The Wanderer's Song

"Fled is that music!--Do I wake or sleep?"
--Keats, "Ode to a Nightingale."

This is a song I have taken some trouble to record,
Writing with long labor upon a parchment stone,
The song of one who of wandering is lord,
And of solitude, and long walks, and love of being alone.
It is a song that no other ears have ever heard,
And I would not leave it now upon the world's bone,
Save that I think this night will mark my death,
And I would not have it said I left behind no word,
That no monument marked the last drawing of my breath.

It is a quiet and a cool evening as I write this.
The wind has come and is blowing about the carven rock,
And caressing my face with a mother's tender kiss.
From upon the hill I can hear the bullfrog's echoing knock
Upon the doorway of the night, the evening drawing in.
All is purple about me, and the deepening twilight's clock
Tilts more and more towards the witching hour.
I can feel the summer heat pressing like a second skin.
Filling my nostrils is the scent of musk-roses in flower.

So- a summer evening; not such an evil night to die.
I turn and look across the faery grass to the west,
And listen to the wind and the nighttime whisp'ring by,
And think somewhat longingly of death and sleep and rest.
Then I turn back to the stone, for not yet can I turn
My back on the world, and say I have done my best.
There remains a story to carve and tell hereafter.
And now may the words across my hands and lips burn:
For it is a story of passion, of welling tears and laughter.

I was born in the country of Ara-nara-fareth,
Or so they call it here, when they have a name to call
It by; for on the map it is a rumor without breath,
A murmuring leaf without other leaves on which to fall.
It lies so far from here that a year's riding would not bring
You to its borders, or any distance near at all.
The country you would reach is a blue and pleasant place,
But they would look at you strangely if you were to sing
The name there of my country; or laugh into your face.

To me the country of my birth is best called Faradelm,
For so they sing of it, the sweet-tongued bards of There,
Harping beneath the branches of rowan and of elm,
Upon the deeps of yesterday, their voices clear as air
Flowing over the blue Anorthasacha Mountains.
Many wonders have I seen, but none yet that were as rare
As the nights in Faradelm, filled with light of stars and moon,
Aglitter among the marble courtyards, and the fountains
That played there among the lilies, so thick with scent you'd swoon.

I remember the Yallon Forest, called in your tongue Everdeep,
Where the light shining on the leaves was fit to break your heart,
Where there were hidden hollows where unicorns would sleep,
Where every gold-bespattered tree was a work of perfect art.
There as children we would play, in and out among the trees,
And still to those innocent games in dreams I depart,
Remembering my sister laughing hysterically in play,
Her voice like a bugle, stirring echoes in the breeze.
Some of those echoes surely lie in Everdeep today.

I remember our house; a cottage neat and trim it was,
Built of white stone and seated upon the banks of a stream,
Where often laughter but never tears came without a cause,
Where purring among the dancing dust lay cats in a sunbeam.
In that place I learned to work and to love;
But even young in that small place I had a burning dream.
I would stand and look down upon the water flowing,
And wonder what it had seen as it fell from above,
And- this more than any else- I wondered where it was going.

Faradelm was ever-fair, but it had in me, its restless child,
A spirit that was sure fairer things lay beyond the border.
I took to traveling the more remote and trackless wild,
And revolted against my parents' stricter need for order.
And then one day, when I knew I would be forced to marry,
Like a wind I blew out through our cottage's old mortar,
And turned my back on Yallon Forest and all I ever knew,
And beat my wings, a wild hawk determined not to tarry,
And sailed, like that wild hawk, off into the blue.

Emerging from Faradelm, I traveled the Crystal Forest,
And many things delicate and strange I found there:
Trees with year-round icicles singing a cold chorus,
Crystal chimes singing and suspended in the air,
And snow snapping underfoot in an icy tune.
But there was in me a hunger for things still more fair,
And I yearned, moreover, for more color than impearled
Oaks and pines and beeches, all colored like the moon.
I left the Crystal Forest and moved on into the world.

How to tell you of all the countries like bright jewels
That I found on the far side of the home where I was born?
How to tell you of the diamond lakes like far-flung tidal pools
Of the sea I found by passing out through the Gate of Horn?
How to tell you of my first sight of the Glorious Sea,
And the foam leaping whiter than a throne of alicorn,
And the laughter that billowed up, unrestrain├ęd, from my throat,
When I finally knew: of the Green Lands I could be free?
How to tell you of all of that, in this wanderer's death note?

