His Childhood

When Galahad was still a child

They let him run full free

And roam the castle holds and halls

And hear the minstrelsy.

He played amongst the dovecotes there

And watched the doves take wing

And hover o’er the hallows where

They hold the holy thing.

He played down in the kitchens

And the cooks made him good cheer

He watched in wonder by the forge

Where they made sword and spear.

He wished that he might bear a sword

And set a lance in rest,

As brave and bold as Lancelot

The brightest and the best.

He played alike with high and low

And put his trust in all

King Pelle’s people welcomed him

In cottage and in hall.

He might roam anywhere he liked

In all his storied play

Except into the shadowed vale

Out where the The Waste Land lay.

The Wasted land, the dying trees,

Where no good thing can grow

And all was for the dolorous stroke

Inflicted long ago.

The stroke that brought a ruin down

The stroke that maimed the king

The dreadful stroke that Balin gave

That ill-starred knight whom none could save

Who brought his brother to the grave

As the old minstrels sing.

The young child saw those wasted lands

He longed to set things right

He prayed that Christ might one day send

Some messenger to care and tend

To heal where others tear and rend,

And turn the darkness bright.

The chapel of the castle keep

Was more than home to him,

Most deeply from the priests he learned

Who from this world’s false hopes had turned,

And sometimes when the incense burned

His eyes began to swim.

And there he heard unearthly song

And strange things came to pass

When Galahad was serving

At the sacring of the mass.

And sometimes as the bell was rung

He felt a strong desire

A longing for eternal things

A kindling as the spirit sings

A stirring as the heart takes wings

When poets strike the lyre

And as he yearned, the tapers burned

With Pentecostal fire.

But not less when he roamed the woods

And played at chivalry,

For he heard voices on the air

And elfin minstrelsy,

For he heard voices on the air

When in some quiet grove

The white dove lit upon the branch

And spoke to him of love,

And then he sensed the Holy One

So present in the mass

Was present in the growing trees

And in the lowly grass

The voice that spoke to him in dreams

Spoke also in the flowing streams,

For sometimes heaven shines and gleams

Even in things that pass.

His mother was the fair Elaine,

She set him on her knee

And told him all the tales of old

Of love and chivalry.

She told him of his lineage

The kin from whom he came,

The keepers of a sacred trust

The keepers of the flame.

He knew the tales of singing stones

The tales of holy wells

The castle of the wounded king,

The one of whom the sages sing

And name him as the Fisher King,

Was wound around with spells.

And summoned to  King Pelles’ side

Sometimes he could divine

That it was strange and perilous

To come of Pelles’ line.

He knew no earthly father there

But often Elaine’s eyes

Grew misty when, in tales, she told

Of love and of disguise.

He would not probe the mystery

He sensed that she concealed

‘In time’ she used to promise him,

‘All things will be revealed.’

Sometimes he longed to be a knight

Sometimes to be a priest

Sometimes to be the minstrel

Who makes music at the feast.

He asked the Lady, fair Elaine,

‘What will become of me?’

‘Oh you will be a knight my son

The flower of chivalry.

So many knights just draw their swords

To shed blood on the land

They lust for might and mastery,

They only prate of courtesy

And keep a code of chivalry

They scarcely understand.

But when the sword of destiny

Is holden in your hand

Then you will not bring violence

But healing on the land.’

And then he knew a time would come

When he would leave his home

Forsaking the familiar roof

For heaven’s star-lit dome.

And he would ask Elaine the fair

When will I be a knight?

And she would sigh and say ‘in time’

And hold her young son tight.

When Galahad was full fifteen

There dawned a fateful day

When Nacien the hermit came,

His spirit kindled into flame

And called the young man and Elaine

And bid them kneel to pray,

He prayed for their protection

He prayed for inner peace

He prayed that they might seize the hour,

Might know the Spirit’s shaping power

That as the fruit forms from the flower

God’s love might find release.

Your Time has come, said Nacien

You must both leave the keep

And there is lore you both must learn

For in my vigils I discern

That one of you will not return

And one of you will weep.

You know the spell upon us all

Since Balin made us mourn:

The Castle Keep is set apart

A wounded hall with wounded heart

And any who should now depart

Will never find by craft or art

A straight way to return.

Yet leave you must this very day

If prophecies speak right

The fledgling dove must now take wing

The knight to come, of whom they sing

Will take the long road home and bring

New healing life and light.

So bid farewell to hearth and hall

Farewell to kith and kin

And set aside all fear and doubt

Let nerve be strong and heart be stout

Whatever clamour lies without

Keep harmony within.

Three days from here you’ll find a glade

Set in the forest wild

Where stands a convent – marble white

That rings with holy song at night

Of maidens who bear heaven’s light

And worship heaven’s child.

Elaine, take Galahad to them

And they will keep you well

The day is coming very soon

When one will come by light of moon

And grant this growing lad the boon

That starts to break the spell.

And so they saddled up their steeds

And bade the king farewell

And set off through the leafy woods

And made exchange of gentle words

And what befell them afterwards

Another tale doth tell.

‘The Coming of Galahad-His Childhood’ is the beginning to Merlin’s Isle, Malcolm Guite’s new Arthurian epic. This prologue reveals the inspiration behind the poetry, which called on him to put his fountain pen to paper. ‘Galahad’s Childhood’ is the opening ballad in a sequence about Galahad and the Holy Grail, which will be part of his forthcoming Merlin’s Isle epic. We await the publication of Guite’s first volume of Merlin’s Isle, the Grail Sequence, sometime next year.

Citation Information

Malcolm Guite, “The Coming of Galahad,” An Unexpected Journal: King Arthur Legendarium 6, no. 2. (Summer 2023), 70-77.