To Juan at the Winter Solstice


To Juan at the Winter Solstice

There is one story and one story only
That will prove worth your telling,
Whether as learned bard or gifted child;
To it all lines or lesser gauds belong
That startle with their shining
Such common stories as they stray into.

Is it of trees you tell, their months and virtues,
Or strange beasts that beset you,
Of birds that croak at you the Triple will?
Or of the Zodiac and how slow it turns
Below the Boreal Crown,
Prison to all true kings that ever reigned?

Water to water, ark again to ark,
From woman back to woman:
So each new victim treads unfalteringly
The never altered circuit of his fate,
Bringing twelve peers as witness
Both to his starry rise and starry fall.

Or is it of the Virgin’s silver beauty,
All fish below the thighs?
She in her left hand bears a leafy quince;
When, with her right hand she crooks a finger, smiling,
How many the King hold back?
Royally then he barters life for love.

Or of the undying snake from chaos hatched,
Whose coils contain the ocean,
Into whose chops with naked sword he springs,
Then in black water, tangled by the reeds,
Battles three days and nights,
To be spewed up beside her scalloped shore?

Much snow is falling, winds roar hollowly,
The owl hoots from the elder,
Fear in your heart cries to the loving-cup:
Sorrow to sorrow as the sparks fly upward.
The log groans and confesses:
There is one story and one story only.

Dwell on her graciousness, dwell on her smiling,
Do not forget what flowers
The great boar trampled down in ivy time.
Her brow was creamy as the crested wave,
Her sea-blue eyes were wild
But nothing promised that is not performed.

–Robert Graves

Author: Kim K. McCrea

Kim K. McCrea earned her BA in English before embarking on a career in technology and public service. Kim won Oregon Writers Colony 2018 essay award, Treefort’s 2017 Wild West Writing Prize, and was named runner-up in Cutbank 2018 Big Sky/Small Prose contest. Her creative nonfiction is featured in Cutbank, Tishman Review, Cagibi, and elsewhere; she is the author of the novel Pandora's Last Gift. A native of the Pacific Northwest, Kim lives in Oregon, where she studies the moon and stars and wanders with her Labrador in the rain.

9 thoughts on “To Juan at the Winter Solstice”

    1. Graves wrote a difficult esoteric book titled “The White Goddess,” which is a narrative form and discussion of the same poetic themes, if you ever come across a copy in a dusky backroom bookstore. Tomorrow, perhaps

      Liked by 1 person

  1. After this piece, my second favorite of Graves is

    The Green Sailed Vessel

    We are like doves, well paired,
    Veering across a meadow
    Children’s voices below
    Their song and echo.

    Like Raven,Wren or Crow
    That cry and prophesy,
    What do we not foreknow,
    Whether deep or shallow?

    Like the tiller and prow
    Of a green sailed vessel
    Voyaging, none know how,
    Between moon and shadow.

    Like the restless, endless
    Blossoming of a bough,
    Like violet, tansy, mallow,
    Like the sun’s afterglow.

    Of sharp resemblances
    What further must I show
    Until your black eyes narrow,
    Furrowing your clear brow?

    Ran across your page looking for a quick cut and paste of the first two verses of the solstice poem. Thanks SPH


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