Some Poetry

To me, poetry is like painting. Some of my poems are spontaneous, relying on my "intuition" for scan and rhyme (or not). Most of the poetry in the Wings of Gallanis is carefully crafted. Again, I was heavily influenced by Gaelic and Icelandic poetics in my construction of these poems. I wanted to stay away from traditional modes of English poetry, usually written in iambs with comfortable rhyming structures. In school, I could not have imagined the richness of "foreign" poetics, given that we were so limited by a bad study of ballads and sonnets.

I find the most appealing poetry (to write) is filled with alliteration and internal rhyme. The Celts were obsessed with internal alliteration almost to a fault. Again, I wish to stress that when I felt that meaning was more important than decoration, I always went with meaning. I wear poetics loosely and I do not feel my countrymen's obsession with the perfect form.


drawn, dropping down, he knows where time collects in wordless wells,
gliding past him, moving, silent, current's curtains, torrents veils

liquid, warning, warming, wooing, wringing from him life's travails
rushing down him, ripping reason, tears asunder armored cells

flows his mind the deeper pools, wisdom writes his skin a scale
mystery's darkly, delving stream, willing waters truths unveil

ever running, rippled river, reigned within a tethered trail
rarely wrecked on shoals of shadow, winning free his mortal gaol
for rings eternal ocean's knell, cast in sand migration's grail

The challenge with this poem was first in the nature of Bradán, the Salmon. Many of the animals featured in the series come with a history of riddling, yet the salmon was the Gaelic image of wisdom, namely the wisdom of Druids. Legend has people eating of the flesh of a salmon who ate the nuts of a hazel tree and acquiring the language of beasts and a knowledge of all things. Because the salmon migrates to the ocean, I wanted to convey the myth of moving through different layers of knowledge. I also made the salmon into a form of ecstatic or poetical knowledge, knowledge in the form of riddles and question answers.

In form, I wanted to give the allusion to swimming. You will note that my alliteration is oral, so in reading keep it in mind that the poem is meant to be read aloud. In reading it aloud, one can hear the alliteration take on a phonetic form in the laterals and voiced w's and r's. In much of my poetry I also favor the trochee form rather than the iambic. The next poem is also written in more trochee, yet it has a very different feeling.


rising wealth, pregnant moon, labored in autumn skies--torn by trees
reigning queen, precious gem, lady your augur cries--as he flees
the plains sing in the wake of his passing
of past he sings, and future

keening woods, echoing tor, music in demented minds--of his prey
killing lust, ecstatic death, muted the darkness blinds--those at bay
creatures cower before his gaping howl
howling creatures, fearing life

clawing cold, opus sung, lunacy a golden pyre--dedicated
cleansing lust, opal moon, looming up ghost of fire--devouring
before him terror races the moonlight on the plain
moonlit plains of terror, black rapture

setting sun, lonely beast, reddened rage within him lies--at him tears
sickle queen, longing brute, rapacious greed to him ties--in him flares
his hunger deepens in the hours passing
hours deepen his hunger, and he sings

racing heart, empty plains, tundra of winter's sky--pack lament
raking bones, embers glow, tumult in dead of night--pant unspent
slash into her soul, he pours light into his veins
slashed veins pour onto the snow

wailing air, timbred dusk, shiver the bristled spines--at the hymn
waning moon, timbered hills, sheltered by broken pines--on the rim
of the world he thirsts for, dreams desire-filled
filled with thirst, for blood

making men, beast within, unrenounced murderous crime--blinding rage
mortal love, best to fight, unrepenting maiming time--bleak old age
in gasping birth, in sowing seed, in facing death
birth and death, a man is blooded

sighing trees, crownéd night, hornéd crown of waxing tides--plains aglow
silent stones, cromlech guards, hostaged queen of sacrifice--plaintive woe
chants the chorus dirge to crone of mortal fang and nail
dirge to immortality, made flesh

howling beast, mighty heart, blood of terror, blood of life--bonds of death
hurling flesh, meeting foe, black in deed, black in strife--bones are shred
passion met with violence ruthless clash of wills
willing violent meeting, no submission

mourning moon, lethal king, prisoned the ravished bride--in his heart
mortal love, lawless bonds, privileged to always bide--never part
and in the blackness of the evening join him
join the blackness in him, consumed

First of all, the poem is about the wolf, Faol. The wolf is one of the most complex creatures in all of Western Mythology. I gave my wolf the honor of having the song for the Queen of Night, the moon, interwoven into his own song. Faol was my first attempt at condemning much of Western religion that is anti-mother in the sense of being anti-change and anti-blood, death, life.

