Voyages from I to Thou.

Location: Skellig Michel, Ireland

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Jacob's Ladder (Feb. 10, 2005)

No one knows where
this ladder goes, nor
even much sees its
isle to isle travail;
yet each shore is
certainly a rung
which greets the foot
with iambs of wild
blue, changing both
voyage and its pilot
into a deeper, stranger
meld, old firmaments
confused and waking
less solitary or
solid than ever.
See: my hand here
on the page has become
a ferryman of sorts,
hauling the next day’s
sentience from one mind
to some other, its
end wrapped further
in fish-tails and riot,
the mysteries entangled
there at once history
and poetry and you.
Each travel here
is another rung on
some rising or falling
stair, depending on
which way I clasp
the wave which crashes
everywhere you
curve and curl and
leaven. I hardly
recognize the singer
any more after
all the songs, his
patronage a soak,
his origins revoweling
for new ends no one
knows the breadth
or depth or heft of.
No one knows which
ladder that they climb,
nor whether even next
steps were meant to
be taken in the span
of just one life:
No one sees the last
rung or is allowed
to report on back
the view -- surely the
widest span of blue --
one unlike any espied
from a masthead or
tossed bed, deeper
and wilder than any
shore this pen will
reach and name, though
each day I try again.
Perhaps ten thousand
ladders in one work
will get me high enough
to graze that wild night
when all heaven broke
out in a tumult of angel
wings - or was it a spring
river? -- ten thousand
lives ago: And there
upon that daring ledge
find grip enough to
find the rung which
rises and voyages on
beyond what that
one kiss began.

The Antipodes of Jerusalem

Dante's Purgatory is a lofty island-mountain, the only land in the southern Hemisphere, at the antipodes of Jerusalem. On the lower irregular slopes are the souls whose penitence has, for some reason, been delayed in life and whose purgation is now delayed. Above that is the base of Purgatory proper, the place of active purgation, which consists of seven level terraces surrounding the mountain and rising one above another, connected by stairways in the rock.

On these terraces the seven deadly sins are purged by penance from the souls that have been beset by them. On the summit of the mountain is the Garden of Eden, or Earthly Paradise, from which the purged souls ascend to Heaven.

The Divine Ladder (Trad.)

Unto each mortal who comes to earth
A ladder is given by God at birth
And up this ladder every soul must go,
Step by step from the Valley below;
Step by step to the Center of space,
On this ladder of lives, to the Starting place.

In time departed (which yet endures)
I shape my ladder, and you shape yours,
Whatever they are—they are what we made
A ladder of light, or a ladder of shade,
A ladder of love, or a hateful thing,
A ladder of strength, or a wavering string.

A ladder of gold, or a ladder of straw,
Each is a ladder of righteous Law.
We flung them away at the Call of Death,
We took them again with the next life breath.
For a Keeper stands at the great birth gates;
As each soul passes, its ladder waits.

Tho mine be narrow, and yours be broad,
On my ladder alone can I climb to God.
For none may borrow and none may lend.
If toil and trouble and pain are found,
Twisted and corded to form each round,
If rusting iron our mouldering wood

Is the fragile frame, you must make it good;
You must build it over and fashion it strong,
Tho the task be as hard as your life is long;
For up this ladder the pathway leads
To earthly pleasures and spirit needs;
And all that may come in another way
Shall be but illusion and will not stay

In useless effort, then waste not time;
Rebuild your ladder, and Climb and Climb.

