An Arthurian Miscellany at sacred-texts.com
The Merlin of this poem is Merlin Caledonius, known also as Merlin Wylt and Silvestris. He ought not to be identified with Myrdin Emrys, or Merlin Ambrosius, who was the vates of Vortigern, and also apparently of Aurelius Ambrosianus,--the man of Roman descent who superseded Vortigern in the Cymric supremacy, and lost it again about 465. This Myrdin Emrys was probably also the Merlin of Uther Pendragon and of Arthur. While the name of the latter is associated with Dinas Emrys, or Fort of Emrys, in the Vale of the Waters--Nant Gwynant, which circles round the rugged grandeur of the southern slopes of Snowdon--that of the former, Merlin Caledonius, is inseparably joined to the wavy, far-spreading , and heather-streaked hills between which the Powsail Burn makes its way to the Tweed in the haugh of Drummelzier. Out of the two Merlins--the earlier and the later--the romancers of the eleventh and following centuries formed a third or legendary Merlin. Now the personage appears as a vulgar wizard and soothsayer, master of the art of glamoury, to be finally overcome by a woman's wiles, and kept for ever in hopeless captivity.
The Caledonian Merlin is a sufficiently distinct historical personage. He was the son of Morvryn, who was descended from Coel Godebawc, the head of one of the main royal lines of the Cymri. He had a twin-sister Gwendydd. He was the friend of the Prince Gwenddoleu, a lord or king of the North, and he was present at the decisive battle of Ardderyd in 573, when the contest lay between the Pagan and Christian forces of the time. Merlin was on the Pagan or losing side. After the defeat and the death of his leader Gwenddoleu, he fled to the wilds of Drummelzier, in the wood of Caledon. There he spent some years, reputed insane, probably only heart-broken, and despairing of the Cymric cause and his own fortunes,--perhaps doubting the trustworthiness of his original faith or Nature-worship. Finally, he is said to have died at the hands--rather stones and clubs--of the herdsmen of a princeling of the district, then incorporated in the kingdom afterwards known as Strathclyde, and ruled over by Rydderch Hael, originally lord of Llanerch, or Lanark. Merlin's grave is pointed out by tradition near the village of Drummelzier, by the side of the Powsail Burn as it joins the Tweed. There can be little doubt, looking to external and internal evidence, that this Merlin was the author of certain poems now preserved in the "Four Ancient Books of Wales," and that to him also are to be assigned portions of the Merlinian poems, in which there occur interpolations of a later date. The poems show a peculiarly delicate feeling for nature and natural objects--tree, hill, and fountain--and they are pervaded by a cry of wailing and despair for the fortunes of the Cymric race. Many of the lines show the deepest pathos; some of them are incorporated in the following poem.
Merlin's relation to the Christianity of the time is indicated in the poem. Originally a Nature-worshipper--probably with priestly functions--one who reverenced the powers and objects of Nature, and the sun above all, as the lord and symbol of creative and sustaining power, he was more or less affected by the Christianity of the time, but he never fully embraced it. If it ever had a hold on him, he appears to have relapsed from it in his later years; although conceptions from the faith which was making progress around him mingled with his original beliefs and pretensions to supernatural power and prophetic insight. This is the Merlin as depicted in the poem. It opens immediately after the battle of Ardderyd, when, in doubt and despair, the hopes of his life broken, he had fled to the retreat and shelter afforded by the hills and glens of Upper Tweeddale, where, more than a thousand years afterwards, men whose faith was of quite another type found refuge. Here, in the centre of the wood of Caledon, frequenting a fountain on the hills, he is said to have lived for some years ere he met his violent fate. Merlin was to a certain extent contemporary with Kentigern, who is said to have met him on the wilds which he haunted, and sought to convert him to the Christianity of the time, with, however, but partial and temporary effect. The details of the interview, as given hundreds of years afterwards in the "Scotichronicon," are of course a priestly invention, and wholly untrustworthy. The character of the Merlin of the poem is, I venture to think, in accordance with all the earliest and genuine information we have regarding him. His sister Gwendydd, The Dawn,--her affection and companionship in his life and troubles--and his early love, Hwimleian, The Gleam,--have their warrant in the original poems, and in the later ones, still of a very early time, in which reference is made to the Bard and Seer of this semi-historic, semi-mythic epoch of the ancient Cymri.
Merlin--Bard, Seer, Wizard.
Gwendydd (The Dawn)--His twin-sister.
Hwimleian (The Gleam)--His early love.
Merlin ( in the Glen, and on Drummelzier Law ).
