The hidden henge (an alliterative poem)
In a gay green glade, within the wild wood
Midst moss and mold, are seven standing stones,
A hidden henge - not high - by mighty mages made
In ancient ages, aeons of planet progress past,
Long left, low-leaning, in pensive poems to pray.
Hail to the holy henges, made in the mystic mists
Of ancient earth! Each angel-stone still sings of starry
Voyages, vast vistas, very thrillingly. Their thinking
Slowly sinks them softly more deeply into dreaming.
Some say they snore and sigh – mild music for the many.
Yet wild ones of the woodland, the bushes, beasts and birds
And fishes, ferns and fairies were wary of this wonder.
No paw-pressed pathway passed, all deer-paths did detour
No saplings spry up-springing among those magic meyns
Thorn and thistle thwarted amidst the mold and moss
Silence still and solemn held that hidden henge
Enchanted it with charms
Sang of sacred secrets
Delved within its dreams -
Whispered when to wake…
Far from that fairied forest, beside a booming beach
A hermit’s humble hovel made of mottled mud
And thickly thatched with thraves stood simple and serene.
Let us look lightly in - no door denies the deed
Always ajar as it is – the shifting shadow shows
That someone stirs inside, while by the white-washed wall
Lies prone upon a pallet, wan and withered: the wizard;
While clad in a crimson cloak, steely the sword in his scabbard
A pale-faced page goes pacing the flagstone floor in a fright.
Wild are his eyes, he’s weeping, but he shakes out a shining shroud,
He kisses the clay-cold corpse’s hands and his holy head.
And lightly lays the linen over the empty eyes.
‘Farewell my foster father,’ these woeful words he whispered,
‘A saintlier soul never sermoned! Holy’s thy haven henceforth!
Poor is thy pitiful page, little his learning of letters
Oh, may my manliness merit always thy approbation,
Fasting, or faring a-field
A wandering war-orphan
Of royal rights now reft.
Exiled an outlaw am I.
He shivered, shut the shack, and paced the powdery path
To the height of the heathery hill, to view the vast vista
Showing shimmering ships, fleet of the fierce foe,
Arriving and already anchoring. Halting here he hesitated,
Seeing with some second sight, watching with wild wonder
The phantom of his foster father, clapping and calling him kindly,
Pleased with his princely pupil, earnestly asking assistance.
So he stood still and silent, ready to receive this request,
His hand hovering over the hilt of his silvery steel-bladed sword
Then dashed back to the door he’d lately locked in leaving
He went willingly, walking, and opened and entered in awe,
Fearlessly flashed over the flags, shrugged off the shroud
Severed with his scintillating sword the head of this holy hermit
And, obeying his ethereal adviser, packed it in peat in a packet,
Brought branches to burn blazing the rude room and remains
And clutching it under his cloak fled from the furious foe
The frightened farmers had fled,
Their shaggy sheep unshorn,
Refugees ran at random,
Strongly he strode a stranger.
Deep the darkness at day’s end, mild and moonless
Soundly he slept by a stream, dreamt of his dear druid
Sending him strength and solace whether weary or well
Till he woke to the words of a woman. Startled he stood.
Forgetting at first the reason he was rambling,
And lamented his loutishness as she delivered her discourse.
Threatened with thralldom hiding from hostile hosts,
Babe at her breast and a boy of six or seven assisting her:
A witch, with a warning of dangers deadly and dire
Of huntsmen with hounds chasing chiefs and their children!
She clutched his crimson cloak, telling its terrible tale
Of excellent ancient ancestry: brooched and bordered with beasts.
‘They are looting the lowlands and, coming through cornlands
Are reaping our ripe rows to provide for their plunderers.
The gardeners are gone from the gardens, the routed run riot,
Crying of cruelty and cripplings, gore gushing from gashes
Dreadful this dire defeat!
Cruel the conquering kings!
Plundering the pleasant plains!
Killing the kindly kings!’
