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Edwin Arlington Robinson (December 22, 1869 – April 6, 1935) was an American poet who won three Pulitzer Prizes for his work.Greatest Collection of Edwin Arlington Robinson ________________________________________MerlinThe Children of the NightThe Man Against the SkyThe Three Taverns 

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The Premium Major Collection of Edwin Arlington Robinson

Detailed Biography of Edwin Arlington Robinson


The Children of the Night

The Man Against the Sky

The Three Taverns


Edwin Arlington Robinson's poem "Richard Cory" was published as part of the anthology The Children of the Night in 1897, during the economic depression following the Panic of 1893. It is one of Robinson's most famous and influential poems, and recounts the story of a man who, despite being wealthy, educated, and well-respected, kills himself by shooting himself in the head.

"Richard Cory" inspired Simon & Garfunkel's song of the same name, which was subsequently covered by famous artists such as Van Morrison and Paul McCartney and Wings. It also influenced numerous other musical compositions, including The Menzingers' "Richard Coury" and Britney Spears's "Lucky." A.R. Gurney's play of the same name was based on the poem, and humorist Garrison Keillor wrote a variation of the poem included in The Book of Guys.

Robinson had an unhappy childhood in Maine and grew up hated his given name, which was randomly drawn from a hat when he was six months old. His eldest brother, a doctor, became addicted to laudanum after a period of self-medication. The woman he loved married his other elder brother, Herman, who later "suffered business failures, became an alcoholic, and ended up estranged from his wife and children." Herman's wife and others theorized that "Richard Cory" was written in reference to Herman. In the years preceding the poem's publication, Robinson lost both of his parents, contributing to his overall pessimism and views on the fate of mankind.




[Pg 1]


I“Gawaine, Gawaine, what look ye for to see,So far beyond the faint edge of the world?D’ye look to see the lady Vivian,Pursued by divers ominous vile demonsThat have another king more fierce than ours?Or think ye that if ye look far enoughAnd hard enough into the feathery westYe’ll have a glimmer of the Grail itself?And if ye look for neither Grail nor lady,[Pg 2]What look ye for to see, Gawaine, Gawaine?”So Dagonet, whom Arthur made a knightBecause he loved him as he laughed at him,Intoned his idle presence on a dayTo Gawaine, who had thought himself alone,Had there been in him thought of anythingSave what was murmured now in CamelotOf Merlin’s hushed and all but unconfirmedAppearance out of Brittany. It was heardAt first there was a ghost in Arthur’s palace,But soon among the scullions and anonAmong the knights a firmer credit heldAll tongues from uttering what all glances told—Though not for long. Gawaine, this afternoon,Fearing he might say more to LancelotOf Merlin’s rumor-laden resurrectionThan Lancelot would have an ear to cherish,[Pg 3]Had sauntered off with his imaginationTo Merlin’s Rock, where now there was no MerlinTo meditate upon a whispering townBelow him in the silence.—Once he saidTo Gawaine: “You are young; and that being so,Behold the shining city of our dreamsAnd of our King.”—“Long live the King,” said Gawaine.—“Long live the King,” said Merlin after him;“Better for me that I shall not be King;Wherefore I say again, Long live the King,And add, God save him, also, and all kings—All kings and queens. I speak in general.Kings have I known that were but weary menWith no stout appetite for more than peaceThat was not made for them.”—“Nor were they made[Pg 4]For kings,” Gawaine said, laughing.—“You are youngGawaine, and you may one day hold the worldBetween your fingers, knowing not what it isThat you are holding. Better for you and me,I think, that we shall not be kings.”Gawaine,Remembering Merlin’s words of long ago,Frowned as he thought, and having frowned again,He smiled and threw an acorn at a lizard:“There’s more afoot and in the air to-dayThan what is good for Camelot. MerlinMay or may not know all, but he said wellTo say to me that he would not be King.No more would I be King.” Far down he gazedOn Camelot, until he made of itA phantom town of many stillnesses,[Pg 5]Not reared for men to dwell in, or for kingsTo reign in, without omens and obscureFamiliars to bring terror to their days;For though a knight, and one as hard at armsAs any, save the fate-begotten fewThat all acknowledged or in envy loathed,He felt a foreign sort of creeping upAnd down him, as of moist things in the dark,—When Dagonet, coming on him unawares,Presuming on his title of Sir Fool,Addressed him and crooned on till he was done:“What look ye for to see, Gawaine, Gawaine?”