the far more dangerous sex,
We've left him in a fix. It might appear
I've taken us out on a limb, but we're
On firmer footing than you think, although
I must digress yet more to prove it so.
Consider Sigurd Fafnirsbane, whose eye,
So bright no man durst look beneath his brow,
Showed he, Apollo-like, was of the sky,
How like the god he slew a dragon while
Still in his youth, and ate its heart, and how,
Though wise and temperate and just, he died
Of violence, all through one woman's pride,
Another's anger, and the magic of
A cunning third--his consort's mother who
With subtle potient charmed him from his love,
To be her daughter's mate. Red gold of hue
His hair and beard; his arms were golden too,
His nose hawk-like, a being of the sky,
That brought to earth and caged, of course, must die.
Or Tristan, dragon slayer too, who lost
His heart to Isolt, who was bride-to-be
Of Mark, the king, to his eternal cost.
They drank that fatal draght unwittingly,
And then he threw the cup into the sea--
As though a gesture could undo the chain
That linked them now through every joy and pain.
It was her mother's plan, this magic drink,
To make her daughter love an older mate.
But just as fatal as that other drink
That proved bright Sigurd's bane. And yet their fate
Was caused at least as much by love as hate,
For woman's social fabric binds the knight
Like some strong lion in a net drawn tight.
Far fewer seek to to the hero ill
Through active malice, though there are a few--
The Prioress that by bleeding sought to kill
The wounded Robin Hood, Delilah, who
By wile stole Samson's eyes, to name but two.
And even these apparently must seem
To violate the archetypal theme,
For both were rehabilitated by
That arbitor of legend, Hollywood;
Delilah was the victim of a lie
(She thought she acted for the hero's good.).
The Prioress, though she murdered Robin Hood,
She killed herself as well. You see, she'd been,
Years earlier, his lover, Marion.
Now both were more than middle aged, and soon
He would no longer be a match for those
He'd foiled so long. The roles were played by Sean Connery and Audrey Hep . . . but I suppose
I should get to the point before I lose
That too, as well as rhyme and meter--yes,
I have been slacking off a bit, I guess.
And half a book ago we left Lunette
Outside her door, arm raised to lift the latch,
And there I guess she must be standing yet.
But since this has come up, let's pause to watch
Long fingers, soft and white as ermine catch
The bolt and lift, so furtively, so quick,
Her nails strike metal with a crisp, sharp click.
It is the hands, I don't know why, that draw
Me to this slender, dark Lunette--I see
Them long and smooth and tapering, and all
Her nails, so small and sharp, clipped evenly.
Perhaps her boldness and her subtletry,
So like some lithe, but little beast of prey
Are best objectified in just this way.
But to wind up my argument, recall
That Tristan, once the dragon had been slain,
Was challenged by the lying seneschal,
Who claimed the deed was his, for he would fain
Have Isolt's hand. We meet the theme again
With Perseus and St. George, for each must face
A lying rival who would steal his place.
How weak are weapons in a world of schemes!
How ill prepared for lies, one born to light,
For heroes are of sun, and thus the theme
Of slaying dragones--entities of night,
Of sea, of crevices of earth. You might
Check Delacroix; there you will see
Confirmed in icon, this dichotomy.
He shows ups Perseus against the sun.
Below, we see a shapeless something rise,
And in the foreground, waiting to be won,
The princess, needle-naked, pleading eyes
Upturned to lure the hero from the skies
Down to the dark. So much for Delacroix;
Now Ingres' "Roger and Angelica."
A rocky coast at night, a beacon flame
So distant it is little more than spark.
And yet we see quite clearly all the same--
There toothed like some bad cinamatic shark,
The dragon lurks; there pale against the dark
Of ragged rock, Angelica, her hands
Chained to the rock above, quite naked stands.
Her rolling eyes implore with upward glance
The hero, Roger, as he dives between
The maid and dragon with his redied lance.
