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Posts Tagged ‘Bardic rant’

THE COMPETITION

( 2. The Prophecy of Flood)

Tell me, then, that there are no gods of weather

Now everything is measured, everything explained.

That we can go about our business safe and sane,

Not wondering what shall befall us if we anger or stray.

That knowing vanquishes fear.

That naming disarms the fact.

.

I would not pit the gods of cities against the gods of the world.

Though the god of money enchains us to its tumbling promises,

Though we are comforted here by the law and order

Laid out in concrete streets.

.

The breath of time we measure, but the god of Time is not of us.

The god of storm, the god of light, the god of life, the god of death,

The god of twilight, the god of decay.

They are all no smaller now than they were before.

Tame the weather, and there is a greater weather.

Cage Time, and there is a greater Time.

The gods are those against whom we dare not compete.

The sky towers we have built of swaying, rickety philosophies are no match.

The chiselled, honed words, all the equations, mean nothing

But a murmur dream.

.

Is there anything more poisonous to the soul than competition?

The battle for worth, the war for best?

Listen! I am the best at sorrow, the best at melancholy.

I am forty days of rain. My bitterness, a pointing finger

That wipes the slate clean. Above all. Below all. Separate. Distinct.

In the flood I am the spark that burns down the one remaining boat.

Sneering at lesser things is my entitlement.

First among the angels. Too great to fall.

The Elders lined up there on their thrones, counting points, counting scores.

Chosen by the chosen to join the ranks of the chosen.

Offer up your pious praise to God and deftly gather up the gold.

We honour the first, the second, the third (with a shrug)

Wave through the beautiful, wave through the best.

Wave off the rest. Judge and separate.

Gwion was a pauper, grabbed by the ear and told to watch.

Afagddu, the soot black sullen shadow, was the chosen one,

Born for greatness, a certain destiny.

Taliesin: best at bragging –

I was. I am. No one better than I.

The stunned poets casting up their eyes to

The heaven he says he comes from,

Packing their bags, looking to find less glamour-filled halls.

He knew a thing or two:

Please the crowds and praise the kings.

A bawdy innuendo, a prayer, a vision of glorious death,

And for the quietly watching intellectuals, ambiguity in spades.

A foundling of dubious parentage, brought up by rivers and seas.

A certain affinity to water, like Moses: cool fountains and dowsing

The springs in burning deserts, slaking thirst with words and glory.

How many streams are there? How many rivers?

Following the frightful pillars of smoke, the pillars of flame,

The burning bushes, the falling star.

There is a green land, and a green hill far away,

And the best of the best shall find peace there.

Across the river to the green lands for your sorrows.

A green hill of suffering for all your good works.

You shall become forever now, a constellation

Of the revolving fortress of glorious night.

I, not I, the river that is your awen,

The best, displayed in shining light,

A rainbow promise.

A slight and glorious

compensation

for past and future horror.

This is the second poem that was written with Llanwrtyd Eisteddfod in mind. Not one of the finals I chose to submit: too long a rant and not so obviously following the theme, though it continues and develops some of the threads found in the other seven parts.

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THE COMPETITION

(1. Prophecy of Fire)

I, not I, cannot lean against this luscious, deadly heat.

We are not roses, to drop our heads, to scatter petals,

To grow again as rain again splashes the dusty leaves.

Our grief all adds up, all weighs down.

These winds, these fires, these bitter, clever bombs, we cannot fight.

There are no winners, just braggers who will fall as well, soon enough,

Choked on the unguent of their profit, the poisons they excused.

Our shades shall not even cool us,

not as the forest shade does at Crychan, at Cwm Henog.

There shall be no violets in that twilight we surrender to at last.

There shall be no streams of delight, no wells of peace.

No tumbling nant at Nant yr Onnen nor crouching Ceirios.

The mists at Cwm Dyfnant:

they will be a smouldering of bracken and barbed wire.

Shadows, shadows.

A weather of shadows. A cloud of shame,

Claws of rock clambering from sunless cleft to cheer the last demise,

The victory of heat and blood,

The will to win, whatever.

The old, the ever, the same.

The truth of prophecy, the dregs, the well-worn path.

