Old King Bladud

Posted on February 19, 2010 by

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Since the composition of my next thought piece has been somewhat delayed by the vagaries of project management, I thought I’d give you folks a poem instead. Look for the next serious post over the weekend.

Bladud, one of the early British kings who reigned in Britain long before Caesar set foot upon its shores, is known chiefly for his unique and rather dramatic death. We know the following excerpts about him from the History of the Kings of Britain*:

“…Now there are definite echoes of this curious and most ancient ritual in the story of one of Brutus’ not far removed descendants, king Bladud. Bladud, it is recorded, made himself pinions and wings and learned how to fly. He only had one lesson and the flight was predictably a short one, but the important detail is that Bladud was killed as he struck the temple of Apollo that once stood in the city known today as London.”

“Bladud, in ca 881 BC, who ruled the land for twenty years. During that time, he founded the city of Kaerbadum (Bath), the hot springs of which were thought to cure leprosy. At his commandment, necromancy, communicating with the dead, was practised throughout the kingdom, and he was eventually killed in a misguided attempt to fly.”

The truly ironic thing about this story, though is that among other things, Apollo was the patron god of flight.

Bladud’s Solo Flight

By Richard W. Rohlin

Long ago there was a king

He dwelt in Britain fair.

Called Bladud, that unfortunate king.

And long he ruled there.

Bladud was an heathen –

A pagan to the bone.

He necromanced and spoke to the dead

And worshipped gods of stone.

His favorite was Apollo,

The patron god of flight,

(Though he also condoned hunting,

And gave, they said, sunlight).

One day a priest came to him –

A druid tall and lean –

Said, “I’ve got some startling news for you:

Sir, you were born for wings!

“Your patron god Apollo,

Why, he’s the god of flight.

He speaks to me through calf’s entrails –

And he spoke to me last night!

“He says it’s time for you, sir

To take it to the sky.

For sir, you see, it’s the latest thing

For kings to learn to fly.”

Well, Bladud was a heathen –

Ne’er was one more devout –

And so he made a set of wings

And began to flap about.

He decided to take flying lessons

So he watched and studied the birds,

And all the while the druids cheered

With many encouraging words.

So finally came the day

For that fatal solo flight,

And all the people gathered round

Eager to see such a sight.

For there atop the roof,

In feathers stood their king;

His arms stretched out to fly –

Or rather, he stretched his wings.

He stood atop the temple

Of Apollo, his patron god.

He leapt into the rising breeze –

And fell toward the sod.

And there before Apollo’s throne

A kingly pancake made.

The priest then got an oracle

To brush up his resume!

Pagan gods, it seems,

Have eyes that cannot see,

Ears that cannot hear,

Feet that cannot flee.

But in addition to their lifelessness –

Whether made of wood or stone or thatch –

Pagan gods, or so it seems,

Are also a lousy catch.

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