Category Archives: Poem

To an Old Missionary Rising

‘So on the deep and open sea I set forth with a single ship
And that small band of comrades that had never left me yet.’
Dante, L’ Inferno
“Voyage of Ulysses”

Who will sail with me again?
Who will dare the old dangers, thirsts, and heats,
Their terrors and monotonies,
Those little pains that punctuate your glory?

Who is still fit and hale
To show their face,
To raise their sail to autumn’s waning winds of grace,
And risk again Euroclydon’s furies?

I think
I do not stand alone,
But in company.
The early winter winds have roused
Many ancient warriors from sleep.

They have been to sea before.
They know,
Out there,
Beyond the shore in unknown skies,
Still hangs hail’s steel pelleted rage,
And drenching, wetted early snows.

Yet they fear not to tread the waves again.

O, beware the south,
Whatever time of year,
Where lurk warm, but wayward hurricanes,
And the lesser unnamed squalls
That stir the sea before
And during winter’s reign on earth.

Yet I remember those gentle breezes calling, too.
And they awake in me memory’s longings:
Of comradeship,
Of star filled skies,
And the deep double light of moonlit seas,
And moon in summer.

O, the peace,
The peace of the leeward anchorage
And the foretaste of heaven!

I know the winds will not keep their place,
Nor respect my rest,
But ratchet up to roar and threaten
All further terrestrial and maritime advance—
And rip at life’s remaining riggings.

How strange.
How fitting.
What was meant to cower, draws.

It is not the danger,
Nor the sweetness we crave,
But You,
And your ways in war or anchored rest.

For in like and unlike ways
You wake nobler things in me
Than can be gathered in the fairy petals
Of a dream’s mid-summer night,
Or in the bleak and white jaws of winter’s bite.

You are Divinely sly.

In comfort and duress
You summon me back into battle.

Let us ride the storm out together.
If we can,
We will go against the tide towards home.
If we cannot,
We will go with it until we die.
And dying,
Learn where our new home lies,

Elliott Tepper
for A.S. Worley, who dared and dares, still, ‘The Old Dangers’. 2003

‘Ye are my witnesses’ Isaiah 43:10

Tishrei 5, 5702 (1942 C.E.)  Visiting the Holocaust Museum 2001

‘Today no Jews live in Eishyshok’.
A village empty and broken.
Half burnt doors open and close in the wind and smoke.
Opening in and closing out.

Once the streets and homes were full of Jews who were,
Who were alive,
And walked the mud and cobbled streets,
Whose synagogues sung to the stars and fields and forest pines
Songs of wonder and deliverance in the night.

O would that they were alive again:
Bearded men, women, mothers, fathers, children,
Tradesmen, students, rabbis–
All of Israel’s ancient race.

Search the bloodied streets,
The synagogues that smolder.
Their ashen ruins,
Their burned bones mixed among the embered timbers and blackened bricks.
All is incinerated.
No remnant remains.
No one, old or young,
Not one Jew is left.
All are dead.
All shot without or burned within the locked gates of the House of God.

There are no witnesses save the men who killed them and the stars and God.

O cry conscience!
Wail with the wind,
Weep before the starry angelic host and God Almighty.

Repent before they judge and sift you.
For they will.
They will find you out,
Lay upon the judgement seat all your crimes and cruelties.

You thought the emptied and wasted village
With its tongue and eyes ripped out
Would never speak or see again.
But you were wrong.
They speak in you in your inner part.

O cry conscience!
Wail with the birds,
The black birds that wait and watch,
Perched between earth and heaven on the charred roofless walls.

You thought your SS killing squads
Would strut and storm through the pale of Jewry,
Far from the eyes of men and God,
Killing them where they lived,
Without the tedious bother of trains and camps and ovens.

But you were wrong.
And now thronged without
And thronged within with voices.

O cry conscience!
Wail with the wind.
Speak to the men who killed them
While there is still mercy.

O you murderers!
Let your inner part come to agreement with the stars and God
If you would find the mercy you showed not at Eishyshok.

I know that even now He will pardon you,
Even yet for all your stupid inhumanity:
The Night of Crystals, Treblinka, for Warsaw, Auschwitz, for Eishyshok,
For them and all your other hideous stains.

‘Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord:
Though your sins be as scarlet’,
Black as the good men’s lives you made soot under your boots,
I will wash them whiter than snow.

Run while there is still time to the altar and the Lamb.
Let His blood purify,
Separate what is left of man from demon.
And, if not, destroy O righteous Judge.