The Mountain of the Everlasting

St Brendan, son of Finnlug Ua Alta, of the race of Eoghan, was born in the marshy district of Munster He was famed for his great abstinence and his many virtues, and was the patriarch of nearly three thousand monks. While he was in his spiritual war-fare, at a place called Ardfert-Brendan there came to him one evening, a certain father, named Barinthus, of the race of King Niall, who, when questioned by St Brendan, in frequent converse, could only weep, and cast himself prostrate, and continue the longer in prayer; but Brendan raising him up, em-braced him, saying: ‘Father, why should we be thus grieved on the occasion of your visit? Have you not come to give us comfort? You ought, indeed, make better cheer for the brethren. In God’s name, make known to us the divine secrets, and refresh our souls by recounting to us the various wonders you have seen upon the great ocean.’ Then Barinthus, in reply, proceeds to tell of a certain island: ‘My dear child, Mernoc, the guardian of the poor of Christ, had fled away from me to become a solitary, and found, nigh unto the Stone mountain, an island full of delights. After some time I learned that he had many monks there in his charge, and that God had worked through him many marvels. I, therefore, went to visit him, and when I had approached within three days’ journey, he, with some of the brethren, came out to meet me, for God had revealed to him my advent. As we sailed unto the island the brethren came forth from their cells towards us, like a swarm of bees, for they dwelt apart from each other, though their intercourse was of one accord, well grounded in faith, hope, and charity; one refectory; one church for all, wherein to-discharge the divine offices. No food was served but fruits and nuts, roots and vegetables of other kinds. The brethren, after compline, passed the night in their respective cells until the cock-crow, or the bell tolled for prayer. When my dear son and I had traversed the island, he led me to the western shore, where there was a small boat, and he then said: ‘Father, enter this boat, and’ we will sail on to the west, towards the island called the Land of Promise of the Saints, which God will grant to those who succeed us in the latter days.’

- Nauigatio sancti Brendani abbatis [the Voyage of St Brendan the Abbot],Transl. Denis O’Donoghue, 1893

Jacob's Ladder in the Middle Ages

Early in the monastic system there had been set out the idea of a progressive movement upwards, imagined in terms of the ascent of Jacob’s Ladder. To go up represented humility, to go do, pride. But at first the steps were defined as signs or tokens of humility, not as stages of growth. With the second half of the eleventh century came the various social malaises that stirred a desire for the life of a hermit: an acute inner conflict with a new need of solitariness. Even the old Benedictine orders were affected, for instance in Anselm. In his account of the Ladder he recasts the twelve rungs mentioned in the Rule and turns the Ladder into the Mountain: the rungs become seven steps, which are set out in a more logical order, with greater stress on the inner life. The corporate element in monastic life is played down and the steps are seen as concerned with the individual who struggles alone with himself, through self-knowledge, grief, confession, persuasion of guilt, acquiescence in judgment, suffering or punishment, love of punishment.

-- Jack Lindsay, The Troubadours and their world

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The Hermit on the Rock

from Navigatio sancti Brendani abbatis [the Voyage of St Brendan the Abbot], transl. Denis O’Donoghue

St Brendan afterwards made sail for some time towards the south, in all things giving the glory to God. On the third day a small island appeared at a distance, towards which as the brethren plied their oars briskly, the saint said to them: “Do not, brothers, thus exhaust your strength. Seven years will have passed at next Easter, since we left our country, and now on this island you will see a holy hermit, called Paul the Spiritual, who bas dwelt there for sixty years without corporal food, and who for twenty years previously received his food from a certain animal.”

When they drew near the shore, they could find no place to land, so steep was the coast; the island was small and circular, about a furlong in circumference, and on its summit there was no soil, the rock being quite bare. When they sailed around it, they found a small creek, which scarcely admitted the prow of their boat, and from which the ascent was very difficult.

St Brendan tol. the brethren to wait there until he returned to them, for they should not enter the island without the leave of the man of God who dwells there. When the saint had ascended to the highest part of the island, he saw, on its eastern side, two caves opening opposite each other, and a small cup-like spring of water gurgling up from the rock, at the mouth of the cave in which the soldier of Christ dwelt.

As St Brendan approached the opening of one of the caves, the venerable hermit came forth from the other to meet him, greeting him with the words: “Behold how good and how pleasant for brethren to dwell together in unity.’’ And then he directed St Brendan to summon all the brethren from the boat. When they came he gave each of them the kiss of peace, calling him by his proper name, at which they all marvelled much, because of the prophetic spirit thus shown.
They also wondered at his dress, for he was covered all over from head to foot with the hair of his body, which was white as snow from old age, and no other garment had he save this.

