General Poetry posted September 11, 2017

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A Ballad

On Staffa

by tfawcus

Within this cave of basalt rock,
cathedral columns rise,
hexagonal and steeply set,
beyond my wild surmise,

and echoes drift upon the wind
with notes of deep despair;
a Hebridean overture
inspired by soughing air,

its tones funereal and sad,
a dirge in minor key,
a bagpipe drone with dark bassoon,
and restless slop of sea.

There's a sad sweetness that exists
in Fingal's honeycomb,
whose hollow tones bewitched soft tunes
from Felix Mendelssohn.

With eagerness we scaled the rock,
aloft where steep stairs wind
above the gloom of shadowed past
as, breathlessly, we climbed

to heather brae and summer sky,
where paths, windswept and sparse,
were splashed with Eyebright’s lilac haze
of dots 'mid tussock grass.

Then down we sank to rest awhile,
while taking in the view
of sparkling mack'rel seas to Mull,
a distant, misty blue.

In time, we heard a throaty purr,
a buzzing scribble sound,
of puffins in their breeding dens,
well-hidden underground.

There soon emerged a rainbow beak
and small tuxedoed bird
that waddled by. She cocked an eye
-- no doubt thought us absurd!

Then, off with whirring wing, she ran
the gauntlet of the skies.
Each time she makes this flight to fish,
this tiny auk defies

a flock of vicious black-backed gulls
that hover overhead.
danse macabre starts, whose steps
fill tiny hearts with dread.

A lucky few win through, transformed,
no longer Harlequin,
but dancers now, with fluid grace,
that pirouette and spin,

each fish dive dance a graceful move,
with swift, adroit glissade.
At length, they breast the wave again,
with sand eel catch displayed

for gulls to snatch. The puffins skim
the surf and scurry home,
while skuas shriek and swoop to scrag
the stragglers, beak and bone.

We are transfixed as they evade
this maelstrom in the air,
and then, as sudden as she left,
our comic reappears

and scuttles to her burrow, safe,
so we again are blessed
with a maternal puffin purr
that signifies success.

We talk a while, considering
our sunny outcrop throne.
A giant with volcanic force
begot this stepping stone,

kin to the Giant's Causeway found
on Erin's northern shores,
whence Fingal sailed, in Celtic myth,
to fight in Viking wars,

as his son Ossian described
in James McPherson's tome,
his lance "a meteor of death"
reflected in the moon.

And does the ghost of Fingal still
repel fierce Valkyries,
as down they swoop upon small birds
in basalt galleries?

As I recall this Staffa day,
the clock forbears to chime,
for when one sinks in reverie,
the self retires from time!

Poem of the Month contest entry


Staffa is a small island in the Hebrides, six miles from the Isle of Mull, famous for Fingal's Cave, formed from columns of hexagonally compressed volcanic basalt, acoustically perfect, and the inspiration for Felix Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture. Its geological formation is similar to Ireland's Giant's Causeway.

There are several Celtic legends about Fingal, one of the more famous being recorded in James McCauley's Ossian cycle of epic poems written in the 1760s.

The Valkyries in Norse mythology were Odin's daughters, who hovered over fields of battle selecting who were to live and who were to die. They carried the souls of the dead to Valhalla.

Little auks or puffins inhabit the island rock. Their flight is ungainly because of their small wings and they have many predators. However, under the water they become swift and graceful swimmers. Their call somewhat resembles the sound of a chainsaw.

Eyebright is a common Hebridean wildflower.

'Fish dive dance', 'pirouette' and 'glissade' are technical ballet terms.

'Scribble' is an invented onomatopoeia.

Puffin photo by David Klaasen on Unsplash.jpg. (Unsplash is a website with a multitude of copyright free photographs.)
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