The Defence of Guenevere

Guenevere by William Morris

I was browsing through some poetry by William Morris recently. I re-read some of his poems, like ‘The Haystack in the Floods’ (which appears in many anthologies) quite regularly. But it’s a while since I’ve dipped more extensively into the delights of his recreated medieval world. Here’s an extract from ‘The Defence of Guenevere’. Accused by Gawain and others of having an affair with Lancelot, she addresses her accusers in a long speech while awaiting the rescue which finally arrives when Lancelot rides in. It is only a temporary rescue as she has to return and the resulting conflict leads to the war in which Arthur dies. So it is, anyway, in the account of Malory and earlier medieval authors, though this owes little to the Welsh sources of the legend. But Morris's Terza Rima is delicious. Here is Guenevere remembering her first meeting with Lancelot:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The whole poem from which this extract is taken can be viewed:

No comments: