The Poet's Tale - MacDuff

Discussion in 'Peer Review Workshop' started by Richard Rohlin, Aug 11, 2017.

  1. Richard Rohlin

    Richard Rohlin New Member

    The Poet's Tale is the frame narrative of a much larger, composite work called The Book of Amboria. The Book of Amboria has been my ongoing project for the last 15 years, and involves multiple works, ranging from long-form poetry to sonnets to royal chronicles to country ballads to Dunsanian fairy tales, around all of which a manuscript tradition and critical apparatus have developed.

    The conceit of the work is that The Book of Amboria is a work compiled by a scribe, Rinsos, intended to represent the history and mythology of Amborian civilization up to a particular point in time. But Rinsos is writing with a frame narrative of his own: a Scheherazade-esque story in which a poet tells stories to the angry genius of a dead city, trying to buy time until the morning comes. This is in turn based on something which actually happened to Rinsos in his lifetime as part of the events of the rescue of the Prince Galal (the details of which are chronicled in the main novel accompanying The Book of Amboria, or will be if I ever finish it).

    This, then, is Rinsos' frame story, "translated" into blank verse (non-rhyming iambic pentameter), all save one line.

    ---

    A Poet, fleeing o’er the Northern heath
    Despaired of his way, pursued by evil men,
    So chanced upon a rotting coracle
    And desperate, put trust in sodden planks
    And punted over to an accursed shore
    Which, moated by the angry river Cheyth,
    Had not for ages felt the tread of man.
    For, since it greedy drank the blood of guests
    It had remained a city of the dead
    And for this cause men say that in its streets
    By moonlight glitter ivory paving stones.
    No stones, but dead men’s bones lie there exposed
    Flashing in silvery moonlight their glittering jaws,
    Their empty sockets gazing on the world.
    So Kyronkarr, where the Poet first set foot
    Upon its shore accursed. So wandered he
    For many heartbeats, gazing on its ruin,
    And thought him of the glory it had known.
    He looked upon its golden minarets
    And marveled at the splendor of its gates—
    Such splendor it had born in former times,
    But majesty long‐faded turns to rot
    And dead men take no joy in brass or gold.
    So splendid cities all which empire hold
    Are but the holds of corpses ere the end.
    The Poet wandered through the city wide
    And wand’ring, grieved the city’s muse,
    Who slumbered there but fitfully in brood
    On all her ancient wrongs. She howled like the wind:

    “Who walks, so loud, across my bone‐paved streets?
    Unholy feet! That tread beneath their soles
    My children’s bones. What madness drove you here?
    Be ware you answer well, though guest you be,
    For fear I not to add thee to my tale.”

    The Poet spake: “Unhappy fate ‘twas drew
    Me all unbidden to your dreadful shore.
    Nor come I willingly, but need requires.
    For fortune ill which hounds my life from birth
    Hath giv’n me to the hands of wicked men
    Who mean, ere the sun again has risen,
    To cast my feeble body in the Cheyth—
    Thence to run, all‐bloated, to the Sea.
    But had I known what death awaits me here
    I would have rather chosen hand of man
    Then be devoured by a spectre’s wrath
    And pave these grizzly streets with whit’ning bones.”

    Then asked the city’s spirit: “What crimes?
    What reason have these men to work your ruin?”

    “Tis only a poet’s sins, if sins they be.”

    “But poets,” said she, “have done great wrong to me.
    For by their songs my shame is noised afar
    Who should with kindly mem’ry speak of me
    Who once outstripped the cities of the earth
    In grandeur—and the long reach of my trade
    Grasped at starless seas and shadowed isle,
    When giants murmured the glory of my name.
    But mock’ry all their songs, for so I hear
    When some foul mocking wind or southern gale
    Brings past my walls some whisper of their words
    Which make a jest of wrongs, and make my name
    A byword to the peoples of the earth.
    No love for poets in my breast! So die,
    And with the service of your gleaming bones
    Atone the many wrongs your kind have done.”

    So saying she, the wind arose in wrath
    To smite the Poet down. He shrank against
    The grizzly street, and raised a suppliant hand.

    “Forebear, O Kyronkarr the Great, and stay
    Your wrathful hand from this poor Poet’s head.
    For payment of my life I would give all—
    But what have I to offer save a song?
    But if my feeble tongue can put in words
    Some pleasant tale to while the hours away—
    Of warriors brave or maidens fair at court—
    Then when the shining ram of dawn aloft
    Comes bounding, towing his fiery cart on high
    I will away, and nevermore will come
    Again to seek your troubled shore. So lie
    In peace, while ages pass, and I will tell
    With faithful tongue the glories of Kyronkarr.”

