Droighneach: Back on track

You have not changed: it’s me. I’ve been distracted
By events, become estranged from you: unlearning
All I knew and understood, my view refracted
Through dark prisms; all good things lost. But I’m returning.

I let myself be taken. Dumb and dutiful
I joined the fight. Chain yanked, cage shaken, I ignited;
Burned hot and strong awhile, but nothing beautiful
Formed in that flame; no song beguiled, no line delighted.

Please: show me all I’ve missed; the slow revolving
Of the seasons; days kissed by early snow, descending
Into winter’s night, rising to summer, dissolving
In fire and bright gold as the great wheel turns, unending.

By long ways round I stand back where my road divided.
A wrong turn? Perhaps: yet it showed my true endeavour
Is to be your voice, speak your truth. I have decided,
Made my choice. And so to work; today, and forever.

 
 

Continuing from yesterday’s post, I’m making a conscious return to the forms and themes I was exploring – and enjoying – before the events of 2016 and afterwards knocked me off course. I thought my duty as a writer was to join the war effort; but there are many, many others far better qualified who can make bigger and more meaningful contributions to those debates than I ever could. And it turns out I’m not a fighter anyway; it just makes me miserable.
One could argue (and I have told myself for years) that writing about the beauties of the world is pointless, frivolous and self-indulgent, when there is so much hard, real, dangerous stuff to deal with. But I’ve found that road, for me at least, leads nowhere good. It’s time to accept my purpose lies elsewhere and believe it has a value; somewhere, somehow.
Anyway. I felt the need to stretch my writing muscles again – and nothing stretches ’em like the droighneach. (Apart from the sestina, but that’s for another day.) I haven’t attempted this fiendish form for about five years, and now I know why: it is a refined and exquisite torment, made up of four-line stanzas (as many as you can stand) of nine to 13 syllables, with at least one cross-rhyme between the first and second line (eg long/wrong, road/showed) and third and fourth line (voice/choice) in each. Oh, and there’s the small matter of the ABAB rhyme scheme; AND that every line has to end on a three-syllable word. It was quite the tussle, and I’m still not sure who came out on top, but I feel SO much better for it! N.

Perfidy

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Storm gathers over Albion. The realm
Is riven and corrupted: reckless rogues
Have seized it for themselves, and sold it cheap
To unseen powers and shadows. We are lost.
Where now is Arthur, once and future king;
What of his pledge to rise again in days
Of dreadful need and peril, and return
With shining sword to save us from ourselves?
Let word go out to Avalon; a plea
For aid and comfort in these fractured times:
Shake off the sleep of centuries, and ride
To drive the rot and ruin from our land.
A land undone, of hope and truth bereft,
Where only myth and fantasy are left.

 
 
 

The myth of King Arthur’s messianic return to save England from dire distress first appeared in 1125AD (and it was an old tale even then) when it was set down by the Anglo-Norman historian William of Malmesbury. Despite there being no documentary, archaeological or other credible evidence that Arthur ever existed, the story and its prophecy remain potent; and if ever there was a moment when Rex quondam, rexque futurus was called for, it’s now. Plus, let’s face it: is the resurrection of a fictional 6th-Century monarch any more far-fetched, or less likely to happen, than the deluded fantasies our present so-called leaders are pursuing? N.

Cast away

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Build me a ship; bid it bear me away
Beneath a broad white sail, across the sea
To some far distant island with no name,
Then burn it on the strand, and let the wind
Swirl high the ashes, leave no trace behind.

No grief nor hesitation; I would leave
Soon as the tide allowed and not look back,
But will my vessel onward with all speed;
Or else condemn myself to live confined
By phantom walls weak, frightened men defined.

More cinquains

What fools
We were to think
The First would be the last:
Now April’s lunacy lives on
In May.

The flag
Will lose its blue
And then the red will fade
Till all we’ll have to hoist will be
The white.

Perhaps
When all of this
Is done we will look back
And say that it was right, and good.
Some hope.

Come back
You Viking hordes,
Dread knights of Normandy:
Your swords would wound less deeply than
These cuts.

So. Now
A Grendel stalks
Our land. Come, Beowulf:
Rise from the page and save us from
Ourselves.

With local elections this Thursday, and the hideous spectre of next month’s general election haunting the nation, I decided to cheer myself up with another round of cinquains, aimed at what now passes for democracy in these isles. Pleased to report that I’m feeling much better. As Sir Thomas More astutely noted: ‘The devil…that proud spirit…cannot endure to be mocked.’ N.