A critical part of the poem is the use of Gaelic twist rhyme, as I call it, where the internal part of a sentence gets turned upon itself to emphasize both differences and similarities in meanings. This poem has very complex rhyming and alliteration with many low and round vowels to mimic wolf howling. I have also tried to stay with words that were very Anglo-Saxon sounding. Anglo-Saxon uses many more long vowels than most other European languages. Danish is the only other language that still uses as many long and flat vowels. American English is an older form of English that uses this ancient phonetic.

Again, a working knowledge of phonetics allows the poet to use assonance in a way that rings "true" such as the rhyme "bonds of death" with "bones are shred" in which the long consonant in "bones" sounds worse than the soft "d" and unvoiced "th".


Tell her to weave him a mantle of black
all warp, all weft, all threads must be lack
She must sew it together with needle of bone
and seam it not if love her be shown.

Tell her to sing him a song without verse
no music, no tune, no notes must be heard
She must tell its tale with voice neither owned nor possessed
and be understood for love her be blessed.

Tell her to bear him a son without sin
no blood, no bones, no flesh in his skin
She must give him nothing to nourish or thrive
feeding him moonlight for love to survive.

Whereas Bradán represents the riddles of the esoteric, Verres represents the riddle of love, romantic love, to be exact. Celtic mythology is filled with "impossible love" songs where one of the lovers must perform impossible tasks to rescue the loved one. This is often the case in Fairy Tales and in many legends. The riddle is always psychological, disguised in "real" tasks. Often the lover has changed shape or vanished from the visible world or has been captivated by a superior lover such as the Queen of Faerie.

This poem is traditional, based on a form of riddle song popular in the British Isles and in the folk music of the Southeastern United States. The Celtic quality is not in its structure, but rather in the Celtic love of mixed emotions where death and love are often intertwined. It is as if, as a people, the Celts celebrated the impossibility of anything being straight- forward, as if all paths were twisted around fate and ambivalence.

Song for a King

He fell to his knees in the whispering fields
before the scythe of time, corn falling around him
he was raped of his courage
the golden beads of his soul
smashed into the earth.
Those who bound the sheaves
could not keep back the rains that scored his face
rotting the beauty of his soul
leaving him in the mud.
The sun scorched his dreams
half rotted nightmares of fear, withered and parched
face down and forgotten.
Crack frost broke him
and spring's blossom found him gently asleep
O, my father, gently asleep.

This poem's structure is a spiral, a traditional symbol of earth goddesses. If it were to be sung aloud, the tune would be the eerie Gaelic dissonance most accurately portrayed by the bagpipes. Again, this song was sung during the height of a celebration to mix the joy of the occasion with a memory of tragedy. For the Celts, death was a demonstration like most other displays from a people who loved the theatre of life. There was nothing more important to a Celt than the way in which things were done, dying as well.


I could not see him
Until he turned upside down
I could not hear him
Until he turned around backwards
I could not feel him
Until he turned inside out

Turned upside down
He could not see me
Turned around backwards
He could not hear me
Turned inside out
He could not feel me

This poem is an inside-out poem. The quality of Fiach's questioning is not searching as in the salmon, nor in facing the impossibility of the psyche like the boar, but in the raven's obsession with picking everything apart. Fiach is the ability to see through deception, yet also to wallow in self-deceit. He is mirrors and distortion and the desire to mix things around so that some other pattern might emerge. However, as the poem alludes, much of this questioning leads to a sacrifice of the ability to sense reality, a tearing apart which often tears up the world around.

Mourning Song Anieth

Lullay lu lay, thou tiny son,
lullay lu li lu lay
Lullay lu lay, thou mourning one,
lullay lu li lu lay.

O, orphaned child, dark-kissed and wild
for to preserve this day
For his history, for her memory,
your freedom ever to pay.

Zelos the King, in his raging
windéd the horns of war
His men of might, burning the night
calling the birds to gore.

Stricken of bone, your father thrown
bloodéd he seeks the shore
Your mother true, all hope eschewed
ravaged by conqueror.

And so a babe, torn from the grave
now yokéd you are and chained
Love where you can, forget you the hand
who grips at your soul in vain.

Lullay lu lay, thou tiny son,
lullay lu li lu lay
Lullay lu lay, thou mourning one,
lullay lu li lu lay.

