Monday, December 21, 2009

To Juan at the Winter Solstice by Robert Graves

This is a tribute to this time of year by mythologist and poet Robert Graves. In keeping with Graves' concept of primitive European culture being matriarchal, this poem refers to the cycle of birth, death and rebirth of the consort to the great mother that is earth itself. At this, the shortest day of the year when the folkloric newborn oak king's power waxes while winter's holly king's power over the earth wanes, it seems an appropriate poem to reproduce here:

To Juan at the Winter Solstice by Robert Graves

There is one story and one story only
That will prove worth your telling,
Whether as learned bard or gifted child;
To it all lines or lesser gauds belong
That startle with their shining
Such common stories as they stray into.

Is it of trees you tell, their months and virtues,
Or strange beasts that beset you,
Of birds that croak at you the Triple will?
Or of the Zodiac and how slow it turns
Below the Boreal Crown,
Prison to all true kings that ever reigned?

Water to water, ark again to ark,
From woman back to woman:
So each new victim treads unfalteringly
The never altered circuit of his fate,
Bringing twelve peers as witness
Both to his starry rise and starry fall.

Or is it of the Virgin's silver beauty,
All fish below the thighs?
She in her left hand bears a leafy quince;
When, with her right hand she crooks a finger, smiling,
How many the King hold back?
Royally then he barters life for love.

Or of the undying snake from chaos hatched,
Whose coils contain the ocean,
Into whose chops with naked sword he springs,
Then in black water, tangled by the reeds,
Battles three days and nights,
To be spewed up beside her scalloped shore?

Much snow if falling, winds roar hollowly,
The owl hoots from the elder,
Fear in your heart cries to the loving-cup:
Sorrow to sorrow as the sparks fly upward.
The log groans and confesses:
There is one story and one story only.

Dwell on her graciousness, dwell on her smiling,
Do not forget what flowers
The great boar trampled down in ivy time.
Her brow was creamy as the crested wave,
Her sea-blue eyes were wild
But nothing promised that is not performed.

1 comment:

betoqueiroz said...

"By saying it's the only story worth telling in literature, Grave means that the great types of stories, such as comedies and tragedies, start out as episodes from it.
"I think myself that Grave's story is a central one in literature, but that it fits inside a still bigger and better known one..."
Northrop Frye (The singing school)