by: Stephen Vincent Benét (1898-1943)

      he knight of battered and unblazoned arms
      Reined up before the haster from the South
      Whose red shield bore the crookt beast Glatysaunt,
      (Also a scroll with "Pray for me!" entwined
      With flowers and poison-leaves and Iseult's name)
      And cried "Where lies the sea-road?"; but the other
      Seeming as mad as his own crest, replied
      "Has the beast quested past you? have its dogs
      Given sharp tongue along these drooping woods?
      For I must follow them until I fall
      Dead in come cleft of rock, and let the crabs
      Hack at my armor till the Judgement Day!"
      The first--"Whence come you, and for what your quest?"
      "Palomides am I from Camelot,
      Wretched Palomides whom dreams torment
      Forever--of a cold proud little head,
      A friendly hand that gives me the same love
      It would to a familiar dog, a body
      For which Sir Tristram and King Mark contend,
      Wolves over a spilled bone ... and yet this name,
      This "Iseult" is a good thing for the sword,
      And makes it cut through many helms and makes
      Death very visible to heathen men ...
      ... And I could sit with her on a green cliff
      And watch the world die--if she were but tired
      And soon would rest her head against my heart;
      Not caring for the roughness of my mail
      Not aught at all save that I held her close
      And she and her child's love at last had peace ...
      So, Lord, what need were Heaven, Hell or quest?
      No! I must follow winter! She will be
      Doubtless betrayed and hurt--and I not there
      To comfort her in any measure--well
      Pray God some ax beat through my warding soon!--
      I beg your grace, sir Knight--my dreams--you said?--

      "I heard the quarrel and loud noise of hounds
      More to the westward, by a little inn
      That's badged with a dry bush."
      "I must ride on!
      Your road lies thither!"
      Like a pawing storm
      His horse beat down the valley and was gone
      The stranger's face within the vizor wore
      The look of one who, having had a gem
      Some twelvemonth, finds it out of fashion, dulled
      By others' praise perhaps--at any rate
      Its turn gone past--a new stone to be found,
      New tiger-hues ...
      Palomides was far.
      And, settling well his harp upon his back,
      With something of amusement in his mouth,
      Tristram rode southward to the Breton ships.

"Two at the Crossroads" is reprinted from Heavens and Earth: A Book of Poems. Stephen Vincent Benet. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1920.




[ A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z ]

Home · Poetry Store · Links · Email · © 2002