Hasten the fires of the Second Death.
Rid the New Earth of those who chose death instead of life
That day in Eishyshok.

Elliott Tepper

Mithril Through the Mist

O that I could write
Upon the mithril plate
A song that would not know
The touch of tarnish.

Nor taste decay,
Though all the worlds
Should thrice pass away,
And lines of men arise
Who must be taught again
To read my writ.

For words live longer than men’s lives or memory
And leap to defy
Those empty untraveled seas
That set the bounds of Ages.

Tie my silver thread in a silken knot to Thee.
Splice my life to the golden cord
That runs behind your ship.
Draw me beyond the waters and the mists,
And the ethers’ airs,
To the Undying Lands beyond the West.

Your land, all Heaven,
In kindness condescends to wait our final copper sunset.

That we,
With you and yours,
Might behold together a new swift sunrise,
That neither sets, nor knows East nor West,
But sits and smiles upon your throne
And us and all,

Mithril has passed beyond the western seas
Upon armored elfin breasts,
The first born who found and forged it.

And with them,
Their light and craft and knowledge,
Dreams and dance,
Their supra human persons and abode.

Yet in the airs upon the forest crown,
In the hidden valleys,
Or where the rim of sea meets the mythic shore,
There their dreams still linger.

Dreams and fact,
Proven and weighty beyond doubt.

Is this not good enough for you?
Or do you demand evidence,
Articles displayed upon the procounsul’s marble bench?

Or perhaps a clear plastic bag in the bailiff’s hand
With a single broken strand of elfin hair
And its tale of DNA?

What does your heart tell you,
In the cool of the day,
As you touch and handle the artifacts of Love?

Elliott Tepper 2003

In Olden Times

In Olden Times the world was young,
And bathed in light.
Silver light,
Golden light,
Light of waters
Light of seas
Light of air
Light of trees and sun and sight,
Light of all lights, light revealing,
Your light in which all lights are seen.

But who was he?
Who opened the handleless door
And looked about and said:

‘Now for myself I will see
If I in myself can see with no light but me.
And then stake my angelic race in this naked twisted place.
There shall my throne sit beneath an empty canopy of nothing.’

Ages passing in Thy light
Follow one another between the dawn and setting night,
Parading, parting,
Rising and falling.

And as Kings fresh and worn,
Once and future,
Sitting to rise,
Stooping to fall.
Their scenes and sets proceeding.
Yet, when lit,
No more than hearth light
And a peasant’s shadow.

How the seconds tick,
The Ages click,
Each stroke a lug sound grinding, grabbing,
Lock tooth to wheel.
Each Age a clunk,
A clunk resonating, resounding,
Ending in its mortal note.
Each stroke a fell knight parting time,
Parting light and dark, day and night
With blade and icy steel.

Yet for You the Ages flow,
Deep, deep and slow,
Like a seamless silent river.
All the little noises,
The rattle of men and empires, kingdoms and clans,
Their rasping metallic dreams,
Their pathos and bathos,
Their new religious abrasions,
Are all swallowed in Your quiet patience.

Though they chronicle, wager and swagger,
Build their greatest cities and thrones into little hills,
Who among them can say: ‘We were there….’
Or who declare: ‘In the beginning…..’?

Only You, You Three.
And then those who are and were yours,
Your host beside You.

Were they your companions,
Or merely angelic creatures,
Clothed in figments of your dream?

Did you need to wait until this last Age
For closer friends and family?

I think not.
You wait for nothing,
And need nothing,
Though for us you waited.

How could there ever be
Limits or extension to your intimacy,
Unless, it is your will to make them?

For Love knows no end,
Nor fears,
And yet is shy,
Gentle to reach out to friends
And bathe all in His song of light.

Elliott Tepper

Ode to the English Language

Craftsmen ought to cut,
Not hack,
And love the language of their fathers.

Be at home in the strains of lullaby,
The tongue their mothers sung,
Burnt in their hearts
Before the dawn of understanding.

I cannot hide my love for you:
Your mystic Celtic sounds,
Your Irish, Welsh, and Scottish edges,
The clean clear randy tang of your common visceral verse.

I feel the Nordic, Saxon strains and sinews
That hold your Latin rump and Greek ethers in their places.

Than you I want no other stone
In which to carve and grave a poem.

Soft to form,
Yet rough and hard
Coarse like a Norseman’s beard and face
Resisting wind and rhyme.