All night I've wandered in the glen, 'mid hum
Of hidden waters moving in the gloom,
And eerie sounds, strange voices from th' unseen,
And things have shaped themselves upon the air,
Some mocking me, and some soliciting
My evil will;--dim, weird sprites, that pass
'Twixt sky and earth in dark hours ere the morn,--
Form after form in crowding mystery,
Where none can mark the mien of living thing,
Or pause upon a face for love or light;
But all that seems to be doth also pass
In mockery of show to mortal eye.
The hill-top now is gained, and lo! afar
The eastern summits redden with the dawn;
The moor around me wakes to growing sound
And stir of life, all tremulous before
The high on-coming of the lord of day.
This morn I bow before thee, lord of light
And life!--my hope, my fear, my reverence!
Of thee unworthy, and my early vows.
Far-gleaming arrows, piercing feeble mists,
Herald thine uprise; low down in the vales,
That pour their loving tribute to the Tweed,
The waters shimmer 'mid the morning's joy;
Around me burn-heads croon, and moorland birds
Awake, a-wing, pipe brief glad notes to thee,
The brightening lord of happy melody.
Now part in twain the curtains of the dawn,
Each hill-top is aflame, and thou hast set
Thyself, full-orbed, in empire o'er the day:--
Aglow as in that dawn when first enthroned,
The wasting ages taking nought from thee,
Nor tainted by the evil of this earth,
Thou layest now, as new birth of the morn,
Thy strength of glory on the circling hills.
I worship thee, O sovereign of the sky,
The symbol of the God who is unseen.
Inspirer, thou, of life and hope and joy,
My pulses beat with thine. Again I feel
The blood that leaps to high ambition's quest,
And wakes, as sudden flash, my vanished dream,
To hold in leash the powers of all this world,
Be lord of nature and of human lives,--
Phantasm of youth that beckoned and beguiled
To empire and emprise, wild, subtle, vain--
As if this feeble hand could pluck from thee,
O king of day, thy lofty radiance,
And usurp thy throne.
To know the soul of things has been my quest,
To feel the beating of the inmost heart
That pulses through the world,--to know and be
As God,--a king o'er kings, with subtler power
Than that of lords who rule by force of arm,
Or wavering tie of human sympathy,--
This, this, the dream that dazzled all my youth;
And I have dared and done, in this my quest,
What no man knows, seen what no eye hath seen--
Weird sights not utterable in mortal words,
Strange forms o' morn, shapes in the weather-gleam,
That silent move and pass along the rim,
Clear-set, of the dim world that engirds the hills.
Ay, at grey dawn, I've struggled with the bird
Of wrath, until the sun came to mine aid,
And smote the hovering shadow, beak and wing.--
And now the dream is riven, shatterëd,
As when the great west wind in strength has struck
The summer heaven; and lo! we see but shreds
Of all its gilded towers, and broken shapes
Athwart the storm-cleft sky.
To stand supreme in mystery of might;
To lead the battle on to victory;
Mine was the pledge, assurance, and the hope,
The inspiration, and the faith of men.
Their trusting look to me as on the morn
They passed, fiend-blessed, to that green plain that lay
Between the Liddel's tide and Carwinelow;
This lives for aye deep scarred upon my heart.
I see the shock, and hear the frusch of spears,
Edge grinding edge, all through the fatal hours;
Twice seven armies locked in deadly grip,
Until at length that Cross, upraised against
The evening sky, shot o'er the struggling hosts
One blinding ray, as of the wrath of heaven;
And in that hour supreme of fate my power
Was stricken, and each sprite grew palsied-pale,
And passed away before my 'wildered eye,
Dissolved as phantom of the feeble air;
And then--was nought but faces of the dead,
Upturned, upbraiding, in the gloamin' grey;
And all was laid 'neath cover of the shade,
And all was hushed save the unheeding stream.
My prince, my Gwenddoleu, whose golden torques
I wore, and thou, well-lovëd Gwendydd's son,
Thou fearless bearer of the white-rimmed shield,
Where may I seek you now? Where are my dead,
The dead of Ardderyd? To me ye come
No more; no more again your hands I touch,--
To me your eyes glance never light of life!
"Hath not the burden been consigned to earth?
And every one must give up what he loves."
The budding thorn is green, the birch is blest,
And sweet the melody and chirp of birds;
But ye are still, my Moryen and Mordav!
Are ye now spirits of the nerveless clouds
That speck the shadowed hills and sweep the moor;
That dwell in air, and come, and passing wail,
Behold the misery of race and kin,
But have no power to stretch a hand in aid
Of their fell lot? Oft I hear a voice
A-crying in the night, see glimpsing forms
In outbreak of the moon through riven sky.
