THE MYTH OF BALDER

Odin’s twin ravens from his shoulders sped
Down from fair Asgard to the plains below.
They were the envoys of the one—eyed god
who came and went according to his wish.

They brought him from the very bounds of space
All news and tidings, favourable or bad.
Today, all men and beasts their lives pursued
In gentle harmony and rectitude.

One thing alone they saw which boded ill
And made the ravens to their lord return
In greatest haste upon the soaring winds,
Back to their perch on Odin’s outstretched arms.

“Why back so soon? What news have you for me?
Your ruffled feathers speak your deep disquiet!
Are men at war with men or giants with gods?
What is this news you bring to me in haste?”

“All-father Odin, Master of all joys,
The news we bring will sadden your good heart.
Balder your son, the apple of your eye,
Within his palace of the Sun lies ill.

His face is ashen and his rays grow dim
And no one knows the reason for his state.
Go to him now and questioning your son
Find out the cause before it is too late!”

Now Odin had twin sons he dearly loved,
Balder the God of Day who ruled the Sun,
Fairest of all the gods, beloved by all,
And Hod, blind God of Darkness and of Night.

Dismayed and troubled by the ravens’ news,
Odin departed with the greatest speed
Upon his grey horse Sleipnir, through the air,
To journey to the sick-bed of his son.

Into the prince’s palace Odin went
And joined the gods around poor Balder’s bed.
With them were Nanna, Balder’s faithful wife
And Loki, God of Mischief and of Fire.

The gods drew back and let great Odin pass
To stand beside the sick-bed of his child.
“Leave us alone,” he said, “for just a while,
I want to talk in private with my son.”

“What ails you Balder? Why the ashen face?
Why sinks your spirit downwards to the shades?
All of creation pines without your light,
Laughter has died, your father’s heart is sad.”

Pale Balder stirred upon his gilded couch,
Opened his eyes and saw his father there.
Relief replaced the terror in his look,
He sat upright, held out his hand and smiled.

“My father”, Balder said, “for some time now
My sleep has been invaded by a dream
Which grows in horror and intensity,
Oppressing me on each consecutive night.

The new-born day should bring me some relief
But fear compounds itself and ’tis not so.
This nightmare haunts my days and fills my heart
with dread of all-consuming magnitude.

I dream that in the forests of the gods,
Some creature lives which menaces my life.
At first remote, the threat each day draws near
And soon will reach me, though I hide and flee.“

“My son,” said Odin, “you are dear to me
And know I would defend you with my life,
But still I feel you must resist your fear,
A dream is but a dream, however real.”

“The dream is like no other”, Balder said,
“This nightmare lingers when all others fade;
My enemy is real, his malice great,
I cannot face alone this unknown threat!”

Odin withdrew and summoned all the gods
To meet before Valhalla’s golden gate:
There they debated long into the night
How to identify the deadly threat.

At last the goddess Frigg, great Odin’s wife,
Found a solution which seemed good to all;
Each creature, thing or plant, both small and big,
Should swear to do no harm to Odin’s son.

When morning came, Frigg set about her task
Of binding with an oath all living things.
They swore this joyfully, for Balder’s sake,
No harm would e’er befall him by their hand.

Once more did laughter ring in Asgard’s plains
And sunlight cloak the contours of the land.
Once more was Balder, freed now from his fear,
The light and joy and darling of the gods.

In sport and games the happy gods rejoiced,
with sticks and stones assaying Balder’s claim.
He stayed unharmed before each weapon’s thrust
And smilingly deflected every blow.

Two gods alone this pleasure did not share
And took no part nor joy in Balder’s games,
Loki, by envy burnt, the God of Fire
And Hod, blind God of Darkness and of Night.

“Sweet Frigg!” said Loki, full of smiles and guile,
“Your tireless pains have rendered safe your son.
Throughout the world all living thins by oath
Have shown you their allegiance and their love.”

