'By badger light and lantern's sigh, and lonely flies the vixen's cry...'
Oct. 22, 2022

'By badger light and lantern's sigh' (Magickry)


Tonight, as the evenings draw in and autumn takes a firmer hold of towpath and fields, let's gather close beside a woodland campfire for some unabashed romanticism. 
For life teaches us two things:
 1. Romance does the heart good and brings a smile to the soul - and, on these darker and chillier evenings, who would deny us that? 
 2. Small boys will always be totally captivated by a wild heart and a gypsy smile ;)

Journal entry:

  18th October, Tuesday

“Low cloud, like smoke, sweep down the weeping slopes
 Turning fields and woods to smudgy greys.
 Scattered below the wordless wood
 blurred sheep graze like finger marks in window putty.

Above, cirrus clouds float like flamingo islands in chalk-blue oceans.
 Dry leaves rattle.
 This morning I walked beneath a cave of stars
 And now I see the sun.”

Episode Information:

Tree limbs

"The oak and ash would sing to her..."

In this episode I read a couple of short extracts from two poems ‘The Adventures of Tom Bombadil’ and ‘Errantry’ that featured in JRR Tolkien’s (1962) The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Other Verses from the Red Book published by George Allen and Unwin. 

Tom Bombadil coverWrap-around cover of JRR Tolkien's (1962) 'The Adventures of Tom Bombadil'
Image source: LOTR Fandom

I also briefly refer to John Masefield’s (1903) ‘Cargoes’.

Bonfire recorded by ‘Kyster’ and uploaded to Freesounds on 17th June 2010: https://freesound.org/people/Kyster/sounds/99280

Fox call recorded in Jersey on 14th May 2020 by ‘Ionskwad2020’. https://freesound.org/people/lonskwad2020/sounds/518135/#

For more information about Nighttime on Still Waters

You can find more information and photographs about the podcasts and life aboard the Erica on our website at noswpod.com. It will also allow you to become more a part of the podcast and you can leave comments, offer suggestions, and reviews. You can even, if you want, leave me a voice mail by clicking on the microphone icon. 

General Details

In the intro and the outro, Saint-Saen's The Swan is performed by Karr and Bernstein (1961) and available on CC at archive.org.

Two-stroke narrowboat engine recorded by 'James2nd' on the River Weaver, Cheshire. Uploaded to Freesound.org on 23rd June 2018. Creative Commons Licence. 

Piano and keyboard interludes composed and performed by Helen Ingram.

All other audio recorded on site. 

Contact
For pictures of Erica and images related to the podcasts or to contact me, follow me on:

I would love to hear from you. You can email me at nighttimeonstillwaters@gmail.com or drop me a line by going to the nowspod website and using either the contact form or, if you prefer, record your message using the voicemail facility by clicking on the microphone icon. 

Transcript

JOURNAL ENTRY

18th October, Tuesday

“Low cloud, like smoke, sweep down the weeping slopes
Turning fields and woods to smudgy greys.
Scattered below the wordless wood
blurred sheep graze like finger marks in window putty.

Above, cirrus clouds float like flamingo islands in chalk-blue oceans.
Dry leaves rattle.
This morning I walked beneath a cave of stars
And now I see the sun.”

[MUSIC]

WELCOME

This is the narrowboat Erica narrowcasting on a wet a dripping night. The racing clouds hang low and heavy. The reed and rush blades jewel and glitter with the boat's reflected lights. Gusts of winds, skitter and scythe across the troubled waters. I was hoping you might be able to make it. Come aboard where it is warm and dry and a hot pot is on the stove and a chair is waiting for you. 

