Saturday, 15 December 2012

Overheard on a Saltmarsh and the Boundaries to "Otherland"

The Musician, by John Howe

Have you ever heard the voices of the eldritch? Have you ever - passing somewhere secret in the night - believed yourself in the presence of something unmortal? I know of fortunate people who believe they've personally communicated, spied upon or glimpsed something or someone unearthly... I have not, although I wish I would.

Although I long for "proof" or tangible sign of the something otherworldly that I feel (but cannot "know") to be real - I fear that the magical and ethereal hovers between the primal presence of nature and the imagination - perhaps - probably - I will never be able to concretely ground my feelings upon a base of proof.

Eldritch beings - those shapeshifters - can be described in their own realm - that "otherland" - the unreachable, ever desirable place of beauty, mystery and peril. Faerieland, Paradise, Middle Earth and Narnia - all of these imaginary places are but varied descriptions of the same place from whence all mystery and magic originates. While I long desperately to enter these worlds in reality - (though I never quite stop hoping - I still grope the back of wardrobes with my eyes shut, and reach slowly towards mirrors) - the only proven way of visiting these places is through the mind's fantasies - your own or those of others through the medium of books, movies, art and poetry.

There are, however, places on this earth where surely the borders between the worlds are thin - where mystery and magic lingers. In particular, salt marshes are strange and uncanny places. They are boundaries in more ways than one - between the sea, the land and sky. Here, where the tide mingles with the earth, and water rises in a mist toward the sky - surely here is close to "otherland".

The following poem by Harold Monroe manages to capture the fey eerieness of the salt marsh. It is almost as though Monroe - in wandering through that land of "boundaries" - came in fact upon a pair of eldritch beings, and through the medium of poetry - summoned us to his side to "overhear".

Overheard on a Saltmarsh
Nymph, nymph, what are your beads?
Green glass, goblin. Why do you stare at them?
Give them me.
Give them me. Give them me.
Then I will howl all night in the reeds,
Lie in the mud and howl for them.
Goblin, why do you love them so?
They are better than stars or water,
Better than voices of winds that sing,
Better than any man’s fair daughter,
Your green glass beads on a silver ring.
Hush, I stole them out of the moon.
Give me your beads, I want them.
I will howl in the deep lagoon
For your green glass beads, I love them so.
Give them me. Give them.

This poem just sings with mystery. I have loved it ever since I was a child - and it first brought to my mind a dark marsh, tiled with glimmering pools and deep lagoons, rising mist and a high, cold moon. The very strangeness of the conversation between the nymph and goblin convinces the reader of their otherworldiness. The desperation in the goblin's words - his grasping, howling desperation for the green glass beads - resonates with my own longing for a world "better than the stars or water/Better than the voices of winds that sing". The quiet negative in the nymph's words is inevitable as nature.

The Dead Marshes by Alan Lee

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