Oh! unavailing wail and stricken arm!
Is this your heaven?
Or are these seemings of the strainëd sense--
The fond heart's quickening of the hopeless dead?
And is it so that all are surely gone,
As is the creed of that far Orient,
Whence my race has sprung--to Nirvana's shade,
The formless state where nought is marked or known,
No sense, no thought, pain, pleasure, or desire;
Where keen emotion hath no quickening,
And resolute will, unstrung, can dare no deed
Of good or ill, and hath no fate to bear:
Where comes not e'en a passing dream to stir
The unconscious brain, or glint of memory
Across the darkened past; but all is one--
An absolute repose, alike for those
Once harassed by the pains of earthly life,
And souls that lived spell-bound in human bliss,
Heroes in battle slain, the weak who passed
From cottage couch, the proud from palace-hall,
The maiden in her bloom, the mother, child;
In the absorbing All are life and death alike,--
Close folded in unconscious unity?
What, then, this life of ours but pain and wreck!--
Mirage that hovers fair o'er youthful sky;
Inwoven dream that parts as mist before
The sun of noon; mid-life a battle 'gainst
Fierce striving powers for issues no one knows
Are in their final outcome good or ill,--
None seeing whither tends the deed we do
In the mysterious process of the world!
Gwendydd ( The Dawn--his twin-sister--sings; she addresses him as Lallogen, twin-brother ).
Lallogen! princely Morvryn's son,
Of olden heroes born,
Spirit divine, incarnate god,
To thee I bow this morn!
Thou, lord of airy powers, that dwell
In speed of the towering cloud,
In far out-flash of the levin fell,
In the croak of the raven brood;
In the hurrying mist of the moor,
Thy vassal spirits troop,
In the striving blast that tears the pine,
In eagle forms that swoop
From their course in the rack of the sky--
Playmates of the stormy gleam--
Winging to earth the stroke of fate,
As well to thee may beseem!
At thy bidding the wrath of the storm
Suddenly smites earth's rest,
And swiftly the burns arise and roar
In awe of thy dread behest.
The gentle milkwort bows its head,
Cowering beneath the hour,
When thy spirit feels not a bound
To its lust of evil power.
All unlovely, O brother, is might,
When slave of the wayward will;
And passion that knows but to smite
Is self-accursed with its ill.
Once blameless wert thou in thy strength,
As on that eve of old,
When Saxons fierce from the Frisian Sea
Crept in the mist's grey fold,
And sudden swooped on the Meldon green,
From old Penjacob glen,--
Thou and I in the lonely Caer,--
No hope or help from men!
At calm upraising of thy hand,
And far gleam of thine eye,
The rainbow rose round that airy Caer
In sacred majesty.
And we two forms within its rim
Shone god-like on the gaze,
And every sieging eye was held
In wild and weird amaze!
So arched in splendour Meldon's top,
Our blinded foes dismayed,
Paled, fled before the Power of Heaven
In its awesome robe arrayed.
Now turn thee from the tempter's thrall,
Dream of one bygone day,--
The flickering shade o'er the woodland glade
When thou and I were at play,--
And thou touched thy harp to a gentle tune
Of happy melody;
The deer stood charmed; the golden leaves
Dropped from the quivering tree.
Oh, brother! take that harp once more,
All-thrilling to the gleams
That pass now o'er the mountain's brow,
'Mid the music of the streams:
As from the heaven's height they come,
Bright messengers to earth:
Ethereal love doth shine in them,
They speak a god-like birth.
And high they bear our human heart
O'er grief, and fear, and pain:
Ah, brother! shall thy harp resound
No more in holy strain!
My heart is dust,
And callous is the soul that once was thrilled
By every pure and gentle thing of earth;
No more for me is blessing or to bless,--
Mine,--the power that smites, but cannot save;
Mine,--dreaded memory that wakes to hate;
Mine,--vision more than man's that can foresee
The future of my race, and what befalls
Of fateful contest and of storied deed.
Ghosts of the mountain mutter in mine ear;
Sea-birds, sky-borne, aye clang it on my brain,--
The Bard dishonoured, worthless Priest extolled,
The kingless Cymri trampled on the plain,
Blood-spilling from the sea to shoreless land,
Their Caers all desolate on the windy hills,
Haunted by wailing spirits of the dead,--
This powerless I behold in my despair.
Once I could bend each sprite to subtle art,
And I could sport with all their fiendish power,
And sway it to mine end, but now,--so ripe
In me the habit of the evil will,--
Each mocks my fainting purpose after good,
And I, proud master once, am now the slave!