There shall be no competition then.

No mastery. No tenderness.

No tongue to sing the rhythms of praise, (the eloquent lies),

not to man, not to God, not to the primroses, not to the speckled thrush.

There shall be no golden chair on the hillside, then.

No crown. No applause.

No reply when the question is asked.

No one left to call for peace.

The sword unsheathed, the petals falling, the kites spiralling,

The fields bare and thistle-browed.

In the end, we shall see that there was nothing,

After all, to chase after, nothing to win.

The great blue skies,

piercing blue once more, over all,

And the cuckoos returned to Garn Wen,

the curlews to Cefn Gast.

This was one of my entries for this year’s Llanwrtyd Eisteddfod. In the end I submitted two poems from a series of seven on the same title. I shall be posting them all here soon enough.

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WARRIOR PRAYER

Oh Moon-Face. Your unguent drips from my fingertips.

Shades of dead universes flit across the dark sky.

We long for this as much as we long for otherness.

Moon-Face, we construct the spells that feed you,

So sleek and willow-limbed.

This is how we made you:

A womb to hold all the weeping dead.

Born again as owls, as worms, as dreams in blooming girls.

In flowers pushed up through sacred, spiced earth.

Poured out with the salmon spawn and the eggs of serpents.

Split open and oozed in the nests of eagles,

Drying in the daylight, voiceless and crying.

The taste I remember – iron and oceans,

And the slip slop of long tides

And the waking shape of salt.

The taste of footprints and warm belly

And secret clefts and caves of echoes.

The taste I remember of the sharp bright edge,

Honed bright and sunlight, severed

By its arcing swing.

Oh Moon-Face. You eat the seconds so.

You eat the minutes and the moments.

Bound, wired and woven to the haft of sound.

The blade that cuts through space.

The light so soft, it can eat life and death

And never be fuller than it is, than it is.

Moon-Face. Keep your promise

And we shall die again, happy.

We will not forget your sweet hunger.

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A lot of my writing this year has been towards an art/word project inspired by The Black Book of Carmarthen, a small, handwritten manuscript containing poems collected over a lifetime by one person. It is the oldest known manuscript written in the Welsh language. A mixture of ancient bardic poems and prayers, it is at once mundane and transcendent, simple and utterly baffling. The words that come to me are either reflecting some of the imagery or subjects of the fifty odd pieces, or dwell on the nature of the author and the continuity of language and writing. The art works I am making mainly combine parts of the manuscript pages overlain with my own woodblock prints from decades ago. There will, probably, be a book that combines text with image. It is in no way a translation of the original text. It is one artist’s reflections of the magical mirror and timelessness of ancient books.

MER KERTEV KEIN (Black Book)

(The marrow of fine songs)

It is a river

Uncurling in caves,

A white torrent on dark slick rocks.

It is a shoreline cave where mystery is born by echoes,

Far from comfort, where opposites couple in the roaring of it.

Spanning centuries each word tumbles combining elements.

Shadow worlds are dressed in time to shatter and rebuild the fragments.

Oh, speckle-breasted thrush,

Thrice the song to sing.

Morning rain.

Rain of morning.

Dawn storm.

Eternal song.

A river where meaning slips like fishes,

A flash, a flank, and gone.

The next ripple, the next wave, the scintillating light.

Umbral echoes.

It dances from sound to sound.

A juggler slipping from stone to stone

In the midstream rush. Where next? Where next?

And the foaming roar of it:

The world dancing elements and prophecy

And the arc of words cast up and caught, too fast for the eye.

A stream, a stream, of passion itself.

Sound clothed in the names of things,

The naked, naked sound.

A river of God’s being,

A bowstring caught and released,

The mouth’s harp

And its breath drum rhythm song.

There are spirits here

There are ghosts

Where I see these landscapes,

Familiar, sunlit, wild

I have never been.

I am haunted by the names

And by the meanings

Within the meanings I know.

Other pages in other hands:

Mirrored, pushing through.

I am become a palimpsest of prayer-

The angels with clawed feet

Offering golden torcs.

A language of waves,

Of echoing empty hills.