He gave the goodwife the garment, and blessed both of her babes
And went warily on his way, holding the head of the hermit,
Found the fringe of the forest, walked as a wayfarer,
Hid from horses’ hoof-beats, panicked when people appeared
And when the first foes fronted up, reluctantly ran from the road,
Thrust himself through thickets, parted from peopled paths
Fearful of fierce fauna, broke his boots on buried branches,
Slept - starless the sky - making his mould in the moss.
He lived there a long-time foraging for his food:
Bark, berries and birch buds, frogs, fungi and fish.
He scoured the scholar’s skull, carefully carved it a casket,
And hid it in a hollow in a trustworthy tree trunk.
In darkness dreaming its dreams, learning alone in the light
The trusty trees’ tongues and the sweet singing of the songbirds
To sense the sense of the scents in the wafting woodland weavery
To find fauns, fays and fairies and see silvery sylphs.
He paid attention entirely
To fairies, fauns and flower fays
Learning to listen and love,
Singing them the sage’s sermons.
When in the wild wintry wind bare branches were being broken
He hid with the head in the hollow with nuts for nourishment,
Warding off wolves with his weapon, beating back bears.
No premonition prepared this prince for his death. A day dawned
When he heard huntsmen’s horns and a brace of beagles bounded
Into the greenwood, gaily gambolling, held by their handlers’ hands.
Taking his treasure from the tree - certainly it wasn’t safe to stay
For they flushed him out in the forest – routed, he ran like a roe,
Bounding bravely over brambles that hindered the hounds
(Woefully they whined, pained to be passing up prey.)
He heard huntsmen hallooing. One aimed an accurate arrow
That ruptured his ribs, but fear-frenzied, he felt no feeling.
The hampered hounds howled, bloody-eared from brambles.
The archer uttered an ugly oath, forced to forego the fugitive,
Not aware of the worthy wound he’d dealt to that ‘dog of a druid’.
Holding the hermit’s head - sore was the stitch in his side -
The prince prayed:
‘O Head of the Holy Hermit
Loyal Lord of long lineage,
Do I die now or do deeds
Truly to treasure tradition?’
Was it the head held near his heart, or did devils discourse?
The princely page pressed on, sore his side, sighing.
This ugly undergrowth was unknown, fetid with fat fungi
His wits were wandering, deathly delirium drove him
Blundering blindly through bushes, stumbling over stones
More and more mystified, still not to be stayed
Letting loose his life’s blood and dying while dashing!
A threatening thrum of thunder with luminous lightning
Showed him, shimmering, his foster father’s face.
Talking, telling him the tracks, striving to strengthen him,
He trudged on trusting, getting glimmering glimpses
Of fays, fauns and fairies amongst the mounded moss,
Called from the clamour, fetched from the forest fringe
To the altar, aching in agony, and let himself lie down at last.
The stones were singing with spirit, in that holy hidden henge,
They received with relief the relic, and drank the druid’s dreams.
And the page
Slowly sank into slumber.
Bright was his blood on his breast,
His sighs and sobs slowed,
Deep was his dreaming.
He woke up well - what a wonder! surrounded by spirit stones.
Frost had filigreed each frond, yet this wanderer was warm.
The holy head of the hermit, animated upon the altar,
Shot forth a shimmering shine beaming a beautiful blessing.
He stood up steady and straight, reached for the radiant relic
But paled as his palm passed through it as if it were only air
Though it rested on rigid rock. He backed away baffled
Then glanced at the ground grimly, seeing his silvery sword.
His own corpse was clutching it, its eyes open and unseeing.
Long he lingered there looking - his fingers found it a phantom.
Then he approached the old altar, and saw the sun suddenly
Bend three bright brilliant beams a-slant to the circle’s centre
Hark! then a harp was heard, boldly a bodhran boomed,
Owls assembled, and elves arrived, fat fauns fussed and fretted,
A stately stag stepped up, inquisitive squirrels inquired,
Fairies filed in in frilled flounces, and young unicorns, yes.
Dancing with deep delight
Holding his hands high,
Chanting the old charms,
Declared him their Druid.