Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Hedgerider's Lament~Part II

Hedgerider's Lament~Part I can be found here
Hedgerider's Lament~Part III can be found here

The Hedgerider's Lament
Part II: Candlemas Sestina

Winter rides the leafless hedgerow, black and aching for the thaw
a frozen masque of mummers misbegotten by the hag.
A dying moth in winter’s web, I’m null, unwarmed by fire.
I call to the guardian of the living earth to forsake her vestal  well
to bring her yellow days and put an end to the strangling white;
instead of snow make milk for lambs and wake the sleeping sun.

I pulled the blackthorn's sloes and brewed the gin of autumn’s  sun,
drank deep, then burned the sticks to keep alive until the thaw.
The Cailleach’s staff struck and brought the tedious vault of white   
where water was married to restless air in the couplings of the hag.
There are bruises for the hand that cracks the ice-crust on the well
and earth’s white cloak hisses on the coals of the worldsmith’s fire.

Once amber green my fingers tore the world-skin, meeting fire;
finding only the haunt of a look, a tendriled scent that fled the sun.
No living hand can draw your twisting wisp from that black well.
Only wishes' mist can pass between, and dust awaits the thaw
I hunker by a murdered fire and bandy curses with the hag,
who laughs and shrouds my hedgerow tight in her bands of white.

Yet there’s Another coming when the blackthorn flushes white
and the wind will thrash the greening twigs as all is cleansed in fire.
The spring will dance her mayday on the apron of the hag,
and unwind the days and bring her bag of blue that holds the sun.
The Cailleach will freeze, a standing stone before the thaw,
while her snow becomes white water rushing azure to the well.

So day’s full light expands and ice is melted from the well.
Tomorrow’s gin is brewing in the blackthorn’s buds of white.
Grass-green grow the seedlings as the hedgerow starts to thaw
and winter stubble burns but I’m still cold beside the fire.
The blood-burned breach still shows itself a curse beneath the sun.
The silvery white bride’s smile still flirts with the eyes of the hag.

But a bride might need a midwife someday, hidden in a hag
and a hag might be more than a  weight  best cast into the well.
The carcass of  dead caresses burns to ashes in the sun
and births a skin of amber green that swallows up the white.
Summer gives her pledge of life and bids me tend her fire,
and all her seed and kindred in the razor leaved hedgerow’s thaw.

Perhaps this year the sun will shine so clear and burning white
that the hag will laugh to see me in the mirror of the well
and I’ll forget the thing that’s broken as the world  begins to thaw

Posted for OneShotWednesday at the inimitable OneStopPoetry

For pronunciation of the word Cailleach, click here

I’ve borrowed heavily from Gaelic folklore in this piece, so I append a few background snippets to cast a little light on terms and definitions. Those interested in more detail can follow the wikipedia links:

Candlemas is a day of purification in the Christian faith often associated with the ancient Irish festival of Imbolc,  celebrated in early spring.
“… In Irish and Scottish mythology, the Cailleach …is a divine hag.. The word simply means 'old woman' in modern Scottish Gaelic.. The Cailleach evinces many traits fitting for the personified Winter:...she fights Spring, and her staff freezes the ground. …Some interpretations …describe the Cailleach as turning to stone on Bealltainn...

I’ve also made a few references to wells and fire that are associated with the Cailleach’s counterpart, Bridget or Bridhe, goddess of spring and summer, christainized as St Brigid.

Image: Cailleach  by RedDragon102857


  1. What can I say Hedgewitch...this is truly an incredible story and write..I love the hag and the midwife and the thawing of winter...it goes on and one and so well construction...this one needs (must) to be heard outloud....if you doing a reading please post it....Fantastic...bkm

  2. Thank you so much Barbara. I'm still trying to figure out how to do the audio, but when I do, I'll make this first on the list.

  3. I, too, would like to hear this; it's quite a story, so full of atmosphere--colors, smells, sounds. Great write.

  4. I've been reading contemporary fairy tales (two by C.S. Lakin) and this reads like a fairy tale -- dark, slightly scary, but also, ultimately, hopeful. I like this a lot.

  5. wow. incredible story and you make it all so real...many very cool layers to this...i come here to be humbled hedge

  6. Quite the challenging form. You've done very well here.

  7. I am entertained, impressed and you leave me wanting more..

    Excellent choice for One Shot!!!

  8. I have a welsh friend whose voice I hear in the backround -

    Perhaps Cailleach will laugh ...


    thanks for sharing with One shot (now I'm missing Wales and Scotland)

  9. JoyAnn, first of all this sestina is wonderful, not an easy form to write. The story is layered perfectly. I love Gaelic folklore.

  10. This should grow into a wonderful book...please do :-) It's the sort of story to read sitting by a fire...I love it.

  11. I love to see mythology in poetry. Wonderful use of the sestina form.

  12. You are an intriguing writer...to say the least!!!

  13. Hedgewitch....
    I feel like prancing around at Midnight during the Summer Solstace within the confines of a circular rock formation.

  14. Joy,

    Going through parts I and II, I feel as though brought through the initiation of a mystery religion. Stunned, hoping to near a fire, open-eyed.

    The remaining question for me is: how can I ever feel stable in another Hilton Hotel lobby?

  15. Nicely crafted sestina - I take my hat off to you for that and a beautiful narrative

  16. A vivid write, hedgewitch! Layered and entertaining - a touch of the mythological is always a fine thing to behold, and when the Gaelic arises, the Scot in me gets all excited. Great Sestina - it really draws you in.

