Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Elder of the Desert (an imitation of the epic poetic style of Beowulf)

The Elder of the Desert
An airy bone-beach engulfs the horizon
Fears of destruction drift like the dust 
Bare backs burn under a noon-day torch 
Wary, weak, and withered. 
An elder treads the gritty expanses 
Rocks trip while sand whirls 
A mile away a proud boy stands deserted 
Noble-figured, but frail 
His body contorts, limbs pull together 
In a sand-bowl—no wallet, no home. 
The elder egresses his tedious track 
From town to town his life’s mission 
Turning toward the dandy’s direction 
Sensing his present peril.
The sky-torch lowers its red-hot anger 
Creating fearful feigns of careless cacti 
The seasoned wisdom-giver found the boy 
Solid and stiff, mind-locked on despair 
He mourns his newfound loss: 
“What’s worth living if life isn’t easy? 
Why must half-hearts of people desert me?” 
The misshapen old man bent down: 
“Through adversity mercy is learned, 
Walk the narrow road, foot-trodden by few 
Find the Peace-giver and follow His lead” 
Heaven’s fireflies beamed in mysterious patterns 
A howl from the wolf on the rock 
The elder arose and the boy followed close 
Both wakefully walking, quietly strode 
Along a narrow road to peace.

I stumbled across this poem of mine last night while packing up my room. I was 13 and it was a writing assignment for my Medieval Lit. class. We had just finished reading the epic poem Beowulf and were studying the effects of kenning, simile/metaphor, intentional double-meanings, the technique of variation, parataxis, and alliterative verse in Nordic, Icelandic and Anglo-Saxon poetry. We were told to try our hand at this Old English-style form of poetry and the above was my feeble attempt at it. Years later, after becoming an Orthodox Christian, I look back on this poem and see my youthful longing for a “wisdom-giver,” like the elder described—a longing which would later be contented by the great monastic pillars of faith, the Desert Fathers, who were echoing in my heart long before I even knew who they were or why I needed them.

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