Canto 10: Camlann

Labour to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire – conscience
George Washington

The Call of Caledon

And I remembered drowsily,
How ‘mid the hills last night I’d lain
Beside a singing moorland burn
Wilfrid Wilson Gibson

Pray seasons pass in peace, when bravest knights
Take peradventures seeking Holy Grails,
’Til all cut short, like Magpies in the nest,
The Picts are coming back like ghouls on gales;
Dumbarton’s fall
Must change with no delay,”
Says Arthur, “Once, for all, this wingless dragon slay.”

Endonning his old shirt of mail
He led the loyal Cymri,
Back northwards, at Stow-on-Wedale
To the Mother’s reliqury
All pray’d, through Peht-land vales made trail,
When over Albany;
Perch’d like an all-pervading mountain stag,
The Maiden Castle hung aslant the crag.

A mile away he pitch’d up camp,
On auld volcano falls,
Into the damp, beneath a lamp
A faded scroll unrolls,
‘We strike the castle at those points where lowest fall the walls.’

Dunsapie Hill

The Battle of Mount Agned

and man will plunge knives –
into human flesh –
stabbing and stabbing
Esther Raab

The game is on, the roaring army storms,
Trident-wielding-Neptune thrice divided,
As such a restless force of violence forms
Victory was in one charge decided;
Out spurts the blood
Which Fate ordains to pour,
Such gamble understood by all who gain from war.

Far from the warm heat of the hall
& family to dote on,
Still thick in battle, strong & tall,
King Arthur’s belly caught one…
But, indomitable in soul,
Baderean fought on,
Sensing his zenith, moments such as these
As when a poet first Parnassus sees.

“We have no time for prisoners
& less for weans & wives,
Cruel business, inglorious,
Tho’ Lord God gave us lives
These scum Satanic pagans, make sure not a child survives.”


The Round Table

Here on Earth we must live upright.
Exile is agony, pain and blight.
Nobody returns once they are gone
Yunus Emre

Up to that wide & scenic tidal mouth
Which Clyde feeds fairly from the Alban hills,
The Celtic men are marching east & south.
In them their king a mighty strength instils;
That vital dish
Of posipraxis pure
Dismisses all anguish & trepidations cure.

As when the warbling bott fly bug
Penetrates the healthy flock,
They, silent, reach’d that double plug
Of volcanic, pointing rock,
“Those slimy slugs, asleep, asnug,
Are in for quite a shock
Prepare the men to go at Dawn’s first light,
But first I needs must speak with every knight.”

That close-knit crew did form a crowd
Round Arthur, in a ring,
Puff’d up & proud, uncouth, uncow’d
Strengths to the Table bring,
Men like sirs Kai & Bedevere, who serv’d no better king.


The Battle of Mount Badon

The sharp swallows in their swerve
flaring & hesitating
hunting for the final curve
William Stafford

As when one eats one’s breakfast in the park
& pities with bread a little pigeon,
Whose keen-eyed cousins, set off at the spark,
Instantly surround us as a legion;
Kai’s kindred pour
About Sir Bedevere,
Who’d broken down the door with battle-axe & spear.

The sun had not yet took his throne,
With golden paint applying,
Before hot blood & blocks of bone
Sent through the battle flying,
A battle done in early morn,
Hundreds dead & dying,
A thousand prisoners, all in a line
Of Picts, depress’d, the dragon’s limping spine.

King Arthur drew his Hittite blade
& cut a thousand throats,
While Clerics prayed, as Delphi made
Blood sacrifice of goats,
To please the gods, to please HIS god, to hell each shade demotes.

Lammer Law

The Rot of Guinevere

Brittle beauty that Nature made so frail,
Whereof the gift is small, & short the season,
Flowering today, tomorrow apt to fail
Henry Howard

As when one sits in the dip of great hills
Then sees an early setting of the sun,
As when descends the shadows & the chills,
Eyes ride along the peaks, whose highest one;
Still struck with gold,
A titan in the sky,
This peak, then, Arthur, bold, his foes shall terrify!