“Sir Dagonet, you best and wariestOf all dishonest men, I look through Time,For sight of what it is that is to be.I look to see it, though I see it not.[Pg 6]I see a town down there that holds a king,And over it I see a few small clouds—Like feathers in the west, as you observe;And I shall see no more this afternoonThan what there is around us every day,Unless you have a skill that I have notTo ferret the invisible for rats.”“If you see what’s around us every day,You need no other showing to go mad.Remember that and take it home with you;And say tonight, ‘I had it of a fool—With no immediate obliquityFor this one or for that one, or for me.’”Gawaine, having risen, eyed the fool curiously:“I’ll not forget I had it of a knight,[Pg 7]Whose only folly is to fool himself;And as for making other men to laugh,And so forget their sins and selves a little,There’s no great folly there. So keep it up,As long as you’ve a legend or a song,And have whatever sport of us you likeTill havoc is the word and we fall howling.For I’ve a guess there may not be so loudA sound of laughing here in CamelotWhen Merlin goes again to his gay graveIn Brittany. To mention lesser terrors,Men say his beard is gone.”“Do men say that?”A twitch of an impatient wearinessPlayed for a moment over the lean faceOf Dagonet, who reasoned inwardly:[Pg 8]“The friendly zeal of this inquiring knightWill overtake his tact and leave it squealing,One of these days.”—Gawaine looked hard at him:“If I be too familiar with a fool,I’m on the way to be another fool,”He mused, and owned a rueful qualm within him:“Yes, Dagonet,” he ventured, with a laugh,“Men tell me that his beard has vanished wholly,And that he shines now as the Lord’s anointed,And wears the valiance of an ageless youthCrowned with a glory of eternal peace.”Dagonet, smiling strangely, shook his head:“I grant your valiance of a kind of youthTo Merlin, but your crown of peace I question;For, though I know no more than any churlWho pinches any chambermaid soever[Pg 9]In the King’s palace, I look not to MerlinFor peace, when out of his peculiar tombHe comes again to Camelot. Time swingsA mighty scythe, and some day all your peaceGoes down before its edge like so much clover.No, it is not for peace that Merlin comes,Without a trumpet—and without a beard,If what you say men say of him be true—Nor yet for sudden war.”Gawaine, for a moment,Met then the ambiguous gaze of Dagonet,And, making nothing of it, looked abroadAs if at something cheerful on all sides,And back again to the fool’s unasking eyes:“Well, Dagonet, if Merlin would have peace,Let Merlin stay away from Brittany,”[Pg 10]Said he, with admiration for the manWhom Folly called a fool: “And we have known him;We knew him once when he knew everything.”“He knew as much as God would let him knowUntil he met the lady Vivian.I tell you that, for the world knows all that;Also it knows he told the King one dayThat he was to be buried, and alive,In Brittany; and that the King should seeThe face of him no more. Then Merlin sailedAway to Vivian in Broceliande,Where now she crowns him and herself with flowers,And feeds him fruits and wines and many foodsOf many savors, and sweet ortolans.Wise books of every lore of every landAre there to fill his days, if he require them,[Pg 11]And there are players of all instruments—Flutes, hautboys, drums, and viols; and she singsTo Merlin, till he trembles in her armsAnd there forgets that any town aliveHad ever such a name as Camelot.So Vivian holds him with her love, they say,And he, who has no age, has not grown old.I swear to nothing, but that’s what they say.That’s being buried in BroceliandeFor too much wisdom and clairvoyancy.But you and all who live, Gawaine, have heardThis tale, or many like it, more than once;And you must know that Love, when Love invitesPhilosophy to play, plays high and wins,Or low and loses. And you say to me,‘If Merlin would have peace, let Merlin stayAway from Brittany.’ Gawaine, you are young,[Pg 12]And Merlin’s in his grave.”“Merlin said onceThat I was young, and it’s a joy for meThat I am here to listen while you say it.Young or not young, if that be burial,May I be buried long before I die.I might be worse than young; I might be old.”—Dagonet answered, and without a smile:“Somehow I fancy Merlin saying that;A fancy—a mere fancy.” Then he smiled:“And such a doom as his may be for you,Gawaine, should your untiring divinationDelve in the veiled eternal mysteriesToo far to be a pleasure for the Lord.And when you stake your wisdom for a woman,Compute the woman to be worth a grave,As Merlin did, and say no more about it.[Pg 13]But Vivian, she played high. Oh, very high!Flutes, hautboys, drums, and viols,—and her love.Gawaine, farewell.”