St Brendan, observing this, was moved to grief, and heaving many sighs, said within himself: “Woe is me, a poor sinner, who wear a monk’s habit, and who rule over many monks, when I here see a man of angelic condition, dwelling still in the flesh, yet unmolested by the vices of the flesh.”

On this, the man of God said: “Venerable father, what great and wonderful things has God shown to thee, which He has not revealed to our saintly predecessors! and yet, you say in your heart that you are not worthy to wear the habit of a monk; I say to you, that you are greater than any monk, for the monk is fed and clothed by the labour of his own hands, while God has fed and clothed you and all your brethren for seven years in His own mysterious ways; and I, wretch that I am, sit here upon this rock, without any covering, save the hair of my body.”

Then St Brendan asked him about his coming to this island, whence he came, and how long be had led this manner of life. The man of God replied: “For forty years I lived in the monastery of St Patrick, and had the care of the cemetery. One day when the prior had pointed out to me the place for the burial of a deceased brother, there appeared before me an old man, whom I knew not, who said: “Do not, brother, make the grave there, for that is the burial-place of another.” I said’ ‘Who are you, father?’ ‘Do you not know me?’ said he. ‘Am I not your abbot?’ ‘St Patrick is my abbot,’ I said. I am he,’ he said; and yesterday I departed this life and this is my burial-place.’

He then pointed out to me another place, saying: ‘Here you will inter our deceased brother; but tell no one what I have said to you. Go down on to-morrow to the shore, and there you will find a boat that will bear you to that place where you shall await the day of your death.’ Next morning, in obedience to the directions of the abbot, I went to the place appointed, and found what he had promised. I entered the boat, and rowed along for three days and nights, andthen I allowed the boat to drift whither the wind drove it. On the seventh day, this rock appeared, upon which I at once landed, and I pushed off the boat with my foot, that it may return whence it had come, when it cut through the waves in a rapid course to the land it bad left.

‘On the day of my arrival here, about the hour of none, a certain animal, walking on its hind legs, brought to me in its fore paws a fish for my dinner, and a bundle of dry brushwood to make a fire, and having set these before me, went away as it came. I struck fire with a flint and steel, and cooked the fish for my meal; and thus, for thirty years, the same provider brought every third day the same quantity of food, one fish at a time, so that I felt no want of food or of drink either; for, thanks to God, every Sunday there flowed from the rock water enough to slake my thirst and to wash myself.

‘After those thirty years I discovered these two caves and this spring-well, on the waters of which I have lived for sixty years, without any other nourishment whatsoever. For ninety years, therefore, I have dwelt on. this island, subsisting for thirty years of these on fish, and for sixty years on the water of this spring. I had already lived fifty years in my own country, so that all the years of my life are now one hundred and forty; and for what may remain, I have to await here in the flesh the day of my judgment. Proceed now on your voyage, and carry with you water-skins full from this fountain, for you will want it during the forty days’ journey remaining before Easter Saturday. That festival of Easter, and all the Paschal. holidays. you will celebrate where you have celebrated them for the past six years, and after-wards, with a blessing from your procurator, you shall proceed to that land you seek, the most. holy of all lands; and there you will abide for forty days, after which the Lord your God will guide you safely back to the land of your birth.’

Third Isle (Feb. 8, 2005)

