Saint Paul’s Bay

storm bird 2 edit

The steer board tore against his grip
Storm waves rose all about
His reefed in sails they might yet rip
His soul felt clouds of doubt

He thought of Biblos and his home
Above the wine dark sea
He swore no more now would he roam
He feared this destiny

Ahead a sea bird glided by
Across those raging seas
He heard a faint bewitching cry
Such birds soar with such ease

The shearwater was heading west
Dark skies loomed sour and grey
That bird she seemed serene and blessed
Would she show him the way?

He eased about towards the lee
And went the way she flew
He rode crests of that monstrous sea
With all the skills he knew

He prayed that bird take him safe on
Towards some safe shore line
Inside of him some faint Hope shone
Could this bird be some sign?

Two passengers sat calm serene
Where waves crashed all about
There faces wet with watery sheen
Still now they seemed devout

He was paid well for them to go
To Rome to face some fate
Yet now they sat here all aglow
Mid seas that raged of hate

Ahead the sky was black as black
That shearwater part white
With darker feathers on her back
She came and went from sight

A ships boy there came to him then
Said “Birds lead to mischief
They nest away from beast and men
On rocky shore or cliff”

A panic gripped his heart and mind
He thrust the steer board out
Mid such spray that he seemed half blind
He heard his Bosun shout

“We missed those rocks you saved us all”
As cliffs loomed to his right
The bird let out a frantic call
A bay came into sight

He drove his ship straight at the shore
The prow ploughed through the sand
Her planking creaked then cracked and tore
Death still seemed near at hand

A wave took two men overboard
And straight onto the beach
They stood and cried out to their Lord
Then Death slunk out of reach

The sea became becalmed at last
That wrecked ship’s days were done
With broken keel and shattered mast
Against that storm she’d won

And Saul of Tarsus walked some way
Up from the low shoreline
He stopped but briefly, stopped to pray
“God, could this be a sign”

Back by the ship the captain stood
And spoke with fervent joy
“Bosun” he said “That boy did good”
“Who sir, we have no boy…”

His mind it reeled, his mind it spun
Upon that low shoreline
He saw rays of a rising sun
“God, could this be a sign”

A demon spirit left that bird
She settled on her nest
That demon stuttered word on word
“Satan, I failed your test…”

And Saul of Tarsus travelled forth
To Rome to lose his head
In that great city to the north
His cause would not lie dead

From Frigar’s Saga

Advertisements

Men in Their Element

The lighting was just those dim blue lights in the passageway to the port boat deck. The claxon was sounding and then the voice on the tannoy*, “Hands to action stations, all hands to action stations”, and this was repeated and repeated. The three matelots** Headed aft to the boat deck and seemingly unhurried prepared the boat and helped some twenty two paratroops aboard. The bowman loaded on an addition. That was a bucket, a mop and several cleaning cloths.

Earlier the ships crew had been cheered by the order to “splice the mainbrace”*** . As usual the boat crews were not as jovial as most because of what that might mean to them, another landing.

All boats were launched and the assault ship steamed off back out of the bay leaving the craft to gather at their muster point and await a signal. For fourteen hours they rode a gentle swell only manoeuvring to counter the slow currents and stay on station.

Within an hour the first paratrooper gave out a muffled “Oh God” bent forward and sprayed vomit down his legs and over his feet and the duck board decking. The bowman of the boat casually passed the green faced man a bucket and mop and the coxswain barked “Clean that up”. The ritual had begun.

Men in their element can be callous to men who are not.

One by one twenty of the twenty two paratroops went into an outer reach of hell that goes by the mild sounding name of seasickness.

Throughout this ordeal by entrails the three matelots casually got on with what they were trained to do in this their element. When things were quiet they would openly eat some of their ration packs. This would be followed by choruses of “Oh God” and more vomit fountains.

The best effect was when the bowman sat up front in full view, slowly opened a can of baked beans and scooped them out cold using the blade of his knife a ate then savouring each mouthful as if dining at the Ritz.

There were more “OH GOD”s and the score went from twenty to twenty one. Their best score to date.

Men in their element can be callous to men who are not.

The radio crackled a single word came out of it and diesel engines in all the craft roared into top revs.

