Barnes’ Owl in the Snow

(rhymes written after reading Simon Barnes’ blog post Barn owl in the snow)

Across the marsh, white passing over white 
the silent hunter flies then loses height  
descending to a favoured perch to stand 
and view with icy gaze an icy land 
Stray snowflakes catch my fancy, frivolous 
but never his; his hunt is serious. 

Across the marsh, white passing over white 
Outside the stables, freezing at the sight 
I let my busy, muck-filled spade fall still  
A thought occurs that gives a further thrill: 
this, and the pellet found the other day 
suggest the owls have come back here to stay! 

Across the marsh, white passing over white 
Fight on! Though cold Spring breeding left its blight 
The pellet, when with tweezers prised in two 
revealed the fine-boned relics of a shrew 
strange artefacts of Lilliputian size 
a fascinating wonder for young eyes. 

Across the marsh, white passing over white 
he signifies to me a world put right 
Will future generations ever know 
that world? To them, and our own souls we owe 
our best attempt to turn the tide around 
so nights then still awe-shiver at his sound. 

Across the marsh, white passing over white 
A treasured moment; may a poet write  
some verses that will eloquently share 
this plea and make the world more keenly care 
and feel, if all is lost, how dear the price. 
For now, the humble lines here must suffice. 

Rapture Remembered at Rest: The Rhyme of the Hungry Dawn Raver (spoken word)

With the coronavirus on the loose, I don’t see this as a time for fasting. As I understand it, although your immune system can come back stronger after a fast, while fasting it can temporarily be lowered – not ideal at the current time.

It might therefore be thought that this wouldn’t be the best time to post a recording of my poetical magnum opus about Hungry Dawn Raving. However, it’s worth remembering how for Wordsworth poetry was ’emotion recollected in tranquility’. Poetry has the power to bring feelings back to mind, and so really a time when you aren’t able to do Hungry Dawn Raving is actually rather a good time to listen to a poem about it. Poetry with regular meter – a balanced pattern of syllables in the lines and a regular stanza structure – inevitably has a well-measured, calm sense to it, even when it deals with intense emotion, and this suits the context of a tranquil recollection. In this case: rapture remembered at rest. You can think back with a smile to past HDR sessions, and you can also look ahead to a time when you’ll be able to do it again.

Of course, Hungry Dawn Raving, for practical reasons, being something you do shortly after waking and before breakfast, is a form of exercise taken close to home, usually, for me, in the kitchen after my morning coffee, as captured in the recently added final part of the poem – A demigod danced in my kitchen today. This type of exercising in a domestic setting certainly is relevant at the current time (I’m writing this from Lockdown in the UK). Dawn Raving, without the Hungry.

Here it is. Hope you like it.

To Chamomile – Video

To Chamomile – An Incantation

O soft enchantress of the candle glow,
   With gentle, caring fingertips caress
Our eyelids, with a stroke soothing and slow
  Dissolve our thoughts in sweet forgetfulness
Thou angel of the cup, kind Chamomile,
   Thy golden tisane, warming, wets the lip
We feel the face relax into a smile
   Then raise the cup and take another sip
But how’s the mixture made? First fill the pot
   And heat the water till the bubbles roar
      Then add your spoon of flowers and let steep
Until the liquid’s neither cool nor hot
   Now take your chosen cup and carefully pour
      The potion, and partake before you sleep.
  While drinking, say aloud or read this spell,
  Which calms you and by calming keeps you well.

A Delicate Dose of Delusion: Completing the Circle by Receiving Reciprocation

This blog has focused so far on sending out the gratitude you feel for the Universe, but I thought I’d look here at receiving the gratitude the Universe feels for you, because this is all part of the same thing – the circle of Grace, as represented by those three goddesses dancing in a circle. Receiving the concomitant reciprocation of likes from the Universe refills your creativity tanks ready for the next project. It genuinely is a circle because receiving the gratitude back will help you give better things going forward.

Now, you can’t force people to like your stuff, and that’s not what I’m going to focus on here. Rather, I’m going to be looking at hacking into the hardwired response we have in us that triggers the state of feeling liked.

When we meditate, we create a safe haven for the mind. In that space, because we’re focusing on what we’re thinking, we’re able to let go of thoughts we don’t want. This is what creates the safe haven. In Buddhist thought, meditation takes you into the Pure Land, imagined as a symmetrical, geometric mandala representing a fortress whose strong walls keep the forces of chaos outside. As you let go of thoughts that create stress, or which limit your self-image and dampen your mood, it’s natural that your mood will lift.

So meditation is already a safe-haven for self-image, and what I’m talking about here is just a more specific example of this. It’s amazing how tied up mood is with self-image, and it’s also surprising just how tied up human self-image tends to be with what other people think. We evolved that way, of course, to make society work. Think of the buzz you get when you’ve made something and people think it’s amazing. The Reward System gives you big treats in the form of considerably elevated mood. Think of the massive buzz popular musicians used to get when getting to the top of the hit parade back when that counted for something, i.e. when singles was a thing. Think of the uncontrollable smiles of the Beatles when they first met an audience that couldn’t’ contain how much they like them. This is my interpretation of the Simon and Garfunkel song Cecelia. St Cecelia is the patron saint of music, so when he’s down on his knees begging her to come home, or finding that someone else has taken his place, that means his songs aren’t doing so well. But when she comes back and he sings: “Jubilation, she loves me again, I fall on the floor and I’m laughing” – that’s the big buzz when the songs start doing well again.

But it’s your reward system that’s doing it. I’m not saying that there’s not also a transpersonal giving and receiving on the etheric planes – of course there is. But you are still the master of what hardwired response gets triggered. So why not hack into it? In an evolutionary tribal context, this treat is triggered because you’ve just made a good hut, or something like that. Grateful, congratulatory compliments from other tribe members trigger a response which feels great. We evolved to be like that because it made us into good hut builders, digging stick makers, spear makers, etc., all of which gave the evolutionary advantage. This of course is a potential added bonus for your gratitude odes, i.e. having created something good in the form of a poem, you might get some appreciative noises coming back to you, and this might trigger a further elevation of mood, beyond the expression of gratitude itself.

But what if, for whatever reason, such noises don’t come back? There’s any number of reasons why they might not. In the modern context where the made thing has become cultural, there are many different tastes and there’s a lot of subjectivity and most people are not time rich and the market place is flooded with competing attention grabbers including the media and shiny new electronic devices, and concentration spans are not what they were, and so on. You might write what you think is a great gratitude poem, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the World will reflect that, or even find a chance to give it the attention it needs.

Yet, it seems silly if you know it’s good that you don’t feed your own thoughts in as a replacement, hack the system, make the hardwired response work for you – create a safe haven for self-image. While the question for this book as a whole has been: “How can we harness the heavenly power of the ode?”, the question in this chapter is: “How can we activate a state that mimics the honeymoon period of success where the serotonin sluice gates are wide open?” The response may be ‘hardwired’ but the trigger is soft, because it’s mental, a perceived state of affairs. Anything that’s all-in-the-mind ought to be hackable.

