Title: Feng, A Poem.
Author: John Wain.
Genre: Fiction, literature, poetry, historical fiction.
Publication Date: 1975.
Summary: A poem about power. From an early version of the Hamlet myth comes its anti-hero, Feng himself - the usurping king, "the sick and hallucinated person who seizes power and then has to live with it."
My rating: 8.5/10.
♥ The forest moss
that grows on the rough bark, and cushions it,
makes life and growth from moisture and rotting wood,
silent in the silence between the pines,
knows everything, and we killers and wagerers,
intent on our contests and our sacrifices,
know nothing but noise, and pain, and emptiness.
♥ I'll practise in the mirror: a smile for you
my strong brother, Horwendil of Denmark;
a different smile, more melting, comradely,
for his young queen Gerutha, my sister
what law? What rule do men obey?
They trumpet him because he killed the king.
♥ The sky is still light, though the earth is dark.
The sky is white. It breathes
without breath. It lives
without fear and trouble. It has no
faltering heart-beat. It does not
look down at us here, nor up
to anything outside itself. It need not
ask or propitiate. It contains
within itself all its own reasons.
I can say true words, but
the sky has a better kind of truth, the truth
of silence. It need say nothing.
♥ Only the wild swans and the deer go free.
They do not know that they have changed their nation.
And the moss grows in silence. I must remember
the silence of the moss.
♥ What a strong life:
to fight, then rut. And after, crop the grass.
I longed to be a stag.
But I was Feng.
♥ Still, even if stoutly
I got up and growled that I had gutted
their snoring hero, snuffing his heart-flame
by stealth as he slept, they would be startled
no more than a moment: then, matter-of-fact
as becomes brain-bashers, they would rise and beat
shields in applause. The alert attacker
deserves to prevail: the prone, paunch-full
fool was fair fodder.
So they would feel,
and I feel nothing.
♥ I do not know why, I only know that the lust
I should feel for this convenient mate is trussed
in with my lame will and cannot break free
that tonight when I should be topping her blithely
I shall draw back, into silence and darkness, alone
and where there should be life and flesh there will be ghost and bone
and I who have always tried to learn from the untamed
beasts of the forest and mountain am stopped and ashamed
finding myself powerless even to turn the pages
of the great book they read effortlessly through the ages:
they obey one great energising law, Be as you have been:
instinct moves them onward through the unchaining scene
and like a crest of surf that never comes to the beach
it ferries them on their complicated errands, each
adept at an incredible variety of skills
defended by hypertrophied senses against all ills
intended to them by foes equally organised
or against hazards of dearth and disease, every sized
and shaped calamity. Their compulsion is so graceful
and so simple, it makes out clutter of choices seem wasteful:
they go at once where they have to go, do what is indicated:
how shall our endless chopping and changing be vindicated?
Is it I who am free, and the animals enslaved
to their rigid patters, those unbreakable laws engraved
on their nervous systems, so that to disobey
cannot occur to them? I, whose dismay
at this fertile and comely den-partner no bear
or wolf would agnize? The whale, in search of air
breaking the surface, then in search of food
cruising subaqueous, knows there is good
beyond air and good, but where I can say I am lonely
he has no formulated concept of need, he knows only
that something keeps him swimming when he would otherwise float
at rest, warm-blooded in his glutinous snug coat:
nor, in all that cold water, is his great penis
likely to extend itself without some cetacean Venus
to offer immediate prospect of immolation
(how unlike mine! which, apt to desert its station
when ordered to attack, at times when nothing is doing
so often signals an impulse to go a-wooing.)
Yes, the animals shame us. Complete in their present tense
how they must despise our abashed time-ridden existence
content with the simple enetgy and the simple good
they do not fear old age or yearn back to childhood
and when death comes at last to impose its Then
on their unthinking Now, they do not, like men,
suffer agonies of regret for what they failed to do
or care how they will be remembered. Life is new
and so is death, their memories do not retain the old
except for the ancestral pattern in the neural mould:
but here am I...
