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CCXIII 

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.”

AIR

A Song of Taliessin

 

While walking out under the greenwood fair

A maiden I chanced to meet

Who softly whistled a country air,

And the melody was sweet:

As sweet as the blossoms she twined in her hair

Or the grass ‘neath her dancing feet;

She softly whistled a country air

And the melody was sweet.

 

I hid me back of the cedarn bough,

The better that tune to hear:

It smoothed the furrows from off the brow

And filled the heart with cheer.

Like the lonely seaman who peers from the prow

With his home port drawing near,

It smoothed the furrows from off the brow

And filled the heart with cheer.

 

Never again did I see the maid;

The tune I cannot recall.

But every melody that’s played

And pleases me at all

Sends me back to that greenwood fair

And seems to echo the beat

Of a softly whistled country air

Whose melody was sweet;

The melody was sweet.

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.  And look for Williams’ very latest book, Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis, from Square Halo Books!

Donald T. Williams, PhD

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CLXXX

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.”

 

Taliessin in Celtic lore and in Charles Williams’s Arthurian poetry is the bard at Arthur’s court, the king’s minstrel.  Here I use him as a symbol for my own relationship to a King even greater than Arthur.  That Christ should let any of us serve Him at all is a great mystery, a wonder worthy of song.

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TALIESSIN REMINISCES

 

I was a Singer from my youth

In silence wandering;

I was a Seeker after Truth

On nothing pondering.

A student of the stars whose eyes

Were chained unto the earth;

An heir predestined to the Prize

Who could not come to birth.

 

A golden harp upon my back

On which no string was strung;

A scroll unwritten in my pack,

No music on my tongue:

Accoutered thus, through barren lands

I sought I knew not what–

‘Til, following unheard commands,

I came to Camelot.

 

What was it that you saw in me?

It couldn’t have been much:

A minstrel with no melody,

A harp no one could touch.

But I knew what I saw in you;

And all the passing years

Have only proved the vision true

Which first I glimpsed through tears.

 

What did I find in you, my King?

The song that I was born to sing!

And all the passing years

Have only proved the vision true

Which stung me first to tears.

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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.  And look for Williams’ very latest book, Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis, from Square Halo Books!

Donald T. Williams, PhD

Book-CSLTheology-Cover

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 Charles Williams’ Arthurian poetry Taliessin is Arthur’s court bard, and the King’s Poet’s Household is a group of friends that keep alive the ideals of the kingdom even after its fall.  My own Arthurian cycle is just the same, except different.  That is, I borrow the character of Taliessin and his function, but the adventures work out rather differently and the spiritual references are less allusive and obscure.  Up next is an episode from The Household of Taliessin:

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THE CONVERSATION OF TALIESSIN

When one of Arthur’s knights desired peace

For thought, he might traverse the colonnaded

Path which left the high hall toward the east,

Then through an arch into a secret, shaded

Garden, where all Nature’s bounty, aided

By unobtrusive Art, had made a place

Of richness and of order and of grace.

 

For there were coverts deep and shadowy,

And there was sunlight warm upon the grass,

And there were fountains bubbling merrily,

And there were pools as smooth and clear as glass.

There one on pathways lined with stones might pass

By flocks of deer that wandered unafraid

Through flowery meadow and enchanted glade.

 

And though it was not visible to sight,

A subtle patterning of symmetry,

A balance of proportion, never quite

Obvious–a hidden harmony

Of part and whole, a sound felicity

Of shape caused those who wandered there to find

Composure welling up within the mind.

 

And there at whiles Taliessin would walk,

Sometimes alone, sometimes with two or three

Of noble lords and ladies, and their talk

Would be of beauty and the brevity

Of life, of valor and of sanctity,

Of love; and often on such days their words

Would scale the heavens like a flight of birds.

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Sir Balin le Sauvage was not a knight

To dally much with love or courtesy.

His talk was all of puissant deeds in fight,

Of famous sieges, tourneys, strategy,

Of glory won by arms, of victory.

Why he was in the garden on that day

(‘Twas not his custom), no one there could say.

 

Taliessin was saying, “We must ever

Keep these things in mind and hold them fast.

For if we should lose them, they may never

Return in our time.  And if the past

Foretells the future, then they cannot last.”

In disbelief Sir Balin shook his head

And clapped the poet on the back, and said,

 

“My friend, thou needest purgatives I ween.

Come, be a man and don’t make such a fuss.

Why, look around you!  Has there ever been

A king so great and knights so glorious?”

The minstrel struck his harp and answered thus:

“Aye, by God’s grace they are indeed.  But, then,

I am a man, and they are only men.”

 

“And what is man?”

 

“Intricate engine angels might admire,

Material spirit, animated earth,

Crafted casket for celestial fire–

Doomed to die the day it has its birth.

Hands that open, befitting a gracious lord,

Able to touch a cheek as soft as mist,

To wield a pen, a brush, a harpsichord–

But just as apt to freeze into a fist.

Godlike image, able to stand erect,

Yet by what small and simple things laid low:

A sneeze, a scratch, a germ, and all is wrecked;

A few short years, the time has come to go.

Delicate instrument of Love or Lust,

Admirably compacted–out of dust.”

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And Balin turned disgustedly away

And clanked off in his armor, but Elayne

And Percivale to Taliessin said, “Pray,

Good Sir, continue.”  Down a grassy lane

They strolled, extolling in a gentle vein

The Virtues, and their conversation ran

On love and on the mystery of man.

 

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.  And look for Williams’ very latest book, Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis, due out Dec.1,, 2016, from Square Halo Books!

Donald T. Williams, PhD

Book-CSLTheology-Cover

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.

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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