There came a long dark season
when I tried to marry in both worlds,
loving my wife in the home we
daily made, and straying off to
woo your wild verbotens, daring
at the utmost peril to my first
and actual love just to press my
face into the saltiest curves
and mouth the dregs of you.
Errant fool, I strayed into the
woods from my path, chasing
glints and phosphor, first with
the mildest and most forgivable
of wrongs -- what man doesn’t
deserve a hearty peek into
the glade -- and then by silky-
so-savage degrees, my resolve
emboldened by the fire building
down below, I transgressed deep
and deeper til I was lost in
thrall, no husband anyone would
recognize by the wounded,
wicked lights he almed and
lamped and called. Daring to
leave home and dive full in
up to my neck in whiskey
and those loosened nights
where I found and flung
my heat’s desire, I ravened
far through lace and thorns,
the itch empurpled and
plunging me deep, down
to the sweetest abysms
a falling man could call.
Poor fool me, poor fucker,
poor asshole, poor souse:
my hard-fought house fell fast
in ruin like a collapse of poker
cards, leaving me a man most
without, self-abandoned on love’s
third isle, neither married
in my mind nor free in heart
to truly quest, much less sing
aptly enough those labials
I’d sacked all shores for.
Thus humbled and unhorsed,
I walked the million miles
home, a path I suspect will
thread the rest of my days.
God graced me to this third life
which harbors a third sea,
my song still riven to white
shores but loosed from
actual sands, literal tides,
much less too real metaphors
like dolphin riders or me
finding you on any distant
shore. Still the rhythms
of blue waves are hoof and
fin enough to write the music
down, the metrics of abandon
strict and strapping and
oh-so-bottomless. I suspect
I’ll hug this rock til Doomsday,
singing blue matins in both
penance and penury of
the delights which need no
riders to smash every ship
to shore, my Amens ever
freighted with the
next blue-belling More.

Dark's Dominion (In the Wedding Band)

... whereas marriage is from the overt social point of view a happy and amicable affair uniting two people who wish to be united and establishing a new bond between two kindreds, myth and ritual are at one in proclaiming the converse of this view. Peaceful and friendly on the surface, marriage symbolizes the victory of a principle from an upper realm over the sinister powers of a lower one, a victory won on the conditions set by those powers themselves. The price is the emancipation from that lower relam of the opposite prinicple and the consummate union of the two.

-- Rees and Rees, Celtic Heritage

Outside the ritual the deeds of mythical heroes cannot be repeated by mortal men ... As events in ordinary life they are, as often as not, fantastic, anti-social, immoral and catastrophic. Yet ... it is one of the great paradoxes of human life that it derives its deepest meaning from a mytholigical realm the inhabitants of which conduct themselves in a way that is antithetical to what is normal in every-day behaviour and experience.

-- Rees & Rees, ibid

Sea-Roads (Feb. 9, 2005)

No one said the sea roads to you
would be safe or sane or even
mortally true. The trackless
path has indeed unmade the man
like a bed unmans its riders,
one by one, along the sword-length
of that night not found on
any map of shores in this too-
faintly-blue world. Still your
lovers voyaged on, harp in one hand
and puckerpeckering heart in
the other, reckless exactly
where you dreamed of trespass,
the guards deceived and your
door unlocked in those hours
before dawn when a song
is pure plunge in curve, the
refrains dipped in angel-dragon
fire. You wove deceit and delight
like snakes around their
rousing staffs, the whole
enchantment greater than
the doom of priests and
the quartering horses now
whinnying softly in
dark stables. Yogis of
the first chakra, the least
of heaven’s lights, your
men burned brightest in
your eyes when transgressing
all the way to frame your door
and plunge right in, your
welcome like the curl of wave
which commences to crash
on down the aching shore,
a tumult of blue bliss.
Ah how their songs were
all ferried back from that far
land, like buckets from a
well, brimming over with
daze and dazzle, pierced
and stricken with the color
of your eyes, the glint
of moonlight in the sapphire
hanging between your
breasts as you heaved
your penultimate of sighs,
its facets cut and polished
by every wax and ebb
you’ve altared since lovers
have dared to dance a dream.
Centuries have long passed
and only the songs do
scant remain, a ghostly
choir in miniscule
on ancient parchment,
bereft now of all actual
sounds. Those refrains
down the page are like
markers, perhaps of shores,
perhaps of all the beds
which turned into doors
into vaster regions
far below, beneath all
oceans and most dreams,
where you are every
long-suffered ache inverted
and requited with a Yes,
and heaven is all it
seems when lips to
lips we slake the
hell we now undress.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Darkness Visible 1 (2000)