“Well almost all,” said Frigg, “one thing alone
I overlooked but tis no matter now,
The mistletoe which grows by Valhall’s door
Is far too weak to do him any harm!”

On hearing this, sly Loki slipped away,
Down to the oak which by Valhalla stands,
And from its branches plucked the thickest shoot
Of mistletoe and whittled him a shaft.

He hurried back to Asgard’s flowered fields,
Where Balder and the gods pursued their games,
Sought out blind Hod, alone who did not play,
And asked him why he held himself apart.

“Why do you tease me, Loki? You know well
My eyes are sightless and I cannot see
To aim the missiles at fair Balder’s form.
Leave me alone, don’t waste your taunts on me!”

“You judge me wrongly, Hod, you too can play!
Here, take this shaft, your hand I’ll gladly hold
To guide your throw and send it on its way,
With all the strength and speed you can command.”

No second invitation was required,
The mistletoe its fatal passage made
Across the darkening sky. Its aim was true
And Balder’s heart it pierced both swift and deep.

No sound was heard as Balder slowly fell
Already pale in death upon the mossy bank.
All Nature held its breath, while from the sky
Daylight departed and gave way to night.

From their initial shock the gods awoke,
Loud were their cries of sorrow and despair.
Blind Hod, in horror, from the gods’ revenge
Took refuge in the deepest forest glades.

Now for the first time ever did the gods
A vision of their own demise forsee.
The mould was broken and that precious peace
Which once prevailed in Asgard now had fled.

All-father Odin, prostrate in his grief,
Sent out a messenger in greatest haste
To visit Hel, the Guardian of the Dead,
To beg her to restore to him his son.

Hel did not easily give up the souls
Of those she guarded jealously in death.
Balder she would reprieve if, in the world
All creatures mourned his passing, barring none.

Creation wept and Balder’s swift return
Seemed guaranteed to all the mourning gods,
But Loki’s evil was not yet complete,
He, hidden in a cave, refused to grieve.

Down to the shore, the broken-hearted gods
Bore Balder’s body on a wooden bier.
There they bedecked his boat with oak leaves green
And garlands mixed of thyme and rosemary.

They primed the deck with boughs of fir and yew,
Around the mast his treasure piled up high.
His sword and helmet on the vessel’s bow
And shield of silver they deposited.

When all was done, Lord Odin gave the sign
To carry Balder’s body to his ship.
with loving care, the gods their burden laid
Upon his cloak, high in the vessel’s stern.

Poor Nanna, Balder’s wife, could not endure
Her sorrow at the passing of her lord.
Her frail heart broke and there, beside her love,
They laid her body and their hands entwined.

Out from the shallows to the deep beyond
The gods pushed Balder’s ship and there it rode
Upon the tide, its blessed cargo rocked
By lapping waves to sea birds’ mournful cries.

Above his head, great Odin held a branch
Of blazing yew, lit from the sacred fire.
Into the ship he thrust the burning brand
And with its flame ignited Balder’s pyre.

“Go, dearest Son, fair winds your passage make!
May night’s bright stars your sacred vessel guide!
Farewell Sweet Light! Our days are darker now
And sad our hearts without you by our side.”

Across the lonely sea a wind arose
which blew the smoke across the open bay.
It caught the sail and bore the vessel out
And slowly, slowly, sent it on its way.

Great flames rose up around the mast and sail,
The timbers flared and sparks flew heaven-high.
The sea turned red as Balder’s vessel plied
Its final course beneath a burning sky.

Upon the shingle by the water’s edge,
The silent gods kept watch throughout the night.
By day’s grey dawn, the smoke and flames were gone
And Balder’s ship had disappeared from sight.

But this is not the end. The legends tell
That in the Fall of Time at Ragnarok
A great upheaval will unseat the gods
And ice and fire will ravage Asgard’s plains.

