“Taliesin in the Rose Garden”

My lady the queen, let nothing disturb you.
Your fate is as great as his,
Your destiny as high, and these troubles
Merely the pricking of rose thorns.
Beauty is not an easy path.

I look down upon the citadel of Camelot
From my place in the garden with Guinevere.
The wall is not in place, the people not in homes.
I see the knights’ banners on the breeze:
The dragon of Arthur the king, first and largest;
A fish for Percival the fair, swimming in the sky;
A golden lion for Lancelot the paragon of honor,
A swan for Bors the loving, and by some trick
A cross for the knight of Merlin’s Seat.
These I see above the unlaid foundations
And the half-high defenses of the city of Camelot
As I walk with the queen among the flowers.

My lady, I have seen another great destiny:
Not yours, but another as great.
One shall come, through a misguided devotion to you,
Who alone shall be worthy of the highest quest.

This is one of the earlier poems in my series set in the Arthuriad, both in when I wrote the first version of it (as I can tell from the structure—distinct sections alternating between narration and monologue were the most common structure in the series early on) and by internal chronology. I made some slight but thorough revisions when I overhauled the series several years ago, and then cleaned it up further before posting it today.

I always welcome your comments, critique, suggestions, or any other feedback on this poem or any other part of my work. (In other words, if you like it, if you don’t like it, if something “works”, if something “doesn’t work”, if it makes you think of something or someone, etc., please comment and say so!) If you like this, you can follow this blog, which includes one of my poems every Friday; you can also read other poems I’ve written here on this blog (or if that list is too intimidating, I’m posting more manageable subsets each week, such as yesterday’s installment, so you can just start with those). I’d particularly like to know which poems you think are my best.

This poem is also mirrored on my wiki. If you like it, you are also encouraged to share it with others, subject to my sharing policy.


5 thoughts on ““Taliesin in the Rose Garden”

  1. This is one of your best, Jonathan. Elegant, formal, lovely, leading us further into the stories of Arthur. I like many things about it. One for special note: the wonderful banners – love Percival’s fish swimming in the sky and the irony of Launcelot’s symbol/meaning.

    • Good to hear. I suspect that the original form of that section of the poem (part of the revision in preparation for posting was to change it from a list of “the such-and-such-symbol of so-and-so the such-and-such” to the current more vivid descriptions) was written when I was immersing myself in Williams’ poetry—the idea of a swan as the symbol for Bors would not have occurred to me, and I don’t think I was familiar enough with the legends of Percival yet to come up with a fish for him on my own.

      And it’s worth noting that in my concept of Lancelot’s story paints him as rather more honorable and virtuous than many other (often lurid, if not quite tabloid-esque) recent portrayals I’ve seen—though it doesn’t come into any of the poems I’ve written so far to any great degree.

      • Launcelot’s story is tragic. To glamorize it or triviliaze it, no! It will be a challenge to write about this essential part of Arthur’s story; it will take prayer.

        • From the beginning, I think there have been several different perspectives on the part of the story that leads to the downfall of Camelot. The story helps to crystallize what each new storyteller believes about “courtly love.” (About which my own thinking was entirely changed by reading The Allegory of Love.) But what I was getting at is that some “recent portrayals” have ignored the whole idea of courtly love entirely, instead portraying the relationship between Lancelot and Guinevere precisely as their opponents charged it was—but as if it wasn’t wrong, under the postmodern assumption that there isn’t anything wrong with adultery. My conception of it will go to almost the other extreme: Lancelot is no Galahad (who was arguably only devoted to God), but I’ll portray his love for Guinevere, and hers for him, as an entirely (or almost entirely—the “almost” especially since in his case it put him in danger of idolatry) virtuous admiration and affection.

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