The feast of Samhain
and we are gathered in the mead-hall
the warriors, drunk on mead
bellies heavy with meat
pound the long oak tables
and boast of their exploits
while my maids clear away the plates
and I glide between the protagonists
of this chaotic scene: a peace-weaver with heavy footsteps
heading for the bedchamber.
I’ll not be disturbed by him tonight
he’s far too drunk for romantic exploits
but I am disturbed
as I blow out the candlelight
by the one we have left outside
I hear the moan, which sounds so much like wind beneath the moonlight
and the heavy thud like tree-fall
but I know it’s him:
He’ll snatch a few thegns for an early breakfast
as they stumble home, hungover
just to taunt us.
We have forgotten the outsider
and as recompense
he’ll feast on us.
In time he will be torn to pieces, still
this bloody tale will not be over
the warriors, so fond of taking lives
forget the fury
of a bereaved mother
in this way
day after bloody day
© 2021 experimentsinfiction.com. All Rights Reserved.
Featured image: from William Blake’s notebook, Copy 1 via The William Blake Archive.
Written for earthweal
This week, Sarah Connor hosts the challenge, Approaching Samhain, in which she remarks:
I came across a beautiful notion when looking at Samhain/Halloween/Day of the Dead traditions. The word “guest” and the word “ghost” both come from the German word geist — a spirit invited to join the feasting on the Day of the Dead. That says to me that we can open our arms and our hearts to the uncomfortable and the uncanny. We can accept the dark gifts they bring — introspection, reflection, mourning, the discomfort of rebirth.
The mention of the connection between the words ‘guest’ and ‘ghost’ took me back to the Old English epic poem, Beowulf. In this poem, Beowulf’s arch enemy, the monster Grendel, is described as ‘ellorgast,’ which is usually translated as ‘alien visitor,’ but means literally ‘ghost/guest from elsewhere.’ In my poem, I wanted to give a different perspective on what is on the surface a very masculine tale of warriors vs. monsters. I think the poem is in fact much more subtle than this, so I have examined the action from the perspective of Queen Wealhtheow ‘the Peace-weaver,’ who is the only prominent female character to feature in the poem, apart from Grendel’s mother.