[MUSIC]

NEWS FROM THE MOORINGS  

All week long the forecasts have been predicting rain. However, for the most part, it's been a question of dodging the odd, fairly brief, shower. A south-westerly airflow, soft with warmth, has been lifting a few leaves. Even the oaks are beginning to turn copper and deep burnt orange. Yesterday the wind strengthened considerably, blustering against the boat and testing our mooring ropes. It was the gusty outrider for a turbulent oncoming frontal system. At times, it got very windy, but the rounded green contours of the trees and shrubs down the towpath and along the skyline seem little changed. Most of the trees holding on to their foliage. Acorns are scattering and squirrels daredevil from branch to branch, reckless and beautiful high over the canal.

A kingfisher has been much in evidence. I am not sure whether he is relatively new (appearing a month or two ago) or whether he is just getting more comfortable with us. I've not seen any more of the white duck that I mentioned last week and there is still no sign of the other cygnet. However, you might be pleased to hear that the archdeacon is still here and in the thick of things - doing what he does best – ‘deeking’ with immense amounts of archness! 

Today has been very wet, with wave after wave of heavy rain washing in from the west, rattling on the cabin roof and lashing the water into a hissing fury of bubbles. It's not been as wet as this for a long time. Short spells when the rain has eased allowed us to do the few outside jobs we needed to do. Most of the day, we stayed inside, keeping warm and dry, watching the rain fall.

[MUSIC]

CABIN CHAT

[MUSIC]

BY BADGER LIGHT AND LANTERN’S SIGH

For my birthday many, many moons and many summers ago, I received a book from one of my aunts as a present. It was a slim book that fitted pleasantly in the hand and smelt, somehow, expensive.

It had a dustcover and I was always partial to a book with a dustcover for, to my mind, dustcovers invested a book with an added and special worth. They were clearly books that were to be treated with care and valued. Not only that, the cover was magnificently colourful, with a seascape of sweeping for blues and yellows, touches of greens and flashes of red. And, moreover, the picture ran round the spine so that you could open it out for a panorama of detailed imagery. If that was not enough, then the same panorama was printed onto the hardcover beneath – just as if it were a paperback.    

I have, of course, omitted to tell you what the book was, but I want you to meet it as I did, gradually. Sometimes, for small boys lost in worlds of toy cars and comics, the sheer physical, tactile, presence of a book can be enough to charge the imagination.

Oh, it did have pictures inside – although somehow not quite as pleasing and as inviting (to my eyes at least) as that wrap-around cover. And these pictures accompanied lots of poems. Poems that seemed to go on and on for ever. You kept turning the pages to see if the end was near and still many of them would go on. From time to time, I would start one, but often stumbled at the first line. But for all that, I treasured that book, and I still do.

And apart from a strange, bright red, plastic handle type contraption that was designed to carry multiple plastic supermarket carrier bags (remember them?!) and a rubbery purple gripper mitt with which you can get hot things like bread tins and baking trays out of the oven, it is really the only present that made a large enough impression on me that I continue to associate it with her.

And so this book slowly became part of the story that forms my life. Its presence and its words weaving their way into the person that I am.

I would take it down every now and then and stroke its smooth creamy pages and smell the reassuring scent of publishing presses, ink, glue, and cardboard. And look at the pictures.

Sometimes, I would try tasting some of the strange words with my tongue – ‘provender’, ‘paladins’, ‘sigaldry’. But then went back to making my own stories from the pictures on the cover.

Yet, over time, I began to get the feel of some of the shorter poems – or small sections of the longer ones. What struck me most was the jaunty dance of rhyme, the captivating – almost intoxicating – rhythms that ran and played this jewel box of words. It was almost as if once your mouth has set them free, they would grab you by the hand and compel you to run with them, pell mell, down this break-neck hill of words until you fell breathless at the bottom, in a tangled heap of tongue-twisted nonsense.  

I had already come across it in other poems. John Masefield’s ‘Cargoes’ with its

“Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,”

Although, the “Quinquireme of Nineveh” would take many more years to master and still more to understand. But here – in this book, that fitted so well in my growing hands, was a whole book of them.