  17. A magical mystery in sestina form! Reads so well and the details are stark; the narrative compelling; and indeed would sound great. Will have to return to read Part 1. You've got something special started here.

  18. Great use of the form, thick and strange and timeless-feeling.

  19. This is absolutely stunning, showing profound lyricism: you have a tremendous inner music and love for the world, HW-- I loved especially these lines that do in my view rank w/ Yeats and Thomas:

    "Yet there’s Another coming when the blackthorn flushes white
    and the wind will thrash the greening twigs as all is cleansed in fire.
    The spring will dance her mayday on the apron of the hag,
    and unwind the days and bring her bag of blue that holds the sun.
    The Cailleach will freeze, a standing stone before the thaw,
    while her snow becomes white water rushing azure to the well." Bag of blue.... brava! xxxj

  20. Hag is one of the best descriptions of this snowy shit I have ever encountered! I myself am overly ready for the days when fires are not murdered and warmth is found deep in my cold cold bones.

  21. The writing is captivating. The end notes were helpful and educational. I read one and two together...wow good.

  22. I'm so glad you all enjoyed this--I know it's long and dense and not a piece of light reading. I appreciate that so many took the time to read the entire piece and comment. And for those who went back and read Part I, I salute you doubly.

  23. I enjoyed this, but it was slow going...it was deep chocolate and you can't run through that!

    A very layered, complex poem and one that needs time and effort to settle.

    Amazing imagery. Rich, rich, rich.

    Lady Nyo

  24. There's so much about this that I love that I don't even know where to start!

  25. Absolutely enchanting! But like Mama Zen, I can't even say exactly how and where in spots, you've caught me in your powerful spell. Is it the narrative, the atmosphere, the mood, the pace? Is it sestina that you so masterfully spin as if out of gold threads? I suppose it's all and everything in this poem and all your other poems.

    Thank you, Joy!

  26. you always have the most incredible ideas and images in your poems joy ann - i loved the midwife and i loved ...and i loved...and...too much to list here..

  27. Great write! This story doesn't remind me of a fairy tale as those turned hags/midwifes into witches. It does though remind me of the style of Marion Zimmer Bradley (if I spelled it right:)and other pieces that touch on pre-christian or their first contact time in history. I really like what you are doing so I am definitely going to follow you. :) Write on!

  28. Oh ..how it started with cold and misery..and how it ended with warmth and birth and LIFE! This was a sheer delight to read, Joy!! Your choice of words is simply outstanding!! Kept me hooked.. while I read wide eyed!

    Aaah...how well you have captured the cyclical nature of life, and of nature itself...
    B.E.A.U.T.I.F.U.L !!!
    The metaphors, the analogies, the vivid images.. everything about this poem screamed WOW!!
    Kudos on this brilliantly fiery yet refreshing piece, my dear... Till now, I was feeling the need for one hot cuppa tea.. but now, I am FRESH, eve without it...thanks to this superb poem!!!

  29. This is a beautiful piece of writing.

    (Would you do me a favor and take a peek at Magpie Tales with Firefox and see if the viewing issue is resolved now? Thank you! x)

  30. This is Kick-Ass. TWO yeah, count them TWO Sestinas. Your love of botany and herbs unfold through the shrubs, the rows, the dark downs and the precise use of language. Picking those end words must have been daunting.

    Oh yes, my dear, you're the real deal. No doubts!

  31. The use of color, the choice of language - all of it is purely brilliant, hedgewitch.

  32. Candlemass is also a great Doom Metal band... But this is useless tidbits.

    Great work on this hedge! I still have much to learn from you, it seems. I feel quite lost in the flow of this piece, like the twisted vines wrapping around me.

    Probably doesn't help Cradle of Filth is playing either...

    Thanks for sharing!

    EDIT: Very entertaining your chatcpa gave me "demon". I think it knows...

  33. Read through I and II just beautiful imagery. Your writing is a rare treat. Thank you for sharing.

  34. Wonderfully atmospheric - part hallucination, part lost legend.

  35. @Dick--I think you've described my life.

    @LieffyV--yes, I think it does know. Thanks for the metal reflections--not useless at all, I'm often looking for depressing Doom music on the youtubes.

    All the rest of you, thank you so much. I was so tired of this poem by the time I'd finished my 200th rewrite that I'd lost all faith in it. Your words tell me it did come close to what I wanted to say, and I appreciate the time you've all spent with my problem poem-child very much.

  36. Masterful interplay of emotion, tale-telling, and imagery. Nailed it, again.

  37. I'm so glad I came back to read this at a time when my brain is actually functioning. I know you worked hard on this, or should i say slaved, but the result is fine indeed.

    There are so many individual bits that I love:

    "instead of snow make milk for lambs and wake the sleeping sun.",

    "There are bruises for the hand that cracks the ice-crust on the well
    and earth’s white cloak hisses on the coals of the worldsmith’s fire.",

    the "murdered fire",

    the entire 4th stanza,

    and most of all the ending and the whole effect, which made my heart turn over in both sweetness and grief. Your hard work paid off, my friend. This is so good.

  38. Thank you so much, FB. Your comments are always eagerly awaited, and I'm glad you were able to find something here worth reading. I'm able to look at it now and feel better about it, but honestly at one point I felt like tearing it up and taking up something easier than poetry, like over the road Ice Trucking or welding 150-story skyscraper supports or something.


"We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, out of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry." ~William Butler Yeats

Comment Moderation Has Been Enabled