Summer: the smell of pine, sunscreen, and wood smoke, the feeling of the hot sun on your skin and wet grass on your bare feet, the sight of green leaves everywhere. For me, this is the time of greatest freedom and beauty: the season when you can turn on your favorite playlist in the car with the windows down; swim in cool water until your hands and toes are pruny; star-gaze in the warm nights; pick blueberries and bake them into cobbler. I taste sehnsucht when I see blue mist over the sea or hear the weird, chuckling cry of a loon.
This week’s Summer of Faerie post is a fascinating one by Emma Fox. Emma introduced me to the French composer Claude Debussy, a lover of mythology and friend to many Symbolist poets and artists. Her poem was inspired by an image of Debussy and his beloved daughter Emma in a forest south of Paris, taken shortly before their deaths near the end of WWI (see the picture below). Debussy is famous for his orchestral work, “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.” This poem asks, what if he really did see a faun there in the woods?
Debussy was fascinated the concept of Gesampkunstwerk or “total work of art,” or unifying text, visual art, music, and even movement into one work. In honor of that concept, I recommend listening to “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” as you read this poem (and, perhaps, finding some woods to sit in as you do) – let them take you into this time, this moment, this vision.
Debussy’s Afternoon of the Faun: A Prelude
by Emma Fox
There really was a faun— I know, because I glimpsed him in the southern forest. The war had dragged on, at the Somme and at Verdun, Verdant no longer, but choked With ragged brambles of barbed wire The tongues of dragon fire and poisoned fumes Driving from the woods both deer and dove.
Paris had become a cage for us. The shuttered shops of the Champs-Elysees Sagged pale and weary, windows boarded up, Unable to bear the Arc de Triomphe Stranded in the star, cut off at the hip Like the legs of a broken Colossus.
We fled to the forest, my daughter and I. We galloped on an iron horse to a far kingdom Where castles rose like broken dreams From the shrouded groves of memory. We found a spot between the trees To spread our blanket and eat apples, And listen to the language of the birds.
That’s where we saw the faun. Just his curled horns at first, sticking out from behind a tree— He slept, unaware of our presence, His naked chest rising and falling with each breath And his furred legs nestled in the grass like foxes, While his bright hooves twitched to a silent tune.
A warm wind stirred the leaves above our heads. He slept on—dreaming perhaps of virgin groves And naiads bathing in the stream, And the music of flutes beneath the stars In ancient times, long before Caesar Stormed in with the legions, striking down trees And strangling rivers with aqueducts.
The faun never woke. We tiptoed away— Folded our blanket, and walked through the wood To the station. We were silent the whole journey home, But in my daughter’s eyes I saw summer leaves and starlight. And on the iron platform, her buttoned leather shoes Twinkled, waltzing to some silent melody.
And I knew this afternoon would be the prelude to her song.
Emma Fox first met a faun at age seven, when wandering through the Narnian woods. She fell in love with Claude Debussy’s music in high school, eventually leading to degrees in music and art history and a lifelong interest in the intersection of music, art and literature. She now lives in the “Magic City” of Birmingham, Alabama, along with her husband, three book-loving children, and a loyal border collie. Her debut fantasy novel The Arrow and the Crown has received multiple awards, including the Warren S. Katz Award for Juvenile Fiction and 1st Place in Young Adult Fiction from the SCBWI Southern Breeze division. Explore more of her fantasy world and work at http://emmafoxauthor.com/.
My research methods for this Summer of Faerie project have been quick, messy plunges instead of the careful, methodical, deep dives of a professional scholar. However, I am finding treasures. J.R.R. Tolkien, George MacDonald, Ursula K. Le Guin, Alan Jacobs, Madeleine L’Engle, and many others have explored the mysteries of Faerie, including memory, imagination, wonder, and beauty. My latest pleasure was finally reading George MacDonald’s The Golden Key, which I had heard about but not read – a sparkling, mesmerizing tale with echoes of dreams, death, and eternity.
The other writers who have joined me in this quest of celebrating and adding to the Faerie canon continue to delight. Rachel Donahue returns with another poem that “strips the veil of familiarity from the world” to expose “its sleeping beauty” (stole that from Shelley). Rachel also contributed a story that reminded me of a hearthfire on a cool, misty day – atmospherically, somewhere between the Shire and the Misty Mountains. Enjoy!
King Midas Chased Me This Morning
King Midas chased me this morning.
