The Coracle, the Fire and the Champion by Peter J. King

The Coracle, the Fire, and the Champion

for the stars of Fairyland,
haunted and pagan
++++++ for the stars (the
++++++ shadows of mythology)
+++ elemental earth and woods
+++ of primitive and obsolete diversity.

the dialects:
in many volumes (rich miscellanies of
everything preserved) containing
kind translations of the classics –
the Books of Britain, famous
for their thin, old prosody –
geography, important documents,
together speak to time.
in Wales, also, time scattered
history and manuscripts and
important purposes; revivals,
turmoil — after conquest their
remains lay ungathered.

three cycles:
++++++ the heroes of humanity
++++++++++++ (masks of gods) —
+++ +++ +++ semblance by fixed form.

++++++eternal changing —
++++++++++++this paradox figures
+++++++++usually in battles.

++++++divinities and their
++++++++++++earlier myth —
+++++++++ not of mortal end.

woods were ornaments;
gold and iron…
+++++++++ four persons of high standing
+++++++++ hurling against the steep
+++++++++ turns, scythes and
+++++++++ spokes and long hair
+++++++++ restrained by thin (and
+++++++++ deeply etched with writing)
+++++++++ fillets of iron and gold.

the wood province, one
stronghold, a parallel root…
to raise and strive, wild with
axes and sickles, each
without convention, each
dressed the same
+++++++++with round wicker
brooches — and winter,
+++++++++ devouring the stolen
champion of tradition,
+++++++++ now a god.

became so red with shrieking
that one hundred swans
heard and made cold, stormy
penance. profound
poetical, the people,
the first age’s fresh pride,
suffixing threefold destiny;
+++++++++ sculptors of glory,
+++++++++ beautiful salmon,
+++++++++ bearded warriors.
+++++++++++++++ strongest, wisest
+++++++++++++++ gentle and generous.
each spear the nine lands
forged, but his hands trembled,
refused to jump…
branch, thorn… cold iron,
running water, salt, and
the sound of a far-off
bell, tolling.

sons of gods,
vassals of iron,
oxen yoked to mountains;
they cleared and reaped day,
and the living world of images.
+++++++++++++++ temples
++++++++++++moulder, but
+++++++++the rustic god’s
++++++is a courted cult —
and some ruder race, the
aboriginal invaders of the
high mounds (their spiritual,
so-called “unsightly” names,
such as brownie, bogle)
belong to divine myth;
+++++++++the plain
+++++++++population of
++++++ the British woods.

+++++++++++++++ myths;
+++++++++ the common magic of the
+++++++++ lost tribe;
+++++++++ after years
+++++++++ the gods grant to days
+++++++++ a human horror
(as the disappearance of
Pryderi’s wife, of the cauldron
which became living sleep).
and his eye retained the night,
moonless, and three birds
mouthing invitation.

it slipped through another magic
which, in combat of night,
+++++++++++++++ shape-shifting and
++++++++++++ crow-eyed,
++++++ was stone witchcraft
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++ they say.
++++++ there was a far hill
++++++ where trees grew few but tall,
++++++ and the stars glare pierced
++++++ even the rare clouds,
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++ even the
++++++++++++ sun’s long noon. but
cold iron, running water,
salt, and the sound of a
far-off bell, tolling.


Peter J. King (born in Boston, Lincolnshire, England) was active on the London poetry scene in the 1970s, running Tapocketa Press, and co-founding words worth magazine with Alaric Sumner. In 1980 he took up philosophy, and is now Lecturer at Pembroke College and St Edmund Hall, Oxford. Returning intermittently to poetry, including translation from modern Greek in collaboration with Andrea Christofidou, he began seriously writing, publishing, and performing again in 2013.


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