My eyes water the seeds of words,

Grow vast forests.

The dance of sounds:

Lost timeless for a while,

We dance and dance.

The memories are not ours

That lodge in our hearts.

My soul fragments to the four quarters

As though I am already buried.

There is a cold wind from the north.

A woman who is not a woman

Moves at the edges of my sight

Whispering rhymes with berry-stained fingertips.

One of Three and Three in One.

Before Eden we quake.

The Tower was too high,

The Tree was too bright.

The Flaming Sword

That drove us outwards

We stole for shovels and mattocks.

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HARD RAIN

Hard rain washing the world away.

Leaves fall through cooling air.

The gutters are singing an autumn song.

Rivers wake from summer’s sleep.

I was dreaming of eagles and their turquoise voice

In the days where darkness drums down more suddenly

And the cold cannot any longer be shrugged off.

I was dreaming of a path that was a spiral

And a spiral that was a mirror.

I stand before a silent oak.

Its name is eternal song,

Retribution, its door.

Its mouth is darkness.

In the end we do not know what matters.

This curl of sound, this exhalation of breath

Might be enough for a universe to be complete.

I study the taste of this turquoise,

Turn it between cold fingers

Then walk into the hill ( for all hills are doorways).

If you follow the hare, the path shall lie

Flat as grass before a strong wind.

If you follow the deer, the path shall be

Dappled and filled with birdsong.

If you follow the otter, the path will be

Silver and smooth as moonlight.

If you follow the dead,

Returning to their places,

You shall find your path

To womb and fireside

And questions: why and whereto.

All the warm singing halls

Lost in mist and blood.

All the familiar is a lie.

The world is utter strangeness

And the stars, known but unnamed.

I have been a trowel, an eagle, a pen.

What has been put together, falls apart.

These dreams you do not own.

Each is borrowed to keep you warm.

The path is a name you do not know.

This world is all the clue you will get.

Wrapped and unwrapped, each day a reminder.

There is no greater fool than a poet,

No greater truth than the lie of poetry.

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THE OLD TALIESIN

He does not have to raise his voice –

Silence comes with it like the tide on the shore.

Bent-backed, i see his strong staff, serpent-wrapped.

It is still a tree of fruits, sweet and bitter:

A crab apple scented with autumns, hard with frost

And the seeing of too much sorrow.

I see his bright brow, bald as the moon.

He is being chased again through the halls of the world

By another who shall not relent.

And he will change form again,

On wide, sunlit oceans again,

But not until the three drops congeal in truth,

Not until the chariot wheel is cracked,

Not until a new axle pin is shaped and smoothed.

A year and a day,

And we shall all change places.

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Because of their words:

A quantum entanglement.

Whether equation or story,

The ripples vibrate.

All metaphor is truth.

All truth, metaphor.

So said Euron.

So said Eurwys.

They wrap the bones

Of space in pictures.

Weave timelessness

With heroes.

By means of language

And of matter

They fashion magnificent trees,

The span of universes,

A melodious ocean.

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GATEKEEPERS

Sometimes, sometimes, and maybe always,

The doors can be so big

That they cannot be seen.

There is, they say, a wall

At the edge of the universe

So far away, so far away

That light from there has never reached here yet,

And never will.

It is neither winter nor Spring.

The year is a troubled child, roaring.

You know how I write:

I wait for words to come.

I do not send in dogs to flush out the birds of dawn.

I wait, to the souls of rivers and owls, to the world’s breath,

‘Til one by one, they come, gathering lightly,

Bright buds, whispers from the old roads.

And they may dissolve again.

They may dissipate, the offerings of time and waiting,

Just not enough to stay or settle.

The giants were called obstructors.

You might say, doorkeepers.

You might say, guardians.

Huge enough to carve out universes from their skulls,

Rich enough to give a thousand conflicting cosmologies.

It shall be storm all day today.

Waters bubbling down

From the cauldron of the hills.

Clouds dark and eloquent as Afagddu,

Dark as a cormorant preening on his pylon.

The layers of darkness arranged

For a perfect dive into silence.

The world has tipped.

Its weather spills out across the globe.

