(My complete GMD bio/commentary
Poetry may well have been MacDonald's
first love as a writer. His first two books were both books
of poems, and he continued to write poetry throughout his
entire career. He even added his own entry to
the Holy Grail saga, though not a book length attempt,
called The Sangreal: a part of the Story omitted in the
old Romances. This was published in Good Words,
a Scottish Magazine, in 1863. Lady Byron, his benefactor at
this time, was the first to read it in November of 1859. It
may very well have been the last thing of MacDonald's that
she was privileged to read. She died in May the following
Much of his poetry was in the form of
sonnets and especially songs and ballads of every kind.
These lyrical poems were in the opinion of many his best, a
claim that's often made on the poems of his friend Alfred
Tennyson also. (MacDonald thought Tennyson's In Memoriam
was the best poem of the 19th century). But as Greville
reminds us, some of MacDonald's very best poetry was found interspersed
within his novels, particularly his fantasies and
fairytales. Many of those poems were never published as
Among MacDonald's best known and
appreciated poems are The Auld Fisher, the book length Diary of an Old
Soul which gives a poem for each day of the year; The
Haunted House, a poem that explores the notion of
ghosts; The Mermaid; and the book length Within
and Without--his first book.
We present here The Sangreal.
A Part Of The Story Omitted In The Old Romances.
How sir Galahad despaired of finding the Grail.
Through the wood the sunny day
Glimmered sweetly glad;
Through the wood his weary way
Rode sir Galahad.
All about stood open porch,
Long-drawn cloister dim;
'Twas a wavering wandering church
Every side of him.
On through columns arching high,
Rode in thirst that made him sigh,
Came the moon, and through the trees
Glimmered faintly sad;
Withered, worn, and ill at ease
Down lay Galahad;
Closed his eyes and took no heed
What might come or pass;
Heard his hunger-busy steed
Cropping dewy grass.
Cool and juicy was the blade,
Good to him as wine:
For his labour he was paid,
Galahad must pine!
Late had he at Arthur's board,
Arthur strong and wise,
Pledged the cup with friendly lord,
Looked in ladies' eyes;
Now, alas! he wandered wide,
Resting never more,
Over lake and mountain-side,
Over sea and shore!
Swift in vision rose and fled
All he might have had;
Weary tossed his restless head,
And his heart grew sad.
With the lowliest in the land
He a maiden fair
Might have led with virgin hand
From the altar-stair:
Youth away with strength would glide,
Age bring frost and woe;
Through the world so dreary wide
Mateless he must go!
Lost was life and all its good,
Gone without avail!
All his labour never would
Find the Holy Grail!
How sir Galahad found and lost the Grail.
Galahad was in the night,
And the wood was drear;
But to men in darksome plight
Radiant things appear:
Wings he heard not floating by,
Heard no heavenly hail;
But he started with a cry,
For he saw the Grail.
Hid from bright beholding sun,
Hid from moonlight wan,
Lo, from age-long darkness won,
It was seen of man!
Three feet off, on cushioned moss,
As if cast away,
Homely wood with carven cross,
Rough and rude it lay!
To his knees the knight rose up,
Loosed his gauntlet-band;
Fearing, daring, toward the cup
Went his naked hand;
When, as if it fled from harm,
Sank the holy thing,
And his eager following arm
Plunged into a spring.
Oh the thirst, the water sweet!
Down he lay and quaffed,
Quaffed and rose up on his feet,
Rose and gayly laughed;
Fell upon his knees to thank,
Loved and lauded there;
Stretched him on the mossy bank,
Fell asleep in prayer;
Dreamed, and dreaming murmured low
Ave, pater, creed;
When the fir-tops gan to glow
Waked and called his steed;
Bitted him and drew his girth,
Watered from his helm:
Happier knight or better worth
Was not in the realm!
Belted on him then his sword,
Braced his slackened mail;
Doubting said: "I dreamed the Lord
Offered me the Grail."
How sir Galahad gave up the Quest for the Grail.
Ere the sun had cast his light
On the water's face,
Firm in saddle rode the knight
From the holy place,
Merry songs began to sing,
Let his matins bide;
Rode a good hour pondering,
And was turned aside,
Saying, "I will henceforth then
Yield this hopeless quest;
Tis a dream of holy men
This ideal Best!"
"Every good for miracle
Heart devout may hold;
Grail indeed was that fair well
Full of water cold!
"Not my thirst alone it stilled
But my soul it stayed;
And my heart, with gladness filled,
Wept and laughed and prayed!
"Spectral church with cryptic niche
I will seek no more;
That the holiest Grail is, which
Helps the need most sore!"
And he spake with speech more true
Than his thought indeed,
For not yet the good knight knew
His own sorest need.
How sir Galahad sought yet again for the Grail.
On he rode, to succour bound,
But his faith grew dim;
Wells for thirst he many found,
Water none for him.
Never more from drinking deep
Rose he up and laughed;
Never more did prayerful sleep
Follow on the draught.
Good the water which they bore,
Plenteously it flowed,
Quenched his thirst, but, ah, no more
Eased his bosom's load!
For the _Best_ no more he sighed;
Rode as in a trance;
Life grew poor, undignified,
And he spake of chance.
Then he dreamed through Jesus' hand
That he drove a nail--
Woke and cried, "Through every land,
Lord, I seek thy Grail!"
That sir Galahad found the Grail.
Up the quest again he took,
Rode through wood and wave;
Sought in many a mossy nook,
Many a hermit-cave;
Sought until the evening red
Sunk in shadow deep;
Sought until the moonlight fled;
Slept, and sought in sleep.
Where he wandered, seeking, sad,
Story doth not say,
But at length sir Galahad
Found it on a day;
Took the Grail with holy hand,
Had the cup of joy;
Carried it about the land,
Gleesome as a boy;
Laid his sword where he had found
Boot for every bale,
Stuck his spear into the ground,
Kept alone the Grail.
How sir Galahad carried about the Grail.
Horse and crested helmet gone,
Greaves and shield and mail,
Caroling loud the knight walked on,
For he had the Grail;
Caroling loud walked south and north,
East and west, for years;
Where he went, the smiles came forth,
Where he left, the tears.
Glave nor dagger mourned he,
Axe nor iron flail:
Evil might not brook to see
Once the Holy Grail.
Wilds he wandered with his staff,
Woods no longer sad;
Earth and sky and sea did laugh
Round sir Galahad.
Bitter mere nor trodden pool
Did in service fail,
Water all grew sweet and cool
In the Holy Grail.
Without where to lay his head,
Chanting loud he went;
Found each cave a palace-bed,
Every rock a tent.
Age that had begun to quail
In the gathering gloom,
Counselled he to seek the Grail
And forget the tomb.
Youth with hope or passion pale,
Youth with eager eyes,
Taught he that the Holy Grail
Was the only prize.
Maiden worn with hidden ail,
Restless and unsure,
Taught he that the Holy Grail
Was the only cure.
Children rosy in the sun
Ran to hear his tale
How twelve little ones had won
Each of them the Grail.
How sir Galahad hid the Grail.
Very still was earth and sky
When he passing lay;
Oft he said he should not die,
Would but go away.
When he passed, they reverent sought,
Where his hand lay prest,
For the cup he bare, they thought,
Hidden in his breast.
Hope and haste and eager thrill
Turned to sorrowing wail:
Hid he held it deeper still,
Took with him the Grail.