Tristan John S

Writer, Filmmaker, Musician

from Sonnets


I

When, in the ancient skies, the lords took seats,
And set those thrones within the regal sights
Of he with whom these nobles did compete,
In the celestial palace of each night,
They did assemble with an ordinance,
Not made so much for government, but to
Form congregation, from which special stance,
They might obtain a simpler secul view.
For certainly they were more kurios then,
But spent their splendour in serene survey
Of those who were more curious: yea, men,
Who learned to stand on bended knee and pray
To Janus, first, and to his kind, until
These mortal sons took up their power to will.




III


Now that pale warrior gently bent his head
And looked towards the sphere his brethren showed
‘Behold’, he said, ‘the seat of faith and dread;
Where valour walks with doubt along the road
They have made straight with trigonometry
Which is the mathematics of their hope.
Although, i’truth I speak not literally.’
And then he rose and robed him with a cope
Of second sunlight, and became the priest
Between the stars and, ’low, the anthropoi –
For only he could celebrate the feast,
Invoking words which stars and men employ.
Because he once was man (you may recall –
La belle dame sans merci had him in thrall).




V


Indeed, I heard once, of a man who thought
He was an emp’ror of old Romany;
And when the doctors came, he fiercely fought,
In Latin swore, ‘veni vidi vici;
He mostly was contained by medicine
And spent some days in quiet solitude,
So that his doctors often hope they’d win
Over his violent temper, and include,
In their reports, some hope of a reprieve,
And took him out on walks – where he’d parade
As if before an army – he believed
He saw them. And, sometimes he prayed
To ancient gods up in the stratosphere,
And on some dreadful nights he did appear:



VII

But we are all deluded in our thoughts,
The Poet, most of all, when he doth catch
Words from the air, and thinks that he had wrought
Them from a teeming brain his mind could hatch,
Like giving birth to some new syllable,
As, in a frenzy, he will scratch his pen
On any parchment, at the ridicule,
Oft, of his friends, whom he thinks ‘little’ men;
For he is, in himself, assured that he
Has some extraordinary gift of secret sight,
And can perceive eternal mysteries,
Wherefore from dawn to dusk he’ll write –
Pouring his introspective soul with haste,
As all the lovely letters his lips taste.




IX

And in the turret of his fierce delight,
He feels imprisoned by the very words
Which cage him in expressions he must write:
Measuring syllables; while, yet, the birds
He hears outside his window, seem to speak
In perfect song, of what he often Feels;
Because the words that issue from their beak
Is language foreign to him, it appeals
To the immediate sense insensible,
And not to reason, which so oft appals
The sweet and holy sound of those who call
In their twice freedom – from the skylit halls
Wherein they fly their dances and do sing
Of all the joy that earth and heaven bring.


XI

Mortal and cold, the ground – not to return
To heaven’s lofty Poem, but to know
What only men can know – for all men yearn
To tread the skies. Because we’re kept below
We so aspire. Wherefore the birds do seem
To be twice blessed – they too may tread the clay
With men. Thus it becomes the Poet’s dream
To wander through the clouds; and in that space,
Whisper a shout into the stratosphere
In hope that he shall come, last, face to face
With that great power – the Word of words – severe
And Gentle – whose voice did command
All things to be; which we can’t understand.


XIII

And when to consciousness he is cast back,

    As men who are enforced on the rack
    Say anything, so, in the midday heat –
    The Poet, rising from his bed of dreams
    Where he is dreamed and where he makes repose,
    Puts on his clothes and joins the world that seems
    To be. But, ah, only the Poet knows.
    That there, beyond the curtain of his mind,
    Behind the veil of Fantasy and hope,
    Is something that most, seeking, shall not find,
    Because they can’t perceive the sun-washed cope
    Worn by the patient warrior, whose wise
    Is to be fixed upon our world’s true form – her skies.


    XV

    Which is to use the limits of his tongue
    To sculpt a portrait worthy of his love,
    Of whom the choristers of heaven sung
    Their great cantata in the stalls above:
    By candlelight of stars did they declare
    The beauty of his darling, and in light
    Celestial, did shine forth everywhere
    In borrowed majesty, to mortal sight
    A hall of constellations, which began
    T’attract the superstitious and who believe
    That anything beyond what eye can scan
    Is supernatural. Thus they did receive
    This song, in portrait of the very stars
    Whose fire is music; ah there were no bars


    XVII

    And still the Poet, late into the night
    Doth wrestle with th’inad’quacy of words:
    What rough angelic messages take flight
    In fancy – from the utterly absurd
    To the ridiculous: to liken her to coal,
    Because her hair is dark – but, when the sun
    Doth warm it – such a fire! See what droll
    Comparisons he trots out – everyone
    Is lacking; naught earthly could compare
    With how she is – supernal in her grace –
    (Second only to God); the cloak of hair
    Is but a mantle, dark, to frame her face:
    A face sweeter than roses to behold
    And thus the Poet writes, becoming bold:




    XIX

    You are the symphony my spirit hears:
    The glory of creation, and the pole:
    Both North and South, that keeps me from my fears:
    The other half of I that makes me whole.
    You are the gravity that lets me fly
    And all the splendour of a thousand suns.
    I see the earth – brown, golden in your eye
    And as you smile, Paradise returns.
    Your lips kiss life and love. No thing’s as sweet
    In sense or metaphor. I cannot say
    How as you speak the sun and moon repeat
    The way your beauty doth, in night and day
    Remain constant – as coming from one source
    And never straying from their heav’nly course.




