277

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.”

This poem is the prelude to my retelling of the King Arthur story, “Tales of Taliessin.”  Taliessin was the king’s poet.  If this prelude whets your appetite, you can read the whole cycle of poems in Stars through the Clouds: The Collected Poetry of Donald T. Williams (Lantern Hollow Press, 2019).

Prelude:

TALIESSIN AT GLASTONBURY

“The starveling hermit praying in this cell
Was once the mighty knight Sir Lancelot.
Pass quietly, but look upon him well.
The path from many-towered Camelot
Has many twists and turns, but to this spot
It leads. Might you have leisure for the tale?
Well, rest we then beneath yon spreading oak.”
He sat and twitched aside his hooded cloak,
Resting a small harp upon his knee.
“I was King Arthur’s minstrel,” then he said,
“My job: to keep the Great Hall filled with glee.
And all those golden days, so quickly fled,
Passed in all their sorrow and their glory
Before my hungry ears and watching eyes.
And so, if otherwise
You’ve heard in legend or in allegory
Some version of the deeds that there were done,
Allow one who was party to the story
To speak. No greater honor e’er was won–
Or lost–in any land beneath the sun.”
He bowed his head in memory of the king,
And then began to sing.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 books: Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis (Baltimore: Square Halo Books, 2016), An Encouraging Thought: The Christian Worldview in the Writings of L. R. R. Tolkien (Cambridge, OH: Christian Publishing House, 2018), and The Young Christian’s Survival Guide: Common Questions Young Christians Are Asked about God, the Bible, and the Christian Faith Answered (Cambridge, OH: Christian Publishing House, 2019)!  Order from the publisher or Amazon.

270

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.”

Last week we looked at love gone wrong in Lancelot and Guinnevere and tried to imagine how it ought to have been.  This week we get a glimpse of a couple who actually got it right.

TRUE LOVE

Eric in the Wooing of Enide

“Thou art the truest Treasure of my heart,

A Lantern in the darkness shining bright,

Unerring Inspiration of my art,

All this,” unto his lady said the knight.

 

“Thou art the Friend who understands the Dream,

The Hand on cheek or shoulder laid so light,

The perfect Comrade to complete the Team,

All this,” unto his lady said the knight.

 

“Thou art the Choice impossible, yet willed,

The Vision unforeseen to bless the sight,

Desire unfulfillable, fulfilled,

All this,” unto his lady said the knight.

 

“And I, the poorest knight in all the land,

Unworthy of such grace or such delight–

Yet I will serve thee!”  As he kissed her hand,

All this unto his lady said the knight.

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 books: Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis (Baltimore: Square Halo Books, 2016) and “An Encouraging Thought”: The Christian Worldview in the Writings of L. R. R. Tolkien (Cambridge, OH: Christian Publishing House, 2018)!  Order from the publisher or Amazon.

269

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.”

Arthur’s kingdom fell because Lancelot and Guinnevere did not make the choices I imagine for them in this poem. We can choose integrity over passion, faithfulness over desire. Will we? They tragically did not.

LANCELOT AND GUINNEVERE: HOW IT OUGHT TO HAVE BEEN
(Taliessin Indulgeth in Wishful Thinking)

Two minds and hearts amazingly akin:
Begot by Chastity upon Desire,
They burned with both divine and earthly fire.
Matured already e’er it could begin,
It seemed their love had simply always been.
But it had not. They found themselves with prior
Loyalties that asked to be held higher,
But loved each other as they hated sin.

Nothing could turn their fire into ice;
Their sacred vows they’d not consent to break.
“I will not rate thee at a lower price,”
He said, “Nor thee nor virtue will forsake,
And this must be my costly sacrifice.”
There really was no other choice to make.

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 books: Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis (Baltimore: Square Halo Books, 2016) and “An Encouraging Thought”: The Christian Worldview in the Writings of L. R. R. Tolkien (Cambridge, OH: Christian Publishing House, 2018)! Order from the publisher or Amazon.

267

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.”

There was a time when people played games involving strategy that did not involve mashing buttons on their phones.  You don’t actually have to go all the way back to Arthurian Britain to find such things, but in my Arthurian poetry I imagine Taliessin, the king’s bard, doing it, just because I can.

TALIESSIN PLAYETH AT CHESS

A pawn moves out to open up a lane

Which might allow a bishop to advance.

Three moves ahead–at least–anticipate!

Beware the lurking knight.  He lurks in vain;

The square he wants is covered.  With a glance,

We spot potential weakness.  So, we wait.

 

If we can bring just one more piece to bear,

The trap is ready.  So proceeds the dance.

If not perceived until it is too late,

This seemingly inconsequential square . . .

“Checkmate!”

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 books: Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis (Baltimore: Square Halo Books, 2016) and “An Encouraging Thought”: The Christian Worldview in the Writings of L. R. R. Tolkien (Cambridge, OH: Christian Publishing House, 2018)!  Order from the publisher or Amazon.

248

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 the Morte Arthur, Mallory pointedly declines to tell us whether or not Lancelot and Guinnevere actually committed adultery. They were certainly guilty of indiscretion, but whether they were actually guilty of the crime they were accused of remains a mystery.  Whether they were “abed” or not he steadfastly refuses to say, because “love was not in those days as it is today.”  It is a brilliant move, because it cuts off at the kneecaps Ascham’s charge that the Morte is an immoral book in which “the boldest knights are those who commit the foulest adulteries by the subtlest shifts.” And more importantly, it actually raises the moral bar.  You don’t have to be guilty to suffer the consequences of your foolishness.  If I were seeking a Bible verse to list as the moral of the story, it would be “Refrain from even the appearance of evil” (1 Thes. 5:22).  Indiscretion can be enough.  Don’t put yourself in a false position!

Even if Lancelot and Guinnevere refrained from the final act, their dalliance had terrible consequences, destroying the best and most noble and chivalrous earthly kingdom ever created.  It is better that we don’t know.  Here’s my take on the tragedy:

LANCELOT AND GUINNEVERE

A laugh, a word, a careless fling,

An innocent desire to please:

That such a little thing could bring

A kingdom to its knees!

 

The subtle sign, the clicking dice;

A failure to perceive the clue:

Such a small thing will suffice

A kingdom to undo.

 

A lingering look, a heart that aches,

A dainty eyebrow arching, coy:

Such a tiny thing it takes

A kingdom to destroy.

A brother’s trust, a failing nerve,

A knowing smile, a jealous frown:

Such a paltry thing could serve

To bring a kingdom down.

 

The knight his lady must obey;

An interview behind the wall:

Such petty things, to be the way

To make a kingdom fall.

 

A deadly game of blindman’s bluff–

A stroking hand, a tilting chin:

Such minute things, to be enough

To do a kingdom in!

Donald T. Williams, PhD

Look for Williams’ very latest books: Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis (Baltimore: Square Halo Books, 2016) and “An Encouraging Thought”: The Christian Worldview in the Writings of L. R. R. Tolkien (Cambridge, OH: Christian Publishing House, 2018)!