Tonight we present a Christmas poem in the tradition of M.R. James and inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”. This one is dedicated to the love of my life, my wife Katina.
By Jeffrey LeBlanc
Once long ago as midnight was creeping, I contemplating, powerless half sleeping,
Falling upon ominous trail of most obscure and dismal accord—
Drifting, practically drowsing, unexpectedly there came a rousing,
Above misted Cypress limb a cackling, cackling at my cold shore
“It is wind most foul” I whispered, “rustling this tree with its howl—
Nothing of course to fear I implore.”
Dreadfully I recall with disdained distemper the cold misted December;
Setting furnace to flame burned away Death’s chill, illuminating ghastly ember.
Anticipating Heavenly lights of angels;–in vanity I raged in Hellish angst and anguish
Forgotten never my sorrow—sorrow for the cold Katina—Katina of the distant shore
Rarest of the rare my love whom all manner of specter wished to covet there of—
Without body, without soul at darkened Eternity’s door.
Shimmering with sadness, speculative manifestations of madness with each shadow on the bough
Filled me with exhilaration—palpable dread that crevassed never before;
Thunderous my heart took to beating that in vain I chanted practically bleating
“It is wind most foul twisting, screeching ever to howl—
Possibly some wayward creature in refuge above my watered shore—
A benign small person maybe finding shelter from this chilled watered shore.”
Currently my phantom caught fire; no hesitation I inquired,
“Anyone” was my retort, “Heart fully lay away my concerns with report;
Apologies for intrusion as storm has created our dark collusion and brought your rustle,
In so vainly my attempt to warm my predicament you tussled, tussled this tree of lore,
Focused to flame in my shame I not heard you”—I raised torch to red tree of lore;–
Blankets of moss shadows and nothing more.
Misted darkness I peered with fear foreboding, eternity counted minutes of my loathing,
Skeptic say I, mortally entranced to sorceress dreams of strange eons of forgotten yore;
Swaying, creaking broken silence with Nature speaking, but there lay between stillness peaking,
No longer lay I in jest as in earnest I whispered a spectral test, “Katina?”
Again I whispered, shuddered by echoed screams that break silence best, “Katina!”—
A simple scream and nothing more.
Drawn closer to the fire burning, something wretched in me churning,
Churning and burning my soul when a louder tussle overhead left me with little dread.
“Certainly,” I spoke, “certainly this tussle, this rustle is something just above my head;
I endeavor to discover, to see with blinded cover through misted corridors–
Paused in most curious reflection of this mysterious detection I must explore;–
‘Surely screech of wind and nothing more!”
Torch pushed up in diligence, then, we saw in mist piercing, fiery eyes of penance,
In stooped and turned low, a wise owl of the Arthurian age–misted Avalon, peering below;
Stately stoic may be said of thee; wisest of the wise may he be;
However, creature of gentile grace or queen of ancient place, perched above my swamp shore—
Perched upon Great Pan’s limbs just above my swamp shore—
Perched, twisted head, and stared as the dead to distant Stygian moors.
Silver strigiform had sought to frighten but in my disposition my heart he had lightened,
Eyes befitting a witch’s cat and the strange eons of the familiar bat of yore
“Wisdom and strategy you harken to Athena’s Acropolis did you embark from,” I jest, “why such tempered scowl,
Gathering ghostly apparition called Owl haunting with Hestia, hunting with Hades in forest most foul—
Give me your name bird of Minerva with sharpened talons on this nightmarish shore! ”
Cackled the Owl “Katina” across shore.
Wondrous dark marvel was I sent from this verbal precedence,
Confused with this avian interpretation—dismissed mimicry abhorred consternation;
We must consider this that in human spirit we would be remised
To believe we were ever graced first in line with this fowl of midnight kissed—
Nocturnal bird or nightmarish beast cloaked in darkness unseen,
“Katina!” I heard again this owl scream.
