Arthurian and Grail Poetry

Cerdic And Arthur
By John Lesslie Hall

Hengist went off to All-Father's keeping,
Wihtgils's son, to the Wielder's protection,
Earl of the Anglians. From the east came, then,
Cerdic the Saxon a seven-year thereafter;
The excellent atheling, offspring of Woden
Came into Albion. His own dear land
Lay off to the eastward out o'er the sea-ways,
Far o'er the flood-deeps. His fair-haired, eagle-eyed
Liegeman and son sailed westwardly,
O'er the flint-gray floods, with his father and liegelord,
O'er the dashing, lashing, dark-flowing currents
That roll and roar, rumble, grumble
Eastward of Albion. Not e'er hath been told me
Of sea-goers twain trustier, doughtier
Than Cerdic and Cynric, who sailed o'er the waters
Valiant, invincible vikings and sea-dogs
Seeking adventure. Swift westwardly,
O'er the fallow floods, fared they to Albion,
Would look for the land that liegemen-kinsmen
Of Hengist and Horsa and high-mooded Aella
And Cissa had come to. Cerdic was mighty,
Earl of the Saxons. His excellent barks,
His five good floats, fanned by the breezes,
Gliding the waters were wafted to Albion,
Ocean-encircled isle of the sea-waves,
Delightsomest of lands. Lay then at anchor
The five good keels close to the sea-shore;
The swans of the sea sat on the water
Close by the cliff-edge. The clever folk-leader
Was boastful and blithesome, brave-mooded Saxon,
Said to his earlmen: "Excellent thanes
True-hearted, trusty table-companions,
See the good land the loving, generous
Gods have given you: go, seize on it.
I and my son have sailed westwardly,
To gain with our swords such goodly possessions
As Hengist and Aella did erstwhile win
On the island of Albion. On to the battle,
The foe confronteth us." Folk of the island,
Earlmen of Albion, angry-mooded, then,
Stood stoutly there, striving to hurl them
Off in the ocean east to the mainland,
Back o'er the billows. Bravely Albion's
Fearless defenders fought with the stranger
Then and thereafter: early did Cerdic
See and declare that slowly, bloodily,
And foot by foot, must the folk of the Saxons
Tear from the Welsh their well-lovèd, blithesome,
Beautiful fatherland. Brave were the men that
So long could repel the puissant, fearless
Sons of the Saxons that had sailed o'er the oceans
To do or to die, doughty, invincible
Earls of the east. The excellent kinsmen,
Father and son, scions of Woden,
Burned in their spirit to build in the south the
Greatest of kingdoms: 't was granted to Cerdic
To be first of the famous folk-lords of Wessex,
Land-chiefs belovèd; to lead, herald the
World-famous roll of the wise, eminent
Athelings of Wessex, where Egbert and Ethelwulf,
Alfred and Edward, ever resplendently,
Spaciously shine, shepherds of peoples,
Excellent athelings, and Athelstan, Godwin
And Harold the hero, helms of the Saxons,
Have their names written in record of glory
In legend and story, leaving their fame as an
Honor forever to England, peerless
Mother of heroes.--The men of the east
Slowly, bloodily builded a kingdom
Where Aesc and Aella not e'er had been able
To bear their banners, though both these athelings
Were in might marvellous, mood-brave, heroic
Leaders of liegemen.--Beloved of the Welsh
Was the atheling Arthur, excellent, valiant
Lord of the Silurians, land-prince, warrior
Famed 'mid the races. He rued bitterly
That father and son, Saxon invaders,
To the left and right were wresting, tearing
From races no few their fond-lovèd, blood-bought
Homesteads and manors, were hacking and sacking
Folk of the southland, and far westwardly
Had bitterly banished the best of the heroes
And earlmen of Albion. Arthur was mighty,
Uther Pendragon's offspring belovèd,
His fame far-reaching. Afar and anear then,
All men of Albion honored and loved him;
Sent over Severn beseeching the mighty
Silurian leader no longer to tarry
In crushing the foemen, but quickly to drive them
Back to their bottomless bogs in the eastward
O'er the rime-cold sea; said wailingly:
"The fierce, pitiless folk of the eastward,
Mighty, remorseless men of the waters,
Treacherous, terrible, will take speedily
Our name and nation, and naught will be left us
But to dare and to die." The doughty, invincible
Atheling Arthur, earl of Siluria,
Offspring of Uther, early was ready;
Feared not, failed not, fared on his journey
Seeking for Cerdic. Severn's waters
Saw him and laughed, little expecting
That Arthur the king and the excellent knights
Of the Table Round, with troopers a-many,
Would suffer the foemen to seize and possess the
Lands of Siluria, would let the remorseless,
Implacable, pitiless pagan and heathen
Sail over Severn; not soon did it happen
While Arthur the atheling his earth-joys tasted
