‘To the unknown, unsung skald’
In the tower by the sea
The Baltic blew and wind swept clean the sea.
Leaving cold, blue-grey forests tall of memory:
The scent of wood and sail,
Viking iron, steel, cut pine, wet leaves,
And man fire.
What kind of men would live so near this sea
Whose winter chill thickens bones and hardens faces?
This wind grows strong men.
Not as fertile fields whose black earth
Bequests its riches,
The borrowed life of former things,
Moldering to be remade.
Not as humus, with sun and rain,
Blending elements into form and life.
This wind as iron sharpens iron
Calls up what has always been,
Wakes up the sleeping giants.
For little men are blown away
Or else made big.
Grows men as trees that will not bend nor break,
Mythic oaks as thick as houses.
This wind whips tides that race men to their home
Beyond the rim of earth,
Begets storms that drive thin open ships,
Whose tracks streak white on the white-capped sea.
This wind grows gales that gut the softness
From between men’s eyes,
Gives visions of distant seas,
Farther still than Garsec’s girth.
Here, wind pelted rains,
Half laden with snow,
Drench wool and leather,
Put will fire in fists and feet.
The keel ground sand,
And found its rest,
Stuck in a sea of grass.
The single sail and crossed mast shaft stood erect and real,
Casting a giant reed shadow.
So wind brought in
And left an empty ship,
Empty, yet full of men,
Coughed up from ocean,
Caught where the river runs to the sea.
Though their forms rise epic in the mist
Half men, half gods,
They are not mere twist of memory or shadow.
Though men, they are more than men,
More than legend.
And though not our race,
Their lives and hero’s deeds are our fathers’ pith and worth.
They are the sun’s golden kernels,
Which bring forth the full ear in time.
Believe me when I say:
They walked the moors, the heather, and the highlands,
Tore their ships from northern forests
To sail on star-lit seas,
Bore sons and daughters,
Lived and died.
From the raw stone tower,
From the empty sentinel’s berth I heard:
“You shall again one day meet.
I swear their story is true,
True, but grievous”.
But if so hard,
Why this pervasive beauty—
The maids of white silken hair and grace?
Why the children laughing,
The grandmothers cutting flowers,
And the old men dreaming dreams,
Leaning on their beached boats?
I see no quarrel in the Northern airs
Betwixt strength and gentleness.
Their yet untutored ancestral strains each year,
Along with nature’s winter’s roar,
Are blanketed and put to sleep beneath the snows,
To be muted in the spring’s loveliness.
Even then, before the time,
Surely some had seen Thy face in the cold Northern light
Or on the ice brittled sea.
Surely some had seen Thy hand waking the new year’s flowers.
I think this ancient mightiness
Would not raise its head
If it were not Thine to give,
The northern warriors not half so fierce or kind,
Without some untutored untoward love of God, and hearth, and home.
The sun stood still,
Hot and bright in the fair early fall.
For bare arms still bore the tan of summer.
I remember not August,
But something older, far away,
A hint of what had not yet come, but will.
There is a coldness in the Baltic air,
A subtle whiff of brevity.
I am not fooled by the gift of a late summer.
Nor will my longing to linger
Make it stay.
I might as well try and wish the tides away,
Or stretch to sweep each encroaching wave
From off the beach.
Who am I to cut and rend or amend
Nature’s or Grace’s measured ways?
There is a coolness awaiting me and all—
A Northerness I long for.
This I know,
And I am prepared,
Not a day to waste.
As I enjoy today’s sun and pleasantries,
I do not fear the solstice,
Nor the equinox.
For as there is a trough,
There is a crest—
Not one, but two.
April can be warm,
But I am told, at times, cold,
Cold in Jerusalem as well as Kiel.
The sun that darkened in the ninth hour
Turned the seasons inside out.
You remembered not the cold of earth,
Nor winter’s dread,
But something newer,
Eden’s older, better days.
In the black demonic cold,
Impervious to the chill,
You sweated Love’s drops of blood
Upon that skullish hill.
Then from one end of time to another,
From Golgotha to the Baltic steps of my stone stile,
The thief and I,
We heard the wind’s warm whisper in the cool of the day:
This day thou shalt be with me in paradise.
Elliott Tepper 17-10-94