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No quest was hers of vague desire,
She spied the lonely Cast-away,
Then Nina, stooping down, embraced,
The Damsel, in that trance embound;
The turmoil hushed, celestial springs 145
Of music opened, and there came a blending
birth, And that soft rustling of invisible wings Which Angels make, on works of love descending 150
And Nina heard a sweeter voice
Air, earth, sea, sky, and heaven, success be token."
So cheered, she left that Island bleak,
Shed, on the Slumberer's cold wan cheek
Meet was their course, and when they came 't To the dim cavern, whence the river
Issued into the salt-sea flood, 165
Merlin, as fixed in thought he stood, Was thus accosted by the Dame; "Behold to thee my Charge I now deliver!
But where attends thy chariot—where ?"— Quoth Merlin, "Even as I was bidden, 170 So have I done; as trusty as thy barge My vehicle shall prove—O precious Charge! If this be sleep, how soft! if death, how fair! Much have my books disclosed, but the end is hidden."
He spake; and gliding into view 175
Forth from the grotto's dimmest chamber Came two mute Swans, whose plumes of
dusky white Changed, as the pair approached the light, Drawing an ebon car, their hue (Dike clouds of sunset) into lucid amber. 180
Once more did gentle Nina lift
Sage Merlin, at the Slumberer's side,
From rich pavilions spreading wide,
Awe-stricken stood both Knights and Dames Ere on firm ground the car alighted; Eftsoons astonishment was past, 195
For in that face they saw the last Last lingering look of clay, that tames All pride; by which all happiness is blighted.
Said Merlin, "Mighty King, fair Lords, Away with feast and tilt and tourney! 200 Ye saw, throughout this royal House, Ye heard, a rocking marvellous Of turrets, and a clash of swords Self-shaken, as I closed my airy journey.
Lo! by a destiny well known 205
To mortals, joy is turned to sorrow; This is the wished-for Bride, the Maid Of Egypt, from a rock conveyed Where she by shipwreck had been thrown; 209 111 sight! but grief may vanish ere the morrow."
"Though vast thypower, thy words are weak," Exclaimed the King, "a mockery hateful; Dutiful Child, her lot how hard! Is this her piety's reward? Those watery locks, that bloodless cheek! 215 0 winds without remorse! O shore ungrateful!
"Rich robes are fretted by the moth;
He will repent him of his troth; His brain will burn, his stout heart split asunder.
"Alas! and I have caused this woe; For, when my prowess from invading Neighbours Had freed his Realm, he plighted word 225 That he would turn to Christ our Lord, And his dear Daughter on a Knight bestow Whom I should choose for love and matchless labours.
"Her birth was heathen; but a fence
A Lady added to my court
"Ask not for whom, O Champions true! 235
She was reserved by me her life's betrayer;
She who was meant to be a bride
Is now a corse: then put aside
Vain thoughts, and speed ye, with observance due Of Christian rites, in Christian ground to lay her." 240
"The tomb," said Merlin, "may not close
To check this pious haste of erring duty.
"My books command me to lay bare
And in my glass significants there are Of things that may to gladness turn this weeping.
"For this, approaching, One by One,
Thy Knights must touch the cold hand of
the Virgin; So, for the favoured One, the Flower may
Once more: but, if unchangeable her doom, If life departed be for ever gone, Some blest assurance, from this cloud emerging,
"May teach him tobewail his loss; 159
Not with a grief that, like a vapour, rises And melts; but grief devout that shall endure, And a perpetual growth secure Of purposes which no false thought shall cross, A harvest of high hopes and noble enterprises."
"So be it," said the King;—" anon, 265
Here, where the Princess lies, begin the trial; Knights each in order as ye stand Step forth."—To touch the pallid hand Sir Agravaine advanced; no sign he won From Heaven or earth;—Sir Kaye had like denia1. 270
Abashed, Sir Dinas turned away; Even for Sir Percival was no disclosure; Though he, devoutest of all Champions, ere He reached that ebon car, the bier Whereon diffused like snow the Damsel lay, Full thrice had crossed himself in meek composure. 276