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Hilltop: A Literary Paper. Volume 1 Number 1

W. H. Oliver

page 12

W. H. Oliver

A Ballad of the Sunburnt Mountain

When the vaulting witch was killed
And the fairy spirit freed
The dank and downy island where
They lived was given to itself;
No one to pray the magic prayer,
No one to live by hate or stealth.

The fens were dry where Sycorax
Would sweep her dewy raven's wing,
The depth of green and sweating ferns
Lay withered by the lofty sun;
The sky that kills, the light that burns
Took the island for its own.

A sailor in some errant ship
Would see—and could not bear the sight—
A brown and fiery mountain round
Which waves could only sleep in fear.
He'd sail away, his lips would sound
The fright of that deserted lair.

A thousand years had entertained
The shadow of the witch's curse
Until a ship came stumbling by,
A coracle so frail a man
Would scorn it were the gods not nigh
And were he not beneath their ban.

Ulysses, Drake, Columbus, he
Was all of them and yet was not
Innured to ocean time and space.
And so to him the mountain smiled
And so before him spread its grace.
So was his ship beguiled.

He trod there only one. There sprang
Unearthly laughter to his ears.
The mountain put on leaves and grass
And harvest tumbled to the earth.
He could not cat, he could not laugh
For this had all the joy of birth.

And he had always lived apart
From such fine lust as here he saw,
And grown a landsman, copying
The dullness of his tired soil.
He thought before he fled, a thing
That lived afloat could bear this toil.

So now the fens are dry again,
And there's no poisoned dew to sweep,
And all the green and sweating ferns
Lie withered on the barren strand.
The brown and fiery mountain burns
Forever lost to sea and land.

The Story of a Mermaid

Upon a beach when neither moon
Nor cloud controlled the night
But stars stared coldly down to where
The dark sea broke in light
There was born of sea and sand
A mermaid, fish and girl combined.

When her deep seawater eyes
In wonder opened, things she knew
By ocean sound and sight revealed
That half of her that lived below
In long sea-caverns where she'd plunge
And where her joy would never change.

She saw her body, luminous,
Slip through the clean green tide;
She saw herself break through the waves
Her hair like foam spread wide;
While all the elements endowed
The singing in her blood.

She, half in water, tried to dance.
Her graceful arms and fin
Could not discover endless depths
But sharp cold stones her limbs
Cut angrily and tore them till
Her death took anguish from her fall.

There, when the day was breaking
And the sea fell back, she lay
Static on sand, as fish no longer swam,
As girl no longer made the ripples stay
And run across her light green lovely form.
She came no more to happiness or harm.

If she is dead now, if her eyes
Are full of sand, her waste
Make the beach green that the sea left bare,
Oh men who pass, not pity but caress
Those dull white tones, her body, which remain
Passive amid her sea-blood's vivid stain.

page 13

Sea Legend

This delicate sea urchin's shell, and this opposite index,
A spatulate pine-cone, were found lying side by side
On a savage shore where the patient Pacific is torn
Across acres of rocks and gravel. A symbol, a legend?
Both of them empty, having spilt their living matter.
The seed and the soft flesh, where all is uncouth and brutal,
A shore littered with the shells of a hundred crayfish
Beaten to death by a high sea upon the plains
Of smooth round stoners, greedily eaten by sea gulls,
Cleaned by the scurrying sea-lice, joining that other detritus,
The sepulchers of white and sapless trees
So dried and brittle that the mere sun sets them alight:
Both of them empty, both of them shapely and fine,
Merge in the total destruction. This legend.

Advice at the Entrance to Purgatory

White is for paradise, black for hell,
Red for the realm loved too well.

Cross all three, forcing your feet
To where the ancient has his seat.

Mix the colours, climb the stairs,
Grey is the answer of your years.,

Grey is the ancient, slack his wings,
Grey become heaven-bent earthly things.

Turn around, you only leave
The red-rocked sky, metallic seas.

Waves yellow with Satan's flames,
Grass with rank growth in its veins,

Fragile sky where the Saviour bled.
But the grey old man is still and dead.