“Farewell, Sir Dagonet,And may the devil take you presently.”He followed with a vexed and envious eye,And with an arid laugh, Sir Dagonet’sDeparture, till his gaunt obscurityWas cloaked and lost amid the glimmering trees.“Poor fool!” he murmured. “Or am I the fool?With all my fast ascendency in arms,That ominous clown is nearer to the KingThan I am—yet; and God knows what he knows,And what his wits infer from what he seesAnd feels and hears. I wonder what he knowsOf Lancelot, or what I might know now,[Pg 14]Could I have sunk myself to sound a foolTo springe a friend.... No, I like not this day.There’s a cloud coming over CamelotLarger than any that is in the sky,—Or Merlin would be still in Brittany,With Vivian and the viols. It’s all too strange.”And later, when descending to the city,Through unavailing casements he could hearThe roaring of a mighty voice within,Confirming fervidly his own conviction:“It’s all too strange, and half the world’s half crazy!”—He scowled: “Well, I agree with Lamorak.”He frowned, and passed: “And I like not this day.”[Pg 15]IISir Lamorak, the man of oak and iron,Had with him now, as a care-laden guest,Sir Bedivere, a man whom Arthur lovedAs he had loved no man save Lancelot.Like one whose late-flown shaft of argumentHad glanced and fallen afield innocuously,He turned upon his host a sudden eyeThat met from Lamorak’s an even shaftOf native and unused authority;[Pg 16]And each man held the other till at lengthEach turned away, shutting his heavy jawsAgain together, prisoning thus two tonguesThat might forget and might not be forgiven.Then Bedivere, to find a plain way out,Said, “Lamorak, let us drink to some one here,And end this dryness. Who shall it be—the King,The Queen, or Lancelot?”—“Merlin,” Lamorak growled;And then there were more wrinkles round his eyesThan Bedivere had said were possible.“There’s no refusal in me now for that,”The guest replied; “so, ‘Merlin’ let it be.We’ve not yet seen him, but if he be here,And even if he should not be here, say ‘Merlin.’”They drank to the unseen from two new tankards,And fell straightway to sighing for the past,[Pg 17]And what was yet before them. Silence laidA cogent finger on the lips of eachImpatient veteran, whose hard hands lay clenchedAnd restless on his midriff, until wordsWere stronger than strong Lamorak:“Bedivere,”Began the solid host, “you may as wellSay now as at another time hereafterThat all your certainties have bruises on ’em,And all your pestilent asseverationsWill never make a man a salamander—Who’s born, as we are told, so fire won’t bite him,—Or a slippery queen a nun who counts and burnsHerself to nothing with her beads and candles.There’s nature, and what’s in us, to be siftedBefore we know ourselves, or any man[Pg 18]Or woman that God suffers to be born.That’s how I speak; and while you strain your mazzard,Like Father Jove, big with a new Minerva,We’ll say, to pass the time, that I speak well.God’s fish! The King had eyes; and LancelotWon’t ride home to his mother, for she’s dead.The story is that Merlin warned the KingOf what’s come now to pass; and I believe it.And Arthur, he being Arthur and a king,Has made a more pernicious mess than one,We’re told, for being so great and amorous:It’s that unwholesome and inclement cubYoung Modred I’d see first in hell beforeI’d hang too high the Queen or Lancelot;The King, if one may say it, set the pace,And we’ve two strapping bastards here to prove it.[Pg 19]Young Borre, he’s well enough; but as for Modred,I squirm as often as I look at him.And there again did Merlin warn the King,The story goes abroad; and I believe it.”Sir Bedivere, as one who caught no moreThan what he would of Lamorak’s outpouring,Inclined his grizzled head and closed his eyesBefore he sighed and rubbed his beard and spoke:“For all I know to make it otherwise,The Queen may be a nun some day or other;I’d pray to God for such a thing to be,If prayer for that were not a mockery.We’re late now for much praying, Lamorak,When you and I can feel upon our facesA wind that has been blowing over ruinsThat we had said were castles and high towers—[Pg 20]Till Merlin, or the spirit of him, cameAs the dead come in dreams. I saw the KingThis morning, and I saw his face. Therefore,I tell you, if a state shall have a king,The king must have the state, and be the state;Or then shall we have neither king nor state,But bones and ashes, and high towers all fallen:And we shall have, where late there was a kingdom,A dusty wreck of what was once a glory—A wilderness whereon to crouch and mournAnd moralize, or else to build once moreFor something better or for something worse.Therefore again, I say that LancelotHas wrought a potent wrong upon the King,And all who serve and recognize the King,And all who