Clearly a balance is needed here. We don’t want to suffer the ill effects of walking off into cloud cuckoo land. This balance can be reached with a little checklist. First, make sure you do actually think the thing is great yourself, and are not just pretending. Also, continue to pay some attention to feedback, but with a glass half full attitude, assuming the best where there is silence or ambiguity, and shrugging off criticism with generous assumptions along the lines of “they must be having a bad day.” Thirdly, avoid big-headedness by constantly cultivating a sense of deep gratitude about your success (external or internal).

This is what I’m interested in and working on at the time of writing and I have the feeling that the more I master this balance, the more I’ll have life licked.

So how can we tap into this? I’ve done a bit of experimenting and have had some positive results, so I thought I’d share a few suggestions. The surprise for me was that maintaining this feeling made me feel like being creative. It’s an addition to your meditation, in the form of a visualisation designed to trigger that feeling. But I want to make clear, and this is kind of crucial, that this is not ‘Creative Visualisation’ – you’re not visualising something that you want to happen in the future. The purpose of it is right in the present – to trigger the feeling. Then once it’s triggered, you’ll then shift your focus on to that feeling, and work out how to protect, maintain and amplify it, coming back to the visualisation as and when you need to if the feeling needs re-triggering. 

There’s lots of things you could visualise. A good tip is to apply the Buddhist principle of non-duality – dissolving barriers between self and other, so you can resonate with the feeling of successes embodied in all well made things, by transpersonal morphic resonance, a painting, a poem, a cathedral, a teapot – whatever. Image you’re the one up on stage with an appreciative crowd, not because you’re becoming a denizen of loony land, but just to get a sense of what it feels like, and then work out how to get that feeling just by willing it.

The visualisation doesn’t need to be excessive and you don’t have to be delusional for very long. You are going to be delusional here just for a bit, to get the ball rolling. A deliberately delivered delicate dose of delusion. This particular visualisation is designed to be used as part of the process of being a poet, and so it has that as a theme. You can use it when you’ve finished a poem and not yet started a new one.

I find this a good visualisation to do during an afternoon siesta – I’m not entirely sure why. What you’ll do is imagine yourself at the site of Delphi, but it’s all come back to life as it was in the Golden Age of Athens – the temples are all standing in all their glory. This was the site on the side of Mount Parnassus in Greece where there was a great temple of Apollo, the leader of the Muses, and where there were great poetry competitions every eight years. There was no higher honour for a poet. You’re going to image a scene like the one in Poussin’s painting Parnassus.

In this painting, Poussin depicted a poet receiving the highest of honours. Muses are gathered round, and one of them places a laurel wreath on his head, a mark of honour, as with the idea of a poet laureate – i.e. a poet wearing a laurel crown. Other poet laureates are gathered round, watching on with respect and admiration. The very god Apollo gives the poet a drink from a sacred golden vessel. This is at once a reward, a reciprocation for good work, as well as a draught of inspiration for future works, and the two are indeed closely linked. We can say it represents a refilling or a refuelling. It’s believed the figure being crowned in the painting was actually Poussin’s early patron, the poet Marino. So Poussin was mixing real people from his contemporary life with an image of gods and goddesses in Golden Age Greece, which sets a perfect precedent for us to do the same.

The idea, then, is that you are going to imagine yourself in such a scenario, as the one being crowned with laurel, and watching on you will imagine peers and other figures whose opinion you most respect, and those from whom you most crave recognition. For a bit of fun, you could even Photoshop yourself in Marino’s place, as I have done here:

Poussin’s The Laureate Coronation of William Glyn-Jones

If you’re the sort of person who complains that you’re “not very good at visualising things” then what I would recommend is simply that you focus on fleshing out the details, and ask yourself what might greet your senses. The trickling of the sacred spring, the smell of the incense, the sound of the cicadas, a warm breeze on the face, the Mediterranean sunshine on your skin, and so on. Somewhere a dove is cooing.    

There’s something else you can image here. You know how on Facebook where someone is streaming a video live and you see like and love emoticon symbols floating across the screen? You can image a shower of these cascading down over you, as I’ve shown in the above image. Not excessive amounts – but enough to trigger that feeling.

Once you notice the feeling – being liked, appreciated, your talent being recognised – now focus on maintaining and expanding it. If it drops away, what was the thought that just diminished it? Release that thought – let it drift away. Work out how to groove with this pleasant feeling. A groove is a repeating rhythm that’s fun to dance to. With the first few repetitions the groovy feeling is not very strong, but as it repeats it gets stronger. That’s the nature of getting into a groove. You want to work out how to do that with this feeling that you’ve triggered – staying with it that allows it to grow a little with each breath. 

If find yourself wanting to make the cascade of like emoticons excessive, it could be a sign of an insecurity you’re trying to overcompensate for. If so, root that out and heal it, release the repressed emotion and move on, let it go, because this isn’t about big-headedness; it’s just about maintaining a natural cycle of flow that helps you continue being creative. Just a trickle of likes should be enough.

At the end of a session like this, see yourself getting a badge or certificate or some such to signify that you are now able to self like. Then in your day to day life if you find your mood dipping in response to perceived criticism, remember this certificate, and remember the feeling.

The Quest for the Cygnet of Troy: The Duckling wasn’t ugly – She just needed a makeover

When we produce cultural works that we intend to be ‘classical’, one way to judge how successful they are is just to look at the degree to which they invoke a classical vibe. This vibe itself is something most people have probably sensed as some time, with varying degrees of subtlety. It’s not the only vibe of value, of course, but it feels uplifting and has a beautiful ambiance to it that seems to resonate back across the centuries, an aura that is rich and refined, and it provides a haven away from chaos and modernity.

If we take the classical vibe as the underlying aim, we have the basis for an exploration of questions about the necessary constituents for new classical works that we might want to produce, such as poems. How important is meter and how import is matter? In other words, is it all about structure and the flowers of rhetoric, or do we also need to draw from Greek mythology to create the best type of classical vibe? Do classical approaches to meter work when used in non-classical languages and does Greek mythology still have the resonance in other times and places that it had in Ancient Greece itself?

That meter is an effective tool in English should not be in doubt, but it’s interesting to recall that an experiment took place to reach this conclusion. The most natural way to write poetry in Anglo-Saxon was not based in the syllable-count type of metrical organisation; conversely, it allowed for quite a few syllables to be squeezed in, as long as there were a
certain number of stresses per line. When we started writing poetry that took a more syllable orientated approach, as per ancient Greek, it was quite a brave experiment. But it worked. You could argue that the result was Greeker than the Greeks, because the measured feel stood out clearly precisely because it was so clearly set apart from normal speech. It felt different, and that turned out to be a good thing in many cases.

