Friday, 24 May 2013

Morte D'Arthur

The Epic
By Alfred Lord Tennyson

At Francis Allen's on the Christmas eve,--
The game of forfeits done--the girls all kissed
Beneath the sacred bush and past away,--
The parson Holmes, the poet Everard Hall,
The host, and I sat round the wassail-bowl,
Then half-way ebbed: and there we held a talk,
How all the old honor had from Christmas gone,
Or gone, or dwindled down to some odd games
In some odd nooks like this; till I, tired out
With cutting eights that day upon the pond,
Where, three times slipping from the outer edge,
I bumped the ice into three several stars,
Fell in a doze; and, half-awake, I heard
The parson taking wide and wider sweeps,
Now harping on the church-commissioners,
Now hawking at geology and schism;
Until I woke, and found him settled down
Upon the general decay of faith
Right through the world; "at home was little left,
And none abroad; there was no anchor, none,
To hold by." Francis, laughing, clapt his hand
On Everard's shoulder with, "I hold by him."
"And I," quoth Everard, "by the wassail-bowl."
"Why, yes," I said, "we knew your gift that way
At college; but another which you had,
I mean of verse (for so we held it then),
What came of that?" "You know," said Frank, "he burnt
His epic, his King Arthur, some twelve books,"--
And then to me demanding why? "Oh, sir,
He thought that nothing new was said, or else
Something so said 'twas nothing--that a truth
Looks freshest in the fashion of the day:
God knows, he has a mint of reasons: ask.
It pleased _me_ well enough." "Nay, nay," said Hall,
"Why take the style of those heroic times?
For nature brings not back the mastodon,
Nor we those times; and why should any man
Remodel models? These twelve books of mine
Were faint Homeric echoes, nothing-worth,
Mere chaff and draff, much better burnt." "But I,"
Said Francis, "picked the eleventh from this hearth,
And have it: keep a thing, its use will come.
I hoard it as a sugar-plum for Holmes."
He laughed, and I, though sleepy, like a horse
That hears the corn-bin open, pricked my ears;
For I remembered Everard's college fame
When we were freshmen: then, at my request,
He brought it; and the poet, little urged,
But, with some prelude of disparagement,
Read, mouthing out his hollow oes and aes,
Deep-chested music, and to this result:

Morte D'Arthur

So all day long the noise of battle roll'd
Among the mountains by the winter sea;
Until King Arthur's table, man by man,
Had fallen in Lyonnesse about their Lord,
King Arthur: then, because his wound was deep,
The bold Sir Bedivere uplifted him,
Sir Bedivere, the last of all his knights,
And bore him to a chapel nigh the field,
A broken chancel with a broken cross,
That stood on a dark strait of barren land.
On one side lay the ocean, and on one
Lay a great water, and the moon was full.

Then spake King Arthur to Sir Bedivere:
"The sequel of to-day unsolders all
The goodliest fellowship of famous knights
Whereof this world holds record. Such a sleep
They sleep--the men I loved. I think that we
Shall never more, at any future time,
Delight our souls with talk of knightly deeds,
Walking about the gardens and the halls
Of Camelot, as in the days that were.
I perish by this people which I made,--
Tho' Merlin sware that I should come again
To rule once more--but let what will be, be,
I am so deeply smitten thro' the helm
That without help I cannot last till morn.
Thou therefore take my brand Excalibur,
Which was my pride: for thou rememberest how
In those old days, one summer noon, an arm
Rose up from out the bosom of the lake,
Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful,
Holding the sword--and how I row'd across
And took it, and have worn it, like a king:
And, wheresoever I am sung or told
In aftertime, this also shall be known:
But now delay not: take Excalibur,
And fling him far into the middle mere:
Watch what thou seëst, and lightly bring me word."

To him replied the bold Sir Bedivere:
"It is not meet, Sir King, to leave thee thus,
Aidless, alone, and smitten thro' the helm.
A little thing may harm a wounded man.
Yet I thy hest will all perform at full,
Watch what I see, and lightly bring thee word."