follow him and all who love him.Whatever the stormy faults he may have had,[Pg 21]To look on him today is to forget them;And if it be too late for sorrow nowTo save him—for it was a broken manI saw this morning, and a broken king—The God who sets a day for desolationWill not forsake him in Avilion,Or whatsoever shadowy land there beWhere peace awaits him on its healing shores.”Sir Lamorak, shifting in his oaken chair,Growled like a dog and shook himself like one:“For the stone-chested, helmet-cracking knightThat you are known to be from LyonnesseTo northward, Bedivere, you fol-de-rolWhen days are rancid, and you fiddle-faddleMore like a woman than a man with handsFit for the smiting of a crazy giant[Pg 22]With armor an inch thick, as we all knowYou are, when you’re not sermonizing at us.As for the King, I say the King, no doubt,Is angry, sorry, and all sorts of things,For Lancelot, and for his easy Queen,Whom he took knowing she’d thrown sparks alreadyOn that same piece of tinder, Lancelot,Who fetched her with him from LeodogranBecause the King—God save poor human reason!—Would prove to Merlin, who knew everythingWorth knowing in those days, that he was wrong.I’ll drink now and be quiet,—but, by God,I’ll have to tell you, Brother Bedivere,Once more, to make you listen properly,That crowns and orders, and high palaces,And all the manifold ingredientsOf this good solid kingdom, where we sit[Pg 23]And spit now at each other with our eyes,Will not go rolling down to hell just yetBecause a pretty woman is a fool.And here’s Kay coming with his fiddle faceAs long now as two fiddles. Sit ye down,Sir Man, and tell us everything you knowOf Merlin—or his ghost without a beard.What mostly is it?”Sir Kay, the seneschal,Sat wearily while he gazed upon the two:“To you it mostly is, if I err not,That what you hear of Merlin’s coming backIs nothing more or less than heavy truth.But ask me nothing of the Queen, I say,For I know nothing. All I know of herIs what her eyes have told the silences[Pg 24]That now attend her; and that her estateIs one for less complacent execrationThan quips and innuendoes of the cityWould augur for her sin—if there be sin—Or for her name—if now she have a name.And where, I say, is this to lead the King,And after him, the kingdom and ourselves?Here be we, three men of a certain strengthAnd some confessed intelligence, who knowThat Merlin has come out of Brittany—Out of his grave, as he would say it for us—Because the King has now a desperationMore strong upon him than a woman’s netWas over Merlin—for now Merlin’s here,And two of us who knew him know how wellHis wisdom, if he have it any longer,Will by this hour have sounded and appraised[Pg 25]The grief and wrath and anguish of the King,Requiring mercy and inspiring fearLest he forego the vigil now most urgent,And leave unwatched a cranny where some wormOr serpent may come in to speculate.”“I know your worm, and his worm’s name is Modred—Albeit the streets are not yet saying so,”Said Lamorak, as he lowered his wrath and laughedA sort of poisonous apologyTo Kay: “And in the meantime, I’ll be gyved!Here’s Bedivere a-wailing for the King,And you, Kay, with a moist eye for the Queen.I think I’ll blow a horn for Lancelot;For by my soul a man’s in sorry caseWhen Guineveres are out with eyes to scorch him:I’m not so ancient or so frozen certain[Pg 26]That I’d ride horses down to skeletonsIf she were after me. Has Merlin seen him—This Lancelot, this Queen-fed friend of ours?”Kay answered sighing, with a lonely scowl:“The picture that I conjure leaves him out;The King and Merlin are this hour together,And I can say no more; for I know nothing.But how the King persuaded or beguiledThe stricken wizard from across the waterOutriddles my poor wits. It’s all too strange.”“It’s all too strange, and half the world’s half crazy!”Roared Lamorak, forgetting once againThe devastating carriage of his voice.“Is the King sick?” he said, more quietly;“Is he to let one damned scratch be enough[Pg 27]To paralyze the force that heretoforeWould operate a way through hell and iron,And iron already slimy with his blood?Is the King blind—with Modred watching him?Does he forget the crown for Lancelot?Does he forget that every woman mewingShall some day be a handful of small ashes?”“You speak as one for whom the god of LoveHas yet a mighty trap in preparation.We know you, Lamorak,” said Bedivere:“We know you for a short man, Lamorak,—In deeds, if not in inches or in words;But there are fens and heights and distancesThat your capricious ranging has not yetEssayed in this weird region of man’s love.Forgive me, Lamorak, but your words are words.