Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 25. No. 12. 1962
A Fireside Fable
A Fireside Fable
A wintry even cold and dry, with a wind that cut the air,
I found myself with measured tread—I know not how or where—
On a road that held no fears for me, I had often travelled there;
And yet it was a misty place, the land was scant and bare.
So I was glad to have a guide, a thin yet cheery friend,
With up-curved eye-brows, glinting teeth and a nose that did suspend
Itself from off his cheeks, and gave his [unclear: face] a hollow trend.
As if he had not eaten well for six months at an end.
It seemed to make two caverns where his eyes with inner heat.
Did shimmer dance and leap about—but I should hare repeat,
He looked a good an honest soul who would not try and cheat
A traveller from his hard-won purse, or misdirect his feet.
"Good cheer!" he bade my health and I returned it thankfully—
"God bless your soul," and shuddering "The wind doth rise," said he;
I heard a [unclear: fitful] moon arise and die quite close to me—
"It sounds as if you're right."—He muttered "Wrong I'd rather be."
We fell in step and put behind us many a measured pace—
To combat cold we did indulge in slow but frenzied race,
And many words passed each to each though never face to face
Our eyes ahead were fixed in our fantastic treadmill race.
My friend did curse and rail [unclear: against] the fate that brought him here
"Tis but a test," I cried, "Enough! No reason we should fear."
And he "but what about the loved ones that you hold so dear?"
"Enough!" I said and he did stoop as it by weight or care.
As the stones rolled underneath, our hands thrust deep in vain
Against the all-pervading frost that festered in that plain,
I joked and talked and shouted out to counteract the pain—
My guide and friend did stumble, and I handed him my cane.
The twilight kept its distance yet, light and dark did meet
with heads together as if Dame Nature they were trying to cheat,
I spoke "Keep up the pace as it the devil's at our feet,—
And dreamt I would awaken soon without a covering sheet
"The frost will bite our heels if we should slacken off our haste,
"That brute can savage any man with whom he might be faced."
"I'm struck to the bone with cold," he gasped, "Keep on I say we're chased—
"Your coat is warmer than my own when to the neck it's lace."
He staggered fell, and rose again and turned his hollow eyes
Towards my heavy coat with shaking limbs that told no lies;
I slipt it off and gave it him and saw to my surprise
The [unclear: frost] glare bright as if the mighty sun did try to rise.
It was the dying fulgence of a day about to end;
An empty message void of hope and warmth it thought to send.
"[unclear: Begone], "I cried, "No light's enough to help my way to mend"—
It dimmed but glimmered still as if my steadfastness might bend.
"No hope for that," and straight the grey clouds gathered overhead.
And mists closed in with soil caress like sheets upon the dead;
A stench arose and cackling sounds like vultures being led;
My guide revived and strengthened, said. "I think it's time I led."
The mist now blocked our way and so my trust I did confide,
And picked my way across the plain led by my ready guide;
The path grew dark and [unclear: tortuous]; the plain seemed not so wide
And myriad beings seemed to press us down on every side.
The path grow sleep, we did descend, I heard a roaring sound,
As if a mighty river at a massive cliff did pound;
"Nay," I cried, "No further!" and I flung my arms around
My guide and stopped his progress, 'til a better way be found.
"Fear not," he smiled with gleaming teeth. "Think of the joy you'll find.
"[unclear: Th'esteem] that on you shall be heap by others of your kind;
"When you win through this parlous deep you won't be half as blind
"As those poor wretched unveiling weak that you've left far behind.
"Besides," he said. "There's no wind once you've passed this fall
"The way is smooth and gentle and you'll easily reach your goal;
"You're cold I know, for it does show"—his face seemed like a pall
Cast o'er my sprits and my will—but I cast off his thrall.
"My way is up," I cried "Not down; no dismal deep for me—
"I seek the pure shining light, not joy and security."
My guide beneath his double e burden did not disagree;
I turned and started climbing and I saw he followed me.
We scrambled over sleep and rocky crags that tried to throw
Us back into the murky chasm where I would not go;
Now ice began to form, and soon the skies began to snow.
And mournfully the mountains moaned as the winds began to blow:
And blacker grew the night although the snow was falling slow,
And darker grow the track that was the surest way to go,
'Till all the signs were blotted out and not a mark did show
To guide us, save the feeling that 'tis upwards we must go.
Through the thick and clammy log with both our backs bent low
Forced down by tugging onslaughts that the firing wind did blow,
We flung our arms before our eyes some shelter to bestow.
And sudden shapes surged to break our passage through the snow
We seemed alone in a cocoon, wrapt in our private sorrow
Traps to expiate our sins, and neither could we borrow
Outside merit, but our hapless course we had to follow,
E'en denied the speculation of a happy morrow.
I thrust these failing thoughts behind me but it seemed as though
My fellow wand'rer by some strange way caught my thoughts' echo
For he was stumbling like his next step was his last—but lo!
We had emerged and those tumultuous clouds were stretched below.
While in their grasp what seemed so fierce as never to abate
Looked like a sea of cotton wool now we'd escaped their late;
The sprakling stars up in the sky seemed to congratulate
Us on our worthy efforts, and upon our fine escape.
Above us stretched the mountain summit, and thereon there sate
Two mighty portals of wrought gold, formed with many a shape
That were too won'drous to behold, their radiance was so great;
And through them there was just a glimpse of a most worthy State.
For not shut tight but rather kissing seemed each gate to gate;
The whole appeared to float above the shining mountain pate.
Came distant thunder from below as if the fiends did grate
Their teeth in anger at the sight of my fearless escape.
The luckless fellow at my side spoke—"Do not hesitate;
"Your way is clear, so have no fear, you've been immaculate
"In your conduct and I long to share your deserved fate.
"But to share with such a rare gift as yours I do debate,
"For I did try to lead your feel, unknowing from this gate;
"But you won through, you had the clue to turn on me berate
"Me for my nascence and see the way so clear to take
"It as you did—so now you're rid of me—Don't hesitate,"
I saw the poor lad spoke the truth in owning up his craft;
I turned my eyes towards the gates: the cold no longer chafed
My limbs, a heady warmth suffused my being, and a shaft
Of light athwart my head came slanting down from heavens staffed
With c'[unclear: lacteal] beings, Walking not but floating on a raft
Of pleasant sounds I was impelled—ah, gentle, sonic craft—
Towards the gates. I think my fortune turned my friend quite daft,
For as I entered in the gates the unlucky devil laughed.
R. T. Murphy.