Year: 
2021

These are Arthurian poems about King Arthur, Merlin, Morgause, Lancelot and the other knights of the Round Table. 

Morgause’s Song
by Michael R. Burch

Before he was my brother,
he was my lover,
though certainly not the best.

I found no joy
in that addled boy,
nor he at my breast.

Why him? Why him?
As the candles dim,
it grows harder and harder to say ...

Perhaps girls and boys
are the god’s toys
when they lose their way.

Published by Celtic Twilight

***

The Pictish Faeries
by Michael R. Burch

Smaller and darker
than their closest kin,
    the faeries learned only too well
    never to dwell
close to the villages of larger men.

Only to dance in the starlight
when the moon was full
    and men were afraid.
    Only to worship in the farthest glade,
ever heeding the raven and the gull.

The invincible Roman legions were never able to subdue the Scottish Picts, and eventually built Hadrian’s Wall to protect themselves! Did the smallish Picts give rise to our myths of fairies, elves and leprechauns?

***

Midsummer-Eve
by Michael R. Burch

What happened to the mysterious Tuatha De Danann, to the Ban Shee (from which we get the term “banshee”) and, eventually, to the druids? One might assume that with the passing of Merlyn, Morgause and their ilk, the time of myths and magic ended. This poem is an epitaph of sorts.

In the ruins
of the dreams
and the schemes
of men;

when the moon
begets the tide
and the wide
sea sighs;

when a star
appears in heaven
and the raven
cries;

we will dance
and we will revel
in the devil’s
fen . . .

if nevermore again.

***

Pellinore’s Fancy
by Michael R. Burch

King Pellinore was famous for hunting the Questing Beast, a rather odd, fantastical creature. Does its name suggest that the beast was dreamed up, or invented for the purpose of questing after it? Perhaps Pellinore simply didn’t want to stay home and needed a good (if farfetched) excuse to furnish his wife . . .

What do you do when your wife is a nag
and has sworn you to hunt neither fish, fowl, nor stag?
When the land is at peace, but at home you have none,
Is that, perchance, when ... the Questing Beasts run?

***

The Wild Hunt
by Michael R. Burch

Few legends have inspired more poetry than those of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. These legends have their roots in a far older Celtic mythology than many realize. Here the names are ancient and compelling. Arthur becomes Artur or Artos, “the bear.” Bedivere becomes Bedwyr. Lancelot is Llenlleawc, Llwch Lleminiawg or Lluch Llauynnauc. Merlin is Myrddin. And there is an curious intermingling of Welsh and Irish names within these legends, indicating that some tales (and the names of the heroes and villains) were in all probability “borrowed” by one Celtic tribe from another. For instance, in the Welsh poem “Pa gur,” the Welsh Manawydan son of Llyr is clearly equivalent to the Irish Mannanan mac Lir.

Near Devon, the hunters appear in the sky
with Artur and Bedwyr sounding the call;
and the others, laughing, go dashing by.
They only appear when the moon is full:

Valerin, the King of the Tangled Wood,
and Valynt, the goodly King of Wales,
Gawain and Owain and the hearty men
who live on in many minstrels’ tales.

They seek the white stag on a moonlit moor,
or Torc Triath, the fabled boar,
or Ysgithyrwyn, or Twrch Trwyth,
the other mighty boars of myth.

They appear, sometimes, on Halloween
to chase the moon across the green,
then fade into the shadowed hills
where memory alone prevails.

