The most recent Arthurian landmark I researched was Glastonbury Tor. The 20th century poet Geoffrey Bache Smith wrote a poem called “Glastonbury” wherein he relates the coming of Bedivere, “weary and travel-stained and sick at heart,” to the hermit of Glastonbury. The hermit reveals that he was Arthur’s bishop before his court fell apart, whereupon he sought a place of solitude.
“Hither I came, where, in the dawns of time
Dim peoples, that the very stones forget,
Lived, loved, and fought, and wove the riddling rime
On a lake island mystically set.”
That island would be Glastonbury. Bedivere then explains how Arthur fell in the Battle of Camlann, and the hermit connects his burial with Glastonbury. Smith’s poem, “Glastonbury,” is rather long and this is but a selection. The entire poem can be read here.
by Geoffrey Bache Smith
“I saw him make on Mordred with his spear,
And crying ‘Tide me death, betide me life,
He shall not live, that wrought the accursed thing,’
Put a dread ending to the outworn strife.
I saw them fall together, and, drawn near.
Knew that the King was wounded unto death.
“Then as he drew with growing pain his breath
I looked, and saw a long, black barge that stole
Across the waters, like a wandering soul
Returnèd from the woeful realm, to view
The ancient haunts well-loved that once it knew.
And when it touched the shallows I did bear
The dying Arthur as he bade, and there
I placed him ’mid dark forms: I could not tell
Whose they might be; and wept, and breathed farewell.”
Then spake the eremite: “Beyond yon door
There stands a chapel, ancient and weatherworn,
And there did worship in the days of yore
The sons of kings. The night ere you came hither
I was awakened by the sound of feet.
And I looked forth, and saw a body borne
By veilèd figures straight, as they knew whither,
In at the chapel gateway. I went down
And found that they had digged a grave, most meet
For one of saintly life, or king by birth:
They seemed some score, and by blown candles’ light
I saw that each with tears bedewed his gown
Ere sank the corse into the waiting earth,
Then prayed, and so went out into the night.”
Thereon the twain arose, and went straightway
Toward the old, dim chapel, and beheld
The stone beneath whose length the body lay:
Kneeling they closely scanned it all, and spelled
Graven in golden character, “Arcturus
Rex Quondamque Futurus.”
“Thank God this voice remaineth unto us;
Now I do mind me of a prophecy
Spoken long since in some emblazoned year,
How Arthur should escape mortality
And lie beneath the hills, in cavern deep
Or on some shore, where faery seas do break:
Around him all his warriors shall sleep,
Who at a great bell’s sounding shall awake
What time th’ old enemy spreads death and harm
Thorough his ancient realm, and the last woes
Go over her; his own victorious arm
Shall rid the stricken land of hate and foes.”
So leave we them, each head inaureoled
With the awakening spring’s young sunlight-gold.
More of Smith’s poetry can be read in his book, A Spring Harvest, published by J.R.R. Tolkien after Smith’s death in 1916.
I shared his poem, “We who have bowed ourselves to Time,” in honour of Remembrance Day in 2020.