Friday, August 6, 2010

The Winterbury Tales

by Tim Buck, oils on canvas, 18" x 24"


When in early December the first snow flakes begin to fall
and the wind is confused -- no shadows for urging about --
and the earth begins to settle into a weary mode of sleeping,
while hidden vital powers murmur dreamily under the soil;
When the sun is a rumor only behind a thick gauze of gray
and singing birds have flown, with some others remaining;
When the hour hangs between the afternoon and evening;
Then do the four Seasons walk that unknown road of time,
heading for an ancient Hall of mystic waiting – Winterbury --
a place to languish in warm communion, amid the dark pines.
And it so happened – was it caprice or a something destined,
an ordained coming into being, a palpable confluence of mind
and dreams and half-whispered melancholies from within me? –
that my lost wandering way should overtake these four Souls,
which now compulsion and an eccentric inclination of mind
prompt me to a remembered vision of their persons and tales.
I shall begin with that Dancer, who twirls time into Spring.

The Dancer

A Dancer she is and young and very beautiful,
and as I walk beside her, I feel images of Spring
and of souls refreshed by her magical movements.
Where did she learn this art of sweeping gestures
and graceful prodding of earthly waking from sleep
of elements and aspects and forms and substance?
How marvelous her turning, her gown-sent breezes!
Tender buds stir in sympathy to her pleading pulses,
and all scurrying creatures breathe in new energy
from the spiraling frisson her pirouettes inspire.
Village and cottage, whether of forest or seaside,
are alive with new fragrance of feeling, yearning
in lads and lasses, whose hearts are gently warmed
by slow fires of passion from the trance of her waltz.
Rumors I've heard of her in wild wood or meadow,
a half-misted form swirling out of strange rhythms.
It's said she is delirious, it's said she is murmuring
secret words like the lyrics of an ancient fairy story.
I see she wears colors and fabrics from new dreams.
Yellow flowers must grow where she glides at dawn.
Yes, this Dancer reveals by her gait and fluid grace
that indeed the birth of Spring is in her symbolically.

The Rover

Among our band is a handsome youth, and a-whistling
tunes he strides confidently ahead of the flirting Dancer.
These tunes are unusual, they remind me of long roads
and fields of sighing, haphazard Summer grain. And then
his fluting tongue changes tone, with leafy elm trees
brought to vision, while these bare-limbed Winter ones
along our path dim from carnal eye, as if now replaced.
Look!...he's glancing over his shoulder and winking at her,
winking at the Dancer, who tosses her head laughing!
Yes, the road is in this green lad, they call him the Rover.
His legs are well-muscled, and miles of months are rippling
in calf and strong thigh. Swinging his arms in easy motion,
he gives off the air of one who's seen great adventure,
of one who after dragons and bandits lies down in August
to sleep and make dreams from his dallying amid roses.
I called him green lad, and that is the spiritual impression.
He is clad in Summer hues for his leggings, coat, and cap.
Across his wide chest is strung a rucksack of mustard color.
A neat beard and mustache tell of a wry, rakish character.
This brash young man is now turning round in walking circles,
and during each rotation, blows a gentle kiss to the Dancer.

The Weaver

A mature woman, the Weaver, ambles beyond the happy youth.
She is quiet and self-possessed, fitting one who spins at looms.
More than one manner of weaving is her talent and her station,
as comes clear to my imagination by her appearance and posture.
On looms unseen, her hands are those that make warp and weft
of Autumn's textures far and near, in vineyard and heavy orchard.
The subtlest of colors she produces from nothing, or from regions
of depth in the veins of all flora. This woman is mildly pensive,
as she walks with a burden of bittersweet memories. Sad shades
of mauve and gold she brings to limbs, and ripened fruit hangs
from other trees waiting on harvest. And late flower blooms
are rimmed with faint hues, embroidered delicately by her hand.
I spoke of more than one manner of weaving. Now let me explain
the meaning of another loom. The Weaver is also a turner of pages,
she turns the bare sheets into colors of longing. She is a poetess
renowned through quarterly kingdoms. She sings onto pages her
ballads of time. And ballads of love now fading from color and
fading from dreams and forlorn after hopes. Sometimes her odes
and sometimes her sonnets speak of transient, tragic encounter.
Just a few strides ahead of the Rover, I hear heavy breathing
as she turns now to look at me. Does she know my own thoughts?
Her eyes are like daydreams or quiet pools of Autumn fishes.
Her garment is flowing, and it seems to be woven of reed pulp,
spider silk and stray pheasant feathers from the barley fields.
The Weaver sighs, then goes silent, befitting her looming time.