Darkness visible when the woman
he didn’t know looked away.
Like the cool breeze which follows
sudden sunlight on the creek
or the underside of a sparrow’s wing
frightened off by your approach.
The heart turns both ways at once,
its walls permeable and true
only in alternation. The way grief
inlays the day with its mother-of-pearl,
translucent and gorgeous in
handing us too much to bear.
A woman I didn’t know glanced
and then looked away, and that was all:
A possibility perfect only in that chance,
brief, passing and now lost moment,
breaking me open with all the fervor
of bread fresh from the oven.
Darkness in how quickly she passed
into the fading dusk of memory,
a bell in an distant orchard
ringing thin but clear just after
the moon breaks like a heart to the west.

Darkness Visible 2 (2000)

Darkness not that visible.
It wasn’t the fantasies
of getting drunk or bedding
strange women. Not the
actual tumble into ruin.
Not the reach or the fall,
but close. There is a darkness
next to dark shatter. The
murmur of shades on the rim,
their lacquered tongues
mournful and pure
like the last vespering bell
of the sea. I want to launch
boats all night on the waves
between as and is.
Glorying in the curves
whose rise cannot be seen
until they fall.

"God and Love do well agree" -- Troubadourish sentiments

It is of interest that as the vital Troubadour tradition broke down ((in the 13th century)), the poets turned more and more to the Virgin, at times paraphrasing the Ave Maria or imitating Latin liturgies. We find the old concentrations of love on the Lady turned towards the Virgin. The poet expresses the devotion of a knightly servant to her. The Virgin is all beautiful and amiable; she lifts the worshipper up to perfection and never lets down his hopes. With a minimum of retouches the old conventions are used. G. Riquier and Bernart de Panassac are examples of the turn to Mary. The Dominicans, who had been the Inquisitors destroying southern culture, were great propagandists of the Marian cult; and the poems on her multiply after 1250. Near the beginning of the fourteenth century the system of her seven sorrows, seven joys, her plaint at the foot of the Cross, has been worked out. The same process changed the dawnsong of lovers into one of religious symbolism. The night is the darkness of sin, the dawn is the day of Christ. Peire Espanhol exemplifies this sort of thing.

One effect of the social forces begetting the Marian cult was a certain humanisation of God. In both cases we can see an upsurge of deep pagan elements kept alive at the popular level, linked with fertilitycults and their offshoots. In the Virgin the Earth-mother reasserts her self, and God too is swayed over to acceptance of sensuous love. In La Lai de l’Oiselet the wise Bird declares: “This truth then is recalled by me: God and Love do well agree. God loves honour and courtesy; and Love they please most thoroughly. God hates disdain and Falsity. Love holds them base in every way. God hearkens to those who truly pray. And Love won’t turn from such away.” Such statements, made by the early thirteenth century, would have been unthinkable a century before, except perhaps in a defiant refrain.

-- Jack Lindsay, The Troubadours and their world

God and Love (Feb. 7, 2005)

God and Love found their white shore
where you and I once met and danced,
a strand where wind and wave embraced
around our kiss and then smashed us
to blue smithereens. And though
I woke more alone than ever, I was
yet never quite alone again, the better half
of me freed to roam unruddered in your womb.
The impress of her hips on mine has
lingered, like a a shadowy faith;
the fish tail I’ve grown is scaled
in that wilder half of ocean
I'll never fan the full fiefdoms of,
much less with these lips ever come
to kiss and know again. God and Love
now ride the waves like Arion on
his dolphin, their song for every shore
which translates in transit to hosannas
of abyss, the moon’s gleam distilled
from the ache of pure basalt, your
smile in distant regions altared and
lamped right here. Rude pagan rogering
the tunnies, yahwist hurling reams
of fire: both met and mingled in our kiss,
becoming some malt of awfulness
no confabulist would dare to pour
and live; nor could I much mouth these
words till I’d pounded my last shot
at the bar, and let go black wings that
were never meant to fly, much less soar.
All my wounds were washed in that
salt blue, burning every orifice I tried
to fill my depths with you. As I slept
I turned and twisted down the darkest tide,
all my expletives brine-whelmed and
pustulent, a blackening acre of old bones
sailing south to that port where Davy
is the harbormaster, vaulting Moby’s
Dick and every awfulness I’ve ever yowled
inside my semen’s tide. I woke at ebb
with every joint intact, full harrowed
by the voyage, alone on a great white shore
where wind and wave wire in full motion
the ocean now inside my mouth, my words
all salted a godly blue. God and Love
are in the choir which rises from a throat
which reaches from drowned Ys to
fair high heaven, with every note and all
poems between sufficient space, I’d say,
to weave whale roads and wing the
greater halves of God. Cerulean is
the color of my wash, the mash and
foam of my Boolean search for you
between the waves of as and is.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Tall Tale (Feb. 5, 2005)

