“Merlin Before Guinevere”

My heart is heavy at our parting,
For my guidance will certainly fail.
The song I have sung is now ending
And the light of Pendragon is pale.
The Pendragon falls—who now shall arise?—
And anarchy dims the light of the City.

O daughter of princes, hear now the Word:
“To obey is better than sacrifice.”
When will you listen and truly be free?
Your conduct has darkened your star ere its rising,
And your orderly empire is fallen before it began.
But I must leave you now, for I have stayed too long,
And my own kingdom must fall for a time.

The conversation in the comments on another recent poem made me think of this one. It’s probably about the latest poem in the series in internal chronology, but fairly early by date of composition. I significantly reorganized and revised it when I did my overhaul of the whole series a few years ago, and then further revised it earlier this week in preparation for posting 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 follow this blog, which includes one of my poems every Friday, or read other poems I’ve written here on my blog (starting with yesterday’s archive installment, since the full archive is by now, at well over a hundred poems, somewhat daunting); I’d especially like to know which poems you think are my best. You may also share it with others, subject to my sharing policy.

This poem is also mirrored on my wiki.

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5 thoughts on ““Merlin Before Guinevere”

  1. Jonathan, I would love to see where this takes place, and hear or see Guinevere’s response. The title suggests Merlin before her throne, but that may not be so. The setting would be interesting for us and describing it might spark additional creativity for you.

    I really like “And anarchy dims the light of the City.”

    • “So-and-so before So-and-so” is a general pattern the titles of many early poems in this series followed; all it necessarily implies is who is speaking and who is being addressed. But perhaps a better title for this might be something like “Merlin’s Farewell to Guinevere”. The setting is probably more of a private audience than a public, formal one—especially since, from the context implicit in his rebuke, her claim as queen is somewhat doubtful.

      There isn’t much in the way of verbal response; at the end of this speech, Merlin turns and leaves both her and Llogres for the last time. We know that at the end of the Arthuriad she enters a convent; anything further is left to the imagination (of the reader or of the modern interpreter), and whether she actually learned from events, or from this rebuke, isn’t clear.

    • She turns up much later in the Shine Cycle (first in the “Game of Life” sub-series, but continuing in the main line sometimes after that—feel free to ask this again when the précis get there, as I’ll probably have put a wee bit more thought into it); what and how much she’s learned from the disaster that befell Llogres that history lays at her door isn’t very clear at that point either, but at least she’s further grown in virtue in the however-long in Underhill-or-equivalent.

      If I get particular inspiration, I might write a poem to immediately follow this one, from her perspective; I’ve done a few such “reaction-shot” poems before (again, lo these many years ago …). But other than poems that “come to me,” the Arthuriad-milieu poetry is directly connected to the Shine Cycle in only a couple of places, so this point is unlikely to come up.

      (To put it most briefly: Perhaps; we’ll see.)

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