Archive

Monthly Archives: February 2012

He’s standing on the North Sea Shore,
Staring at the slate-grey main,
Wishing to wade into the waves
And never go home again.

No matter how chilled the waters
They couldn’t be colder than life,
And more willing to embrace him
Than his cold and distant wife.

Having walked out in the morning
He stalked the strand and dune,
Oblivious the sun had set,
Not seeing the rising moon.

By an isolated inlet,
Away from curious eyes,
He watched a seal slither ashore,
And, to his startled surprise,

It sloughed its dull pelt easily,
Exposing what was concealed,
A woman in her innocence
Fabulously revealed.

Her sea-coal black hair cascaded,
Skin pale as the moon on high,
Dark eyes silvered with a sparkle
Like bright stars in the night sky.

Then she sang such a sad lament
For the loves she’d lost at sea,
So broken hearted she sounded,
So in need of comfort he

Warily stepped from the shadows
Expecting she’d seek cover.
Instead, she smiled, “I can’t be your wife,
Yet I can be your lover.”

“Indeed you cannot be my spouse,
For I am already wed,
But, though man and wife are living
As lovers we are long dead.”

“That’s why I have come here,” she said,
“While the full moon rises free.
We can bring each other comfort
Till I return to the sea.

“I’ve ridden along on white horses
To this Northumberland strand.
All my lost loves are behind me,
Now as your lover I stand.”

On her lips he tasted the brine,
In her hair the salty breeze,
And wrapped only in moonlight
Each did the other one please.

He began to have a fancy
That when she settled to sleep
He might steal her seal skin away
Then she would be his to keep.

But, as the moon began to sink
And their passions had been spent,
He nestled in her warm embrace
And far away the world went.

Suddenly, he woke with a start,
To find himself all alone;
There was no sign of his lover
And the grey seal skin was gone.

Sadly he dressed and made his way
Back over the strand and dune,
He’d go back to his bleak home, but
Return come the next full moon.

Young Colleen of the Emerald Isle,
Was home alone and asleep,
When cautiously through her dark bedroom
The Sidhe did quietly creep.

Her skin was pale as soft fallen snow,
Her hair, all of a billow,
Was fiery as a winter sunset
Spilling across her pillow.

The Queen of the Sidhe had decided
Colleen would be her hand maid,
To this end intricate spells were cast
On the lass where she was laid.

They wrapped her in her own bed linen,
But even if she’d woken
None would have heard her cries for help with
Her being so softly spoken.

Swaddled as she was and hard asleep
They carried her out from there,
With graceful ease they rose from the ground
And flew with her through the air.

Once they had carried Colleen across
A lough or flowing water
She was lost to the world, forever
The Sidhe’s adopted daughter.

But, just before they could get so far,
As they flew out from the town,
There came the voice of one who loved her,
“In the Lord’s Name, set her down.”

The Sidhe are mightily powerful
And fear nothing in the land,
Yet, as much as they may wish, they can’t
Disobey the Lord’s command.

So they set her on a grassy bank
But before they flew away,
As one voice they cried aloud and said,
“We’ll return for her one day.”

So, to her home Colleen was restored,
Though to her own self, not quite,
She became a rather restless soul,
Unsettled after that night.

Fearing the Sidhe really would return
She was never left unseen,
Many eyes watched the flame-haired lassie,
The pale skinned, quiet-tongued Colleen.

Then came the night a fierce storm raged and
Many went to turn the flood,
But, when the danger had passed they found
Colleen gone, and gone for good.

Some say she simply ran away or
Was lost in the flood water,
Others said the Sidhe took their flame-haired
Quiet tongued and pale skinned daughter.

Wherever it was she was taken
Never again was she seen,
If it is true the Sidhe took her then
What fate awaited Colleen?

Upon an unassuming farm
Close by old Samlesbury Hall,
Old Sykes and his wife lived like paupers,
As if they’d nothing at all.

No friends it seemed, nor family,
To ask after their health,
But, what they lacked in kith and kin
Was made up for by their wealth.

Bequests had left a store of gold
Which had been complemented
By frugal living all their lives:
Their fortune represented

All they cared about, their pleasure
And their purpose amounting
To gathering it together
And, coin by gold coin, counting.

They’d close the shutters, bolt the doors,
Stop up all chinks and spaces,
Then, when secured, they’d go around
Their secret hiding places.

Under a flagstone in the floor,
Behind the range where they’d cook,
Above a beam in their bedroom,
Loose brick in the ingle nook.

Little leather bags they gathered
On their oaken table top
And once they commenced the counting
They couldn’t bring themselves to stop.

All through the night the gold coins clinked
As they stacked them score by score,
Over and over, but come the dawn
They’d hide them away once more.

They lived as happy harmless misers,
But, tragedy lay in store
As King Charles and his Parliament
With each other went to war.

Too many lives lost! Buildings burned!
The conflict was coming near
To the land around Samlesbury,
Where two misers lived in fear.

