Invictus

Out of the night that covers me
Black as the pit from pole to pole
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

These are the lines to the poem Invictus by William Ernest Henly.  This poem is one which I remember often and fondly, because I have a long history with it, and it’s message has wormed it’s way into my writing – half on purpose, half by accident.

Invicuts is the favored poem of my high school creative writing teacher.  To those who were in that class with me, just the name of the poem generally inspires groans, facepalms, and headdesks.  It came up once a year at least.  We memorized it for extra credit.  We wrote reaction papers to it.  We wrote stories based on it.  No one in that class ever… ever forgot Invictus.  

Much later out of high school, and I can still write a good portion of it from memory. (In my mind, I’m pretty sure I have the middle two verses mixed up, so I’m going to cheat and go look)

I’m not sure what reminded me of it today, perhaps it was reading a particularly well done poem by a fellow wordpresser.  But as I thought about it I realized that many characters of the Athele series subscribe to this poem as a whole, Morgan in particular.

I’ve already explained to you the theme, the single word I chose for Morgan when pressed in this post.  Henly wasn’t making any two ways about what the poem was all about, to be sure.  Invictus translates to unconquerable.  Now don’t worry, I’m not going to change my mind about the single word on you. The single word was ‘endure’, but while the two are similar, one can endure while still being conquered.  I am, however, going to take a moment to outline why I consider Invictus to be a relevant poem to Sleight of Spirit.

First, I would like to direct you all to the “about the books” tab on the left.  If you’ve no interest in clicking, here is the important bit: “The main themes of The Athele Series are choice, love, and fate. “

Now I want you to re-read the last stanza of Invictus.  Here it is for you:

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Have any more self-affirming words been spoken?  It is the greatest rebuff of fate to say that one is the only one who can change their world and in the end that’s what Morgan is all about: staring fate in the eye and saying “I am not bound to you!”

The demon who possesses her soul often enjoys reminding Morgan that she belongs to it.  That she is its pet, essentially.  Morgan’s adoptive father insists that magic is lost to her and that she will stay his daughter forever.  Morgan, however, will hear none of it, and endures until the time that she sees a chance to change her fate.

That’s why we like her, that’s why I wrote her, and that’s why I hope that you all, the readers of Sleight of Spirit, will love her too.

What about you?  Are there any poems which embody your characters?

Also, we’re starting to look around for cover artists.  It’s so exciting, but kind of scary!  I mean, this is the person that we’re hoping will be with us throughout the entire Athele series, so it’s a little daunting to choose!  If you know of any amazing fantasy artists (or particular sites that specialize in fantasy art) that we should take a look at, let us know.

Exercising and Exercises (part 1)

Fair to warn you all that as November is very busy, we’ll be having slightly shorter posts at the same intervals.  

I am a runner.  It’s a hobby I picked up because all my friends were doing it so I decided to as well.  It’s many things, and today I’m going to start going through these things today.

Running is a great time to compose poetry.

I like haikus.  Haikus are really fun.  They are bite sized little pieces of word craft, deliciously put together and wrapped in their little 5-7-5 bits of alphabetic foil.  They are also fabulously easy to compose in ones head while puttering along any number of roads.  I mainly run at night, when I can just go and not even think about how far or fast I’m going.  And even with my music thumping along in my ears, words come to my mind and arrange themselves according to what I’m seeing or thinking at the time.  I rarely remember them long enough to write them down, but they amuse me and pass the time when my songs start to bore me.

But I don’t stop at haiku, or at just while I’m running.  As I ran once in Korea, I came across two older women eating cherries off the bottom branches of a tree.  Seeing as I had no idea the berries on the trees were cherries at all (they were very small compared to the cherries I’m used to) I went over to check it out.  These ladies were maybe 5’0″ in shoes.  I’m about 6’0″ in shoes.  So I pulled a branch down for them and together we ate cherries at ten in the evening.  Out of it came a poem I’m very proud of, which was published by the Seoul Writers Workshop.  I’ll put that poem at the end of this post.

Cherry branch in Gimpo, South Korea

Cherry branch in Gimpo, South Korea.

Now, the point is that good writing material must be looked for, but it can also happen suddenly and without warning.  You not only have to work at it, but you must also be open to it.  Writers can’t sit around and wait for something noteworthy to just happen to them, they have to get out and do something, as well as waiting for something to happen to them.

So for part 1 of ‘Exercising and Exercises’, make something happen.  Go for a walk.  Do a good deed.  Challenge yourself.  Drive fast.  Do something, then write about it.  Easy, right?

And now: your poem.

The Cherry Tree

At night the trail is bathed

In the mercury halogen orange of countless lamps

A touch of violet killing foolish insects

(Though really, they flock more to the orange)

I walk, and from the cushioned trail

(Sandwiched between levy and stream)

I see two Ajumas in the grass

Picking through the branches of a cherry tree

The branch being low, the pickings are slim

But there they are, and I draw closer

(To be honest, I wasn’t sure the dark berries were edible until this night)

And peer up, judging distance.

There is a likely prospect, just within my reach

Stand on tip toe, touch a leaf, grapple, grasp

Then turn to them with my prize, as they murmur

(obvious things, most like, but as they are in Korean, I’ve no notion)

They set about to nibbling, one taking over the holding

The other indicating for me to take a few and eat

(Did she say ‘Cherry’?  I’m not sure, I only know ‘strawberry’: ‘Dalgi’)

as she talks to her friend.

I want to ask how the weather is down there

They are both two heads below me after all

But instead I eat and watch them nosh

(They make nummy noises like little cats, and I grin and do the same – I’m in Rome, right?)

Never before have I felt so much like a gentle giant

To them I’m probably the amusing foreigner, an alien

Not exactly to be disdained, but neither to be paid much attention to.

(Though I feel rather like a deity, bringing food down from on high – ha!)

I savor the taste, delighting in the new discovery

of small tart cherries practically in my back yard

But soon make my goodbyes – ‘Anyung.’

(Oh no!  They’re older – I should have said the whole thing!  ‘Anyungegeseyo’ complete with bow!)

They pay me no more mind than one might a house cat

‘Anyung’ they say and continue their nibbling

On the branch I gave to them this humid summer night.

(And here I thought the dove brought an olive, not a cherry branch…)