Gwendydd ( takes Merlin's harp and sings ).
Fresh as of old the breeze of the morn,
Plaintive the notes that float
O'er the moor with the sunny thyme,
And the blue forget-me-not.
The rock-rose lifts its face to the sun,
It droops when its lord is set;
The tormentil peers, the heather-bell glows;
Sweet-eyed is the violet.
The lowly gale looks forth from the grass,
Silver-starring the brae;
Th' Idaean vine holds its cup for the dew,
High where the burn-heads play,
As they flash in ripples of light,
Ere down they break to the glen
By green bank, red scaur, and grey rock,
Where the rowan shades the linn:
And the sun o'er all is moving in joy,
The strong lord of the sky;
He stoops to bless the earth with his love,
Benign in his majesty.
And nought but raises its face to him,
Both herb and flower of earth;
He, lord of all, that rules in heaven,
Hath care for the lowliest birth.
And thou art far from the face of God--
Whate'er thy craft or power--
Who knowest not first to bless with thy might,
As the sun in the morning hour.
Ah! gentle sister, thou hast touched my heart;
I live, again, in the green fields of memory,
A swift-winged hour of bright enchanting hope.
Would I were clothed again in innocence
Of youth, when every breeze was life and love,
Each ripple of the stream a soothing sound,
Each sparkle leapt to joy before mine eye;
Each mountain flower the darling of my heart;
When, with my shield on shoulder, sword on thigh,
I roamed by day the wood of Caledon,
And in the silence of the summer night
Lay folded in a dreamless sleep,--the hours
Unvisited by ghostly forms of air.
E'en now the vision rises,--that fair form,
The sportive maid, the Gleam amid the trees,
Whereon the spring had spread the apple-bloom,
Low by the river's side,--my Hwimleian,
Earth's paragon of movement and of grace,
The jewel of this heart, a faithless guardian!
Stale heart of mine! now no dew of heaven
Can freshen thee, no dawn bring quickening.
Ah me! the blossoms were untimely frayed,
Ne'er golden autumn theirs; and yet 'twas well,
Hwimleian, thou didst not wed with devil's son!
Hwimleian ( The Gleam--Merlin's early love--appearing as a glint on the hill, sings ).
The daughter of the Sun, I come,
His joy, his free first-born;
As birthright fair the gleam I wear
Of the golden hair of morn.
Above the earth's dark orb I soar,
Nought there eludes my ken;
The wide o'erarching heaven is mine--
The Queen of hill and glen.
I smite the darkness from the cloud,
And pierce its dusky fold;
I lay my hand on the dark-browed storm,
And charm it into gold.
The grey moor mists transfigured pass,
And every evil sprite
And power of air, that threatened earth,
Flees stricken in my sight.
Over the mottled hills I fly,
My brother shade with me;
With light wing drape the peace that broods
O'er the moorland spaces free.
O' night my paler robe is cast
O'er the trembling waters clear;
I peer into depths of the silent glen,
The lonely herdsman's cheer.
The brow of pain I touch with joy;
My face--my power unfurled,
Dark spirits cowering pass away--
Mine homage of the world!
Ah me! this voice once more--this voice to me--
The faithless to the truest love on earth!
She has conquered death, and calls from th' unseen
To me, dim groper after truth and power,
Yet missing bliss! man mocked and satisfied
With outward show and sensual pageantry.
The outer seeming, not the truth itself,
Has been my portion; husk, not fruit, was mine,--
The trick of art which awes, destroys, but builds
Not for the world: when it hath passed, remain
The waste of ashes, cowering dread, despair,
The glare of power that briefly flames in space,
Its whole reward--the dazzling snare whereby
The spirit of the world leads captive souls
Whose trust is in their strength, divorced from love,
And silent working, patient thought and faith,
That move the springs of progress and of hope--
Not waited on by fame or noisy talk
Of buzzing tongues, or clamour of the crowd--
Yet in the course of ages moulding men
To noble likeness, life of higher grade.
The stream of order from th' Eternal Fount
Flows free and full, unmeasured in its might,
Unthwarted, suffering not disharmony,
But thrusting all our rebel strokes aside,
And mocking all our puny might to grasp,
And turn aside from its unerring aim.
One Will there is in heaven and on earth--
'Tis mirrored in the open-visioned soul.
Who waits the revelation only knows,
Who bows before the Power hath true control.
The dew is on the grave that holds my son;
The grass upon the mound is green where lies
Our Gwenddoleu. They have no ear to list
The twittering birds at opening of the dawn.
