One evening, having dined in my estate Among my many men, merry and wise, I took the air outside the palace, late In the day, but not too late to lift my eyes To where the sun still spun his daily heat Down the tall hill to die where the light dies, And there talk privately as after meat Friends talk philosophy, and all are friends Who eat and sit in concord when they eat. Drink, too, so that the tongue defends Its wildest words, and eyes dart quickly to Obtain agreement, or to make amends. And so I walked with one who led me through The darkening gardens to where the grassy ground Rose up behind the palace. “Not for the view,” He said, “have men stood here, but soon have found Themselves with wounds, or else their better fate Was to see wonders, on this sacred mound.”
“Of wounds,” I said, “I cannot be afraid, Being now at my ease, in company Here on Gorsedd Arberth. I have made My peace with Arawn and the world, and I Am Lord of Dyfed, and Lord of Hades, too, But wonders, yes, for wonders I might die.” I thought that true enough, or almost true. As though belief in the unlikely were Simply itself reward for what we do Daily in life—the things that never stir The blood beyond a winter afternoon, Things we expect, mere dull things that occur. And so that very night, before the moon Had risen over the heights of Narberth, I Stood upon the Gorsedd, hoping soon For visions, trusting that answers might reply To wishes, that belief might be obeyed By what it had imagined, by and by.
And sure enough, there passed within the space Of patience, within my sight, below the trees, A white horse moving slowly, with a grace Beyond the animal, as though to please My looking with its motion. On its back A woman rode, and she was at her ease. Her pace was steady, and the rein was slack. Did she approach, or did she pass below? Did she depart from, or stay on, the track? What were her intentions? Did she know That I was watching her? And might she stop? My heart knew nothing. Did she come or go? Nearer and nearer came that clop-clop-clop And then it faded. Glints of the deepest shade Of gold, both of her rich dress and the top Of her retreating head, bright as if made Of beaten flax, that flowing hid her face, Grave as it nodded, hastened yet delayed.
A tantalising vision! One to suit My mood of hope and restless loneliness. I sent one of the lads in hot pursuit Of her, to catch her up and to address Her feelingly, as one would need to praise Beauty, or in a grateful moment bless The tenderness of passing things, the day’s Fullness that is activity’s reward And ends, as this did, in a sunset’s blaze. Off he ran. Already I adored Her, wanted to know her name. But the poor lad Returned, his errand useless. “Alas, my lord,” He said, “it’s witchcraft, unless I am going mad. I ran full tilt. She trotted peaceably. I thought to speak, but distance was all I had. Fast as I went, ever as far was she. Like climbing up a tree to pluck its fruit, The more I gained, the further she was from me.”
The next day it was much the same, for when We climbed the Gorsedd and the lady came Again, once more I sent one of my men This time to ride below and ask her name And purpose. He of all my followers Was a skilled horseman. However, to his shame He could not catch her up for all his spurs And urging. Steadily she rode ahead And though his horse had greater speed than hers She still kept to that pace, as if she led A train of ambling beasts to pasture, and he Still just as far behind. “My lord,” he said, “There is no reaching her, as you can see, Whether I try to close on her or make A move to overtake.” The mystery Obsessed me. All night, for that lady’s sake I thought of love, slept only a little, then Tossed and turned through bird-song, quite awake.
I saw her in my mind, her legs astraddle As though the spread thighs of themselves gave birth To her horse’s steady pace. She had no saddle But pressed her knees into the horse’s girth, Her hips rolling to that rolling motion Which is the most like sailing on the earth And turns a wooded path into an ocean Where she might heave, and thrust, and glide, and sway Though still in single purpose, and devotion To the forwardness that carried her away, And there were clustered bluebells everywhere Of that deep blue of the dying of the day That knows how much of it the eye can bear In carpeting the green. A talking stream Was there to be splashed through, and her wild hair Caught on the branches. Scarlet, gold, and cream Was her array, and all that fiddle-faddle The gorgeous nonsense of my waking dream.
I had myself to try the following night To catch this lady at her game. We dined As usual, and in the fading light Exchanged ideas of the appropriate kind, But I had told my page to have my horse Ready and saddled, for she was on my mind And I would find her reasons out by force If need be. Then at the same time she appeared, Taking her usual pace and usual course. So I pursued her. Even as I neared Her, she without hastening seemed far away And so I reined, and hailed her, since I feared Never to overtake her. “Lady, stay. In the name of all you love, what is your quest?” I said (or, though I was dazzled, thought to say). For she had thrown her hood back so the rest Of her was plain to see, and to my sight, Of beauty I had ever seen, the best.
Her eyes sought mine as souls before they die Plead to their killers for a quick release, And this surprisingly was her reply: “To you yourself I come, to seek the peace Of heart and mind, for where and whom and when I love, not by command nor yet caprice Will I yield either.” “Who are you, then (I said) that journeys here so recklessly?” “I am Rhiannon, daughter of Hefeydd Hên, And truth it is they do me injury By choosing a husband for me against my will. But I refuse. I’ll marry none but thee.” Strange visitation, that should so fulfil My own desires, and by that answer bless My future! Her long body seemed to fill Like a river’s currents the liquid of her dress. We were fate’s children. Neither were too shy To speak, within our dream, our eager yes.
This is where stories end, or where they should: A woman on a horse, with purpose riding Up to her glory, out of a little wood. The woman as a dream, the dream dividing And subdividing into a stretch of years, The years themselves, some good, some bad, providing Nothing but what will be, the hopes and fears Of ordinary life, the accusations Of unaccountable liars, the bloody smears (They said she ate her son!), the expiation Through seven years beside the mounting block, The son discovered, the reconciliation . . . Whispers at night might prove this poppycock. Some play, with paint, could make it edifying. A wonder hearts could ever withstand the shock! Her breath was sweet as fennel, no denying, And she was mightily misunderstood. To think this was my story—terrifying!
And what are stories after all, besides The sense we make of our perceived mischances And time’s abrupt betrayals, like the tide’s Draining retreats and thunderous advances That change the implications of the shore Which fairies lately printed with their dances? The stories tell us fairies dance no more, Our lives no longer blessed by creatures who Joined hands with us upon their sandy floor And graced our weddings with their retinue. Our story’s future is unknowable, Though everything that happens must be true. And my Rhiannon was so beautiful That her degree of beauty shaped my guilt And shamed the love I felt for her, though full Of the blood on which all marriages are built. Furies, not fairies, seal the fate of brides, And over many brides has blood been spilt.