The Death of Merlin

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The Death of Merlin

by: Ernest Rhys (Author)
from: Welsh Ballads and Other Poems (Pp. 29 - 40)  1898

   I.--THE SEA-RUMOUR.

                               I.

Three sailors pass, by the Water-gate,
And sing of Merlin, as it grows late.
Last night they sailed the Irish Sea,
The bitter sea, in a wild twilight,
Where its tide swims north to Enlli strait.
From the Water-gate to Merlin's Tree,--
They sing to-night
Of Merlin's death and Annwn's might.

                               II.

To-night, oh Towy, from the seas,
We saw their mast o'ertop thy trees,
The tow rope swayed their top-mast tall;
While the wind whipt the rain like a tarrying team,
And the spent leaves speckled thy serpent stream:
Thro' the sleepy town, what songs are these
They sing, till they reach the Spital wall,
And break the dream of Morial?

                  
                                       III.

                   SAILORS' SONG.

   'Marvellous Merlin is wasted away
   With a wicked woman:--woe might she be!
   For she hath closed him in a crag
               On Cornwall coast.'


                             IV.

'A fair sea-tale! What woman could,
With all the red witchery of her blood,
Enchant the Enchanter that is lost?
Her maiden mystery,' Morial said,
'Was Nimua's art, in Merlin's mood.
What iron crag of Cornwall coast,
What cleft of fierce Tintagil's head,
Keeps him that like a flower all Carnac sunward spread?'

 



             II.--THE SECOND SEA-RUMOUR.

                              I.

Deep, deep is the night, the street deserted:
One house alone wakes broken-hearted:
A candle winks in the window-pane.
The children wake and cry within
At the thing that never yet tear averted.
As the monk sains the dead, another strain
From the quay below, brings the sailor's din
And tells some belated ship is in!

                              II.

'Yo ho, yo he!' a hearty sound:
But their barque has gotten a sore sea-wound.
Her master hastens from the quay;
At the Spital gate, now hear him knock,
And hum to himself, while on the ground
From his fierce red-beard, and his stained sea-frock,
The salt sea-fret continually
Drops as he drones his sea-mystery.

                                       III.               

                       SHIPMASTER'S SONG.

   Marvellous Merlin is wafted away
   In a sailing island, a ship of glass;
   Far over the edge of the world he's blown
              By Annwn's blast.


                              IV.

His voice fell as he sang, forlorn
As a voice o'er the drown'd five cities borne:
To a mariner on the winter sea:
And the monk that came from the dead-chamber,
With thought of death, grew sad to hear:
And sad his 'Benedicite?'
[Twas Morial spoke], as he turned the key.

                               V.

The wet night wind went whistling through
The wicket as he swung it to,
And the lantern gaped at the red sea-beard.
'From demons save my soul,' began
The Shipmaster: 'Hark ye, it blew
The blackest blast that ever I knew,
Under Enlli Isle: and we fell afeard,
For the Isle was adrift, and we barely cleared.

                              VI.

'Like a ship of glass as white as milk,
With mast of ebon and shroud of silk,
She sailed away. But see in black
Stands Merlin midships, round his head
A ring of white-fire,--while the rack
Screams by o'erhead: and the long-drown'd dead
Stand up to see. But he never looks back:
Tho' the hounds of Annwn are on his track.

                              VII.

'Oh, the dead cried out, and the sea-worms leapt,
For her keel drag'd fathom deep, and swept
Gulfs dark with demons in her wake!
And they sea-witched us, me and my men,
Till we drank the salt, and never slept,
And for many a moon beat the sea, and then,
Came home, came home! Good Morial, take
Off Satan's curse for Christ His sake!'

                              VIII.

Next noon, see, on the sunn'd ebbtide,
His ship sails trim from Towy side,
And the sailors sing: but Morial
Thinks of the dead last night, and deems
That Merlin lies indeed where glide
Those snakes that demons are. His dreams
Make pale moon-paintings on his wall;
Where the drowned sink, saying,--'Death is all!'

                             < IX.

Oh, then to all else Morial died,
Save scroll and desk, and wall beside:
For Merlin's history let him write!
The Abbot said, and nothing hide:
But year by year the thread unwind
Of Merlin's mystery from his mind;
From demon birth, thro' sin and sleight,
To the dark sea-death in the drifting night.

