POEM: MAY UPON ICTIS
Far out at sea beneath rich Tyrian sails
The merchants watch a ghostly mountain spread
Terrific dawn-wings fired with cloudy red,
And cease their barter over purple bales;
Wild headland flames to headland; in the dales
Hushed warriors wait, for now torqued chief may tread
That dim white forest where the vanished dead
Gather like birds before the spume-drenched birds.
Around the mount barbaric trumpets cry;
Then Ictis thunders through her altar-stone
Long-cloven by a god’s mysterious rune;
And pinnacle between the earth and sky
Her savage prophet stands, majestic, lone,
Helmed with the sun and girdled with the moon.
May upon Ictis is one of Six Celtic Sonnets written by Thomas Samuel Jones and included in From the Isles of Dream: Visionary Stories and Poems of the Celtic Renaissance, selected by John Matthews and with a foreword by Robin Williamson (Floris Books, 1993). Ictis, or Iktin, is or was an island described as a tin trading centre in the Bibliotheca Historica of the Sicilian-Greek historian Diodoris Siculus, writing in the first century BC. While Ictis is widely accepted to have been an island somewhere off the southern coast of what is now England, scholars continue to debate its precise location. Candidates include St Michael’s Mount and Looe Island off the coast of Cornwall, the Mount Batten peninsula in Devon, and the Isle of Wight further to the east.
Thomas Samuel Jones (1882-1932) came from Welsh and Irish stock and was born in Oneida County, New York State, near the Adirondack Mountains. Each of the six sonnets reflects a facet of Celtic tradition. They were originally published in 1930 as part of the collection Aknahton and Other Sonnets. For those of us who resonate with Druid and Celtic spirituality, they are part of our modern cultural ancestry.