Go Tonight

I asked Terri Windling if I could write about a poem she had written called “The Night Journey,” and she very kindly told me that I could. It’s one of my favorite poems. She gave me permission not only to quote from it, but to reprint it here, so after my analysis you’ll find the whole poem reprinted below.

It begins,

“Go by coombe, by candle light,
by moonlight, starlight, stepping stone,
and step o’er bracken, branches, briars,
and go tonight, and go alone . . .”

A coombe is a kind of deep, narrow valley, says the dictionary. So follow the valley, whether by candle light, moonlight, or starlight (meaning, whether or not you have a candle I suppose, but whatever you have, you must follow). It’s going to be a wild sort of valley, with bracken and branches to step over, even briars that might tear your dress. And go tonight, not another night. And go alone, because this sort of journey can only be taken alone.

” . . . go by water, go by willow,
go by ivy, oak and ash,
and rowan berries red as blood,
and breadcrumbs, stones, to mark the path;
find the way by water’s whisper,
water rising from a womb
of granite, peat, of summer heat,
to slake your thirst and fill the coombe
and tumble over moss and stone
and feed the roots of ancient trees
and call to you: go, now, tonight,
by water, earth, phyllomancy . . .”

Phyllomancy is a means of divination using leaves. So what are you following on your journey? You have particular markers: water, trees, berries. Breadcrumbs and stones also mark the path, which means that others travelers have followed that path before. Drink from the water that seems to spring up from the earth and then runs along the bottom of the coombe. The water is calling to you, but I suspect that more than the water is calling – everything is calling, the trees, the stones. You can see what is written in the leaves, you have already left your home and been granted certain powers. You are already a seer.

” . . . by candle flame, by spirit-name,
by spells, by portents, myth and song,
by drum beat, heart beat, earth pulsing
beneath your feet, calling you home,
calling you back, calling you through
the water, wood, the waste, the wild,
the hills where Dartmoor ponies pass,
and black-faced sheep, a spectral child,
a fox with pale unnatural eyes,
an owl, a badger, ghostly deer
with horns of star light, candle light
to guide the way, to lead you here . . .”

You are following the breadcrumbs, but also the stories – the portents, the myths, the songs, all the things you have been told all your life that are telling you where to go. The spirit-name: is that yours? The spells: are they spells you have woven? The heartbeat. I am certain it is yours, that you are following the beating of your own heart. But there is also a drumbeat, a pulsing that comes from somewhere – or someone? And from the earth itself, whose heart is pulsing with yours? Until earth and heart and drum are simply one pulse, one beat.

And they are calling you home, back to the home you left so long ago, but where you have realized you belong after all. It’s not where you expected, is it? It’s in the wood, the waste, the wild. Where the dead walk, where the animals are ready to speak with you and to lead you as well, animals that are not simply animals but also your kith and kin and kind.

” . . . to lead you to the one who waits,
who sits and waits upon the tor,
he waits and watches, wondering
if you’re the one he’s waiting for . . .”

Are you? Do you think you are? You’re the one who heard and answered the call, so that must mean something. You’re the one who came, who wants to be worthy. A tor, by the way, is a high hill or pile of stones. And now you’re standing in front of him, because you’ve heard the call and you want to be the one. And you’re waiting. Hoping you are the one he’s been calling, because this is a call you’ve heard all your life. And tonight you decided to answer it.

” . . . he waits by dawn, by dusk, by dark,
by sun, by rain, by day, by night,
his hair as black as ravens’ wings,
his eyes of amber, skin milk white,
his skin tattooed with spiral lines
beneath a mask of wood and leaves
and polished stone and sun-bleached bone,
beneath a shirt of spiders’ weave,
his wrists weighted with silver bands
and copper braids tarnished to green,
he waits for you, unknown and yet
familiar from forgotten dreams . . .”

Who is he? I think he is an image of the one who is always calling. Several years ago, I wrote a book about three women poets, and I noticed that all of them had a poem about the call – a stranger came and called, or there was a call from some unspecified source. And they had to follow, whatever the price. (It was usually an ordinary woman’s life. Comfort, a home. But they always followed the call.) It is a very old call. It has been calling for a very long time, as long as there have been singers and storytellers and painters on cavern walls.

” . . . you dream and stir upon your bed
and toss and turn among the sheets,
the wind taps at the window glass
and water tumbles through the leat
and through the garden, through the wood,
and over moss and over stone
and tells you: go, by candle light,
and go tonight, and go alone . . .”

Wait, weren’t you on the hillside? No, you’re still in bed, still not risen. Dreaming about the call. You haven’t yet made the decision to go out into the darkness.