             III.--MORIAL'S DEATH-DREAM.

                              I.

Now Calan Gauav again draws on,
And many a marching year is gone:
And yet, as thirty years before,
His faith thrice-slain, writes Morial.
He hardly marks the one year more;
The winter dusk stand at the door;
The winter wind sigh in the wall;
The winter leaves by the window fall.

                              II.

To-night there should have been a moon:
But it rained hard all afternoon,
And chill the early twilight fell,
O'er Merlin's death he bent his head,
To tell the end: 'Now from Annwn,
The demons call;' he writes, 'the bell
[And never a mass for Merlin said,]
Rings thrice in Enlli for the dead!'

                              III.

With every word he writes, he dies;
The historian with his histories.
The parchment paled as now the pen
With failing charactry made pause
O'er Merlin's demon-obsequies,
Too monstrous to be told of men:
Thrice dead is all that Merlin was:--
'MERLINUS MORTUUS: DEO LAUS!'

                              IV.

His heart slept there: but sure the gloom
Hid one that spoke within the room,
A face that grew on the grey wall,
And seemed to speak, and fade again
'Beneath Galltvyrthen is my tomb,
Where now the rain drips, Morial:
But I hear the stars at their ancient strain:
And it needs you come where I have lain.'

                              V.

He knew that voice, that tone of fate;
And cried, 'I come!' The Spital gate
Creak'd as he passed. The wind made spears
Of the shattered rain: his pulses leapt
To feel them fall: his heart grew great
With every gust: his only fears,
To feel how frail the pace he kept;
To feel how slow his stiff feet stept.

                              VI.

By Towy's tide, o'er Gwili's flood--
Now Morial gains Galltvyrthen wood.
In the heart of the wood the wind lay still;
The moon in the trees lit a silver lamp;
And Morial saw where the Nine Oaks stood
About the grave-stone under the hill,
That rose from the mould and the dead-leaf-damp,
In the twilight of the moon's white lamp.

             IV.--THE WAKING OF MERLIN.


                              I.

'Merlin!' he cried. Like nine grey men,
The oaks, he thought, moved nearer then
The door of death, whose mysteries
Gave way at the clay's rebirth;
As shaking off the grave again,
With all his smouldering fervencies
Regathered from his mother Earth,
Her Marvellous Son stood forth.

                              II.

But first, half-risen from the clay,
'Marw a garav,' he seemed to say--
'Marw Mordav'--'Since Mordav's dead,
I want to die!' So long ago,
He cried on dread Arderyd's day,
Thought Morial,--and in his bed
Of death, that crimson stream of woe
Seemed thro' his dream to flow and flow.

                              III.

'Crist Celi' next he cries, with hands
Heaved trembling up, and forthright stands:
And surely now the nine Oak-trees
Stand, nine grey Druids, robed in white,
Armed with the smoking bardic brands,
And hymn the Eternal Three Essences,
And weave the rune of the crescent Light,
Whose dawn-fire breaks on Merlin's night.

                              IV.

                   DRUIDS' SONG.

Marvellous Merlin's awake with the day:
The Morning Star calls the Dawn from the hill:
The Flame wakes again on the ash of thy brands,
             Oh sacred hearth!

Wild Merlin's awake. The Sun's on his way;
Where the Elements heard the harp of the Stars,
That Darkness let shine, as Death does thy Life,
             Oh Cymraec Land!


                              V.

Their hymn was done. Their brands the smoke
Sent branching up; and Merlin spoke:
'The Soul aspires, past Night's last arch;
Where they that stained Arderyd's dust,
Cross, to the ardent fields of air;
And make such music in their march,
Their hearts forget the deadly thrust,
Whose purple decks the robes they wear.

                              VI.

'Now Morning, from Caer Cennen's steep,
Comes marching,' Merlin cries, 'to keep
Watch on the mountain fastnesses!
Crying to all the Cymraec fields--
Awake! Not long King Arthur's sleep
Shall be, ere while the herd-boy sees
The dawn that yields
The cry of harps, the glancing of his shields!'

                              VII.

So Morial heard, that might not write
Nor add the morn to Merlin's night.
That ends his mortal chronicle;
And some say still, that many a one
Read Annwn's mark, and dreadful might,
In the dead face of Morial:
There speaks the Night! The Night is done:
And Marvellous Merlin's Day's begun.