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Posts Tagged ‘tradition’

A lot of my writing this year has been towards an art/word project inspired by The Black Book of Carmarthen, a small, handwritten manuscript containing poems collected over a lifetime by one person. It is the oldest known manuscript written in the Welsh language. A mixture of ancient bardic poems and prayers, it is at once mundane and transcendent, simple and utterly baffling. The words that come to me are either reflecting some of the imagery or subjects of the fifty odd pieces, or dwell on the nature of the author and the continuity of language and writing. The art works I am making mainly combine parts of the manuscript pages overlain with my own woodblock prints from decades ago. There will, probably, be a book that combines text with image. It is in no way a translation of the original text. It is one artist’s reflections of the magical mirror and timelessness of ancient books.

MER KERTEV KEIN (Black Book)

(The marrow of fine songs)

It is a river

Uncurling in caves,

A white torrent on dark slick rocks.

It is a shoreline cave where mystery is born by echoes,

Far from comfort, where opposites couple in the roaring of it.

Spanning centuries each word tumbles combining elements.

Shadow worlds are dressed in time to shatter and rebuild the fragments.

Oh, speckle-breasted thrush,

Thrice the song to sing.

Morning rain.

Rain of morning.

Dawn storm.

Eternal song.

A river where meaning slips like fishes,

A flash, a flank, and gone.

The next ripple, the next wave, the scintillating light.

Umbral echoes.

It dances from sound to sound.

A juggler slipping from stone to stone

In the midstream rush. Where next? Where next?

And the foaming roar of it:

The world dancing elements and prophecy

And the arc of words cast up and caught, too fast for the eye.

A stream, a stream, of passion itself.

Sound clothed in the names of things,

The naked, naked sound.

A river of God’s being,

A bowstring caught and released,

The mouth’s harp

And its breath drum rhythm song.

There are spirits here

There are ghosts

Where I see these landscapes,

Familiar, sunlit, wild

I have never been.

I am haunted by the names

And by the meanings

Within the meanings I know.

Other pages in other hands:

Mirrored, pushing through.

I am become a palimpsest of prayer-

The angels with clawed feet

Offering golden torcs.

A language of waves,

Of echoing empty hills.

My eyes water the seeds of words,

Grow vast forests.

The dance of sounds:

Lost timeless for a while,

We dance and dance.

The memories are not ours

That lodge in our hearts.

My soul fragments to the four quarters

As though I am already buried.

There is a cold wind from the north.

A woman who is not a woman

Moves at the edges of my sight

Whispering rhymes with berry-stained fingertips.

One of Three and Three in One.

Before Eden we quake.

The Tower was too high,

The Tree was too bright.

The Flaming Sword

That drove us outwards

We stole for shovels and mattocks.

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ARCHETYPAL

The hunter father transgresses;

The mother suffers unjustly;

The child is taken.

What was wonderful, vanishes.

The light disappears, no one knows where.

Roads, veils and mirrors –

The mechanics of universal dance,

The momentous, minuscule choice.

The bright, eternal child brought low,

Brought back to the wrist of the falconer,

Brought back to rule in glory,

Brought back to catch the uncatchable.

And all the time

It is she that saves the day,

Who bestows and restores balance,

Who names, who summons, who moves

Like a moon through darkness

Sorrowful and joyful and blissfully full.

And the child, neither here nor there,

Neither this nor that,

Tricked by innocence

To reveal the weakness,

To discover an impossible death,

To wait endlessly in the wings

For the lines of the last act,

The resolution.

I ask to know the truth

So that there may be understanding of power.

That the maps are unfolded

And the well-trod, invisible roads revealed.

Because we are free only to follow the well-worn ways,

Because there is only one plot and one story

From the beginning.

Because, tried and tested are the grey chains.

Because, tried and tested is the only freedom.

The rules of falling, and of redemption.

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PROLOGUE (dark druid arts)

I have sat down and tasted the words of the dead.

What do they taste of, the words of the dead?

They taste of the feathers of owls and the scent of old books.

They taste of domed silent libraries and the flow of a million minds.

They taste of iron and the flower of blood as it fills the mouth.

They taste of mud and rain and scythed grasses.

They taste of the forbidden, of the forgotten,

of the bitter and the everlasting.

They taste of answers and riddles and orifices.

I have sat down and watched them

As the old words make pictures,

As they attempt to communicate their forgotten truths

and the lying stories, and the power of breath and the power of song.

2

Let these sounds revolve slow:

The seed that sucks in water swells

Reaches out to worlds unseen

New airs moving, new sense, new scenes.

Becoming is leaving behind in darkness

That which feeds us still.

Moving out, moving out, peeling the familiar.

These fragments to be held without adjustment,

Without conclusion, as it were,

And if we were not shaping, as it were,

As if we knew somewhere deep already:

The old languages of the blood,

The old languages of potent dreaming.

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SING OUT

Singing hymns to emptiness
Sound disappears with meaning
The instant it leaves the mouth

We need gods to sing to,
Something of the familiar,
But made more important,

As if worms and weeds
Had not silently shaped
All we are and will be.