    And the city: “Long indeed since ere I heard
    A song to cheer these lichened walls.
    But do not prate to me of courtly loves.
    Such trifles do not please these ancient ears.
    But tell me now of elder days long‐passed:
    The coming of the Star‐folk, and their ruin,
    And how they flew before it to this Sea,
    And came through wand’ring, death, and many tears,
    To dwell in peace at last beside its shore.
    But warning one I give you. Hearken well:
    Speak not the nameless sin which stained my streets
    And made Great Kyronkarr, the peerless town,
    A roosting place for gulls and albatross.
    Speak it not! Or else thy grinning skull
    Adorns my empty shrines with lidless eyes,
    And I make thy bones a pavement for my feet.”

    So the Poet sang with ever‐trembling voice
    While all around the jaws of dead men grinned
    And the North wind howled through streets of dead men’s bones.
     
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2017
  2. Sparrow

    Sparrow Hestia of the Hearth

    Thanks for posting this, Richard - our first workshop piece in our new space is absolutely fabulous, and you've set a fabulous tone :)

    MacDuff? Well, then -

    First - I love the set up - yay for a good story in a story in a story!
    Now... is the story about to be told indeed only one? And only a few hours? My brain (probably because of the Scheherazade reference) expects more than one night's worth of stories, such as enough to fill the nights until the next spring tide when the low will reveal a causeway for escape or the high will prevent the bad guys from following... (please read this as: I want lots and lots of stories, please!)

    "tread of man" - is it deliberate that a gendered word is used for the generic? (just a thing I have to check - if author's choice because of the culture, well and good, but our own minds should actively test these things)
    "such splendor it had born in former times" - Oooh! Applause! I know how careful you are with words, so I ran to the OED and found BORN:
    1. trans. To cause to be born, to deliver (a child), to bring into existence. rare.
    "For fear I not to add thee to my tale.” Hmmm - the same person was addressed as "you" previously multiple times in the same sentence...
    Spelling "than be devoured"
    "spectre's wrath" - surely a whole city's genius loci is bigger than a spectre? (I think that's just I and my own impression of what a spectre is)
    "mock'ry" and "mocking wind" come awfully close to one another - replace one?
    'a byword' - can it be replaced by a more negatively valenced word?


    My poor brain can handle a little anacrucis syllable at the front of a line, but I admit I was thrown off by deviations from the strict iamb... Blame Shakespeare and my own dialect's emphases. I'll show you what my inner narrator's voice filled in as I read along:

    "Despaired his way, pursued by evil men"
    "and desperate, put his trust in sodden planks"
    "and punted over to accursèd shore"
    (thank you for making the meter tell me how to pronounce 'Cheyth')
    "A-flash in silver light their glitt'ring jaws"
    "So Kyronkarr, where Poet first set foot"
    "And wand’ring, grieved the city’s Adj'tive muse,"
    "On all her ancient wrongs. She howled (the/as/her) wind:"
    "Who mean, before the rising of the sun"
    "From thence to run - all-bloated - to the Sea"
    "Than be devoured by Adj'tive spectre's wrath"
    "Then asked the city's SpiritX, "What crimes?"
    "'Tis only poet's sins, if sins they be"
    "But poets," said she, "greatly wrongèd me"
    "a-grasped at starless seas and shadowed isle" (a-grasped is not the right thing, but my brain had to fill in *something*)
    "When giants murmured glory with my name"
    "The grizzly street, and raised suppliant hand."
    "Comes bounding, towing fiery cart on high"
    "With faithful tongue the glorious Kyronkarr.”
    "Replied she: “Long indeed since ere I heard"
    "A song to cheer these lichened hallowed walls."
    "Thou Speak it not! Or else thy grinning skull"
    "I make thy bones a pavement for my feet.”
     
  3. Richard Rohlin

    Richard Rohlin New Member

    Sparrow,

    Thank you so much for reading and for the good feedback! To address a few of your points...

    There are lots, lots, lots of stories. The frame device is just the one Rinsos uses for the collection which he's curating (very little of it is actually written by him, although his commentary is throughout).

    "tread of man" - Not intending this to be a gendered word. I realize it is in modern English, but in Old and Middle English, and even in archaic modern English, "man" is simply a way of referring to the human race, and is not in fact exclusively male. That is how I am using it here, and how Tolkien uses it in phrases like, "many lives of men." I think it fits the overall archaic tone of the work.

    Good catch on the thee/you usage. I'll fix that.

    I'll think about "byword" some more. I think probably there is some influence from Biblical language here, e.g., "And you shall become a horror, a proverb, and a byword among all the peoples where the LORD will lead you away..."

    All right, I'll make some revisions this evening and re-read the meter to make sure it scans. Watch this space!
     
