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