Sometime ago, in my study of Arthurian legend, I discovered this poem and this poet. I like Teasdale’s work generally, but after reading and viewing a page of the Pre-Raphaelite Society about Guenevere (there are about three spellings to her name) I decided to post this one. It tells the love story with Lancelot from Guenevere’s point of view.
I was a queen, and I have lost my crown;
A wife, and I have broken all my vows;
A lover, and I ruined him I loved: —
There is no other havoc left to do.
A little month ago I was a queen,
And mothers held their babies up to see
When I came riding out of Camelot.
The women smiled, and all the world smiled too.
And now, what woman’s eyes would smile on me?
I still am beautiful, and yet what child
Would think of me as some high, heaven-sent thing,
An angel, clad in gold and miniver?
The world would run from me, and yet am I
No different from the queen they used to love.
If water, flowing silver over stones,
Is forded, and beneath the horses’ feet
Grows turbid suddenly, it clears again,
And men will drink it with no thought of harm.
Yet I am branded for a single fault.
I was the flower amid a toiling world,
Where people smiled to see one happy thing,
And they were proud and glad to raise me high;
They only asked that I should be right fair,
A little kind, and gowned wondrously,
And surely it were little praise to me
If I had pleased them well throughout my life.
I was a queen, the daughter of a king.
The crown was never heavy on my head,
It was my right, and was a part of me.
The women thought me proud, the men were kind,
And bowed right gallantly to kiss my hand,
And watched me as I passed them calmly by,
Along the halls I shall not tread again.
What if, to-night, I should revisit them?
The warders at the gates, the kitchen-maids,
The very beggars would stand off from me,
And I, their queen, would climb the stairs alone,
Pass through the banquet-hall, a loathed thing,
And seek my chambers for a hiding-place,
And I should find them but a sepulchre,
The very rushes rotted on the floors,
The fire in ashes on the freezing hearth.
I was a queen, and he who loved me best
Made me a woman for a night and day,
And now I go unqueened forevermore.
A queen should never dream on summer eves,
When hovering spells are heavy in the dusk: —
I think no night was ever quite so still,
So smoothly lit with red along the west,
So deeply hushed with quiet through and through.
And strangely clear, and deeply dyed with light,
The trees stood straight against a paling sky,
With Venus burning lamp-like in the west.
I walked alone amid a thousand flowers,
That drooped their heads and drowsed beneath the dew,
And all my thoughts were quieted to sleep.
Behind me, on the walk, I heard a step —
I did not know my heart could tell his tread,
I did not know I loved him till that hour.
Within my breast I felt a wild, sick pain,
The garden reeled a little, I was weak,
And quick he came behind me, caught my arms,
That ached beneath his touch; and then I swayed,
My head fell backward and I saw his face.
All this grows bitter that was once so sweet,
And many mouths must drain the dregs of it.
But none will pity me, nor pity him
Whom Love so lashed, and with such cruel thongs.