Excess and extravagance

Eating the hearts of the poor.

We await a new inoculation against greed.

But all our heroes of success

Only hasten destruction.

And so, I bow to the obstructions of giants:

The doorkeepers who block the way

And ask the riddle.

What skill do you possess

That you think would allow you to pass?

What quality, what virtue, to ensure

Any continued existence here?

What is the art that will not destroy?

What is the craft that we have never encountered?

What reasons can you make sound reasonable,

Sliding your guilt out of sight as if it were not yours.

Can you learn harmlessness?

Facing the storm you have raised

Can you abide at ease in the flickering light

Watching the helpless ones be swept away,

Swept away.

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TALIESIN FRACTALS

1

Nyt o vam a that pan y’m digonat

Not from a mother or a father was I made

The druids know all things are born

From desire and a fear of extinction.

Here I am, beginningless, not born but made,

Unless before the world and before the beginning of the world.

A’m creu a’m creat o naw rith llafanat

And my creation was made for me from nine forms of consistency

I was waiting to be clothed, sound to word,

Word to meaning, meaning to understanding,

Understanding to knowledge, knowledge to wisdom,

Wisdom to poetry, poetry to creation of worlds,

Creation of worlds to fear and desire.

How many souls does the one created consist of?

What animates the articulations of a creature?

O ffrwydd, o ffrwytheu, o ffrwyth Duw dechreu

From a fruit, from fruits, from the fruit of God in the beginning.

Not the seed, not the tree, not the beginning,

Begun from the ripened, time-ripened exudate of the creator.

Not from one, but from many,

Not after but at the start of the beginning.

From the tree of God, from God’s fruit,

From the Garden of Eden was I made.

From the vegetal elements of the world, before the world.

Made by God and by enchanters –

Enchanters chanting sounds, chanting word,

Giving fruit its form, giving God a voice.

2

What he says:

I am not a human.

I was given form with plants,

From fruit, from fruits, from God’s first fruit

(And what was that?).

Made from the elements of the natural world,

From plants, from soil, from water.

I was, yet I continued to be shaped

Or given form, or recreated:

From God’s fruit, from the soil,

Water and plants.

From Math, from Gwydion,

Reared by Eurwys, by Euron,

By Modron, by Math, by Gwydion,

These five enchanters.

Made from within a desert, a fire, a conflagration,

Made before the world was finished.

Brewed, even. The plants collected, the elements combined

With water, the fire of the pot, the fermentation,

Becoming the same but changed.

I fall from the first tree, a fruit of God, ripe and ready.

I melt into earth, become plants, become blossoms, become trees.

All mulched, all matter there is, rotted, fermented, made from that.

And is this ‘I’ one or many?

Singular or compound?

Changed before completion

By enchantments of the five.

Before the world in what should have been,

When there was nothing but fire.

Sacred from the cauldron heated,

Stirred in, changed by fire,

Reared by enchanters,

Made new and new and new again.

Rising from the sullen earth golden-topped,

Golden-browed, filled with voices,

Filled with light.

From the houses of earth, I, We,

Arise. We, Taliesin, a fun guy.

Some. Soma. Filled with exhilaration,

Full, frothing, leaping, loud.

The words come from the deep.

From the dripping dark the waters speak.

As clear as thunder, they will echo

Until they find meaning in minds ablaze.

It is a million voices fractured and combined,

Playing in the light, dreaming in purple night.

The wonders are named and renamed,

Calibrated in wandering souls to measure their worth,

Their awakeness, their clarity.

Dressed in monstrous words

Are the names of being and non-being.

The mediocre can never live forever

Except as soil and falling petals.

3

I, the poet

Who is and is not

And also outside the world

Inhabiting all worlds.

Word warring, slicing meanings.

My spear and shield awen,

My crow awen, my cauldron awen.

From God and also

From the enchanters before creation was.

These words are all lies and all perfect.

They are here to shepherd you

Towards a delightful oblivion,

Towards fire and water and the one tree.

The most holy fruit, the fermented fall

Of exultation beyond meaning.

4

Clarity from confusion.

Not jumping to conclusions.

Floating on the thermals of meaning.