” . . . he’s sent you dreams, he’s left you signs,
he’s left you feathers, beads and runes,
so go, tonight, by candle light,
by ash and oak, by wood, by coombe.”

But he’s calling you to whatever it is you’re supposed to do, whatever it is you’re supposed to be. It’s your choice now. Are you going to rise in your nightdress, not even stopping to change? Are you going to take the candle and go? Are you going to follow the narrow valley, drink from the spring that runs through it, use all the powers you have ever had, all the training you have ever received, to read the signs and follow?

Or are you going to turn over, fall into a deeper sleep?

No, I didn’t think so.

I have no idea if this is how Terri would read her own poem, but it’s what the poem means to me. Here it is in its entirety: (Read it again. What does it mean to you?)

The Night Journey
by Terri Windling

Go by coombe, by candle light,
by moonlight, starlight, stepping stone,
and step o’er bracken, branches, briars,
and go tonight, and go alone,
go by water, go by willow,
go by ivy, oak and ash,
and rowan berries red as blood,
and breadcrumbs, stones, to mark the path;
find the way by water’s whisper,
water rising from a womb
of granite, peat, of summer heat,
to slake your thirst and fill the coombe
and tumble over moss and stone
and feed the roots of ancient trees
and call to you: go, now, tonight,
by water, earth, phyllomancy,
by candle flame, by spirit-name,
by spells, by portents, myth and song,
by drum beat, heart beat, earth pulsing
beneath your feet, calling you home,
calling you back, calling you through
the water, wood, the waste, the wild,
the hills where Dartmoor ponies pass,
and black-faced sheep, a spectral child,
a fox with pale unnatural eyes,
an owl, a badger, ghostly deer
with horns of star light, candle light
to guide the way, to lead you here,
to lead you to the one who waits,
who sits and waits upon the tor,
he waits and watches, wondering
if you’re the one he’s waiting for;
he waits by dawn, by dusk, by dark,
by sun, by rain, by day, by night,
his hair as black as ravens’ wings,
his eyes of amber, skin milk white,
his skin tattooed with spiral lines
beneath a mask of wood and leaves
and polished stone and sun-bleached bone,
beneath a shirt of spiders’ weave,
his wrists weighted with silver bands
and copper braids tarnished to green,
he waits for you, unknown and yet
familiar from forgotten dreams;
you dream and stir upon your bed
and toss and turn among the sheets,
the wind taps at the window glass
and water tumbles through the leat
and through the garden, through the wood,
and over moss and over stone
and tells you: go, by candle light,
and go tonight, and go alone;
he’s sent you dreams, he’s left you signs,
he’s left you feathers, beads and runes,
so go, tonight, by candle light,
by ash and oak, by wood, by coombe.

This poem is reprinted, with Terri’s kind permission, from The Journal of Mythic Arts.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Go Tonight

  1. Dora, that’s precisely what I was trying to convey with this poem. It’s such a thrill when you write something a someone *gets it*. Thank you. You’ve made my day.

  2. Maery Rose says:

    Thanks for posting Terri’s poem and your interpretation. And thanks To Terri for writing it. Beautiful. It’s just what I needed to hear this morning. To be reminded to stop resisting. It’s actually more work than following the call.

  3. That is one of the most soul stirring poems I have had the honour to read .
    Thank you.
    It nudges, and lures , and draws the souls yearnings, making it’s presence felt

  4. Liz Kirwan says:

    I answered my own personal call, and travelled over the ocean at night, to be where I knew I was home. Thank you for writing this Terri!!!! *faerieblessings*

  5. Sofia says:

    I love this! My favorite thing about it is the rhythm–the beat of a magic charm. You hear the same rhythm from Shakespeare’s witches:

    “Fair is foul and foul is fair”

    … and from Dr. Seuss’s magicians:

    “We are men of groans and howls,
    mystic men who eat boiled owls.”

  6. I adore this poem so very, very much. Jess read it to me over the phone before I read it online, and it’s still one of my favourites, one of my heart-poems.

    It’s still up in the archives of Goblin Fruit‘s Summer 2008 issue, which we dedicated to JoMa, as it hard just recently closed — we asked both Terri and Midori for permission to reprint some of our favourite pieces of theirs, and made them the epilogue and prologue pieces respectively. Oliver Hunter has this gorgeous musical rendition of the poem, if you’d like to hear it, and also illustrated it.

  7. I love Terri’s poem thank you for this excellent analysis.

  8. “We are men of groans and howls,
    mystic men who eat boiled owls.”

    That’s so funny! 🙂

    Thanks for the links, Amal! I love Oliver’s illustrations. And yes, thank you Terri for writing this poem. I think it means a lot to a lot of people . . .

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s