Wild beasts will roam its halls, the gods will die,
Loki will perish and his mischief cease,
In chaos will the heavenly order end,
Its ruins slowly sinking in the waves.

From that bleak end a new world will emerge,
Nature will blossom and pure fountains spring.
From Hel’s domaine, fair Balder will return
And all the Earth with Peace and Joy shall ring.

So let Hope live! though Evil win the day,
Its reign is doomed, its cruel course will run.
Pale watchers on the shore, we brave the night
To catch the golden rising of the sun.

The Holy Grail

The cup which Jesus used before he died,
That sacred cup we call the Holy Grail,
Was borne across the sea in later years
To England’s shores and kept in surety.

Its blessed presence was a unique grace
And comfort for the people of this land,
But then its vision was withdrawn from sight
Because of evil times and evil men.

Its whereabouts were lost and darkness fell
Upon the land while wildest legends spread
Of visions, apparitions, spells and dreams,
Of demons, magic and of mystery.

Deep in the valleys of unfolding time,
Beyond the Hills of Doubt lay Camelot.
Its towers rose above the forest oaks,
Its spires and banners caught the morning sun.

Inside the walls, around their warrior king,
The knights and scholars gathered, each one pledged
To help the weak, to mortify the proud
And right and love, defend and glorify.

Within the great hall of the castle stood
A table round, elaborately carved,
Each seat belonging to a warrior knight,
Bearing his name and painted with his arms.

One seat alone no name nor legend bore
Save “Perilous”, bespoken for a knight
As yet unknown, outshining all his peers
In godliness of life and chivalry.

Now on the Holy Feast of Pentecost,
As Arthur and his men in council sat,
Wise Merlin came into the castle hall
Leading a youth unknown to all the knights.

They bowed before the King and then the youth,
Without a hint of hesitation, took
The empty place at Arthur’s table round
And made his own the seat called Perilous.

Old Merlin broke their silence of surprise:
“This is the worthy knight, my noble lords,
For whom this seat was meant. In him the past,
The future and all knightly virtues meet.”

So came Sir Galahad to Camelot.
As champion of the weak and of the poor,
In all he said and did, he showed indeed
He was the worthiest of Arthur’s knights.

All human virtues flourished in his wake
And set a pattern for Mankind to see,
Like banners, richly sewn in silk and gold,
Rally and hearten, beckon and inspire.

Now when the year its cycle had achieved
And snow lay on the towers of Camelot,
Arthur convened his knights and sat with them
And talked of battles past and glories won.

The King was happy in this company
And little guessed that this would be the last
And final meeting of his table round,
Founded by him so many years before.

High in the shadows of the oak-beam roof,
A minute point of brilliant light appeared,
which slowly grew in size and floated down
Towards the table and the gathered knights.

Like falling snow upon the fields outside,
Silence descended on the castle hall,
Till everything within and everyone
Were bathed in light and all-pervading peace.

An image grew within the burning light,
The shrouded outline of a golden cup
Swathed in white silk, which all those watching knew
To be a vision of the Holy Grail.

“O Precious Cup! 0 Blessed Mystery!
Allow our eyes to see, our hands to hold
Your sacred form from which Our Saviour drank
The night on which He gave Himself to die.”

So prayed the knights, each one with fervent hope,
Yet fearful that the gift might not be his,
For each one knew the prize would be denied
To all except the truly pure in heart.

The brilliance faded and the vision died.
There in the stillness of the darkened hall
King Arthur’s knights, each lost to time and place,
Kept holy vigil through the winter night.

When morning came and sunlight on the snow
Shone through the windows to announce the day,
Gawain approached the King and made this plea
On bended knee before the gathered knights:

“My Lord, when first I came to Camelot,
I swore to serve you loyally and long.
This have I done with joy and faithfully,
Finding therein my challenge and ideal.

But last night’s vision of the Sacred Cup
Has stirred my soul and sired a nobler cause.
The time has come for me to venture far
To search for and to find the Holy Grail.”