[Pg 28]Your deeds are what they are; and ages henceWill men remember your illustriousness,If there be gratitude in history.For me, I see the shadow of the end,Wherein to serve King Arthur to the end,And, if God have it so, to see the GrailBefore I die.”But Lamorak shook his head:“See what you will, or what you may. For me,I see no other than a stinking mess—With Modred stirring it, and AgravaineSpattering Camelot with as much of itAs he can throw. The Devil got somehowInto God’s workshop once upon a time,And out of the red clay that he found thereHe made a shape like Modred, and another[Pg 29]As like as eyes are to this Agravaine.‘I never made ’em,’ said the good Lord God,‘But let ’em go, and see what comes of ’em.’And that’s what we’re to do. As for the Grail,I’ve never worried it, and so the GrailHas never worried me.”Kay sighed. “I seeWith Bedivere the coming of the end,”He murmured; “for the King I saw todayWas not, nor shall he ever be again,The King we knew. I say the King is dead;The man is living, but the King is dead.The wheel is broken.”“Tut!” said Lamorak;“There are no dead kings yet in Camelot;[Pg 30]But there is Modred who is hatching ruin,—And when it hatches I may not be here.There’s Gawaine too, and he does not forgetMy father, who killed his. King Arthur’s houseHas more division in it than I likeIn houses; and if Modred’s aim be goodFor backs like mine, I’m not long for the scene.”[Pg 31]IIIKing Arthur, as he paced a lonely floorThat rolled a muffled echo, as he fancied,All through the palace and out through the world,Might now have wondered hard, could he have heardSir Lamorak’s apathetic disregardOf what Fate’s knocking made so manifestAnd ominous to others near the King—If any, indeed, were near him at this hourSave Merlin, once the wisest of all men,[Pg 32]And weary Dagonet, whom he had madeA knight for love of him and his abusedIntegrity. He might have wondered hardAnd wondered much; and after wondering,He might have summoned, with as little heartAs he had now for crowns, the fond, lost Merlin,Whose Nemesis had made of him a slave,A man of dalliance, and a sybarite.“Men change in Brittany, Merlin,” said the King;And even his grief had strife to freeze againA dreary smile for the transmuted seerNow robed in heavy wealth of purple silk,With frogs and foreign tassels. On his face,Too smooth now for a wizard or a sage,Lay written, for the King’s remembering eyes,A pathos of a lost authority[Pg 33]Long faded, and unconscionably gone;And on the King’s heart lay a sudden cold:“I might as well have left him in his grave,As he would say it, saying what was true,—As death is true. This Merlin is not mine,But Vivian’s. My crown is less than hers,And I am less than woman to this man.”Then Merlin, as one reading Arthur’s wordsOn viewless tablets in the air before him:“Now, Arthur, since you are a child of mine—A foster-child, and that’s a kind of child—Be not from hearsay or despair too eagerTo dash your meat with bitter seasoning,So none that are more famished than yourselfShall have what you refuse. For you are King,And if you starve yourself, you starve the state;[Pg 34]And then by sundry looks and silencesOf those you loved, and by the lax regardOf those you knew for fawning enemies,You may learn soon that you are King no more,But a slack, blasted, and sad-fronted man,Made sadder with a crown. No other friendThan I could say this to you, and say more;And if you bid me say no more, so be it.”The King, who sat with folded arms, now bowedHis head and felt, unfought and all aflameLike immanent hell-fire, the wretchednessThat only those who are to lead may feel—And only they when they are maimed and wornToo sore to covet without shudderingThe fixed impending eminence where deathItself were victory, could they but lead[Pg 35]Unbitten by the serpents they had fed.Turning, he spoke: “Merlin, you say the truth:There is no man who could say more to meToday, or say so much to me, and live.But you are Merlin still, or part of him;I did you wrong when I thought otherwise,And I am sorry now. Say what you will.We are alone, and I shall be aloneAs long as Time shall hide a reason hereFor me to stay in this infested worldWhere I have sinned and erred and heeded notYour counsel; and where you yourself—God save us!