Nightbringer | The Arthurian Online Encyclopedia

Merlin’s Songs

There have been a number of traditional songs passed down through the generations, often still sung on occasion although their original meanings have been lost. Many of them were gathered by the Vicomte Hensart de La Villemarqué for his collection of traditional songs called the Barzaz-Breiz, known in French as the Chants Populaires de la Bretagne. de la Villemarqué, to whom we owe the Breton original of the March of Arthur (Bale Arzur), which he obtained from the recitation from an old mountaineer of Leuhan, called Mikel Floc’h, informs us that these triplets were sung in chorus, as late as the Chouan war, by the Breton peasants, as they marched to battle against the Republican soldiers.

The belief in the appearance of Arthur’s host on the mountains, headed by their mystic chief, who awakens from his charmed sleep in the Valley of Avalon whenever war impends over his beloved Cymry, is common to all the Celtic races, and may be compared with a similar faith as to Holger among the Danes, Barbarossa among the Germans, and Marco among the Servians.

Sir Walter Scott has recorded the belief entertained in the Highlands of the apparition of mounted warriors riding along the precipitous flanks of the mountains, where no living horse could keep his footing. The apparition of this ghostly troop is always held to portend war; and it is no doubt the same which the Celtic bard has here described as arrayed under Arthur. The ancient air to which the triplets are sung is a wild and warlike march; and the peasant who chanted it to de la Villemarque, told him it was always sung three times over.

The composition is an ancient one, and contains many words now obsolete in Brittany, though still found in the Cymric in Wales. The last triplet is a late addition.

– Marzin – Divinour | Merlin – Soothsayer
– Marzin enn he gavel | Merlin in the Cradle
– Bale Arzur | The March of Arthur