TWO AT THE CROSSROADS
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.
MORE POEMS BY STEPHEN VINCENT BENÉT
|"Two at the Crossroads" is reprinted from Heavens and Earth: A Book of Poems. Stephen Vincent Benet. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1920.