Richard Wilbur

Merlin Enthralled

In a while they rose and went out aimlessly riding. 
Leaving their drained cups on the table round. 
Merlin, Merlin, their hearts cried, where are you hiding? 
In all the world was no unnatural sound. 

Mystery watched them riding glade by glade; 
They saw it darkle from under leafy brows; 
But leaves were all its voice, and squirrels made 
An alien fracas in the ancient boughs. 

Once by a lake-edge something made them stop. 
Yet what they found was the thumping of a frog, 
Bugs skating on the shut water-top, 
Some hairlike algae bleaching on a log. 

Gawen thought for a moment that he heard 
A whitehorn breathe "Niniane." That Siren's daughter 
Rose in a fort of dreams and spoke the word 
"Sleep", her voice like dark diving water; 

And Merlin slept, who had imagined her 
Of water-sounds and the deep unsoundable swell 
A creature to bewitch a sorcerer, 
And lay there now within her towering spell. 

Slowly the shapes of searching men and horses 
Escaped him as he dreamt on that high bed: 
History died; he gathered in its forces; 
The mists of time condensed in the still head 

Until his mind, as clear as mountain water, 
Went raveling toward the deep transparent dream 
Who bade him sleep. And then the Siren's daughter 
Received him as the sea receives a stream. 

Fate would be fated; dreams desire to sleep. 
This the forsaken will not understand. 
Arthur upon the road began to weep 
And said to Gawen, "Remember when this hand 

Once haled a sword from stone; now no less strong 
It cannot dream of such a thing to do." 
Their mail grew quainter as they clopped along. 
The sky became a still and woven blue.