A handful of poems I've written over the years.
‘Oh Tam Lin –
If I had known of this night’s deed
I would have torn out your two grey eyes
And put back in two eyes of tree.’
So said the faery queen that night on the road
when I quenched my love in the peat pool,
but that was not the end of it.
For winter nights, the Sithe shriek round the house,
calling down the chimney like a black wind
plucking the slates away: ‘Come back, Tam Lin!
You who gave a girl a rose from the briar bush!
The heart’s fire dwindles. Do you remember Elf-hame?
And my love, my love throws back the blanket,
and I grip his arm as I gripped the red-hot iron
in unflinching hands.
‘Tam Lin, can you bear to grow old?
Do you remember the land of young apples?
What have you lost? What have you gained, Tam Lin,
but aches and agues, toothlessness and death?’
howl the voices down the chimney.
They always bring a night of storm, and all
my paternosters cannot turn them away.
‘Come wind, come rain,
beat on this house until the lintels weep,
beat on this house until the candles quiver
and cold draughts whip under the door and blow
over the floor, cross currents of unease.
Let him feel mortal!’
I could bear all this.
Only, my youngest boy came in today,
with a rose in his hand. ‘Who gave you that?’ said I.
‘O mother,’ said he, ‘a lady in the brakes
of Carterhaugh. Her kirtle green as grass,
with silver chains that tinkled as she walked.’
‘Your son shall come with me, Janet,
In yon green hill to dwell.
Your son shall be my knight, Janet,
And he shall serve me well.
‘His eyes shall be of wood, Janet,
Cut from an alder tree,
And you may keep Tam Lin, Janet,
For he’s too old for me.’
It’s a cruel price.
I would rather have died in giving birth to him.
I would rather my love rose and went out to them.
Oh Queen of Fays –
If I had known of this day’s deed,
I would have let your knight, Tam Lin,ride down to Hell on his milk-white steed.
Copyright Katherine Langrish 2011
|Young Man Among Roses by Nicholas Hilliard|
Out from the pine forest stepped
the bowing yellow dwarf, and stopped the prince,
who - half despairing - told him everything.
If the bent woman, walking backwards, sets you
to sweep the green pins with an old owl's feather,
and call up storm clouds in the fine June weather,
and ride the yellow colt of your last nightmare -
what can you do but sigh and tell your story
to the first kindly stranger who has met you?
'Tell me,' the dwarf said, 'what of your princess?'
'Oh, turned into a brown thrush long ago
she sits and sings in a fine gilded cage,
and every spring she lays a pure blue egg,
which, hatched, displays a tiny golden crown.
That's why you see me wandering alone:
for hills of glass and plains of knives spring up
behind, and hinder me from turning back.'
'Where's your white horse? Your squire, young Constant Jack?'
'Jack used to fret me - always making speed.
He rode my white horse red towards the wars
a long time back. Today, I have no doubt,
sheep graze the fine new grass between their bones.'
'Ah?' said the dwarf. 'And so you're quite alone?'
'Alone. And burdened with confusing tasks.'
Then, pointing where the green ride ducked and dipped
to twist behind the dense pine barrier:
'Now,' said the dwarf, smiling, 'keep on till dark...'
Copyright Katherine Langrish 2011
|From 'The Water of Life' by Arthur Rackham|
NAMING THE KING OF THE FAIRIES
HOW TO GET OUT OF THE HILL
His fair face is so still and calm
You never would think he means you harm
If he sets his hand on the bridle-rein
Your horse will start away, away –
See! Full of crows the turning sky
As on the straight ley road you lie.
Under the hill the air is dark,
The smells are all of mould and clay,
He’ll show you where the dead men are,
And like a child, lead you away.
Young Roland blew his ox’s horn
To make the dark tower tumble down –
But here he stays with Helen and John:
They toss a gilded ball and play.
You and the dark young man look on
But never a word they say.
He leads you on, he leads you down
Until you come to great Troy Town.
The walls are low, not two feet high –
Along you dance, for you must try
To find the fountain in the dark
That wells up from the centre mark.
The mazing streets are not too wide
(sing sweetly in the dry, black air)
They press you in on either side –
You’re at the fountain, in the square.
The darkness snuffles like a mole.
You’ll never leave or find your home
If once you drink from that stone bowl,
But leaning on the fountain there
The dark young man will have you whole –
You’ll stay until your bones are bare.
He takes your wrist and on you go
To earthworm tunnels far below,
You taste the clay, you taste the marl,
Those fairy ferns are pressed in coal.
Now you’re in trouble, cold as fate
Shouldering the hill’s demanding weight.
Don’t lose your nerve or feel despair
If you want to be free in the windy air.
He’ll loose your hand and go away;
He’ll leave you cramped and buried here:
You’ll choke your life out far from day
If once you falter, weak from fear.
It’s breathless-black, you’re wrapped in earth
Your mouth is clogged, you dream of death…
Pull from his grip and think of birth!
Say, ‘King Arawn, I will not stay!’
He’ll lift you to his roof of turf