So saying, from the ruin'd shrine he stept
And in the moon athwart the place of tombs,
Where lay the mighty bones of ancient men,
Old knights, and over them the sea-wind sang
Shrill, chill, with flakes of foam. He, stepping down
By zigzag paths, and juts of pointed rock,
Came on the shining levels of the lake.

There drew he forth the brand Excalibur,
And o'er him, drawing it, the winter moon,
Brightening the skirts of a long cloud, ran forth
And sparkled keen with frost against the hilt:
For all the haft twinkled with diamond sparks,
Myriads of topaz-lights, and jacinth work
Of subtlest jewellery. He gazed so long
That both his eyes were dazzled, as he stood,
This way and that dividing the swift mind,
In act to throw: but at the last it seem'd
Better to leave Excalibur conceal'd
There in the many-knotted water-flags,
That whistled stiff and dry about the marge.
So strode he back slow to the wounded King.

Then spake King Arthur to Sir Bedivere:
"Hast thou perform'd my mission which I gave?
What is it thou hast seen, or what hast heard?"

And answer made the bold Sir Bedivere:
"I heard the ripple washing in the reeds,
And the wild water lapping on the crag."

To whom replied King Arthur, faint and pale:
"Thou hast betray'd thy nature and thy name,
Not rendering true answer, as beseem'd
Thy fealty, nor like a noble knight:
For surer sign had follow'd, either hand,
Or voice, or else a motion of the mere.
This is a shameful thing for men to lie.
Yet now, I charge thee, quickly go again
As thou art lief and dear, and do the thing
I bade thee, watch, and lightly bring me word."

Then went Sir Bedivere the second time
Across the ridge, and paced beside the mere,
Counting the dewy pebbles, fixed in thought;
But when he saw the wonder of the hilt,
How curiously and strangely chased, he smote
His palms together, and he cried aloud,

"And if indeed I cast the brand away,
Surely a precious thing, one worthy note,
Should thus be lost forever from the earth,
Which might have pleased the eyes of many men.
What good should follow this, if this were done?
What harm, undone? deep harm to disobey,
Seeing obedience is the bond of rule.
Were it well to obey then, if a king demand
An act unprofitable, against himself?
The King is sick, and knows not what he does.
What record, or what relic of my lord
Should be to aftertime, but empty breath
And rumours of a doubt? but were this kept,
Stored in some treasure-house of mighty kings,
Some one might show it at a joust of arms,
Saying, 'King Arthur's sword, Excalibur,
Wrought by the lonely maiden of the Lake;
Nine years she wrought it, sitting in the deeps
Upon the hidden bases of the hills.'
So might some old man speak in the aftertime
To all the people, winning reverence.
But now much honour and much fame were lost."

So spake he, clouded with his own conceit,
And hid Excalibur the second time,
And so strode back slow to the wounded King.

Then spoke King Arthur, breathing heavily:
"What is it thou hast seen, or what hast heard?"

And answer made the bold Sir Bedivere:
"I heard the water lapping on the crag,
And the long ripple washing in the reeds."

To whom replied King Arthur, much in wrath:
"Ah, miserable and unkind, untrue,
Unknightly, traitor-hearted! Woe is me!
Authority forgets a dying king,
Laid widow'd of the power in his eye
That bow'd the will. I see thee what thou art,
For thou, the latest-left of all my knights,
In whom should meet the offices of all,
Thou wouldst betray me for the precious hilt;
Either from lust of gold, or like a girl
Valuing the giddy pleasure of the eyes.
Yet, for a man may fail in duty twice,
And the third time may prosper, get thee hence:
But, if thou spare to fling Excalibur,
I will arise and slay thee with my hands."

Then quickly rose Sir Bedivere, and ran,
And, leaping down the ridges lightly, plunged
Among the bulrush-beds, and clutch'd the sword,
And strongly wheel'd and threw it. The great brand
Made lightnings in the splendour of the moon,
And flashing round and round, and whirl'd in an arch,
Shot like a streamer of the northern morn,
Seen where the moving isles of winter shock
By night, with noises of the northern sea.
So flash'd and fell the brand Excalibur:
But ere he dipt the surface, rose an arm
Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful,
And caught him by the hilt, and brandish'd him
Three times, and drew him under in the mere.
And lightly went the other to the King.