The landing had begun…

A Landing

The craft all lay out from the bay
Filled with men prepared for a fight
They’d stayed there all yesterday
And rode the waves most of the night

Their crews were well used to the swell
And waited for orders to come
Soldiers were feeling unwell
Seasickness had left them all dumb

The craft slewed and reared in the swell
White faces were wet with the spray
Of their thoughts no one could tell
As the craft lay off of the bay

When crewmen ate up their ration
Some soldiers had puked on the deck
Faces so grey and ashen
Each had his equipment to check

The diesels had thrummed through the night
As craft lay off the far shore
Throttles were opened with might
And thrums had turned to a roar

The craft slewed and reared in the swell
White faces were wet with the spray
Each in his own secret hell
And tensed for the work of the day

The craft all as one made a turn
Bow waves churned up to white crests
Their wakes made great plumes at the stern
And their hearts beat hard in their chests

The tracers lit up the east sky
And star shells burst over the shore
Yet none of them there asked “why?”
The diesels continued to roar

The craft slewed and reared on the swell
White faces were wet with the spray
Each seemed to be in a spell
As the craft sped in to the bay

The craft careered on at full speed
Adrenaline started its flow
The fear then seemed to recede
We were there to “give a good show”

Crafts full of young men in their prime
Each checking equipment once more
This eased the passage of time
As diesels continued to roar

The craft slewed and reared on the swell
White faces were wet with the spray
Our fate no one could foretell
As we raced on in to the bay

In the great scheme of things of course
There’s nothing of worth on those shores
Radios crackled some Morse
And bow men stood by the bow doors

As mangrove trees loomed into sight
And young hearts beat fast out of fear
Astern dawn’s eerie first light
The sounds of some gunfire seemed near

The craft slowed and rode a slight swell
White faces still wet with the spray
There seemed a flatulent smell
As we neared the shore of the bay

Propellers churned up a grey froth
Through mud of the marshy foreshore
The mud like flames to a moth
Stuck us fast and we moved no more

The bow doors slapped down on the mud
The first men sank in far too deep
Terror then froze in their blood
Stuck there for the reaper to reap

The small craft brought us to this hell
Such places can trap men as prey
Their plan was to charge pell-mell
But this mud here had blocked the way

They strained as they fought with the ooze
A battle with men they could win
This fight with some mud they’d lose
The diesel roars made a loud din

Then tracers etched through the dawn sky
As shells burst beyond the shore line
Minutes then slowly dragged by
In the mud, the muck and the slime

Our craft too were stuck in this hell
And the crews were trapped in the bay
Shellfire still clattered its knell
And quagmires of mud blocked the way

As diesels churned up a grey froth
Men slithered in mud to the shore
They raged an undignified wrath
They wallowed and sweated and swore

The engines then eased to a hum
The boat crew had failed though they’d tried
Though mud we could not overcome
We could well float free with the tide

The craft was then stuck in that hell
And we had to get to the shore
Shellfire still clattered a knell –
Mud beckoned beyond the bow door…

Sabahshore

Once ashore the three matelots were not in their element, they were on land; muddy rain soaked land.  This was the soldiers’ element.  In three days three young men would learn that men in their element can be callous to men who are not.

Some 15 years after the incident described, I was in the dining hall of Ruskin College, Oxford when a loud Glaswegian voice shouted “Cold baked beans – you bastard”.  I had crossed paths with MacKay, an ex paratrooper.  Ah, how nice it was to reminisce!

________________________________
*All loudspeakers on Navy ships have the manufacturers name clear on the front. The manufacturer was Tannoy.
**Matelot, Royal Navy seaman are known in navy jargon by a French word for sailor that of “matelot” (pronounced as: mat low)
***“Splice the mainbrace” was the order to issue an extra rum ration and was frequently given before impending battle.

Woden’s Vision

In Norse mythology, Odin (Woden) hangs himself in the Earth Tree, Yggdrasil, to seek knowledge. His vision gained by being in the great tree is taken in outline from The Real Middle Earth by Brian Bates and the symbolism inspired by the old English poem The Dream of the Rood. Wyrd is a concept in Anglo-Saxon culture roughly corresponding to fate or personal destiny. The word is ancestral to Modern English “weird”, which retains its original meaning only dialectically.

Woden’s Vision

Careening through the terror that was night
Eternal Chaos was then everywhere
As discord then held all within its might
And woefulness was gaunt beyond compare

And everything and nothing all were one,
One in the mass complexity of Wyrd
From Wyrd it was all destinies would run
As from hence come all Hope and all that’s feared

The Well of Wyrd would water that great tree
The Earth tree that would span the realms of all
And sprout what ever was and what would be
For Wyrd holds all both at its beck and call

The mighty tree has roots before all time
Deep in the realms of wisdom and of Death
They draw out order from chaotic slime
Imposing on all things some shibboleth

All elemental things thence got their form
Earth, Water, Fire and Air then came to be
Each came outwith of that primeval storm
The mighty ancient tree had set them free

