I have just finished my first poem in the Arthurian cycle, Percival. It’s 15 verses long, and each verse is a sonnet. Imagine that. I think it’s good. It might even be very good. It might be a bit squeezed at the beginning and end, but it tells the story of Percival of Wales, the knight who brings the first news of the Grail to Arthur, and who undergoes some strange hardships and confusions in the wilderness.
My friend D.A. commissioned this piece for SpiritFire Festival. He’s doing a Rite of Passage with at least four older boys who need to do some growing up, or want to do some growing up, or both. So he’s planned a series of ritual ordeals off in the woods by which they get to leave childhood behind, and become men. He asked me to write a story/poem specifically dealing with these ordeals and the understanding of childhood vs. manhood. After some thought, I decided I’d approach this from the perspective of the Arthurian legends.
At first, I was going to do the sword in the stone, but I realized as I started working on that part of the cycle, that part of the reason why Arthur succeeds is that he still has an innocence about him — he’s a child still, and a child is able to rule only with divine assistance. Have you ever noticed how quickly Arthur grows up after he becomes king? One minute he’s a boy pulling sword from stone and anvil, and the next minute he’s this bearded old king with a court of noble knights, a Table Round, and a right-hand man who’s screwing his wife?
Percival, on the other hand, is a not-quite-Grail-Knight. He’s the one who almost but doesn’t quite get not as much sex as Galahad (who doesn’t get any, by the by — just so you know). On the other hand, he starts out as a pretty much clueless kid, who does some stupid things, shop-lifts or tent-lifts a few times, and gets lost in the wilderness for a while. He has a strange encounter with a woman that promises great things for him, and then he sees the Grail and he gets his act together. Passing through an initiation, as it were, he becomes a man, and when he next meets Arthur, the king recognizes the changes in him, and makes him a knight — at least in part because he has learned his responsibilities as a man.
There’s a couple of problematic bits in the text, and I’ll be giving Percival a trial read-through at my feature tomorrow night. We’ll see how it goes.