So much for meter. But what about matter? I’ve always had a fondness for Greek mythology, but when I started travelling round Greece, and visiting the places that feature in the mythology, it went to a whole different level. I realised that there is a particular resonance that comes when these myths are at home, in the climate and flora and fauna and landscape of the Mediterranean, as well as something even more subtle and metaphysical to do with memory and tradition and mythologised landscapes… local dreamtime.

Based on such experiences I would argue that you can certainly use Greek mythology if you want to and if it feels right, but that there is a yet more resonant Holy Grail to be sought that takes local culture and landscape more sensitively into account.

A few years ago I became fascinated by the title and sub-title of a book by Barbara Hand-Clow: Signet of Atlantis: War in Heaven Bypass. The author claimed that she had channeled
this title – heard it from a voice booming in her head. A signet ring is a token of identity, and in the context of Atlantis is also refers to the concentric rings described by Plato. But I became interested in further layers of meaning that come from considering the subtitle too, War in Heaven Bypass. The title as a whole clearly meant this: to end the war in heaven, you need to find the signet of Atlantis.

I experienced a moment of shivers as an intriguing interpretation came to me, causing me to fancy that I had uncovered a meaning to this ‘channeled’ title that Barbara herself had not been aware of.  What is the war in heaven? The knee jerk response might be the one in Revelations, but that wasn’t where my intuitions lead me. It wouldn’t be the war between the gods and the giants either, as that was a war between Earth and Heaven, not a war in heaven. It must have been a rift between the gods. It had to be the Trojan War. And Barbara heard the
title – she didn’t see it written, so “signet” could easily be a pun. It could refer to identity and heritage (the signet ring) while also being “cygnet” – a child swan. After all, the cause of the Trojan War was the abdication of Helen – who was born from a swan’s egg. She was the cygnet. If the Trojan Prince Paris had found a Trojan swan maiden rather than stealing the Greek one, the war would have been bypassed. And here the story of the Ugly Duckling suddenly becomes highly relevant, a part of the picture. Ugly ducklings turn into beautiful swans. Paris chosen Helen because she seemed more beautiful, just as Greek mythology seems particularly magical and beautiful, but really this is just because She had fantastic make up artists who knew their stuff: the poets, artists, sculptors, playwrights, architects and so on. If your local mythology seems like an ugly duckling at the moment, just wait until it is transformed in the same way into a beautiful swan! The walls of Troy were said to have been built by Poseidon himself, which creates an association with Atlantis, the central citadel of which, with its rings, was likewise founded by the sea god. 

Atlantis itself has various meanings depending on your personal situation. If you are American, then you’ll be thinking of the great continent in the Atlantic ocean that Plato describes. If you’re British, or the culture of your family goes back to British roots, you will likewise be thinking of Atlantis as an Island in the Atlantic. Either way, the idea is clear: if you can find your own, local, ‘Atlantean’ equivalent of Helen, rather than stealing the Greek Helen, then you will have found the way to bypass the war in heaven. For the purposes of the current analogy, Atlantis is any non-Greek culture that seeks displace its own mythology with that of another culture, due to that other cultures’s mythology having already been beautified by means of classical structuring techniques such as rhetoric and poetic meter. The abduction of Helen followed on from Paris giving the apple to Aphrodite and, in the process, spurning Athena and Hera. In other words, he chose surface beauty over Skill/Wisdom (Athena) and Marriage / Tradition / Law / Family / Loyalty (Hera).  Helen is a kind of mortal stand in for Aphrodite, and choosing to have the affair with the foreign queen who was already married was indeed neither wise nor respectful of the institution of marriage. It was an allegorical myth from the start.

And so Helen here could also be a pun. Helen = Hellenic culture. Paris is a philhellene. He’s that Renaissance artist who is enamored by the beauty of Greek culture, but doesn’t realise that this beauty is actually the result not of the matter, but of the skill of the artists, the
time honored traditions handed down from poet to poet, and an honoring of local tradition. The Greek poets were resonating with the myths imprinted into the very landscape in which they lived. A straight abduction of Helen, displacing your own indigenous mythic matter, will not be as successful in invoking the classical vibe as working with local matter, but doing so using the same approach that the ancient poets used, the same attention to form, and
meter, and the time-proven devices of rhetoric.

All this was just theory still, at this stage. To find out whether there was any truth in it, it was obvious what I had to do. I had to have a go at taking a local myth and giving it the classical treatment. Trouble is, first you have to know what that treatment consists of. Then you have to find a suitable story to which to apply this treatment. Initially I homed in on the Irish story of Aengus and Caer, for two reasons. Firstly, of all the Celtic myths I could think of, this one seemed to be inherently the most beautiful, the least brutal and violent and brash. It seemed ideal for classical treatment, especially as the theme of animal metamorphosis had a lot in common with Greek myths. Secondly, I found what I took to be a sign, a good omen. The heroine of the story was indeed a swan-maiden. Every other year she returned to a certain lake and turned into a swan. The hero at a key moment had to pick her out from a whole lake full of swans, and managed to do so because of a gold ring round her neck – just like me picking out the Cygnet/Signet of Atlantis from the body of Celtic myth. (I’m getting those shivers again even now, over decade later, as I recall this train of logic.)

However, my first experiment was somewhat inconclusive. This was a number of years ago and I hadn’t really matured as a poet. I didn’t have a fully appreciation of what the classical treatment consists of. All I did was write up the narrative in heroic couplets, rhyming pairs of iambic pentameter. Just getting the story across within those limits seemed like challenge enough at that time, without bothering to aim for the lofty heights of great poetry. These couplets are both easy to write and to read, which is why they are often chosen to relay long narratives. It’s really only a small step up from a simple narrative. If you’re going to the pub you might change out of your joggers into some clean jeans. That’s basic, unadorned heroic couplets. But if you’re going to the ball, well then you really want to dress in your finest. That’s a Sonnet decked in rhetorical flowers, a lofty English Ode of the Pindaric tradition. It’s not hard to rattle off couplets of iambic pentameter without producing any truly great memorable lines. What was needed was a few real jewels. In a way, the problem was that I had been too ambitious in the quantity of narrative I wanted to take on. Actually, it didn’t need to tell the whole story. It could refer, as Pindar does, to a brief episode, but it must do so through some very carefully crafted and finely honed lines with  lofty language and vividness of image. Also, Ireland might have been closer to home, but it was still, for me, a borrowed culture.

More recently, I finally got round to taking the experiment further along these lines and this time the result, for me, confirmed the theory. Reading back the completed poem, it did give me a sense of a rich, resonant, magical and beautiful classical vibe – not exactly the same vibe as for the Greek tradition, but an equivalent.

