Jan's thought… the way men must go
Posted July 1998
From the Translation by Lady Charlotte Guest
Earl Evrawc owned the Earldom of the North. And he had seven sons. And Evrawc maintained himself not so much by his own possessions as by attending tournaments, and wars, and combats. And, as it often befalls those who join in encounters and wars, he was slain, and six of his sons likewise. Now the name of the seventh son was Peredur, and he was the youngest of them. And he was not of an age to go to wars and encounters, otherwise he might have been slain as his father and brothers.
His mother was a scheming and thoughtful woman, and she was very solicitous concerning this her only son and his possessions. So she took counsel with herself to leave the inhabited country, and to flee to the deserts and unfrequented wildernesses. And she permitted none to bear her company thither but women and boys, and spiritless men, who were both unaccustomed and unequal to war and fighting. And none dared to bring either horses or arms where her son was, lest he should set his mind upon them.
And the youth went daily to divert himself in the forest, by slinging sticks and staves. And one day he saw his mother's flock of goats, and near the goats two hinds were standing. And he marvelled greatly that these two should be without horns, while the others had them. And he thought they had long run wild and on that account they had lost their horns. And by activity and swiftness of foot, he drove the hinds and the goats together into the house which there was for the goats at the extremity of the forest.
Then Peredur returned to his mother. "Ah, mother," said he, "a marvellous thing have I seen in the wood; two of thy goats have run wild, and lost their horns; through their having been so long missing in the wood. And no man had ever more trouble than I had to drive them in." Then they all arose and went to see. And when they beheld the hinds, they were greatly astonished.
And one day they saw three knights coming along the horse-road on the borders of the forest. And the three knights were Gwalchmai the son of Gwyar, and Geneir Gwystyl, and Owain the son of Urien. And Owain kept on the track of the knight who had divided the apples in Arthur's Court, whom they were in pursuit of. "Mother," said Peredur, "what are these yonder?" "They are angels, my son," said she. "By my faith," said Peredur, "I will go and become an angel with them." And Peredur went to the road, and met them.
So begins the epic. The story may feel somewhat offensive by suggesting at the beginning that being war-like is no bad thing:
His mother was a scheming and thoughtful woman, and she was very solicitous concerning this her only son and his possessions. So she took counsel with herself to leave the inhabited country, and to flee to the deserts and unfrequented wildernesses. And she permitted none to bear her company thither but women and boys, and spiritless men, who were both unaccustomed and unequal to war and fighting.
But that aside there is a message here. Buddha's parents could not hide him from the world. Mary and Joseph could not stop the boy Jesus from going his way. After he went away in the crowds they search frantically:
When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, "Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety."
He said to them, "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" Luke 2
A boy must go on his quest to become a man. He cannot be hid from it or he will be a 'spiritless' man. Even before the knights come, the boy himself feels in his heart the call of the quest to meaning and manhood— he finds the hinds.
The best thing my mum ever did, I sometimes think, was to let me as a six year old hike alone across the paddocks and down the country roads to a neighbour's house for an adventure, complete with water bottle and teddy bear for company. It was several miles. Many would say it was irresponsible. I think it set me for life.
Our mother cannot protect us. We must leave her and get about the becoming of a man. It means to seek. I think we often get the message that not having the answers means we are less than a man. A real man has not questions; this is the macho message. A real man has solved his problems and is sensitive, and caring… or something. It's not macho, but it's the same. At 40, after 25 years of consciously looking, I don't have the answers. I conclude that much of the meaning of life is about being on the quest. And for that I am not ashamed. For from not knowing, but wanting to know, and from being hungry and seeking, I have gained energy and joy, and even a measure of wisdom.