It is what rivers and stars do,
It is what sheep and birds do,
Sing out to each other
That thin, frail line between
Life and death and life again.

Greedy gods and good gods
One by one supplanted
Though their lives are aeons.

Fed by song, happy in their given shapes
Until the singing stops
Where they forget their names,
Hatch as butterflies hungry for nectar.

There are the great and there are the small
While the song is sound and silence.
The void: a pause between movements
Where the audience wonders if it should clap
But remains in stillness, held within
A lovely diminishing resonance.

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When they speak it is rivers.
It is pines roaring in the wind.
It is sparrows at daybreak,
Swallows in blue open skies.
It is the rain in old gutters.
Vague as mist-hugged valleys.
Harsh as ravens and the keening
Of spread-winged kites.

And yet it fades and falters
Year by year pushed to a further edge,
The language of grass and trees,
An anachronism.
As if it had not tumbled down
From the highest empty uplands.
As if it had not been passed along
The careful tales and whispered spells.
As if it were not that simple coagulated dust
Brushed from God’s own hands.

Jealous of its rainbowed fluctuations,
A by-passed parish, a redundant economy.
It is a sad craft that kills the past.
It is a miserly mind that accepts
No drop of mystery to remain.

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MARI LWYD 4

This dream we cling to
As if it were the only dream.
This wind, these hills,
This heart so tattered,
So threadbare.
Scoured even,
Stretched thin,
Worn down.
A whisper in the rain.
A word forming in the pines.
Winter shows the bones
Of what is, of what
Will remain,
Of what the old songs sung.
This has been your life
Down to this frozen moment,
This darkening path,
Distant laughter,
Sparks spinning
From the bobbing torches.
Shall we go on?

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MARI LWYD 3

We follow sightless bones
Through the narrow door into a New Year
Because white bones and sightless eyes
Are the only things ever to pass through
From now to the future.
The wise will wander aimlessly,
Lost, discussing the dark paths, the short cuts,
The less muddy way.
We will stumble drunk and aimless
And find the warm door
And ask the right question
And fall to sleep
As the voices laugh
And roar
And the light
Slowly rises and fades.

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MARI LWYD 2

Sparks spin into night.
Through darkness a white ghost moves.
We follow, laughing.

Landscape remains.
Mind stays the same.
It is only the light
That changes,
Only thoughts
That come and go.
The music of it all
Remains,
Though the notes
Are constantly rearranged.

This dream so real
We fear there is no other.

We follow the grey empty void
For which we have made sparkling eyes
And a name and a thunderous roar;
And filled it with questions and answers,
Sustaining itself in darkness,
Intruding into our hearth.
Skull empty judge,
Bent bone and curved empty,
A void of time.

Lacerating tattered hearts
The wind that scars the hills
And incrementally erodes
Once warm moments
Wearing down words to screams,
Wisdom to leaden clubs.

A white sky.
Snow cold are the hills.
The rain freezes.
Beauty is not for you to survive,
But to savour
And then to long for forever.

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A sequence of connected works, or variations, to do with Time, New Year, tradition and mysteries. The Mari Lwyd, (‘Grey Mare’) is a horse’s skull decorated and carried on a long pole that goes round houses on New Year’s Eve exchanging banter for food and drink. It seems like a really ancient tradition and has the edgy, initiatory, feel of the oldest of memories.

Part One

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MARI LWYD

A fluid darkness, a slow river wind.
Wild torches taste change, sparks tumbling into tomorrow.
We follow laughing, the Mari Lwyd with the wild futures
As all before have done this New Year’s Eve in the old valleys
Lost in the darkness, these hills watching, loomed.

Following the Grey Mare who tests the wit and want,
And begs for food and the oblivious warmth of drink,
To remember and forget the fading paths, the slender chance,
The fatal message.

A laconic nightmare stirred up for a vigilance and a testing,
Slick and breathed upon with frost death, breath white sheet cloud,
An ectoplasmic emission, the dancing myth of earth,
A decay and return of Time to its rightful round.

Not a horse of this world, patient in the paddock.
A night horse, all will ride willy-nilly,
And a rough ride or a wild drunk banter.

We ride the words, we ride the stories, into the night.
The torches are well made, but will still gutter and die in dawn’s drizzle.
Mari Lwyd is mute this year – no wit left amongst these sundered tribes,
No one can recite the triads, utter the names of things, the innuendo beneath the sheet.
We rake over ashes, but for want of fuel the fires will die
(And perhaps they should, perhaps they should).

A new fire, the valley snaking north, caught glorious in a winter dawn.
The light slides deep, across pale oaks and forest boughs,
Slides with shifting cloud across the tops, across the fields.
The bones of things dressed in warmth,
But it is only the bones of things that will ever pass
Through and along and between the long nights,
And into the death and birth of years.

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Hills behind

There are hills behind the hills,
Words behind the words.
Clouds of understanding billow up
Then dissolve to fog.
The old words, the mountain words,
The river words –
No matter how fast you move,
You can never catch up with them.
The old words,
They have the deepest roots.
We sit by the forest edge,
Sky and grasses and the sallow dell.
Starlings shift and rise
From field to field.
Their patterns weave small tongues,
Bright eyes.

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