Published by Celtic Twilight, Celtic Lifestyles, Boston Poetry and Auldwicce

***

Small Tales
by Michael R. Burch

According to legend, Arthur and Kay grew up together in Ector’s court, Kay being a few years older than Arthur. Borrowing from Mary Stewart, I am assuming that Bedwyr (later Anglicized to Bedivere) might have befriended Arthur at an early age. By some accounts, Bedwyr was the original Lancelot. In any case, imagine the adventures these young heroes might have pursued (or dreamed up, to excuse tardiness or “lost” homework assignments). Manawydan and Llyr were ancient Welsh gods. Cath Pulag was a monstrous, clawing cat. (“Sorry teach! My theme paper on Homer was torn up by a cat bigger than a dragon! And meaner, too!”) Pen Palach is more or less a mystery, or perhaps just another old drinking buddy with a few good beery-bleary tales of his own. This poem assumes that many of the more outlandish Arthurian legends began more or less as “small tales,” little white lies which simply got larger and larger with each retelling. It also assumes that most of these tales came about just as the lads reached that age when boys fancy themselves men, and spend most of their free time drinking and puking . . .

When Artur and Cai and Bedwyr
were but scrawny lads
they had many a boozy adventure
in the still glades
of Gwynedd.
When the sun beat down like an oven
upon the kiln-hot hills
and the scorched shores of Carmarthen,
they went searching
and found Manawydan, the son of Llyr.
They fought a day and a night
with Cath Pulag (or a screeching kitten),
rousted Pen Palach, then drank a beer
and told quite a talltale or two,
till thems wasn’t so shore which’un’s tails wus true.

And these have been passed down to me, and to you.

***

Merlyn, on His Birth
by Michael R. Burch

I was born in Gwynedd,
or not born, as some men claim,
and the Zephyr of Caer Myrddin
gave me my name.

My father was Madog Morfeyn
but our eyes were never the same,
nor our skin, nor our hair;
for his were dark, dark
—as our people’s are—
and mine were fairer than fair.

The night of my birth, the Zephyr
carved of white stone a rune;
and the ringed stars of Ursa Major
outshone the cool pale moon;
and my grandfather, Morydd, the seer
saw wheeling, a-gyre in the sky,
a falcon with terrible yellow-gold eyes
when falcons never fly.

***

Merlyn’s First Prophecy
by Michael R. Burch

Vortigern commanded a tower to be built upon Snowden,
but the earth would churn and within an hour its walls would cave in.

Then his druid said only the virginal blood of a fatherless son,
recently shed, would ever hold the foundation.

“There is, in Caer Myrrdin, a faery lad, a son with no father;
his name is Merlyn, and with his blood you would have your tower.”

So Vortigern had them bring the boy, the child of the demon,
and, taciturn and without joy, looked out over Snowden.

“To kill a child brings little praise, but many tears.”
Then the mountain slopes rang with the brays of Merlyn’s jeers.

“Pure poppycock! You fumble and bumble and heed a fool.
At the base of the rock the foundations crumble into a pool!”

When they drained the pool, two dragons arose, one white and one red,
and since the old druid was blowing his nose, young Merlyn said:

“Vortigern is the white, Ambrosius the red; now, watch, indeed.”
Then the former died as the latter fed and Vortigern peed.

Originally published by Celtic Twilight

***

Uther’s Last Battle
by Michael R. Burch

When Uther, the High King,
unable to walk, borne upon a litter
went to fight Colgrim, the Saxon King,
his legs were weak, and his visage bitter.
“Where is Merlyn, the sage?
For today I truly feel my age.”

All day long the battle raged
and the dragon banner was sorely pressed,
but the courage of Uther never waned
till the sun hung low upon the west.
“Oh, where is Merlyn to speak my doom,
for truly I feel the chill of the tomb.”

Then, with the battle almost lost
and the king besieged on every side,
a prince appeared, clad all in white,
and threw himself against the tide.
“Oh, where is Merlyn, who stole my son?
For, truly, now my life is done.”

Then Merlyn came unto the king
as the Saxons fled before a sword
that flashed like lightning in the hand
of a prince that day become a lord.
“Oh, Merlyn, speak not, for I see
my son has truly come to me.

And today I need no prophecy
to see how bright his days will be.”
So Uther, then, the valiant king
met his son, and kissed him twice—
the one, the first, the one, the last—
and smiled, and then his time was past.