Arthur’s heart sank as one by one his knights,
Including Lancelot and Galahad,
Professed the same desire and sought to leave
The noble service of their Lord the King.

“My heart is heavy when I hear you speak,
For last night’s vision of the Holy Grail
And your desire to leave signal the end
Of this our great fraternal company.

And yet I know that brotherhoods must die
As moons and nations prosper and then wane,
And each man in the end, without support,
Must his own goal and his salvation find.

Go forth upon your quest and persevere,
Our Gentle Saviour guide you on your way!
Although you journey far from Camelot,
Do not forget the fellowship we shared!”

When finally the time for parting come,
Armed with their hope and zeal, the knights rode out
Across the bridge which spanned the frozen moat
Beneath the mighty walls of Camelot.

Beyond they stopped, looked back and with a bow
To Arthur standing on the other side,
Spurred on their horses, galloped and were gone,
Soon lost to sight among the drifts of snow.

Many set out that day but few returned
To tell the King the outcome of their quest.
The paths of searching many detours take
And seldom come full circle in the end.

Percival, Lancelot and Galahad
Each went his separate way from Camelot,
Down steep ravines and over torrents wild,
Through briars and swamplands, dragon fens and fells.

All manner of temptation strewed their paths
And lured them to the very edge of Hope,
Beyond whose bounds, as on some ancient chart,
Lies bottomless Terra Incognita.

Such tribulations did the three endure
But in the end their paths from night emerged
To lead them safely from the valley mists
To sunlit uplands and to restful groves.

There did their ways converge and with great joy
The three knights met again and journeyed on,
Sharing the stories of their trials and deeds,
Delighting in each other’s company.

They came at nightfall to a hermit’s cave,
Where they found shelter and a bracken bed
Beside the old man’s fire and talked with him
Of Camelot and of the Holy Grail.

At break of day he led them to a hill
From where they saw the morning sun arise,
Touching the forests and the sleeping plains,
Waking the distant mountains with its light.

“Beyond those hills,” he said, “lies Carbonek,
Enchanted castle where your treasure lies;
Approach with humble and with prayerful hearts,
The proud and wicked find no comfort there.”

All day they travelled on. When twilight came
The castle’s keep stood out against the sky
And strange lights flickered from its highest walls,
Guiding them safely through the rising mists.

But when at last they reached the castle gate,
No watchman challenged them, no lantern shone
Nor fire burned within the castle hall
To bid the weary welcome for the night.

Here all was darkness, silence and decay
And owls possessed the castle’s crumbling walls.
How could the Holy Grail be hidden here
In such a dismal and unworthy place?

Dispirited, the three knights fell asleep
And in his restless dreaming each one saw
The castle as it was and, in its midst,
A chapel glowing with a mystic light.

This each one knew to be his journey’s goal,
The resting place wherein the Holy Grail,
That sacred treasure lost for centuries,
Lay safe though hidden from all mortal gaze.

When morning broke and daylight filled the ruins,
A chapel was revealed beside the keep
With finely carved oak door and straw-thatch roof,
The only part intact of Carbonek.

From walls and ceiling painted saints looked down
And praying angels knelt in golden rows;
Green rushes strewed the floor and, tapers lit,
The altar stood bedecked as if for Mass.

The chapel drew them in as though a spell
Compelled their actions and their very thoughts,
Filling with awe and sweet expectancy
The inner chancels of their minds and hearts.

Above the altar in a ring of light
The Holy Cup appeared, faintly at first
And shrouded with a veil of whitest silk,
Borne at each corner by angelic hands.

The vision grew in strength and clarity,
The light intensifying till their eyes
Could scarcely bear its penetrating beams
And falling to their knees the three knights prayed:

“O Precious Cup, O Blessed Mystery,
Allow our eyes to see, our hands to hold
Your sacred form from which Our Saviour drank
The night on which He gave Himself to die.”