Perhaps it is his armor's golden sheen
That, sun-like, so illuminates the scene,
And makes all 'round so bright we see each stiff,
Metallic feather of the hippogriff--
His solar mount. Of course we know he won
The princess and the day--it was his shield,
As blinding in its brilliance as the sun,
Which he, beneath a cloth, had kept concealed,
Until it could be most effectively revealed.
As for the rest--when his attentions to
The rescued princess too insistent grew,
(She was unfortunately naked still)
She used a ring like that which Lunette gave
To Owain, and escaped invisible.
But this is quite enough; the rest I'll save
For conference, or learned journal grave.
Let us return to Lunette's chamber where
She tends the knight with more than special care.
Once they were safely in, the door clapped to,
She seats him on a couch of rich brocade,
All set with sparkling gems--red, green, and blue,
And lucent pearls that an age had laid
Housed darkly on the ocean's floor. The maid
Now brings him water and a towel of linen fine
To wash his stiffened wounds, then bread and wine.
And once he was some little bit restored,
He asked of her, "Why have you brought me here?"
And she, "The servants of my Lady's Lord
Had killed you otherwise. You had no fear,
I'm sure," she said and smiled, "for you appear
A very model knight, but as for me,
I trembled like a hare too spent to flee."
"But now that I'm your prisoner, or your guest--
I know not which--what would you have of me?"
And then she laughed. "That you speak softly lest
Your foes should find you here." "Here secretly,"
He said, "and hedged about by foes, I do not see
What service I could do for you, although
Should chance arise, I'll pay this debt I owe."
"I do not doubt of that, but take your ease,
And speak no more for now." And so the knight
Laid back to rest, though not entirely pleased
To think what words to win advantage slight
He'd spent, for she, her voice so quick and light,
Had parried every heavy thrust he made,
Like some deft fencer with a slender blade.
And yet, there was much consolation in
The sight of her, as graceful and refined
In gesture as a queen, her body thin
And ferret-lithe and quick, her features fine,
Eyes large and liquid dark, nose aquiline.
And wise she seemed as any councillor;
Her age some twenty years--not more.
Then Owain, thinking that he had not yet
Learned even what she called herself, enquired
Of her, and she replied, "I'm called 'Lunette;'
I really had not thought that you desired
To know a simple maid, not much admired
By any here who's seen the world." "And who,"
He said, "aside from that one fact, are you?"
"A simple maid--no more than I have said,
Who serves her Lady, as do others here.
But listen now--the knight you fought is dead;
That is the chapel bell." And then, quite near,
He heard a muffled sound, like words through tears,
And rose and hurried to the window where
He could look down into the street and square.
And just beneath his window Owain saw
In sad procession, lords and ladies go,
With six strong knights in arms to bear the pall.
And as the dead knight's body passed below,
From every wound the blood began to flow,
Though none but Owain saw; no other eye
Looked down on what they carried shoulder-high.
But though his hair stood up to see, the knight
Was not distracted long, for there among
The mourners walked another, at which sight--
A golden lady fair as day, and young,
Who walked beside the cask and wept, and wrung
Her slender hands--love filled his heart, and he
Was grieved that he had caused her misery.
And now he turns to Lunette eagerly,
"Say who that is--that woman nearest to
The cask?" And Lunette, "That is she
I serve, the Lady of the Fountain, who
Was wife until this hour of he you slew.
She is of women fairest and most chaste,
Most generous--with every virtue graced."
"God knows, this Lady I love best of all,"
Said Owain. And Lunette, "God knows, as well,
She loves you less than little--not at all."
And then she rose and stirred the fire until
It brightly flamed; then in a little while
She took the water off and brought a towel,
An ivory ewer, and a silver bowl,
And shaved him with an ivory handled blade,
And washed his hair. And after that she brought
A loaf of bread, and meat, and wine, and laid
A cloth of whitest linen neatly wrought
In gold with peacock, flower, and true-love's-knot.
And afterwards she made his bed. "Now sleep,"
She said. "I have appointments I must keep."
So Owain slept, and Lunette made her way
Beneath the evening sky, across the square,
And down a street where shadows deeply lay,
And to the castle, and as she came there,
The sound of mourning voices filled the air.