His name is feted everywhere,
At each utterance a cheer,
His famous feasts were more a fair,
Frivolous & full of beer,
But… one turns sour, from her own chair
Mordred drags Guinevere,
For she had sleighted him, she’d diss’d his youth,
Forgetting that he knew her sordid truth.

“How dare you wench, think ill of me,
When ye hath stoop’d so low –
Now I shall be thine enemy,”
Pipes Arthur, “So, son, go,
Before love’s angers steal my mind to deal thy mortal blow.”


The Rot of Medrawt

I shall die, but
that is all that I shall do for Death.
I hear him leading his horse out of the stall
Edna St. Vincent Millay

As when one’s cap blocks out the cloudless sun,
But ‘neath the peak its reflection shimmers
On mirror’d waves, & eyes, now unopen,
Fill with orange light in rapid glimmers;
When dangers hoard,
Signs seen on every side,
Alas by minds ignored ballooning with ill pride.

King Arthur reign’d nigh twenty years
Within his mighty bubble,
Dishearing Guinevere’s sad tears
For true love under rubble,
So when the grave crisis appears
Arthur sens’d no trouble,
But as to dust all creatures must return,
Trust enmities & rivalries to burn.

Now is the chance, Medrawt, the worm,
Meets land-hungry Angles,
”Force strong & firm must end the term
Of his constant wrangles –
Then with his death see how swift ties of loyalties untangles!”


The Battle of Camlann

The bull, conversing with nature.
Moves off into the meadow,
White horns planted
Nikolai Alekseevich Zabolotsky

The best part of two hundred thousand men
Have come to share this dreich & dreary space,
A floating moor above Dunnichen glen,
The hunter & the hunted at the chase;
Weakening eyes
Dividing men three-fold,
“Sire, is that very wise?” “Sir Kai, do as ye’re told.”

Young Merlin sat above the scene
From Rheged he had wandered,
At bardic school, barely nineteen,
On poetry had ponder’d,
Oer murder ghastly & obscene
Somebody had blunder’d,
For Arthur was failing his final test,
This mad, dim, weird, grim battle of the West.

Mordred espies his ‘family,’
His heart-beat scenting blood,
Cross combat he, bearbeitely,
Ghosted beneath his hood,
Then shook a knife thro’ Arthur’s ribs & dropp’d him where he stood.


The Death of Arthur

Then say, as his divine embrace
Destroys the mortal parts of you
I too am of that royal race
A.D. Hope

What good a kingdom when a life force fades?
What use are riches when your end is near?
What help is power when we join the shades?
What use remorse when one can shed no tear?
Death, dark & dread,
Lay cold bones upon him,
So very nearly dead, light winch’d in ever dim.

As gravity dictates our end,
When precipices crumble,
”Sir Bedevere,” he gasp’d, “Old friend,”
Throat horsey, hoar & humble,
”My blade with thee I do intend,
Do not fudge or fumble,
But in that lake o’er there it ye must throw,
Never let it be clutch’d by Saxon foe.

For while it stays unhidden there
Our souls they shall not rule…”
A gulp of air, an angel stare,
Beard spittl’d in red-drool,
King Arthur dies, his famous blade lobb’d in that flaming pool


Arthur the Legend

And don’t worry about your lineage
poetic or natural. The Sun shines on
the jungle, you know, on the tundra
Frank O’Hara

The blood-red western dulls the day of charms,
Across this charr’d & melancholy waste
Of sever’d heads cradl’d by lopp’d-off arms,
The dead are heap’d up in a scowling haste;
These cairns of stones
Shall hide the rotting scent
Of flesh dripping from bones… legs broken, sprawl’d & bent.

King Arthur’s corpse a better grave
On the isle of apples found,
Morgan le Fay her brother gave
A fair sleep, tho’ in the mound
Him still the bravest of the brave,
Whose legends long shall sound –
Sarcophagus forgotten by the Celt
As safe, to western mountains, they woulld melt,

Where wide across the mighty vale
Of vast eternity,
Oer neaps & ale they’ll tell a tayle
Of ancyent chivalry
Of how a bastard’s fist bested Henghists’ hegemony!


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