Saturday, June 25, 2022

Snippet from Ten Years a Bard...

Here is the beginning of my long poem "King Arthur's Raid on Hell". It's based, by the way, on material from Medieval Welsh poetry and stories, and was written for a competition at the SCA's 2000 AD Estrella War - which I won.

King Arthur’s Raid on Hell

The King was sitting in his winter hall
and for some song or story he did call
to cheer the evening and make waiting sweet
until such time the company sat at meat.

Of all his bards the eldest then stood up
and said, “My Lord, by Jesus’ Sacred Cup,
there is a story that in Wales men tell
of how King Arthur led a raid on Hell

to free a prisoner and great treasure bring
back to his court.” — The King commanded, “Sing!”

“In Winter’s darkness, e’en as now we are,
my tale begins.  One night there shone a star –
a burning dragon in its form and flight –
whose awful radiance reddened all the night.

The Porter came, the watchmen from the walls,
and all who saw it, into Arthur’s halls
to bring the news, and cried, ‘My lord, come see
this fearful sight, and tell us if it be

the Day of Judgment, for afraid we are.’
Then all within came out to see the star
which burned above them.  Arthur gazed full long
upon it, then spoke to his courtly throng –

‘Who reads this riddle, let him prove his worth!’ —
And Taliesin Chief of Bards stood forth.
‘My King, last night I dreamed a curious dream.
I stood beside a fortress, as it seemed,

and heard within a voice lamenting long
his heavy chains and most enduring wrong.
Then I awoke.  My lord, the only one
can read this riddle is Madrona’s son.

Mabon they called him – he’d no time to grow
into a longer name, as all men know,
for on the third night following his birth
he vanished –  none knows where on middle-earth

he is, or if he lives, or if he’s dead.
But he must read your riddle.’ — Arthur said,
‘Then who will find him?’ — Taliesin smiled
and said, ‘My Lord, I know of tame and wild

all that a man may know twixt earth and sky,
but there is one knows more of lore than I.’
Arthur then bade him, ‘Go, and bring me word
where Mabon lies, and when your tale I’ve heard

 I’ll forth and free him, I and all my men!’
And so the Bard his journey did begin.

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