The hermit described in Episode
19 of the Immram Mael Duin ...
is clothed in his own hair (and)
lives on a small island. Many trees
grow there, and each tree is full of
birds. He tells Mael Duin and his
company that, having set on a
pilgrimage from Ireland, his
small boat split in two under him.
He returned to the coast, positioned
himself on a sod and on this
piece of turf set out into the
waves again. God allowed the sod
to remain motionless in the
place where he now is, and adds
some turf to the sod each year,
as well as a tree. The birds in
the trees are the souls of his
relatives, who await Doomsday there.

-- Clara Strijbosch, The Seafaring Saint

I set out in my little boat so many years ago,
my heart full of its quest for you
like a wave dreaming distant shores,
full and high and curved close to crash.
Yet God willed my ways otherwise,
splitting my purpose on black rocks below
and delving me back to home shores,
a spluttering, half-ruined man, one for whom
the sea became both longing and its cross.
The bit of strand I settled on became both chapel
and isle, its walls of pale cocquina faith brilliant
by day. But the hull below is not seen by any,
its mast my spine, its sails woven from
gossamering dreams of finding you
and not. My course is a wild immrama
of blue words, mouthed from this pew where
the sound of the uniting surf is never far.
Years now I've remained here to voyage far
beyond the beds I never found you in, clothed
only in my hair & this patch of pale sand
the very fabric of my white writing chair.
Blue is everywhere my mind's eye now navigates,
as if you were looking back over your shoulder
when you left the room for good. How can a song
be both choir and quest I'll never know, but
mine is just to altar that surf here, writing
down all that love still distantly yet urgently
demands. My poems are like the lover's hands
dressing a with the greatest of haste, grooming
something in the mirror and hurrying on out
to find and woo a destiny before the night
is forever hence too late. Far I have travelled
on the same soul-remitting sea, always
lost and ever charmed by the strange music
just ahead of the next swell, just before the
the spill of light which foams and forms the day --
sounds which ink this pen and rudder
its travail down and down to the last line
which buttons to a kiss -- an island of a singular
desire torn from the bridal doom of Ys.

Echtrae (Feb. 6, 2005)

The main theme of the echtrae concerns
the entry of a human being into the
supernatural "Otherworld." The voyage
there is relatively unimportant. In the
immrama, on the other hand, the
emphasis lies in sailing from island
to island.

