Many of the Welsh tales are about fighting and wars and no country as small as Wales has so many castles. Yet these are nearly all in ruins and…
This is because men got tired of battles and sieges.
Everybody knows that after King Arthur’s knights had punched and speared, whacked and chopped at each other with axe and sword long enough, had slain dragons and tamed monsters, and rescued princesses from cruel uncles, and good men from dark dungeons, even the plain people, such as farmers and mechanics, had enough and wanted no more. Besides this, they wished to be treated more like human beings, and not have to work so hard and also to keep their money when they earned it.
Even King Arthur himself, towards the end of this era, saw that fashions were changing and that he must change with them. Hardware was too high in price, and was no longer needed for clothing. He was wise enough to see that battle axes, maces, swords, lances and armor had better be put to some better use, when iron was getting scarce and wool and linen were cheaper. Even the stupid Normans learned that decency and kindness cost less, and accomplished more in making the Welshery loyal subjects of the king.
So when, after many battles, King Arthur went out to have a little war of his own, and to enjoy the fight, in which he was mortally wounded, he showed his greatness, even in the hour of death. In truth, it is given to some men, like Samson, to be even mightier when they die, than when following the strenuous life. So it was with this great and good man of Cymry. His love for his people never ceased for one moment, and in his dying hour he left a bequest that all his people have understood and acted upon.
Thus it has come to pass that the Welsh have been really unconquerable, by Saxon or Norman, or even in these twentieth century days by Teutons. Though living in a small country, they are among the greatest in the world, not in force, or in material things, but in soul. When Belgium was invaded, they not only stood up in battle against the invader, but they welcomed to their homes tens of thousands of fugitives and fed and sheltered them.
Brave as lions, their path of progress has been in faithfulness to duty, industry, and patience, and along the paths of poetry, music and brotherhood. Their motto for ages has been, “Truth against the World.”
Now the manner of King Arthur’s taking off and his immortal legacy was on this fashion:
After doing a great many wonderful things, in many countries, King Arthur came back to punish the wicked man, Modred. In the battle that ensued, he received wounds that made him feel that he was very soon to die. So he ordered his loyal vassal to take his sword to the island of Avalon. There he must cast the weapon into the deep water.
But the sword was part of the soul of Arthur. It would not sink out of sight, until it had given a message, from their king to the Welsh, for all time.
After it had been thrown in the water, it disappeared, but rose again. First the shining blade, and then the hilt, and then a hand was seen to rise out of the flood.
Thrice that hand waved the sword round and round.
This was the prophecy of “the deathless from the dead.” King Arthur’s body might be hid in a cave, or molder in the ground, but his soul was to live and cheer his people. His beloved Cymric nation, with their undying language, were to rise in power again.
And the resurrection has been glorious. Not by the might of the soldier, or by arms or war—though the Welsh never flinch from duty, or before the foe—but by the power of poet, singer and the narrator of stories, that touch the imagination, and fire the soul to noble deeds, have these results come.
Arthur’s good blade, thus waved above the waters, became a veritable sword of the Spirit.
Men of genius arose to flush with color the old legends. Prophets, preachers, monks, missionaries carried these all over Europe, and made them the vehicles of Christian doctrine. In their new forms, they fired the imagination and illuminated, as with ten thousand lamps, many lands and nations, until they held every people in spell. In miracle and morality play, they reappeared in beauty. They attuned the harp and instrument of the musician and the troubadour, and these sang the gospel in all lands, north and south, while telling the stories of Adam, and of Abraham, of Bethlehem, and of the cross, of the Holy Grail, and of Arthur and his Knights. All the precious lore of the Celtic race became transfigured, to illustrate and enforce Christian truth. The symbolical bowl, the Celtic caldron of abundance, became the cup of the Eucharist and the Grail the symbol of blessings eternal.
By the artists, in the stained glass, and in windows of the great churches, which were built no longer of wood but of stone, that blossomed under the chisel, the old legends were, by the new currents of truth, given a mystic glow. As wonderful as the rise of Gothic architecture and the upbuilding of cathedrals, as glorious as the light and art, that beautify the great temples of worship, was this re-birth of the Arthurian legends.
For now, again, the old virtues of the knightly days—loyalty, obedience, redress of wrongs, reverence of womanhood, and the application of Christian ethics to the old rude rules of decency, lifted the life of the common people to a nobler plane and ushered in the modern days.
Then, after seven hundred years, a host of singers, Tennyson leading them all, attuned the old Celtic harp. They reset for us the Cymric melody and colorful incidents in “the light that never was on sea or land.” The old days live again in a greater glory.
Lady Guest put the Mabinogion into English, and Renan, and Arnold, and Rolleston, and Rhys, in prose, competed in praise of the heritages from the old time. Popular education was diffused. The Welsh language rose again from the dead. Cardiff holds in pure white marble the most thrilling interpretation of Welsh history, in the twelve white marble statues of the great men of Wales. The Welsh people, by bloodless victory, have won the respect of all mankind.
They set a beacon for the oppressed nations. In the World War of 1914-1918, they helped to save freedom and civilization. They were in the van.
Long may the sword of Arthur wave!
Welsh Fairy Tales
By WILLIAM ELLIOT GRIFFIS