Winter King

I sent in a couple of pantoums to Three Drops from a Cauldron magazine. One of them will feature in the 2016 Winter Special, but this one missed the boat being a February poem. I’ll post it now while it’s still Brigid’s month.

Photo ©Frank Vassen

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Winter King stands before his hall,

Cold stars in his beard, ice in his breath,

Green shoots in the snow by the rath wall,

Robin sings loud, defying cold death.

 

Cold stars in his beard, ice in his breath,

Winter’s king claps his broad red hands,

Robin sings loud, defying cold death,

Night falls silent on Winter King’s lands.

 

Winter’s king claps his broad red hands,

Fire dies in the hearth so cold,

Night falls silent on Winter King’s lands,

No fire to blaze, no tales will be told.

 

Fire dies in the hearth so cold,

Across the fields she comes, she strides,

No fire to blaze, no tales will be told,

She comes from where the gentle hind hides.

 

Across the fields she comes, she strides,

With robin’s bright song she brings the spring,

She comes from where the gentle hind hides,

Snowdrops pierce and geese on the wing.

 

With robin’s bright song she brings the spring,

Winter king stands before his hall,

Snowdrops pierce and geese on the wing,

Green shoots in the snow by the rath wall.

 

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Fiery defender

Brigid is getting a real dusting off this year. The pic is more her spring mode.

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On a wintry hill, she stands,
Where waves of fire lap the snow.
Grinding her heel in the fire-soft mud,
Rivers rise from the cold snow source,
While deep within the sleeping earth,
Seeds stir, swelling in the sappy spring scents.
She raises an arm, steel bright,
Sword flashing, fiery defender,
With healing in her slender fingers.
The wind fans the flames that tangle her hair,
Breathes her name, winter fire over the snowy plain,
To fashion it on a thousand tongues,
And the reeds on the lake whisper the song she sings,
The song of the earth as it was,
As it is,
And as it always will be.

Brigid’s Day

Tradition honours this time of year, the mid point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, with a feast. The crone months are behind us and we look forward to the spring. The ewes are giving milk and we will not starve. Okay, the local supermarket is always well-stocked whatever the ewes are about, and the poor beasts in factory farms give meat and milk whatever the season. But it is still salutory to remember that there was a time when the changes in the seasons mattered, and when we looked to the snowfall for other reasons than to decide which ski resort to choose.

This is my thought for this day of Imolc, a short piece dedicated to Brigid.

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Brigid looked down from the hill at the snow thick in the vales, and the dark woods where wolves stalked. Her cloak, full of the fire of the sun, melted the snow at her feet, and it ran away in rills of bright water. She bathed her face in the water, and a spring rose from the place, sweet and clear.
These traces she left behind when she passed, slipping with the speed of a sunbeam and as brilliant, across the winter lands, drawing the cold and the hunger behind her, banishing it little by little. This was her role. Whose child she was she herself could not say, but the sun and the earth were in her blood, and that was enough for her to know.
The Crone months were passed, and she looked ahead to a future she could see but the world could not, when life would spring again in the dead branches of the trees and push through the damp earth. She raised a hand to stroke the bark of the rowan tree and felt the tree shudder, as the buds drew in the heat of the sun through her fingers.
She listened and heard the sound of the young animals bleating and lowing in the barns. She gathered up the winter illnesses in her burning arms, turning them to ash that she scattered in the fresh breeze. Sunlight blazed through the winter shadows and she smiled at the pleasure in the animal voices. There would be milk now, holy water white as the snow, life giving, long after the cold had gone and the snow slipped back into the earth.
On swift feet that blazed green across the hills, Brigid turned into the breeze from the mountains. At her passing, the vixen in her earth raised her nose to the sweet, soft promise of spring. In their hard sheaths, the tender buds stirred, and the outline of flower and leaf filled and fattened. Her flame burned high as she strode over the sleeping mountains to bring the hope of spring to the plains beyond.