The poem’s structure was more sophisticated than simple couplets. It was an ode, with three stanzas all having the same structure, with some lines having six stresses, some five, some four – and the rhyming structure was also more sophisticated than the simple A, A, B, B, but all this was done as part of a balanced plan. The imagery and language was also more carefully considered. And the matter was closer to home. It treated a Welsh myth. I live in England, but not so far form the border with Wales, and Welsh and English ancestry is very intermixed, plus Welsh culture is the descendant of pre-Anglo-Saxon British culture. In any case, it’s on the same island, at least, the same landmass. The maiden this time was Branwen, but even here there is a line of logic that can be traced that makes her a swan maiden. She was a child of the god Lir, while in an Irish myth Lir’s children were transformed into swans.

The positive result of this experiment has caused me to now consider that the theory that precipitated out of the mystery or the Quest for the Signet of Atlantis / Cygnet of Troy is correct after all, although of course not in the hyperbolic terms of the mythology. Writing poems that draw on Greek mythic matter is not actually going to cause a war in heaven, but it might cause an imbalance equivalent to the allegorical argument between the three goddesses over who should have the apple. And applying the full classical treatment to local mythology is not going to be the ultimate panacea for all the World’s problems, but I do feel that, for me at least, it opens a new door, leading to a new vista of possibilities for creativity and the classical vibe. There’s any number of indigenous myths around the World that could receive such a treatment without any sense of colonialism.

Oh and by the way, this is the poem I mentioned, the second and, to me, more successful experiment:

Gloom Breaker – an ode on the tale of the heart-healing
power of the songs of the birds of Rhiannon

I

At dim-lit dawn on Platform 1 in sombre throng 
we stand forlorn in flat, sense-numb routine 
until from trackside trees bright breaks the redbreast song: 
clear, lucent water in a crystal stream 
We tend to think that we’ll not hear 
such music at this time of year 
yet chiffchaff, thrush and finch brave Winter’s squall 
Untensing, in my mental eye 
I spread my wings; I rise and fly 
upon the soothing sound set free, and then recall 

II

how Branwen’s hope lay likewise in her feathered friend 
as she in miniature set down her news: 
‘Come soon! I, Queen of Eire am by brute force detained 
Your sister, Bran, they torture and abuse’ 
She ring-wise rolls her chosen words 
and gently takes the docile bird’s 
frail form and round a tiny leg she ties 
the note. A kiss, to wish it well 
then through the window of her cell 
releases it and skyward, swift the starling flies 

III

It lands, it sings, they read, they sail, but sail in vain: 
A fire claims her child – she can’t but grieve  
and though Bran’s fleet a wood had seemed upon the main 
Just queen and seven soldiers live to leave  
Eleven leagues from their departure 
Branwen dies of broken heart. 
So on in gravest grief the Seven sail  
Yet, over the ensuing years 
they’re healed in Harlech, through their tears 
like me – by bird and bard: sweet song and well-wrought tale.  

Three Poems for Burns Night

Address to a Feast of Burns

A dreary gloom’s hangs o’er the town
For Christmas tinsel’s taken down
But Spring’s not yet put on her gown
Of finery
Dark Winter still retains his crown
In January.

So at this time what we desire
Is merriment and warming fire
With blazing logs heaped higher and higher
And hearty food
These are the things that we require
To raise our mood.

And so we’d do well to embrace
Cold January’s one saving grace
The meal that Scots folk love to taste
Where all take turns
Hot haggis with strong whisky laced:
The Feast of Burns.

And by this feast that they hold dear
A second burst of festive cheer
Lights up the dark part of the year
To warm the heart
So call the piper here
And let it start!

The Beast of Dumgilly

In the deep dingly dells of Dumgilly
Where the mists saunter up from the sea
Blown by winds that can be a touch chilly
Stands the Castle of Bonnie King Willy
By a loch that’s as deep as can be (Oh and
anyone whose able, off we
go to find some find some thistle for the
table)

Now each year a great haggis is made
On the day of the Haggis Night feast
And then into the loch they all wade
As a tune on the bagpipes is played
To call out of the water a beast (Oh and
anyone whose able, off we
go to find some find some thistle for the
table)

Then deep down in the loch’s murky green
Something wakes from its sleep in a cave
First the surface stays still, nothing’s seen
Then a ripple will break through the sheen
Which grows bigger, becoming a wave (Oh and
anyone whose able, off we
go to find some find some thistle for the
table)

Up he comes from the far off loch floor
Swimming straight to the source of the sound
Till he comes to a stop at the shore
Where he lets out a monsterry roar
Shakes his fins, says hello, looks around (Oh and
anyone whose able, off we
go to find some find some thistle for the
table)

Now the people aren’t scared of this meeting
For they know he’s not one for a fight
They just calmly return his warm greeting
Then he puts on a bib and starts eating
And my word! How he loves every bite! (Oh and
anyone whose able, off we
go to find some find some thistle for the
table)

But one year as they carried this gift
An old wheel on their cart broke in two
There was no other way they could lift
Up the sausage which made them quite miffed
Cause they just couldn’t think what to do (Oh and
anyone whose able, off we
go to find some find some thistle for the
table)

Then at last the wise king of Dumgilly
Who I think that I mentioned before
(If I didn’t, his name is King Willy
And his kilt is quite famously frilly)
Now this chap quickly raced to the shore (Oh and
anyone whose able, off we
go to find some find some thistle for the
table)

“We’ve got plenty of room in our hall,”
Bonnie Willy called out to the beast
“So don’t worry about being tall
You’re most welcome to come join us all
And take part in our Haggis Night Feast.” (Oh and
anyone whose able, off we
go to find some find some thistle for the
table)

So each year the loch monster now sits
In the hall feeling less and less shy
And still over the Moon that he fits
And in fact he’s just tickled to bits
To have friends and be cozy and dry. (Oh and
anyone whose able, off we
go to find some find some thistle for the
table)

The Festive Flame

Piping Goat-Pan’s* stars** now frame
The Sun,*** and so it’s time again
To sing of that great Festive Flame
          With cheering glow
How Piping Pan the flame reclaims
          And routs the foe

When scarcely passed was Yule’s twelfth night
The winter giants, waxed in might,
From Jotenheim, their home, took flight
           And swiftly came
To steal from human sight
           the Festive Flame.

Their general was Despondency
Then came Despair and with him he
Brought Boredom and Mundanity
         And many more
They came against all human glee
         To wage their war.


Our hearts to them were held in thrall
And drear and sickly was the pall
That billowed darkly over all
         Of Midgard’s plain
So Thor from Asgard gave the call:
         “Let gloom be slain!”

He takes his hammer in his hand
And leads his mighty hero band
They track and chase from land to land
          For three long weeks
At last before their foes they stand and
          Thor now speaks:

‘Give up to us the Festive Flame
This thing alone we’re here to claim
We will return wither we came
         And go in peace
Now end this little game;
         the flame release!’

This was met with blank defiance
From the icy-hearted giants
It was Thor who broke the silence
         With request
To gods to form alliance
         ‘Gainst this pest.

