The twelve days and nights of Christmas (thirteen nights if you prefer) have played themselves out. Emotions are spent. Eyes open again as if waking from a great dream. Poets play their part. In my own way I’ve tried to keep perception and experience alive throughout this period: to be awake in sleep. The result is the following sequence of poems which I’ve conceived as a union, a Dreamsong (with acknowledgement to the Dreamsong of Olaf Asteson).
The experience is demanding. Essentially it takes place in the quiet of our own heart – but with echoes and soundings coming from others who also maintain a vigil. There is an internal logic or momentum in the sequence which operates on a variety of levels, extending upwards from the personal to the Spirit of the Times (at risk of sounding grand!). From the initial ‘Argument’ on Christmas Day, which sets out our starting-point, the poem moves to its first Premise, on St Stephen’s Day: a request from the Divine for reciprocality, for something to be returned by human beings. This is followed by Premise 2: examination or conscience. The subsequent stages are: review and exhortation, submission, assessment, ultimatum (on New Year’s Eve), union, quest, self-knowledge, surrender and, finally, initiation. This is my honest account of the inner twelve days of Christmas, as poetic experience – I don’t make any claims beyond that. (The fruit of the thirteenth night is represented by this presentation on the day of Epiphany, according to the Christian year. I’m following the pattern which seems right to me. I don’t want to be pedantic about when the true sequence of nights starts and ends – experiment and experience are the watchwords.)
Beyond this the reader must take his or her own steps. A variety of conversations and characters emerge from the sequence (Wind and Rain, Blackbird, Chaffinches, Angels, the Children of Earth, Swan and Maiden), which takes on an existence of its own quite apart from its creator. For anyone who feels a connection to these poems I would love to see further creativity arise. Paintings and music spring to mind. The images here are plentiful and open-ended.
For those who prefer the spoken word I’ve recorded the sequence in sound form below. (And, again, for any artists in speech who could do better than me I’d be glad to hear from you!)
We are here, we are expressed, we are
manifest, in the late afternoon
rainfall, when Christmas has cooled.
Who have signed their names to the new age?
none but the few whose brightness
is now, sheltered beneath the evening trees,
white as the light the first stars exposed
when darkness was creased from time’s folds.
St Stephen’s Day
The wind has picked this evening to debate
with rain if God is real. Abbeys
have fallen silent, altar candles spent.
Says rain, ‘If God were true his people
would pray with faces turned up to me.’
Says wind, ‘If God were truth his children
would fill their lungs with me and name it soul.’
‘He has left,’ drips rain, ‘He is gone,’ sighs wind,
and raising darkness high into the sky
they let it fall. But thinking they mistake
themselves they see a pair of eyes like stars
shining from the earth and at a distance
more and still more till the world’s bowl is full.
Then rain pours down in prayer and wind lifts up
its soul, while abbeys darken, candles spill.
Blackbird, truest friend of days which burn
with bejewelled fire, absorbs all color
in his black robes and pours them out in song.
Whose ears have conscience that they can hear?
The wormhole is so small and space is grand -
that jutting beak, those crowning flights of song
can pierce the densest silence, drag from God
praise for the lowest, the humblest. Whose ears
have tuned themselves to this that they can hear?
And once more wind is ghost of the year,
fecund apparition ripe in flowers
and fruit and half-remembered flavors.
It leans on rain’s companionable arm
and talks of empty earth, of colors drained.
Yes, resolutions crossed like swords this year
and all that they achieved was noise, cold noise.
The fruit and flower of love is first in time
and last to weary of the world’s pale face.
‘But dance with me, dear friend, beyond the moon -
before the clock chimes twelve there’s hearts to win!’
The secret of that blue tower of sky
is not the heartless space on its top floor
nor the gravelled earth landscaping its base
but inspiration it receives all night
from wind and rain who have no other home.
Their narrative is broader than a year,
they chart the rise and fall of human faith.
They are Time’s scarecrows, pinned to their cross
and working even when you think they’re still.
They will cast the lead of the New Year’s sky
and read its shapes: the blue, the grey, the strange.
But measure up your year in averages:
grey fields, cold with learning, against the ripe,
the wisdom-succulent harvestings.
And then there is the balance of the ka -
its fluctuating values held in thrall
by the pinion-light Feather of Truth.
Daily bread, eternal Word, gold and Gold, or,
in some esoteric way, self and Self.
Or must we measure by the good of souls
we’ve smiled at, raised up, comforted or cheered?
In those actions sifts a hidden partner,
gliding unaccountably through time.
To laugh at your absurdest destiny,
to know the sheltering Pinion casting light
in place of shadow, warmth for cold, trust for fear.
New Year’s Eve
There is no nugget of gold in the soul
except an angel brings it to his God.
Too many souls have lost the will to fly -
but earth is a mine: gold in every seam,
and has no other story left to tell.
This new year makes a ring around the world -
go forward to the wedding or stay back.
There is no more allowance made of time -
without its gold the earth is just a crust
with demons underneath, or so they say.
Many impossible things must be known:
belief is winged, make yourself come true.
New Year’s Day
Twin pairs of chaffinches danced down the lane
and pulled the sky’s blue veil over my head.
‘Will you be bride? Will you be groom?’ they sang
each to the other, and, ‘earth will be nest.’
All four together they lifted my arms
and clothed me in a robe of time, new-made.
‘The Ring is last, we swear to its true gold,’
and the band had been round the world with them.
‘Many will come, we know them all by name.’
Then four as one they slipped away through light -
if angels had walked there they’d look the same.
I searched through the night for the light of love
where it lay in the sky’s deepest blue;
the Swan and the Maiden, who dream awake,
took my heart’s red silk for their wings and sleeves.
‘Beyond the north, where the stars flash green,
you must go, and stand where snow flows with fire.’
‘How can I dream as you dream,’ I asked,
‘when the ice on sleep’s lake is so thin?’
‘Sing where you glide, the song first in time,
and the ice will be black and thick below.’
Then even as they spoke I knew the song,
with its words bright as wandering stars,
its music born in the deep start of time,
and I sang, and am singing still now
while I wake in fiery dreams of white snow.
Not the song but my singing grew old
and the ice on sleep’s lake cracked across.
Then I fell where the blackness conspired
to be first before singing or song.
How white was snow, how green the flashing stars
above my head, and red silk streamed away!
Now alone I will watch for the fire
that flowed from snow, that kindled my blood,
that has brightened the lake like a sun.
And love in its night of deepest blue
will fold light where the heart left its silk.
An uncounted bird fell by the roadside
but I counted it one of my own.
In death it slept with its wings outspread,
still standing as a perfect chaffinch should.
The world has stopped, the earth stood still
to leave this little bird its angel form.
How much more is my travelling heart
counted, that the world should stop for a bird?
And who sees the angel form in my lines
with its wings still beating in the sky?
So we fly together but fall alone -
is there no other word to end with?
My little bird, does your heart bleed for this,
or for death, or for never returning?
And I’d summon a great sleep of angels
if it could equal this last tiny word.
Yet there it is still, that only bird,
at my left ear and right, piercing the veils,
a red silk thread unwinding from its beak.
In this emptiness of angels a life
may be the last thing to fly on its own.
There is no returning and no more death,
but a pause in space where everything holds.
Best wishes, today,
©Jay Landar 2013. All rights reserved
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