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Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 2/The head of Bran

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The Head of Bran.

 

 

For an account of this British worthy, see "The Mabinogion," Lady Charlotte Quest's translation. He was the son of Llyr, king of Britain, and said to be the first convert to Christianity in these islands. Hence his title, "Bendigeid, the Blessed." Taliesin, the bard, the "radiant brow," was one of the seven princes to whom it was committed to carry the head to its resting-place.

The Head was buried, looking towards France, in the Gwnvryn, or White Mount, site of the Tower of London. And this was called "the third goodly concealment of the isles of Britain;" for that no invasion from across sea came to this island while the Head was in that concealment. Arthur, "the blameless king," had it disinterred, refusing, in his pride, to trust to the charm. And this the Triads term the third ill-fated disclosure of the isles of Britain, invasion and general disaster following it.

 

I.


When the Head of Bran
Was firm on British shoulders,
God made a man!
Cried all beholders.

Steel could not resist
The weight his arm would rattle;
He, with naked fist,
Has brain'd a knight in battle.

He march'd on the foe,
And never counted numbers;
Foreign widows know
The hosts he sent to slumbers.

As a street you scan,
That's tower'd by the steeple,
So the Head of Bran
Rose o'er his people.



II


"Death's my neighbour,"
Quoth Bran the Blest;
"Christian labour
Brings Christian rest.
From the trunk sever
The Head of Bran,
That which never
Has bent to man!

"That which never
To men has bow'd,
Shall live ever
To shame the shroud:
Shall live ever
To face the foe;
Sever it, sever,
And with one blow.

"Be it written,
That all I wrought
Was for Britain,
In deed and thought:
Be it written,
That, while I die,
Glory to Britain!
Is my last cry.



"'Glory to Britain!'
Death echoes me round.
Glory to Britain!
The world shall resound.
Glory to Britain!
In ruin and fall,
Glory to Britain!
Is heard over all."



III


Burn, Sun, down the sea!
Bran lies low with thee.

Burst, Morn, from the main!
Bran so shall rise again.

Blow, Wind, from the field!
Bran's Head is the Briton's shield.

Beam, Star, in the west!
Bright burns the Head of Bran the Blest.

The Head of Bran (Millais).png

IV.


Crimson-footed, like the stork,
From great ruts of slaughter,
Warriors of the Golden Torque,
Cross the lifting water.
Princes seven, enchaining hands,
Bear the live head homeward.
Lo! it speaks, and still commands;
Gazing far out foamward.

Fiery words of lightning sense,
Down the hollows thunder;
Forest hostels know not whence
Comes the speech, and wonder.
City-castles, on the steep,
Where the faithful Seven
House at midnight, hear, in sleep
Laughter under heaven.

Lilies, swimming on the mere,
In the castle shadow,
Under draw their heads, and Fear
Walks the misty meadow.
Tremble not! it is not Death
Pledging dark espousal:
'Tis the Head of endless breath,
Challenging carousal!

Brim the horn! a health is drunk,
Now, that shall keep going:
Life is but the pebble sunk;
Deeds, the circle growing.
Fill, and pledge the Head of Bran!
While his lead they follow,
Long shall heads in Britain plan
Speech Death cannot swallow!

George Meredith.