I saw him coming in the rear view glass, his broad reach spreading o’er field and tree and man alike, gilding everything in sight until he reached my pane, besmirched with dust, and I could see no more through the aurous wash.
As I fled, I turned to spy him rising there behind a tree, and when I least expected him, his fingers reached deliberately and touched my eyes till all I saw was gold.
Summer of Invisible Dragons
by Rachel Donahue
Plowed the back pasture today. Tom Shepherd came down the lane with his flock and brought word that dragons have descended from the top of Mt. Summit. Strange news. He’s not one to believe in fairy tales. I’m afraid he may have the dropsy mind.
Successful day at market. Folks love Mae Ella’s rhubarb jam. Stopped by the inn for a brew and heard a traveler saying that Dunn Castle is under siege by invisible dragons. The other patrons laughed at his strange tale, but his story gave me a bad feeling. I told Mae Ella about it and what old Tom said the other day.
Helped Mae Ella prep her flower beds. Sowed the back pasture.
Cut hay in the meadow.
Figured out where the story of invisible dragons came from. They aren’t invisible at all—you just can’t see them. A messenger from Allendale said the eternal cloud at the top of Mt. Summit has descended upon Dunn Castle where it sits at the foot of the mountain. The castle is completely hidden from view. Said he could see flashes of fire inside the cloud all the way from Allendale.
Baled hay. Mae Ella helped.
Went to a meeting in the square this afternoon at Mae Ella’s urging. Rumor reached us this morning that the dragons have spread from Dunn Castle to Allendale. Some believe the dragons can smell crowds, so they refuse to go outside. That explains why the market was so slow. Wish I could’ve stayed home myself. There’s talk of canceling the lantern festival next week, though I don’t see the reason for such fuss. We’re a long way from Allendale.
Smithy says there’s an inventor coming to Redfield to teach all the smiths from surrounding villages how to make his contraption—a kind of metal parasol. Says it’ll protect from dragon fire. Smithy’s already asking folks to give up their swords and shields and any other scrap metal they can afford. Says once the dragons get here we won’t have much use for them anyway. Not sure that I’m ready to give up my weapons on a hunch. But I did check the roof over and patch a couple places.
Mended the fence in the south meadow.
Word came that the dragons seem to have a taste for elders and are sparing the children. Maybe they’re attracted to the smell of menthol and camphor, I don’t know. But there’s a cloud over Sweetdale now, so they’re one step closer. There’s another meeting in the square tomorrow morning—only one representative from each family. Guess it’s up to me to go.
We canceled the lantern festival. Who could have imagined. We’ve celebrated this festival on the same day for hundreds of years. But we can’t risk attracting the dragons with large crowds. Our elders are too valuable.
Planted the garden. Feels strange to be sowing with the threat of dragons. Wondering if we’ll even be here to harvest.
I took my shield and extra swords to Smithy today. Never thought I’d be protecting my family by surrendering my weapons. Nothing makes sense any more now that there are dragons. They’ve moved on to Birchwood, so it’s just a matter of time before they get here. People are celebrating the lantern festival by placing their lanterns in windows. It’s not the same, but it’s a mighty nice view from our end of town to see so many little lights aglow.
A traveling merchant in the market today was selling what he called “dragon repellent”—a stink cream guaranteed to keep them away. He made some sales, but I didn’t buy it. Mae Ella asked around and found it was something she could make herself. Now the kitchen stinks to high heaven. I sure hope she don’t expect me to smear that stuff on when I go out.
Yep, she did. I smell so bad I can hardly stand myself. But I sure do love that woman. She makes so few demands of me, if she feels better with me stinking, I reckon I’ll do it. Good thing is, I’m not the only one. There’s enough of us wearing the stink that you can’t tell who it is that smells so bad. It might or might not keep the dragons away, but it’ll sure work on everything else. Even Bo and Bess won’t come near me. Glad the planting’s all done.
Well I never. I’m so cross I can’t see straight. Heard that our neighbors over in Greenfield are pushing their elders out of town, sending them out as a kind of offering to the dragons. Said they won’t be caught stinking or using funny parasols—they have the right to go about their lives like normal. Said if the dragons want the elders they can have ‘em, that way they’ll leave the rest of the village alone. Folks tried to tell ‘em it don’t work that way, but they won’t listen. We here in Redfield been taking those elders in for safekeeping. It may put us at higher risk, but with the stink cream and the parasols and everyone staying indoors, we suspect to be OK.