What if marauding soldiers came
Should proud Preston have fallen?
Their farmhouse would be ransacked and
Their precious gold coins stolen.

So, they sealed their wealth in stone jars
One night, when no one might see,
Then buried them in their orchard
Beneath an old apple tree.

Cavaliers and Roundheads fought until
The King was captured and tried.
On the day he was beheaded
Old Sykes and his wife both died.

Following the funeral their house
Was thoroughly searched all round,
Hiding places were discovered,
But not a single coin found.

Years passed by as decades do, then
Centuries had come and gone,
The house, passing owner to owner,
Didn’t settle with anyone.

At last a young man moved in to
Make the ancient house his own,
His greatest pleasure being to sit
In the old orchard alone,

Watching birds hop from bough to bough,
The chaffinch and the blue-tit,
Sombre blackbird perched up high like
A preacher in his pulpit.

One evening, as the sun went down,
Shadows stretched when darkness neared,
He felt he was no longer alone:
Then a vague figure appeared.

Quite feint but clearly visible,
Beneath an old apple tree,
In a gown from another age,
Stood a woman who couldn’t be.

Yet, there she was looking pale and drawn,
And not a word did she speak,
Just pointed at the apple tree roots,
Night after night for a week.

The young man made no sense of her,
His speculations ran rife,
Till a neighbour told him the tale
Of Old Sykes and his wife.

Next morning the young man dug deep
Looking for the Old Sykes gold,
As he worked the wraith stood by him
And he felt he was being told

To dig even faster and deeper
Until he struck with his spade
A horde of antique stone vessels;
The spectre began to fade.

As he lifted the jars one by one
Her expression turned to bliss,
Then, vanishing, she’s not been seen
From that day on to this.

Round Samlesbury Hall it’s whispered,
In Samlesbury Bottoms told,
The tale of a favoured young man,
Old Sykes, his wife and their gold.

Into the hills of Albion,
Where the golden eagles soar,
Went Arthur to seek special stone,
Red with mysterious ore.

Then deep into the dark forests,
Where old oaken branches fall,
He collected all the timber
Needed to make the charcoal.

Building up a fiery furnace
Till it was white hot, then he
Fed in the broken chunks of ore
And the molten iron ran free.

The iron cooled in a sandy mould,
But not for long left to lie,
Heat and hammer, heat and hammer
Making vivid red sparks fly,

Driving out the brittle demons
Through the strength of Arthur’s arm,
A sword blade began to take shape,
The smith being adept and calm.

Then there came the polishing and
The edge being honed razor keen,
Finally a handle fitted;
A sword where a stone had been.

Friends said, “This must be the devil’s work.”
“Or angels.” Thought a neighbour
“No need of them,” Arthur replied,
“This is the fruit of labour.

“From the dark earth I dug the ore
And fashioned it through my skill,
And at each stage my working made
It ever more precious still.

“I drew this sword out from the stone
By making my hammers sing,
From dross to precious artefact:
And in me labour is king.”

Balladear

Old Tom being a whistle player
Who, despite advancing years,
Could still make his fine whistle sing
With the music of the spheres.

Just once had he to hear a tune
Then his fingers would essay,
With flourish, trill and overblow,
Better on his flageolet.

He had three sons who also played,
Two being the best he had heard,
Whose melodies were enchanting;
But, then there was the third.

Not that he wasn’t diligent,
For he practised night and day,
Yet for all that he knew the notes
His numb fingers would not play.

He’d wander over lonely moors
And seek some secluded spot
Where he might try the best he could;
Only to find he could not.

Then one such gloomy afternoon
He saw himself for a fool.
The musical runt threw his pipe
Into a dire moorland pool.

Though, even as it sank from sight,
As he stood feeling alone,
A graceful young woman emerged
From behind a standing stone.

Her hair was of lustrous copper
And her skin porcelain pale,
Her gown as green as rowan leaves
And her features fine and frail.

“You are the whistler’s son,” she said,
“The best player of the three.
Your fingers possess the music,
So play a tune for me.”

“I’m afraid you’re much mistaken,”
The musical dud replied,
“The tunes born through my family
Have, in me, all sadly died.

“I’ve cast aside my instrument
And a listener I will be.”
Said she, “Oh, you will play again,
And you will play now for me.”

She held out a silver whistle
Clasped in her delicate hand,
He hesitated and held back
Because he didn’t understand:

Just who was this strange young woman?
Hadn’t she heard him squeal and rasp?
But, despite misgivings he still
Took the whistle from her grasp.

Warily up to his moist lips
He brought it and gently blew,
His fingers danced along its length
And a lilting air came through.

He played a reel, he played a jig,
He played both quiet and loud,
And he played with such a flourish
His dad, Old Tom, would be proud.

Finally, he paused to listen
To what she had to say,
“You may take this silver whistle
For one whole year and a day.

