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 Fimbulwinter. As 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
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.