contemplativeinquiry

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Tag: Pagan poetry

POEM: GREEN MAN

William Anderson’s classic Green Man poem has thirteen verses of four lines each, and follows the wheel of the year from the Winter Solstice. As I write we have just reached the sixth verse, which has an off with my head theme. The honey of love is over and speaking through the oak is yet to come.

Like antlers, like veins in the brain, the birches

Mark patterns of mind on the red winter sky;

‘I am thought of all plants’, says the Green Man,

‘I am thought of all plants’, says he.

The hungry birds harry the last berries of rowan

But white is her bark in the darkness of rain;

‘I rise with the sap’, says the Green Man,

‘I rise with the sap’, says he.

The ashes are clashing their bows like sword-dancers

Their black buds are tracing wild faces in the clouds;

‘I come with the wind’, says the Green Man.

‘I come with the wind’, says he.

The alders are rattling as though ready for battle

Guarding the grove where she waits for her lover;

‘I burn with desire’, says the Green Man,

‘I burn with desire’, says he.

In and out of the yellowing wands of the willow

The pollen-bright bees are plundering the catkins;

‘I am honey of love’, says the Green Man,

‘I am honey of love’, says he.

The hedges of quick are thick will May blossom

As the dancers advance on their leaf-covered king;

‘It’s off with my head’, says the Green Man,

‘It’s off with my head’, says he.

Green Man becomes grown man in flames of the oak

As its crown forms its mask and its leafage his features;

‘I speak through the oak’, says the Green Man,

‘I speak through the oak’, says he.

The holly is flowering as hay fields are rolling

Their gleaming long grasses like waves of the sea;

‘I shine with the sun’, says the Green Man,

‘I shine with the sun’, says he.

The hazels are rocking the cups with their nuts

As the harvesters shout when the last leaf is cut;

‘I swim with the salmon’, says the Green Man,

‘I swim with the salmon’, says he.

The globes of the grapes are robing with bloom

Like the hazes of autumn, like the Milky Way’s stardust;

‘I am crushed for your drink’, says the Green Man,

‘I am crushed for your drink’, says he.

The aspen drops silver on leaves of earth’s salver

And the poplars shed gold on the young ivy flower heads;

‘I have paid for your pleasure’, says the Green Man,

‘I have paid for your pleasure’, says he.

The reed beds are flanking in silence the islands

Where meditates Wisdom as she waits and waits;

‘I have kept her secret’, says the Green Man,

‘I have kept her secret’, says he.

The bark of the elder makes whistles for children

To call to the deer as they rove over the snow;

‘I am born in the dark’, says the Green Man,

‘I am born in the dark’, says he.

 

From:  William Anderson Green Man: archetype of our oneness with the Earth Harper Collins: London & San Francisco, 1990

BOOK REVIEW: THE BROKEN CAULDRON

14606507_342051356186231_2360625875228974566_nHighly recommended. Author Lorna Smithers describes The Broken Cauldron as “a fragmentary collection of essays, stories and poems”. Yet I experienced this book as a unity, a poet’s meditation even when presenting technical information about fracking and nuclear power. For it is built around a compelling core image, made visible in Tom Brown’s striking cover illustration.

At its fullest and most majestic, that image is “a cauldron full of stars”, the womb of Ceridwen, Old Mother Universe, and traditionally the source of inspiration, wisdom and rebirth. Yet here the cauldron lies shattered, the universe is fragmented, and the world is out of kilter. Smithers takes myth out of archetypal romance and into the wounded world of history, making it awkward, jarring – and dynamic. She confronts us with where we are and transmits a warning wake-up call from gods and storytellers.

In her introduction, Smithers explains how she was led into a quest to understand the significance of the broken cauldron in ancient British history. The myths she studied were penned in medieval Wales but are rooted in an older oral tradition. All tell the story of the cauldron. When it is broken or stolen, cataclysmic consequences are unleashed. Smithers was particularly drawn “to the violence of Arthur’s raid on Annwn (the Otherworld) and assault on its inhabitants. The moment Lleog thrusts his flashing sword into the cauldron came to symbolize the patriarchal world view … founded on oppression of the Other”. In her poem about this she writes:

“The sinking blade lit like lightening.

Reflected in it faces of a million million souls,

Eyes melting, disintegrating like shadows

Into pure white light.”

Lleminog, another of Arthur’s companions, carries the broken prize away:

“Lleminog scooped the cracked cauldron

Into his hand,

Escaped like a thief into the night

With moon, stars, sun, broken pieces

Of Old Mother Universe jangling in his pocket.”

