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The Burial of Guinevere

The Burial of Guinevere by John Evans

Painting: John William Waterhouse
Painting: John William Waterhouse

With spade in hand,
And heart in mind,
I rend the goodly earth,
Bent over double like a toothless beggar,
Dressed in my old lord’s male.
The harvest moon shines down on me,
And those who share my task,
Recalling her ghost from heaven’s field,
Far above life’s torment.

Her body lies near to me,
Clad in rich garments,
Silver as a fallen lily,
Plucked from Avalon’s orchard.
Her pale cheeks and golden hair,
Glisten up at us,
Who toil shoulder to shoulder now,
Chest-deep in the muddy ground.
All of us have bled for her,
One time or another,
In defense of almighty God,
And our king’s round table.
Yet to see her lying there,
Colder than the starless ether,
Is almost more than we can bear,
In the wake of so much blood and treachery.

O Guinevere,
Can you ever forgive me?
After Camlan,
And the futile war,
Can you rest in peace?
O Guinevere,
Has he pardoned us?
In light of Mordred’s schemes,
And hollow lies,
Has he come to understand our unbridled love?
A gust of sullen wind ripples through the valley,
Quenching our torches,
And frightened souls.

We are not alone in this place,
Flanked on all sides by the vigilant dead.
Arthur’s Spector hovers about us,
Tending to our every shattered dream.
The church bells chime their dreary toll,
Recalling the hour’s belated curse,
And the guilt each of us shares,
For submitting to Camelot’s demise.

Sir Lionel and Bores shutter against the dreadful omen,
While Percival and I trudge on,
Unable to admit our grief,
To a merciless world.
My spade is the first to hit the mark.
The others watch me kneel,
And know that I have found him,
Laid to rest in his father’s land,
Beside comrade and kin.

Wiping the dirt from Arthur’s casket,
Percival mumbles a tearful prayer,
Removing his rosary from a concealed pocket,
Certain he is about God’s business.
I wish I could be so sure.
When I was a child,
My soul belonged to Christ,
And I believed in the resurrection,
More than any man.

Every morning,
My good mother would take me to her rose garden,
And read me David’s psalms nestled in the tall grass,
Hand and hand before a bust of Mary,
Hewn from polished marble.
My soul belonged to her.

Such was my innocence.

Yet age reduced my mother to dust,
And stained my hands in crimson blood,
Extinguishing the hope that drove me on,
Through battle’s endless harrowing.
Year after year,
I proved myself,
Seated at the right hand of my lord.
But in my heart I was a liar,
Torn between a lover’s kiss,
And a father’s ignorant embrace.

And only then,
My faith died.
With you dear Guinevere,
My carnal sin was born.
If you could rise,
And walk amongst the living once more,
A hundred years of tempered penitence,
Would hardly be enough,

TO undo our passion’s curse.
The Mark of Kane has smitten me,
And I can see no exit,
Beyond the path you have chosen,
So many of my brothers have already tread.
I hear Percival’s chanting abruptly cease,
And meet his blunt gaze,
Soft with sorrow’s plaintive fire,
As weariness exacts her bitter price.
Stumbling to your side one last time,
I brace myself for the end,
Not knowing if heaven will reunite us,
At the close of life’s wasteful tempest.
Our lips touch,
And Cleve the night asunder,
Reducing each second,
To a blissful elusion,
Nestled in time’s,
Luminous nightmare.

I cannot bring myself to watch them carry you down,
Or place your corpse amidst Arthur’s bones.
I cannot bring myself to cry amen,
Or grovel with Percival in the mire.
There is no closure for me.
The gates of Camelot stand bolted shut,
And shall remain so,
Until the dead rise,
And the old world is renewed.

The grail lies behind walls of haunted stone,
Never to be recovered again,
While Galahad sleep’s beneath Salisbury hill,
And Uther’s seed rules England.

Our time has drawn to a close.
Our age is passing,
And resides with a class of bards,
Who sing in the shade,
Proclaiming your fare memory.

John Evans

John Evans is an avid student of Medieval Literature and the writings of J.R.R Tolkien. He is a member of Doctor Cory Olsen’s Silmarillion Seminar and has been a proud supporter of Legendarium and the Mythgard institute. Along with these interests, he is the founder of the folk rock band Wrecked Haven, an amateur political theorist, and life-long writer of prose and poetry.

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One comment

  1. Inspiring stuff indeed and a great painting to accompany the piece
    by:-John William Waterhouse