Prologue

 

And from the storms

In this bay a new tale goes, that The King of the Sea Trees,
Once a keeper here before the forest was submerged,
Doth in the spring time, when tides are low,
Walk ‘round about the ruined oak, with great ragg'd horns;

And there he tends the trees and fairy cattle

And makes dry the flood and cuts a drain

In a most considerate and patient manner.

You may not have heard of such a spirit, but now you know

The land has born a myth

Received and delivered in our age!

Although he is older than the King of Longshank’s woe and wears many a layer,

If we listen, close as thieves,

We may yet hear his voice, calling above the waves…

The King Speaks…

 

Labourers and minstrels!

The hymns of angels

Shall raise dreams out of your drunken sleep.

Let me entreat you from before the beginning began…

 

The keeper of this present shore

Ere I became a returning stag

I was but a spirit of the place

125, 000 years’ yore.

Born and reborn from the last interglacial

With hippos and lions I wandered here

Until the high coastline began to fall

And a chill took hold of fur and fold.

By a weathered horizon

The water’s chest rose and fell

White gleaming through the busy scud

Unseeming in her quiet abode.

 

For 85,000 turns the climate dithered

Over musk ox and antelope, boar, elk and bear

With mammoth and rhino woolly

Against the ever changing cold

And the two-legged beast

Who had beside us roamed

Heavy browed and flaming

Faded with passing thought

Leaving barely a trace

Replaced by a modern face

With smaller heads and a rapid gait

Treading shadows into the shifting ground.

 

Then over their retreat

came the ochre-less ice…

The sea dropped to its knees

 At her gelid and stealthy approach

The land grew pale in its demise

And my brethren turned back towards the east

Leaving me a throne. I took no form

But travelled in the patient wind

Over tundra hard and white as bone

The stars revolving in an old dance

Until I became but a sigh

 In the moonlight of an empty age.

 

From my sleeping thus beside a nascent sky

At last I saw the ice pick up her restless feet

Waking with only one glance back

To her glacial bed

Trailing river gravels

 In her wedding’s wake

Plaiting stone with lingering fingers

She cast a deluge as her entourage

At the birth of a new world

Where the sea climbed from sediments

Some 20,000 years ago

Into the first discovered flood.

 

Slow to start

Seeking assurance from the emptiness

No ark came to carry me beyond

No more than a haze I was

Blown on Devensian backs

Like the breath of a dragon

Twisting in the arms

Of a young valley

Cradled by hesitant silt

I waited

 For sunshine to unlock

The Holocene’s unguarded door.

 

But when the way opened

My sight beheld a smaller place

Tidal flats and mud held sway

A salt marsh and reed swamp carried

Freshwater and a brackish taste.

Gravels took a cliff top view

And company began to gather

By seven and by two…

I welcomed them

As sovereign in my ancient state.

For I am the imperial lord

Of this forsaken land.

 

Six thousand years from where I now speak

The sea ceased her washing

And settled into heaven’s rags

Of marsh, bog and scattered heath

Acorns sinking on the stem

Before the un-fragmented contentment

Of a mountain

Smaller in her green old age

Collecting memories

That gossip in shells

And the paper thin snail

Of a library who has hidden her books.

 

None else remembers

But the wild tenant moon

Who like the gritless sky

Keeps all his secrets safely locked away.

Under that glittering gaze

I became the picture of defence

A watercourse

An eagle grey

An albatross of glimmering eye

As dry manor faded from the day

I saw the song

The salmon knew

 

For I have been a coracle on Rhys Ddwfn’s field

I have been the alder rain.

I have been an arrow and a spear

I have been a songbird on the breeze.

I have been a torrent from the hills

I have been the rainbow in every shower.

I have been a cat with speckled head

And a goat in the elder alone

I have been the reed and oaken leaf

And the sleeping peat they made.

I have been a butterfly

Bluer than the waters deep

 

I have been the howling of a wolf

And the silence of an owl.

I have been the blackest bee

Whose grave lies in the future

From where I watched the rivers spread

And swam like the seal.

I grazed as ungulates graze

And flew like the crane

Spilling language in my wake.

The years drowned.

I drank as aurochs’ drink

And suckled like the swine

 

I ran amok with ass’s legs

And my feathers wore a scaly shine.

I dressed in cloth of fragile foam

My breast as coiled as an exiled snake

A knife I carried to shear the storms

And my hooves left prints behind.

The antlers were a pride I wore

In reflection of my earlier glen

(Being not of meat for petty men

Neither will I disclose my secrets to slaves

Or sing wrong poetry into a battle fray).

Disguised for near three thousand years

 

Under cover of the salt and clay

Beneath the folding of a channel bronze with tears

Where children stood on shifting ground.

