“Taliesin at the Ball”

It’s my official function: framing verse,
But also to provide Lord Arthur’s court
With music for occasions such as these.
I am accompanied, of course; this court
Has such prestige that sound from one alone,
Were he even the legend of our time,
Would be an insult of the gravest kind.
I have my double harp, and raise my voice;
Beloved Blanchefleur shall play her lute;
Another brings a dulcimer to us,
And fourth, our fiddler now begins to tune.

This ball is held this day to celebrate
The birthday of a vassal (client king)
Whom Arthur justly favors, but I am
For these past weeks plunged into black despair,
Which only lifts when on my knees in prayer.
Each every other time this bleakness struck,
In music I found solace, peace, and joy—
Since music is my trade, and when well-done
It also then becomes a form of worship—
But music gives no solace to me now.
All holy joy is taken from my soul;
Not even my beloved, lingering near,
Can by her presence salve my troubled mind.

What’s worse, this celebration takes its place
Within a season of high joy and feasts;
As is too often the case, my state of mind
Now leads or lags behind the proper mode
By months—at least a season and a half.

Now, nothing can ruin a joyful ball
More quickly than a sad, sorrowful bard,
And my despair is writ upon my face
So only one half-dead could fail to see.
Therefore, my Blanchefleur takes me aside.
When I explain all this to her in brief,
She says, “I must speak more with you at length,
Taliesin, and in private.” I object:
“I, my lady, fear the doom, foretold,
Delay had turned aside—” She interrupts.
“Lord Taliesin, have you so little trust
In my obedience or self-control?
For while in fairest Llogres I remain
I am still under orders, and avowed
A celibate in body and in mind.”

My trust in the Lord, I manage the ball
Without my grief disturbing those who dance.
But, still, until this bleakness passes by,
No happiness shall pass beneath my pen:
No, I will write no more gladness or joy.
Laments I will create, songs of sadness,
Hymns of grief—For though the Lord is with me,
I have not his joy.

This is yet another poem in my series of poems set in the Arthuriad. It’s moderately late in both order of composition and internal chronology. And while it was originally quasi-free verse, I (tried to) regularize the meter into blank verse as part of a thorough revision in preparation for posting it today.

As always, I earnestly welcome your comments, suggestions, questions, critique, or other feedback about this or any other part of my work. (In other words, if you liked this poem, or you didn’t like it, or it made you think of something, or … please leave a comment to let me know.) If you liked this, you can also read other poems I’ve written here on my blog (starting with yesterday’s archive installment, since the full archive is by now, at over a hundred poems, somewhat daunting); I’d especially like to know which poems you think are my best.

This poem is also archived on my wiki.

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10 thoughts on ““Taliesin at the Ball”

  1. I honestly know very little about poetry except my level of enjoyment when i read it. i DO like things about King Arthur and his knights, etc—so I especially like this poem.

    • Thank you for stopping by; I’m glad you liked this poem. I find readers’ opinions about my poetry highly valuable, even if they’re comparatively uneducated opinions—after all, I’m not writing for the professional critics.

      As I noted in the post itself, this poem is part of a series or cycle of poems set in the Arthurian legends; about ten poems in the series have appeared on this blog so far, as well as a short prose piece (an excerpt from a novel-in-progress) connecting the cycle to my prose work.

  2. Jonathan, this is very fine. There are many apt phrases, for example: “No happiness shall pass beneath my pen.” It flows. Its tone and theme are grand, yet so human. High fantasy like voice. The self-control, civility, and authentic emotions of your character are refreshing. This is a safe and pure place for imaginations to go to live for a time.

    Am I wrong in thinking that Blanchefleur is promised to another, and must marry once she leaves Llogres?

    Cheering you on,
    Maria

    • Thank you for your kind comments; I’m glad to hear that you think the poem “works”.

      The passage containing the line you quoted was largely expanded from from the line “I will write no more joy” in the original; unfortunately, I couldn’t think of a way to get that phrase to fit an iambic meter, even with the latitude blank verse traditionally allows.

      Your guess is on the right track, but not quite right. (Unfortunately the poems dealing with this background aren’t anywhere near presentable yet.) In my take on the mythos, Taliesin and Blanchefleur were warned by Merlin that proceeding with their … courtship … at that time would lead to an even worse disaster than what already was to befall Llogres (probably because, one would gather from last week’s poem, he would refuse the summons home, which would leave the Sunshine Kingdom helpless in the face of its tyrant), so Blanchefleur has entered a nunnery. (In Charles Williams’ version, if my vague recollections are correct, Blanchefleur becomes a nun after Taliessin—who bought her at a slave market in Caucasia, brought her to Camelot and freed her, and brought her to Christ—turned her romantic overtures down.

      • Jonathan, I thought that you’d be interested in knowing that I’ve sent in a request to our library to borrow Charles Williams’s poetry cycle about Taliessin, and Arthurian matters. Thank you for this lead, and blessings as you write!
        Maria

        • I’m glad to hear it. When I unexpectedly found a copy of my preferred edition (which includes both collections of the poetry—Taliessin Through Logres and The Region of the Summer Stars—and the prose Arthurian Torso—which itself includes fragments by Williams and commentary on the poems by C. S. Lewis—in a single volume) at a price not too far out of my budget last fall, I bought it to give to a dear friend as a Christmas present, after I tried and failed to find it at a bearable price the year before.

          Once you’ve read it, I’d like to “hear” your thoughts about my poems in light of Williams’.

          • Jonathan, the book I requested has all that you mention above. I’ll let you know what I think. My expectation is that I’ll be very happy with his work. I’m eager to enter that fantasy realm, especially in formal poetry. Formal poetry is a thing I’ve never attempted, except for haiku. Perhaps reading here, and reading Williams, will give me some training by reading. It’s been my desire to read a book on prosody, too, but I haven’t yet. Formalism focuses thoughts and images more sharply, I feel.

            There is a wonderful poem that I feel you would like. Please take a look. The writer, Jennifer Freitag, is a published author of a beautiful historical fiction book, THE SHADOW THINGS, which I would recommend. Here’s the link to her poem:

            http://thepenslayer.blogspot.com/2012/02/touched-mad.html

            • Again, good to hear; I expect that three-books-in-one-volume arrangement is fairly standard (if now apparently out of print), but I’ve seen (in searches of Amazon and the like) editions with just one of the two halves of the poetry.

              I wouldn’t call Williams’ poetry formal; he’s (usually) deliberate and wise in his wording and rhythm, and often apt in his imagery. The one word I’d choose that perhaps best describes his poetry is “obscure”, or perhaps if I’m feeling more charitable “literate”—it’s still far more readable than some of his prose even if you haven’t read the same things he has, but there are allusions that may be opaque.

              I recommend reading through the poems (somewhat slowly, and it’s probably best to follow the order that is the first thing Lewis gives you in his part of the Torso), then read the Torso and reread (study) the poems in light of Lewis’s commentary.

              I did like that poem you linked; I would look more closely into that blog if I weren’t months behind in my blog reading already. (But I’m starting a push to get caught up, so don’t be surprised if I happen to comment on one of your older posts sometime in the next few weeks.)

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