In answer Bacchus brought his crew
With Pan, who on the bagpipes blew,
And Hestia, the goddess who
       Makes hearth-fires glow
And Fast and Feast and Dance as well
       Were brought in tow.

Arriving on his festive float
His ‘Car Naval’, his chariot boat
Came Bacchus, drawn by Pan’s shrill note
          In flowers decked
The giants’ defensive line he smote
          And rear guard wrecked

Hear Bacchus’ donkey loudly bray
As now the god rides to the fray
And sends a fiery whiskey spray
           Into their eyes
The giants for their evil pay
            With painful cries

Pan’s drone and chanter intertwined
To hypnotise the baser mind
But freed the one of higher kind
                  So in that brood
Of giants it spread panic blind
                  But raised our mood.

And as the pipes’ loud skirl flew round
The giants fell upon the ground
And loudly did the Earth resound           
              As down they fell
The pipes for us were heaven’s sound
              For them: death’s knell.

And on the fire fresh wood was thrown
And in the heart new hope was sown
And from the jug of polished stone
                Wine filled the bowl
And wildly were the bagpipes blown
                To cheer the soul

And still the ever-building drone
The timeless, blazing monotone
From out the leather bag, well-sewn
                Cast this fierce charm:
“On giants bring down moan and groan  
                On men, no harm.”

As cheering flames the hall pervade
The brutes retreat, regret their raid
Our captive human hearts now fade
                from their control
And still the piper’s notes cascade
                to cheer the soul.

And so the Festive Flame burned bright
Through Thorablot and Haggis Night
And Carnaval and burned on right
         Through Pancake Day
The Winter Giants’ blight
         Was kept at bay.

* The technical term for the double-reed mouthpiece of the double-piped Ancient Greek aulos was syrinx (“reed”) and it seems that, since Pan was often depicted playing the double aulos pipe, the mythic theme of Pan with his syrinx (the nymph who, when chased by Pan, turned to a clump of reeds which Pan then cut and used to make a musical instrument) at some point referred not to a set of Panpipes (hollow reeds), but to the mouthpiece of the aulos. The double reed is also the type of mouthpiece used in bagpipes, and indeed the aulos with its double pipe sounded much like the bagpipe. So here we have Pan as the god of the bagpipes. See also the following note on the instrument Pan/Capricorn invented and used to spread panic among the Titans, causing them to flee. Hence here we have the bagpipes similarly causing the giants to retreat.

** A standard member of Dionysos’ retinue, and one present early on in Greek material, is Pan, or Aigipan: ‘Goat Pan’. Goat-legged Pan is in the retinue in the mosaic of the fifth century B.C.E. Villa of Good Fortune, Olynthus, and in Euripides’ Bacchae, and in later iconographical examples such as the Triumph of Bacchus and the Seasons sarcophagus in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the mural from the tomb near Ostia now in the Archaeological Museum, Ostia. We have explicit Roman and earlier Greek testimony to this figure being represented in the stars by the constellation of Capricorn. Hyginus (b.64B.C.E.) wrote (Poet. Astr2.28) that ‘Capricorn’s appearance is very similar to that of Aigipan.’ He goes further: ‘Pan reportedly jumped into the river, changed his hind parts into a fish, and the rest of his body into a goat… Jupiter, admiring Pan’s ruse, placed that image among the stars.’ Going back to the earlier Eratosthenes Constellations text (what we have is Pseudo-Eratosthenes’ first century C.E. epitome of a lost original attributed to Eratosthenes) we find the same idea. ‘Aegoceros [Capricorn] is similar in appearance to Aegipan…. Aegoceros is thought to have invented the trumpet which is called Panicus…. the sound of his trumpet caused the Titans to flee…[so]…after he assumed power, Zeus placed Aegocerus among the stars.’ It was, of course, really Pan himself who invented panic.

*** The constellations have moved on from the positions they held when astrology was formulated, so whilst originally the Sun moved into Capricorn towards the end of December around the time of the Saturnalia festival, now it enters that constellation towards the end of the January. In fact, it currently moves into the Goat-Pan constellation just a few days before Burns Night. See for example http://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/dates-of-suns-entry-into-each-constellation-of-the-zodiac

The Mystic Revel Fades – As Sapphic Ballad

I’ve tweaked the stanza structure of The Mystic Revel Fades, to what I call a Sapphic Ballad.

The Mystic Revel Fades – A Sapphic Ballad

But Farewell sweet Terpsichore
our twilight hour has passed
And I must end my dancing now
and end my fast

For matters of the day now call me
back across the sea
But I will not forget the hour
I danced with thee

For one full day we kept the fast
with fragrant herbal tea
Thin soup of vegetables, fresh verdant
greenery

Well-slept, we woke and rose in bright
anticipating mood
And then the rich, dark roasted bean
in water brewed

And so in pure and foodless joy
we joined the maenads’ dance
From out the eastern heaven came
ecstatic trance

As Rose-Dawn flushed the marbles
of the three-fold goddess Grace
(Giving, Getting, Giving Back 
in one embrace)

We wove our steps around them
on the flow’ry dancing floor
Giving back by sending out 
our mystic awe

So farewell Fields Elysian
how lightly we did tread
In circles round the dance-ground of
the Blessed Dead!

While fed on beauty only 
how we circled hand in hand!
But now I’m called by business in
the mortals’ land.

So farewell sweet Terpsichore
until some other day
For I must pull my hand back now
and turn away

I’m sad to break the circle but
The Ferry Man is calling
Alas, the time has passed for me
to keep on stalling

The echoes of the Revel fade
to soft and softer strain
‘Though I must sail away I soon
will come again

And Farewell fair Persephone
it won’t be long to wait
Till down Sacred Way I walk
and through the gate

Where opens up the holy view
as mental curtains part
And once again Soul-shocking beauty
floods the heart

The time between is short before
this very week is past
I once again will burn dull sloth
with cleansing fast

And then, well-rested, rise and rave
dream-healed, in Twilight’s space
By thy sweet lyre entranced, O Muse,
in state of grace.

This dawn dance is a treasure that
I’ll cherish with the rest
But now it’s time to leave these Islands
of the Bless’d.

So farewell to the meadows where
our steps the wild thyme pressed
And farewell to the grasses that
our shins caressed

And farewell to those shorelines kissed
by Zephyr from the West
For now it’s time to leave these Islands
of the Bless’d

So farewell sweet Terpsichore
our twilight hour has passed
And I must end my dancing now
and end my fast

For matters of the day now call me
back across the sea
But I will not forget the hour
I danced with thee

Introducing the Gratilude

A recurring theme in the Glory of Glad has been the way Odes can reframe things in a dignified manner. The idea I’ve been reiterating is that while you could just keep a basic gratitude journal to raise mood, if you really feel glad about something, why not show that it really matters to you by writing something far more dignified – a full blown Ode.?

