Retold

“Atgofion (Memories)” 

Wizard, warlock

Myrddin, Merlin

So many words and names for me,

one man…

So many tales of us together, Arthur,

yet I wonder how many

speak of the magician and the king

when we were young…

I am new at court,

my powers strong but not full-grown,

you’ve not yet come into your own.

We should be

master and servant –

instead we are the closest friends.

I believe

in the king you might be,

and you

trust the magic I might make.

It’s not always easy

being a prince’s consort

when most of Camelot thinks

you ought to have a queen.

My work is magic and healing,

I’m loyal to Camelot and you –

we try to make others’ doubt irrelevant.

Smiling, I listen

as the ceremony ends.

Guinevere, our friend, our heir,

is queen now.

Arthur, you and I

are free to go adventuring again.

~ Marta Ziemelis. Copyright September 2011, October 2014. Written in Dubai.

A few years ago, when I told a friend that I was planning to write a series of poems based on the King Arthur stories, he suggested that I try to write a piece depicting Merlin and Arthur as young men. Since this seemed like a cool idea, I agreed I’d give it a try. What you see above is the result, which has gone through a few different versions.  The BBC television series Merlin was one of my inspirations, since it’s one of the few versions of the Arthur-Merlin tales  I’m aware of which depicts them in young adulthood.

(Note: “Atgofion” is Welsh for “memories” – a nod to Merlin and Arthur’s origins 🙂 )

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Lady in the Moonlight

“Moonshadow”

Wait,

the Lady rises from the Lake,

moonshadow bright.

She comes not for Arthur,

nor for Merlin of the dark eyes shining –

though she has known them before,

in love.

Light-foot she steps

upon the rippling wave,

song-strong hands

carrying breath, thought, lovebeat.

Gentled her power

no fate she decides tonight –

simply

shall her touch caress,

share, cherish, ward.

Your feet, bare, damp,

slip in lakeshore mud,

but no matter.

You wait and watch,

twisting your heavy girdle between your fingers,

twisting the hems

of your rain-spotted gown.

The Lake parts a little,

the Lady takes your hand,

clasps your waist,

presses her lips

lightly on your braided hair.

One small step

shaking yet sure –

your mouth, daring and nervous,

brushes against hers, exchanging breath.

Since when

does the Lady of the Lake

come only to kings and warlocks?

~ Marta Ziemelis.  Written in Dubai, copyright May 2013.

This is my riff on what the Lady of the Lake might have been like in her private moments, the moments which don’t appear in the stories we hear. Inspired, at least in part, by Heather Dale’s lovely song “Lady of the Lake”.

Previously Published

I was unsure of the title I wished to give to this post, and after trying out several options, chose the one you see above. Why this title? Firstly, because it is nicely alliterative, and I have a weakness for alliteration. Secondly, because it provides a unifying thread – both poems included in this post are works of mine which have previously been published elsewhere. Curious? Read on!

“Saaremaa”

O blue island tempest-tossed,

haven of a thousand songs,

grey-pearl voices of the dawn

dance you in their eager arms.

Silk-smooth sea-waves soflty breaking

on a shore of reddened stone

twine with spice of juniper

in a sacred scented flow.

Nightclad fir-trees proudly rising

from the heads of ancient cliffs

calmly face the whisper-waters,

deep-rooted their dark-glowing grace.

Forest coolness slowly rises,

drawn from secret bowls of green –

waltzes slowly sinking twilight,

on these shores of stone and dreams.

Silver kisses darkened skies,

light caress on breathing foam.

Velvet hugs the sleeping shore

Silence sighs

her warm-spiced note.

~ Marta Ziemelis, written in Riga, Latvia, copyright 2009, 2012.

 

“Warrior’s Way”

What hides

behind the strength of the sword?

What hides behind the tension

of the fiercely bent bow?

String snaps

yet the shot flies true,

finding its way.

Gentleness is fire

and fire, gentleness.

The one forged in the other

Endless cold caress.

Quarterstaff rings

on the stone of the night,

releasing eternal

arrows of light.

Sword to sword

hand in hand

is it battle

or a dance?

Road of steel

Light of rain

One shot

makes end the beginning again.

Give me strength

Give me faith

Silent and starlit

the warrior’s way.

Whose hand forges

the bridge at my feet?

Gaze of dark eyes

I ride forward to meet.

Hooves on the stone

twilight song

Riding now homeward

and winter is gone.

Sword to sword

hand in hand

is it battle

or a dance?

Hand in hand

eye to eye

Battle is done

and so, goodnight –

until we wake in warriors’ hall,

mead in hand and stars above.

~ Marta Ziemelis. Written in Toronto, copyright 2010, 2012.

Anyone who wishes may read more about the island of Saaremaa, which inspired the poem bearing its name, here.

An earlier version of “Saaremaa” appeared in the 2009 edition of the arts journal UC Review, while an earlier version of “Warrior’s Way” was published in the 2010 edition of Garm Lu: A Canadian Celtic Arts Journal. While re-reading these pieces during the process of posting, I felt that each of them could be well served by a bit of tweaking. It is for this reason that they sport two copyright dates apiece.

