For the last couple weeks I wake up every morning thinking about the Romantic Era and Lord Byron. It's as though the restless spirit of George Gordon hovers over me while I sleep whispering, "Away! we know that tears are vain, That death nor heeds nor hears distress: Will this unteach us to complain? Or make one mourner weep the less?" Why those words, I don't know. It just sounds like the treacherous beauty he might use on you if you're the first person to fall asleep at his birthday party or something. And of course, every time I wake up thinking about Lord Byron, I think of Gabriel Byrne, who once portrayed Byron in that crazy film Gothic. Yes, these are the insanities my mind plays upon. You probably had no idea... or maybe you knew all along.
Being winter, the wretched season of discontent, I have been trying to balance my thoughts between the beauty of the snowfall and the comfort of knowing I need not rush out if the weather is bad, but as Lady Death treads softly upon the earth in these, her final days, I cannot help the feelings of hopelessness that grab at me from time to time. The quick passage of time being one of the most pressing (and depressing...) thoughts, I try to fight it, but then waking up with my first thoughts on Byron's poetry is most certainly not a sign that I am winning any battle with bleak thoughts.
Poetry then. It's Byron's message. I know that beyond the macabre moanings of fear, doom and of course, death, there is another message. Write poetry. It's what I always do in the face of depression and adversity. I have done so since I was very young, and though I seem to write far less poetry than I did even five years ago, it is definitely something I miss and look forward to exploring again. I've even got the first few lines of something dark and brooding scribbled in my notebook.
The funny thing is, I have lost my touch when it comes to writing fiction or essays longhand. It used to be I could be found just about anywhere with a stack of paper or a notebook and pen scrawling out page after page of fiction, but after I got my first typewriter and then upgraded to a word processor, I never wanted to go back to writing on paper again unless it was poetry. There's something about writing poetry down though that compels me. The long thought process that pours into every word seems to flow more smoothly when it's done with a pen.
I did a lot of experimenting with Sestinas about three years ago. There's just something about the challenge of putting together a poem carefully constructed piece by piece. I am alway afraid that the words will sound forced, but then there is a strange, ethereal quality to the Sestina that really sticks with me. This is the first one I ever wrote, and I actually had it published in Strange Horizons back in 2006.
"Blood Moon Sestina"
You open up your arms, embrace the dark
night absorbed by the freshly fallen snow.
Face upturned as if waiting for a kiss,
you think he's your lover—it's just the moon.
The neon sign stains the streets like his blood.
You can't wash the memory from your hands
It's cold, but you refuse to hide your hands
in your pockets. "It isn't really dark,"
you say, but the snow white is stained with blood.
What crushes underfoot like old bones? Snow?
Shadows and clouds eat the face of the moon
and you're still out there waiting for that kiss.
Is it really that important, this kiss?
Every time you reach out to take my hands
I pull away, try to hide like the moon,
but there is no real safety in the dark.
The evidence is buried under snow.
Just like human skin, even snow can bleed.
It stains your shoes. "It's just a little blood,"
you say. Cold, blue lips parted for the kiss
you know won't come. Falling from the sky, snow
spirals toward the earth. "Catch it!" You hold hands
out. It could gnaw away at your darkness
and maybe absorb some light from the moon.
Like the face you thought was your love, the moon
peeks out, but hides again when it sees blood.
It's easier to lie inside the dark
about the lips you really meant to kiss.
They were not mine, but I still take your hand
and like angels we fall into the snow.
Beneath the blanket, we're buried in snow.
So deep, so far, not even a sharp moon
eye will find us. We are still holding hands
and I know you still want to try and kiss
me. All I can taste is the bitter blood
of a dying moon. Everything is dark.
And now the snow is melting into blood.
Old dying moon no one will ever kiss . .
it's on your hands now. Everything's gone dark.
Copyright © 2006 Jennifer Hudock
Time to start thinking about the six words I'd like to incorporate into my next Sestina. The words themselves will contribute heavily to the mood of the poem, so it can be a careful process, or an exciting free for all by just grabbing any six words and running with them. Maybe I'll write about Lord Byron, or Shelley maybe... the Romantic Era in general. Anything to capture the mood I'm in.
I leave you now with the words of Lord Byron:
"When We Two Parted"
When we two parted
In silence and tears,
To sever for years,
Pale grew thy cheek and cold,
Colder thy kiss;
Truly that hour foretold
Sorrow to this!
The dew of the morning
Sunk chill on my brow;
It felt like the warning
Of what I feel now.
Thy vows are all broken,
And light is thy fame:
I hear thy name spoken
And share in its shame.
They name thee before me,
A knell to mine ear;
A shudder comes o’er me—
Why wert thou so dear?
They know not I knew thee
Who knew thee too well:
Long, long shall I rue thee
Too deeply to tell.
In secret we met:
In silence I grieve
That thy heart could forget,
Thy spirit deceive.
If I should meet thee
After long years,
How should I greet thee?—
With silence and tears.
George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788–1824)