Wednesday, May 16, 2012

the poetry of Stephen R. Donaldson

Two of my favorite poems are by fantasy/SF writer Stephen R. Donaldson, whom I will always associate with his Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever series: two trilogies and a tetralogy-in-progress. The first poem I'll place here is about death and bereavement:

Death reaps the beauty of the world--
bundles old crops to hasten new.
Be still, heart:
hold peace.
Growing is better than decay:
I hear the blade which severs life from life.
Be still, peace:
hold heart.
Death is passing on--
the making way of life and time for life.
Hate dying and killing, not death.
Be still, heart:
make no expostulation.
Hold peace and grief
and be still.

--Stephen R. Donaldson, 1977
Lord Foul's Bane, Chapter 17, "End in Fire"

The second poem, about the last defense of nature, requires a bit of explanation. The being reciting this poem is a Forestal, a powerful spirit of the woods whose function is the guardianship of forest life: trees, plants, and forest creatures. This particular Forestal, Caer-Caveral, is also trying his best to hold the beautiful region of Andelain together. Andelain is the heart of the Land, but like the rest of the Land, it is under attack by an invention of the Despiser (a satanic/Sauron-like figure): the Sunbane, a curse that drives the Land's natural cycles into unnatural frenzy, forcing earth and sky into a cruel series of rapid changes: desert, rain, pestilence, fertility, etc.-- each phase lasting only a few days, then quickly changing, in random sequence, to a new phase in under a day. The Sunbane, a violation of the natural Law, is ripping the earth apart, and Caer-Caveral knows that even he cannot win against its onslaught. This song, then, is his lament.

Andelain I hold and mold within my fragile spell,
While world's ruin ruins wood and wold.
Sap and bough are grief and grim to me, engrievement fell,
And petals fall without relief.
Astricken by my power's dearth,
I hold the glaive of Law against the Earth.

Andelain I cherish dear within my mortal breast;
And faithful I withhold Despiser's wish.
But faithless is my ache for dreams and slumbering and rest,
And burdens make my courage break.
The Sunbane mocks my best reply,
And all about and in me beauties die.

Andelain! I strive with need and loss, and ascertain
That the Despiser's might can rend and rive.
Each falter of my ancient heart is all the evil's gain;
And it appalls without relent.
I cannot spread my power more,
Though teary visions come of wail and gore.

Oh, Andelain! forgive! For I am doomed to fail this war.
I cannot bear to see you die-- and live,
Foredoomed to bitterness and all the gray Despiser's lore.
But while I can I heed the call
Of green and tree; and for their worth,
I hold the glaive of Law against the Earth.

--Stephen R. Donaldson, 1977
The Wounded Land, Chapter 12, "The Andelainian Hills"


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