The paths that lead nowhere

Lead everywhere.

And the unexpected provides answers.

Turn away from the problem to find the solution.

The deep world beneath the world:

Everything the same, but shining.

The power of seeing patterns

And of remembering the stories that are used

To make excuses to do the same as before.

5

These bright words:

A skitter rhythmic ricochet

Scattering meanings across centuries.

No weir, no tickle or hook,

No line or net will keep them held for long.

Proud words, free words, unimprisoned,

Validated in memories

Springing out of rushing waters, upstream, upstream,

To seed in still minds,

To become vast again

In distant worlds.

6

Yesterday I was sure of its meaning.

Today I am not certain.

Tomorrow I shall start again

following other threads, other roots

down into the dark soil.

The seeds unfurl though they still

see no light. They taste

many futures and that is enough.

Allowing the breeze to bring its news,

breathing softly, trying

not to possess an outcome.

The wind lifts the smoke upwards,

the edges of the day retreat.

It is in silence the song can be heard.

It builds and dissipates

as clouds do at sunset.

Whole kingdoms dissolve.

Endless blue, then one,

then another star.

7

This world is clothed in words.

Shaped by enchanter’s song.

Brought to being and non-being by utterance.

Silence does not dispel it.

There are always echoes,

Always fading recollections

Into the next world.

8

Whose voice is this, whose words,

Yours or mine, and who is this I?

That is, and was, and will be?

The wind bends down the trees:

They kneel, they sigh, they dance,

They moan seeking shelter in song.

They can do little else when moved.

Where do the winds arise?

From beyond what horizons?

A word was spoken- the first word –

A little breath, and it has been uttered ever since.

The wind growing stormy – no birds are in the sky.

This powerful song has driven away all other thought.

You kneel and bend and sigh,

What else can you do?

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TWENTY YEARS ( OF DRUID TRAINING)

1

It was like a rope of light

let down into the chaotic darkness.

Only later would we see

it was a deadly serpent

and the chains of enslavement.

But such is the nature of knowledge

and we shrugged, accepting all costs.

.

Nyt o vam a that

Pan y’m digonat

.

It was not from a mother and a father

That I was made.

.

2

One year we were held in complete silence.

No word spoken

but internal recitation of all the masters’ words.

Becoming each one, and their lilt,

moving into their expressions,

reclothed in passions,

Eyes opening in other worlds.

.

A’m creu a’m creat

O naw rith llafanat;

.

And my creation was created for me

From nine forms of consistency:

.

3

Another year we each were given

one word only, to unwrap.

To follow, to hunt to its uttermost,

to its bright birth,

In a name that has become ours alone.

A map of our journey,

a seal on our circumference.

.

O ffrwyth, o ffrwytheu,

O ffrwyth Duw dechreu;

.

From fruit, from fruits,

From God’s fruit in the beginning;

.

4

Once the words were learned

all the rhythms and the hidden wealth:

We could see how nothing existed

outside of those patterns of plaid.

No move, no colour, no conceit,

nothing that was not drawn

from that well of words.

And so we learnt to see around us,

in every hall, in every byre,

where each would walk

and where in each tale

they would place themselves.

And how with a word

it might be shifted

and how with a gesture

the plot might be moved on.

.

O vriallu a blodeu,

O vlawt gwyd a godeu,

.

From primroses and flowers,

From the blossom of trees and shrubs,

.

5

One year we were given

the gift of madness.

.

Prid o pridet

Pan y’m digonet,

.

From earth, from the sod

Was I made,

.

6

Another year we slept all the long days

and at night gathered around still pools

to learn the dance of stars, and their songs.

Our dreams would be strange then,

and our names, unpronounceable

.

O vlawt danat,

O dwfyr ton nawvet.

.

From nettle blossom

From the ninth wave’s water.

.

7

One year we would speak only lies,

until we knew that truth is itself a lie,

and that the tides beneath us

are drowning darknesses

and screaming passions.

.

A’m swynwys-i Vath

Kyn bum diameth.

.

Math created me

Before I was completed.

.

8

A year as birds

soaring and rising on thermals,

to find the fulcrum of the winds

and to twist the cloud rivers to rope

for sun or rain or storm.

