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