Today the Dragon Wins

"Today the Dragon Wins" offers information from Fantasy Author and Professional Editor Sandy Lender. You'll also find dragons, wizards, sorcerers, and other fantasy elements necessary for a fabulous story, if you know where to look...

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Sandy Lender is the editor of an international trade publication and the author of the fantasy novels Choices Meant for Gods and Choices Meant for Kings, available from ArcheBooks Publishing, and the series-supporting chapbook, What Choices We Made.

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Monday, April 09, 2007

The Dragon Presents an Example of Exile in Old English Poetry
Or…this is the stuff that influenced Choices Meant for Gods

To keep me from getting in trouble for plagiarism, let me state which of my textbooks I pulled this from: Poems From The Old English, University of Nebraska Press, 1964. (And lest all you visitors assume I was in college back then, I graduated in 1992.) My Old English background influenced me heavily not just in words and names that I came up with for my fantasy novel, Choices Meant for Gods, but in concepts and themes that run under the plotlines in the story. I thank Dr. Heinz Woehlk of Truman State University. You can ask me questions about all that during my author chat tomorrow evening (Tuesday, April 10) at 7 p.m. Eastern Standard Time at www.archebooks.com/chat. I look forward to seeing you there. For now, I hope you pick up on the concept of exile in the poem below.

(Please note the alliteration in lines 3 and 24 specifically. And check the true exile in lines 92-94. You can feel this guy’s pain. This is great stuff, folks. Great stuff.)

THE WANDERER
This lonely traveller longs for grace,
For the mercy of God; grief hangs on
His heart and follows the frost-cold foam
He cuts in the sea, sailing endlessly,
(5) Aimlessly, in exile. Fate has opened
A single port: memory. He sees
His kinsmen slaughtered again, and cries:
“I’ve drunk too many lonely dawns,
Grey with mourning. Once there were men
(10) To whom my heart could hurry, hot
With open longing. They’re long since dead.
My heart has closed on itself, quietly
Learning that silence is noble and sorrow
Nothing that speech can cure. Sadness
(15) Has never driven sadness off;
Fate blows hardest on a bleeding heart.
So those who thirst for glory smother
Secret weakness and longing, neither
Weep nor sigh nor listen to the sickness
(20) In their souls. So I, lost and homeless,
Forced to flee the darkness that fell
On the earth and my lord.
Leaving everything,
Weary with winter I wandered out
(25) On the frozen waves, hoping to find
A place, a people, a lord to replace
My lost ones. No one knew me, now,
No one offered comfort, allowed
Me feasting or joy. How cruel a journey
(30) I’ve traveled, sharing my bread with sorrow
Alone, an exile in every land,
Could only be told by telling my footsteps.
For who can hear: “friendless and poor,”
And know what I’ve known since the long cheerful nights
(35) When, young and yearning, with my lord I yet feasted
Most welcome of all. That warmth is dead.
He only knows who needs his lord
As I do, eager or long-missing aid;
He only knows who never sleeps
(40) Without the deepest dreams of longing.
Sometimes it seems I see my lord,
Kiss and embrace him, bend my hands
And head to his knee, kneeling as though
He still sat enthroned, ruling his thanes.
(45) And I open my eyes, embracing the air,
And I see the brown sea-billows heave,
See the sea-birds bathe, spreading
Their white-feathered wings, watch the frost
And the hail and the snow. And heavy in heart
(50) I long for my lord, alone and unloved.
Sometimes it seems I see my kin
And greet them gladly, give them welcome,
The best of friends. They fade away,
Swimming soundlessly out of sight,
(55) Leaving nothing.
How loathsome become
The frozen waves to a weary heart.
In this brief world I cannot wonder
That my mind is set on melancholy,
(60) Because I never forget the fate
Of men, robbed of their riches, suddenly
Looted by death—the doom of earth,
Sent to us all by every rising
Sun. Wisdom is slow, and comes
(65) But late. He who has it is patient;
He cannot be hasty to hate or speak,
He must be bold and yet not blind,
Nor ever too craven, complacent, or covetous,
Nor ready to gloat before he wins glory.
(70) The man’s a fool who flings his boasts
Hotly to the heavens, heeding his spleen
And not the better boldness of knowledge.
What knowing man knows not the ghostly,
Waste-like end of worldly wealth:
(75) See, already the wreckage is there,
The wind-swept walls stand far and wide,
The storm-beaten blocks besmeared with frost,
The mead-halls crumbled, the monarchs thrown down
And stripped of their pleasures. The proudest of warriors
(80) Now lie by the wall: some of them war
Destroyed; some the monstrous sea-bird
Bore over the ocean; to some the old wolf
Dealt out death; and for some dejected
Followers fashioned an earth-cave coffin.
(85) Thus the Maker of men lays waste
This earth, crushing our callow mirth.
And the work of old giants stands withered and still.”

He who these ruins rightly sees,
And deeply considers this dark twisted life,
(90) Who sagely remembers the endless slaughters
Of a bloody past, is bound to proclaim:
“Where is the war-steed? Where is the warrior?
Where is his war-lord?
Where now the feasting-places?
Where now the mead-hall pleasures?
Alas, bright cup! Alas, brave knight!
(95) Alas, you glorious princes! All gone,
Lost in the night, as you never had lived.
And all that survives you a serpentine wall,
Wondrously high, worked in strange ways.
Mighty spears have slain these men,
(100) Greedy weapons have framed their fate.
These rocky slopes are beaten by storms,
This earth pinned down by driving snow,
By the horror of winter, smothering warmth
In the shadows of night. And the north angrily
(105) Hurls its hailstorms at our helpless heads.
Everything earthly is evilly born,
Firmly clutched by a fickle Fate.
Fortune vanishes, friendship vanishes,
Man is fleeting, woman is fleeting,
(110) And all this earth rolls into emptiness.”

(I’ve left off the final five lines because it’s pretty obvious some monk just tacked them onto the original poet’s work to “lighten up” the poem and put a “put your trust in God” spin on the thing. Monks were the PR agents of the Middle Ages.)

The true ending of “The Wanderer” reminds me of the end of Charlotte Bronte’s Villette, in which she writes:
“That storm roared frenzied for seven days. It did not cease till the Atlantic was strewn with wrecks: it did not lull till the deeps had gorged their full sustenance. Not till the destroying angel of tempest had achieved his perfect work, would he fold the wings whose waft was thunder—the tremor of whose plumes was storm.
“Peace, be still! Oh! a thousand weepers, praying in agony on waiting shores, listened for that voice, but it was not uttered—not uttered till, when the hush came, some could not feel it: till, when the sun returned, his light was night to some!
“Here pause: pause at once. There is enough said. Trouble no quiet, kind heart; leave sunny imaginations hope. Let it be theirs to conceive the delight of joy born again fresh out of great terror, the rapture of rescue from peril, the wondrous reprieve from dread, the fruition of return. Let them picture union and a happy succeeding life.”


That’s harsh. Charlotte Bronte, like the Anglo-Saxons, was fabulous in her heart-wrenching text.

"Some days, I just want the dragon to win."

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