Thursday, February 2, 2012

Candlemas Sestina~Revisited for Imbolc, 2012

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.

January 2011

This poem is part of my quartet of sestinas on the four seasonal pagan festivals. I wrote it around this time last year. My friend, bard errant and student of the mythic, Brendan MacOdrum over at Oran's Well, is in an Imbolc kind of mood, and after sharing his own scholarly take on the occasion, asked for a reprise of this sestina today on the date it is usually celebrated, February 2nd. As always, happy to oblige, and even happier since typing is still a bit painful.

You can find all four sestinas dealing with the pagan festivals here. 

For pronunciation of the word Cailleach, click here

Originally posted for OneShotWednesday at the inimitable OneStopPoetry

Image: Cailleach  by RedDragon102857
Used under terms of Photobucket license


  1. Excellent. Lots of strong images, and beautiful language. Melodic.

    I also like the theme ...

  2. Why continue on when winter's frozen whiteout (where the year's Crone laughs the bitterest) seems absolute? How can there be any light but the blinkering of death at such moments, in the season, in the soul? That seems to be the challenge here, trying to find reason enough to write, to write on, to write well. And the well is both milk-pail and inkwell here, knowledge which only looks like faith around this time of year that life returns to the land, even the hand. I for one take great hope in that ... These sublimely-crafted sestinas for me become a permanent motifs for the singing year: that's why poetry matters, why it lasts. So much washes away too fast online, the Internet's immediacy robbing us of the wealth of permanence. So thanks for repeating this -- for celebrating the festival of blackbrightness, where in the darkest folds of winter the lambs are widwifed and milked, the heart renewed by the miracle of creation. As Eliot wrote in "East Coker" of Four Quartets

    ...There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
    And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
    That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
    For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.

    Maybe it's a foolish enterprise, especially in such unpropitious times as these, at winter's hardest harrow, waist deep in Republican primary snow: yet the fertile news under all that life-freeze is that "All shall be well, and / All manner of thing shall be well." (Eliot, ibid.) That comes Brigid's well inside this poem, and it warms Oran's Well today. So thanks. It physics our ailing limbs better than any anti-inflammatory or Super Pac could. -B (PS and thanks for the link to my post)

    1. It was my pleasure to repost, and thanks so much for this generous reading, B., and for the Eliot quotes--I find as I age I am drawn more and more to his work, which totally eluded me in my young poetry-sipping days. I love that word 'blackbrightness' and the way it sums up the winter night sky, so barren, forbidding and cold, so full of dazzling light. How right the early peoples were to mark these cross quarter and solstice days out from the struggling year's life, because something in them is the planet mother speaking...perhaps of that 'rest' which is not our business, but hers, yet to which paying attention can only work to our benefit.

  3. I'm glad Brendan submitted his request for a repost. The hag and the maiden-bride are always well linked in your writes. I agree your sestinas are wonderful, as all your writing is, but I find your formal poems so very fetching. I love the color play, which works so well in the seasonal milieu.

    (I am sorry to hear that something is amiss with your hands. I hope it's better soon!)

  4. love this series hedge...lots of strong imagery and symbolism in it...def like the close of seeing herself in the well...amble on good poet...and i told you not to over do it on that arm...just saying...smiles...

  5. the colors and images are extravagant and beautiful. the hag is such an iconic mysterious figure. terrific weave.

  6. Thanks all, for reading and coming by.

    @Ed; love your new site--really wide open and clean format.


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

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