-- Clara Strijbosch, The Seafaring Saint

Are all shores required to surfeit one song
or is the one isle all, revolving like a whorl
of bliss between the cheeks of blue abyss?
The debate has long disquieted these waters
with two sort of questing men, the one in love
with every wave, the other settled down
in what one foam mounts and mazes
and expires in sweet ebbings from the ankles
of long enduring love. Last night I could have
used some connubial bliss, but my wife
came home tearful and torn, anguished
over her father's fear of dying in some
nearing day. I would have held her tight
to console her dark-diving mood, but she
was somewhere else, estranged by depths
of hurt I could neither share nor shore.
And so our dinner and evening of TV
was surficial and distant, the woman of bliss
I had dreamed the night before a
completely other door a wounded girl
had entered decades ago, never quite
to return. At times like that I wonder
if our lips have ever met, our words
tangential to the other's at best,
grazing regions we only think we share,
enough perhaps to forge a seam
sufficient for the days we call our
life's marriage. All those lost nights long ago
I harbored in so many different women,
slipping in and sneaking out the least
semblance of your uuddered Otherworld:
Easy to shade now as a boy's refusal
to grow deeper than a fearful heart allows:
But married now a second time and
delving surely in the years, I wonder
if I now come to know what so errantly
quested then. that atop the waves and
down the troughs are all the shores
one finds. As if communion was just a
penury of dream, the clear blue space
we share forever just that part of
a wave's fold and crash I'll never reach.
At least the sound offshore of every day
is sweet enough, and the next poem
isle and salt enough to ferry through the
day a flavor of your love. Indeed, my love
is one shore and my wife another; the
third is that strand she and I both
walk and is most inarticulate here,
defiant of any noun I name and
rendering all verbs of crossing drear.

Homage to Wang Wei (Jack Gilbert)

An unfamiliar woman sleeps on the other side
of the bed. Her faint breathing is like a secret
alive inside her. They had known each other
three days in California four years ago. She was
engaged and got married afterwards. Now the winter
is taking down the last of the Massachusetts leaves.
The two o'clock Boston & Maine goes by,
calling out of the night like trombones rejoicing,
leaving him in the silence after. She cried yesterday
when they walked in the woods, but she didn't want
to talk about it. Her suffering will be explained,
but she will be unknown nevertheless. Whatever happens,
he will not find her. Despite the tumult and trespass
they might achieve in the wilderness of their bodies
and the voices of the heart clamoring, they will still
be a mystery to the other, and to themselves.

Wave Story (from the Aran Islands)

"There was one night a man going fishing out from the Claddagh in Galway. This man was going out with his three sons, and they had no one else for a crew. They were waiting a long time on the others. The old man didn't know what he should do; he hadn't enough help to go to sea. 'Twasn't long till he saw a man making toward him on the strand, and he riding a white horse. He shouted to the sons that there was a stranger coming riding and that he didn't know who he was. The horseman came as far as them and spoke and asked were they going fishing or where were they going. The boatman said they were going fishing.

" 'You are a stranger here,' says he. 'I don't know you. Who are you?'

" 'Yes, indeed, I'm a stranger,' says the man of the white horse, land if ye are going to sea tonight, take with ye three things: an axe, a hook and a knife.'

" 'When he had said that and they turned around, the man of the white horse had disappeared.

"'Why do ye think he said that to us?' asked the old man, of his sons.

" 'I don't know,' says one of them. 'But what harm can it do to us to take them with us till we see?'

"One of the sons went to the house and brought with him an axe, a hook and a knife. They had their nets boarded and they shoved out the boat and went to sea. There were a lot of other boats out before them. The night was very calm. But before long there came a great squall of wind. The old man said that it was time to be pulling for the land, that he was afraid the night was going to harden, for the sky was bad-looking and the sooner they made shore the better.

" 'We may as well pull for home,' says the sons, 'as we haven't the help.'

"They started to row and they weren't long rowing when the sea rose, and they saw the mighty wave coming toward them.

" 'This will put us to the bottom, 'tis so big,' shouted one of the sons. 'The boat will not carry it.'

"'Throw out the hook, see will it be any help,' says the old man. 'We may as well take the stranger's advice.'

"When the wave was almost on top of them the son threw out the hook. The wave split in two and passed on either side of them without doing any damage. They battled on and battled on as well as the were able-and strong men they were - and soon they saw the second wave coming, as high as a hill.

"'Heave out the axe!' shouted the father.

"One of the sons threw it out and the minute he did the wave split in two at either side of the boat and did no harm. They pulled on another while-getting bad the night was with gale and heavy rain. They didn't know what to do -twas so dark that they couldn't see where they were going. On came another wave, as high as a hill, and they were sure that this would finish them.

"'Throw out the knife!' says the old man.

