KATHLEEN RAINE THE SLEEP OF ALBION There is, in the treasury of every nation, a body of mythology, legend and folklore, interwoven with history and prehistory, associated with certain places and the names of kings and heroes, with events natural and supernatural, preserved by tradition both oral and recorded. These legends and records belong to the whole people, lending to each brief, unremarkable life a larger identity and participation, as if in some sense these stories were our own. They give us a place in history - and not merely in history but in a story whose imaginative meaning goes beyond history, lending a sense of glory and cosmic significance special to our own people and place on earth. This mass of material, although it may have its basis in actual events, in real men and women who lived and loved and battled and quested, and who may very well be buried in the sites associated with them, eludes the kind of factual proof or disproof nowadays so popular with the excavators and researchers, all the error-proof techniques which modern fact-finding demands. That the stories have been told and retold is the only certain fact about them. Such is what is known as the "Matter of Britain," the corpus of British history and prehistory, as it has been handed down, and so designated in distinction from the "Matter of Rome," established in the legends of the founding of that city by Romulus and Remus, and in the story of the conquest of Aeneas, refugee from Troy. France's "matter" centers around Charlemagne and his knights; and the Teutonic nations likewise have their legendary history interwoven with myth and miracle- all those themes of Odin and Asgard, Siegfried and Parsifal that Wagner has recreated in his operas. The Matter of Britain too traces our origin back to Troy through the legendary Brut, who is said to have founded his kingdom in the British Isles, but also has roots in the prehistory and myths of the most ancient indigenous Celtic peoples, a marvelous mingling of Christian and pre-Christian themes. Above all the Matter of Britain centers about a fifth-century Romanized British king or war-leader, 684 0
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