Thursday, February 07, 2008

Caryl Battersby - An 1890s Voice


As far as I can tell, Caryl James Battersby wrote but one book. I know next to nothing about him and even what little I do know requied a little genealogical digging. He seems to be remembered most for a song he wrote about lavender. He was born in 1858, the son of a Sheffield clergyman, he married and worked as a schoolteacher. The British Library catalogue has the one book, The Song of the Golden Bough and Other Poems (Constable, London, 1898) actually authored by him. He is listed as an 'additional name' on a couple of books about poetry which could mean that he wrote the introduction or somesuch.


I picked up Golden Bough in a shop some time ago. Didn't investigate it properly there and then but had a hunch about it and bought it. I've only recently read through it and discovered a really juicy 1890s poetic voice, if not of the first rank then certainly one whose sympathies and themes and style was heavily influenced by the themes of the 90s. The poem I've enjoyed most so far has been a really rather long retelling of the story of Pan and Syrinx - hence the picture above - but it really is too long to type out for you all this evening so instead, tonight's reading is a rather shorter piece:


The Were-Wolf.


The snow lies deep on wood and wold;

The moon is up, a sheild of gold;

And all is bare and bright and cold.


O Jesu, keep us! Hark, a cry!

It is the were-wolf passing by,

And howling to the bitter sky.


From set of sun to break of day

He runs abroad, a ghost in gray,

Or lies in wait to seize and slay.


The sheep from out the fold he takes,

The ice with padded foot he breaks,

His thirst within the stream he slakes.


On wind-swept moor, in wooded glen,

And down beside the reedy fen,

He hunts the track of lonely men;


And some have sen through brake and briar

His eyes, two orbs or mingled fire,

The man's regret, the brute's desire.


His human story none can tell,

Nor by what deed of guilt he fell

Beneath the burden of this spell.


Two in the wood, two on the plain -

This is the number of his slain,

And still he lusts to strike again.


One night against the gate I spied

The monster sitting, evil-eyed,

His gleaming jaws dropt open wide.


I saw him in the pale moonshine;

He stretched his haggard throat to whine,

The bristles rose on neck and spine.


My hear within me sank, afraid,

And thrice the blessed sign I made,

And loud to Mary Mother prayed.


For well I guessed my little child,

Crying for sickness, had beguiled

The starveling from his barren wild.


And Mary Mother brought me cheer;

She smote the beast with flying fear,

And drove him back to moor and mere.


Scine the, with terrors overcast,

Through what dark midnights have I past,

Each darker, drearier than the last!


A muffled foot comes up the stair,

Two eyes beside me start and glare,

A hot breath flickers in my hair.


Each day I beg the men to go

With axe and spear and bended bow,

And slay the creature in the snow.


O God, that I might see him dead,

Two arrows piercing eyes and head,

The white beneath him dabbled red!


Then might I lie and take my rest,

My limbs with holy slumber blest,

My little babe against my breast.

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