I was already familiar with this author and I suspect that this was what had prompted my aunt to the think that I would like this book. The author was JRR Tolkien and the book my aunt had given me was The Adventures of Tom Bombadil.

I had already got a copy of his Hobbit on my shelf and that, like Bombadil, had been started many times without success. I was much more attuned the gnomes of BB than the hobbits of Middle Earth.

Although I enjoyed Tolkien’s descriptions of the Shire – the words seemed to lack the welcoming warmth of that I found in The Little Grey Men or The Forest of Boland’s Light Railway. It is not that there was no darkness in BB’s books. Re-reading them as an adult, I was rather taken aback by some of the themes that were present in them. Partly, I think, there was this unease I felt with Smaug in the Hobbit. It’s really only since reading John Moriarty’s critique on the dragon within in western cultures that I have begun to understand this ambivalence I felt with Smaug. However, I had read CS Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader which had offered me the first glimpse of what Moriarty would latter tease out – a slain dragon is not a dead dragon and dead dragons are no symbol of any kind of triumph.   

It was actually The Adventures of Tom Bombadil that would draw me in my later teens to the Lord of the Rings and, Bombadil remains my most favourite character in the entire trilogy. He is a character that has attracted a lot of discussion – and I appreciate quite a divisive character with many fans hating him and feeling that he disrupts the narrative world created by Tolkien. But that is what I love about him. He is a character on the edge. Living in the world and very much part of it, but utterly untouched by it. This has prompted some to speculate whether Bombadil is an incarnate God. We are told he is as old as time. A Melchizedek figure with no predecessors. Even the most malevolent forces (characterised strangely by the figure of Old Man Willow) seem unable to touch him. His relationships with the forest world in which he lives is one of unalloyed joy. The forest folk rail at him and poke fun at him, and yet it is all in good humour – the jest of life. This is exemplified most clearly in the second poem in the book ‘Tom Bombadil goes Boating’ where, willow-wren, kingfisher, swans, otters, and hobbits all throw insults at him, which he embraces with joy and good humour. This is ribaldry of long-lasting, deep, friendship. When I read the creation account in Job, I find it difficult to shake Tom Bombadil out of my head. If a creator god must be like anything, oh let him be like Bombadil!

The character of Tom Bombadil and these poems, predate the writing of the LOTR. Tolkien was exploring aspects of the world he was creating. In a letter to Stanley Unwin, he is reported to have explained that, initially at least, Tom Bombadil was "the spirit of the (vanishing) Oxford and Bedfordshire countryside." Bombadil is certainly not a sad or a tragic figure, but there nevertheless is an air of poignancy about his presence.    

But all that is later. It was the words, the rhymes, the sheer creative joy that slowly sucked me in to this little, treasured, book in its colourful dustcover.

At junior school a liked to write poetry and then, like many, in my late teens. But it also drove me to frustration. Lines wouldn’t scan until I added so many words that they were saying something I hadn’t intended. Rhymes would kidnap my poems, a poem that started as being about one thing, ended up being about something completely different just because that was where the rhymes took me. I still dislike and get really frustrated with writing poetry. In fact, in all honesty, I don’t even try now and have not attempted to write rhyming poems for a long time. Which is why I am in such awe of poets like Vanessa from the Mindful Narrowboat vlog.   

Over time the Tolkien’s poems became embedded in me.

And how can a small boy resist the opening lines of the very first poem

[READING]

This is almost song rather than poetry. Indeed, Tolkien would cast them as walking and drinking songs of Middle Earth.

[READING]

They too became my walking songs. One time, I always made the point of chanting out monk-like on the high hill beneath sunrising – the opening lines to the sheep there. So they would learn to recognise it was me and not take fright. It worked – to a fashion. Later, I would often recite it on walks with Penny, when she got the attack of the heebie-jeebies and refused to go on (which, happened quite often when we first got her). So, we would walk the lanes and footpaths, two bold lions swaggering with ferociousness, to the marching rhythms of Tolkien’s rhymes.