I voyaged on the Glorious Sea, with seagulls wheeling round,
And saw the green and dreaming isles, captives out of time,
Where still the gods walk with humans on the ground,
Where birds sing free and passionate, where great mountains climb.
I saw the full moon glittering upon the Silver Ocean,
And the sun rising out of the east with an ultimate chime;
And once, on night-watch over water as smooth as glass,
Glancing down, I saw a wave of purple mazy motion,
And the shifting coils of a sea serpent, awestricken, I saw pass.

I came at last to the Great Lands, and they awaited me:
Hills hazy with distance, blue nearer, fraught with chance.
I turned my back upon the ocean I would never again see,
And pressed forward, my heart singing with romance.
I walked with my head up, and the scents of strange flowers
Filled my nose and inspired my feet into a dance.
I lit a fire, and lay that night staring up at stars
That, I later learned, were worshipped as the Silver Powers.
I had the world and the future, both without any bars.

How to tell you of the dusty city streets I fought along,
Or how many times I sat, crabbed and weary, by a fire,
While all around me boisterous voices were raised in song?
How to tell you of the times I played the body's lyre
In bowers and in silken sheets- for my strange face lured there
Many who would learn of westernmost desire?
Many of my lovers would lie with me in patience after,
And hear me as I spoke of breathing foreign air,
And offer me the gift of silence without laughter.

Always with my face to dawn, the rising sun before me,
I worked my way across mountains and 'cross the hills,
Riding carts and riding horses, wandering, ever free,
Splashing my feet in snowmelt, eastern-born rills.
I saw things many times seen, but I, enchanted ever,
Wrote down the many ways the singing dragon kills,
And how the gryphon guards his gold, and how the sphinx
Looks as she lies in her sleep of stone forever.
Even now the desire to see more through my dying heart slinks.

I crossed oceans and crossed the grass-filled plains,
And jungles where I saw the milk-white peacock strut.
I have stood in the monsoons and worshiped the pouring rains,
And I have seen nightmares I see still with my eyes shut.
I have fallen over cliffs, and bathed in moonlit lakes,
And dealt with wounds caused by a duel's sword-cut.
It was never enough to still my heart's wandering along,
And sometimes I wish, for both my heart's and my sakes,
That I could have once stopped my wanderer's song.

But I, never touched by the love that binds to place,
Could only have loved someone who chose to love with me
The way that the dew lies on the grass like a touch of grace,
Or the way that the morning looks, coming from the sea.
I could only have loved someone who could chase the dawn,
And who without regrets from deepest fairness could flee,
Without more than a fleeting glance and a passing lament,
Certain there would be more beauty to replace what had gone-
That is, someone who with wandering could be content.

And now I have come so far to the east that my home
Is no more than a legend, and a rumor of corrupted name.
I have come to this hill, and so written my final poem,
Words perhaps lit best by the setting sun's flame.
I turn restless eyes still to the mountains and the sea,
And, knowing that they are not, can never be the same,
Try to tell myself that it does not matter,
That they are like others I have had the fortune to see-
That at some time the wandering chain had to shatter.

But if someone comes and see these words,
And feels a kindred spirit stir within his wandering heart-
One who wonders about the patterns of the birds,
And wants to see the birth of fantastic works of art,
And wants to see the place where his birth-stream was born,
And has made plans all his life someday to depart-
Then may these words give him the courage to go on,
To take up the wanderer's song no matter how forlorn,
Whether he explores the country of sunset or of dawn.

But one favor I would ask of him: may he, when he ends,
Carve his own words upon a stone, upon a hill,
Preferably when the day around him to evening bends,
And the purple flame is falling, and the air is hushed and still.
May he tell what he has seen, in a life of wandering,
And the events that of his days have made their fill.
Then, perhaps those words will be taken up by another,
And someone with a wanderer's new song to sing
Will go on into the future, a sister or a brother.

I hope for this kind of immortality alone, a spirit-child.
I myself am lying on this hill and watching the stars
Come out above me in their dark depths of wild,
Places that I may see, if I go wandering without bars
When I am dead, in their places of the deep.
I turn my head to the east, and once more look afar.
There are places there that I will never see or know.
But I am looking at them as I go to death or sleep,
And in my heart the wanderer's song plays as it did long ago.