Arthurian and Grail Poetry
(copyight 1991, C.M.
Friend, when you and I were younger, and the world was strange and vast,
How our eager hearts would hunger for the legends of the past:
Dreams of swords and spears uplifted, gleaming armour in the sun,
Streams of banners bravely flying where the battle had begun.
Oh, to see the truth triumphant, setting Right ahead of Might,
Hear the gentle judgments afterward, at Court by candlelight,
Or the revelry and laughter while the merry minstrels sing
Of Heorot Hall with Grendel gone, or Camelot in Spring.
We have joined in joy and sadness with each hero in his plight,
Shared the fine inspired madness of La Mancha's woeful knight;
Parents little know the path they chart for children when they bring
All the stories, songs, and sagas about Camelot in Spring.
How those visions filled our childhood, strengthened us as nothing could,
Put our world in moral order, set our standard of the good;
For the lessons that we heeded, shining from the printed page,
Were the virtues that were needed to bring on the Golden Age.
But perhaps our elders mocked our dreams of dragons on their hoards,
So, for lack of worthy foes, we packed away our magic swords;
Then our schools and jobs distracted us with all the work they bring,
And no more we thought of Heorot, or Camelot in Spring.
Bid farewell to bold adventures and our comrades of the mind,
To the Wizards wise and subtle, and the Ladies fair and kind,
To the Knights of the Round Table, and the Fellows of the Ring;
Farewell Narnia and Middle-Earth and Camelot in Spring.
But when danger came to challenge us, and fear cried, "hide or flee",
What compelled us to embrace the threat, and not the coward's plea?
Was it that we found the courage to confront it on our own,
Or had help from him of Heorot who fought the troll alone?
And the day we faced injustice, hypocrites who held truth caged,
Then we showed our true upbringing when our indignation raged,
Saying, "THIS is not the right way, THIS would not have pleased the King
Who set justice at the Table Round, at Camelot in Spring!"
And we've mourned for other dreamers who had followed the same star,
And who died before they ever knew if truth would win the war;
But their names still live within us, and in legend they will ring
Along with those of Heorot and Camelot in Spring.
What though now our world grows older, and our castles fade away?
Still our dreams can make us bolder, bear our standards through the fray;
Still the quest for honour bids us battle lies and unjust laws;
Still the memory of heroes gives us comrades in our cause --
Beowulf and mighty Arthur, they knew what the battle cost;
And their songs may lend us courage when we feel alone and lost.
Even in the darkest Winter, we can raise our voice to sing
Of the vision of the glory that was Camelot in Spring.
What if we should be forgotten, all our efforts go in vain,
Hopes and plans die misbegotten, with but insults for our pain?
What if no-one hears our story? Still, they'll know us when they sing
Of all those who dreamed the glory that was Camelot in Spring.
October 6, 1991
In memory of Sergei Ivanovich Zaroodny, 1821-1887 and 1910-1981, both
of whom fought to bring a just world into being. Their name has outlived tyranny.
Historical footnote: the elder S.I. Zaroodny was the author of the Russian
Judicial Reform Act of 1864, that established an independent judiciary, extended the right of trial by jury
to all subjects including the newly freed serfs, and, according to historian George Vernadsky, "changed
the Russian judicial system from one of the worst to one of the best in the civilized world at that time".
He lived long enough in retirement to see most of his reforms dismantled (in the backlash following the murder
of the "liberal Tsar" Alexander II and the accession of "reactionary Tsar" Alexander III) --
but his son Alexander Sergeivich Zaroodny became an attorney whose clients included Leon Trotsky and
Mendel Beilis (the Jew accused of ritual murder, whose trial and triumphant acquittal by jury made world
headlines), successful due in part to the remaining reforms, and was subsequently Minister of Justice in
Kerensky's Russian Republic.
The younger S.I. Zaroodny (namesake grandson of the elder) and his sisters were left motherless by Lenin's
purge of 1921: their mother, Elena Pavlovna Briullova, granddaughter of painter Karl Briullov, had been
a teacher, social activist, and founder of schools scattered across Russia, but was executed by firing squad in
Siberia for sheltering a refugee from the purge. Their father I.S. had already lost the sight of one eye, after
seeing a mob intent on pogrom -- and singlehandedly jumping in to fight it off its target. As an emigre to
America, S.I. Zaroodny became a ballistics engineer at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds, but this idealist
and lover of poetry (able to recite by heart for hours) also fought for justice, if on a smaller stage, for instance
to protest the denial of disability status for a maimed co-worker who'd been told his prosthetic claws made
I am proud of these people, my great-grandfather and his namesake my uncle, my granduncle,
grandmother, and grandfather, whose courage inspires me.
May the free, fair, and just society of which they dreamed come into being.