[READING]

But that wasn’t the poem that entranced me the most. That took me on these reckless – tongue-twisting races with the sheer playful profusion of its rhymes and internal rhythms created by the use of trisyllabic assonances or near-assonances.

Tolkien himself in a letter to musician Donald Swann (of Flanders and Swann fame) describes it as, “a piece of verbal acrobatics and metrical high jinks…”

I love the playfulness of it.

And it was this poem that inspired and continues to inspire me to love words for not just what the mean, but how they sound – and the effects those sounds can evoke.

It is ‘Errantry.’

I will not even attempt to read it to you – it is too long, and beyond my capability to read it without mangling it!

But here is a taste – from its opening lines:

[READING]

How wonderful is that?! And if it's fun to hear it, it's even more fun to read it!

 

It is 'Errantry' that inspired – ok, it’s a bald-faced rip-off! – one of the last poems I wrote that attempted to rhyme. Primarily to enjoy finding those rhythms within a simple story that was in my mind.

And I am including it here because, following the amazing response that I had to Rory’s episode, I realise that there are times when we need to give ourselves permission to hang up our adult clothes and find those uncritical younger parts that are alive within us. To allow ourselves to escape and find paths that are not filled with worry or concern.

And so, as autumn strides laughing across the fields, scattering raindrops and berries, I thought it might be a good time for some unabashed romanticism. 
Life teaches us two things:
1. Romance does the heart good and brings a smile to the soul - and, on these darker and chillier evenings, who would deny us that? 
2. Small boys will always be totally captivated by a wild heart and a gypsy smile ;)

 

Magickry - A Gypsy Heart (Richard Goode, 2012)

Once there was a gypsy maid

In auburn glades she’d wend her ways

And soft among the elder’s shade

In summer’s haze, and silvered days. 

The oak and ash would sing to her

And bring to her their autumn blaze

And butterflies would follow her

And over her, in thistle-down

Would thread a web so spider thin

Of rainbow hues to dress her in

And dew-gems for a crown.

 

She sang her songs of mystery

And wizardry and magickry

And spells that bind and mimicry.

And filigree the stars that spun

Around her head with silken threads

From orbits dark and distant suns


In ancient lore and alchemy,

And rune-wise, the words that she

Would weave among the grass.   

 

She found a world of gallantry

Of chivalry and pageantry

And though she longed to tarry there

And lose her heart and marry there

Her gypsy heart would conjure there

The far-off winds to harry her

Of distant lands that promised her

With silken words admonished her

Of oases green and fountains tall

Of stormy seas at the cliffs of fall

And zephyrs breathed vermilion

And gilded gold pavilions

And stallions and sherbet from

The clovered fields of Avalon

In darker days, the wind would say

“There are other paths that call your way”

 

And at night these paths would sing to her

And bring to her, and wing to her

The friends of her, of wings and fur

With wilder hearts astir.


By badger light and lantern’s sigh

And lonely flies the vixen’s cry

And all would come to sit with her

With heart and soul close-knit with her

Find comfort ‘neath the ash and briar

To sit beside her dreaming fire.


When, alone among the moon beam’s dance,

Schoolboy did chance to steal a glance

And captured by her wildling heart

Thought for his part,

'midst the noctules’ dart,

Held by her smile of golden bliss

To seek from her, upon his cheek

A kiss so sweet,

And by this feat, he’d forever be a king.

 

As sparks flew up from firelight’s glow

And fireflies show the crystal’s globe

She took his hand so merrily

That happily and gallantly

He walked this world as new.

 

And now beneath the forest’s moon

And soft among the moths that flew

And swans that glide down woody steams

In dreams, he sings her tune.

SIGNING OFF

This is the narrowboat Erica signing off for the night and wishing you a warm, peaceful and restful night filled with dream-songs and your own special magickry. Good night.

WEATHER LOG