The City of Ys
(A recounting of the Breton Legend of Ys, as related at the Munin Bard Competition, Winter Wolf 2010, College of Blaiddwyn)
by Kanna al Tanmerc’h (MKA Laura Pirard)
On Brittany’s shores, in a distant day,
Where the desolate Bay of Trépassés
Once rose as land from the water’s grasp
Stood a city of grandeur and peace.
Merchants prospered, troubadours sang,
Richly resounding church chimes rang
To honor the saint whose patron was King
Of the marvelous city called Ys.
Gradlon Meur was the monarch’s name.
Saint Gwénnolé lent the man his fame,
For he was a person of prudence and faith
Who ruled his people justly.
To safeguard his city from sea-borne offense,
He built up a dike in his domain’s defense.
Within it he fasted great gates to be shut
Against the high tide of the sea.
When the water was low, the gates were unfurled
And the doors of the city unsealed to the world.
The way to close both hung around Gradlon’s neck
In the shape of a bright silver key.
Now the king, though he was a pious lord,
Had his troubles, as any of us can accord,
Not the least of which was his daughter, Dahut -
A libertine lady was she.
The city of Ys was gilded and great,
But was given to excess - enough to rate
The ire of Saint Gwénnolé, who foretold
The ruin of Gradlon’s abode.
One night, as the King slumbered late in his bed,
Dahut watched the gates for a glimpse of the red
That colored the garb of her lover - a knight
Who had promised to come in the dark.
Besotted with wine, she watched until late
And soon, in the darkness beyond Ys’ gate,
Her scarlet seducer emerged from the shadows -
From dusk, a disastrous red spark.
Delighted and drunken, Dahut sought the place
Where Gradlon was sleeping, sly smirk on her face,
And unclasped the chain round his neck without sound,
Stealing away with the key.
Down to the locks by the great city door
Went the King’s daughter, so eager and sure
With the courage of drunkards that this, her dark plan,
Would pass right beneath Gradlon’s nose.
She unlocked the doors, but in her drunken state,
Forgot the key opened both door and floodgate.
The water swept in, and Saint Gwénnolé came
Where the King lay in silent repose.
“Arise now, dear Gradlon,” the saint ardent said,
“And flee from this city, though it be your stead;
Your daughter has loosed the dike gates down below
And the deluge shall swallow great Ys.”
Gradlon leapt up and ran straight to his horse,
And rode through the water as it made its course.
He swept up his daughter as he left the doomed walls
And raced forth away from the surge.
Yet as they pressed onward, the water raged ‘round,
Seething and boiling and reaching to drown
The King and his daughter as if it had been
Possessed by a demon-like urge.
Saint Gwénnolé’s voice from behind cried, “Good King!
If you wish to live, then you must do this thing
To the demon you carry astride at your back -
Cast her off into the sea!
For had she not moved all the people of Ys
To wanton debauchery apart from your peace,
The city would stand for years still to come,
But for these sins, now this must be.”
As Gradlon reined in to bespeak his child,
The horse reared up in a manner most wild
As the water washed all ‘round his fetlocks, and so
Dahut fell to the dark, foaming waves.
Then, as though the flood had been some sated beast,
The waters rolled back, their pursuit sudden ceased.
Gradlon the Great rode to Kemper in peace,
And there lived out the rest of his days.
So to those who would think to forsake what is right
And replace quiet comfort with darker delight,
Remember King Gradlon, his daughter Dahut,
And the deep-sunken city of Ys!