  4. Richard Rohlin

    Richard Rohlin New Member

    It's not evening, but I can't stop fiddling. I've gone through the poem, reworking lines that were off by a beat, or where the deviation from the standard iamb sounded too awkward. I've also made a few wording changes (but left in "man" and "byword" for the present):

    ---

    A Poet, fleeing o’er the Northern heath
    Despaired of his way, pursued by evil men,
    So chanced upon a rotting coracle
    And desperate, put trust in sodden planks
    And paddled toward a long-abandoned shore
    Which, moated by the angry river Cheyth,
    Had not for ages felt the tread of man.
    For, since it greedy drank the blood of guests
    It had remained a city of the dead
    And for this cause men say that in its streets
    By moonlight glitter ivory paving stones.
    No stones, but dead men’s bones lie there exposed
    Flashing in silvery moonlight their glittering jaws,
    Their empty sockets gazing on the world.
    So Kyronkarr, where the Poet first set foot
    Upon its shore accursed. So wandered he
    For many heartbeats, gazing on its ruin,
    And thought him of the glory it had known.
    He looked upon its golden minarets
    And marveled at the splendor of its gates—
    Such splendor it had born in former times,
    But majesty long‐faded turns to rot
    And dead men take no joy in brass or gold.
    So splendid cities all which empire hold
    Are but the holds of corpses ere the end.
    The Poet wandered through the city wide
    And wand’ring, grieved the city’s wrathful muse,
    Who slumbered there but fitfully in brood
    On all her ancient wrongs. She howled as wind:

    “Who walks, so loud, across my bone‐paved streets?
    Unholy feet! That tread beneath their soles
    My children’s bones. What madness drove you here?
    Be ware you answer well, though guest you be,
    For fear I not to add you to my tale.”

    The Poet spake: “Unhappy fate ‘twas drew
    Me all unbidden to your dreadful shore.
    Nor come I willingly, but need requires.
    For fortune ill which hounds my life from birth
    Hath giv’n me to the hands of wicked men
    Who mean, ere rising of the ram of Dawn,
    To cast my feeble body in the Cheyth—
    Thence to run, all‐bloated, to the Sea.
    But had I known what death awaits me here
    I would have rather chosen hand of man
    Than be devoured by a spectre’s wrath
    And pave these grizzly streets with whit’ning bones.”

    Then asked the city’s spirit: “For what crimes?
    What reason have these men to work your ruin?”

    “Tis only poet’s sins, if sins they be.”

    “But poets,” said she, “have done great wrong to me.
    For by their songs my shame is noised afar
    Who should with kindly mem’ry speak of me
    Who once outstripped the cities of the earth
    In grandeur—and the long reach of my trade
    Grasped at starless seas and shadowed isle,
    When giants murmured the glory of my name.
    But mock’ry all their songs, for so I hear
    When some foul western wind or southern gale
    Brings past my walls some whisper of their words
    Which make a jest of wrongs, and make my name
    A byword to the peoples of the earth.
    No love for poets in my breast! So die,
    And with the service of your gleaming bones
    Atone the many wrongs your kind have done.”

    So saying she, the wind arose in wrath
    To smite the Poet down. He shrank against
    The grizzly street, and raised a suppliant hand.

    “Forebear, O Kyronkarr the Great, and stay
    Your wrathful hand from this poor Poet’s head.
    For payment of my life I would give all—
    But what have I to offer save a song?
    But if my feeble tongue can put in words
    Some pleasant tale to while the hours away—
    Of warriors brave or maidens fair at court—
    Then when the shining ram of dawn aloft
    Comes bounding, towing fiery cart on high,
    I will away, and nevermore will come
    Again to seek your troubled shore. So lie
    In peace, while ages pass, and I will tell
    With faithful tongue the glories of Kyronkarr.”

    And she: “Long indeed since ere I heard
    A song to cheer these crumbling, lichened walls.
    But do not prate to me of courtly loves.
    Such trifles do not please these ancient ears.
    But tell me now of elder days long‐passed:
    The coming of the Star‐folk, and their ruin,
    And how they flew before it to this Sea,
    And came through wand’ring, death, and many tears,
    To dwell in peace at last beside its shore.
    But warning one I give you. Hearken well:
    Speak not the nameless sin which stained my streets
    And made Great Kyronkarr, the peerless town,
    A roosting place for gulls and albatross.
    Speak it not! Or else thy grinning skull
    Adorns my empty shrines with lidless eyes--
    Your bones become a pavement for my feet.”

    So the Poet sang with trembling voice
    While all around the jaws of dead men grinned
    And the North wind howled through streets of dead men’s bones.
     
  5. Sparrow

    Sparrow Hestia of the Hearth

    Wow!
    I love all your thoughtful responses - and I'm very grateful that you're tolerating my Inner Syllable Counter :).

    Yay! for lots, lots, lots of stories (I have the privilege of having seen some of RR's tales before and I'm so excited to welcome him to this space).

    That (insert strong adjective here) last line is genius. I'm all rocking along with the beat, totally engrossed in it... and then you pull the rug out from under me *with one tiny anacrucis!* and I realize I've fallen off a cliff. Seriously. Visceral, kinaesthetic response to that line. Delicious!
     

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