"Here at the turn of the leaf a horseman is riding
through the space between one world and another,
warm in his company of noises:
hoofs, hornsqueals, hound- and man-cries.
Trees shed their dry brown,
He's chasing a disturbance of the forest,
a shiver passing from twig to twig,
the whispery commotion
of a deer running
As he rides on alone, and his men
diminish to distant shouts,
his hounds' song mingles
with the song of a strange pack
hunting towards him."
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Following the success of Muscovy (2013), acclaimed poet Matthew Francis turns to medieval Wales in his latest collection. Steeping himself in the four loosely linked ‘branches’ or prose tales of the Mabinogi, he boldly reimagines the sequence for the modern reader. Following closely the structure of the original Middle Welsh texts, in these poems he plunges the reader into a strange world, full of drama and magic, yet precisely located in the authentic geography of Wales, where climbing a hill or crossing an unseen boundary can lead imperceptibly into an otherworld governed by different rules and powers.
In poems of great immediacy Francis draws us into the skin of men and women of a distant, mysterious yet curiously familiar world, all our senses awoken to its sounds, smells, colours, joys and tensions. We witness a woman accused of infanticide, or married into a foreign court and seeking rescue from humiliation and exile, magicians who conjure a woman from wild flowers or send an army of mice to devastate an enemy’s crops – a host of unforgettable characters inseparable from the land from which they spring. Full of suspense but leavened with characteristically playful touches, these absorbing and atmospheric poetic narratives will enchant and move the reader.
'I have waited a life for this book: our ancient British tales re-told, in English, by a poet, as they were in their original Welsh. This is more than translation. It picks up the harp and sings.'
'This combination of syllabic form, simple contemporary language and an emphasis on the visual creates a readable poem which is both engaging and dramatic, enhancing the mysterious and enchanting nature of these ancient tales. There is an intensity to the text which emphasises the surreal nature of the original stories, whilst simultaneously grounding them in a physical and emotional world with which we are all familiar.'
'A superb poetic retelling of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi. I always feel grounded when I read the Mabinogi, despite the fantastical, magical and unearthly elements. The stories seem so rooted in the soil, growing organically out of the landscape. They are simultaneously earthy, earthly and cthonic, linking the realm of the everyday to the mystical and numinous worlds of the unconscious. Francis has captured that in his poems.'
Michael Rimmer (librarything.com)
'The poetry itself, however, is excellent: the language is fresh and modern, the imagery stark and vivid; yet there is a constant sense of the surreal and the mysterious being evoked, reminding us that this is the dream-like world of myth.'
Ian Wong (ianwong.co.uk)