Posted by: Kevan Manwaring | July 17, 2008

Bardic Poetry: Last Rites for John Barleycorn

Last Rites for John Barleycorn



Roam with me…


Through the Gates of Herne

To find a kernel of truth,

Confront the stag of the seventh tine,

Decode the marks of his horned hoof.


Down the familiar paths we trod,

Frequenting our earlier selves;

Sharing our picnic of the past –

Feasting with Pooka and his Elves.


Then over the bloodstream

And through the iron turnstiles,

Two into one –

Led by the Maiden of the Corn

To the barrow to be reborn.


Along a tunnel to the light –

Spurred on sperm, a wheaten worm,

Wisely upstream wriggling.

To germinate where we are but a gleam –

Prodigal suns returning.


Walking between the worlds,

Through fields of alien wheat,

To the place of hallowed dreams,

Where all our tomorrows meet.


Rising to that yawning cleft;

Between that baked earth, right,

And bearded barley, ripe –

Beyond all that is left.


Demeter mourns for her lost youth,

Russet cloak unleavening

The burgeoning Lammas-scape

In her widowed wake.


Yet, if she lifted up her downcast eyes

They would glimpse a gladdening light

That could demystify those

Night-stung tears of dew.


Rekindle a faltering love

Which was once so bright;

Tinderbox heart sparked ablaze

By this Promethean view.


Look! His dazzling smile already melts

Her frosty gaze –

The heartening land smiles welcome

As the colour returns to her cheeks.


With a God’s eye view

We discerned the canvas

Upon which he painted –

Pigments selected from a divine palette,

Sable-soaked, laden with morning hue –

As elegantly across the vast vista

He swept it.


Drowsy textures arose –

Dormant tints, awoken by his touch.

As our orbs imperceptibly peeled

An earthairfirewater colour

Was unveiled.


Rich vermillions, sombre umbers,

Occult ochres, verdant viridians,

Were presented by this prismatic parade

As if such a spectrum had never before

Dared to emerge from the shade.


Blinded by an unearthly faith,

We now rubbed our eyes

At this dawning creation

With a renewed belief.


Breathtaken, we breathed it back:

Pulling the sky towards us

In lungfuls of light –

Then exhaling,

The clouds dispelled like dandelions.


An impromptu pantheon,

Recreating the world

In our own fractured image.

Raise an eyebrow to influence the air,

Lift a finger and the crops would soar,

Invert a thumb and harvests fail…


But who are we to judge,

When from afar, we appear mere


Yearning for a common thread?


Yet the lionheart’s golden mane

Is not ours to wantonly flay;

Braided bails of spiralling corn

The only evidence

Of a God that passed this way.


Now hush – for fields have ears

And silence is as golden as the sun.


From the dancing trees

Our forest kith could be heard;

Amongst the bustling stalks

The flower kin spread the word.


It was a choral dawn like no other –

The morning eavesdropped upon by Adam

When first he emerged from the



A myriad of voices chattered away,

But in the same tongue spoken.

Revealed! The lost language of the fey –

Our ears had awoken!


The gloaming star winked green:

It knew a secret – we did not.

The champion waited for

Was finally seen, borne in his sacred cot.


Lugh! He soars by bronzed chariot.

Lugh! He strums with a solar lyre.

Lugh! He sings with honey lyric.

Lugh! He sees through eyes of fire.


We toasted the rising king

With wide eyes and barley wine,

Our joy expressed in sundancing –

Jumping alive with ecstatic mime.


Lost in the landscape of Lughnasadh,

The moment telescoping,

Outside time.


It was ourselves looking at our elves,

Which the Outsiders insighted –

A frame within a frame.

The burning gallery ignited.


Rocketed by déjà vu (again)

A product of eternal combustion,

This glimpse of infinity’s spark?


For the answer to that endless question

We had to go where none return:

Down amongst the dead men,

Hoping in the dark.


Skull walls leered in silent mockery,

A sarcophagus whistled

A deadly tune;

Lulled, rolling into the barrow,

Returning to the tomb…


Way, way down there:

A rag, a bone, a hank of hair –

Would that be all that is left

To resurrect us?


O Lazarus, O Lazarus.


Ashes to – what then – Ashes?


Dust to – nothing more than – Dust?


As cold clay kissed awake,

Mannequins of the Fire Drake.


Charged in this earthen kiln,

Ossified, lacquered and brittle,

Until dropped, and shattered

At the marriage of the Quick and the Dead.

Each shard indicative

Of the punishment or pleasure

Stretching ahead..?



Not whilst friends remain

To keep one’s memory alive –

Though tempests torment us,

Storms in our cracked cup.

Join hands

and we will endure.


The dead talked

Amongst themselves;

Thick as thieves –

They kept their secrets,


We kept our lives.


For now we had descended

To the summit’s peak,

Casting our reflections

Upon the waters of the deep.


It was time to go,

To leave a votive offering behind.


The past’s shadow was exchanged

For something of worth to find.


The sacred place resanctified,

By rites of passage outworn,

We emerged remembered,

Reconciled, reborn.


Crawling blinking into the brightening world,

We learnt to see again, through fields of vision.


Back down to earth

We cloudwalkers gently floated.

The grease of our harvest supper

Still upon empty mouths –

Terra firmly devoted.


The Bacchanalia was over –

Boozy God of derangement

Rent asunder: his goodness shared,

Blood into wine, flesh into bread.


John Barleycorn is dead!

John Barleycorn is dead!


The parched soil drank him dry:

The Goddess takes back what once was hers.


The power returns to the Mother.

The power returns to the Mother.


As we turned to the crimson-smeared day,

Imbibing the drunken sun,

Wetstone-slicked sickle in hand,

                           Ready to make hay.




Kevan Manwaring 1994/2007


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