“Then you must bring it back to me
Having played for all you’re worth:
Beyond that standing stone a stair
Spirals down into the earth.”

Then she ever so daintily
Beyond the stone stepped from sight.
Could he still play? Again he blew
And did so with great delight.

He hurried home to show Old Tom,
But then came doubt and gloom.
What if he’d been fooling himself?
He retreated to his room.

There he played his silver whistle
As he had upon the moor,
Which brought both his brothers and
Their dad rushing to his door.

They stood and listened, quite amazed,
He was the best of all four.
Proudly they took him with them when
The family went on tour.

Fiddlers fetched him their fiddle tunes,
Singers sang for him with zest,
Pipers gave him their melodies
And he played them all the best.

His fame danced along before him,
While his repertoire was vast
It seemed he had no limits, but,
The year and a day flew passed.

He played a slow haunting lament,
A sad tune without a score,
As he led his dad and brothers
Out across the lonely moor.

A skylark sprang from the bracken
To join in song from the sky,
An adder watched from the heather
That sombre party pass by.

Old Tom and his two older sons
Stood back from the standing stone
Listening to the silver whistle
And its melancholic tone.

Behind the ancient megalith
He found the cleft and the stair;
Without missing a single note
He wound his way down in there.

Fainter and evermore faintly
They heard the melody fade.
Never had Old Tom or his sons
Heard a whistle so well played.

They knew the lad could not return,
So sadly they took their leave
And never playing that lament
Did Old Tom and his sons grieve.

Yet, out upon the windswept moor
By the stone where this occurred,
Feint melodies playing on a
Silver whistle may be heard.

Balladear

In his solitary cottage
Upon the bleak loch shore,
Sat Donald alone by his fire
As night gathered on the moor.

Waters were cold and grey as slate,
A bitter wind in a rush
Whined in the eves and sadly shushed
Through an old barbed briar bush.

Donald dozed in his chair awhile,
Warmed by the fire’s red glow,
Then, with a start, he was woken
By tapping at his window.

A white moth danced around the panes,
Fluttering against the glass
As if it might clearly give way
And allow the moth to pass.

Fascinated, Donald stood up
And opened the window wide,
The white moth rose from off the sill
Frantically flying inside.

It flew in circles round the room
Through shades of coming night,
But, when Donald lit his oil lamp,
It flew straight towards the light.

The white moth hovered over the flame
Then, swooping directly down,
Frizzled in a flash, but in its stead,
Standing in a pure white gown,

A woman where the scorched remains
Should’ve been of the moth that died,
“Who are you? Donald asked amazed.
“I’m the white moth.” She replied.

“If you marry me I will be
Your love, your mate, your delight
And you shall never be lonely
Either by day or by night.”

Donald became besotted by
Her porcelain complexion,
They married, and he settled down,
A happy, contented man

She only made but one demand,
“Let our one light be the fire,
For should you ever light the lamp
The consequence will be dire.”

Donald gladly heeded her wish,
So his lamp remained unlit,
They’d sit by the fire happily
No matter how dark the night.

Along the loch shore, down the road,
In the village, by the store,
Lived a woman who’d set her heart
On Donald out by the moor.

When she found she had been usurped
By so pale and frail a lass,
The green demon of jealousy
Whispered, “Do not let this pass!”

She’d go to the cottage in darkness
And through the window she’d spy,
Seeing them happy hurt her so
She wanted the lass to die.

She watched one night as, thoughtlessly,
Donald went to light his lamp,
Such was the shrill shriek from his wife
As if some terrible cramp

Had suddenly racked her with pain,
“You mustn’t light the lamp!” she cried.
What she must do became quite clear
To her mean rival outside.

Next evening before Donald returned
The rival knocked at his door
And when the guileless wife answered
She fell feint upon the floor.

“I’ve been taken by giddiness,”
Softly spoke Envy’s daughter,
“Please, for pity, let me come in
And sip a draught of water.”

While Mercy went to her kitchen,
Merciless plotted her doom,
Lighting the lamp she turned it up
So it shone throughout the room.

When the fay wife returned once more
She dropped the cup in her fright,
Though she tried to shield her eyes and turn,
She could not resist the light.

It drew her closer and closer,
She cried out her husband’s name,
Then she stretched out a hand and touched
The very heart of the flame.

At once the lamp guttered and died,
The doomed wife fell to the floor
Where she simply shrivelled away
And became a moth once more.

At that moment Donald appeared,
He watched the frail white moth soar,
Petrified, he just stood and watched
As it flew out through the door,

Into the gathering shadows,
Lurking around the bleak loch,
Soon he had lost all sight of it
And he started from his shock.

Into pitiless night he ran,
His cries so brittle with pain,
Chasing in vain pursuit of her,
Never to be seen again.

The jealous rival stood alone,
In the doorway’s gloaming hush,
Staring through tears at a white moth
Impaled on a briar bush.

                                                         Balladear