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Tony Grist

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The Glass Island [Jun. 22nd, 2007|09:58 am]
Tony Grist
My friend seraphimsigrist has interesting things to say about the Glastonbury legend of St Collen. Cue poem. But before I give you the poem let's noodle a bit.  I first came across the story  in a pamphlet written by a Victorian Prebendary of Wells - and how I came by the pamphlet I really don't remember. I guess I must have picked it up in one of those second hand bookshops I used to frequent, or maybe some friend or parishioner- knowing I was a Glastonbury nut- gave it me. One of things the pamphlet reveals is just how sparse the legendary history of Glastonbury was before the 20th century mythomanes- headed by Dion Fortune- moved in. No Chalice Well, no ritual mazes on the Tor, no zodiac, no sleeping dragons, no landscape shaped like the body of the Goddess- just the Arthur thing and the Collen thing.  The Collen thing- in spite of being the only truly authentic piece of folklore attached to the place- tends not to feature in New Age books- probably because the Christian guy wins. 

Or does he?

The poem is a straight retelling. My version differs from Seraphim's in one or two points-  his characters indulge in added banter and  his uniforms are red and white, not red and blue- but otherwise we're in agreement. I was coming out of Christianity when I wrote it and (in my private opinions) rather furiously pagan but I'm pleased to find that my handling of the characters (in deference to my source) is remarkably even-handed. Collen's victory- the victory of the new faith- is inevitable and even to be desired- but a loss has been incurred. The link to the ancestors has been severed. The confrontation between Collen and Gwyn has about it all the sadness of civil war. Perhaps, as Seraphim suggests, there will be a reconciliation somewhere down the line.

In our own times, perhaps....

                                    THE GLASS ISLAND


                                    Three times they banged at the door,

                                    The messengers of Gwyn ab Nud.

                                    "Gwyn, Chief of the Glass Island,

                                    Summons Collen to speak with him."


                                    So Christian Collen, the interloper,

                                    Slipped the bottle into his blouse

                                    And climbed above his cell to where

                                    A strange new castle gleamed on the hill,


                                    With pillars on it remembering Rome.

                                    The watch dogs whinged, and young dancers

                                    Drifted out of his path.  He strode

                                    The full length of the sunny hall


                                    To stop before the dais where

                                    The god drank from a great carved bowl.

                                    Silencing the fiddlers, Gwyn

                                    Fingered his red-gold beard and spoke


                                    Like a kind uncle. "Collen, my boy,

                                    You're here at last.  You've pained us so,

                                    Building that damn chapel of yours

                                    Disrespectfully close to our gates.


                                    Why?  What have we done to you?

                                    Can you not see these dancers are

                                    The happy dead of your own house?

                                    Are they not fine in their red and blue?"


                                    And Gwyn, smiling, proffered his bowl.

                                    "Fine of their kind," said Collen. "Still

                                    This red of yours is eternal fire;

                                    This blue of yours eternal ice."


                                    And he flung the holy water in

                                    A hissing arc.  The summer sky

                                    Broke through the walls.  The god became

                                    A great grey thistle rocked by the wind.



[User Picture]From: aellia
2007-06-22 10:23 am (UTC)
Interesting noodle :-)
I found Glastonbury to be rather Disneyfied and while we were up on the Tor all I could imagine was the execution and the spectacle of it all.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-06-22 10:36 am (UTC)
I haven't been to Glastonbury for about ten years. I'm not sure I'd feel at home there any more.

I spent a night on the Tor in 1969- huddled inside the tower with a whole bunch of hippies. Now that was a memorable experience!
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[User Picture]From: aellia
2007-06-22 10:45 am (UTC)
Did you know about the hanging back then?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-06-22 11:10 am (UTC)
Do you mean the execution of the Abbot of Glastonbury? I'm not sure, but I probably did.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-06-22 11:09 am (UTC)
Let 'em have it!
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[User Picture]From: seraphimsigrist
2007-06-22 02:22 pm (UTC)

glastonbury stuff

red and white does have the advantage
as you may likely know of being a basic
esoteric pair of colors...alchemy,
martinism etc
your poem is well done...
and at loose ends what to post yesterday
this is a reward for having settled on what
I did!
as to glastonbury to me the wonderful thing is
in the almost nothing of its substance, invented
legends(from the burial place of patrick etc on
to chalice well) and yet the almost nothing is
not quite nothing...
perhaps it is only the odd shape of the tor
but in the end one feels the boy who said the emperor
had no clothes would see through the place at once
and yet not be quite right...
the userpic is one I havent had much reason to use
but is the arch of st michaels above the gate of annwn
as it were.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-06-22 02:40 pm (UTC)

Re: glastonbury stuff

It was red and blue in my source- so I'm sticking by it. Besides, those are the colours of our two (bitterly antagonistic) Manchester football teams.

I was watching a TV programme about the archaeology of Glastonbury the other day which concluded that it had been a place of no significance at all until the building of the abbey. And the "maze" around the Tor is- as we might have suspected- the remains of a medieval field system.

But, you're right, it is a magical place- even if the magic is of recent date.
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[User Picture]From: seraphimsigrist
2007-06-22 02:47 pm (UTC)


and how striking the outline of the abbey is
compared to the no doubt comparable cathedral at
wells up the road. which is not to advocate
cromwellan or leninist demolition of churches...
the sacred of the bread and wine in the standing
church is after all basis for all imagination in a
field...and yet this emptiness can serve as someone
said as our 'Tibet' and a deuce of a lot easier
to get too without having to hire yaks, perhaps Khamba
tribesmen to get one over the border etc in case of
visa problems etc
well thought on red and blue
in your userpic are the colours those of a football
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-06-22 03:13 pm (UTC)

Re: colours

No, that's just a stripey jumper. I don't support any particular team (though I do have a soft spot for Man U.)

Ruins are beautiful- and moving- but I'm glad no-one smashed up Wells. It's my favourite of all the English cathedrals.
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[User Picture]From: seraphimsigrist
2007-06-22 04:02 pm (UTC)
It is fine but the outline of glastonbury
is in any case more evocative to me than
pictures of the imagined glastonbury abbey.
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[User Picture]From: sovay
2007-06-22 06:46 pm (UTC)
And he flung the holy water in
A hissing arc. The summer sky
Broke through the walls. The god became
A great grey thistle rocked by the wind.

I still love your poems.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-06-22 08:11 pm (UTC)

This is one of my personal favourites...
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