Sunday, November 7, 2010
Born of water, the first element known
to the child is air, in that choking gasp:
earth soon becomes an irresistible
attraction, to mankind as crawling worm.
Fire appears later, as candle or coal,
Quite distinct from the domineering Sun,
it beckons with its warm and flickering light,
but repels the touch with a stab of pain.
The sudden flaring of the pink match-head
informs the child that hidden magic lies
in serried ranks within a brittle box,
out of reach, hidden from tiny fingers.
In October, mysterious work begins:
adults and older children in the know
begin to pile up wood into a cone,
on a dark spot now overgrown with weeds.
A guy is made, from old clothes stuffed with straw,
ready to be hoisted onto the pile,
but kept safe out sight until the time
of sacrifice and celebrating flame.
The why of mock death is never explained,
except as remembrance of dire treason,
but not as the fear of creeping darkness
that must be dispelled by the bonfire’s flames.
The loveliest mystery is left till last,
when the child discovers a pretty box,
all decorated with peculiar signs
whose meaning is a different kind of light.
Within lie the enchanted forms of fire,
each safe inside a coloured tube or cone,
ready to be released from their prison,
ignited by a salted twist of blue.
Weeks of agonised anticipation
pass by, until the day and that dark hour
comes round when the madness of fire shall rule,
and shining eyes behold the Golden Rain,
the burst of the Volcano and Snow Storm,
the glittering sparklers and the rocket’s glare,
all too soon expended until the last
Demon or whimper of the final Squib.
Somewhere else, a Catherine Wheel goes awry
and fails to spin, and a Roman Candle
lets loose voluptuous loads of fiery balls,
among the bonfire’s sparks of falling rain.
The women add their sacred rituals too,
chestnuts and potatoes thrown in the ash
provide a late night supper for their young
and bring the revellers closer to the hearth.
So Hera and Hephaestus reconciled,
participate unseen within the smoke,
inflaming the minds of the very young
to seek beyond the confines of dull earth.