***

At Tintagel
by Michael R. Burch

That night,
at Tintagel,
there was darkness such as man had never seen . . .
darkness and treachery,
and the unholy thundering of the sea . . .

In his arms,
who can say how much she knew?
And if he whispered her name . . .
“Ygraine”
. . . could she tell above the howling wind and rain?

Could she tell, or did she care,
by the length of his hair
or the heat of his flesh, . . .
that her faceless companion
was Uther, the dragon,

and Gorlois lay dead?

Published by Songs of Innocence, Celtic Twilight, Fables, Fickle Muses and Poetry Life & Times

***

It Is Not the Sword!
by Michael R. Burch

Caladbolg is the name of a mythical Irish sword, while Caladvwlch is its Welsh equivalent. Caliburn and Excalibur are later variants.

“It is not the sword,
but the man,”
  said Merlyn.
  But the people demanded a sign—
the sword of Macsen Wledig,   
Caladbolg, the “lightning-shard.”

“It is not the sword,
but the words men follow.”
  Still, he set it in the stone
  —Caladvwlch, the sword of kings—
and many a man did strive, and swore,
and many a man did moan.

But none could budge it from the stone.

“It is not the sword
or the strength,”
  said Merlyn,
  “that makes a man a king,
but the truth and the conviction
that ring in his iron word.”

“It is NOT the sword!”
cried Merlyn,
  crowd-jostled, marveling
  as Arthur drew forth Caliburn
with never a gasp,
with never a word,

and so became their king.

Published by Songs of Innocence, Neovictorian/Cochlea, Romantics Quarterly and Celtic Twilight

***

Isolde’s Song
by Michael R. Burch

After the deaths of Tristram and Isolde, a hazel and a honeysuckle grew out of their graves until the branches intertwined and could not be parted.  

Through our long years of dreaming to be one
we grew toward an enigmatic light
that gently warmed our tendrils. Was it sun?
We had no eyes to tell; we loved despite
the lack of all sensation—all but one:   
we felt the night’s deep chill, the air so bright
at dawn we quivered limply, overcome.

To touch was all we knew, and how to bask.
We knew to touch; we grew to touch; we felt
spring’s urgency, midsummer’s heat, fall’s lash,
wild winter’s ice and thaw and fervent melt.
We felt returning light and could not ask
its meaning, or if something was withheld
more glorious. To touch seemed life’s great task.

At last the petal of me learned: unfold.
And you were there, surrounding me. We touched.
The curious golden pollens! Ah, we touched,
and learned to cling and, finally, to hold.

Originally published by The Raintown Review and nominated for the Pushcart Prize; since published by Ancient Heart Magazine (UK), The Eclectic Muse (Canada), Boston Poetry Magazine, The Orchards, Strange Road, On the Road with Judy, Complete Classics, FreeXpression (Australia), Better Than Starbucks, Fullosia Press, Glass Facets of Poetry, Sonnetto Poesia (Canada), The New Formalist, and Trinacria

***

The Last Enchantment
by Michael R. Burch

Oh, Lancelot, my truest friend,
how time has thinned your ragged mane
and pinched your features; still you seem
though, much, much changed—somehow unchanged.

Your sword hand is, as ever, ready,
although the time for swords has passed.
Your eyes are fierce, and yet so steady
meeting mine ... you must not ask.

The time is not, nor ever shall be,
for Merlyn’s words were only words;
and now his last enchantment wanes,
and we must put aside our swords ...

Originally published by Trinacria

I believe I wrote this poem in my early twenties, around 1980. I distinctly remember working on the poem on a flight to England in 1982 because an attractive girl was sitting beside me on the plane and I remember wishing she would ask me what I was doing. No such luck! According to my notes the poem was revised and filed in 1984, but it remains largely as it was originally written.

Keywords/Tags: King Arthur, Arthurian, Merlin, round table, knights, England, chivalry, Camelot, Excalibur, Lancelot, Tristram, Tristan, Isolde, Iseult, Yseult, Uther Pendragon, Wales, Pellinore

 

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