The Elder

Leading our parade into Winter is the Elder. With few words
he guides us on this weathered trail of old rocks and new snow.
We go past berry bushes and naked stark trees, Winter-wary
and dreading a harsher time of endless night, ice, and fog.
The Elder is taking us to his hidden Hall known as Winterbury.
I walk with the Weaver and can hear the old one's foot falls
ten paces up ahead. The drifting flakes are gathering thicker,
and the wind that was a while ago only whispering in my ears
is now beginning to moan, like a sad thing severed from hope.
Although this scene -- this band of four, this troupe of beings --
plays immemorially on an early Winter's stage, it is new to me.
So I walk in wonder having found myself among these nomads.
Am I dreaming? No...the Elder's pipe sends back harsh fumes
burning my eyes, and rubbing them I know this tastes of reality.
Yet something more like between the real and a haunting dubiety.
Without asking I somehow know that this Elder of long Winter
has provisioned his Hall with firewood and wine and victuals.
He looks to be one who plans and is provident and hospitable.
His steady pace is taking his guests ever nearer to Winterbury.
It is the sure, philosophical lope of one measuring his thoughts.
A heavy outer coat he wears like a storm cloud, and his pants
billow and make him look much stouter than he must surely be.
His black boots crunch the snow, leaving impress of large soles.
And a crumpled hat, wide-brimmed crowns him with godly aura.

A Proposal

I have told you something about each of my companions.
Yet they elude much specificity, they are more like spirits.
As we went deeper into the aging day, with dusk leaning in
as if curious to discern the firmer lineaments of this troupe,
something also grew in my mind, warming it against the cold.
And a vague idea began taking shape as I walked by the Elder,
the farther we moved into an uncharted forest of snowy trees.
To journey so far in moody silence was lacking conviviality.
Behind us, the Dancer, the Rover, and the Weaver stepped
solemnly, giving our company an air of dejection and ennui.
So with my scheme now fully formed, I spoke it to them all:
“I propose a moving contest of tales among you, for cheers
and for camaraderie, for the warmth of inspiration to spread
into us all and make this transit not a drudgery but a passage
into memories, inventions, into the soul's wondering regions.”
They looked at one another in wonderment of my suggestion.
But soon wry smiles came to lips young and old, as if a wink
were sent among them as a conspiracy of unspoken meaning.
The Elder, with gravitas of a regent, said in his gruffly voice,
and casual gesturing, “Well, why not?...Such an amusement
will make us a pleasanter lot and take us better to Winterbury.”
I was happy to hear this agreement and this open willingness
of beings on the vague side of tangibility to carry my plan
into audible action and into the ripe precincts of my desiring.
“Then let this be,” said I, “an ordered and rewarded recitation.
Let these tellings proceed in a manner of implicit symbolism.
First the Dancer, young as Spring. Then the Rover of Summer.
The Weaver next to thread her tale. Finally the wizened Elder.
And for a stake, I offer this to spice the competition with dare.
I shall listen to each and decide which story best fits the climate
of spirit hanging like a sign distinctively over the each of you.
And onto my primary aspect of judgment, I'll add favor points
for the story most engaging of my heart and mind and fancy.
The winner shall be given this prize: forevermore, you will be
my esteemed and cherished One of the Year. If I fail in spirit,
if in any other Season I sigh with an outlaw ardency of regard,
then if in Spring, drown me, if Summer, scorch me, if in Autumn,
poison me, and if Winter, do freeze me! Such is my genuine oath!"
Laughter, gentle then mixed with heartiness, did ensue anon.
“My good man,” said the Weaver. “We are capricious maybe,
but we are not, in essence, so malignant. Your enthusiastic oath
is appreciated, but we shall demand something less hard of you.
This will suffice: if you sigh out of season, betraying the winner,
then next early December you must appear on this same pathway
to accompany us to Winterbury where you will regale all of us
with a long fairy tale of your own composing...and that recitation
shall be in honor of -- shall soothe the spirit of -- the injured party.”
We halted on our way long enough to make a formal seal of this.
I warmly shook strange hands and kissed each one on each cheek.
As we resumed our way, I walked between two pairs – in front,
the Elder beside the Weaver and just behind me the other two,
the Rover with the Dancer. And as the dusk deepened with snow,
the Dancer laughed and said, “Hark, O man of bones and tears,
listen with your dreaming mind to the tale I now bequeath you.”