Smithers works under the aegis of Gwyn ap Nudd, a god “who haunts the peripheries of the Bardic tradition”. His world is Annwn – an Otherworld described as ‘not-world’ and ‘the deep’. There he keeps a cauldron that is whole and filled with stars, “the infinite reflection of the womb of Old Mother Universe, Ceridwen”. Much of our inherited Bardic tradition is seen as problematic. In particular, “Taliesin epitomizes all that is questionable and dislikeable” about it. The poet of The Broken Cauldron.is an outsider “watching with horror as Gwion escapes with the Awen and Gwyddno’s horses perish in the poison” – paying the terrible price for three drops of inspiration. The Gwion who becomes Taliesin pays little attention to this and becomes a sycophantic court Bard as kingdoms fall.

Gwyn offers the possibility of fixing the broken cauldron by gathering the poison back into it from the land, and Lorna Smithers supports this work by telling the stories of “marginalized figures – the overshadowed, the oppressed and the slaughtered”. The Broken Cauldron is divided into five sections: The Broken Cauldron and The Flashing Sword, Ridiculous, Drowned Lands, Operation Cauldron and Uranium.  The urgency of myth trying to reconstruct itself for are times is conveyed in a number of ways. One is the striking language of set piece poems, as in Dumb Man:

You come mouthing words.

There are burnt out cities in your mouth.

The vocabulary of sign language

Cannot convey the stories

You need to tell.

There are the cumulative effects of the giant Diwrnach’s repeated death in slightly variant stories from different regions of Celtic Britain, as he defends a cauldron in a feasting hall and is slain by his own sword. Smithers describes this back-to-backing of versions as a ‘montage’. There is dark whimsical fantasy in The Day I Raised the Dead, which takes place in The Court of the Sons of the King of Suffering – a “joyless place”. There is a realistic account of a journey to find out about, and find, the drowned Porth Wyddno, once one of “the three chief ports of the island”, which Smithers places in Lancashire rather than at Borth in west Wales. There is a discussion of uranium and the nuclear power station at Sellafield aka Windscale aka Calder Hall, and its inclusion in the myth of the “cauldron which is filled with stars” and dangerously toxic when messed with.

Most poignant, for me, is the story of Morfran, which straddles time. His mother, “a scientific genius with a meticulous eye for detail” runs an award winning chemical plant. Growing up gawky and ugly as a cormorant, he has been nick-named Afagddhu (utter darkness) by a mother who is determined to fix him and make him presentable. Events occur, though not to him. At the end of his story, he muses “perhaps that’s where I’ll go, down into the deep where there is no ugliness and no perfection, surface with a fish for a clean breath or air before her child is born and the cycle begins again.”

There is much more. The Broken Cauldron is a wonderful example of the re-visioning of myth, fully immersed in the old traditions, yet bringing out new meanings and new possibilities for our time.

 

Lorna Smithers The Broken Cauldron King’s Lynn, Norfolk: Biddle’s Books, 2016 Cover art by Tom Brown.

POEM: NEW GRANGE

800px-Newgrange

Picture cc by 2.5 pl – originally uploaded by Shira-commonswiki

The golden hill where long-forgotten kings

Keep lonely watch upon their feasting-floor

Is silent now, – the Dagda’s harp no more

Makes sun and moon move to its murmurous strings;

And never in the leafy star-led Springs

Will Caer and Angus haunt the river shore,

For deep beneath an ogham-carven door

Dust dulls the dew-white wonder of their wings.

Yet one may linger loving the lost dream –

The magic of the heart that cannot die;

Although the Rood destroy the quicken-rods;

To him through earth and air and hollow stream

Wild music whines, as two swans wheeling cry

Above the cromlech of the vanished gods.

New Grange 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).

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.

BOOK REVIEW: ENCHANTING THE SHADOWLANDS

product_thumbnailIn formal terms, this is a five star review of Enchanting the Shadowlands, a book of numinous poems and short stories by Lorna Smithers. She describes it as “gathered from my local landscape in response to an imperative from a Brythonic god called Gwyn ap Nudd”. If you have any interest in the lingering subtle resonance of the old Celtic and pre-Celtic world in parts of England like the poet’s native northwest, you will appreciate this volume. If you have any interest in ‘awen’ as an inspirational force or creative current, and what it is to be ‘awenydd’, you will appreciate this volume. If you have any interest in poetry and landscape, or what is now called psycho-geography, you are likely to appreciate this volume. I strongly recommend this book.

