CONCORD SOLSTICE ODE
Hail, divine darkness, gathered at the spoke
where all nature’s softness is stripped away,
and every branch bends beneath winter’s yoke,
seeming heavy and bleak, dreary and gray.
Yet winter, like kings, tests his subjects’ wills,
and bends them down in fealty to the ice;
those who will not like vassals ben, he breaks.
Still, evolution fears not winter’s chills,
but works hibernation in sleeping mice,
and sings trout to sleep beneath frozen lakes.
Magnolia grows petals within fir coats.
Sparrows take shelter together for warmth.
Black crows pick over fields of winter oats.
Owls delight in their longest working month.
And yes, mosquitos marshal their forces,
yellow jackets find refuge under bark.,
and bees in their hives aggregate their heat.
Deer ramble on frozen watercourses;
blue jay sings in the dimness before dark.
Under winter’s tyranny, life stays sweet.
From here on out, they’ll count daylight minutes,
watch by slow degrees midnight’s overthrow.
Snow-rimed coasts filled with plovers and gannets
still revise themselves to Moon’s undertow.
Winter yet shall reign, and govern by snow,
but Green prepares itself beneath the slush.
Blizzard bites hard, but relentless revolt
makes light’s return known in dawn’s salmon glow.
The changes of winter are no less lush
than those of springtime: Even Earth must molt.
This piece was not-quite commissioned by the Musketaquid Arts Center in Concord, MA. Their director is a friend of mine, and she wanted a solstice piece, and vaguely remembered I’d written this one last year:
Hail to thee, Night of Darkness Ascendant!
The sun flees the sky and leaves you the field,
solemn and old, depressed and repentant,
scattering the last of his evening gold.
Now come the days of the Lords of Misrule,
who turn all law and custom up-side down,
who make merry against the dying light.
So we praise the secret meaning of Yule,
when the red-suited prankster comes to town,
to make the poor rich, and dispense delight
though snow and the wolf-pack howl at the door.
Is there any more honest rebellion
than giving good to the weak and the poor
on a night of secret celebration?
And therefore the powers scream, Buy! Buy! Buy!
limiting with plastic the children’s gifts,
while adults fear the season’s debts creeping.
Yet Scriptures and tradition both deny
Caesar’s coinage, though our attention drifts:
In Ramallah, a mother’s voice, weeping.
Refocus us, O Holy Solstice Night,
and kindle a spark of change in my brain.
Redefine for us the meaning of light
for as long as winter darkness remain.
And redefine the darkness for me, too,
when right hand does not know the left hand’s deed,
whose gifts bring change no power can defer:
the sun’s gold returning, gleaming and new;
frankincense smoke, reflecting Spirit’s need;
transformation smeared with honey, and myrrh.
I think the new one is way better. The old one was a lot of me working out my frustrations with commercial Christmas… the new one is much less abstract and much more focused on nature, at least in terms of the iconography of earth, and concentrating on what’s really there. It also draws less on the iconology of Christmas both spiritual and commercial, and reflects the numerous ways in which I’m leaving Christianity behind.
(That said, parenthetically and slightly off topic, we met with a woman who’s a friend of Leah’s over the weekend in PMNH, an herbalist who runs the herb wing of a metaphysical store there, who freely admitted that she’s walking three spiritual paths — as a pagan, as a Judeo-Christian, and as a shaman, and that she treats all three with deep seriousness. On the one hand this seems like rank heresy [but why should I care about that?] or blasphemy [or that, either?], and yet within a pagan context it makes perfect sense. Why not acknowledge that within a pagan model, one can continue to celebrate Judaic or Christian heritage right alongside the Greek divinities and the Native totems? Why not? End of parenthetical, off-topic remark; we now return you to your regularly scheduled poetic rant.)
Your opinions may vary, of course, and I’d be deeply interested in what people thought of both poems. This is one of the advantages of writing poems connected with seasons, and writing in form… there’s a lot more chance to actually compare one poem with another, and see some of the issues the poet is working with. I think the poems also illustrate the versatility of the form. Both poems follow the same format — three verses, each having ten lines and rhyming ababcdecde — and both in theory following the model of rough iambic pentameter.