Got a nasty splinter while making stakes for the tomatoes. Mae Ella got most of it, but couldn’t get the last sliver. Elder Roy made up a paste to draw it out. I wonder what other useful things he’s got stored up in that head of his.
No market this week. Working the land with my parasol contraption close by. It’s a bit unnerving, having to watch and listen so close while I work, but I got to keep the farm going.
Folks is growing restless, what with being cooped up with the stink and all. The inn’s closed, and the taverns, too, and no one’s meeting in the square. I only leave to tend to my animals, and poor Mae Ella hardly leaves at all. It’s hard to see that sweet blossom withering on the vine, but she’s determined to take good care of the three elders we got staying with us. To pass the time we all tell stories of an evening. I’ve been amazed to hear what they’ve seen in their day, but it’s nothing like the dragons. They’ve never lived anything like this.
The dragons are at Greenfield. Maker have mercy. Some from town went to see if they could help, to carry them some cream and a few extra parasols, but it was too late. The cloud had already covered the village. We could see flashes of fire out west in the early morning hours before the sun was up. It’s eerily quiet here—no birds or chitterin, no wagons or talking. Everyone’s locked up tight now, just waiting.
The dragons passed us by. I’ve never been so scared in my life. We been spread out in the house, not more than two together, and all of us under parasols as much as possible. Only sound I heard for two days was a baby crying down the street and the animals restless in the barn. No one knows when they’ll be back or exactly why they kept going, but we’re all breathing careful tonight.
Still no sign of dragons here, but no one goes outside unless they need to. Taking every precaution. Got word from Greenfield today—the whole village is in mourning, hardly a family untouched. Some dead, some suffering burns, a couple houses charred to a crisp. Someone sent word thanking us for saving their elders from such a fate. The elders are mourning, though. They’ve lost more than most.
Been at Greenfield for two days, helping to clean up the remains. Mae Ella sent me off with baskets of food and all the extra stink cream she could spare. Only seven of us made the trip from Redfield, but we didn’t walk together for fear of drawing the dragons back. It was a lonely journey. I’ve worked so hard the last two days I ache in places I’d forgotten about, but I was determined to get home to my sweet Mae Ella soon as I could.
The elders have decided to return home. Greenfielders are staying indoors now and using all the stink cream and parasols they can get, and they’re in sore need of their elders. I’m mighty proud of the folks from our village who are stepping up to help and donating what they can. A few old misers in town are more interested in being right and teaching them a lesson, but I say that that poor village has suffered their folly enough without anybody else heaping coal on the fire. The ones of us who went to help the other day saw that plain enough.
Weeded the garden. Caught a glimpse of the firstfruits.
There’s a new normal around here. We live every day with the threat of dragons (word still comes of villages hit near and far) but we’ve been fortunate. Hard not to let our guard down when the skies are so clear. But we all care about each other too much to be careless. Even the ones that was skeptical are taking up parasols now that it’s hit so close to home. Some of the ladies done gone to painting theirs, making it a new kind of fashionable thing. I got to say I don’t mind it so much. Those little spots of color—like the zinnias that popped up in Mae Ella’s flower bed—just brighten up the place and help it not to feel so dark and dreary. Eventually the dragons will come—I can feel it in my bones—but that don’t mean we can’t take care of what’s here right now. If Mae Ella’s taught me anything in all my years with her, it’s that. We got work to do.
Rachel S. Donahue holds a B.A. in English and Bible from Welch College in Nashville, TN, and has more than eleven years’ experience changing diapers. She and her husband, Mick, previously lived and worked in Spain serving people groups at risk of marginalization. They now live near Charlotte, North Carolina, where they’re both involved in the family greenhouse business while raising three sprightly boys and a sweet-as-pie little girl.Visit her website/blog at www.thedonahuedaily.com. Her book, Real Poems for Real Moms: from a Mother in the Trenches to Another, can also be found on Amazon or bookshop.org.
As I posted about last year, late February through March are usually the hardest time of year for me: the glitter of the holidays is long gone, the snow turns to slush, and New England is a mess of gray fog and ice storms. Crocuses and warm winds take a long time to arrive.
This year, however, my own writing and engagement on The Habit (an online writing community) have reminded that me that I live in a world of wonders created by an almighty God, and my art gives me the power to perceive and create beauty in the grayest places.