Then spoke King Arthur, drawing thicker breath:
"Now see I by thine eyes that this is done.
Speak out: what is it thou hast heard, or seen?"

And answer made the bold Sir Bedivere:
"Sir King, I closed mine eyelids, lest the gems
Should blind my purpose, for I never saw,
Nor shall see, here or elsewhere, till I die,
Not tho' I live three lives of mortal men,
So great a miracle as yonder hilt.
Then with both hands I flung him, wheeling him;
But when I look'd again, behold an arm,
Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful,
That caught him by the hilt, and brandish'd him
Three times, and drew him under in the mere."

And answer made King Arthur, breathing hard:
"My end draws nigh; 't is time that I were gone.
Make broad thy shoulders to receive my weight,
And bear me to the margin; yet I fear
My wound hath taken cold, and I shall die."

So saying, from the pavement he half rose,
Slowly, with pain, reclining on his arm,
And looking wistfully with wide blue eyes
As in a picture. Him Sir Bedivere
Remorsefully regarded thro' his tears,
And would have spoken, but he found not words,
Then took with care, and kneeling on one knee,
O'er both his shoulders drew the languid hands,
And rising bore him thro' the place of tombs.

But, as he walk'd, King Arthur panted hard,
Like one that feels a nightmare on his bed
When all the house is mute. So sigh'd the King
Muttering and murmuring at his ear, "Quick, quick!
I fear it is too late, and I shall die."
But the other swiftly strode from ridge to ridge,
Clothed with his breath, and looking, as he walk'd
Larger than human on the frozen hills.
He heard the deep behind him, and a cry
Before. His own thought drove him like a goad.
Dry clash'd his harness in the icy caves
And barren chasms, and all to left and right
The bare black cliff clang'd round him, as he based
His feet on juts of slippery crag that rang
Sharp-smitten with the dint of armed heels--
And on a sudden, lo! the level lake,
And the long glories of the winter moon.

Then saw they how there hove a dusky barge
Dark as a funeral scarf from stem to stern,
Beneath them; and descending they were ware
That all the decks were dense with stately forms
Black-stoled, black-hooded, like a dream--by these
Three Queens with crowns of gold--and from them rose
A cry that shiver'd to the tingling stars,
And, as it were one voice, an agony
Of lamentation, like a wind, that shrills
All night in a waste land, where no one comes,
Or hath come, since the making of the world.

Then murmur'd Arthur, "Place me in the barge,"
And to the barge they came. There those three Queens
Put forth their hands, and took the King, and wept.
But she that rose the tallest of them all
And fairest, laid his head upon her lap,
And loosed the shatter'd casque, and chafed his hands,
And call'd him by his name, complaining loud
And dropping bitter tears against his brow
Striped with dark blood: for all his face was white
And colourless, and like the wither'd moon
Smote by the fresh beam of the springing east;
And all his greaves and cuisses dash'd with drops
Of onset; and the light and lustrous curls--
That made his forehead like a rising sun
High from the daïs-throne--were parch'd with dust;
Or, clotted into points and hanging loose,
Mix'd with the knightly growth that fringed his lips.
So like a shatter'd column lay the King;
Not like that Arthur who, with lance in rest,
From spur to plume a star of tournament,
Shot thro' the lists at Camelot, and charged
Before the eyes of ladies and of kings.

Then loudly cried the bold Sir Bedivere:
"Ah! my Lord Arthur, whither shall I go?
Where shall I hide my forehead and my eyes?
For now I see the true old times are dead,
When every morning brought a noble chance,
And every chance brought out a noble knight.
Such times have been not since the light that led
The holy Elders with the gift of myrrh.
But now the whole ROUND TABLE is dissolved
Which was an image of the mighty world;
And I, the last, go forth companionless,
And the days darken round me, and the years,
Among new men, strange faces, other minds."