—Have gone down smiling to the smaller lifeThat you and your incongruous laughter calledYour living grave. God save us all, Merlin,When you, the seer, the founder, and the prophet,[Pg 36]May throw the gold of your immortal treasureBack to the God that gave it, and then laughBecause a woman has you in her arms ...Why do you sting me now with a small hiveOf words that are all poison? I do not askMuch honey; but why poison me for nothing,And with a venom that I know alreadyAs I know crowns and wars? Why tell a king—A poor, foiled, flouted, miserable king—That if he lets rats eat his fingers offHe’ll have no fingers to fight battles with?I know as much as that, for I am stillA king—who thought himself a little lessThan God; a king who built him palacesOn sand and mud, and hears them crumbling now,And sees them tottering, as he knew they must.You are the man who made me to be King—[Pg 37]Therefore, say anything.”Merlin, stricken deepWith pity that was old, being born of oldForeshadowings, made answer to the King:“This coil of Lancelot and GuinevereIs not for any mortal to undo,Or to deny, or to make otherwise;But your most violent years are on their wayTo days, and to a sounding of loud hoursThat are to strike for war. Let not the timeBetween this hour and then be lost in fears,Or told in obscurations and vain faithIn what has been your long security;For should your force be slower then than hate,And your regret be sharper than your sight,And your remorse fall heavier than your sword,—Then say farewell to Camelot, and the crown.[Pg 38]But say not you have lost, or failed in aughtYour golden horoscope of imperfectionHas held in starry words that I have read.I see no farther now than I saw then,For no man shall be given of everythingTogether in one life; yet I may sayThe time is imminent when he shall comeFor whom I founded the Siege Perilous;And he shall be too much a living partOf what he brings, and what he burns away in,To be for long a vexed inhabitantOf this mad realm of stains and lower trials.And here the ways of God again are mixed:For this new knight who is to find the GrailFor you, and for the least who pray for youIn such lost coombs and hollows of the worldAs you have never entered, is to be[Pg 39]The son of him you trusted—Lancelot,Of all who ever jeopardized a throneSure the most evil-fated, saving one,Your son, begotten, though you knew not thenYour leman was your sister, of Morgause;For it is Modred now, not Lancelot,Whose native hate plans your annihilation—Though he may smile till he be sick, and swearAllegiance to an unforgiven fatherUntil at last he shake an empty tongueTalked out with too much lying—though his liesWill have a truth to steer them. Trust him not,For unto you the father, he the sonIs like enough to be the last of terrors—If in a field of time that looms to youFar larger than it is you fail to plantAnd harvest the old seeds of what I say,[Pg 40]And so be nourished and adept againFor what may come to be. But LancelotWill have you first; and you need starve no moreFor the Queen’s love, the love that never was.Your Queen is now your Kingdom, and hereafterLet no man take it from you, or you die.Let no man take it from you for a day;For days are long when we are far from whatWe love, and mischief’s other name is distance.Let that be all, for I can say no more;Not even to Blaise the Hermit, were he living,Could I say more than I have given you nowTo hear; and he alone was my confessor.”The King arose and paced the floor again.“I get gray comfort of dark words,” he said;“But tell me not that you can say no more:[Pg 41]You can, for I can hear you saying it.Yet I’ll not ask for more. I have enough—Until my new knight comes to prove and findThe promise and the glory of the Grail,Though I shall see no Grail. For I have builtOn sand and mud, and I shall see no Grail.”—“Nor I,” said Merlin. “Once I dreamed of it,But I was buried. I shall see no Grail,Nor would I have it otherwise. I sawToo much, and that was never good for man.The man who goes alone too far goes mad—In one way or another. God knew best,And he knows what is coming yet for me.I do not ask. Like you, I have enough.”That night King Arthur’s apprehension foundIn Merlin an obscure and restive guest,[Pg 42]Whose only thought was on the hour of dawn,When he should see the last of CamelotAnd ride again for Brittany; and what wordsWere said before the King was left aloneWere only darker for reiteration.They parted, all provision made secureFor Merlin’s early convoy to the coast,And Arthur tramped the past. The lonelinessOf kings, around him like the unseen dead,Lay everywhere; and he was loath to move,As if in fear to meet with his cold handThe touch of something colder. Then a whim,Begotten of intolerable doubt,Seized him and stung him until he was askingIf any longer lived among his knightsA man to trust as once he trusted all,And Lancelot more than all. “And it is he[Pg 43]Who is to have me first,” so Merlin says,—“As if he had me not in hell already.Lancelot! Lancelot!” He cursed the tearsThat cooled his misery, and then he askedHimself again if he had one to trustAmong his knights, till even Bedivere,Tor, Bors, and Percival, rough Lamorak,Griflet, and Gareth, and gay Gawaine, allWere dubious knaves,—or they were like to be,For cause to make them so; and he had madeHimself to be the cause. “God set me right,Before this folly carry me on farther,”He murmured; and he smiled unhappily,Though fondly, as he thought: “Yes, there is oneWhom I may trust with even my soul’s last shred;And Dagonet will sing for me tonight[Pg 44]An old song, not too merry or too sad.”When Dagonet, having entered, stood beforeThe King as one affrighted, the King smiled:“You think because I call for you so lateThat I am angry, Dagonet? Why so?Have you been saying what I say to you,And telling men that you brought Merlin here?No? So I fancied; and if you reportNo syllable of anything I speak,You will have no regrets, and I no anger.What word of Merlin was abroad today?”