The strangest thing that I have found in Celtic literature is the lullaby that is filled with appalling violence. A traditional song both among White Trash and American Slaves was a song called "All the Pretty Little Ponies" which talks about ravens picking out the eyes of the pretty horses that the mother wants to give her child. Gaelic lullabys such as this make "Rock a Bye Baby" seem very innocent. This poem was based on a traditional Christmas lullaby where the mother sings of King Herod killing all the children. The song was so disturbing it made me think of the twisted way in which some people survive slavery in making that pain part of their tenderness. I have adapted the lyrics to the circumstances of the story.

This song appeals to the jaded senses of the Hawthorn in the book. She sees that the test of life is in the ability to keep the spirit free under oppressive circumstances. It's structure is traditional English with the abcb rhyming pattern common to English song. The only songwriter I have known that was this good at the juxtaposition of lyric and melody was Warren Zevon who mixed upbeat pop tunes with very perverse lyrics.


My love of life is wilderness
wild beyond the dogs of man tossed to wind by antlered rack
racked by woods in unknown dreaming

Heart aflutter on the wind
no hart has breathed the crop, alight hooved feet the fells before
'fore felled the tree its autumn leaving

Hungry chase of hound and horns
set loose the hounding chase though trees surround us everywhere
where every heart's too dear for taming

Bells the dog the damned of man
slavering in her sleepless dreams of her beleaguered hart
heartless leagues before her running

Cut the teeth at tendons snap
the jaws of domesticity close out the wild, put at bay the wood
would the wild choke out the pruning

Deprived, lend us leave to live
the deer has left the deepest night in our silent minds
minding silence since the losing

Leaping ahead of death heart leaping
seven points and seven doe
leaving wilds the woods are leaving
in him the deeper feelings flow
willing away the known so willing
crownéd king the autumn glow
facing the strange the terror facing
is on the land before the snow

Sunlight dapples the fawning wife,
faithful dame of nurture, trembles she her palest hand,
cultured pale distinct for breeding

What wants she the verge of wildness,
the hedge-lined verge beyond the fields of plenty safely sown,
sewn up in her hems of knowing?

Horned scythe scathes the trees
leaves behind a trembling wake of barren earth, harrowed shadows,
shadowed points of ragged killing

Hind glean the fallow fields
the fallow deer have ever fled the wooded gleam in depths beyond
the depths beyond the gloaming

Roebucks roam the fens
no husband hunts the evening's end in terror of the horned stag
his staggered helm both kissed and bleeding

Mad on point, tine a grieving,
loss of fence, of lane, of row, of path to swath the trees aside
this side of death no ordered tilling

Leaping ahead of death heart leaping
seven points and seven doe
leaving wilds the woods are leaving
in him the deeper feelings flow
willing away the known so willing
crownéd king the autumn glow
facing the strange the terror facing
is on the land before the snow

This was the most difficult poem I have ever written. I was impressed by the band, U2, because of Bono's traditional Gaelic internal word play style in songs like "The Longest Day". When I trained my chorus to do this poem for performance, it was difficult for them to understand that the meaning of the poem was in the phrasing as it was spoken.

As a language, Gaelic is most suited for this kind of "inside out" rhyming. Even more than Anglo-Saxon, German, and Latin, the Gaelic languages rely on word roots with hundreds of prefixes and suffixes to modify the form of the word without altering the basic gist. In order to mimic this style, I have taken advantage of English homonyms and older meanings to English words. This poem also demonstrates my love of Anglo-Saxon poetry where gerund verbs charge the poem with a rhythm that sounds very Nordic. I wanted to blend the two cultures into a poem that would have the charging sound of the Saga and the mental dexterity of the Ollamh.

Carria is the red stag, also known as the elk or wapiti in the United States. I have used many words for different deer in this poem to play with the images created from the synonyms of these words. This poem was my first attempt to do justice to a book Tracy and I read called "Thinking Animals" by Shepherd. Our languages are filled with references to animals and modified by their behaviors. The stag for me represented a horizon, and a call against domestication. In this poem, a deer hunt becomes a dirge for the loss of wilderness due to the expansion of man and the need for agriculture over woodlands.


Bones of strife, hips are thrust
gripped in lust, stones of life

Roots of rock, bind her loins
behind her joins, routes unlock

Bones of earth, spread her thighs
Abed she lies, stones of birth

The structure of this poem is the closest I have come to the playful Welsh form called cynghanedd. It is the most Gaelic of my poems and shows the structure of the Celtic mind in which all things are a mirror distorted. The earthy and playful nature of this poem is a tribute to Osar, the bear. The nature of this poem is that it is meant to be read aloud in a round as in the "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" song so that one can hear the mirror effect in the different positions of the phrases such as hearing "roots of rock, routes unlock" or "bones of earth, stones of birth, bones of strife, stones of life." In performance, it would be whispered by part of the chorus and shouted by some in alternation so that the entire poem was fragmented into ways that would have different meanings depending on what was heard at which time.