And slowly answer'd Arthur from the barge:
"The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
And God fulfils Himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.
Comfort thyself: what comfort is in me?
I have lived my life, and that which I have done
May He within Himself make pure! but thou,
If thou shouldst never see my face again,
Pray for my soul. More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice
Rise like a fountain for me night and day.
For what are men better than sheep or goats
That nourish a blind life within the brain,
If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer
Both for themselves and those who call them friend?
For so the whole round earth is every way
Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.
But now farewell. I am going a long way
With these thou seëst--if indeed I go--
(For all my mind is clouded with a doubt)
To the island-valley of Avilion;
Where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow,
Nor ever wind blows loudly; but it lies
Deep-meadow'd, happy, fair with orchard-lawns
And bowery hollows crown'd with summer sea,
Where I will heal me of my grievous wound."

So said he, and the barge with oar and sail
Moved from the brink, like some full-breasted swan
That, fluting a wild carol ere her death,
Ruffles her pure cold plume, and takes the flood
With swarthy webs. Long stood Sir Bedivere
Revolving many memories, till the hull
Look'd one black dot against the verge of dawn,
And on the mere the wailing died away.

Here ended Hall, and our last light, that long
Had winked, and threatened darkness, flared and fell:
At which the Parson, sent to sleep with sound,
And waked with silence, grunted "Good!" but we
Sat rapt: it was the tone with which he read--
Perhaps some modern touches here and there
Redeemed it from the charge of nothingness--
Or else we loved the man, and prized his work;
I know not; but we sitting as I said,
The cock crew loud; as at that time of year
The lusty bird takes every hour for dawn:
Then Francis, muttering, like a man ill-used,
"There now--that's nothing!" drew a little back,
And drove his heel into the smouldered log,
That sent a blast of sparkles up the flue:
And so to bed; where yet in sleep I seemed
To sail with Arthur under looming shores,
Point after point; till on to dawn, when dreams
Begin to feel the truth and stir of day,
To me, methought, who waited with a crowd,
Then came a bark that, blowing forward, bore
King Arthur, like a modern gentleman
Of stateliest port; and all the people cried,
"Arthur is come again: he cannot die."
Then those that stood upon the hills behind
Repeated "Come again, and thrice as fair;"
And, further inland, voices echoed, "Come
With all good things, and war shall be no more."
At this a hundred bells began to peal,
That with the sound I woke, and heard indeed
The clear church-bells ring in the Christmas morn.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

A Brief Play: Being a short interplay between three gods


We see three figures walking across a wasteland.  The ground is barren under their feet, dry, yellow, course dirt, more like gravel than soil.  There are boulders the same colour in the background.  Above them, sunlight filters through a mist that blurs everything, like looking back through the mists of time.

One is a very tall old man with a hoary beard, and his hair long and past his shoulders, is the same colour.  His clothes are grey and just a bit better than rags.  He wears a large, floppy, pointed, brimmed hat that looks like it's as old as he is.  It shades his face, but we can just make out that he wears an eye patch over one eye.  He walks as one who is determined but patient, no extra effort, no emotion in his stride.  At his hip is an ornate sword that seems at odds with his dress, and he walks with the aid of a speer that's bigger than a quarter staff.  In the glint of the light, we can see what looks like runes carved in the speer head.

On his left walks a man who is also very tall, but a bit shorter than the old man.  He looks much younger, and is skinny and gangly.  He is blonde and pale.  He is dressed in teal and blue, princely clothing.  Everything is just right, in order, every hair on his head, every fold of his clothes.  His black leather boots are polished to a shin.  He has no beard, either clean shaven or unable to grow a beard.  He obviously cares much for his appearance.  He walks with a bit of a skip in his stride, and the smile on his face seems unconscious but mischievous.  In his hand is a long, very narrow staff that would look like a twig if it wasn't so large.  It's made from a light coloured wood that looks almost like blackthorn wood, and there are black runes burnt into it.