♥ I utter a short martial speech, prepared in advance, in which I paint an utterly false picture of myself as a being devoted to violence and conquest. I represent myself as caring deeply for territorial expansion. It is, I tell them, the supreme object of my life that this backward tribe of littoral-dwellers, deficient in every skill except the murder of human beings and animals, fog-brained bipeds who have not yer evolved a philosophy even in its chrysalis form, a religion - that these anthropoid allosaurs should be armed, organised and encouraged to hurl themselves on other similar groups, scattered thinly along a coastline which provides already more than enough timber, fish and arable ground to meet their needs for a thousand years, and, to the accompaniment of much brain-splattering and windpipe-severing, deprive them of their habitat and their culture of unenviable possessions.
♥ I touch the sword instead. I think it is
safer to touch the metal than the flesh -
the infertile metal, hammered clean of feelings
before it reached me, than the throbbing flesh:
deluded, hot with need, crowded with ghosts.
And now at last I am the king I killed.
♥ My counsellors say Amleth's madness is a mask:
behind it his revenge-thoughts grow cool as cress.
And a mask, what is that? Is it ivory or carved stone
or the immobile features of a bird of prey?
♥ As for me, my madness is to be sane.
With my head on Gerutha's pillow, trying not to dream
that Amleth's dark girl holds me in her fastness
and that the orchard bees have left off buzzing.
My insanity is to be the cold king
with the curtains of hi mind drawn tight together,
sitting at council with shadows, talking to ghosts.
♥ Down on my back I flung myself, and lay.
The window filled my eyes, my brain, my nerves.
All that I knew was in that square of light:
and it was nothing.
Nothing, and again
It healed me with its nothingness.
I feasted on its glorious absences:
absence of sound, of movement, of design.
Both eyes wide open, I lay. My hurts grew cool.
How much I feared the earth yet belonged to it,
held up near the low clouds by balanced stone,
by rafters calmly shaped, by moss-grown walls,
raised from the earth to set me free from earth,
all this I forgot.
The sky came close to me.
and drew me into its calm, its emptiness.
I knew that I knew nothing, and I wanted
nothing, and I was ready.
♥ In other words, I am mad.
Not, of course, that madness inconveniences me in the slightest. Indeed, if I am to settle comfortably in the situation into which I have impulsively vaulted, madness is the only possible state to be in. To be sane, and permanently wedged in among hard, black, immovable rocks of madness - this would be suffering! If I were sane I should suffer so much that I should inevitably be driven mad, so I might just as well be comfortably mad from the beginning. This will give me a perspective unhampered by the crabbed rules of reason - rules which I am obliged to flout every time I draw air into my lungs, since I exist not as a real person but as a walking dream, an uninterrupted charade - and what is equally important, a perspective rich in the possibilities of insight.
♥ Her mouth
is never still, though she speaks little. Between
the few sentences she utters,
the outline of her mouth is always changing:
restless for new words, impatient for new meanings -
demanding to be loved in a new language.
♥ If you live, you change.
Three years of voyages make a man a sailor,
Never to speak with a land voice again
or look through landsman's eyes, or think land thoughts.
These sailors are not free. The sea has claimed them.
But they are free of us, our ways and words,
our laws, dictates, and blind hostilities.
Perhaps no man is free: but then no man
can be imprisoned in two different cells.
The sea will swallow those who break its laws:
tide, wind, current and rock are the names
of its executioners. Salt water's word is law.
By this law you live. And if you live, you change.
♥ Queen to my brother, queen to me.
A chattel, a transmitted thing
she shares the bed of either king
and in that patience she is free.
...I never spoke to her of love
nor thought of her with kindly heat
she moved on dull obedient feet
like the mild cow some peasant drove
towards the crowning and the bed
that bound me in these heavy chains
the blood flows calmly in her veins
though I am doomed and he is dead.
...I dare not ask her if she knows
I tore away my brother's life.
We are a silent man and wife.
Through our two minds the same wind blows.
♥ Surprise will flash
into his eyes, and something behind it: fear:
he will be startled at my spreading antlers,
my rough coat, and my muzzle, and my hoofs:
in winter, his children will strip the bark from trees!