    II


    And further did they reach and further grasp,
    Bending their wills to such imperious heights,
    So that no longer did their spirits clasp,
    To worship sallow sovereigns of the night.
    Then did the Stars cast out their silver crowns
    In resignation, but majestically –
    Keeping their seats in heaven to look down
    On their late subjects, who had, recently,
    Deployed their abject reason to ascend
    Beyond the spheres to which they had esteemed
    These ancient lords. Wherefore they did portend
    That mankind could no longer be redeemed
    Being devised to rag their lordship soon
    And so the stars appealed to the moon.







    IV

    Wherefore, some posture, in that Eucharist
    The moon, arobed so wholly, doth appear
    To fragile souls incap’ble to resist
    The invitation to their minds besmear
    With subtle instances insanity
    As like a small omission, or some break
    Within our order of the ordinary
    Until they are left laughing “for gods’ sake!
    Beware! Beware the –” nonsense and so forth
    And yet it is a practise oft observed
    From southern climates, east, west, and the north:
    That those who guard these souls have long preferred
    Some more assistance through these holy hours
    For fear the lune’s unholy hidden powers.






    VI

    His sickle soft and scythe like – with his smile,
    Set on his pale face like mourning’s due,
    And even as he rose, yea all the while,
    This ‘emperor’ now, in his cool madness grew.
    And as the silver arrow pierced his skin,
    From heaven’s armoury, his voice became
    A haunting clamour – such a dreadful din
    Was never heard before – the doctors claim;
    Whereon, his hair, like spears, stood up on end;
    His eyes, metallic shields did become,
    And he addressed his ‘countrymen and friends’,
    As fellow ‘Romans’ who would be undone,
    By the appearance of a little Child
    Who would release their spirits, long beguiled.





    VIII

    At dead of night, when he is most alive,
    He dreams in myths that he has never read,
    And speaks in metre counting one to five,
    Within the lonely kingdom of his bed –
    Where dryads dance and mirth themselves and sing
    In ditties sweet of ideas, darling, soft,
    Encompassing his finger like a ring,
    Where he is married in his mind – his loft.
    Where he is the Rupunzel to the call
    Of half forgotten whispers he had heard
    In fairy stories of decline and fall
    And reclamation – which he much preferred,
    Granting assent in sleep to all the power
    That helps men most ascend that drowsy hour.






    X

    And if he were a bird, he thinks, he’d fly
    Far from the ivory towers of his wit –
    And other beauteous forms of verse he’d spy
    Without the rigid landscape of his writ.
    And he would swoop down on the plains of form
    Plainer than his, for having fewer beats;
    Then up, across the mountains he’d perform
    A weaving of tetrameters – such feats
    Would he translate upon the very air!
    Treading the great intangible romance
    Twixt earth and heaven – that great love affair
    That teaches birds to wing their sacred dance
    And tempts the angels not to keep their seat
    In the ethereal but feel with feet




    XII

    Though we believe, and apprehend by Faith,
    (We cannot know – and even if we could,
    The sense of’t would escape us – like a wraith
    Wrought from the ghost world of our minds; his hood –
    The shadow of a silver moon and pale –
    Is pulled up o’er his head of Ignorance;
    Mortal Endeavour cloaks him but shall fail
    To keep the cold of night out. All pretence
    At knowing passes from humanity,
    Until the spectre of our quest retires,
    Accepts the Feeling of Dependency –
    (That, Absolutely) – Feels, Immediately
    What can’t be shown by maths or Poetry).


    XIV

    For, yea, the sky is where we are most man:
    We, who are little more than mortal dust
    Who rust, decay, retire – (some chance or plan?
    We cannot know, but ever must we trust)
    We are of earth. But glancing, e’er above
    Discover how to wonder, worship, fear
    Our hearts, inspired, grow till they learn love
    And reach beyond the fathoms of this sphere.
    To touch the moon…such dream, now realised
    Has only wakened us to deeper yearn
    To tread where we have not, before; and prized
    Above all other quests – the chance to learn
    If there is life on Mars? Whilst on this earth
    The Poet thinks his quest the greater worth:




    XVI

    Composed by mortal or angelic pen
    To match her beauty; Though the trained ear hears
    A melody and knows precisely when
    An accidental is about to steer
    A course through different keys; though some could name
    The very notes performed, no one could guess
    The harmony with which she, heaven tames
    To wild rebellion! Then angels confess
    Hers were the notes through which the Word had wrought
    The very firmaments of sky and earth:
    Jealous of her, the ancient dragon fought
    And lost his seat: eons before her birth,
    They saw her from afar and thus they fell.
    But some before her time – and thus found hell.


    XVIII

    “If all our souls were cast in different art –
    Some, watercolours; others, poetry.
    Yours would be music and would stop my heart
    With such delightful tune and harmony.
    And yet I think no music could contain
    Your true design: although my brain could dream
    A million different rhythms to explain,
    An octave’s not enough to play your theme.
    Suppose there were a world where they had made
    Nine notes per octave, using partial tones –
    Or fourteen – like a sonnet – and displayed
    Their manuscripts in other ways; trombones
    And violins in this world might yet perform
    Such music; but would still not match your form.





    XX

    Neither may I express how vainly I
    Employ all faculties to tell thee how
    I think as all the years have passed me by
    I’ve fallen deeper in love; so that now,
    It is like a fresh upon my soul –
    I wake each morning knowing little more:
    And cannot wait till sunrise to tell you
    That thou art all to me: how I adore
    What you have been and what you always are.
    The rest’s hyperbole (but not untrue).”
    And so the Poet pauses and stares far
    Into his words; then lastly adds, “if you
    Like poetry, have every rhyme of mine
    To keep: all’s yours, ever your Valentine.”