Based on the mythical tale from the Welsh Mabinogion, Richard Britton's rich gothic tale breathes new life into the neglected form of narrative poetry.
THE BOOK OF PHERYLLT
Keridwen laboured as if her womb was filled
With stones fired in the acidic larva
That gored its path to fathom valleys
Between the star-threatening peaks
Of Snowdonia, in sleepless prehistory,
As time cut its cord from its creator.
Tegid Voel, her lord, glanced once only
At the wretched bundle, the love
For which had stemmed her bitter blood,
And then left the room to take wine.
Whilst her lord was slumped under his
Antler-mounted fire-place, she stared
At the pink moon as it haemorrhaged
Love into the bruised-blossom night.
Her son, Avagddu, smiled at her
Despite the tightening of his cleft lip,
Flashing his crooked, premature teeth,
His body covered in hair as thick
As a boar’s, his hoofed feet kicking.
“The gods have rid their brittle clay
To render your form” she whispered
“But I will engender you with wisdom
And craft that will emblazon your name
Beyond the curse of your misshapen body.”
The baby opened his mouth and roared,
His hunger-echoes shaking the stillest
Nests in the undefiled trees of the forest.
Her priest risked the wrath of her lord
To ride through the densest woods
For seven nights and seven days
To enquire of the Holy Book of Pheryllt
From which she would draw sublime
Incantations, and breath life into her pledge.
At the city of Emrys the priest arrived,
The city of pyromancers, where red-bearded
Druids converse in koine with turbaned
Alchemists and draw potent symbols
In the shell-sands for far-eastern sages
And fakirs from the valley of Indus,
Who sweat water from the Ganges,
As they lean over their kilns and forges.
The Dragons of Beli lived underneath
The city, in a labyrinth, guarding
Rocks of great urge that calibrated
The measure of the power released
From these citizens’ metaphysical toils.
They never stirred, but always
Had one eye open and breath bated
Lest the laws of nature should be defiled.
After much consultation and seeking
Of advice and counsel, the priest was
Sent to the Grand Keeper of Books
In the Tower of Books, the most
Magnificent library in the world,
Housed in a hollowed mountain
Far from the city’s yellow-stoned core.
There, he was shown the ancient
Text, ciphered in ogham, but reading
In a tongue as ancient as the species
Of worms that the wizened librarian
Plucked from its spine, obsessively,
With the sabre-points of his grey nails.
And so he noted the concoction.
And he journeyed back to Penllyn,
Past quarries of slaves, dust shrouded,
The spoils of wars – sacked cities
And barbarian wastes, enemies subdued -
Excavating rocks or cosmic wisdom?
Muscled Gauls cracked whips scoring
Red lines in their lime-blanched skin.