My span is measured in your mortal fears

                                                                        - Oh but I tell you now -

I am still younger than my antlers betray

My bones are older than any caught remains.

The tines were but a crown I gave away…

But their shadow on my head does stay

For I know nothing - and everything - of being dead

I am but two days’ old - my name is Hedd

I chose to live when all else fled.

 

There were more tales once

Beneath the ocean’s whispering wave

But cultured acres have become

Reduced to misremembered myth

The names nought but a knot on thickening tongues

From the cradle of curlews and a fickle age.

A mermaid of layers

Mererid tends the underwater reign

And I the space between her unfenced lea

And the realms of tunnelling and iron

From where the fairies and a cut fire came.

They brought heather with them in their shoes

 

And juniper berries - pleasant strands

That bled onto skin like woad

Marking a pilgrimage on straight roads

War cowping around them like crows.

Stranger fists followed their course

Into a steely dusk

From which the Morgan stretched her onslaught out

To flood again – again - the folly from which her role is shamed.

The seasons passed

With thirteen ships and a headless state

The pattern of grasses turned

(As all life must) to dust.

I care now for what is left behind

When tides are low

The beaches have become my will

To tend the peace

And make dry the blood

In stories

Where I keep you still

Hungering for the sound

Of history breaking on a fledgling shore.

You litter the way with boulders

Of your own making

And rail at the forgotten apple

 

As if your cellars inherited this fragile earth

Spreading your own dreams

Upon another’s wound.

But it is I - and I alone - who keeps sweet Mererid safe

From the wreckage of her rage.

I gave her my crown

A lover’s gift

A token to appease her sorrow

Between the living and the grave

Sitting in the perilous seat of time

Above her silent bells

(that ring only when the dead are brave)

 

Upon the herbs of forgotten lore I bring to her still

A lullaby of echoes

Into the mist of every dawn

And the listening poet’s rhyme.

 

Epitaph

 

Fair things are slow to fade away,

Bear witness all, that as of yesterday

Out of the sea trees a King with ragg’d horns

Did entreat you with an age bowed head

A tempest in his palm.

If, while my passion I have thus imparted,

You deem my words untrue,

Then place your hand upon the ruined bark

And feel how it remembers peace for you,

You are not men of sin, but Destiny

That hath to instrument this lower world

And what is in’t, the never-surfeited sea

Hath cause to drown your walls; and on this island

Where man doth inhabit; you listeners

Being most decided to make amends, I have made you a truce;

For part of every year She will not hang or drown

Your proper land.

And, by the salt, I and my fellows

Will bring you gifts: the elements

Of whom your breakers are afear’d may as well

Build from the sky, or with little bags attempt

To kill the still-closing waters, as diminish

One tear that’s in her frown; there are none of us

Who are invulnerable. I beseech you, build no more

Out of respect of weather’s range?

Your culture is now too massy for your strengths

And cannot be uplifted…Your battles will submerge…

Lean not against this change but remember –

For this be my business to you – that you all

Who sit beside the castles here

Exposed unto the sea, which hath requit it,

You and your innocent child, for which foul deeds

The powers, delaying, not forgetting, have

Incensed the seas and shores, yea, all the creatures

Against your peace. By thy own abuse,

Thou art bereft; and do pronounce for me

A lingering perdition, worse than any death

Can be at once, I shall step by step attend

You and Her ways; whose wrath to guard you from –

Which here, in this Ceredigion end, all else falls

Upon your heads – or ‘tis nothing but storms

And a rising tide ensuing.

...is an epic poem, which is attended to by subsidiary poems, approximately 2,000 words long in total it tells of 125,000 years of what is now Cardigan Bay.  It forms part of the parent project, Layers in the Landscape - about which you can read more, here.

 

The protaganist is a ghostly figure, a king who is seen wearing an antler crown and with the hooves of an auroch. He patrols the coast line at low tide, managing the floods and fae inhabitants, protecting the lost forest and cantref , bringing us reminders in the wake of storms about our vulnerability in the midst of the world's ever changing climate.

 

Within this new myth are held reflections from earlier poets married with factual information from geo-science and archaeology, medieval literature and folk stories. It holds the deep map from Layers in the Landscape within one, overarching, narrative. You can currently see this poem on display in exhibition at the Old College Cloisters, in Lampeter (SA48 7ED), or read it below, or listen to the process of recording it reel-to-reel by textile artist, Emily O'Reilly on her soundcloud, by clicking on this button (the whole piece comes in at about 1.28): 

 

 

The Myth Poem begins with a Macalla from Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor, Act IV, Scene IV. It ends with another, from The Tempest, Act III, Scene III. Inbetween are many poets, many stories, much music, much science.  See how many references you can spot...

King of the Sea Trees...
...Brenin Y Coed Môr

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