Here under heaven. That hero was brave,
Great, all-glorious: God fought for him:
Nor Cerdic nor Cynric could soon injure that
Hero of Heaven; his horrible destiny
Wyrd the weaver wove in her eerie,
Mysterious meshes, mighty, taciturn
Goddess of gods: she gives whom she will to
Speed in the battle. Brave-mooded Arthur,
Offspring of Uther, was eager for glory,
Peerless of prowess: proudly, dauntlessly
Fought he for Albion. Not e'er heard I
Of better battle-knight, more bold, fearless,
That sun ever shone on: the sheen of his glory
With lustre illumined the land where his mother
Gave birth to the bairn; and broad, mighty,
Spacious his fame was; his splendid achievements
Were known to all nations. None could e'er dare to
Cope with that hero, till the conquering, dauntless
Earl of the Anglians, ever-belovèd
Founder of freedom and father of kings,
O'er the seas sailing, slowly, bloodily
Builded the best and broadest of kingdoms
Heroes e'er heard of. The heart of king Arthur
Was sad as he saw the Saxon invader
How, foot by foot, forward, onward,
He ever proceeded, eastward, westward,
Far to the north, founding and building
A kingdom and country to crush and destroy the
Land that he long had lived for, thought for,
Fiercely had fought for. Famed was Arthur,
Wide his renown; but Wyrd the spinster
Taketh no heed of hero or craven;
Her warp and her woof she weaveth and spinneth
Unmindful of men. The mighty war-hero,
Atheling Arthur, set out on his journey,
Laid down his life-joys; the belovèd folk-lord's
Feasting was finished. Unflinching, fearless,
Doomed unto death, dead on the battle-field
Fell the brave folk-prince. Foul was the traitor,
Hated of heroes. The hope of his countrymen
Sank into darkness; for dead was Arthur,
The last and the best and bravest of Albion's
Athelings of eld. Not ever thereafter
Could the Welshman withstand the sturdy, mighty
Tread of the Saxon as tramping, advancing,
Onward he went, eastward, westward,
Far to the northward: none withstood him,
Now Arthur was lifeless; he alone was able
To stay for a moment that sturdy, mighty,
Invincible march.--The valiant, doughty
Kinsmen of Cerdic, conquering earlmen,
Forward then bare bravely, unfalt'ringly,
Daringly, dauntlessly, the dragon of Wessex
Fuming and flaming; fearlessly bare it
Northward, eastward, on to the westward,
O'er Severn and Thames and Trent and Humber
And east oceanward, till all the great races
Of Albion's isle owned as their liegelords
The children of Cerdic, sire of kings and
Founder of freedom. Few among athelings
Were greater than he, gift-lord eminent,
Wielder of Wessex; the wise-mooded, far-seeing,
Brave-hearted folk-prince builded his kingdom
As a bulwark of freedom. His brave, high-hearted
Table-companions, trusty, faithful
Liegemen and thanes, leaped to his service
In peace and in war: well did they love him,
Bowed to his bidding; blithely followed him
Where the fight was fiercest; would fall in the battle
Gladly, eagerly, excellent heroes,
Ere they'd leave their dear lord alone on the battle-field,
Bearing unaided the onset of foes and
The brunt of the battle. The brave ones were mindful
Of the duties of liegemen; dastardly thought it
To flee from the field while their fond, loving
Leader and liegelord lingered thereon
Dead or alive; deemed him a nidering
Who stood not stoutly, sturdily, manfully
Close to his lord as he led in the battle,
Facing the foemen. The free-hearted earlmen
Minded the days when their dear-honored liegelord
Feasted the throngs of thanemen-kinsmen
In the handsomest of halls heroes e'er sat in
'Neath dome of the welkin. Well they remembered
How their lord lovingly lavished his treasures
On all earlmen older and younger,
Greater and lesser: 't were loathsomest treason
To leave such a lord alone in the battle,
With a foe facing him. The folk-ruler mighty
King-like requited them with costliest gems,
Most bountiful banqueting. The brave-hearted man
Builded his kingdom, broadly founded it
Northward, eastward, on to the westward,
South to the seaward. He said tenderly,
Cerdic discoursed, king of the Saxons,
Father of England: "Old, hoary is
Cerdic your king, kinsmen-thanemen,
Warriors of Wessex. Well have ye served me,
Ye and your fathers. I yet remember
How, ere age came on me, I ever was foremost
In deeds of daring, in doughty achievements,
In feats of prowess. I fought valiantly
Alone, unaided, with only my faithful,
Well-lovèd sword, and swept away hundreds
Of earlmen of Albion: now age, ruthless,
Horrible foe of heroes and warriors,
Hath marred my might, though my mood is as daring,
My spirit as stout and sturdy as ever
In years of my youth. I yearn in my soul, now,
