Thursday, 30 May 2013

Poems on aspects the Morrigan (Pagan Triple Goddess) by Dr Giles Watson

Gallery 17 (European Prehistory)
Cabinet: Resisting Rome
Item 5: Bronze Raven's Head- Shaped Spout, First Century B.C. Hod Hill, Dorset.


There's a way of ripping Roman flesh
that only ravens can do.  You take
a whole field-full, slaughtered
as a legion, and begin to fillet
the flesh, tweezering it between
blackened bills.  You gobble down
the cosmopolitan influence, disdaining
to choke on the fishbone-snags of
politics.  Politics isn't worth
a raven's feather out here, where
whole carcasses can be flensed
by wind alone.  Brawn goes down

the craw so easily, greased by the
subcutaneous lard of civilized men.

Poem by Giles Watson, 2013.  Inspired by a bronze raven's head spout from Hod Hill, Dorset, c. 100 B.C., created by the culture which resisted Roman occupation, and now on display in the Ashmolean Museum. The Morrigan is a ferocious Irish pre-Christian war-goddess whose sovereignty is attested in mediaeval manuscripts, but who was clearly sovereign to the Celts in the Roman era and earlier.


If you saw me in my frenzy, my black hair
streaming behind me like a flock of rooks,
you would ram your own spear through your
entrails, rather than face me.  I can turn
friends fierce against each other: the merest
misunderstanding will set them filleting
and garotting, until the whole field
is a harvest of the twitching dead, furrows
channelling a full-on irrigation of steaming
blood.  The soil is fruitful these days:
there has been such a ploughing-in of men,
and crops grow out of livers and of brains.

One man to rot, one man to grow, one
for the mouse, and the rest - for the crow.

Poem by Giles Watson, 2013.  Nemain, an aspect of the Morrigan, is a fairy spirit who appears in times of war, bringing frenzy and havoc on the combatants.  She is capable of setting friendly armies against each other, and it is said that she can kill a hundred men with one battle cry.  The last two lines are derived from an old proverb about sowing grain.


I've got a steady grip on the bole of the beech tree:
you've not seen woman's muscles until you've seen mine.
One shake, and the mast starts falling, a bountiful crop
of men's heads.  Don't cross me at a red moon: my face
will sprout black feathers, my eyes harden into ebony
beads, and out of my arms the quills will thrust,
ready to batter whole armies into submission.  You can't
buy time from Macha: it has croaked out. Be afraid.

There is a groaning in the roots: whole generations
of luckless infantry, waiting to troop, by xylem
and phloem, up the trunk towards fruition, sucked
towards the branches, coalescing into kernels, turning
nut-hard, ready for cracking.  There's a squall
of raven calls above the husks and splintered skulls.

Poem by Giles Watson, 2013.  Macha is usually regarded as an aspect of the triple-goddess known as the Morrigan, an instigator of battle who often appeared in the form of a raven.  In her incarnation as the daughter of Ernmas, the Yellow Book of Lecan claims, she shakes out "the mast of Macha": a euphemism for the heads of slaugtered soldiers.  Beech mast would normally be shaken out by swineherds, because it provided valuable sustenance for pigs in autumn and winter.  Rarely, it might be argued, has Macha been worshipped more faithfully than by our modern politicians - even though they do so unconsciously.

The Garden of the Badb

Men's eyes hang on stalks of stubble,
swinging from their optic nerves,
pendulous as foxgloves.  There are
blood spots and other interpunctions
bold as orchids.  Heads, cleaved in
by horses' hooves, mould outwards
like mushrooms.  You can pick out
the rare flowers of ring-fingers
severed by swords, and spattered
gall-bladders like bitter herbs.

Men do these things spontaneously:
sow them once, and they excel
at self-seeding.  I can croak, preen,
swoop heedless through my blooming


Poem by Giles Watson, 2013.  The Badb, an aspect of the Morrigan, takes the form of a hooded crow.  She often plays a banshee-like role, calling to foretell important deaths, and she relishes warfare.  The battlefield is known as "the garden of the Badb".

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