But there will be draw back if this is all you do. Why? Because it’s likely to be consistently serious. The whole point of what we’re doing here is to raise mood by practicing gratitude. The self-image of the serious poet has become rather infused with the picture of the suffering artist, condemned by their nature to sink from time to time into the miserable, maudlin depths of gloom. To have an ongoing good mood, on the other hand, it is obviously vital to be able to lighten up, to see the funny side.

Yes, we want to harness the power of the heavenly ode; no, we don’t want to become po faced.

So I’ve come up with a solution, one that is a lot of fun and which will only expand your options for expressing gratitude. You see, one of the things that’s been found about keeping a gratitude journal is that it doesn’t matter hugely what you express gratitude for, as long as you express gratitude for something. It is the act of expressing gratitude that raises mood. Enter the Gratilude ( “gratitude” + “interlude”.) After a few serious odes, stick in a Gratilude to lighten things up. Gratiludes are short, and easy to compose, and give you the chance, therefore, to quickly bump up the number of things you’re expressing thanks for in your journal, while simultaneously lightening the mood after your more lofty odes. This really is the final ingredient that makes the whole recipe zing. Here’s one:-

To a Doily (A Gratilude)

What a marvellous thing is a doily!
What a wonderful thing to possess!
How divine to be able
To fling on the table
The essence of delicateness!

Gratiludes, therefore, are little, light-hearted poems, almost like limericks. They still express gratitude for something, but in a more frivolous way. They’ll tend to take a mere material object as their theme. They might be partly tongue in cheek – a bit of a parody of a proper ode. They don’t have to be side-splittingly hilarious, though, because comedy is not their sole purpose – they are still, at the end of the day, gratitude poems, they’re just not so weighty.

Here’s another example. Some more follow lower down.

To a Tea Cosy

O Tea Cosy! Tea Cosy! Tea Cosy!
What endeavour could ever be finer
Than, as if it did live,
To most gallantly give
A warm coat to your favourite china?

A lead here comes from the theatrical Dionysia festival of ancient Athens. Even before the Athenians began including full blown comedies as well as the tragedies in the Dionysia, already they had the satyr plays. Each playwright would put on one satyr play and three serious performances. These satyr plays provided comic relief, and were full of bawdy fun, satire and general merriment. The Gratilude is very much like the satyr play – a short interlude for light relief. If we go with the same 3 : 1 ratio as for the satyr plays, then with as few as, say, five short gratiludes, you have enough to cover a full fifteen lofty odes, and believe me a Gratilude doesn’t take long to write. Here’s another:

To a Bed

Oh how grand are clean duvets and sheets
On a well-made and comfortable mattress!
Yes it has to be said
What a boon is a bed
And big pillows all plumped up with fatness

Does this mean your journal will be pulling in two directions at once? Not at all. We’re not talking about undermining that sense of dignity we’ve been establishing with our odes; we’re just talking about introducing a lightness and fluidity and adding another string to the bow. The very act of dignifying ourselves reminds us that we deserve good things, and laughter itself truly is one of life’s good things. Here’s another Gratilude:

To Galoshes

What ecstatical things are galoshes!
(The name that we call’em, I mean)
It’s half “gallop” / half “slosh”,
Oh my word! Oh my gosh!
The whole concept is just such a dream!

11) Lightening the Load of Your Odes : Embracing the Gifts of Thalia

A theme in the Glory of Glad has been the way Odes reframe things in a dignified manner. You could just keep a basic gratitude journal, but if you really feel glad about something, to show that it really matters to you, you can write something far more dignified – a full blown Ode. However, I would also recommend that you include some interspersing comic or at least lighthearted poems in the journal. Why? Partly, just for balance. It doesn’t do to take ourselves too seriously. But also because the very act of dignifying ourselves reminds us that we deserve good things, and laughter truly is one of life’s good things.

So far I’ve equated odes with the ancient initiation mysteries of Eleusis – both celebrated divine gifts and conferred dignity on humans. Restoration of the dignity that the Soul deserves requires depth of emotion. How can you truly remember the Soul’s dignity if you cannot FEEL the falseness of the indignities which obscure it? Perhaps that is why we talk about Soul searching. Those somber emotions are part of our search for the dignity that the Soul is due. To the ancient Greeks, tragedy was an art form that allowed such Soul searching. The myth upon which the Mysteries were based was not ultimately tragic – in fact it had a very happy conclusion – but this triumph, akin to finding the Soul – came after a temporarily tragic incident: Demeter lost her daughter to the land of the dead. As well as fasting, the initiates of the mysteries observed or perhaps took part in a re-enactment of this temporarily tragic story. Tragedy and fasting in the Greek mind had a similar purpose, catharsis, in other words purification. An emotional engagement with the story of Demeter sitting at the well grieving over the loss of her daughter allowed a group catharsis to take place which would ultimately lead to the euphoric climax when Demeter and Persephone were reunited. This purification was seen as a cleansing which had to take place in order that the individual might be fit to pass through the gate to the Elysian Fields. Plunging into the depths of such emotions was part of the initiation, just as you had to pass through the dark Underworld to reach the Elysian Fields.

But this plunge into deep and somber emotions wasn’t the full story of the Mysteries nor of Greek culture in general. In the Greek theatres Tragedy was paired with Comedy, with even the gods not immune to being figures of fun; the comic even formed a part of the Eleusis Mysteries; in Homeric epic the gods themselves managed the odd quip, and comedy itself was represented among the divine Muses.

Let me flesh that out. Firstly, let’s look at the presence of comedy in the Mysteries. The myth underlying the Eleusis festival was that of Demeter’s daughter Persphone being taken into but later returning from the Underworld, the land of the dead. The most official form of this myth was given in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter. This includes an episode that took place while Demeter was in the Eleusis:

For a long time she sat on the stool, without uttering a sound, in her sadness.
And she made no approach, either by word or by gesture, to anyone.
Unsmiling, not partaking of food or drink,
She sat there, wasting away with yearning for her daughter with the low-slung girdle,
Until Iambê, the one who knows what is dear and what is not, started making fun.
Making many jokes, she turned the Holy Lady’s disposition in another direction,
Making her smile and laugh and have a merry thûmos [spiritedness]
Ever since, she [Iambê] has been pleasing her [Demeter] with the sacred rites.

That last line is a reference to the Mocking Jests. At a certain spot while walking along the Sacred Way to Eleusis the initiates shouted obscenities in memory of when Iambe made Demeter smile.

Of course comedies were performed at the Theatre of Dionysos in Athens as part of the celebrations of the Great Dionysia festival. In Aristophanes’ brilliant comedy the Frogs we find such refreshing elements as Dionysos himself being a figure of fun, and jokes that laugh in the face of death, and even a mock procession of the Elysian Initiates.

