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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
France: Vols. IX–X. 1876–79.


The Drowning of Kaer-Is

By Ballads of Brittany

  • Translated by Tom Taylor
  • The anonymous chronicler of Ravenna mentions a town, which he calls Ker-is, as existing in Armorica in the fifth century. Here ruled a prince called Gradlonvawre, i. e. Grodlon the Great. Gradlon was the protector of Gwénolé, the founder of the first abbey established in Brittany.

  • I.
    HEARD ye the word the man of God

    Spake to King Gradlon, blythe of mood,

    Where in fair Kaer-Is he abode?

    “Sir King, of dalliance be not fain,

    From evil loves thy heart refrain,

    For hard on pleasure followeth pain.

    “Who feeds his fill on fish of sea

    To feed the fishes doomed is he;

    The swallower swallowed up shall be.

    “Who drinks of the wine and the barley-brew,

    Of water shall drink as the fishes do;—

    Who knows not this shall learn ’t is true.”

    Unto his guests King Gradlon said:

    “My merry feres, the day is sped;

    I will betake me to my bed.

    “Drink on, drink on, till morning light,

    In feast and dalliance waste the night;

    For all that will the board is dight.”

    To Gradlon’s daughter, bright of blee,

    Her lover he whispered, tenderly:

    “Bethink thee, sweet Dahut, the key!”

    “O, I ’ll win the key from my father’s side,

    That bolts the sluice and bars the tide;

    To work thy will is thy lady’s pride.”

    Whoso that ancient king had seen,

    Asleep in his bed of the golden sheen,

    Dumb-stricken all for awe had been

    To see him laid in his robe of grain,

    His hair like snow, on his white hause-bane,

    And round his neck his golden chain.

    Whoso had watched that night, I weet,

    Had seen a maiden stilly fleet

    In at the door, on naked feet;

    To the old king’s side she hath stolen free,

    And hath kneeled her down upon her knee,

    And lightly hath ta’en both chain and key.

    He sleepeth still, he sleepeth sound,

    When, hark, a cry from the lower ground,—

    “The sluice is oped, Kaer-Is is drowned!

    “Awake, Sir King, the gates unspar!

    Rise up, and ride both fast and far!

    The sea flows over bolt and bar!”

    Now curséd forever mote she be,

    That all for wine and harlotry,

    The sluice unbarred that held the sea!

    “Say, woodman, that wonn’st in the forest green,

    The wild horse of Gradlon hast thou seen,

    As he passed the valley-walls between?”

    “On Gradlon’s horse I set not sight,

    But I heard him go by in the dark of night,

    Trip, trep,—trip, trep,—like a fire-flaught white!”

    “Say, fisher, the mermaid hast thou seen,

    Combing her hair by the sea-waves green,—

    Her hair like gold in the sunlight sheen?”

    “I saw the white maiden of the sea,

    And I heard her chant her melody,

    And her song was sad as the wild waves be.”