Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Gloaming

Our spirits already there
in the Faraway...
                         Ari Berk

Her long hair is marsh light
wavering at dusk, obscuring the moon
who barely shows his jaw line.

A heron rises from the reeds, winged obsidian
shining before her like that secret
a girl longs to unhush, share with a close friend.

Earlier, she had prayed
in the village church. The young priest
lit candles on the altar, his frock
iridescent in the light,

He turned toward the pews
and stared at her presence, a gold lily
among the oak furrows
scented and seductive.

His hand made the sign of the cross
and before retiring, he whispered --

I will hold you by the river
where the green rushes are thick
and the moon as narrow
as our chance to stay in love.

She pulled a veil over her head,
nodded and noticed the lace corners
were softly blackened, ash from the candle wick
down from a dark plume. Time passed, subtly

ushered in
the longer shadows of night; and she listened.
First the rustle of robes,
                    then desperate wings.

The gloaming explores the human soul and its connection to faith and magic, passion and duty. A village girl and young priest become the players of this struggle, characters tested by the ambiguity of love and identity.

They meet at the river where the wetlands sustain both a secretive and fertile environment. The girl’s hair is compared to flickering marsh light, a beckoning for passion and mystery. It’s splendor obscures the glow of the moon, which is reduced to the narrow curve of a jaw line, suggesting the grim tilt of disapproval, the determination of fate to lessen the possibilities of this strange union. A heron rises from the reeds and spellbinds the female who waits for his human transformation,. His winged presence also hovers above the marsh, like a secret waiting to be revealed, a reality to be confirmed, a desire unburdened of its guilt.

The poem than switches from present to the recent past. The girl has entered the church not only to glimpse her beloved priest but also to pray. Whether she is here to ask for guidance or to plead for their future together, is left open. When the Jesuit sees her, he is mesmerized and immediately makes the sign of the cross. This gesture is symbolic of emotional-division.. He is torn by his pledge to Christianly and his kinship with ancient magic, shape-shifting. How he acquired this craft and his affinity for the wilds of the marsh are not explained. Yet one may assume he grew up in both a pagan and Christian household. By blessing the moment, he leaves his spiritual self to exist in the church and his passionate self to take leave and prepare for a tryst . Reaffirmation of his desire for flight and the young woman is seen through the things magically left on her mantilla. As she nods in agreement to meet him by the river, she pulls the lace veil over her head and notices the corners are slightly blackened by soot from a snuffed candle and down from a bird’s wing. One symbolizes the extinguished breath of celibacy and other, the need for intimate freedom.

In the last strophe, the maiden is seen lingering in thought for some time. Dusk “ushers in the longer shadows of night and she listens. She eventually hears the rustling of fabric, his vestments, then desperate wings. She surmises he has disrobed and made his departure from the sacristy and routine vespers. And in that moment, she reflects back on his brief words. He said he’d hold her by the river where the green rushes grow thick and the moon seems as narrow as their chance to stay in love. To maintain love at that level of intimacy, without guilt, jealousy or blame interceding, is an immense challenge. Yet, the girl might conclude the monk was asserting his defiance, that despite the consequences, he is willing to stand against fate and embrace their romantic situation. Or he may have implied he will meet her one last time, hold her tightly before release and accept the inevitable. Whatever the outcome, the scene and circumstances of its lovers are complex, intricate and unpredictable like the patterns of the green rushes. The story fades both teller and listener into the gray haze of twilight, the spell of evening.
The above painting is by 19th Century illustrator, Arthur Rackham, and is taken from his Undine storyline collection.

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