Each element itself could not gain sway
For none alone may see them self yet free
Through sharing though they kept chaos at bay
And then at last all other things might be

And so I climber the tree from whence all came
And nine long nights and days I hung therein
Ah, then from thence nought then would be the same
I knew at end that nought but Wyrd might win

And yet through Wyrd now all may be alive,
Alive yet guided on their woven way
Through Wyrd alone they die or they may thrive
Yet Wyrd’s Well still brims over to this day

And then I saw all morrows to my end
Saw foul and manksome wolves destroy most all
And then what Wyrd destroyed then Wyrd might mend
Sweet lands there to the west, how they would call

And dead or dying I would venture there
And kinfolk of my kin would multiply
And as I knew my kin would flourish there
Right then I was content that I must die

The tree then seemed to sway, I saw yet more
Saw things of mystery and of wondrous might
Saw in the depths below so dread, so sure
Saw dead souls of the craven and their plight

Eternal cold until the end of time
The brave alone are spared of that dire place
For cowardice it is a manksome crime
The craven who are dead face that disgrace

Self sacrifice of weapon men at war
Alone will save their tender weaker kin
Much mead is theirs and ought be ever more
They gain that right but only if they win

The tree then showed me things I knew not why
A noble god nailed to its trunk would bleed
I heard a dirge the tree then seemed to sigh
And on the air I saw it shed its seed

This spread across Midgard and some would grow
Right then I saw an eagle up above
It’s eyes they pierced my soul they seemed to glow
It taught me much but taught me nought of love

The squirrel in the branches climbed on up
The doe beneath the tree would calmly graze
Then blood and mead seemed mingled in a cup
As all about me faded to a haze

And all was dark and dank there in my mind
And as the spear wound in my side had bled
My lost eye then it seemed was now quite blind
And yet through all of this I was not dead

For firmament from chaos had emerged
And oceans all around Midgard would brim
And I saw much beneath those waves submerged
I’d sought the old All-Father but was him

Him I had been but I had known it not
Yet longer still I hung there in the tree
And saw those things that I had long forgot
Revealed were antique mysteries, I was free!

I saw those Dragons that would fill the sky
With fire and smoke in many a dismal time
I saw descendants ever strive and try
They seemed a folk forever in their prime

I saw each hell of dire defeat arrive
I saw their inner strength and sheer resolve
I saw the grit that would see them survive
With each defeat I saw their souls evolve

I saw both plague and famine in a land
I saw that plague put monstrous Orcs to flight
It ended both the haughty and the grand
Yet plague before a frost soon lost it might

Ah, how the ways of Wyrd they seem so odd
One winter and one spring turned all about
Grass grows on upturned earth and on each sod
For conquering Orcs themselves would face pure rout

The mighty in their turn all fade away
The overbearing end up put upon
Each dreaded Werm in time will have its day
For Wyrd at end makes all the proud turn wan

The boughs they seemed to tremble with the tree
Above I saw three realms and powers there
In one there all of nature I could see
The other filled with spirits of the air

The third was where all knowledge could be found
I yearned to be there should Wyrd let that be
As still I hung between the sky and ground
And prayed for knowledge that might set me free

Then more realms came in view about me there
I saw the mighty giants from of old
Across an ocean in their ancient lair
About them seemed a realm all ice, all cold

I saw the elves that dwell within the light
I heard them give their counsel to a king
I saw them stand beside him in his plight
For in his realm they seemed in everything

Three sisters then I saw beside the well
They wove my destiny I had no say
Though in the waters I then could foretell
I gained a gift it was to know Wyrd’s way!

And though I knew the way it would rule me
For though both sight and knowledge now were mine
Wyrd holds me in its thrall I am not free
Wyrd binds us all as if we’re bound by twine

Nine days I hung to gain the gifts I sought
I gained great knowledge, could see far and wide
And yet at end all this may count for naught
My destiny is fixed – I may not hide!

My doom I know my end is clear to me
My children not yet born I’ve seen grow old
Dark things I had not sought Wyrd made me see
And now I must enact what is foretold

Two ravens will be mine and I will reign
And when my age is done my kind may fade
And aeons pass before they rise again
Returning to each sacred shrine and glade

The tree I heard again now weep out loud
The god that hung on nails he now was dead
Men took him down and wrapped him in his shroud
Stained was the tree where all his blood was shed

The weeping tree it self now let me go
I wandered all the world for many a year
Wyrd works in all things its firm ebb and flow
Though I must die I now have naught to fear

There is no terror there in that dark night
For order out of chaos now must be
Ah, sweet accord it is a comely sight
Once I was blind but now at last I see.

yggdrasil and the nine worlds by John Howe