Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869–1935). Collected Poems. 1921.

VI. Lancelot


LANCELOT looked about him, but he saw

No Guinevere. The place where she had sat

Was now an empty chair that might have been

The shadowy throne of an abandoned world,

But for the living fragrance of a kiss

That he remembered, and a living voice

That hovered when he saw that she was gone.

There was too much remembering while he felt

Upon his cheek the warm sound of her words;

There was too much regret; there was too much

Remorse. Regret was there for what had gone,

Remorse for what had come. Yet there was time,

That had not wholly come. There was time enough

Between him and the night—as there were shoals

Enough, no doubt, that in the sea somewhere

Were not yet hidden by the drowning tide.

“So there is here between me and the dark

Some twilight left,” he said. He sighed, and said

Again, “Time, tide, and twilight—and the dark;

And then, for me, the Light. But what for her?

I do not think of anything but life

That I may give to her by going now;

And if I look into her eyes again,

Or feel her breath upon my face again,

God knows if I may give so much as life;

Or if the durance of her loneliness

Would have it for the asking. What am I?

What have I seen that I must leave behind

So much of heaven and earth to burn itself

Away in white and gold, until in time

There shall be no more white and no more gold?

I cannot think of such a time as that;

I cannot—yet I must; for I am he

That shall have hastened it and hurried on

To dissolution all that wonderment—

That envy of all women who have said

She was a child of ice and ivory;

And of all men, save one. And who is he?

Who is this Lancelot that has betrayed

His King, and served him with a cankered honor?

Who is this Lancelot that sees the Light

And waits now in the shadow for the dark?

Who is this King, this Arthur, who believes

That what has been, and is, will be for ever,—

Who has no eyes for what he will not see,

And will see nothing but what’s passing here

In Camelot, which is passing? Why are we here?

What are we doing—kings, queens, Camelots,

And Lancelots? And what is this dim world

That I would leave, and cannot leave tonight

Because a Queen is in it and a King

Has gone away to some place where there’s hunting—

Carleon or Carlisle! Who is this Queen,

This pale witch-wonder of white fire and gold,

This Guinevere that I brought back with me

From Cameliard for Arthur, who knew then

What Merlin told, as he forgets it now

And rides away from her—God watch the world!—

To some place where there’s hunting! What are kings?

And how much longer are there to be kings?

When are the millions who are now like worms

To know that kings are worms, if they are worms?

When are the women who make toys of men

To know that they themselves are less than toys

When Time has laid upon their skins the touch

Of his all-shrivelling fingers? When are they

To know that men must have an end of them

When men have seen the Light and left the world

That I am leaving now. Yet, here I am,

And all because a king has gone a-hunting.…

Carleon or Carlisle!”

So Lancelot

Fed with a sullen rancor, which he knew

To be as false as he was to the King,

The passion and the fear that now in him

Were burning like two slow infernal fires

That only flight and exile far away

From Camelot should ever cool again.

“Yet here I am,” he said,—“and here I am.

Time, tide, and twilight; and there is no twilight—

And there is not much time. But there’s enough

To eat and drink in; and there may be time

For me to frame a jest or two to prove

How merry a man may be who sees the Light.

And I must get me up and go along,

Before the shadows blot out everything,

And leave me stumbling among skeletons.

God, what a rain of ashes falls on him

Who sees the new and cannot leave the old!”

He rose and looked away into the south

Where a gate was, by which he might go out,

Now, if he would, while Time was yet there with him—

Time that was tearing minutes out of life

While he stood shivering in his loneliness,

And while the silver lights of memory

Shone faintly on a far-off eastern shore

Where he had seen on earth for the last time

The triumph and the sadness in the face

Of Galahad, for whom the Light was waiting.

Now he could see the face of him again,

He fancied; and his flickering will adjured him

To follow it and be free. He followed it

Until it faded and there was no face,

And there was no more light. Yet there was time

That had not come, though he could hear it now

Like ruining feet of marching conquerors

That would be coming soon and were not men.

Forlornly and unwillingly he came back

To find the two dim chairs. In one of them

Was Guinevere, and on her phantom face

There fell a golden light that might have been

The changing gleam of an unchanging gold

That was her golden hair. He sprang to touch

The wonder of it, but she too was gone,

Like Galahad; he was alone again

With shadows, and one face that he still saw.

The world had no more faces now than one

That for a moment, with a flash of pain,

Had shown him what it is that may be seen

In embers that break slowly into dust,

Where for a time was fire. He saw it there

Before him, and he knew it was not good

That he should learn so late, and of this hour,

What men may leave behind them in the eyes

Of women who have nothing more to give,

And may not follow after. Once again

He gazed away to southward, but the face

Of Galahad was not there. He turned, and saw

Before him, in the distance, many lights

In Arthur’s palace; for the dark had come

To Camelot, while Time had come and gone.