earlyamericanwomenpoets



dates unknown


Bridges first published some of her poetic adaptations of the Arthurian legends in the Evening Journal (1857) and the Home Journal (1859). According to her preface, she had written these poems "several years before reading a line of Tennyson," whose Idylls of the King were published between 1856 and 1885. Bridges claims a translated French romance of "Prince Arthur" as the inspiration for her work.

from Avilion


The poets! O my poets! how I long'd
To see your faces once! How your sweet words
Have stirr'd the pulses of my hot young heart
Or still'd its fever! Masters, singers, skalds!
Ye were my friends that never play'd me false,
The teachers ever pointing to the True!
Your names lie gather'd in my inmost soul,
As cherish'd as the flowers that we keep
In token of great happiness and love!
O souls inspired, through whom amid my woe
I stretch'd my hand to God! I look'd on you,
Saw your grand foreheads, heard your voices clear,
And could not tell, for gazing in your eyes,
If white shapes hovering round your steps were they
Whose names your songs made glorious for aye,
The women ye had loved, or angels charm'd
From other heavens by the music here.
I saw ye all, my bards! ay, mine and earth's,
God's and eternity's! Albeit I saw
Where thorns had pierced your brows, and naked feet
Were scarr'd from treading ploughshares red with pain!

My stately Sophocles with Shakespeare walk'd,
Two royal natures mated, with a space
Betwixt their purple and the next who came;
Yet they were men too grand to look on men,
And blinded that they should but see the gods!
One sang to Grecian harp the world's child-faith,
And one its manhood's to a loftier lyre!
Homer and Milton, with majestic eyes,
That saw us tremble at their awful runes!
Then Sappho, with her hand in Tasso's twined,
Her fruitless passion spent in that wild leap
When flashing of her robe the ages thrill'd!
And he sublime through sorrow born of love,
Without a speck of prison-dust to float
'Twixt his fond hope and glories of his dream!
And crush'd Italia's boast, that sets her high
Above the thrones that cannot seize at least
Her great crown-gems, containing all their power!
Virgil and Dante, with the sadness fled
Their human brows once caught among the lost!
Then Spenser, Chaucer, that had lived so near
To Nature's heart, they show'd us how our own
Throbb'd pulse to pulse with hers! While two grand forms
Came, with a prince between, who loved them well,
And made himself a prouder tomb than his
Of the same name who slept enthroned at Aix!
For, dropping out the sceptre from his hand,
He laid him down at last betwixt the dust
That bore eternal fames, and link'd his grave
On either side to sacred soil for aye!
The rare completed man of many lives,
Whose eager search strove ever towards the truth,
And sang the gleams he caught in deathless notes,
Great Goethe show'd in meanings of his speech
That earth's unquiet quest was found at last!
And that fine nature, brother of his mind,
True lover of the beautiful and free,
Schiller, who trod the highest paths of Art,
With Carl of Weimar looking upon both
As Saul might once have gazed upon the seer
That pour'd anointing oil upon his head!
Byron and Burns, those passionate, rich souls,
That here, unfetter'd from all scorn and ill
And weakness of the flesh, had grown sublime
By living purely out of their higher selves;
Inspired of genius still, whose burning words
Startled a glance of fire to Arthur's eyes,
That faded into awe as solemn rose
The voice of one amid the moment's hush
That might have been a prophet of the Lord
To shake and gather spirits in the world,
If time and reason could have cast from life
The hot dreams of his youth ere death had led
His seeing mind unto the Fount of Light!
And after Shelley, with his trembling lips
Uttering low music into language breathed,
Endymion pass'd, who left to mark his rest
The record of a name in water writ,
And found his high thoughts known beyond the stars!
And as they moved aside, they group'd around
A fair, slight form but late come in their midst,
That stood within the circle of their tones
Calmly as one who long had known each soul,
Yet with a gladness shining on her face
Like to an exile's who is welcomed home
By old familiar voices, answering all
With some remember'd token of the past!
The mighty ancients spoke to her in words
As musical as choruses they sung;
The soul-blind minstrels of dim, distant days
Stood side by side with martyrs who had mix'd
The last triumphant strains of holy lives
With hatred's incense of ascending flames;
And all sublime and tender hearts that loved
And gave love language in their native tongues
That won new harmony from notes divine;
And they who play'd on lutes by sorrow tuned,
Or lifted nations, in a burst of song,
From deep despair to heights of conquering faith,
These talk'd with her as one whom their blest sight
Saw worthy evermore to walk with them
In amaranthine fields 'neath trees that bear
The leaves of knowledge and the fruit of life!
And some there were that breathed in broken sounds
Such thrilling, earnest thoughts, I could but feel
That they had been the voiceless onces of earth,
Trying their new-won power with timid lips,
As children stammer ere they learn to speak!
Yet, as all cluster'd round the central shape,
As in the skies the constellations range
About a single star, ofttimes less bright
And smaller than the suns that orbit it,
She spoke some reverent word that drew reply,
Pointing her hands toward the far-off world,
Then towards the glowing beams of changeless light
Wherein the good king sat among his knights;
And all the streams and woods, and hills and vales,
Gave solemn echo to the glad refrain,
Suiting all time when wrong by right is slain,
Of, "Pan, Great Pan is dead! Pan, Pan is dead!"

And, as the last note floated low away,
Arthur arose, and shoreward turn'd his steps,
And all the company went with him there;
Launcelot and Galahad on either side
Walk'd, with their lustrous faces, though one show'd
That pureness had belong'd to it from birth,
And to the other came through pain and death;
Then Bors and Bedivere, Sir Gareth, Kaye,
Tristan and Pellinore, Gawaine and Urre,
And all the other proud, familiar names
That shook the lists with shoutings in old days.
And the fair queen, after quick rain of tears,
With head uplifted like to one who sees
The bow of promise, all the storm forgot
In listening to the music of the bards.
And when we came upon the sparkling beach,
The barge was waiting, but the helmsman now
Was a great seraph, crown'd, with wings outspread,
Whose glory circled him as rays the sun.
And Arthur enter'd in, and round his form
The angel's radiance made wondrous light.
And some would fain have shared with him again
This new adventure, but he simply said,
"'Twas written I should go alone! my work
Needs not that more be banish'd from their heaven!
Nay, nay, dear friends! It is the will of God!
And at the sacred Name all bow'd their heads
And let him pass, and, as the vessel heaved
On waves of golden light, the air seem'd full
Of glorious faces and of snowy plumes,
And over us unnumber'd voices join'd
In such sweet harmony, it swell'd the tears
In speechless ecstasy from my touch'd heart.
And then — and then — was it the stirring sail
Or sudden silence broke the marvellous spell?
Alas! I know not! only, in a flash,
I found myself once more within this world,
On which the shades had gather'd into night,
And mid the throng that wait the Coming King!


Sources

Bridges, Sallie. The Marble Isle: Legends of the Round Table, and Other Poems. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1864.

Howey, Ann F. and Stephen Ray Reimer. A Bibliography of Modern Arthuriana (1500-2000). Boydell & Brewer, 2006.

Mancoff, Debra. King Arthur’s Modern Return. Psychology Press, 1998.
Sherr Sklar, Elizabeth and Donald L. Hoffman. King Arthur in Popular Culture. McFarland, 2002.