Dionysos wants to bring a poet back from the land of the dead, and he asks Herakles the best way to get there. Heracles describes a route that goes past a great river of dung, in which those who were evil wrong doers while alive are flounder, but to the list is added those who have “quoted a speech of Morsimus.” Morsimus was a playwright of whom Aristophanes was obviously not a big fan. Not a real reason to wallow in filth in the Underworld for all eternity – this is added as a joke – a comic aside which still seems thoroughly modern. Although we might not know of Morsimus, we can easily imagine substituting some other mild irritation to make the same joke. Having passed this, says Heracles, you will come to the Elysian Fields:

And next the breath of flutes will float around you,
And glorious sunshine, such as ours, you’ll see,
And myrtle groves, and happy bands who clap
Their hands in triumph, men and women too.

Dionysos asks who they are and Herakles tells him they are the mystic bands…

Who’ll tell you everything you want to know.
You’ll find them dwelling close beside the road
You are going to travel, just at Pluto’s gate.
And fare thee well, my brother.

Dionysos’ asks his slave to pick up the baggage so they can set off on this journey, but the slave says why not ask a recently died person to carry it down for them. They then see a corpse being carried and ask him if he’ll take their bags, for one and a half drachmas.

“I’d rather live,” says the corpse in a comic inversion of the normal phrase – a genuinely great gag.

At length they do indeed see the band of initiates dancing along the Sacred Way, and there is even a representation of the mocking jests mentioned above, and a reference to the all night vigil that occurred when they awaited the great light* that shone forth in the initiation temple at the moment celebrating Persephone’s return:

Now wheel your sacred dances through the glade with flowers
bedight,
All ye who are partakers of the holy festal rite;
And I will with the women and the holy maidens go
Where they keep the nightly vigil, an auspicious light to show.

Then there’s the next event that took place in the Mysteries following the revelation of the light, the exit to the Rharian Meadow prefiguring the Elysian Fields:

Now haste we to the roses,
And the meadows full of posies,
Now haste we to the meadows
In our own old way,
In choral dances blending,
In dances never ending,
Which only for the holy
The Destinies array.
O happy mystic chorus,
The blessed sunshine o’er us
On us alone is smiling,
In its soft sweet light:
On us who strove for ever
With holy, pure endeavour,
Alike by friend and stranger
To guide our steps aright.


Long before Aristophanes, Homer has depicted jokes taking place between the gods in Olympus – the Ares/Aphrodite/Hephaestus/Hermes/Net episode. There’s no need to go into the details here. Suffice it to say that after Hermes’ quip ” laughter arose among the immortal gods.”

And so it should be, because laughter is a type of ambrosia. Just Google ‘healing power of laughter” and you’ll find plenty of support for this: releasing endorphins, reducing stress, anxiety and depression, lowering blood pressure, and so on.

The most obvious evidence that comedy was welcomed in Olympus is the fact that one of the Greek muses, Thalia, included comedy as one of the arts within her patronage. She was also the goddess of rustic poetry, and of banquets and feasts. The Greeks also made one of the Graces – Euphrosyne – the goddess of merriment.

Euphrosyne was the goddess Milton invoked and called to come to him, tripping on the light fantastic toe in his L’Allegro:

But come, thou Goddess fair and free,
In heaven yclept Euphrosyne,
And by men, heart-easing Mirth,
Whom lovely Venus at a birth,
With two sister Graces more,
To ivy-crownèd Bacchus bore;
Or whether (as some sager sing)
The frolic wind that breathes the spring
Zephyr, with Aurora playing,
As he met her once a-Maying—
There on beds of violets blue
And fresh-blown roses wash’d in dew
Fill’d her with thee, a daughter fair,
So buxom, blithe, and debonair.
Haste thee, Nymph, and bring with thee
Jest, and youthful jollity,
Quips, and cranks, and wanton wiles,
Nods, and becks, and wreathèd smiles
Such as hang on Hebe’s cheek,
And love to live in dimple sleek;
Sport that wrinkled Care derides,
And Laughter holding both his sides:—
Come, and trip it as you go
On the light fantastic toe;
And in thy right hand lead with thee
The mountain-nymph, sweet Liberty;
And if I give thee honour due,
Mirth, admit me of thy crew,
To live with her, and live with thee
In unreprovèd pleasures free;

Notice Milton chose iambic tetrameter – four stresses in the line – rather than the ‘heroic’ five stresses of pentameter. Generally speaking, this meter, which suggests a down-to-earth simplicity and lacks the suggested slow in breath at the end of the lines of pentameter, lends itself better to lighthearted themes. This includes the ballad form, even though that could be described as seven stresses per line: from a metrical point of view it is really one line of four stresses plus another of three, plus a breath:, making it equivalent to two lines of four stresses, but with a short breath, i.e. 4 + 4 = 4 + 3 + 1 = 8.

Lighthearted verse doesn’t necessarily have to be the kind of gag that makes you laugh out loud. One of my favourite lighthearted poems is Matthew Prior’s Protogenes and Apelles. It’s doesn’t make me guffaw but I just love the delightfully ludicrous tone. It includes ancient Greeks taking afternoon tea. Again, it’s in tetrameter – four stresses per line. Here’s the tea bit:

But, Sir, at six (’tis now past three)
Dromo must make my master’s tea:
At six, Sir, if you please to come,
You’ll find my master, Sir, at home.

Tea, says a critic, big with laughter,
Was found some twenty ages after.
Authors, before they write, should read,
’Tis very true; but we’ll proceed.

Comic verse will sometimes make use of two ti-s between each stressed tum. It gives a lively, lilting feel. This was the case with verses delivered by the dancing choruses in the plays of the Athenian playwright Aristophanes (such as the Frogs mentioned above), and it’s also found in limericks.

ti tum ti ti tum ti ti tum ti
ti tum ti ti tum ti ti tum ti
ti tum ti ti tum
ti tum ti ti tum
ti tum ti ti tum ti ti tum ti

E.g. Lear’s:

There was a Young Person of Smyrna
Whose grandmother threatened to burn her.
But she seized on the cat,
and said ‘Granny, burn that!
You incongruous old woman of Smyrna!’

A comic poem I wrote myself with a ti ti tum rhythm similar to the limerick follows here. It’s not an ode, so hasn’t gone in my Grati-Ode Journal, but it shows the effect of choosing this type of lilting rhythm. As is quite common in limericks, some of the syllables are drawn out over two feet. So for example both “stone” and “Scoon” in the phrase “Stone of Scoon” are treated as long syllables, so there’s only one ti between them instead of two.

