Tag Archives: Camelot

Poem: ‘Humankind at Dusk’

It’s in your newsfeed update every day:
The AI obsolescence on its way,
Replacing all tasks, everything we do.
There’ll be no need for people. That means you.
How much is merely existential dread
And how much knowledge of a road ahead:
Unlit, black ice, and your tires have no tread?

With the world stage held by strutters
While the UN talks and mutters.
They’re all out of date tut-tutters.
People in the street
Stand there angry, with lips pursed,
Feeling they’ve been conned, coerced,
Life has gone from best to worst.
Blame the rich elite.

Man, man, think fast:
With the AI racing
And our genes debasing,
Basic humans’ place in
Life won’t last.

Warnings now the TV utters:
Hurricane! But we’ve no shutters,
Power is out, the candle gutters,
Roofs are blown away.
Thrown into the storm head-first
No response can be rehearsed,
Save yourself though you be cursed:
Everything’s in play.

Man, man, think fast:
With the Hive replacing
Every human trace in
Life, be self-effacing
Or be past.

The rest ride the AI-bombs down the sky,
Waving their Stetsons: “We’re all going to die!”
Life always moves on from the old to new.
There’ll be no need for people. That means you.

‘Humankind at Dusk’ was originally published in the Speculative Fiction & Verse zine Bewildering Stories. It reflects my serious concern that we have no idea where we’re going as a species, with everything from genetic modification to brain implants now becoming a reality. Not that I object to it, any more than I object to hurricanes or earthquakes; they’re all part of the nature of things. As humans, we tinker, experiment, explore, run into problems, seek solutions, create all kinds of new problems, and so on. That’s just the way it is.

Technically, I was trying to replicate the nonce structure of a much earlier poem I wrote, ‘Camelot at Dusk‘, to see if this was a form that I could use when trying to create a sense of urgency and disaster bracketed within more reflective and dispassionate statements. So the opening and closing stanzas are in that nice and boring, meditative iambic pentameter; while the middle pieces switch back and forth between two other forms, with shorter, choppier lines and more repetitive rhyme. I created the form to meet the needs of the earlier poem, where I think it worked very well. I’m still (years later) pondering whether it was appropriate to try to reuse the form for this piece. I think I like it, but I’m not entirely sure.

Photo: “silence” by Cornelia Kopp is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Poem: “Camelot at Dusk”

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(Photo: Castle by epredator)

From under low clouds spreading from the south
The red sun drops slow to night’s waiting mouth.
Rush lamps are lit; the guards changed on the walls;
Supper will not be served in the Great Halls
With Arthur still away. Each in their room,
The members of the Court leave books or loom
To say their Vespers in the encroaching gloom.

Lancelot, up in his tower,
Sees the sunset storm clouds glower,
Feels his blood’s full tidal power,
Knows he has to go.
In her bower, Gwenivere
Puts a ruby to her ear,
Brushes firelight through her hair,
Feels her heartbeat grow.

Guard, guard, watch well:
For the daylight thickens
And the low cloud blackens
And the hot heart quickens
To rebel.

From his tower, caring not
For consequences, Lancelot
Crosses courts of Camelot,
Pitying his King.
In her bower, Gwenivere
Feels his presence coming near,
Waits for footfalls on the stair,
Lets her will take wing.

Guard, guard, watch well:
If attention slackens
When the deep bond beckons,
Evil knows Pendragon’s
In its spell.

And as the storm clouds, rubbing out the stars,
Deafened the castle and carved lightning scars,
Drenched Arthur rode for flash-lit Camelot
Where he, by Queen and Knight, was all forgot.

“Camelot at Dusk” was originally published by Candelabrum, a now-defunct poetry magazine in the UK which appeared twice-yearly from April 1970 to October 2010. Candelabrum provided what, in the 1970s, was a very rare platform for British poets working in metrical and rhymed verse.

Technically, the poem uses a variety of forms. The opening and closing passages use iambic pentameter with simple sequential rhyme for a level of detachment (and the only times Arthur is mentioned by name). The passages with Lancelot and Gwenivere use shorter trochaic lines with denser rhymes for more intensity. The passages of warnings to the guards… well, they have a shifting but repeating structure all their own.

Because of the bracketing of the more emotional passages by the more detached opening and closing, the piece feels very complete. As a whole, it is a nonce form. Whether I can ever repeat it successfully, I don’t know. I have tried, but not been as satisfied with the result.

“Camelot at Dusk” can also now be found in The Hypertexts, which thereby gives it a very respectable Seal of Approval.

Review: “A Joy Proposed” by T.H. White

‘A Joy Proposed’ is a nice, somewhat strange, assembly of 57 often derivative poems from across the life of T.H. White. Many of the pieces were written in Ireland where White lived as a Conscientious Objector throughout the Second World War. His love of the countryside and his previous experiences as a schoolmaster (including at Stowe, a boarding school in rural Buckinghamshire with 600 acres of grounds) shine through in the constant juxtaposition of poems about game birds, dogs and landscapes alongside anger and bitterness about innocent lives lost to war.

The style varies from extreme simplicity, as in ‘A Choirboy Singing’:

Know not, but sigh.
Think not, but die.
Hope not, but high
Ache against ill.

to outpourings evocative of Whitman or Hopkins, as in ‘A Dray Horse’:

Meek Hercules – passion of arched power bowed in titanic affection,
Docile though vanquishing, stout-limber in vastness, plunging and spurning thy road –
Tauten thy traces, triumph past me, take thy shattering direction
Through misty Glasgow, dragging in a tremendous beer-waggon thy cobble-thundering load.

His pessimism, or perhaps mere sadness, at the human condition comes through again and again in the sense of the young lives he has been educating that will now be thrown away:

When I look at your comely head
And the long fingers delicately live
And the bright life born to be dead
And the happy blood to be shed
(…)
I die within me. And I curse
The witless fate of man without all cure.
Music I curse, and verse,
And beauty worse,
And every thing that helps us to endure.

… but mitigated always by his love of Nature, both hunting (as in kestrels and dogs he owned) and hunted (as in game birds he shot).

White is primarily known for his ‘Once and Future King‘ retelling of the Arthurian legends, and those novels soon went to stage and screen as the musical ‘Camelot’ and the Disney animation ‘The Sword in the Stone’. If it wasn’t for those novels, his other novels would probably be forgotten today and his poetry would be unknown. It isn’t great poetry, and yet I have read it and reread it. He was a writer and with it he was lonely, alcoholic, bitter, witty, learned, compassionate, and alive to the natural world. All of that comes through in these verses, with his self-awareness of who he was and what he was achieving. As he wrote in ‘Lines Cut on the Cottage Window’:

A bitter heart lay here and yet
It was not bitter to the bone.
It made what Time does not unmake
All hopeful, and alone.