Monday, May 22, 2017

Monday's Poetry: "Rondel of Merciless Beauty"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

For the past couple of weeks I have been watching Season 2 of "The Last Kingdom," a truly epic tale about life in a less-than-merry Olde England.  The BBC show, based on the "Saxon Stories" of Bernard Cornwell, tells the tale of a fictional Uhtred of Bebbanburg who, at the tender age of eleven, sneaks out of the house and follows his Saxon warrior father, also named Uhtred, off to battle.  The senior Uhtred is killed by invading Danes, and the little Uhtred is kidnapped and hauled off to Danish outpost of Leeds where he is accepted into the household of his captor and raised as one of his sons.

Young Uhtred grows up as a Dane and fits very well into the pagan freedoms of the Danish culture.  He becomes a fearsome warrior, a condition that comes into full flower when his adopted family is attacked and decimated by a group of rogue Danes. Uhtred flees for his life and eventually ends up in the Wessex, the only place in Britain not under the control of the Danes.

Wessex is being consolidated into a kingdom by a young king named Alfred (the Great) who has ambitions of eventually driving the Danes out of all of Britain and uniting the various kingdoms into one country.  Uhtred, the mighty warrior, pledges himself to Alfred, and the two embark on a quest for power and peace in which each must rely on the strengths and wisdom of the other, yet each can never get to the point where he fully trusts the other.

The most captivating thing about this series is the realism with which it depicts life in medieval Britain - the muck, the mire, the mud - a land of regal privilege, warrior strength, and abject poverty.  Every scene feels real, so accurate in its portrayal that one can almost smell the pigs as they trot along behind the king's procession.

Uhtred is not only a fearsome warrior, he is also a great lover - never lacking a pretty woman to share his bed - or his bedroll.  The women, in fact, are pivotal in moving this story of medieval intrigues forward.  Alfred's daughter, Aethelflaed, is a central character in Season 2 as she marries to unite the kingdoms of Wessex and Mercia, and then has an affair with her Dane captor which forges a connection to the pagans.

It is with "The Last Kingdom's " nod to the strength of medieval women, that I have selected this love poem by Geoffrey Chaucer for today's poetry selection.  "Rondel of Merciless Beauty" captures Chaucer's own admiration for the women of his time.

(But first, this note of historical interest:  Geoffrey Chaucer was the first poet buried in London's famed Westminster Abbey, the final resting place of some of England's monarchs and other famous individuals.  The section he was buried in became known as "Poet's Corner" because it eventually housed the remains of several literary giants of Great Britain.  While stumbling about Westminster Abbey without the benefit of a tour guide back in 2003, I became frustrated that I couldn't locate Poet's Corner - and, in particular, the burial site of Chaucer.  Finally I snagged the attention of a young guide.  When I asked him to direct me to Poet's Corner, he laughed (politely) and said, "This may embarrass you, but you are standing in the center of it."   I wasn't embarrassed.  Then I asked about Chaucer's burial site, and he said that it wasn't marked, but "It's around here somewhere.")

Thank heavens Chaucer's body of work, unlike his corporeal body, has not been misplaced!

Please enjoy.

Rondel of Merciless Beauty
by Geoffrey Chaucer

Your two great eyes will slay me suddenly;
Their beauty shakes me who was once serene;
Straight through my heart the wound is quick and keen.

Only your word will heal the injury
To my hurt heart, while yet the wound is clean -
Your two great eyes will slay me suddenly;
Their beauty shakes me who was once serene.

Upon my word, I tell you faithfully
Through life and after death you are my queen;
For with my death the whole truth shall be seen.
Your two great eyes will slay me suddenly;
Their beauty shakes me who was once serene;
Straight through my heart the wound is quick and keen.

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