Rictameters

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Dusk

The day
Grows weary now,
Decides to call it quits
So draws the clouds across the sun
And shuffles into twilight. Blackbirds call
From treetops but it does not turn;
Just fades away and leaves
A lonely world
To night.

 

Hounded

Your race
Is not against
The clock; no pack or prize
Impels you. All you have to beat
Is deep pain, your own doubt, the wasted days.
Recharge the lightning in your limbs,
Relight your inner fire:
I long to see
You win.

 

Revisiting rictameter. The second poem is for my beloved but somewhat banged-up whippet, who’s three weeks into a month-long convalescence from surgery to secure his left shoulder, which he dislocated in a fall at the beginning of April. He should make a full recovery given rest and time, but it’s going to be a long, slow job. Thank goodness for pet insurance…N.

A quintet of cinquains

Night falls;
And one by one
The lights still left to us
Are doused. How long will we await
The dawn?

The birds
Have read the signs
In wind and earth and tree.
One day, we will wake up to find
They’re gone.

I walk
The flowered fields
And through the clean-clothed woods.
But where in all this life may I
Find hope?

The fire
Burns low, its light
Too faint to read, the flame
Too weak to warm my back; and soon
Goes out.

The herd
Moves slowly west
Into a great unknown
And who can tell us if they will
Return?

 
 

Today’s prosodic experiment is the cinquain. It’s quite similar to yesterday’s rictameter, in that it’s syllabic; the differences being that it’s five lines, not nine, made up of (respectively) one, two, three, four and one iambic feet. The final cinquain is inspired by the wonderful ‘slow TV’ documentary Reinflytting – minutt for minutt (literally ‘Reindeer migration – minute by minute’) currently showing live on Norwegian channel NRK. I shall try to write some more cheerful cinquains in due course, I promise. Just been one of those weeks. N.

Sonnet: Flight

 

I walked the woods, where Spring at last bestirred
Herself with bright abandon. All around
Bluebells and windflowers gleamed, and every bird
Rejoiced in lusty song. Then came the sound
Of angry scolding overhead: a coarse
And ragged band of brigands in full cry
As one by one, they swooped and swirled to force
The noble, broad-winged buzzard from their sky.
And thus when I, too, seek release in flight
Or silent solitude, the world’s dark woes
Rise up in loud pursuit, grant no respite
And crowd in, mobbing me like churlish crows.
How many years and miles before I find
A place to rest to my weary heart and mind?

 

 

Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary last Saturday has led to this sudden outbreak of sonnets; old and familiar ground, I know, but it’s still my favourite form to work with, and just feels right at this time of year. That said, spring is showing recidivist tendencies this week, with a bitter northerly pegging temperatures in single digits (C) and leaving the flowers  wondering if they’ve accidentally skipped a few pages in their diaries. N.

Doha

The frost hits late; a hard bright scattering of crushed stars;
A white fallen sky, lit by daffodil suns.

A slow-waking winter, gripped with sudden jealousy
Snatches back the earth from spring’s warm, outstretched hand.

I could rail, resentful, against this cold selfishness;
Point to all I have endured, hoped for, dreamed of.

Yet with this day’s unlooked-for sting comes a clarity:
A sharper sense of all that is, and might be.

 

Doha is an Indian metrical poetic form, with each stanza consisting of two lines, the first with 13 syllables and the second with 11.  In Hindi, there are specific stress patterns within the lines, but these are pretty much impossible to replicate in English. A true doha should also be a rhyming couplet, which I managed by the time I got to the fourth one! N.

Green shoots?

A run of bladed, jetstream-jagged days
Ends in a windless dusk. Bold blackbirds sing
Down in the wood; a pale rosewater haze
Makes paper cut-outs of the hills. Now spring
Has shown herself; a hope so long suppressed
By bitter blows and wicked weathers’ sting
Glows like the trembling sun that fires the west.
But do we dare set blossom, bud or flower
When still, at any time, the wind may turn
And rake us with its icy claws; an hour
Condemn a season’s patient growth to burn?
I’ll see the greenwood burst in leaf and then
Believe that winter will not bite again.

Sonnet: Do or die

I love the bike: the ride, the road, the air
Have been my life so long I can’t recall
A time I didn’t do this thing. What bare
And sterile days those must have been; so small
In scope, so tame and desk-soft: indoors skin
That never felt the rain’s lash, glowed like flame
From eight hours out in August. Can’t begin
To picture him, that stranger with my name.
So what should I do now, when every day
Brings ten fresh invitations to that dance
We all must do; how long until I lay
The losing card in this rigged game of chance?
I’ve reached a crossroads; asking whether I
Still need it all enough to want to die.