But, O Lallogen, lord of lucid verse,
Thou wise diviner, fearless in the fight,
"The fosterer of song among the streams,"
Thy locks are hoar as when the winter lays
Its snowy fingers on Trahenna's brow;
And thou art nearing mortal's dreaded doom,
And saddest to my sight will be the cairn
Of thine entrenchment,--there my heart will yearn
For thee in separation long and cold.
I pray thee, loved one, pass not from the world
In mood of wrath, vengeful, unreconciled;
The Priest shall bear to thee the sacred rite
That heals and saves.
Sister! no rite shall be for me at hand
Of cloak-draped monk, the ally of our foes.
He gives, forgives, as he were Lord--purblind:
"May my communion be with God alone!"
( After an interval. )
Gwendydd! to my fountain lead me once again,
Then leave me,--I would see once more alone
The well-eye 'mong the hills that has for fringe
The solitary fern of tender mien,
That bends, leaf-charmëd, o'er the gleam it loves,
Where birk and hazel fleck with shifting shades
The waters, as they move in gentle rise
And fall, and pour soft music ceaselessly;
Where mosses, green and brown, cling to the stones,
And eyes of fair forget-me-not are bright
With blessings for the spray that leaps to kiss
It by the way. There may I commune free
With creatures of the wild that come at eve,
Whose language is the depth of loving eyes,
Who err not from the order of the world.
O Spirit of my fountain--pure, benign,
Whose dwelling is in depths of Nether Erd,
Far down, beyond the turmoil of the world,
Serene and sanctified, untouched by storm,
Or aught that can defile,--who wearest aye
Unstainëd face in trouble or in calm
Of earth or air,--I pray this evil heart
In me may pass. Now would I be at peace
With thee, O Spirit, and all gentle things.
I know mine hour is come.
Rustics ( herdsmen find him at the fountain ).
Lo! Wizard Merlin, lo! the devil's son!
Destroyer of our crops, bringer fell of storms,
Nor sparing herdsman in the moorland drift,
Nor tender lamb in bitter wind of March,--
Grip, bind him with the green withes from the tree
Blessed by the priest. Then swiftly to the stream.
[ They carry him to the Tweed .
Son of air and earth! let water hide thee,
Gurgling o'er, when thou, sunk deep, art dead
In wheeling Debbit,--devil's pool, where dwells
The iron-toed, the fiend who waits thee there:
On earth or in the air not thine to die.
Strong Spirit of the flood! we give to thee
The lord of all the elements of air,--
Who from the hills sent torrent through the haugh,
That strove and roared, and bore its tawny mane,
Outsweeping, merciless, in joy of wrath,--
To be for ever thine, ne'er more to touch
Our earth with wizard spell.
Merlin ( raising his head once from the current ere he sinks ).
One gleam upon the stream! My Hwimleian!
My love! fair daughter of the sun,--thou, thou
Alone art faithful unto passing death
Of this poor feeble framework of the soul
That fears the dread unknown and yearns for love,
E'en in that future baffling all our ken.
I am for ever consecrate to thee!
What boots it aye to be, if not to be
With love!--the loved and lost, the soul that waits
In ever-living love! With thee I grasp
Anew the golden thread of life,--to be
No more 'mong living men where life is not.
Hwimleian ( in the air over the stream ).
Now hold I thee, the spirit, free from taint
Of mortal flesh, and from the tempter's thrall.
Now we are one--one in our strength and love--
Ne'er one before in all that checkered world
Which men call earth, where passions rage and rule,
And love but seems, and gilded guilt has sway;
And the brute hand that understandeth not
Can strike the brave, the noble, and the wise--
God-sped, whose kingdom is where earth is not:
There to the best doth e'er befall the worst.
Base earth no longer dominates the soul!
We know it now, one orb among the stars,
A speck upon infinity; and far
Beneath our wingëd flight, through ether borne,
In pure and simple vision we shall see
Free beauty undefaced, the truth undimmed,
And purity unsullied--face to face
In that unbroken light which faintly here
Gleams through the veil, and seeks with pitying heart
To win the unheeding darkness of the world!
And seeing, we shall be what we behold,
Through the unwavering purpose of the soul,
Transfixed by glory of th' Eternal Throne,
Boundless as craving of the heart for bliss.
Here effort wanders not in devious ways,
And strength wails not its wasted energy,
Nor love is pain, but will and heart are one
In high endeavour after nobler good,
As life on life evolves, infinite life,
Th' unwearied process of th' eternal years.
Next: On King Arthur's Round-table at Winchester, by Thomas Warton