To placate, to restore.

.

A’m swynwys-i Wytyon

Mawrut o brithron.

.

Gwydion fashioned me

Great enchantment wrought by a magic staff;

.

9

A year abiding by trees –

some would not return,

fertilising the world

with their eternal silences.

.

O Eurwys, o Euron,

O Euron, o Vodron;

.

By Eurwys, by Euron,

By Euron, by Modron;

.

10

Another, we hunted and slew all the gods,

taking their women and siring new progeny.

These we fed with our own blood and souls,

so that they would know us when we summoned them.

.

O pymp keluydon

Arthawon eil math –

Pan ymdygyaed.

.

By five enchanters

Of a kind like godparents –

Was I reared.

.

11

One year to placate and cajole poisons.

Those songs were enticing, sweet as death.

.

A’m swynwys-i wledic

Pan vei let loscedic.

.

A ruler fashioned me

When there would have been a burning extent.

.

12

Then we did all return to our own families

To serve one year, unrecognised, in their midst.

For many that was the final chain broken to the past.

Allegiance of blood once sweet, now rancid, old, bitter.

.

A’m swynwys sywyt

Sywydon kyn byt,

.

The wisdom of sages fashioned me

Before the world was made.

.

13

A year of folding secrets into the mundane;

Of speaking to the deep;

Of remaining human.

Learning that love and hate

Are the gravity that keeps us here.

.

Pan vei genhyf-y vot,

Pan vei vach veint byt.

.

When I had being,

When the extent of the world was still small.

.

14

A year polishing swords and mirrors

And placing the singing spells

Of vision and death within them.

.

Hard bard bud angnawt,

Yt uedaf ar wawt

A traetho tauawt.

.

A fair poet, of unusual gifts,

I control in song

That which the tongue utters.

.

15

The genealogies of the lost

And the equations of gods;

Their doorways, their doorkeepers.

The mysteries under the earth

Where the stars wander,

Passionate light on an endless river.

.

Gwaryeis yn llychwr,

Kysceis ym porffor.

.

I played in the light,

I slept wrapped in purple.

.

16

The transmutation of the body into smoke;

To see without eyes;

To move the shining streams.

.

Neu bum yn yscor

Gan Dylan Eil Mor,

.

I was in the citadel

With Dylan Son of the Sea,

.

17

To become free in chains;

To remember the first cauldron

And the journey from there.

Brightness remaining.

To give everything away,

Yet remain undiminished.

.

Yg kylchet ym perued

Rwg deulin teyrned.

.

My bed in the interior

Between the knees of kings.

.

18

To summon guards and guardians;

To curse the dreams of kings;

To know the stars’ positions in daylight;

To travel out on rays of light;

.

Yn deu wayw anchwant:

O Nef pan doethant.

.

My two keen spears:

From Heaven did they come.

.

19

To know one’s manner and time of death;

To move into other forms;

To prophesy and to escape from prophecy.

Transformation at the moment of death;

To remember every name and

The shape and hungers of souls.

.

Yn Annwfyn llifereint

Wrth urwydrin dybydant.

.

In the streams of Annwfn

They come ready for battle.

.

20

To return to simple words,

To return to silence;

To remember and forget,

To move freely without ripples.

Three drops spinning –

Their taste, the honey moment.

To know that all is song.

That all is one song, one river,

And to listen to the winds from the hills there,

From the rapids, from the shallows,

To leap upstream, to float downstream.

To inhabit the world that inhabits the wise.

.

Ef gwrith, ef datwrith,

Ef gwrith ieithoed.

.

He made, he remade,

He made languages.

.

Llachar y enw llawffer,

Much llywei nifer;

.

Radiant his name, strong his hand

Brilliantly did he direct a host;

.

Ysceinynt yn ufel

O dosas yn uchel.

.

They were scattering in sparks

From a drop in the heights.

The Welsh is taken from ‘Cad Godeu’, a long and mysterious poem attributed to Taliesin. It is not meant as a commentary on my verses, nor the other way round. But perhaps they both come from the same place and act as a counterpoint in time and space.

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