Over in a subsection of the page where all my poems are hiding (did you ever notice it, up there? “Roaring In The Pines”?) there is the first of two poems in what I imagined would be a longer cycle called FimbulwinterAs is true, I suspect, of most poems, I can’t remember why I wanted to write it. It was there so I set it down.

The Queen Of Thule Sends Her White Raven Southward

O bird of bitter cruelty,
Southward over the snow
Bear your burden of cold death:
Go, sweeting, go.

Let the earth’s smoke and fire
And the breath of all things
Fall expiring, extinguished
Beneath your wings.

All life’s futile passion –
The babe at the breast,
The lover by his beloved
Ravished or distressed,

The soldier in his conquest,
The tyrant in his state,
All, all their ambitions
Make desolate.

On their cities and forests
Let the bleak snow fall:
The time is past waiting:
End all, all.

Bird of my spirit,
Still rivers and seas:
Make glass of the hillsides
And the leafless trees:

In the wind of your pinions
Let the deep drifts blow:
Beyond that, silence:
Go, darling, go.

Thule is either Norway or one of the Orkneys or somewhere in the neighborhood of the Arctic Circle, depending on which ancient writer you consult. I thought it ought to have a Queen, Snegurotchka more or less, only brassier, with silver hair around her shoulders and bare to the waist in glass-shattering cold, flying a white raven down to blanket our latitudes with relentless snow, like a falconer flies a haggard.

I was not as fond of the jog-trot ballad I wrote after that but this week, staring into single digits tomorrow and hearing about flesh-freezing chills of 20 below in places where they do not generally dress or build for it, I keep hearing it in my head.

The poet and the parson, never friends,
Stood by the fence-rail, watching the world die.
The parson said “I’ve no one waiting for me.”
The poet answered him: “No more do I.”

“I’ve held myself in readiness all these years
For this,” the parson said. “It’s my profession.
I’ve preached and prayed, and read John the Divine,
And helped a thousand folk to their confession.”

“The poet said: “I’ve done my best as well.
I’ve slept with every woman that was willing,
Drunk wine, made verses, kept bad company,
Squandered my substance down to the last shilling.”

“It’s not too late to pray,” the parson said.
“Even through blizzard winds, God hears our words.””Then whisper,” said the poet. “I came here
To listen for the wing-beats of Her birds.”

The parson scowled, and knotted mittened fingers.
“In manuas Tuas, Domine,” he sighed.
“But Oh that my great Enemy should triumph!”
The poet stiffly said: “She is my Bride.”

The settling snow crept higher. “Is it true,”
The parson said, “that freezing’s rather pleasant?
I’ve heard that you go numb, in fact feel warm.”
“I wouldn’t know,” the poet said, “at present.”

“I can’t see any longer,” said the parson.
“Have I begun to die and just don’t know it?”
Don’t let me go unburied.” “No fear there;
The snow will be our sexton,” said the poet.

“It’s only nightfall. Hear: the wind falls still.
The moon surveys the silence of all things.
Perhaps if we live long enough we’ll hear
The Raven shake its unrelenting wings.”

“Once, in a class I took at seminary,
They taught that heathens held the world would die
Like this,” the parson murmured sadly. “How
Could they be right about it? Can God lie?”

“She takes her pleasure,” said the poet. “She
Abides beyond east, wast, north, south, life, death,
Is all these things when it delights her: gale,
spring breezes, the scirocco’s scorching breath.

But now in northern Thule, the Isle of Glass,
Her sublunary self, Queen of the Winds,
Turns to the task of gathering Her harvest.
Her birds are speeding southward. So it ends.”

“There’s no smoke from the chimneys,” said the parson.
“Up north, they said the glacier’s moving fast.
So many gone; may God have mercy on them.”
The poet said, “The time for mercy’s past.”

“But is there no salvation?” cried the parson.
“How can God countenance so many dead?
Against Her power why has he not sustained us?”
“God takes his fief from Her,” the poet said.

A limited number of our modern day parsons would have the chops for this kind of doubt and angst in the face of the End Times, I suspect. I don’t know about poets. I only do it once in a while.


8 thoughts on “Fimbulwinter

  1. Your style bears echoes of the old songs and is thereby readable as most poetry is not. Or so says this unsophisticated technologist, who raised himself on Tolkien and on Penguin editions of the sagas.

    I imagine this historic storm has many people thinking of End Times but here on the opposite coast the weather is so mild we’re getting worried. If the East is to die under sheets of ice and snow, the West will lie down under blue skies and die of thirst.

    • Thank you, Don. I’ve never appreciated the modern sensibility which seems to require that a poem be as obscure and uninviting as a palimpsest in Linear B.

      One senses that a verse that scans and rhymes is now considered mere bourgeois doggerel; I for my part, get impatient with people who just barf out their thoughts, observations and feelings on the page sans any structure (and seem to be looking for back pats for being Deep and Sensitive), or people who croggle together such confusing clumps of word salad that it seems like a dare to find meaning in it at all. Everyone who can string together some phantasmagoric imagery thinks he’s T. S. Eliot — and as you know, Old Tom was perfectly happy to play the tambourine when he chose. (Think of “Practical Cats.”)

      I wrote a few of those blank and free verse belches when I was a junior high school student until I realized it added up to a labored attempt to sound impressive. If I’m not Eliot (or Graves or Hardy) I can at least be intelligible.

      I didn’t mean to go into a rant, but I fear you pushed a button.

      Sorry I can’t ship you the rain that has made a bog of my front lawn. I expect a peat-preserved mummy to rise to the surface any second.

  2. I liked the poems very much, and I also agree with Don about the echoes of the old songs and with both about the readability of poetry (one reason why I like Longfellow). Leaving for Milan and Turin. I’ll be back on Tuesday. I might be able to type from my tablet but I don’t know. Ciao. Grazie for the good idea exchange.

    • I wish I were still writing as much! A lot of those go back to the 80s. I have a feeling that at some point when I stop seeing 4 and 5 people a day EVERY day and filling my head with their aches and pains, there’s going to be a breakout

      • Writing has its ups and downs. I stopped blogging for almost one year!

        I think you should continue to write poems. You are good: you’ve got music, concepts and word richness, and by doing things one usually gets better and better. Art consists of being a skilled artisan. My English for example is a bit better (I bloody hope). I can tell when I check my first posts of 2007. They are HORRIBLY written to the extent that I feel like pulling all my hair (which is no more btw). My Italian was (and still is) so …italiano plus I don’t have a style of my own and am just influenced by the authors I am reading at the moment of my writing.

        Why seeing people is bad? I don’t believe in isolation (though I tend to it).

        Try to find positive people, or, alternatively, try to help the negative ones, or both, OR, grab a hammer and smash everything 🙂

        • Oh, I often want to grab a hammer! After Sixteen Tons I listened over and over to the other side of the record — John Henry. Also I love Thor.

          It is just that when you talk to people about their little claustrophobic problems all day long, even if you like them and you are mainly there to fix their various pains, your brain can’t hear itself think. The echo noise goes on for hours even if you’re not conscious of thinking about your day. I wrote all the best of those poems at a time when I could be alone all day long a couple days a week. Now that only happens a few times a year when I take time off.

          I am solidly in line with you about artisanship. I think we lost a lot when art ceased to be a routinely traded commodity albeit with high standards — the Duke wants an organ piece every Sunday, the nobility want their portraits painted, the Senator from Tarentum wants a bust of his father to display in the peristyle.

          I used to practice singing sol’feggio every morning too, and now I just want my mind to be blank for as long as possible when I wake up and in the evenings before I go to sleep. I have become very tired of engaging with life.

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