Vivian to Merlin
by Theodora Goss
I called you, and you would not answer me.
What power was it that trapped you in the oak?
They blame me, saying I have cast a spell,
but even if I had that sort of knowledge,
I would not hold you.
When I was young, a girl in Lyonesse,
a prince’s daughter running through the fields,
where all the peasants greeted me, or forests,
where I could call the birds down from their nests,
my two braids swinging,
I found a wounded raven, lifted him,
carried him back into my father’s castle,
placed him inside a basket on the hay
I’d stolen from the horses. There he sat,
with his black eyes, eating the worms and insects
I brought him. And eventually the wing,
which had been wounded by a dog perhaps,
holding the raven in its mouth, was healed.
At first he flew
around my room and perched upon the chest,
the windowsill. You know this story ends
the day he flung himself into the air
and flew over the fields, back to his forest.
Its moral is
you can’t hold what you love. Not for a moment,
not for a century. It must have been
another magician, as powerful as yourself,
or a giant who just happened to have a curse
handy. It must have.
I sit here with my back against the oak,
hoping it was a curse and not your choice.
(But who could trap Merlin himself? I could not,
despite the magic you have taught me.) Love,
if you can hear me,
as you sit curled inside the oak tree’s bole,
just tell me this: that it was not by choice
you left me, weary of our days and nights,
by daylight casting spells, by night lying
You can’t hold what you love. I would not hold you —
but I had hoped that you would choose, yourself,
to stay with me. And yet you sit there, curled
in silence, Merlin of the silver tongue,
and I wait, hoping . . .
(The image is The Beguiling of Merlin by Edward Burne-Jones.)