More deeply, I am hoping in a small way to share something of the magic of the work as I have experienced it. I find that the best way in is to say that, for me, the resonance of the project, its feeling-tone, can be found in the first two verses of ‘A Journeying Song’, one of the later poems in the collection.

1: Horse and Hound

She will carry me

down invisible horse paths.

He will lead us

to invisible lands.

She will carry me

beyond the stolen skyline.

He will lead us

to where horizons end.

2: The Dreaming Land

The dream is not a dream

it is the life force of the land.

A living memory,

it is the dawn. It is the damned.

The dream is not a sleep.

It is a wakefulness

of past people and their dreams.

It is mistakes and shining laughter.

When I read these lines, I can feel myself riding the mare who will “carry me down invisible horse paths”, led (in my mind’s eye) by a large and shaggy hound. I can easily accept that, surrendering to the instinctive wisdom of these animal powers, I might find myself beyond a “broken skyline” at a place where “horizons end”.  I can settle into the felt apprehension of a Dreaming Land where the dream is not a dream, but “the life force of the land, a living memory” and a “wakefulness of past people and their dreams”. The words are a portal to the living reality of the experience itself. In that sense, these two brief verses stand as a microcosm of the whole book.

Peneverdant/Penwortham, the locality described, is a watery place. Its first human inhabitants are called “The Dwellers in the Water Country”, drawn by the obvious attractions of auroch and deer and also by destiny and “the dream of a bard”.

They came with the splash of oars

and the steady splash of feet

drawn by auroch, deer and destiny,

the dream of a bard

who saw the green hill rising

from a wilderness of carr and marsh.

The awenydd poet’s own seership, her own process of inspired and connected reaching back, is caught in her ‘Prayer for Netholme’.

I write this prayer for the White One

Who loaned to me a mare of mist,

Led me across the marsh of time

And granted me the seer’s gift.

For later periods, the poetry is sometimes dialogical with older texts – such as the Domesday Survey of 1086, or James Flockhart’s ‘De Mowbray:A legend of Penwortham’. The latter is referenced in in ‘St. Mary’s Well, Twilight’ – a poem that also includes finely wrought observation of nature and the meaning it makes for the observer/the observer makes for it.

The setting sun is casting his vast aura

With a majesty I never dreamt him capable of

Enflaming clouds in luminescent orange and red,

Purple like mountains behind the trees.

The birds are singing as if it is their last dusk song.

I enlist bold robin, blackbird and little wren …

As if this is the evening of all evenings

And will be their last so better make it their best.

It is hard to write freshly about sunsets, though I do think this is well-managed even in the first four lines, especially through bringing in a delighted shift in the observer’s perception, and then going on to dare purple poetry. But what makes this section of the poem for me is the succeeding lines, which create a foreground for the majestic sunset background through the activity of the birds and their commitment to Being while it lasts.

Throughout the book we are aware of the interweaving of two worlds. This is done particularly well in the stories, which are every bit as inspired as the poetry. I was especially moved by the last, called ‘The Brown-Eared Hound: Rivington, October 31st. 1917’. It concerns sudden, shocking bereavement and also a direct experience of Gwyn’s wild hunt. I could almost see a novel, or at any rate novella, in this story – bringing together the world of Wilfrid Owen, D.H Lawrence and Virginia Wolf with that of living Brythonic myth. At the same time the piece as written did everything it needed to.

I don’t think it is possible to do this volume justice in a single review. It’s hard, with poetry. So I’m suggesting that readers also have a look at Crychydd’s review in https://barddos.wordpress.com/2015/02/04 and the author’s own discussions about her work and its continuing development at: http://lornasmithers.wordpress.com/

Lorna Smithers Enchanting the Shadowlands Lulu, 2015

POEM: DEMETER

Where I lived – winter and hard earth.

I sat in my cold stone room

choosing tough words, granite, flint,

to break the ice. My broken heart –

I tried that, but it skimmed,

flat, over the frozen lake.

She came from a long, long way,

but I saw her at last, walking,

my daughter, my girl, across the fields,

in bare feet, bringing all spring’s flowers

to her mother’s house. I swear

the air softened and warmed as she moved,

the blue sky smiling, none too soon,

with the small shy mouth of a new moon.

In The world’s wife: poems by Carol Ann Duffy (London: Picador, 1999)

POEM: STOLEN SECONDS

Romany Rivers is my sixth and final poet from the collection ‘Moon Poets: Six Pagan poets’ published by Moon Books and edited by Trevor Greenfield. This poem concerns the struggle of a mother to find space for her own personhood. She is “a British born Witch, Reiki Master and Artist living in Canada, exploring a life of personal passion, spirituality and creativity … When not writing, creating or running around after two energetic children, Romany turns her hand to individual healing sessions and community projects that provide family support”. The collection as a whole also includes work by Beverley Price, Martin Pallot, Tiffany Chaney, Lorna Smithers, and Robin Herne.