However the Owl, shrouded on his oaken throne, cackled defiantly
A single word, his hint of soul from that cold gaze with those eyes afire and ablaze.
Silence cloaked I began to stutter—though not a feather did he flutter—
With revered whisper I muttered “Cackle and leave this shore—
As the day’s light be upon us depart as my Joy leaves this shore.
Timely the fowl cackled, “Katina” evermore.
Aghast at our silence disturbed with cacophony by this bird,
“Indubitably this is folly,” grimaced I, “its cackle wasted and worn
Prisoner it once must be to unrepentant master lost on land or sea
Ancient Mariner on ghostly wings cursed every midnight to sing on cold shore—
Eternity his boundless plight to crush all Joy in its cackling delight on cold shore
Oh his maniacal cackle “Ever—evermore’.”
However the Owl whilst hovered happily brought grin I discovered,
My velvet jacket I placed beneath his tree of red, shrouded in mossy thread;
Forward, I sat transfixed in grace, pondering this creature’s place
Universe after universe grasping, linking what this fiend was thinking, dreaming, clasping—
What this abhorred, abominable, aberrant, appalling, hallowed harbinger of ominous yore
Inferred screeching, “Katina” on that icy shore.
Assumption, deduction I made in guessing, no word for expressing
Toward the feathered phantom whose flamed eyes smoldered forevermore;
Pontificating divinely as crashed lightning, my drenched head never drying
Shivering on the jacket’s velvet lining that fire raged to open storm,
On whose emerald velvet lining cast flickered shadow as fire raged to open storm,
Ah, my love warms nevermore!
On I deduced, this Sulphur fragrant fog perfused from dimensions unseen
Carried by carrion Wraiths winding and weaving the canopy and swamp place.
“Devil of darkness,” I exclaimed, “thy Nemesis commanded forth—ravaging banshee sent forth
Repose—repose and anesthetize my mind, my eyes from memories of Katina at Death’s door;
Drink, please drink this merciful anesthetic and forget the memory of cold Katina at Death’s door!”
Cackled the Owl “Katina” from cold shore.
“Nemesis!” I roared, “Vilest villain of vaporous flame!—Nemesis eternal thy name!—
Were you Legion sent, or legionnaire lost trekking this dismal dark shore,
Desert wanderer who even pharaoh called foe, in his fiery lands long before Poe—
Now ghoul guarded by Despair imbibed—I beg of thee, say her name once more—
Commence the cacophony—cure of my ills—begging of thee, say her name once more!”
Cackled the Owl “Katina” across the cold shore.
“Nemesis!” I roared, “Vilest villain of vaporous flame!—Nemesis eternal thy name!
Vainest wretch that Heaven cast down from above—by that God we both loved—
Mercy on such a sorrowful soul, a heart devoid Life—blackest hole,
Grasping, clasping with divination hallowed angel Katina away this chilled shore–
Grasp the affectionate and ardent angel Katina away from this chilled shore.”
Cackled the Owl “Katina” across dead shore.
“Inconsiderate word fiend or foul, our dark collusion ends Owl!” I screeched in resolution—
Storms of Apollo strike thee back to hellion hollow and Mount Olympus’s shore!
Silver strigiform take every gilded feather as tribute to thy deceit in this weather!
Silver strigiform away from my sorrowed shore!—be gone the red tree of lore!
Rip thy razor talons from my broken heart, and take flight to another deathly moor!
Cackled the Owl “Katina” across the icy shore.
And freezing, the Owl never leaving, still is staring, still is staring
Perched upon Great Pan’s limbs just above my swamp shore;
Perched, twisted head, and stares as the dead to distant Stygian moors,
His Erebus eyes, become gilded fire flies, flickering to flame seething, possibly dreaming,
Whilst leprous moon overhead wakes the forgotten dead in shadows before;
And as I lie waiting my flickering shadow anticipating those ghostly shadows before
Cackles the Owl “Katina” evermore!