Read CHAPTER IV of The Tale of Balen , free online book, by Algernon Charles Swinburne, on

As morning hears before it run
The music of the mounting sun,
And laughs to watch his trophies won
From darkness, and her hosts undone,
And all the night become a breath,
Nor dreams that fear should hear and flee
The summer menace of the sea,
So hears our hope what life may be,
And knows it not for death.

Each day that slays its hours and dies
Weeps, laughs, and lightens on our eyes,
And sees and hears not: smiles and sighs
As flowers ephemeral fall and rise
About its birth, about its way,
And pass as love and sorrow pass,
As shadows flashing down a glass,
As dew-flowers blowing in flowerless grass,
As hope from yesterday.

The blossom of the sunny dew
That now the stronger sun strikes through
Fades off the blade whereon it blew
No fleetlier than the flowers that grew
On hope’s green stem in life’s fierce light.
Nor might the glory soon to sit
Awhile on Balen’s crest alit
Outshine the shadow of doom on it
Or stay death’s wings from flight.

Dawn on a golden moorland side
By holt and heath saw Balen ride
And Launceor after, pricked with pride
And stung with spurring envy: wide
And far he had ridden athwart strange lands
And sought amiss the man he found
And cried on, till the stormy sound
Rang as a rallying trumpet round
That fires men’s hearts and hands.

Abide he bade him: nor was need
To bid when Balen wheeled his steed
Fiercely, less fain by word than deed
To bid his envier evil speed,
And cried, “What wilt thou with me?” Loud
Rang Launceor’s vehement answer: “Knight,
To avenge on thee the dire despite
Thou hast done us all in Arthur’s sight
I stand toward Arthur vowed.”

“Ay?” Balen said: “albeit I see
I needs must deal in strife with thee,
Light is the wyte thou layest on me;
For her I slew and sinned not, she
Was dire in all men’s eyes as death,
Or none were lother found than I
By me to bid a woman die:
As lief were loyal men to lie,
Or scorn what honour saith.”

As the arched wave’s weight against the reef
Hurls, and is hurled back like a leaf
Storm-shrivelled, and its rage of grief
Speaks all the loud broad sea in brief,
And quells the hearkening hearts of men,
Or as the crash of overfalls
Down under blue smooth water brawls
Like jarring steel on ruining walls,
So rang their meeting then.

As wave on wave shocks, and confounds
The bounding bulk whereon it bounds
And breaks and shattering seaward sounds
As crying of the old sea’s wolves and hounds
That moan and ravin and rage and wail,
So steed on steed encountering sheer
Shocked, and the strength of Launceor’s spear
Shivered on Balen’s shield, and fear
Bade hope within him quail.

But Balen’s spear through Launceor’s shield
Clove as a ploughshare cleaves the field
And pierced the hauberk triple-steeled,
That horse with horseman stricken reeled,
And as a storm-breached rock falls, fell.
And Balen turned his horse again
And wist not yet his foe lay slain,
And saw him dead that sought his bane
And wrought and fared not well.

Suddenly, while he gazed and stood,
And mused in many-minded mood
If life or death were evil or good,
Forth of a covert of a wood
That skirted half the moorland lea
Fast rode a maiden flower-like white
Full toward that fair wild place of fight,
Anhungered of the woful sight
God gave her there to see.

And seeing the man there fallen and dead,
She cried against the sun that shed
Light on the living world, and said,
“O Balen, slayer whose hand is red,
Two bodies and one heart thou hast slain,
Two hearts within one body: aye,
Two souls thou hast lost; by thee they die,
Cast out of sight of earth and sky
And all that made them fain.”

And from the dead his sword she caught,
And fell in trance that wist of nought,
Swooning: but softly Balen sought
To win from her the sword she thought
To die on, dying by Launceor’s side.
Again her wakening wail outbroke
As wildly, sword in hand, she woke
And struck one swift and bitter stroke
That healed her, and she died.

And sorrowing for their strange love’s sake
Rode Balen forth by lawn and lake,
By moor and moss and briar and brake,
And in his heart their sorrow spake
Whose lips were dumb as death, and said
Mute words of presage blind and vain
As rain-stars blurred and marred by rain
To wanderers on a moonless main
Where night and day seem dead.

Then toward a sunbright wildwood side
He looked and saw beneath it ride
A knight whose arms afar espied
By note of name and proof of pride
Bare witness of his brother born,
His brother Balan, hard at hand,
Twin flower of bright Northumberland,
Twin sea-bird of their loud sea-strand,
Twin song-bird of their morn.

Ah then from Balen passed away
All dread of night, all doubt of day,
All care what life or death might say,
All thought of all worse months than May:
Only the might of joy in love
Brake forth within him as a fire,
And deep delight in deep desire
Of far-flown days whose full-souled quire
Rang round from the air above.

From choral earth and quiring air
Rang memories winged like songs that bear
Sweet gifts for spirit and sense to share:
For no man’s life knows love more fair
And fruitful of memorial things
Than this the deep dear love that breaks
With sense of life on life, and makes
The sundawn sunnier as it wakes
Where morning round it rings.

“O brother, O my brother!” cried
Each upon each, and cast aside
Their helms unbraced that might not hide
From sight of memory single-eyed
The likeness graven of face and face,
And kissed and wept upon each other
For joy and pity of either brother,
And love engrafted by sire and mother,
God’s natural gift of grace.

And each with each took counsel meet
For comfort, making sorrow sweet,
And grief a goodly thing to greet:
And word from word leapt light and fleet
Till all the venturous tale was told,
And how in Balen’s hope it lay
To meet the wild Welsh king and slay,
And win from Arthur back for pay
The grace he gave of old.

“And thither will not thou with me
And win as great a grace for thee?”
“That will I well,” quoth Balan: “we
Will cleave together, bound and free,
As brethren should, being twain and one.”
But ere they parted thence there came
A creature withered as with flame,
A dwarf mismade in nature’s shame,
Between them and the sun.

And riding fleet as fire may glide
He found the dead lie side by side,
And wailed and rent his hair and cried,
“Who hath done this deed?” And Balen eyed
The strange thing loathfully, and said,
“The knight I slew, who found him fain
And keen to slay me: seeing him slain,
The maid I sought to save in vain,
Self-stricken, here lies dead.

“Sore grief was mine to see her die,
And for her true faith’s sake shall I
Love, and with love of heart more high,
All women better till I die.”
“Alas,” the dwarf said, “ill for thee
In evil hour this deed was done:
For now the quest shall be begun
Against thee, from the dawning sun
Even to the sunset sea.

“From shore to mountain, dawn to night,
The kinsfolk of this great dead knight
Will chase thee to thy death.” A light
Of swift blithe scorn flashed answer bright
As fire from Balen’s eye. “For that,
Small fear shall fret my heart,” quoth he:
“But that my lord the king should be
For this dead man’s sake wroth with me,
Weep might it well thereat.”

Then murmuring passed the dwarf away,
And toward the knights in fair array
Came riding eastward up the way
From where the flower-soft lowlands lay
A king whose name the sweet south-west
Held high in honour, and the land
That bowed beneath his gentle hand
Wore on its wild bright northern strand
Tintagel for a crest.

And Balen hailed with homage due
King Mark of Cornwall, when he knew
The pennon that before him flew:
And for those lovers dead and true
The king made moan to hear their doom;
And for their sorrow’s sake he sware
To seek in all the marches there
The church that man might find most fair
And build therein their tomb.