Lyonesse

As they rose, the cities fell

the churches, schools and tower blocks

lost in the dark beneath the swell.

 

Screeching seabirds breaking the still

of this new silent place, skimming the spray of the swirling waves.

As they rose, cities fell.

 

In cavernous abyss, dark things dwell,

watching sunlight glitter on the surface.

Barnacles claim old towns, barely recognisable,

Lost in the dark, beneath the swell.

 

Across the perpetual water, fogs dispel.

The winds – the old gods, exercise their volatile tempers, 

as they rose, the cities fell.

 

Sometimes, you can see jutting, when the when the ocean’s dark moods quell,      

rusting pylons,  power lines, summits of skyscrapers - skeletons from an old world

lost in the dark, beneath the swell.

 

Seals bask unhindered, on the shores of desert archipelagos

no detritus on the soft shores but weed and shell 

as they rose, the cities fell.

 

There were a people once, mariners with stories to tell,

Frantic fleeting lives –  corpses now

Lost in the dark beneath the swell

 

The tides are wild

The were callous

As they rose, the cities fell

Lost in the dark, beneath the swell.

 

 

This villanelle was inspired by the fabled lost lands of Lyonesse. Maybe you, like me, wandered the harbour streets of Cornwall and noticed more than one or two boats with this name bobbing gently in the bay. It wasn’t actually till I was in my teen years that I came across the legend of Lyonesse - It was at the Gorsedh Cornish cultural festival where they did a story telling and I found myself fascinated and plunged into this watery doomed world off the coast of Cornwall and Scilly.

In a similar vein to Atlantis, the story of Lyonesse links back to sunken cities and the stories are often set around the Arthurian times. Some sources say that the Lyonesse was the kingdom of Tristan’s father (of Tristan & Iseult) and others link back to celtic mythology. It was believed that Lyonesse was a beautiful kingdom of spires, woodlands and castles… indeed St Michael’s mount - a very real castle perched on an island accessible at low tide, just off the coast of Marazion has very mysterious origins surrounding it. It’s Cornish name. “Karrek Loos y’n Koos” translates as ‘Grey Rock in the Wood’ which suggests that the mount was once surrounded by forest and some rumours claim that at lowest neap tides, the salt faded remains of a very ancient forest might be glanced. But despite the many curious stories surrounding this alluring kingdom, they all share the same grim end; that the land was doomed. It is thought that perhaps the people of the kingdom committed some terrible act and angered the gods to bring about such an end, but it is not known for sure.

Each of the stories tell that in one night, the entire land was sunken beneath a dark maelstrom that brought a single giant wave. And so it became lost and the people perished.

Some believe that there may be truth in this legend - the archipelago which lays around 30 miles away off the Cornish coast has bronze age remains of settlements, as well as other celtic settlements which once were above sea level but are now submerged upon the flooding of penzance bay over time… these could have inspired stories from early fishermen about lost cities, growing to become the mystical lands of Lyonesse as the centuries passed.

One thing is for sure, and that is that the end of the land holds a very real and vibrant sense of mystery and enchantment. If you stand at Landsend at sunset, and watch the day sink behind the stark rocks of Enys Dodnan sea arch, you will witness the moon rise over the coast on the other side and feel the very real power and magic that these parts retain… maybe you’ll even be gazing over the flooded lands of a lost ancient kingdom. Maybe, just maybe, on a quiet and still autumn’s evening, you’ll hear the bells of the ancient cathedral of Lyonesse, just as legend says.

MusingsSarah Porteus