Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Voice of the South Wind

The Voice of the South Wind
by Mel Keegan

I woke in the night to the sound of a cry
Though the house was all quiet, and so was the sky –
And then spoke the south wind – spoke just to me:
“Go down to the river, float down to the sea,
“For there shall I wait … how long have I yearned
“For the home I forsook and the love that I spurned.”

Long before dawn was a gleam in the east
I slipped through the dark streets, to speak to the priest.
He stood in his robe, half asleep at the door;
He told me the voice was a dream, nothing more –
And part of me longed to believe he was right,
Though part of me knew, in the hush of the night,
The south wind had spoken – aye, spoken to me…
And the little boats beckoned me down to the sea.

So I gathered my cloak and I hurried on through
To the old wooden pier, where the kingfishers flew –
The tide was going out; it carried me down
Past reed beds and mud flats, away from the town,
To the great sandy cove with the smugglers’ caves,
And up on the clifftop, the mariners’ graves –
For it’s a tradition, that when sailors go free
They’ll only find rest in the sound of the sea.

There, soft in the dawn, I thought the sea cried,
And I knew without asking … someone had died.
But who could it be? What soul did I know
Who would speak on the south wind, and call to se so?

The boat rocked; the tide turned – I heard a soft tap
Down at the waterline, where the waves lap –
Of course I reached over; my fingertips found
A shape made of glass, with a slim neck, all bound
In wax to be watertight, safe from the sea …
A bottle. A message. A message for me?

Stormy and purple the dawn broke that day;
The tide turned and carried me back, ’long the way
Where luggers would tie up, and fishing boats drowsed
While the crewmen came up to us, drank and caroused.
The sunlight grew brighter, though cold as the tomb.
And then did I see, in the lessening gloom,
A paper, rolled tight in the bottle, safe, dry –
A message for me, like the south wind’s thin cry
Which woke me from sleep … and the priest was not right:
It was no dream in the last of the night.

Just as the sun crossed the line of the trees,
Rippling the water, a chill, cutting breeze,
I broke off the wax and tapped out the sheet
Of paper contained in the bottle, so neat –
And there in the dawn light, stormy and dim,
I read the few lines of writing from him –
From the man who had gone to the sea, years ago,
Whose message had found me, and whom I should know…

“The sea is my bastion,” he said. “I’m going home
“After too many years throughout which I did roam
“’Cross oceans and islands too strange to relate,
“Which have brought me at last to the seaman’s bleak fate –
“For the storm is upon us; there’s ice all around,
“And all the world shakes with the furious sound
“Of winds and white water; but I am at peace
“For I’m bound for the place where the silence has lease…
“Just one thing I ask for, before I go down:
“To give this last message; then, pleased shall I drown.
“I left my old homeland, compelled by the need
“To leave you before I could sow ruin’s seed.
“I ran from the town, leaving no thinnest clue
“That I ran for the sake of a love I felt. You.
“For the love that I felt was my sin and my shame –
“There’s no place for sinners, and you’re not to blame.
“So the sea was my refuge, the ships and the mates…
“And now we go down, for our destiny waits,
“And the sea is my haven; my voice is the wind,
“The deeps are my homeland, and though I have sinned
“I bid you, remember the boy with red hair
“Who fled from the village, at harvest time there.”

All at once, now, I knew him – remembered him well,
The lad with red hair and such secrets to tell!
But secrets like these are kept close to the breast –
So I’d never known; was the sea for the best?
He thought so, but now I was filled with regret
For the chance that went begging – I’d never forget
That the one who had loved me with life’s final breath
Had taken that love away, e’en to his death.
He had gone with a cry in the wind, and this word
In a castaway bottle for the one who had heard
The voice in the night, when the priest was so wrong…
It wasn’t a dream, but the last, plaintive song
Of a soul and a lost love, both leaving this earth –
And I pondered on love, sin, and what these are worth,
For love is too rare, far too precious to spurn.
’Tis the lesson the hard-hearts eventually learn.

Now, back in the bottle, the letter I placed,
To the cliffs did I go, while the morning sky raced
With an incoming storm that would break before noon…
But I would be home before then – aye, home soon,
Before people glimpsed what I did, and asked me
Why I buried a bottle above the wild sea.
For it’s the tradition, wise, worn and so old,
Which each generation anew will be told,
That, laid to rest there, where the sea moans and cries,
They’ll find deepest peace where the lonely gull flies.

Then I took myself home, to my house by the bank
Of the river that runs to the sea; and I thank
The gods of the ocean for setting him free,
And sending his voice on the south wind to me.

Words by Mel Keegan, Art by Jade

See also On The Full Moon of September

Jade, 11 February
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