On the old man's right walks a much bulkier man, short in comparison to the other two, but still tall.  Like the thin man, his hair is blonde, though bordering on strawberry blonde in the light.  Like the old man, he has a beard, matching his blonde hair.  His blue eyes are fierce and dangerous.  He walks with purpose, his muscles obvious even through the chain mail armour he wears.  The armour appears to be made of bronze, and looks very old but well cared for, like the wearer cares as much for his armour as the thin man does for his hair.  On his head is a helmet, also appearing to be bronze.  It has plates that cover his ears, and a nose guard that curves around under his eyes, connecting back to his temples.  It has a slight point to the top, and from the side sprout two backward facing fins or wings, giving his head almost a dragon appearance.  In his hand, he carries a hammer.  The handle is short, hardly large enough for the hand that holds it.  The head of the hammer, though, is very large and obviously head, though its wielder doesn't seem to use any effort to carry it. The hammer is made of iron, and is much scared from use.  Faded now under the scars, runes can be made out, obviously hammered into the metal when it was still hot.

Thor (looking across Odin at Loki, an annoyed look on his face, speaks in more a grumble than anything):

Why is HE here?  Why'd you bring him.

Odin (looks at Thor out of the corner of his eye and answer matter of factly):

Because he's my brother.


Blood and cup brother only, not family.

Odin (shares a smile with Loki that the audience can see but Thor can't):

There is that.

Loki (with a smirk on his face):

Why is HE here?

Odin (trying not to smile):

It's bring your son to work day.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

The Spider's Song: I Made an Offering of Wind...

I made an offering of wind upon the altar of dust.  ~Grimr
In the beginning was a song.  The song.  The only song there ever was, and ever will be.  It was a love song, and a song of loneliness.  It was a song of joy and sorrow, of love and loss, of peace and war, of life and death.  It was the song of creation, the song of all things.  It was the spider's song.

It began with one note, ringing out through the outer darkness, like a single bell rang in a place of silence, or a the first harp string plucked.  It was a pure note, perfect, the only note that could pierce that silence, the silence of the outer dark.  It was the voice of the Nagara, the single note that was all, the love song of the Nagara to the Nagara, deep calling out to deep.  And it hung there in the darkness like a spark of light, like a seed, like a single harp string, or a single thread.  It was the first thread of the web, a single thread in the abyss of the outer darkness, a note ringing for none to hear.

And it echoed.  That single note reflected back on itself, reflecting off that which is not, the dark curve of the darkness.  It echoed back and in doing so, it changed, not the same as it was going out.  It rang in harmony with itself, a perfect harmonic, a perfect fifth.  The danced, round and round, catalyst and nexus, nexus and catalyst.  And so, one note became two, one thread became two, both vibrating in the darkness of the abyss, in the outer darkness, the first two threads of the web.  Two notes, hearing each other, responding to each other, first in dissonance, then in consonance, the dance of the twins.

From their play a third note arose.  It vibrated between them, both notes moving the third, the perfect third, a chord in the silence of the dark.  Three notes ringing out, moving, shifting.  A perfect chord.  Three mothers, three weavers each moving each other.  Three threads hanging in the abyss, the first three threads of the web.

But the song wasn't finished.  The chord grew and the perfect seventh came forth, four notes, four threads, stretching out into the abyss in four directions, four winds.  And still the song grew, for where there's a first, a third, a fifth, a seventh, there, too, there's a second, a fourth, and a sixth.  Seven notes ringing out through the darkness, and a melody formed, the vibrations of the web.  Seven builders, seven keepers, seven guardians.
Breath.  What is breath?  Breath is life, for even many one celled life take in oxygen and need it to live.  Breath is wind, for it is the movement of gas, in or out.  There is no breath in a vacuum.

Breath.  What is breath?  Breath is the most basic of sounds.  From it comes the vowel sounds in all oral languages, the sounds made without obstruction, without build up.  Sound passing through only changed in sound by the narrowness or movement of the side it passes between.  It is outward moving air, unblocked, unfettered, unbound, loosed.

Breath, vowels, are the first notes of music, pure sound, untempered.  They are the notes of the sound of the music, of a song, the song, the first song.  They are the beginning.

Breath bound, tied, constrained, blocked, fettered, becomes consonants.  As the vowels are given form, as the tent pole is raised, the bound vowels becomes first Three Mothers, then Seven Doubles, then Twelve Singles.  22 consonants, 22 letter.  Two Dancers, Three Weavers, Seven Builders, twelve in all, twelve notes, twelve threads, Twelve Watchers.

