Tendentious Morgana mustered her train;
tore through the city with woe in her wake;
rode hard from Logres on the open plain
till the trees grew close like twisted wraiths.
Few followed her there, to the demon wood;
most fell away, save those that could
ward off the darkness with an answering look;
the grim-faced, the hard-willed, Broceliande took.
Ravens wheeled and cawed in the canopy;
darkness congealed like a substance all round.
Strange limbs caressed Morgan le Fay;
fragile fingers; brittle bones – decaying
branches that caught at her weeds.
Her tangled veil tore; encumbered no more,
Morgana fell to the cold forest floor.
Her people surrounded their motionless mistress
distress roused a clamour within their breasts
and wailing they lamented their fallen lady;
lost in the dark with no guide to lead them.
But soft she stirred in agony of waking;
dull was that morning, and the world dreary;
the dim light more hateful than night’s oblivion.
Clothed she herself anew in that clearing.
Spirits ministered to her with a fell working,
conjuring raiment to hang on her body
while her followers cowered, nothing perceiving
but a foul, unclean odour – a sulphurous stinking.
Naked I came into the world, and the world clothed me
I owed my maker no thanks for that labour
that left me imperilled to the unbiased elements.
They proved my masters; showed me their secrets;
nurtured me on a fair, pragmatic exchange
too easy for fools with hearts too heavy
to contemplate blood-offerings, revenges, to levy
loved ones for gain – their wills are too weak.
They couldn’t count the cost even if it should speak.
I heard it whisper from a divining cup –
the valuer of souls, quantifying Thoth.
He made plain the plausible rules of the game.
Flesh never will graduate to the echelons of spirit
till it trade base consumption for the pure, spiritual food;
feast on the passions; let appetite gorge on itself;
excite in others sublime joys; terrors; rages
which nurture the noetic.
See how the body retreats, like a vanishing perspective
when the mind delights in the overthrow
of day’s vain dominion.
Become nothing – behold,
how the flame grows to fruition!
Some mighty souls made their ascent, centuries ago,
unclean they were called, after their gross
and short-lived coupling with indiscreet matter.
Now free they roam the air at their pleasure
heirs to eternity in the spirit, while we sit –
a speck adrift on a sea of inundating passions,
a dreg unfit for consumption, a dog-tossed bone;
alone in our fleshly humiliation. So the masters
revealed to me in our sweet conversations.
They taught me the secret ascents, the necessary offerings;
divisions of body and soul – astral projections –
those means of escape to embrace the beyond.
Merlin knew the magic, he learned it long ago
under service of a heathen king he exerted his spirit.
Only lately has he shied away from the ancient rites
Age and infirmity trouble his wits;
his potency was drained in the font of baptism,
at the court of the newly-crowned.
The old fool claims a higher power,
confesses the consecration
of bread and wine to flesh and blood,
Arrant absurdities! How matter mocks!
Scorning the spirit; these vulgar flocks,
mere slaves, revolt against their masters.
I too will condescend to them
I’ll bake their flesh, ferment their blood
sup on the elements of fear;
the pure, spiritual food of an unquiet mood
while Merlin broods beside the rood-screen
murmuring his prayers.
We’ll fight and make light of their rites
and see how far he dares in defence of the holy place,
will he stoop to his old ways?
When the rays of a subtle wand
penetrate the incense-haze
scattering complexions in a docile congregation
– Arthur’s folk – will the wizard retaliate?
So spake Morgana, in evil thought
and overwrought with her winding schemes.
By J. W. Thompson
Photo by silvana amicone on Unsplash