The Dancer's Tale

It so happened that, on an April's morning,
a young boy walked alone and aimlessly
through the fresh smells of a nearby forest.
He listened to the songs of warbling birds
and gazed dreamily at sailing butterflies.
The gentle sunlight warmed him, breezes
caressed his spirit and led him farther on.
Until he found himself on a meadow's rim.
And in the center of this circle of new grass,
danced a girl...or was it a girl? Or was she
a spirit of many glowing, mixing breezes?
With hesitating steps, the boy approached
then stopped not far from her and stared
with eyes now filled with the strangest light.
“Are you real?” he asked, with timid voice.
“Or are you of fairy kind?” Her slow dance
was arrested by his query, and she turned
to face the boy. Her eyes were deep, forever.
“I am quite real, though that word is funny.
How could anything not be real on this day
of flower smells and dewdrops in the air?
I am very real, and I am very close to you.
You had a dream last night, now forgotten.
You dreamt long about the Spirit of Beauty,
or did she dream of you? Either way it is
your first step on the path of subtle quest,
and symbols will haunt you your whole life.
Catch them floating in the air and in things
and put them in your secret Book of Vision.
No matter how old you may grow someday,
you will always be blessed with beauty's kiss.
Those symbols will come in manners strange.
Their shapes will slowly form into later words.
This quiet language will speak to you of Her,
of the One who is corporeal yet also other.
She will be a light guiding you through trials.
She will be the simple friend of your dreams.
And from her the best will flow from you.”
The boy understood, yet did not understand
what these words signified. He felt heavy
and drowsy and laid down at the vision's feet.
He slept until the noon sun had become hot,
then awoke. He looked around and was alone
with his thoughts and with a sense of magic.

The Rover's Tale

When June sang its colors of irises and roses,
the young man was urged by wanderlust spirit
to seek happy dangers. Thus he left his home
and passed village gardens to make his way
into the wild, following no compass or map.
But he followed the small river, which flowed
gently and sometimes swirled with gurgling
whirlpools, above which dragonflies darted.
As the afternoon wore on, he decided to stop
beneath a large willow, forming a cool bower.
He yawned as he listened to vague river sounds
and soon drifted off to sleep. But soon he heard
a distressing cry. He jumped up and dashed off
to see who was in danger or some other need.
He waded the river and ran up the rocky hill.
From the top, he saw below a very odd sight:
Two figures were sitting across a chessboard.
They sat cross-legged on the dry ocher grass.
The young man watched in some bafflement
as each move elicited a wanton howl of protest
from the one suffering its hurtful consequence.
One figure was himself! The other was himself!
At length, he strode down the hill to join them.
To join the two of them who were both himself.
“What is the meaning of this and the meaning
of both of you being me while I am also here?”
The two of them looked up and said together:
“We are playing the great game of Paradox.
Many moves you must decide in life's riddle.
But know this, O, man of experiences to come:
just as the Summer strives into forms of growth,
just as its vines tangle, then untangle and go,
just as berries appear as meanings on the vines,
you must go into the heat and into the labors,
into perplexity and into sweating mortal days.
Only through the hard wisdom of Summer toil
and bemusement will the Spirit of Beauty's voice
gain eccentric harmonies building for later life.
Do not now follow the faint voice of Beauty.
Only let her sing quietly beneath the octaves
of experience. Love who you can and live now.
And know that one day She, the one from afar,
will come to you as a friend, and reward you
for your present wandering, for your gathering
of hour-glass residues. She will grant inspiration
for the making of later art. She will come to you
serendipitously from the old fathomless regions.
Go now and follow the confusions of manhood.
At this time you move on two paths, one tangible
and the other a trail into forms of imagination
paved with pages of Her beautiful apocalypse.”
The young man, bewildered at these sayings,
laughed heartily and shook his head and turned,
then ran nonsensically back up the stony hill.
He waded again through the clear, gurgling river
and resumed his aimless venture in green woods.

The Weaver's Tale

Frost would fall on coming dawns of October.
Leaves would turn into their bittersweet colors.
Pumpkins would ripen and the wool be woven.
But now, in late evening, the man was feeling.
He was feeling the way the sunlight is changing.
Feeling the rhythms of bones and blood deeply.
Sensing the hues of his time and dreams fading.
While walking the moor on the outside of living.
As the dying sun staggered toward its descending,
the man felt a presence behind him like stalking.
He turned to see if a ghost stood or wolf stared.
But before him was merely a multicolored jester.
“Why and wherefore and whence do you come?
Or are you like me dispossessed of all fortune,
walking the moors for reasons that escape you?”
The jester somersaulted and splashed into reeds
and giggled and snickered and then laughed loudly.
“Friend! Don't you know this time is for drinking
and winking and blinking and sinking into Autumn?
I'll take you from this moor and into the woodland,
where trees have leaves and the leaves are falling.
The ocher and red ones and gold ones and others
that hide between colors are hanging and falling.
And the frost is tomorrow for freezing sad tears.
They'll hang like the leaves, like pieces of topaz.
So let's not be glum, let's make our hearts lighter.
I'll tell you a riddle and we'll chase mortal hours.
Listen closely and answer if you can or are willing:
Who lives in the kingdom of song without melody?
Who loves because love is the texture of glancing?
Who knows every secret that never was promised?
Who holds all the seasons in an urn without surface?”
The man stood still and pondered all these questions.
He considered contraries and enigmas and such.
Then he looked at the jester and made a conjecture:
“Good man of strange mirth and odd riddling tone,
I think I have thought what your answer must be.
Who does all those things? I'll tell you right now.
It is She, who is language made golden with verse,
the one who will come like the first evening star.
She lives and she loves, she holds and she knows
the forms of all feelings. She appears in all ages
as a weaver of sighs, and we know her as Poetry.
What a wonder you appeared so graciously speaking
as the sun falls gently bringing moods to the moor.
To show me through riddling, through deft indirection
what I needed to see since my vision was dimming.
I will take middle age and my mood and my longings
and with you and with Poetry sit neath Autumn elms.
I'll take sheets of paper from my rucksack and then
I'll pluck a long quill from your hat if you don't mind.
I'll dip that feathered pen into sunset's deep colors.
And while there is light, I'll let a poem fall from me.”

