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Tales of the Enchanted Islands of the Atlantic

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Author Topic: Tales of the Enchanted Islands of the Atlantic  (Read 4740 times)
Lisa Wolfe
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Posts: 4699

« Reply #120 on: January 27, 2009, 11:48:43 pm »

The symbolical legend on which this tale is founded will be found in Lady Charlotte Guest's translation of the "Mabinogion" (London, 1877), II. p. 344. It is an almost unique instance, in the imaginative literature of that period, of a direct and avowed allegory. There is often allegory, but it is usually contributed by modern interpreters, and would sometimes greatly astound the original fabulists.

p. 235

The earliest mention of the island of Avalon, or Avilion, in connection with the death of Arthur, is a slight one by the old English chronicler, Geoffrey of Monmouth (Book XI. c. 2), and the event is attributed by him to the year 542. Wace's French romance was an enlargement of Geoffrey; and the narrative of Layamon (at the close of the twelfth century) an explanation of that of Wace. Layamon's account of the actual death of Arthur, as quoted in the text, is to be found in the translation, a very literal one, by Madden (Madden's "Layamon's Brut," III. pp. 140-146).

The earliest description of the island itself is by an anonymous author known as "Pseudo-Gildas," supposed to be a thirteenth-century Breton writer (Meyer's "Voyage of Bram," I. p. 237), and quoted by Archbishop Usher in his "British Ecclesiastical Antiquities" (1637), p. 273, who thus describes it in Latin hexameters:--

"Cingitur oceano memorabilis insula nullis
Desolata bonis: non fur, nec prædo, nec hostis
Insidiatur ibi: nec vis, nec bruma nec æstas,
Immoderata furit. Pax et concordia, pubes
Ver manent æternum. Nec flos, nec lilia desunt,
Nec rosa, nec violæ: flores et poma sub unâ
Fronde gerit pomus. Habitant sine labe cruoris
Semper ibi juvenes cum virgine: nulla senectus,
Nulla vis morbi, nullus dolor; omnia plena
Lætitiæ; nihil hic proprium, communia quæque.
  Regit virgo locis et rebus præsidet istis, p. 236
Virginibus stipata suis, pulcherrima pulchris;
Nympha decens vultu, generosis patribus orta,
Consilio pollens, medicinæ nobilis arte.
At simul Arthurus regni diadema reliquit,
Substitutique sibi regem, se transtulit illic;
Anno quingeno quadragenoque secundo
Post incarnatum sine patris semine natum.
Immodicè læsus, Arthurus tendit ad aulam
Regis Avallonis; ubi virgo regia vulnus
Illius tractans, sanati membra reservat
Ipsa sibi: vivuntque simul; si credere fas est."

A translation of this passage into rhyming English follows; both of these being taken from Way's "Fabliaux" (London, 1815), II. pp. 233-235.

"By the main ocean's wave encompass’d, stands
A memorable isle, fill’d with all good:
No thief, no spoiler there, no wily foe
With stratagem of wasteful war; no rage
Of heat intemperate, or of winter's cold;
But spring, full blown, with peace and concord reigns:
Prime bliss of heart and season, fitliest join’d!
Flowers fail not there: the lily and the rose,
With many a knot of fragrant violets bound;
And, loftier, clustering down the bended boughs,
Blossom with fruit combin’d, rich apples hang.

"Beneath such mantling shades for ever dwell
In virgin innocence and honour pure,
Damsels and youths, from age and sickness free, p. 237
And ignorant of woe, and fraught with joy,
In choice community of all things best.
  O’er these, and o'er the welfare of this land,
Girt with her maidens, fairest among fair,
Reigns a bright virgin sprung from generous sires,
In counsel strong, and skill’d in med’cine's lore.
Of her (Britannia's diadem consign’d
To other brow), for his deep wound and wide
Great Arthur sought relief: hither he sped
(Nigh two and forty and five hundred years
Since came the incarnate Son to save mankind),
And in Avallon's princely hall repos’d.
His wound the royal damsel search’d; she heal’d;
And in this isle still holds him to herself
In sweet society,--so fame say true!"

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