"One of the sons threw it out, and the wave split in two and passed on either side with a sweep that threw the boat up on the strand. They were safe. Whatever way one of the men looked around, he saw an oar being washed in, and a piece of a boat.

"'There has been a drowning for sure,' says the father.

"The wind was so high and the night so bad that they weren't able to shove the boat up for a while, but they got it up a little and tied it with a big pelt of a rope and filled the boat with stones. They made for home, and the gale was taking the cornstooks and stacks. It was a good while later before it got calmer. They ate their supper when they got home-'twas very late then-and then they heard someone at the door.

"'Who's there?" the old man shouted.

" 'Open!' shouts the person outside. I want to go in.'

"One of the sons opened the door, and who should be there but the man of the white horse.

" 'Are your sons asleep?' says he.

"'No,' says the old man.

"'Tell them come out - I want them,' says the horseman.

"The three sons went outside the door.

"'jump up here on the horse, men,' says be

"'There's not room,' says one of them.

"'There will be,' says the horseman. 'I'll walk, and the horse can take ye all.'

"They mounted the horse and set off, the stranger walking and they riding, and didn't feel until they were in a big to". They were terrified when they didn't know where they were; they saw big crowds of people, men and women coming from a dance, and they up and down the street together, holding one another, and having great sport and pastime.

" 'Now,' says the horseman, "don't take any notice of them. Come along with me to the top of the street. There's a big house there - that's where we're going. When ye go in, don't speak a word or answer any question till ye come out to me again.'

"He reached the door, and it was opened by a man that was standing inside.

" 'In ye go now, boys,' says the horseman. 'Ye are needed inside: They went in,

"'Go you up to the top room,, says the doorman to the eldest son. 'There's somebody waiting there for you.'

"He went up to the room, and when he opened the door he saw a parlor the like of which he had never seen before, 'twas so fine and well done up. When he looked around what should he see but a young woman stretched on a bed, a woman so beautiful that he had never seen her like with the light of his two eyes before. Stuck in her forehead was the axe!"

"'Come over here,' says the young woman, 'and pull the axe out of my forehead. That's your handiwork tonight.'

"He pulled out the axe, and came down to the kitchen without saying a word.

"The doorman then spoke to the second son. 'Now 'tis your turn to go up to the room,' says he. 'You're needed there.'

"He went up and what should he see but a woman stretched on a bed there and the hook stuck in her shoulder.

" 'Come over here, , says she, 'and pull out this hook. This is the result of your handiwork tonight.'

"He pulled it out, and pretended not to hear what she was saying, and when he had it pulled she sat up in the bed and looked at him for a while, and when he thought she was looking at him too much he walked off down into the kitchen. The two brothers were there waiting for him. The doorman then spoke to the youngest brother.

" 'Your turn to go up now,' says he.

"Up he went and he saw the most beautiful queen he ever saw in his life, before or after, and a knife stuck in her head behind her ear.

"'Come over here,' says she, 'and pull out this knife. My blessing on you and my curse on those who have given you orders. There isn't a young woman in the town tonight, except the three of us, who hasn't got a husband. We're three sisters. My curse on the man of the white horse. Only for him we would have got the three of ye tonight. He's outside waiting for ye now, but we'll have our revenge on him.'

"He left the room and the three of them went out to the man of the white horse where he was waiting for them.

"'Up on the horse with ye now,' says he, I and don't ye speak for ever again about what ye have seen or heard tonight. Don't ever again go to sea-if ye do, I don't want to say what may happen to ye.'

"The three mounted the white horse and weren't long on their journey till they reached home again. Yet the journey back took them seven times longer than the journey there.

"'Go in home now,' says the man of the white horse, 'and I forbid ye ever again to go on the sea. If ye do ye will be taken by the women of the host. There were thirty-one men drowned tonight and ye saw them up and down the street with their women. 'Tisn't how they were drowned but taken away. I'm leaving ye now,' he said, ' ye won't see me any more. Only for me ye would be where ye'er comrades are.'"

from The People of the Sea: A Journey In Search of the Seal Legend, David Thompson

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