To cross over Severn and cut into slivers
The wolf-hearted Welshmen. Well-nigh a forty
Years in their circuits have seen me a-conquering
Here under heaven: from hence, early
I go on my way. Woden will bid me
To the halls of Valhalla, where heroes will meet me,
Gladly will seat me 'mid the glory-encircled
Heroes of heaven. In my heart it pains me
To feel my war-strength fading and waning
And ebbing away. Would I might leap now
Like a king to the battle, not cow-like breathe out my
Soul in the straw. The son of my bossom,
Cynric my bairn, bravely will lead you
When I am no more: he ever hath proved him
A bold battle-earl. My blade I will give him,
Sigbrand my sword: he hath served me faithfully
Sixty of winters: well do I love him,
Bold-hearted battle-brand." The brave earlmen, then,
Shouted lustily, loudly commending
The words of good Cerdic. Cynric they loved, too,
Son of the hero; themselves had beheld him
How valiant, adventurous, invincible, king-like
He ever had borne him, since erst he landed
To fight, with his father, the fierce, implacable,
Wolf-hearted Welshmen: well did they love him,
And oft on the ale-benches earlmen asserted
That, when good king Cerdic, gracious, belovèd
Ward of the kingdom, went on his journey,
Laid down his life-joys, his liegefolk would never
Find them a folk-lord fonder, truer,
More honored of all men, than atheling Cynric
Surely would prove him. Shouted they lustily,
"Wes hael, wes hael! hero of Wessex,
Cerdic the conqueror," clanging their lances
And beating their bucklers, bellowed like oxen,
Blew in their shields, shouting, yelling
Glad-hearted, gleefully. The good one discoursed, then,
Cerdic the king said to his liegemen
(Henchmen all hearkened): "Hear ye, good troopers,
Of Sigbrand my sword. I said he was trusty,
And bitter in biting. I brought him to Albion
Far from the eastward. I fared, long ago,
East over Elbe and Oder and Weser
And thence to the northward, never wearying,
Greedy for glory; 'mid the Goths found it,
Old, iron-made, excellent sword-blade,
Weland his work. Well I remember
How I heard high-hearted heroes and athelings,
My true-hearted troopers, tell how a dragon,
His cave guarding, kept there a treasure
Age after age; how earls of the eastward
Said that Sigbrand, the sword-blade of Hermann,
Was kept in that cave covered with magic,
Encircled with sorcery, secretly guarded,
Bound with enchantments. I boldly adventured
A grim grapple with that grisly, terrible
Fire-spewing dragon, to fetch to the westward
The well-lovèd, warlike, wide-famous brand
Of Hermann the hero. I hied o'er the rivers
And off to the eastward: earls of those lands there
Laughed when they learned that a lad from the westward
Would dare the great dragon that had daunted their fathers
Five hundred winters. I fared eastward then,
Met with the monster, mightily smote him,
To earth felled him; flamings of battle
Horribly hurled he, hotly he snorted,
Would seethe me in poison. Wtih the point of my blade
I proudly did prick him. Prone he fell forward,
Dead lay the dragon. His den was no more
A horror to heroes; hastened I in, then,
To joy in the sight of jewels and treasures
And song-famous swords that had slept on the wall there
From earliest eras, edge-keen, famous,
Magic-encircled swords of the ancients,
Old-work of giants. With joy, saw I
World-famous Sigbrand, sword-blade of Hermann,
Men-leader mighty, matchless battle-knight,
Hero of Germany. I hastily seized it
All rusting to ruin; the rime-carved, ancient
Sword of the hero was soon hanging then
Safe at my side: it hath served me faithfully
Sixty of winters, well-tried, trusty
Friend-in-the-battle. When I fare, troopers,
Hence to Valhalla, high-hearted Cynric,
My fond-lovèd son, folk-lord of Wessex,
Will take up the brand borne by his father
And carve out a kingdom clean to the northward and
Wide to the westward; the Welshman will cower
And shudder and shake, as the shout of the Saxon
Frightens afresh forest and river
And meadow and plain. I shall pass on my journey
Early anon: old and hoary,
Death will subdue me. Dear young heroes,
Do as I bid ye. Bear ye onward
The banner of Wessex. Wyrd will help you
If doughty your valor. I dare to allege it,
That the gods have given this goodly, bountiful
Land of Albion to the liegemen and children
Of Cerdic the Saxon; seize, hold to it
Forever and ever. Ye early will see me
Lorn of my life-joys, lying unwarlike,
Dead in my armor. I urge you, good heroes,
To build me a barrow broad-stretching, lofty,
High on the cliff-edge, that comers from far
May see it and say that so did Angle-folk
Honor the atheling that erstwhile led their
Fathers of old in founding a kingdom."