The Elder's Tale

Deeper into the forest trudged the old man.
Weary his steps and treacherous his footing.
Up undulating hillock and down into gulley,
through deep snow and hard freezing wind.
The night was as dark as the back of his mind.
Only faint moonlight filtered into these woods.
And the wiry branches were silvered in ice.
And the old man was very tired as he walked.
Beside him, silent as the snow, a black knight
full-armored – helm, breastplate, and greaves.
That helm was open, and the visage skeletal,
but the old man was too worn to be alarmed.
At length, the knight broke his ghostly silence:
“Yes, you are quite lost now and Winter bites.
Despair's chilling goes into regretful hollows.
I see you are not afraid of me. That is good.
So as we stroll together this cold dismal eve,
lend me your ear before I fade into the wind:
Know you and know well, you have fallen short,
failed to measure up to the full testing of life.
That is why your steps are heavy this night.
You have left much undone or done poorly.
But know this also – you were awake and true
to the Spirit of Tears who fills unseen pools,
and to the Spirit of Beauty known to few souls.
Hate not yourself so coldly for your choices.
This night takes you to Purgatory, and so I fade.”
A lamp up ahead? He saw a glimmering flame,
and he walked faster with this promise of light.
Until he came upon a cabin, of rock and timbers.
On the heavy door he knocked weakly, leaning
against it to keep from collapsing to the ground.
The door opened, and a lovely young woman
grabbed his arm to guide him inside, consolingly.
She sat him in a chair in front of the stone hearth
and brought him hot tea, which he sipped numbly.
She opened a book, and she sat down beside him.
She read him a story, and he grew very sleepy:
“The door opened, and a lovely young woman
grabbed his arm to guide him inside, consolingly.
She sat him in a chair in front of the stone hearth
and brought him hot tea, which he sipped numbly.
She opened a book, and she sat down beside him.
She read him a story, and he grew very sleepy”....

A Decision?

“I thank you all for your tales so fine.
Each one touches me in a pleasing way.
Each one reminds me of something far
and near, like arabesques of golden time.
How could I decide between these four,
when each of you is gifted and profound?
So I have come to my decision that is not
a choice of favoring one over the other.
All together, these fables told have given
me means for knowing some deeper thing.
I choose to blend them all together as one
and from it comes an unknown Season.
Yes! I choose to add a fifth to the four,
a time that lives in untold time, a Season
whose character is androgynous and plural,
half-fairy Poemia and half-gypsy Articus.
I hear even now that twin-whispered tale,
speaking of a moon that no one has seen.
speaking of a smile, of flowers unknown.
So thank you all for bringing this Other.
I proclaim this untold fifth tale the best.”
The four exchanged glances as if startled
or hurt, but soon they accepted my choice.
There! Not far ahead and standing in mist,
Winterbury Hall. One night shall I stay
and tomorrow be off, toward the East,
many miles to wander like a lonely moth
drawn by the candle of a rumor eastward:
a most wondrous sylph is said to live there,
in an ancient land. So I must pay homage
with a long poem, a gift of words for her.
Like the Weaver, I make verses though not
of such quality and distinction and subtlety.
Yes...for the fair one, some lines heartfelt
of longing and time and love and things
made of fog and dream, nourishing life.
Then another road I'll take, unknown now
but one leading to the sound and the color
of a old aching sea, a sea night-sparkling
with starlight and lapping with soft waves
to bring my soul an unhappy kind of peace.

The End

Copyright 2010, by Tim Buck


  1. Wonderful work. Each story-poem is excellent. I am so glad I found you. Thanks!

  2. Hi Cassiopeia,

    I am delighted that you liked this piece.

    Owing to my daughter's input, I'll be revising "The Elder's Tale" tonight -- she said it needed some "oomph" and the redundancy was, well, redundant. :)

    I've been ill, so only took a quick look at your blog. It looks cool. I plan on exploring it more tomorrow.