Some of my favorite writers have already done the work of re-enchanting this season, transforming it from depressing to mysteriously beautiful: Emily Bronte in Wuthering Heights, James Hogg in Confessions of a Justified Sinner, Seamus Heaney in “Glanmore Sonnets,” and others.
So I want to approach this late winter season with a spirit of joy and wonder. This blog series will explore the magic of late winter and very early spring: pearl-gray skies, silver-white ice on the dark surface of ponds, rain-speckled snow, damp winds that spread the smell of wet soil, rain-speckled snow, birdsong on misty mornings.
For this project, I’m partnering with some wonderful writer-friends from The Habit, as I did last Thanksgiving. First, Kimberly Margaret Miller graciously let me repost this exquisite poem from her blog, a meditation on winter sunlight. Kim lives in the deep South, which doesn’t usually receive heavy snows, but can be gloomy with “short days, barren trees, and overcast skies.”
Your beams stretch, Arms beckoning, a final embrace as you bid adieu. Reaching, leaning, tilting You scatter color across the bleak horizon. Then you are gone. Longing fills. Cold darkness envelopes. I forget.
My alarm pulses. Shuffling through routine with half open eyes, Morning tea in hand, I pull back the curtain. I wasn’t looking for you, But there you are. Waiting for me to behold. Your quiet grandeur whispered in hues of pink and purple. I stand and listen with rapt attention. And suddenly, I awake.
Leash in hand, I walk Curiosity— The chase is on. Weaving through bare trees you pursue, Streaming brilliance. Stopping in my tracks, I think of night. And already I miss you.
Your arms stretch, Across beams, no final embrace as you bid adieu. Reaching, leaning, tilting You scatter crimson across bleakness within. Then night comes. Longing fills. Cold darkness envelopes. I forget.
My hunger craves. I shuffle through my days with half-open eyes. You pull back the curtain. I am not looking for you, But there you are, Waiting for me to behold. Your quiet grandeur whispers in hues of love and peace. I stand and listen with rapt attention. And suddenly, I awaken.
The Day is at hand, I walk forward. The chase is on. Weaving through barren places you pursue, Streaming brilliance. Stopping in my tracks, I think of night. And already I know You will never leave.
Kimberly M. Miller is a writer, wife of 28 years, mother to four children, and granna to one amazing little boy. She graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism in 1991 from Mississippi University for Women where she served as editor of The Spectator for two years. Kim’s writing has ranged from advertising copy and press releases to short stories and essays. Since retiring from 24 years as a homeschool mom, she’s devoted her time to honing the craft of fiction writing. Her current work-in-progress is a historical novel set in Mississippi in 1834.
Here is part two of the creative project I posted about yesterday – Elizabeth Giger, Bethany Sanders, and I wrote poems to meditate on thankfulness, giving thanks in times of suffering, and our personal thanksgiving. In writing these, we each tried something new:
Elizabeth Giger wrote a lovely meditation using a series of contrasts both within the language used and the number of stanzas chosen.
Bethany Sanders wrote from a new perspective, incorporating Biblical and natural imagery.
I tried a rondeau, a French verse form with a refrain and a specific stanza and rhyme scheme.
Look there! A strip of paper.
Sun-bleached and frayed,
but soft as the edge of a feather.
I wing back to the house eave
with the paper rustling against
my shoulder as it ribbons in the wind.
Another lining for the nest.
This spring I weave by myself. My mate and I sang with the flock Until a shadow glided between us. Hawk! Scatter-scatter-scatter! But then she never returned. Creator, remember us, lest we fall alone.
The house eave is quiet and dry. In here is the whorl of my nest. I prick at the brim of the nest’s bowl, then snake the paper into the weave. Pluck here, tug there, hem the edge. I sit. Warm and soft. Come time, my future brood will be secure.
You are the God who remade me
Through silent days when the earth turned slowly,
When cubicle-caves were empty and gray,
And pale screens replaced the light of day,
In two years of waiting, longing to be free.
Through two iron winters, you sent sparks of glory:
Laughter at the hearthfire, deep talks over coffee.
You gave me dreams like the northern lights at play;
You are the God who remade me.
Golden lake-days, musings in that silver valley,
Nights of exile, wondering who you called me to be:
You kindled a blaze that burned my thorn-hedge away
And grew wildflowers where the ashes lay.
In that green country and the tower by the sea
You are the God who remade me.