Stolen Seconds

Sometimes I steal into the garden

And stand by the washing line

Laundry forgotten in my hands as my eyes search the skies

Looking for something

Seeing everything

Noticing nothing

I breathe deeply

And release one long shuddering sigh

A breath held without conscious thought

Waiting for just a few minutes peace to fly free from the constricted chest

I look down

At my trembling hands

Clutching my clothes

Representations of the miniature people

Who take up enormous space within my daily life

Leaving little room for me as I shrink and shrivel to give them more room

I let go

Of the laundry

Of the breath

Of the stress

Of the tiredness

Of the constant needing, feeding, reading, singing, sighing, playing and praying for peace

I let go

And close my eyes

Wondering if tears will kiss my cheeks in gratitude

For the silent still moments

Stolen swiftly

Beside the washing line.

POEM: WINTER IS …

Beverley Price is my fifth poet from the collection ‘Moon Poets: Six Pagan poets’ published by Moon Books and edited by Trevor Greenfield, and she continues a northern winter theme.   Beverley “is a weaver of dark prose and poetry, dreamer of Gothic imagery, cat lover and nature worshipper. Her work deals with the bitter fact that love is not always chocolate boxes and roses mixed in with the imagery of her pagan roots and love of mythology”. The collection as a whole also includes work by Martin Pallot, Tiffany Chaney, Lorna Smithers, Robin Herne and Romany Rivers.

Winter Is …

Winter, the trees stand bare.

Snow covers the ground.

A secret message, just for me to share.

It died on the breeze, not making a sound.

Blunted by the whitewash.

Reinforcing my desire.

Whisper leaves, the story told.

The urge to feel and enquire.

The winter wolves are coming.

I would love to be there.

And round about, the waste of time.

This winter is usual and rare.

Now, winter time is full of light.

Winter had become my lover.

Hot with your love, and summer to discover.

POEM: WOLF VOICE

Happy New Year to all readers of this post! My very best wishes for 2015. I offer a poem by Martin Pallot, a wolf’s life-world in the northern winter.

Martin is my fourth poet from the collection ‘Moon Poets: Six Pagan poets’ published by Moon Books and edited by Trevor Greenfield. Martin has been writing poetry since the early 1980s, mainly inspired by Nature and his pagan beliefs. He admires the early poets and story tellers and the way they engaged the ear, as well as the mind of their audience, and encourages people to say his poetry as well as just reading it. The collection as a whole also includes work by Tiffany Chaney, Lorna Smithers, Robin Herne, Romany Rivers and Beverley Price.

Wolf Voice

Wolf, howling to the moon,

The wind hears your words,

The earth feels your voice,

Sending out your spirit sound,

Calling to the great She wolf

Who shakes the stars from her fur.

Loping in the light of her one great eye,

Silver, shadowing the pack path,

Snow, scented by the passing prey,

Guides you on your killing way.

The trackless whiteness,

Sculpted by spirits of the air,

Into shape of deer and bison.

These insubstantial ghosts,

A pulsating presence in your

Preternatural eye.

When the kill is made,

The pack song rises,

To thank the She Wolf

For her gift of life,

To the den of generations.

And the moon,

Resting on a bed

Of winter branches,

Smiles, to hear

The voice of Wolf.

UNCONQUERED SUN

Yesterday’s post from the Antinous for Everybody blog,

POEM: CIRCLE OF THE SOUL

A third poet from the collection ‘Moon Poets: Six Pagan poets’ published by Moon Books and edited by Trevor Greenfield. Tiffany Chaney is a poet and artist residing in North Carolina. Her poetry collection Between Blue and Grey won the 2013 Mother Vine Festival Award for Best in poetry. Tiffany can be found on http://www.tiffanychaney.com/

The collection as a whole also includes work by Lorna Smithers, Robin Herne, Romany Rivers, Martin Pallot and Beverley Price.

 

Circle of the Soul

Wake,

wake the witness,

silent Sulis

of the pond.

Pretend the nameless

are named.

Pretend the formless

are framed.

Wake,

wake the witness.

Wait,

until it is your turn

of the wheel.

Satiate

the self with

the making of souls,

until having played

pretend you can fall

asleep again.

Wake, and witness,

so we may recall.

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