Great Nights Returning
It’s a while since I’ve revisited the magnificent poem below by Vernon Watkins. I was moved to do so by the frosty nights we have been having and the array of stars on display. Looking up at the stars in the clear sky the other night, in one of those synchronous moments where an event links with a memory, I just thought I had to come into the house and read the poem. It seems perfect for the Winter Solstice.
Portrait of Vernon Watkins by Alfred Janes
Great nights returning, midnight’s constellations
Gather from groundfrost that unnatural brilliance.
Night now transfigures, walking in the starred ways,
Tears for the living.
Earth now takes back the secret of her changes.
All the wood’s dropped leaves listen to your footfall.
Night has no tears, no sound among the branches;
Stopped is the swift stream.
Spirits were joined when hazel leaves were falling.
Then the stream hurrying told of separation.
This is the fires’ world, and the voice of Autumn
Stilled by the death-wand.
Under your heels the icy breath of Winter
Hardens all roots. The Leonids are flying.
Now the crisp stars, the circle of beginning;
Death, birth, united.
Nothing declines here. Energy is fire-born.
Twigs catch like stars or serve for your divining.
Lean down and hear the subterranean water
Crossed by the quick dead.
Now the soul knows the fire that first composed it
Sinks not with time but is renewed hereafter.
Death cannot steal the light which love has kindled
Nor the years change it.
There is no longest night, no waning dark,
The sun combusts always, somewhere in sky.
This planet, like our hearts, doth axis mark
And leaves us ever burning. Burning.
Wilt thou now burn with me, beloved one?
The winter’s cold or summer’s heat appease?
Each drawing breath we take another dawn
To waken, finally turning. Turning.
What do you wait upon? The light is heard,
You know the name of every ant and leaf
And sing the spell in every woven word,
Your chambered heart beats yearning. Yearning.
You are the light. You are the one returned.
You are the shining thing that always burns.
T. Thorn Coyle
with Solstice Blessings, 2009