The Goggle-eyed Laird of St.Claire

Repair to the lair
Of Laird Duncan St. Claire
And behold his fine pink pantaloons
He’s ignited a craze
With twice-monthly displays
And a plate of fresh-baked macaroons

With the finest jugged hare
Served straight from tupperware
That ever has touched mouth from spoon
To his cullin’ry flare
And his savoir-faire
Your tastebuds will not be immune

Then a millionaire
With brill creamed hair
Will softly commence to croon
He’ll delight the whole place
With such elegant grace
As he warbles his favourite tune

But beware of the stare
Of this Duncan St. Claire
For he’s stolen the Stone of Scoon
His goggle-eyed glare
Caused quite a scare
When beheld by a lassie named June

The earlier phase
Of his childhood days
Was spent looking up at the moon
He’d been left in the care
Of a monk with no hair
Who would feed him cold tea with a spoon

He was too debonair
To be left in the care
Of this man who knew nothing of runes
Who had taken his hair
For a wig to wear
And had forced him to feed his baboons

So he slid down the stairs
In a crate of eclairs
With a cry of “I’ll be back soon!”
Then he rolled up his wares
In a pair of green flares
And joined up as a mounted dragoon

And while out on manoeuvre
In far off Vancouver
He met up with that lassie named June
They were soon quite besotted
And together they plotted
To steal that old Stone of Scoon

But when it was stolen
His eyeballs were swollen
Through heaving to lift up the stone
And young June did declare:
“Ma wee Duncan so fair,
Wha d’ye lift it up all o’ yer own?”

So beware of the stare
Of that laird of St. Claire
Who once lifted the Stone of Scoon
And whose goggle-eyed glare
Caused quite a scare
When beheld by that lassie named June.

You get the picture. But how could such lighter pieces sneak their way into your Grati-Ode journal? I managed it with the following, which is really two ballads I co-wrote with friends. They are not themselves odes, but they’re contained within the frame of an ode. I call it a Horation Ode because essentially a Horation Ode has simple stanzas with four lines, as does this, but a rose by any other name and all that. It’s not ti ti tum but it is tetrameter (of the ballad type mentioned above).

On Fine Fellows and Expeditions 

– Horatian ode written upon remembering the days we composed the Avonsong Ballads (included)

My thankfulness I now express
For fine co-roving chaps
For crazy missions, expeditions
Routes drawn out on maps

It makes me glad to think we’ve had
High times on Summer days
While sometimes hiking, sometimes biking
Ancient, sacred ways

From Shepton down to Glaston town
We walked then camped the night
Then joined the flow of Beltane’s show
With dragons red and white 

Reliving all with fond recall
Full well do I remember
How well we liked it when we biked
Through Hengeworld last September 

Then there’s that time we made a rhyme
When out in a canoe
I’ll give it here for it makes clear
How fun it was to do:

Avonsong I, co-written with James Wormel 

There were we two rowers free
So keen, a greenly going
We took a skiff to Avoncliff
The sap was greenly flowing

We calmly coaxed with gentle strokes
The waters with our rowing
A sultry grey hung o’er the day
But softly warmth was blowing

I never saw such calm before
As we did see that day
Such silence and such sleepiness
Soft-settled on the way

We check the clock: a sudden shock!
Enough the spell to break
Our boat fast tied against the side
A land route we must take

And then once more upon that shore
Within a leafy dell
Hear wood doves coo of Xanadu
And reinstate the spell!

‘Twas calm, my dear! So calm to hear
The doves those notes expel
Which echoed round: a soothing sound
To lull a leafy dell.

We took a pew adjacent to
A tavern of renown
And in good cheer we supped on beer
And watched the Sun go down

Much we refilled until they spilled
Those cups, gen’rous and deep
We drunk so much, the strength was such
We neared the verge of sleep.

‘Neath dark’ning skies we did surmise
‘Twas time to wend our way:
Two rovers green right glad to’ve seen
The calm-tide of that day.

That was the rhyme we wrote that time
But later that same year
We rowed again and wrote again
I’ll give the sequel here:

Avonsong II, written with input from Andrew Cowper and James Wormell while canoeing on the Kennet and Avon to Avoncliff Aqueduct and beyond and then visiting the chapel of Mary of Tory in Bradford-on-Avon.

When auburn-red and Autumn dread 
O’er Avon’s vale were cast
Then we once more did take up oar
And rowed our humble craft

With colouring of pheasant’s wing
The chasms boughs o’er vaunted
By distant roar of monstrous boar
The awful vale was haunted

No longer two for to the crew
An extra oar did add
It’s power: a man of noble clan
From crown to heel well clad

The mist half cleared and there appeared
Aloft upon the air
A stone constructed aqueduct 
In crumbled disrepair

A curse is cast on all who pass
Across this ghastly span
But some strange song pulled us along: 
We crossed, to Elvenland

The Elven Queen, mist-cloaked, unseen 
Had caught us in her spell
And planned to keep us locked in sleep
Within her dreadful dell

Had we not prayed we would have stayed
Asleep forever more
But pray we did and somehow hid 
Upon the forest floor

The one who slept we dragged, and crept
And Mary’s chapel found
Safe at last the spell un-cast
 We kissed that holy ground.

As well as being the Muse of Comedy, Thalia was also the goddess of feasting, which like laughter, lightens the mood. And just as comedy formed part of the Mysteries, so too did feasting. After the fasting and the revelation and the celebratory circle dancing came a great all day feast – a prefiguring of the happy banquets that would take place in the Elysian Fields. Include feasting as a topic in your Grati-Ode journal is another way to lighten the load of your odes. Burn’s Address to a Haggis is a fantastic model for odes to feasting. It’s an ode to the Haggis and it’s an invocation said over the haggis, but because it is not in the lofty tones of an ode, it’s title is not Ode to the Haggis, but Address to a Haggis.

I used the same form – the meters and rhyme pattern making up each verse – for my own poem. I read this one during a Burn’s night at the Pump Rooms in Bath after wining a competition with it, which was fun.

Address to a Feast of Burns

A dreary gloom’s hangs o’er the town
For Christmas tinsel’s taken down
But Spring’s not yet put on her gown
Of finery
Dark Winter still retains his Crown
In January.

So at this time what we desire
Is merriment and warming fire
With blazing logs heaped higher and higher
And hearty food
These are the things that we require
To raise our mood.

And so we’d do well to embrace
Cold January’s one saving grace
The meal that Scots folk love to taste
Where all take turns
Hot haggis with strong whisky laced:
The Feast of Burns.

And by this feast that they hold dear
A second burst of festive cheer
Lights up the dark part of the year
To warm the heart
So call the piper here
And let it start!

  • What was this great light that shone out in the temple? The ancient Greeks did have access to a way to make a very bright light – by burning white phosphorus. In other words the climax of Persephone’s return form the dead might have been celebrated in a way closely related to the rising of Christ from the tomb celebrated by the Greek orthodox church in Jerusalem – in a whole host of ways. The vigil. Extinguishing then relighting of Torches/Candles. Fast followed by feast. I don’t think it’s a hint that we find the first references to this Christian ceremony at the very time that the Eleusis mysteries were closed down. The Greeks were now free to appropriate the pagan ceremony in the new Christian context.