Over me the havoc skyward
(under her the kill)
Enemies defeat acknowledge
(blood before her spilled)
I rise
I rise, arise, oh, ever higher!

Níl cosaint ar an mbás agam!
Ich kann nicht von der Tod abwenden!
(I cannot ward off death!)

Ground below, the heightened fervor
(silent, taloned might)
I soar upwards, spirit bloodéd
(searing, pinioned light)
On wing
On wing, awing, oh, ever further!

Cuireann an bás m'anam ar lasadh!
Wegen der Tod einfüllt meine Seele das Feuer!
(Because of death, fire fills my soul!)

I plunge deathwards, my soul aflame
(into fire she preys)
Tearing earthwards, striking beauty
(ruthlessly, she slays)
On fire
On fire, afire, oh, ever burning!

Gabhann an lasiar i ngreim ar a bhfuil lamuigh na huaire!
Der Wind zerbricht alles innerhalb des Lebens ausser dieser Augenblick!
> (The wind smashes everything in life outside this moment!)

Death around me, canyons cutting
(warrior aquiline)
Stone entombs my iron spirit
(slayer feminine)
On wind
On wind, awind, oh, ever swifter!

Gabhann an ghlóir shíoraí i ngreim ar m'intinn!
Die Herrlichkeit immerwährend hat meinen Geist verzerht!
(Everlasting glory has consumed my mind!)

Launched berserker, flying whirlwind
(she commands her wing)
Righteous slaughter, angry spear
(brutal talons sing)
I stir
I stir, astir, oh, ever moving!

Baineann solus an aiséir na súile díom ionas nach mbraithim mo bhás!
Ich bin blind mit der Licht meiner Auferstehung, und ich kann nicht mein Tod sehen!
(I am so blinded by the light of my resurrection that I cannot see my death!)

Tinder past, throw to fury
(all devotion all)
Chaos follows, loosening, losing
(all uncovered all)
I wake
I wake, awake, oh, ever after!

Thug mé aghaidh ar an díothú féin agus sheas mé!
Ich bin der Vernichtung entgegengetreten, aber ich habe überdaueren!
I have confronted annihilation, but I have endured!

I burst through death, cloudless, stillness
(she has flown the skies)
'round me growing, ever wider
(soul to exorcise)
The light
The light, alight, oh, ever brighter!

Níl de dhíth ar m'anam ach an lasia!
Meine Seele braucht nichts, sondern der Atmen!
(My soul needs nothing save breath!)

Madness is not deep enough nor
(falcon flown beyond)
Death a reason fearing living
(she has preyed and gone)
Anew, renew, oh, ever striving!

Is m é an cleite agus is amhlaidh an sciath!
Ich bin die Feder also der Flügel!
(I am the feather and so the wing!)

This poem was done in Trochee to emphasize the non-Latinate nature of the subject. Again, I have tried to stay to the Anglo-Saxon words with the hard vowels for strength. Because of the way in which eagles have always represented war and nationality in the West, I have used those images to reinforce the berserker nature of Havoc. Berserkers are a common image to Nordic and Gaelic mythology though not as common in the South.

The berserker image for the Celts was a particularly bloody one. Cuchulain was so far gone in berserker mode that he killed his best friend. Unlike many people, I do not see this image as unhealthy in its appropriate context. Yet, it is an image that belongs to a warrior society or a nomadic society and not to settled, agrarian communities where its destructive nature does not protect. As a teenager, I was suicidal and wrote the following line in my German class "Ich bin blind mit der Licht meiner Auferstehung, und ich kann nicht mein Tod sehen!", which, for me, explained how I felt about life. I think that all martyrs had this ability to be blinded by the glory of resurrection and ignorant of death. Most battle hymns now are dedicated to the tribe or the nation and not to individual martyrdom or victory. I sometimes think that there is something lost that we cannot allow ourselves the madness of bloodlust in some way that would be a balm to the spirit.

The last line is a "magical" phrase a way of rewriting one's entire personality when one is in a rut and after one has destroyed one's life to get out of that rut. The nature of the book is such that the heroine is pulled deeper and deeper into a psychological whirlpool until she is spat out at the end. This phrase is what it means to have been burned alive or "spat out". It is a way of transcending the psyche and creating a new mind, the offering of most spiritual studies.

© 2016, A.R. Stone

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