“Today have I heard no man save Gawaine,And to him I said only what all menAre saying to their neighbors. They believeThat you have Merlin here, and that his comingDenotes no good. Gawaine was curious,[Pg 45]But ever mindful of your majesty.He pressed me not, and we made light of it.”“Gawaine, I fear, makes light of everything,”The King said, looking down. “Sometimes I wishI had a full Round Table of Gawaines.But that’s a freak of midnight,—never mind it.Sing me a song—one of those endless thingsThat Merlin liked of old, when men were youngerAnd there were more stars twinkling in the sky.I see no stars that are alive tonight,And I am not the king of sleep. So then,Sing me an old song.”Dagonet’s quick eyeCaught sorrow in the King’s; and he knew more,In a fool’s way, than even the King himself[Pg 46]Of what was hovering over Camelot.“O King,” he said, “I cannot sing tonight.If you command me I shall try to sing,But I shall fail; for there are no songs nowIn my old throat, or even in these poor stringsThat I can hardly follow with my fingers.Forgive me—kill me—but I cannot sing.”Dagonet fell down then on both his kneesAnd shook there while he clutched the King’s cold handAnd wept for what he knew.“There, Dagonet;I shall not kill my knight, or make him sing.No more; get up, and get you off to bed.There’ll be another time for you to sing,[Pg 47]So get you to your covers and sleep well.”Alone again, the King said, bitterly:“Yes, I have one friend left, and they who knowAs much of him as of themselves believeThat he’s a fool. Poor Dagonet’s a fool.And if he be a fool, what else am IThan one fool more to make the world complete?‘The love that never was!’ ... Fool, fool, fool, fool!”The King was long awake. No covenantWith peace was his tonight; and he knew sleepAs he knew the cold eyes of GuinevereThat yesterday had stabbed him, having firstOn Lancelot’s name struck fire, and left him thenAs now they left him—with a wounded heart,A wounded pride, and a sickening pang worse yet[Pg 48]Of lost possession. He thought wearilyOf watchers by the dead, late wayfarers,Rough-handed mariners on ships at sea,Lone-yawning sentries, wastrels, and all othersWho might be saying somewhere to themselves,“The King is now asleep in Camelot;God save the King.”—“God save the King, indeed,If there be now a king to save,” he said.Then he saw giants rising in the dark,Born horribly of memories and new fearsThat in the gray-lit irony of dawnWere partly to fade out and be forgotten;And then there might be sleep, and for a timeThere might again be peace. His head was hotAnd throbbing; but the rest of him was cold,As he lay staring hard where nothing stood,And hearing what was not, even while he saw[Pg 49]And heard, like dust and thunder far away,The coming confirmation of the wordsOf him who saw so much and feared so littleOf all that was to be. No spoken doomThat ever chilled the last night of a felonPrepared a dragging anguish more profoundAnd absolute than Arthur, in these hours,Made out of darkness and of Merlin’s words;No tide that ever crashed on LyonnesseDrove echoes inland that were lonelierFor widowed ears among the fisher-folk,Than for the King were memories tonightOf old illusions that were dead for ever.[Pg 50]IVThe tortured King—seeing Merlin wholly meshedIn his defection, even to indifference,And all the while attended and exaltedBy some unfathomable obscurityOf divination, where the Grail, unseen,Broke yet the darkness where a king saw nothing—Feared now the lady Vivian more than Fate;For now he knew that Modred, Lancelot,The Queen, the King, the Kingdom, and the World,[Pg 51]Were less to Merlin, who had made him King,Than one small woman in Broceliande.Whereas the lady Vivian, seeing MerlinAcclaimed and tempted and allured againTo service in his old magnificence,Feared now King Arthur more than storms and robbers;For Merlin, though he knew himself immuneTo no least whispered little wish of hersThat might afflict his ear with ecstasy,Had yet sufficient of his old commandOf all around him to invest an eyeWith quiet lightning, and a spoken wordWith easy thunder, so accomplishingA profit and a pastime for himself—And for the lady Vivian, when her guileOutlived at intervals