King Arthur swooning, lies upon the ground
With Modred’s henchmen strewn all around:
Their bloody gore drenched the field grass and flowers.
A stillness filled that place. The hostile powers
Had fought, had slain, and ceased: when all were dead!
A few victors remained – the rest had fled.
King Arthur stirred, and opening his eyes
Gazed from the battle-field to the skies.
His strength was gone. His spirit strove to seek
Another place where he was not so weak.
His fevered brain attempted to make sense
Where he now was. The battle. Hark – from whence
Did Mordred’s men come on? Did he prevail?
The king laid back, his battered body frail.
‘Twas night? No – day. Forenoon – not early morn.
The king, wearied, lay musing. As a lorn
And injured lamb lies dying on the heath:
So there King Arthur’s blood soaks underneath
His cooling frame. His armour heavy lies
Upon his smitten trunk. He thinks he spies
A crow come down to feast upon the slain.
He smiles grimly. Somewhere on the plain
His shield in pieces lay. His mighty sword –
Beside him still – had fetched the blow toward
The armoured chest of Mordred. All lay still.
But Arthur was unable, by his will
To stand – or even move. Yet now it seems
Before his eyes proceeded living dreams
Of people long since dead or gone away.
“Dear Merlin? Here? Whatever can you say
To me? Where did you go? I you besought
In vain! In what bad magic were you caught?
I wished to ask – forever me asking!
Will I still be the Once and Future King?
It puzzles me. Your riddles so profound
With wisdom – and with mysteries – abound!
With Vivien? Ah yes – I now recall
That daughter of perdition caused your fall.
Where is she? Ah – dear Merlin? You are gone?
But I abide. But why should I live on?”
“Dear Gen – why did you do it? Did you see
What must befall of a sure certainty
When all was known? Have you come to say
Something? How now – why do you turn away?
I – I forgive. Come back!” He gives a sigh
And murmurs “Why? Dear Gen, just tell me – why?”
“Good Galahad? Fair knight? Still here by me?
They said you’d had departed oversea –
Called there by God. I mourned you as a friend.
Have you returned to see my latter end?
A knight from such a father! Oh my boy!
Come closer. Let my ears your tales enjoy
About all you have seen. What? Gone again?”
So Arthur murmurs. Then sees other men
Before his eyes and talks with them each one –
Knights lost on quest before this war begun:
Heroes, companions from the years ago.
The rising sun to dawn-break rises slow
When all is still and silent. Bedivere
Alone walks round the corpses drawing near
To where King Arthur lay. He is making
A careful search to find where lay his king:
He asks himself: the King alive? Or dead?
Upon his quest of mercy his feet sped
Directed by the power of heaven divine:
He finds King Arthur bleeding, still, supine
Yet murmuring faintly. Bedivere sheds tears –
The first he’s shed for many, many years.
His strong limbs lift aloft his royal lord.
They leave the field. Their leaving might afford
Some chance of safety, healing, and of rest.
The king lies swooning, clasped to the knight’s chest
While Caliburn is carried by his side.
A broken chapel nearby is espied.
Arthur is carried to that shelter there.
King Arthur knows the faithful Bedivere
As he is laid upon the altar stone.
He indicates his sword – his will makes known
In broken speech. Sir Bedivere obeys
And leaves the king, who near-expiring lays
Upon the altar. Visions fill his head:
What was, and what will be he sees instead
Of where he is: his old friend Lancelot.
His lovely Genevieve. And others not
Now clothed with mortal bodies once they had.
King Arthur smiles. Memories both glad
And sorrowful both dance before his eyes.
He has not long to live before he dies.
His life decreases. Where is Bedivere?
The knight returns without Excalibur
And pale as though that brave man shook with fright
As though he saw strange creatures of the night
When tasked to throw his master’s blade away
Into the lake nearby. He will not say
Precisely what he saw. His king murmurs
“So – it is done?” Sir Bedivere avers.
Arthur’s then down towards the sea.
Sir Bedivere hears sounds of minstrelsy:
He looks about.
A boat, with samite black
Draped lies waiting. Down a narrow track
The knight walks to the shore. Four ladies grave
Stand on its deck. The ship rocks in the wave
Sir Bedivere deposits Arthur there
Upon the samite draped over a bier
Set mid-deck. The four women give a cry
To let their keening carry to the sky.
Sir Bedivere nursing a heavy heart
Returns to land. That instant they depart:
The ship – with hands invisible – off-cast
And towards deeper waters raises mast
To sail to Western isles unnamed, unknown:
Except unto perhaps the few. Isles lone
Rumor has named as Avalon.
Sir Bedivere awaited on the sand
To watch the ebon ship much smaller grow
As far horizons it sought out to know.
Up to the headland later the knight climbed
To see if its black sails he could find:
Yet from all mortal sight had vanished king
And boat and women all. A soft keening
Of womens’ voices faintly reached his ear.
Here ends all that befell good Bedivere
After the final battle on the day
When King Arthur was carried far away.