Mythology, Folk Lore and Fairy Tales have always held my interest. These tales that were originally steeped in oral tradition, were created for a variety of reasons. The foremost was a way to provide explanations to questions, situations and circumstances that, at the time, were mysterious and seemingly unexplainable. Things such as the changing of the seasons, climate changes, natural weather-related phenomena and others were ascribed stories, typically elaborate by early standards, which offered a form of rationale and understanding.
The storytellers were seen as vital to early civilizations and cultures. People put vast trust in their intelligence, wisdom and connection to the earth and the elements. These stories they created were, in a sense, taken for Gospel. Crowds would gather to listen to the latest stories, as both an educational endeavor as well as a source of entertainment. People would repeat the stories over and over again, creating traditions. Taboos were explained in full, cautions were warned of, directions on how to live provided; these were just some of what the early tradition of storytellers provided in allaying their myths, lore, stories and superstitions.
Many of these early tales incorporated creatures, beasts and animals readily seen. They provided these with human qualities, giving them problems and situations readily occurring in every day life. Some were good, some were bad, many were powerful, others meek. Some were intelligent, some inane. There were the altruistic and the greedy, the primitive and the elaborate. Many of these creatures exhibited qualities that the storyteller believed to be important, and by ascribing these qualities to the creatures, he was able to illustrate his beliefs in a way that sunk in to his listeners.
The tradition of storytellers continues today, where there are countless novelists, artists and lyricists who utilize the ancient stories and traditions when crafting their own stories, works of art and music. One genre of entertainment that borrows from the ancient traditions more than any other, in my opinion, is the motion picture and television market. Here we see the popularity of superheroes, supernatural beings, beasts and God-like warriors and magicians very frequently. In a quick review of some of the popular shows on television right now, we can easily find many that fit the bill, shows like: The Walking Dead, Lost Girl, Grimm, Supernatural, Defiance, Haven, Being Human are just a few that come to mind. Films like Star Wars, Star Trek are steeped in the modernization of traditional lore. In fact, in most of science fiction, you can, if you trace back the roots, find the vast majority, if not the entire genre, finds its beginnings in the ancient traditions of folklore, fairy tales and mythologies.
For this week’s Poetics, I’d like to narrow down the field, by specifically looking at the myriad of creatures, beasts and characters given life in this tradition. Creatures like Dragons, Sirens, Centaurs, Satyrs, Goblins, Ghosts, Vampires, Werewolves, Succubae, Mermaids, Faeries, Witches, Leprechauns and many, many others fill the pages of literature. Many poets have written about creatures, to mention just a few:
Rudyard Kipling’s The Centaurs
Sylvia Plath’s The Princess and The Goblins and Medusa
William Butler Yeats’ The Stolen Child and A Faery Song
Henry Wadsworth Longellow’s Pegasus in Pound
Alfred Lord Tennyson’s The Merman
Hans Christian Andersen’s The Phoenix Bird
Here are a couple I’ve written over the years:
From Primeval ice
Dripped forth the cow
The yawning void became
A place for northern realms
She Emerged from Niflheim,
And through it’s fogs and misted signs,
A heaviness came to greet
these masses of ice and rime
Audhumbla X 4
Stirring dance upon eternal cold
Frigid steps now addressed,
by Muspell’s flaming throe,
pushing-pulling ice to fire
Birthing forth cosmogonic flow
the first giant known of frost
came to you as life seemed lost
staving off starvation, Ymir fed,
on that which you shed
from suckled teat, forming the
basis for future Norse beliefs
Through your thawing tongue
Bori’s salted tomb’s undone
Breeding the origin to the tale
Of how Asgard first was seen,
A story, which without, these
Nordic myths would never have been
Audhumbla X 4
This was a song I wrote about the Primeval Cow of Norse Mythology.
Before you go to bed at night
say your prayers; say them right
then nestle in, under covers spell
and ever, always sleep; sleep well
But if a problem should occur
if you hear an angered word
or see a face with fangs in blood
just remember, this is but a dream
that’s gone wrong… that it is something
so easily solved
Remember, there are no such things as ghosts
Remember, there are no such things as monsters
Thoughts spoken to ease the child’s mind
Thoughts, naively conceived
Simply look above you there
and choose to see Baku
then permit him to devour
your every nightmare clean
in a refreshed state
by dreaming the sweetest dreams
You’ve ever seen
This poem is about the Baku, a mythical creature from Japanese lore. Although there are varying descriptions as to Baku’s appearance, a generally accepted description is that it resembles a giant Tapir with the body of a horse, the head of a lion and the legs and paws of a tiger. This creature lives mutually with humans and the lore suggests, that if a person is to wake disturbed from nightmare, they need only call upon Baku, he will oblige them and keep them safe by entering the dreamers mind and devouring the nightmares. It is then said, that the person will awake refreshed and have a very peaceful day.
One can do whatever comes to mind. You can choose a character/creature and physically describe it. You can create a metaphor, using the creature and its lore to help accentuate your poem. You can write about the creature, from a number of angles. As you can see, there really aren’t any guidelines, per se, except choosing a creature or its lore as the basis for what you are writing about.
For those who aren’t particularly interested in mythology, fairy tales or folklore, (I suppose there are some out there), well, you may substitute an animal in the creatures place.
There are countless books one could refer to, but I would strongly recommend the books by Carol Rose. She provides, in a dictionary type layout, brief descriptions of many creatures from literature and lore. From the web, mythicalcreaturesguide.com, mythicalcreatureslist.com, mythicalarchive.com or you could simply search for wikipedia’s list of legendary creatures. These are just a few of the places with a ton of information to which one can easily refer to. Many of the listings are nicely done and should give you enough to get your piece started.
Heres How It Works:
• Write your poem and post it to your blog
• Add a link to your poem via the ‘Mr Linky’ below
• This opens a new screen where you’ll enter your information, and where you also choose links to read. Once you have pasted your poem’s blog URL and entered your name, click Submit.
• Read and comment on other peoples work to let them know it’s being read
• Share via your favourite social media platforms
• Above all- have fun!