George Meredith

The Song Of Courtesy

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I

When Sir Gawain was led to his bridal-bed,
By Arthur's knights in scorn God-sped:-
How think you he felt?
O the bride within
Was yellow and dry as a snake's old skin;
Loathly as sin!
Scarcely faceable,
Quite unembraceable;
With a hog's bristle on a hag's chin! -
Gentle Gawain felt as should we,
Little of Love's soft fire knew he:
But he was the Knight of Courtesy.

II

When that evil lady he lay beside
Bade him turn to greet his bride,
What think you he did?
O, to spare her pain,
And let not his loathing her loathliness vain
Mirror too plain,
Sadly, sighingly,
Almost dyingly,
Turned he and kissed her once and again.
Like Sir Gawain, gentles, should we?
SILENT, ALL! But for pattern agree
There's none like the Knight of Courtesy.

III

Sir Gawain sprang up amid laces and curls:
Kisses are not wasted pearls:-
What clung in his arms?
O, a maiden flower,
Burning with blushes the sweet bride-bower,
Beauty her dower!
Breathing perfumingly;
Shall I live bloomingly,
Said she, by day, or the bridal hour?
Thereat he clasped her, and whispered he,
Thine, rare bride, the choice shall be.
Said she, Twice blest is Courtesy!

IV

Of gentle Sir Gawain they had no sport,
When it was morning in Arthur's court;
What think you they cried?
Now, life and eyes!
This bride is the very Saint's dream of a prize,
Fresh from the skies!
See ye not, Courtesy
Is the true Alchemy,
Turning to gold all it touches and tries?
Like the true knight, so may we
Make the basest that there be
Beautiful by Courtesy!

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George Meredith