Note: This is the third in what will hopefully be a set of four sestinas on the pagan holidays which mark the turn of the year, and of the human heart. Hedgerider's Lament, Part I, (Yule) is here, and Part II, (Candlemas), is here.
The Hedgerider's Lament
Part III: Beltane Sestina
It’s been a killing winter here circled deep in the hedgerow’s walls.
I hear the hungry crying, birdsong and brisk bee buzz drowned out.
Wrapped in the scorpion’s tail of drought the new sun builds no fires
and seeds fester as they’re planted in a darkness shorn of green.
Somewhere a heartwound hides itself, seeping dully under the moon
and all are made to feel that pain till the fires outburn the curse.
Things are coming through that shouldn’t, tangled with the curse
It strengthens dark and brings them kicking out at the charmbuilt walls.
The faery lights are spectral blue, dim and distant in bowls of moon.
The tongue cleaves to the mouthpiece and the song will not come out.
The world hangs on the coming of the one who brings the green.
Behind locked doors barbed evils thicken, old flesh no longer fires.
So out we go to find the nine woods needed to build the fires,
twin pyres to burn nine murders and nine times nine despairs, curse
fright that sets the handle slipping stripping deadwood from the green
fuel and future even mixed in the razorsharp hedgerow’s walls.
Babes are counted, a white horse passes vast as the veils thin out;
pale hands grip tight the reins of light that pull the quickening moon.
In the darkness that is absence floating in night’s red eye, the moon
looks down on fractals, throbbing temples, cold heart fires.
The weasel eating her young, the blighted seed that won’t sprout out
grim her pocked sad face and set her calling to lift the curse,
to begin the windsigh song the harpist brings to raise the walls
so all in the hedgerow’s circle know the lover’s kiss of green.
The flower bride she walks in May, all cup in search of filling, green
her gown, breadbrown her hands, face limpid as a slice of moon,
summer’s lord for her arms, green man of the land that knows no walls.
She carries her basket of wishes to make the spark for the high balefires
and all that dances through them comes out sound and free of curse,
for every spite of winterlong will be ashed and trampled out.
No more shelter for the fiddling tongue ravaged by betrayal, thrust out
black bloated at all comers in pours of poison bitter and green.
No more room for winter’s old man’s rage or hag’s hardbitten curse
when the summer lord and the lady come to dance beneath the moon.
There the skin is thin and the maypole thick by the heartwood’s fires:
stop, reverse and turn, as its green ward weaves the hedgerow’s walls.
Re-spin the curse to blessing, crossweave sun with braids of moon.
Pull up the dead. Sins' tinder flares to burn out on the green.
All seen, all felt is new again. Life fires light, singing up the walls.
I’ve been working off and on on this for several months and meant to have it ready for the true date of Beltane, which falls at the beginning of May and marks the midpoint of the sun’s equinox in progress towards today, the summer solstice, but the demands of a poem a day in April shunted it to the back burner.
There are too many legends, myths and archetypes associated with Beltane and the coming of summer to list, but I’ll just touch on a few I’ve incorporated here. Balefires are bonfires of purification that symbolically burn away the winter and its ills, marking the goddess of fertility’s arrival and celebrating her wedding with the sun god, when birth and growth of crops and livestock replace the death grip of winter. As always, I've taken a lot of liberty with historical detail and only loosely follow the pagan canon.
You can find a bit more general info here at wikipedia
Image: Summer Solstice Sunrise over Stonehenge,
Photograph by Andrew Dunn, 21 June 2005 courtesy wikimedia commons