'Merlin' by Alan Lee
The Battle of Arfderydd
Like a wolf pack biting
into bone, bloody-chapped
we bit the bitter core
of that battle and gulped
Its poison; Gwenddolau sighed
his last breath as Rhydderch’s cross
was hoisted high over the earth.
I stole away by ditch and fosse.
Where could I hide but the wild wood
from Rhydderch’s men? That tree
with apples on its boughs
guards the glade the christians cannot see.
Sour apples falling to earth
fester slowly into another year
a freight of sadness.
The cycle broken: the circle
shrunk to this one glade
in the wildwood; defeat
dogged us but I made
A spell here and grew hair
like a wild thing in the wild
wood which I wander like a wolf
under leaf shade ashamed but undefiled
This poem is an imaginative reconstruction of the legend of Myrddin (Merlin) in the earlier (non-Arthurian)Welsh tradition in which he is seen as a wild man hiding in the woods after the 'Battle of Arderydd' at which Gwenddolau was defeated by Rhydderch. It also refers to the theory by an early commentator (Skene) that Gwenddolau (and Myrddin) were pagan and Rhydderch represented the christian ascendancy. Myrddin was in some way hidden in the woods by an apple tree to which he addressed verses.
More on the roots and development of the Merlin legend next time.