Saturday, August 4, 2012

A Poem—Two Ancient Lands Meet: Eire and Hellas

David Berger © 2005
I visited the Aran Islands in 2005 and found myself at a place beyond my imagination. Housed on the edge of a cliff (hundreds of feet above the ocean) on the island of Inishmore was a stone fort aging back to the Iron Age—Dún Dúchathair (The Black Fort). The stones of these forts have no mortar; they're just standing on their own without any ropes or fences.

When I visited this fort, early one morning, a dog was roaming around, sniffing the rocks, and when I ventured a little closer to the edge of the cliff than he liked, he made his way in front of me. A misty morning, looking out over the sea, I couldn't help but think he wanted to make sure I was safe. He even remained with me until I was safely away from the edge. My own guardian dog.
This poem tells the story of how a druid, while conjuring up spirits from ages past, opens a door that allows not only ancient Celtic warriors—Cuchulainn and Aoife—but also Greek ones—Achilles and Penthesilea. Their meeting proves to be one untold by ancient sages. The poem mentions Celtic warriors, like Scáthach (scou'-ha, or skah'-thakh), who trained Cuchulainn (koo-hoo'lin), as well as weapons, like Gae Bulga, Cuchulainn's spear, and Cruaiden Cadatchenn, his sword. Additionally, the Sidhe (fairy folk) make an appearance.

Battle of Dún Dúchathair

A time-worn cashel—grey stones lay
As a testament to a war torn past
And an Iron Age;
Rising cliffs ravaged by tempestuous seas,
Provide apotheosis for rough walls,
Embraced by whirling zephyrs,
The only playthings of the Sidhe.

Rocks, unaided by mortar, hold fast
Over time-wrought years,
Ever-vigilant, protecting an age forlorn.

A druid in white, mystical attendant of
A lost faith, makes a ring of weathered rock,
To begin the Samhain fires;
Upon the lowering of Scáthach’s shield,
Death knows life, the veil is down.

A cairn beside the burgeoning flames,
For a spirit of yore to embody,
A warrior called from Tech Duinn,
The land of the dead.

Breath of the Sidhe teases the flame,
Coaxing it into madness,
Until the moment arrives—
Order sees chaos,
Chaos sees order,
Waking spirits walk.

In an ancient tongue,
Within a trance,
A druid’s summons:

Cuchulainn, Ulster’s hound,
Come forth, Gae Bulga and
Cruaiden Cadatchenn in hand!

Cuchulainn, Ulster’s hound,
Come forth, Gae Bulga and
Cruaiden Cadatchenn in hand!
Through portal of fire
Coalesces warrior soul with cairn of stone,
Iron fists gripping notched spear and blade.
Spirit touches ground;
Air becomes flesh;
A Celtic hero breathes again.

Before druidic charms can halt
The ebb and flow of sprightly soul,
Three more ghostly clouds
Pass from the coil of death, through fire,
Into nature’s sovereignty,
And no Cerberus to thwart passage.

Beyond Dúchathair’s walls,
Apparitions of antiquity
Seek stone for flesh.

Cuchulainn grips tighter his faithful sword
As gravel crunches beneath sandals,
Closer and closer
And nearer still,
Until dancing fire illuminates
Kindred face and armor forged
By Hephestæan fire.

Pelean sword in lethal hand,
The slayer of Hector
Confronts his reflection in Fate’s mirror.

Stalwart soldiers share a gaze,
Weighing threat against power—
Swords lowered, yet eyes remain.

Feminine swagger approaches;
Leather-bound, eyes darting to and fro,
Armed with passion of heart and blade,
Scáthach’s apprentice stands ready—
Aoife, Celtic Amazon, surveys the milieu,
Muscles tighten as her eyes land on one
Who bested her in battle.

Amid the displaced shadows, Penthesilea,
Crescent shield in hand, encounters
Three scions of War.
Scythian queen, of Amazon blood, sizes up
Both the smithy’s hound and
Her Styx-dipped nemesis and lover.

Tribal deference,
A gentle nod of the head
From sister to sister.

Weapons aloft, tempered by blood,
Reflect holy fire and moonlight;
Majesty of cultures, mirrored through souls
Dance the steps of hunter and prey
While druidic eyes wonder.

Steel against steel—
Ringing into the night, echoing
Among Dúchathair’s bones;
Achilles and Penthesilea,
Whose blades sing a duet,
Harmony against cacophony—
Thunder of metal clashing—
The din of War;
Mathematical maneuvers fused with
Crafted instinct.

Aoife, echoing the dance,
Engages Cuchulainn—single combat
Of heart, mind, and soul,
Cruiaden Cadatchenn and Amazon broadsword.
Desire equates to victory, desire to regain
What once was hers—Gae Bulga!
Moon and sun, sun and moon,
Cloud-enshrouded constellations
Observing the melee,
A captured audience, but mute.
Orchestral chords emanate from battle,
Entertaining Ursa Major and Orion.

Hand to hand, core to core,
Celtic queen smells the deadlock approach;
With hawk-like elegance, Achilles becomes
Her prey, shifting the scales and
Playing with Fate.

Thirsting for the dance, fervor overwhelming,
Penthesilea courts Cuchulainn —
Ulster’s mongrel snarls his approval
As wind-blown spirits, zephyr and sidhe,
Incite the dancers to fury.

Whirling frenzy rises, like a slow tide,
Ease of combat with unfettered hearts;
Chimes in a gale, cast steel echoes,
Samhain fires yearn to echo motion,
Twisting, spinning, turning, leaping —

Sudden spark! Each sees in the other,
Mind and spirit, potential for an ancient,
Ephemeral love, adoration remembered.
A shard of familiarity awakens them from
Drunken reverie, the intoxication
Of Ares and the Morrigan;
To fight the unknown
Would seem to fuel the dance,
But, unfamiliar body yields to familiar soul
Through War’s choreography,
Dousing the blaze,
Stopping the mocking wind.

Stalwart warriors stand at ease,
Unable to battle.

A truce drawn, the flames beckon,
Until shades of antiquity
Reach futility and surrender,
Each tossing arms to the ground.

A reckoning is at hand—
Each cannot fight the other:
They are one and the same.
No shame nor pride, but realization:
Threads spun from Fate’s loom, once dyed with
The blood of battle, can no longer entwine into
War’s tapestry.
Spirits seeking return, from flesh to cairn,
Monuments to a legacy long past and
The druid left to wonder.

A time-worn cashel—grey stones lay
As a testament to a war torn past
And an Iron Age;
Rising cliffs ravaged by tempestuous seas,
Provide apotheosis for rough walls,
Embraced by whirling zephyrs,
The only playthings of the Sidhe.

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