There in her chamber with her grief alone,
That lady sat--Niobe turned to stone.
"My Lady," Lunette said. The Lady sat
As motionless as though both deaf and blind.
Then Lunette, angrily, "I would have thought
I had deserved a welcome less unkind
From you." "It's you, Lunette, who've not been kind;
Where were you through my trials and grief today?
And now, what face to show yourself this way."
"My Lady, I was ill last night, and slept
Today through all this broil, but then I came
As quickly as I could, though had I kept
My chamber, I had done as well. For shame,
To waste yourself in tears, for when the fame
Of this day's work is out, what hope is there
That foes your fountain or your land will spare?"
"Your words are cruel." "Not cruel, but true."
"More cruel for their truth." "In that you're wrong--
First know where lies necessity, then do.
And what you need is one with arm as strong
As he you lost. This grieving overlong
May cost you dear." The Lady, "Let me grieve;
There is no other such as he alive."
"As good as he--far better," Lunette said.
"No, never, wicked woman. Were you not
Once dear, for saying that I'd see you dead
Upon his grave--yes, truly, if I thought
I'd serve his ghost thereby. But though I ought
To have you killed, at least I'll banish you."
"It's always thus whenever one speaks true.
I'm glad at parting I, at least, am clear
Of any blame but t his. And shame on she
Who either speaks, or gives the other ear."
She turned and strode away then angrily.
The Lady wavered, and then hurriedly
Went after, stopping at the door. But when
She saw that Lunette would not turn again,
She loudly coughed, and Lunette glanced behind.
A nod, and Lunette turned and followed her
Back through her chamber door. "Though evil your mind,
The Lady said, "tell me, if you are sure
It's for my good, the problem and the cure."
Then Lunette, "This--you know of all your knights,
There is not one who has sufficient might
To guard your fountain, and perchance there's none
Outside King Arthur's court. Then let me go
To Arthur, and be sure I will bring one
As good, or better than this was, although
Your husband was a worthy knight, I know."
"Go then," the Lady said. "If but to ask
Is all, perhaps it is no heavy task."
So Lunette left, though not to Carleon,
But rather to her room to wait the days
With Owain that it seemed she should be gone.
And then she dressed herself, and went her way
To where the Lady waited her, to say
She had succeeded fully in her quest,
And brought of knights the one who all called best.
"And when," she asked, "would you have him be shown?"
"Tomorrow noon," the Lady said. "The town
Shall be assembled that my will be known."
So Lunette, as the hour grew close to noon,
Brought garments of bright silk, all over sewn
With golden thread, and buskins of cordwain,
With golden lion clasps, and specked grain.
And when the knight was dressed, they came before
The Lady, who gave Owain a hard stare,
And said, "Lunette, no knight, I am quite sure,
Could ride so far, yet show so little wear
To self or clothing." "So, what harm is there
In that?" said Lunette. "This--I think that he
Is that same knight who took my lord from me."
"If true, so much the better," Lunette said,
"For had the other been the stronger knight,
This warrior would not stand here now instead."
"Go home, Lunette," the Lady said. "Tonight
I will sort all this through, and choose what's right."
Then on the morrow she her lords all told
How matters stood, but none was there so bold
As take the dead knight's place, so then she sent
For priests, and with full great solemnity,
Owain and she were wed. And so it went,
Three years, and Owain labored faithfully
With spear and sword, and not an enemy
Approached the magic fountain, tree, and stone,
However strong, but he was overthrown.
And yet, a look into his lady's eyes,
And all his labor was repaid, and more--
As blue they were as windows to the sky,
The sky of Avalon, of Earth before
The fall of man, or sea seen from the shore
Of Cytheria, holy island where
A naked goddess walked with streaming hair,
Of molten gold, and yet no brighter gold
Than hers, the Lady of the Fountain's hair--
Heavy in hyacinthan ringlets rolled,
That gleamed all down a skin as lilies fair--
fit cloak to hide a form beyond compare.
Thank God, that's done; I thought I'd never see
The end of this damned troublesome Part III.
Click on the door to go to Part IV