CXXXIX

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

In my lifelong quest to revive interest in form, I consider this experiment a great achievement because every audience for which I have read it has loved it.  In each stanza, the last line must be the same as the first line, though often with a new twist of meaning due to context.  Then, to repeat the pattern of the microcosmic stanzas on the macrocosmic level of the poem as a whole, the last stanza must be the same as the first stanza—but not seem merely redundant.  The result might be the most satisfying sense of closure I’ve ever achieved.

 

THE BALLADEER

 

The king unto his troubadour

Said, “Come, a ditty while we sup:

Some sample of your ancient lore

To lift the weary spirits up.

Some tale of hero true and brave

Who faced the dragon’s fire alone

A damsel or a town to save

And got for his reward a throne.

A lay of beauty and of dread,

Of starlit sky and distant shore,

A ballad of enchantment,” said

The king unto his troubadour.

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The minstrel took his lyre up,

His fingers poised upon the strings;

And motionless stood knife and cup

To watch the melody take wings.

So silence reigned throughout the hall,

And then the troubadour began

With notes like drops of rain that fall

Upon a parched and burning land.

First soft, then like a torrent down

It flowed, and swept them away,

Beyond the walls, beyond the town

Beneath the waning light of day.

They heard the western sky turn red,

Then fade away to black.  They heard

The stars glint silver overhead

Until the morning breezes stirred

A land where they had never been.

A lull came, and they drained the cup.

‘Twas e’re such like enchantment when

The minstrel took his lyre up.

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He stood; the words began to flow.

With them the sun rose bright and clear,

And then the knights beheld the foe–

And hand was clenched on hilt for fear.

They saw the green and glittering scales;

They heard the rumbling of his blaze;

They felt their hearts begin to quail

Beneath the venom in his gaze.

They felt the dragon’s baleful breath,

Surveyed the worm’s appalling length,

And knew why men could long for death

Rather than assay his strength.

They saw the ruined countryside,

They saw smoke rising in the sky,

They saw the serpent’s ramping stride,

And then the worm began to fly.

Then darkness came upon them all;

They flung them down to wait for woe,

Save one bold warrior, strong and tall,

Who stood; his words began to flow.

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“Come Death, Destruction, Flame, and Fire,

Come Malice, Madness, evil Spell,

Come Darkness, Doom, or Dragon’s Ire,

I still defy thee, Fiend of Hell!”

He took the flame upon his shield;

It melted fast onto his hand.

The sword his other arm did wield

Became a beaming fire-brand.

What no mere mortal blade could do,

Heat from the worm’s own evil heart

With one sword wielded fierce and true

Did: tore the gleaming scales apart.

The blood spurt scalding from his side;

The dragon roared and rose in pain;

A hundred tons of ravaged pride

Fell in a ruinating rain

Upon one still undaunted knight

Who scorned to raise his useless shield,

But lifted up with all his might

The sword, and thus his fate was sealed.

Down came the worm, the knight went down,

But drove his point into its heart.

Then came a blast and dinning sound

To split the very sky apart.

A searing blaze leapt in the air;

The worm was his own funeral pyre.

But also on that warrior fair

Came death, destruction, flame, and fire.

Capture6

The tear flowed freely down the cheek

Of comrades in that bitter glade;

They cursed their hearts, too slow, too weak

To stand and give their brother aid.

But then the flames began to part,

And, striding forth, the hero came:

For those who pierce the dragon’s heart

Become impervious to flame!

Then down as one upon the knee

They fell, and took him as their king.

He swore them there to fealty

Upon his sword, still glistening.

So courage rose within each heart,

And with their oaths they gave it breath:

Ne’er more from duty to depart

Come fire, flame, destruction, death.

“They kept those vows in many deeds,

But those come in another tale;

And now, my brothers, we must needs

Drink our lord’s health in frothy ale.”

Thus ended the good balladeer,

And none could find a word to speak:

The last note faded in the ear;

The tear flowed freely down the cheek.

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It seemed no time had passed at all;

It seemed eternity had run.

But as they left the banquet hall,

They saw the last light of the sun.

The night passed o’er them peacefully,

The day saw many a noble deed.

They gathered once more, gracefully,

For meat and drink and golden mead.

The king received them royally

And greeted warmly one and all.

Since last they’d bowed the grateful knee,

It seemed no time had passed at all.

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The king then to his troubadour

Said, “Come, a ditty while we sup:

Some sample of your ancient lore

To lift the weary spirits up.

Some tale of hero true and brave

Who faced the dragon’s fire alone

A damsel or a town to save,

And got for his reward a throne.

A lay of beauty and of dread,

Of starlit sky and distant shore,

A ballad of enchantment,” said

The king unto his troubadour.

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.

Donald T. Williams, PhD

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About gandalf30598

Theologian, philosopher, poet, and critic; minister of the Gospel who makes his living by teaching medieval and renaissance literature; dual citizen of Narnia and Middle Earth.

Posted on March 17, 2016, in Donald Williams, Dragons, Poetry and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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