And consonants gather around vowels, the bound around the loosed, and words form.  Words, symbols of ideas.  And the complexity grows, the song grows.  Three Mothers, Seven Doubles, Twelve Singles, 22 consonants, 29 sounds, become 231 Gates, each gate a pair of consonants, the first and the fifth.  And the 231 Gates are joined by others, 20 consonants added to the beginning, to the middle, to the end, 13,860 roots if none repeat.  And roots combine to be words, and words combine to form sentences, and sentences combine to form paragraphs, and paragraphs combine to form chapters, and chapters combine to form books, and books combine to form sets and series, and sets and series combine to form shelves, and shelves combine to form racks, and racks combine to form rows, and rows combine to form stacks, and stacks combine to form floors, that the whole world is a library, the 10,000 things.

Every note holds power.  Every breath holds power.  Every vowel holds power.  Every sound holds power.  Every consonant holds power.  Every word holds power, every sentence, every paragraph.  And the longer they exist, the more they are used, the more their power grows.

Stand in a used bookstore or library.  Look at all those books.  How many are there?  How many words do they contain? How many letters do those words contain?  Each sound is a note in the song, the song of creation.  Each sound is a vibration in the web that is all, stretched across the face of the deep, the abyss, the outer darkness.  How much power is in those pages?  What secrets?  What notes?

Now think of the world.  How many books are in the world?  Right now.  And how many words in each one?

Now think of all time.  How many books have there been?  How many will there be?  And how many words in each one?

Now realize that books are just the ideas, the thoughts, the words that have been written down.  They are written language.  They have meaning because of the oral language that spawned them, the consonants with bound flow, the vowels with looses flow.  The power is in that oral language, the written is only that small piece that was written down, loosed power bound into a page.  How many words are spoken that are never recorded?  Each is a note in the song, the song of creation, the spider's song.
"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.  Now the earth was unformed and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters.  And God said: 'Let there be light.' And there was light." ~Genesis 1:1-3 JPS 1917 Edition of the Hebrew Bible in English
"darkness was upon the face of the deep" - וּ וְחֹשֶׁךְ עַל-פְּנֵי תְהוֹם - v choshek 'al-peniy tehowm
וּ - v - and
וְחֹשֶׁךְ - choshek - darkness, obscurity, secret place
עַל-פְּנֵי - 'al-peniy - the face, the presence, the person, the surface of, that which is in front of, before, toward
תְהוֹם - tehowm - deep, depths, deep places, abyss, sea, ocean, abyss, grave
"spirit of God" - וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים - Ruwach 'elohiym - Ruach Elohim
רוּחַ - Ruwach, Ruach - breath, wind, air, gas, spirit, vivacity, vigour, courage, temper, anger, desire, sorrow, will, energy of life
אֱלֹהִים - 'elohiym, Elohim - rulers, judges, divine ones, angels, gods, god, goddess, godlike one, G-d
"hovered over the face of the waters" - מְרַחֶפֶת עַל-פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם - mrachaphit 'al-peniy mayim
מְ - m - from
רַחֶפֶת - rachaphit - to grow soft, relax, to hover
עַל-פְּנֵי - 'al-peniy - the face, the presense, the person, the surface of, that which is in front of, before, toward
הַמָּיִם - mayim - water, waters, urine, springs, fountains, flood

So we could read is as:
"and the secret place was upon the surface of the ocean, and the breath of the rulers settled upon the surface of the water."
"and that which hides the face of the abyss, the wind of the gods, from the face of the water."
"and darkness was the presence of the grave, the temper of the gods toward the flood."
But, a bit of a tangent.

Ruach is breath, but also wind and life.  Ruach is also, in Kabbalah, part of the soul.  In this way, it is the emotions, will, and energy of life.

The Breath.  The Soul.  The Wind.  Life.  Ruach, hovering above the waters of the abyss, in the darkness, is the notes of the song, which are also the threads of the web.

In the beginning was a song.
The song.
The only song there ever was, and ever will be.
It was a love song, and a song of loneliness.
It was a song of joy and sorrow, of love and loss, of peace and war, of life and death.
It was the song of creation, the song of all things.
It was the spider's song.

I made an offering of wind upon the altar of dust.

~Muninn's Kiss

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