In answer to their prayer, the Holy Grail
Descended to the altar and appeared
Without its veil, its majesty revealed,
Brilliant and burning as the noonday sun.

With eyes averted from its blinding glare,
Sir Galahad’s companions, arms outstretched,
Ventured to touch the Cup and felt its rim,
Cool as spring water to their burning hands.

For one brief moment in the flow of time,
They walked along the shores of Galilee
And with the crowds they heard the Master speak
And of His sacred garments touched the hem.

But Galahad himself endured the light.
With eyes uplifted to the Holy Cup,
He held it steadfastly within his gaze
And took its bowl between his upturned hands.

Its beams reflected from his shining face
Until he was enveloped in its light.
Merging together in a holy joy
The bearer and the Cup became as one.

Aroused as from a sleep, the other knights
Upon the altar steps found Galahad,
His soul departing from its earthly cage
As free and joyful as a rising lark.

Holding the Grail, his spirit soared aloft
And as the knights in awe and wonder watched,
The brilliance faded and the vision died
And Cup and Galahad passed out of sight.

With joy and sadness mingling in their hearts
They buried him against the chapel wall
And then, their goal achieved, they started out
Upon the long road back to Camelot.

If somewhere in the land of future time
You chance upon the ruins of Carbonek,
Below the chapel, on its western side,
A stone you’ll find with this inscription carved:

“Here lies, O Gentle Reader, GALAHAD,
The Bearer of Christ’s Cup and noblest knight
Who ever sat at Arthur’s Table Round,
His Quest has ended, yours has but begun.”

Titicaca, between Peru and Bolivia

In the lake of floating islands,
Beyond the haze of disbelief,
Lie the Island of the Sun
And the Island of the Moon.

The Sun God rocked our reed boat
On the breast of the sacred lake.
In the great stillness,
Between sky and water,
We closed our eyes and journey inwards.
Here, truly, was Arcadia

1999

Mediterranean

Come with me to the brow of the hill,
The wind in the pines is singing still
And the sun is high in the sky.
From the top we’ll get a glimpse of the sea,
Of the misty islands of Arcady
And the distant mountains high.

There lies the ocean the Argonauts crossed,
Where Ulysses and his ship were tossed
For ten full winters long,
Turned into swine by the witch Circe,
Lulled by the fruit of the lotus tree
And the winged sirens’ song.

Over the sea on the Southern side
Are the lands of Africa, dark and wide,
And the fountains of the Nile.
There on its shores in the burning sun,
To the myriad insects metallic hum,
Basks the watchful crocodile.

Away to the West, beyond the trees,
Stand the mighty Pillars of Hercules
Where the wild Atlantic flows.
And on this side, from their Carthage home
Came Hannibal’s elephants bound for Rome
Through the shining Alpine snows.

So come with me to the brow of the hill,
The wind in the pines is singing still
And the sun is high in the sky.
From the top we’ll get a glimpse of the sea,
Of the misty islands of Arcady
And the distant mountains high.

(Camping in Frejus 1980)

We fallen angels

Sul’s yellow waters
were stirred by wind and time
As we lingered there.

Up Jacob’s Ladder
Isolated angels climb.
We fallen angels
Look up with sadness, minds and
Feet earthbound, yet holding hands.

In Bath, a long time ago!

Camelot

Camelot

Camelot-2Deep in the valleys of unfolding time,
Beyond the hills of doubt lay Camelot.
Its towers rose above the forest oaks,
Its spires and banners caught the morning sun.
Inside the walls, around the warrior king,
The knights and scholars gathered,
each one pledged
To help the weak, to mortify the proud
And right and love, defend and glorify.

Orion shivers

Orion Shivers

Orion Shivers

Orion shivers in the winter night
But keeps his lonely vigil. I watch too
And wait for morning and the healing light.

20 February 1992