Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Matter of Brittany by Dorothy L Sayers

One of the things I do from time to time is light out and spend a few weeks (even, sometimes, months) staying with friends to help out in times of need. That's what I'm up to for the next 3 weeks, and I don't mind, actually, since it gives me the excuse to post one of my current favourite poems!

I never knew Dorothy Sayers wrote poetry until I went trawling through the University of Rochester's Camelot Project, an extremely useful resource on Arthurian legend. (If you're wondering what such a webpage would be useful for, the short answer is: I'm writing a novel).  Here I found two poems by Sayers from a book of poems published in 1916, both inspired by Arthurian myth and both extremely evocative. This is the one I liked best.

The Matter of Brittany

Draw to the fire, and let us weave a web
Of sounds and splendours intertwined
Of warriors riding two by two
In silken surcoats stiched with blue,
To seek and strive the whole world through
For a scarlet fruit with silver rind;
Of unsteered ships that drift for miles on miles
Amid the creeks of myriad magic isles
Over enchanted seas, that leave at ebb
A beach of glittering gold behind.

Hark! how the rain is rippling over the roofs
And knocking hard on the window-pane!
It rattles down the gutter-spout
And beats the laurel-leaves about;
So let us tell of a kempy stout
With bells upon his bridle-rein —
How, as he rode beneath the chattering boughs,
He clashed the iron visor over his brows,
Hearing upon his heel the hurried hoofs
Of Breunor, Breuse or Agravaine.

Of names like dusky jewels wedged in gold
The tale shall cherish goodly store,
 Of Lionel and Lamorak
And of Sir Lancelot du Lak,
And him that bore upon his back
Arms for the Lady Lyonor;
Persant, Perimones and Pertolepe,
And Arthur laid in Avalon asleep,
Dinas and Dinadan and Bors the bold,
And many a mighty warrior more.

And grimly crouched in every woodland way
A dragon with his emerald eyes
Shall sit and blink on passing knights;
In the deep dells, old eremites,
Victors once of a thousand fights,
Shall sing their masses at sunrise;
And weary men shall stumble unaware
On damsels dancing in a garden fair,
And there, like Meraugis of Portlesguez,
Dance, cheated of their memories.

To towns where we shall feast at Pentecost,
Carlion or Kynke Kenadon,
Each day shall come a faery dame,
Or else a giant with eyes of flame
Shall bid to the beheading game
Knights that the king sets store upon;
And some shall find, at hour of day's decline,
The house beside the fountain and the pine,
And learning much of marvel from their host,
Shall hasten greatly to begone.

Some, by the help of charm├Ęd steeds shall – just –
Leap through the whirling barriers
That guard about the pleasant bower
Where every moment is an hour,
And with an elfin paramour
Drowse and dream for a hundred years,
But setting foot again on Middle Earth,
Or tasting wheaten bread in hour of dearth,
Shall crumble to a little cloud of dust
Blown by the wind across the furze.

Or sometimes through the arches of the wood
The sad Good Friday bells will ring
Loud in the ear of Percivale,
Through many a year of ban and bale
Yet questing after the Sangraal
For comfort of the Fisher King;
And suddenly across a vault of stars
Shall drive a network of enchanted spars,
And Lancelot and Galahad the good
Behold the ship of hallowing.

And first of all I'll tell the tale to you,
And you shall tell the next to me:
How gentle Enid made complaint
While riding with her lord Geraint,
 Or how the merry Irish Saint
Went ever westward oversea;
While your dim shadow moving on the wall
Might be Sir Tristram's, as he harped in hall
Before Iseult of Ireland, always true,
Or white Iseult of Brittany.

1 comment:

Radagast said...

She throws in a short poem in her novel Gaudy Night.

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