“Saaremaa” was written shortly after a family visit to the island in question, a certain amount of which I had probably spent in a crabby mood. (As a kid I disliked being involved in trips which required lots of rambling around. What was the point of looking at all these things?, I thought. Although I feel differently about rambling now, if it’s happening in a place where I want to be.) Something of my anti-rambling attitude probably contributed to the crabbiness, as it often did (and sometimes still does) on such occasions. But, at the same time, I remember being stunned by Saaremaa’s natural landscape  – the overgrown, green-covered meteor crater in a forest, intricate blue clouds trailing across the sky, the sight and smell of juniper (which seemed to be absolutely everywhere). It held me tight and insisted that it wouldn’t let go until I wrote about it. So I scrambled for some paper and a pen; the poem you see above was the eventual result.

As for “Warrior’s Way” – I don’t remember exactly how it began, but what I can tell you is something of what went into it. Ever since I could read, I’ve been reading folktales, myths and legends – especially Norse myths, because as a Latvian kid I’d been told some of these stories even before I could read. At some point I started reading Robin Hood legends and Arthurian legends too ( each of which merit their own post alltogether). But one thing Norse myths, Robin Hood tales and Arthurian legends had in common was the figure of the warrior – a fighter, often living by a certain code of honour and with loyalty to a leader and comrades, who would go on quests and have wonderful adventures. This figure – particularly as regards its focus on honour, loyalty, adventure and a significant purpose in life – has really stuck with me. I know my views of mythical and legendary figures and the lives they might have had are romanticised, but isn’t that part of what stories are for?

Tonight in Camelot

One of the primary purposes of this blog is to be a place through which I can share my original poetry – hopefully with a wide audience, in time. Please feel free to read, comment, discuss, and forward!

(I would like to note that I am the author of all poems and photographs posted on this blog unless stated otherwise, and that I reserve all rights to the same.)

“Gwenhwyfar”

Bow before the spirit white

whose light festoons her bower.

Sing the bride of Arthur’s court –

the High Queen and the flower.

~ Marta Ziemelis. Written in Riga, Latvia,copyright 2011.

 

“Tale of the Kitchen Knight”

A lady sat at her casement,

with eyes as clear as sky,

her voice flitting like sparrowsong,

and glimmering low and high.

There came in sight a yeoman rough,

striding oe’r the land.

Bow and quiver were his tools,

strength was in his hand.

‘Tower-singer, come you down,

come and be my maid.

String my bow, come grace my camp,

and do not be afraid.’

‘Nay, O archer over-proud,

I do not wish to be

your pretty doll, your drink of mead

beneath the greenwood tree.’

A fairy lord a-walking came,

bright stars they were his eyes,

a cloak of night about him wrap’d,

his sweet voice full of lies.

‘O mortal beauty fair as sun,

come dwell inside my mound.

My power yours, you shall be queen

o’er halls beneath the ground.’

‘Nay now, my lord, such tales I’ve heard

of all the things you claim.

You’ll snatch my very soul away

and trap me in your game.’

As stars appeared, there whistling came

a merry smiling knight,

his scarred and burned and blistered hands

did swing through twinkling light.

Her eyes fix’d on those hands, she called,

‘Stranger, whence come you this eve?’

He laughing cried, ‘I’m the Kitchen Knight,

to Arthur’s court I cleave.’

‘The Kitchen Knight I am called there,

my craft is pots and bread.

I carve no warriors in the lists,

I craft royal feasts instead.’

‘I love bright things’, the lady said,

‘but not those of the royal kind.

If you seek my hand, you must

stay now to hear my mind.’

‘I love bright things, both true and fair –

like friendship, song and ale.

Offer me these with loving heart,

I’ll join you without fail.’

Gone with him to Camelot,

she learn’d his noble heart.

Both friends and lovers they became,

a pair who would never part.

She sewed a banner – mead and meat –

as sigil for her Kitchen Knight.

They lived, they loved, they cooked and sang –

and ne’er was a court so bright.

~ Marta Ziemelis. Written in Riga and Toronto, copyright 2011.

 

“To Tristan”

No one understands the words you’ve said

said to shield the silence in your head,

silence guarded by the clamour of the sword

Her face floats,

white flame unspoken word –

Yseult.

Phantom hands like fire and like song

raise your blade

as you turn within the lists,

giving you a strength none can defeat.

Yet the price is cold and bitter,

sharp as a receding tide.

Wakeful, you stir under the moon,

chasing

the image of your happiness, a pale ghost in the breeze.

Blood speaks in your heart

but cannot reach across the seas

through walls of stone,

where she sits by another man’s hand,

her thoughts

shaking and burning

as they try to touch you –

you, who are hers.

She sings to the waters,

you scream to the wind,

voices meeting in midair

for the memory of a kiss.

Only the deepest core of your heart

lives

– and it might as well be stone.

~ Marta Ziemelis. Written in Toronto, copyright 2011.

 

The pieces above were published in the March 2012 edition of Garm Lu: A Canadian Celtic Arts Journal . Each one deals with a character or particular moment from Arthurian legend, which has long been a fascination of mine. Since there are well-known Arthurian figures which have been written about ad nauseam, I’ve made an effort to write on  lesser-known characters, on moments within the Arthur tales which are never described – or at least, to offer unusual perspectives on some familiar faces.

Many sincere thanks go to my friend Greg Darwin, who offered invaluable advice when it came time to edit the first draft of “Tale of the Kitchen Knight”. Tapadh leat, a chara!

I wish you all happy reading!