Monthly Archives: October 2018

The Marsh King’s Daughter…

 

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‘…Hi-ho the Carrion Crow, Fol-de-rol-de riddle…’

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Although the second longest of Anderson’s Fairy Tales, The Marsh King’s Daughter is relatively little known and perhaps, even, considered to be one of his ‘lesser’ tales.

It is a huge, sprawling epic of a yarn, which like most of his stories draws liberally from the ancient sagas, legends and folk tales which Hans imbibed in his youth.

Unlike some story tellers, although Anderson approaches the traditional devices with free reign, he never loses sight of their psychological and spiritual import and consequently, whilst sometimes apparently piling device upon device in wild profusion, there is always a satisfying, not to say, profound pay off to his seemingly more fantastical meanderings.

In these posts then, rather than retell the story, we intend to focus on aspects of the tale in order to investigate and elucidate the psychological and spiritual components of the story as a whole.

The Marsh King himself, though central to the plot, plays a comparatively minor role in the story, appearing just once, initially disguised as a tree stump.

It is a cunning disguise which gives the foul fellow the opportunity to drag an unsuspecting princess to her apparent doom beneath the marshes.

But wait, how did such a delicate, pretty one find herself on the edge of a marsh in Denmark?

She was sent from Egypt by her dying father to look for the antidote to his wasting disease.

And how did she get there?

She donned a feathered cloak and flew there as a swan.

Then, why didn’t she simply re-don the cloak and fly away when the Swamp Man revealed himself to her?

Because her jealous sisters, who had flown with her, stole her cloak and destroyed it…

Spatially, the construct is no less dazzling.

Here, as in most traditional stories the horizontal polarity of Egypt and Denmark constitutes a world and its other-realm.

The Outer, wasteland, can only be re-invigorated from the Inner depths which appear to be somewhat murky.

The healing herb reputedly grows in a bog, the domain of the Marsh King.

Already, the mix of natural metaphor and deep psychological insight  begins to weave its ancient magic.

But there is more…

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The Drums of Affliction…

Ilkwknd 102

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When Nan died she
became a mountain,
I don’t know why and
it seems churlish to ask.

She suffers terribly,
forcing her craggy cave
of a mouth into the shapes
that form words…

It took Gramps a year and a bit to die.

Not one to do things by half he died three times:
the first time he said, “You know I didn’t feel a thing,
it was just like I was floating.”

Somebody at the hospital brought him round;
the second time his eyes turned into the top of his head,
Mum went hysterical, and the ambulance men
asked her why Gramps was so grey…

He had started that grey thing the summer previous.

Mountain Ana made his left hand to swell,
so that he could no longer grip, and when holding
with his right, the cup, on his saucer, shook.

Nan’s way of saying, ‘Hello, I’m missing you,’ perhaps,
was to try and turn Gramps into a mountain too.

When Great Uncle Tom started shaking cups…
he lasted a month.
But for Gramps such mortality was an affront. “It’s come
on me in a week, all this,” he said with angry eyes.

And in time the swelling eased, his grip returned
and the tremors no longer troubled him.

“It’s the pain that turns you grey,” said Dad…

His face flush again and sitting up in bed Gramps
said, “The doctor wants to know why I’m in here.”
Mum thought she was going mad:
“Do people think I’m trying to kill him?”

That third time the morphine proved fatal.

“They’re going to give you something Dad, to rest you?”

A nod of the head.

***

When Gramps died,
the knot in Mum’s stomach dissolved,
and the weight fell off her.

She grew old in one day.

Now, she looks like Nan.

When she is offended she speaks like Gramps:
she raises her right hand,
and projects her voice above it,
directing her gaze upwards and beyond.

Her fingertips tremble in the air.

***

When Gramps died,
the crying god laughed.

He laughed from the top,
left-hand corner of the chapel of repose,
where he crouched on the upright coffin-lid.

His laugh gave me an inkling:
the divine comedy is real life,
and the world is a womb.

Hysteria.

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How small we are without
the animating principle
to make us big.

How dull and cold,
like overworked wax.

To look on the dead is to confirm,
that things could not have been
any other way…

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In olden days it was the family’s place
to dress the dead for their curtain call.
Would we have turned Gramps out like
this – his ‘tash and ‘brows unthinned?

“He looks better,” says Uncle Jim’s Maeve.
I keep expecting his wink.

Too frail for our duties we can only complain:
“Did it look like him?” asks cousin Fran.

The strangled shake of a head,
“He isn’t there any more, is he?”

***

Here comes the coffin.

The lid is down but I back away as it wheels passed.

The crying god is in there just as surely as Gramps is not,
and if he starts to laugh again the congregation will panic:
our unreality manifest, the performance will have nowhere left to go…

From now until the wooden box enters the earth we follow the dead.

There is no laughter but Mum stands on the wrong side of the hall, and when the music starts up, over loud, I wish there was.

“What tunes did he like? Not these.”

The vicar’s summing up is formal and unfamiliar but we cry anyway.
The sense of futility feels immense yet not quite true.
“At least he got our names right,” says Uncle Jeff.

***

The young and the old handle things best.

Great Aunt Evelyne talks in the hearse like she is out to shop…
‘Show some respect,’ I shout in my head but say nothing.

Little Becky thinks the ceremony
a part of our Nathaniel’s birthday.

At last, the Cemetery makes sense:
a place where the dead are not.

My clutch of sand
bangs on the coffin lid.

An answer to the fear of laughter.

***

Three nights later,
and Gramps is standing
in a field full of light.

Mum is with him.
He seems quite calm but the rings under his eyes have darkened, “Not long now,” he says, as Mum tidies his clothes,
and touches his hair as if expecting company.

The beating of wings overhead dwarfs us all…

Mountain Ana is pleased:
her cavern mouth,
become a golden flower,
breathes out clouds of pollen.

Long, Hot Summer…

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After a long, long, hot summer,

The mornings have finally turned autumnal.

Which must mean,

That Mister Fox,

Cannot be very far away…

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Saturday October 27th

Night of the Hunters Moon

Wortley Mens Club

Wortley

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And should you need to bone-up on

What, precisely, is involved here…

Some reading matter

In the form of four rather fantastic graphic novels

may help…

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All available to buy on Amazon…

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Get there!