Warm in the cold,
You are an Icelandic dog:
Faithful, affectionate,
Yet vicious in a fight,
Untameable to all but family.

You are an island tongue.
Your boundaries are not the shore,
But the sea.
Like waves they roll,
Multiplied words—
So many borrowed words.
You are a jackdaw
And you have filled your nest with stolen treasures.

You are a merry leather shod forester made precise and practical.
Your coarse outer grains smoothed and sheened,
Polished bright with a Greco-Roman cloth,
And then highlighted in Angle tones,
Then roughed again by the fell Saxon roar
With its latent ordered mightiness.

I love you,
My language, English.

You are the mixing and mating of tongues,
A living river never resting,
Held within its banks by ancient mysteries.

I hear the lost words, too.
Naked Picts and woolly Bretons,
Whose Ghosts, long gone,
Glow below the sunlit surfaces.
Deep down in the dark,
As hidden rocks they still alter the flow.
Their chants and sounds and meanings line
Your riverbed and channel ways of time,
Of dream and near consciousness.

I hear them all in you and love you more.

You are a green and blue silvered salmon full of roe,
Each an orange translucent sack of new universes.

I see now.
You began your quest in the cold trickle
Of a single satin stream born in the Island of the Mighty.

How many nations have you sown,
Birthed and begotten with your sounds
As you left your island home,
And circled Earth in Ocean’s river?

If you,
If all tongues were to swim against the tides,
Go back to Ocean, Occean, Oceanus, Okeanos…..
Go all the way back
Beyond the edge of Garsecg’s shoreless sea,
We would find a man and a woman
Walking with you in the cool of the day.
And hear your voice in the wind say,
In the only language:
‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth…’

Elliott Tepper 2002

Uruk’s Tower

‘Go to the walls and touch their immovable presence
With gentle fingers to find yourself.’
The Epic of Gilgamesh
Tablet I, column I

It is not a dream
This life.

Not me,
Nor my dreams.

I am not dream.
Nor is longing
Nor light
Nor dark
Nor sea
Nor sky
Nor my dreams dream,
Nor illusion.

I see, and in a way know, all is real
And every shadow, rock, and blade of grass of consequence.

For I have felt the city’s stones,
The rough hewed, cubed mountain roots,
Some cut stone, some baked clay,
The basic hard reality of earth,
With gentle fingers, too.

We have met across the Ages
And sat together in the same room.

You have taken me with gentle hands
To your secrete place of searchings—
Whose thoughts and bird-like words were cut into clay,
As tablets to wing their way over mountains, years,
And the vaster spaces,
That trackless distant sea between the race’s head and heart.

‘Climb Uruk’s tower
And walk about on a windy night.
Look. Touch. Taste. Sense.’
You are no different than Gilgamesh or the Ancients
In the wind’s embrace.

How does spirit leap out of clay or page?
Why does wind wait patiently millennium to millennium
Penned in cuneiform
Waiting for light and eye and faith?

For the spirit proceeds from neither clay,
Nor eye, nor I, nor me—but Thee,
The maker of all men and things
In all times alike.

O Lord
At times I am blind, my fingers coarse and broken.
How can I read your Book’s braile?
Soften me.

And as the Son our sun
Release Love’s blazing light and selfless song
That we might see and hear.

Write within
And write without,
Upon these clay pots our life.

Roll your seal
Across these wetted, supple, living moments
That we, as thy sons,
To Thee be.

Elliott Tepper 1995

At the Turning of the Dawn

‘O Hark, O Hear! How thin and clear,
And thinner, clearer, farther going!
O sweet and far from cliff and scar
The horns of Elfland faintly blowing.’
Alfred Tennyson

The splendor falls upon my eye and ear.
I hear the sounds of footsteps falling,
Wadding backward in the light,
They return to where sun streams flow
To wake the morning.

In the pools between the dusk and dawn
I hear the splash of light and see
What silver prints be left from silken boots
Upon the merry dewed and misted mystic lawn.

Who is he who turns towards me?
What call we him and his kind,
His look that beckons on to follow?
Will we only watch and wait
While the furrows of his wake
Recede and leave us gazing from our early earthen gate?

Or will we look and turn,
Move quickly to hear him speak?

Friend, so soon I flee your day
To dance again beyond the moon
In starlit groves of Faire gloaming.

O Harken, Harken hear and trust!
Come, follow on my silver strand
And let us be about together.
Stir yourself and in the morning lights
I fain would banish fear if you would let me.