her graciousness;[Pg 52]And this equipment of uncertainty,Which now had gone away with him to BritainWith Dagonet, so plagued her memoryThat soon a phantom brood of goblin doubtsInhabited his absence, which had elseBeen empty waiting and a few brave fears,And a few more, she knew, that were not brave,Or long to be disowned, or manageable.She thought of him as he had looked at herWhen first he had acquainted her alarmAt sight of the King’s letter with its import;And she remembered now his very words:“The King believes today as in his boyhoodThat I am Fate,” he said; and when they partedShe had not even asked him not to go;She might as well, she thought, have bid the windThrow no more clouds across a lonely sky[Pg 53]Between her and the moon,—so great he seemedIn his oppressed solemnity, and she,In her excess of wrong imagining,So trivial in an hour, and, after allA creature of a smaller consequenceThan kings to Merlin, who made kings and kingdomsAnd had them as a father; and so she fearedKing Arthur more than robbers while she waitedFor Merlin’s promise to fulfil itself,And for the rest that was to follow after:“He said he would come back, and so he will.He will because he must, and he is Merlin,The master of the world—or so he was;And he is coming back again to meBecause he must and I am Vivian.It’s all as easy as two added numbers:Some day I’ll hear him ringing at the gate,[Pg 54]As he rang on that morning in the spring,Ten years ago; and I shall have him thenFor ever. He shall never go awayThough kings come walking on their hands and kneesTo take him on their backs.” When Merlin came,She told him that, and laughed; and he said strangely:“Be glad or sorry, but no kings are coming.Not Arthur, surely; for now Arthur knowsThat I am less than Fate.”Ten years agoThe King had heard, with unbelieving earsAt first, what Merlin said would be the lastReiteration of his going downTo find a living grave in Brittany:“Buried alive I told you I should be,By love made little and by woman shorn,[Pg 55]Like Samson, of my glory; and the timeIs now at hand. I follow in the morningWhere I am led. I see behind me nowThe last of crossways, and I see before meA straight and final highway to the endOf all my divination. You are King,And in your kingdom I am what I was.Wherever I have warned you, see as farAs I have seen; for I have shown the worstThere is to see. Require no more of me,For I can be no more than what I was.”So, on the morrow, the King said farewell;And he was never more to Merlin’s eyeThe King than at that hour; for Merlin knewHow much was going out of Arthur’s lifeWith him, as he went southward to the sea.[Pg 56]Over the waves and into BrittanyWent Merlin, to Broceliande. Gay birdsWere singing high to greet him all alongA broad and sanded woodland avenueThat led him on forever, so he thought,Until at last there was an end of it;And at the end there was a gate of iron,Wrought heavily and invidiously barred.He pulled a cord that rang somewhere a bellOf many echoes, and sat down to rest,Outside the keeper’s house, upon a benchOf carven stone that might for centuriesHave waited there in silence to receive him.The birds were singing still; leaves flashed and swungBefore him in the sunlight; a soft breezeMade intermittent whisperings around himOf love and fate and danger, and faint waves[Pg 57]Of many sweetly-stinging fragile odorsBroke lightly as they touched him; cherry-boughsAbove him snowed white petals down upon him,And under their slow falling Merlin smiledContentedly, as one who contemplatesNo longer fear, confusion, or regret,May smile at ruin or at revelation.A stately fellow with a forest airNow hailed him from within, with searching wordsAnd curious looks, till Merlin’s glowing eyeTransfixed him and he flinched: “My complimentsAnd homage to the lady Vivian.Say Merlin from King Arthur’s Court is here,A pilgrim and a stranger in appearance,Though in effect her friend and humble servant.Convey to her my speech as I have said it,[Pg 58]Without abbreviation or delay,And so deserve my gratitude forever.”“But Merlin?” the man stammered; “Merlin? Merlin?”—“One Merlin is enough. I know no other.Now go you to the lady VivianAnd bring to me her word, for I am weary.”Still smiling at the cherry-blossoms fallingDown on him and around him in the sunlight,He waited, never moving, never glancingThis way or that, until his messengerCame jingling into vision, weighed with keys,And inly shaken with much wonderingAt this great wizard’s coming unannouncedAnd unattended. When the way was openThe stately messenger, now bowing lowIn reverence and awe, bade Merlin enter;[Pg 59]And Merlin, having entered, heard the gateClang back behind him; and he swore no gateLike that had ever clanged in Camelot,Or any other place if not in hell.