Merlin and Kentigern: A Legend of Tweeddale Video Poem

Come with me fair maiden, Lilias,
Come and sit a space with me, Where the Powsail purls and prattles,
Gently by this old thorn tree. Come and stir good thoughts within me,
With bright looks of kindly cheer; Sweetly flows an old man’s story
Where the young are fond to hear. Yesterday, when I was wandering
O’er the Broad Law’s treeless back, Came a mist, a white mist, floating
Slowly o’er the moory track. And ever as it travelled lightly
Where the fitful breeze might be, It took new shapes of strangest seeming
That looked weirdly upon me: Now a whale, and now an ostrich,
With a neck of longest span; Now a camel, now a white bear,
Now a snowy-locked old man. And I thought on old man Merlin—
Merlin, wizard of the Tweed,— Moaning o’er the tway-cleft kingdom,
Wailing o’er his waning creed. For he was a heathen, Lilias,
Mighty man of place and pride, Counsellor and bard and prophet
In the kingdom of Strathclyde. And when Roderick, to the false gods
False, and faithful to the true, In the battle of Arderydd
Slew the mightful Gwenddoleu; Merlin old, his bard and prophet,
Cleaving to the Cymric creed, Moaning o’er the lost Sun-worship,
Wandered lonely by the Tweed: Seeking death, but might not find it;
For he deemed it sin to die With a self-implanted dagger
In the bright Sun’s beaming eye. And he came to where Drummelzier’s
Kirk looks o’er the Powsail brook; And sadly here, with thoughtful brooding,
On a stone his seat he took. Here he sate, with none to friend him
In his sorrow and his dool, But his little dog, a black one,
And a young pig white as wool. Sate and looked, when lo! a figure
Cloaked and cowled, with solemn gait Through the shower and through the sun-glint
Came where wizard Merlin sate: Came as one that hath a message
Where delay might father loss, On his breast a death’s-head broidered,
In his skinny hand a cross. “Who art thou,” cried Merlin, “coming
From the East where dwell my foes! I have here enough of sorrows,
Let me feed upon my woes! “Cause have I to hate the traitor
Who hath laid my monarch low; Spare to triumph rudely o’er me,
Prostrate in my utter woe! “Cause have I to hate the Christian;
Hence, and give mine eyes release From thy death’s-heads and thy crosses!
Let old Merlin die in peace.” “Fond old man, I may not leave thee;
I am here by God’s command, With dear balm of benediction
Near thy bed in death to stand. “I am Kentigern: my mother,
Not far from the Isle of May, Daughter of the king of Lothian,
Bore me in a wondrous way. “Saint Theneu, my blissful mother,
Whom the spiteful waves did toss Rudely, in a fragile shallop
Prisoned, bore me at Culross. “And St Serf, from where Loch Leven
Laves the roots of Lomond Ben, Washed me thoroughly in the water
Of regeneration then. “And my mother there devoted
Me to God, the One, the True, To the savage West to wander,
And convert the heathen crew. “Bless the Lord this day, old Merlin:
In the dear name of Theneu, I am come with God’s salvation,
On the tree who died for you.” “Mock me not, thou sallow shaveling!
By yon God that rides on high, In the pure old Druid worship
I have lived and I will die. “Gods in guise of man we know not,
Scourged and pierced and crucified; God we own above all human,
Baal careering in his pride: “Baal, whence flows Fire’s holy fountain,
Pulsing with a pulse of might; Baal, that o’er yon green Trahenna,
Streams with floods of holy light; “Baal, whose voice is in the thunder,
Rolling far from glen to glen; Baal, whose glance is lightning darted
From the blue crest of the Ben “Baal, whose fiery virtue melteth
Crusted ice and stony hail Into rills that leap redundant,
Spreading sweetness through the vale;— “Him I own within me,
In the great and in the small— In the near and in the far off,
In the each and in the all. “Tempt me not with human Saviours,
Gods to handle and to feel! To the bright broad eye of Heaven,
Life-dispensing Baal, I kneel. Preach the cross to savage Saxons;
Crosses come when they are nigh: As old Druid wisdom taught me;
I have lived and I will die!” Then with holy hand uplifted
Spake the saintly Kentigern, And with swelling eye of pity,
“Old man thou hast much to learn. But the gnarled oak can no man
Bend like rush or osier wand; Take my love, and take my blessing,
With thee to the Spirit-land. Allwhere lives a thoughtful Reason,
In the sky and in the sod; Mind and Thought, and shaping Reason,
This we worship, one true God. Sun and moon, and forky levin,
Floods by sea, and storms by land, Are but ministers and servants,
Tools in the Great Master’s hand. Take my prayer and take my blessing;
Though I may not move thy will, Whom I serve hath gracious magic
To bring good from harshest ill. In His house are many mansions;
If they heart is pure and true, He can save with stretch of mercy,
Merlin old and Gwenddoleu.” Spake: and with his cloak wrapt round him,
Eastward o’er the moor he strode, Leaving wise old Merlin brooding
Strangely o’er the Christian’s God. But his brooding must be barren:
Who can change an old man’s creed? Romish gods might not be devils,
But Baal was God for Merlin’s need. With an eye of moody-wandering
Gaze, he followed Kentigern, Where he brushed the purple heather,
Where he swept the plumy fern. And he wandered o’er the moorland,
Wrapt in sorrow and in dool, With his small black dog behind him,
And his young pig white as wool; Wandered till he found a hollow
Cavern by the river’s brim, Where a witch, a wily lady,
With a strong spell prisoned him. And she kept him there, the fell one,
Till his eyes with age grew dim; Then the wily fair, the false one,
Mixed the cup of death for him. And wayfaring people found him
Stretched beside the river’s brim; And beneath this ragged thorn-tree,
Here they dug a grave for him. And his small black dog they buried,
And his little pig with him; And they wailed before the Sun-god
Sadly by the river’s brim. Weep for him, and kiss me, Lilias,
Kindly kisses help our need, When a tearful story moves us
On the flowery banks of Tweed!

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