Your heart this unknown land has known,
If you will but begin again,
And remember what you once knew by heart:
Of star winds and sails that whisper well,
Of old old tales, once and still told,

Whose barks the dusk sea bears
Bold beyond belief and longing.

Listen and linger with me.
Hear the King’s other aires and innocences,
His careful weighty careless songs.
For they issue from that place that meets and greets us
Before and after birth and dark.

O Harken, harken hear and trust!
For I was with you while you slept,
A guard, a sentinel to sing as twilight to the dawn
A song with wings that sought the Nether Sea.

Rout the night and lesser lights.
Remember now the song that made the sun to rise.
I tell you it runs a river through your eyes
And stirs the still waters of your soul.

You were deep in dream and light of sleep
And so, as one apart, you, too, woke to wake,
To catch the star trail’s tale,
To ride with us upon His wake
Over the ridge of night,
Along His endless day forever into light.

Remember what you knew and know.
Believe to jettison base and worthless things that weigh.
Fear not, for upward, inward we will go
Where Elves and Angels, Saintly Men,
And all of Heaven’s denizens do play.

O Harken, harken hear and trust!
Why do you make to turn as if to flee?
I doubt you doubt.
Be assured: He does not speak, nor waste my words
On him who has not embarked already.

See below us, still and distant, the fair skin of earth.
Weigh your last anchors that still dangle.
How can they bite the air,
Or latch upon yon mountain range’s peaks
That sink below as crystals green,
Studded, faint and fallow gems of light.

Already you are lightened
And made light enough to see,
Your soul a free and holy craft
To win its way above man’s stale and darkened fen.

Walk straight and spritely.
Dance as would an Elfen friend.
Prance with me upon the sun’s yellow locks
That flow a golden road before us.

There is no care nor weight to bare
Able to bend your path away from Him
Who calls all who wait his will.
Now is the time to try the Upper Sea
In all the layered Heavens rare.

The waters of His Empyrean, high and low,
Do bow and rise.
See, they worship with you.

Fix your eyes within upon the stars,
Those living eyes of Amethyst, Beryl, Jasper,
The blood fire stones of life.
Above they wait, each a throne,
Set before the Father’s Sons of Light.

Elliott Tepper 2005

I Would Be An Inkling

I would be an Inkling.
But would they have me?

For though I, like them, in ink do write,
Stark reality
Trumps presumption,
And I yield
To listen and watch them run.

But then, I suppose,
The little inkling I have
Of why they laughed and cried and lifted cups
And inked about—
That smallest inkling, though slight,
Might be light enough
To crack the door,
And set a chair,
And then for them

To invite this wee inkling in.

Elliott Tepper

O Poet, Make Old Worlds and Words New

O Poet,
Make old worlds and Words New.

Make new worlds and words to bow their heads,
To behold and hold and tell the depth and girth and grit
Of men whose song was sung
Before lips were found to sing them.

O Bard,
Go in search of new myths,
Lost, but found.
Myths that point to the chink in time,
The place where golden suns
And silver moons do rhyme.

Dare O Child,
Accept the challenge song of Elfin friends,
Melding light and sound into speech and chime.

Ere the setting of the morning star,
Hear the rumble drum with Dwarfish hammers pounding,
Rounding liquid dream from stone and mithril bar.

O mere Man,
Repeat again the ringing of the mountain deep
That wakes the sleeping Kings.
Bring good, but thick Men back,
Back to the edge of time,
And molten with desire.

O Fire, Fire, Fire….
Wordsmith unsplinter Elfin light.

Elliott Tepper 2010

The Poet’s Eye

‘The poet’s eye….doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven….
And give to airy nothing a local habitation and a name.’
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, William Shakespeare

I would to blend,
As the bard brings down and makes plain to me,
Lofty majestic heights,
With the little white flowers on my cherry tree,
I would sing again the old canticled tales,
And follow their tracks in the dust fall of verse and rhyme.

I from earth would reach to draw the map that leads to Thee.

O God of nature,
Thou art greater still than all Thou hast made:
Beauty so nearly worthy in its warp and wool of worship.

I do not confuse light and light’s shadow,
Nor You, who stand: over, above, apart,
And yet in all you have made.

Your art is artless,
Yet rises to beget
Dream and dreams of you in me,
Draws us on tip-toed genius to create,
To scratch and imitate
Our Father’s drawings and his play.

Elliott Tepper  2010