The White Witch

I know I haven’t been posting regularly. It’s because I’m so tired. Teaching and preparing for the dissertation seem to take all my time.

But I did find another “White Witch” poem. Here it is:

The White Witch
by Dora Sigerson Shorter

Heaven help your home to-night,
MacCormac; for I know
A white witch woman is your bride:
You married for your woe.

You thought her but a simple maid
That roamed the mountain-side;
She put the witch’s glance on you,
And so became your bride.

But I have watched her close and long
And know her all too well;
I never churned before her glance
But evil luck befell.

Last week the cow beneath my hand
Gave out no milk at all;
I turned, and saw the pale-haired girl
Lean laughing by the wall.

“A little sup,” she cried, “for me;
The day is hot and dry.”
“Begone!” I said, “you witch’s child,”
She laughed a loud good-bye.

And when the butter in the churn
Will never rise, I see
Beside the door the white witch girl
Has got her eyes on me.

At dawn to-day I met her out
Upon the mountain-side,
And all her slender finger-tips
Were each a crimson dyed.

Now I had gone to seek a lamb
The darkness sent astray:
Sore for a lamb the dawning winds
And sharp-beaked birds of prey.

But when I saw the white witch maid
With blood upon her gown,
I said, “I’m poorer by a lamb;
The witch has dragged it down.”

And “Why is this, your hands so red
All in the early day?”
I seized her by the shoulder fair,
She pulled herself away.

“It is the raddle on my hands,
The raddle all so red,
For I have marked MacCormac’s sheep
And little lambs,” she said.

“And what is this upon your mouth
And on your cheek so white?”
“Oh, it is but the berries’ stain”;
She trembled in her fright.

“I swear it is no berries’ stain,
Nor raddle all so red”;
I laid my hands about her throat,
She shook me off, and fled.

I had not gone to follow her
A step upon the way,
When came I to my own lost lamb,
That dead and bloody lay.

“Come back,” I cried, “you witch’s child,
Come back and answer me:”
But no maid on the mountain-side
Could ever my eyes see.

I looked into the glowing east,
I looked into the south,
But did not see the slim young witch,
With crimson on her mouth.

Now, though I looked both well and long,
And saw no woman there,
Out from the bushes by my side
There crept a snow-white hare.

With knife in hand, I followed it
By ditch, by bog, by hill;
I said, “Your luck be in your feet,
For I shall do you ill.

I said, “Come, be you fox or hare,
Or be you mountain maid,
I’ll cut the witch’s heart from you,
For mischief you have made.”

She laid her spells upon my path,
The brambles held and tore,
The pebbles slipped beneath my feet,
The briars wounded sore.

And then she vanished from my eyes
Beside MacCormac’s farm,
I ran to catch her in the house
And keep the man from harm.

She stood with him beside the fire,
And when she saw my knife,
She flung herself upon his breast
And prayed he’d save her life.

“The woman is a witch,” I cried,
“So cast her off from you”;
“She’ll be my wife to-day,” he said,
“Be careful what you do!”

“The woman is a witch,” I said;
He laughed both loud and long:
She laid her arms about his neck,
Her laugh was like a song.

“The woman is a witch,” he mocked,
And laughed both long and loud;
She bent her head upon his breast,
Her hair was like a cloud.

I said, “See blood upon her mouth
And on each finger tip!”
He said, “I see a pretty maid,
A rose upon her lip.”

He took her slender hand in his
To kiss the stain away –
Oh, well she cast her spell on him,
What could I do but pray?

“May heaven guard your house to-night!”
I whisper as I go,
“For you have won a witch for bride,
And married for your woe.”

I haven’t had time to answer the comments, but I think whoever said the White Witch is a version of the White Goddess, or the other way around, is right. So here is the White Goddess:

The White Goddess
by Robert Graves

All saints revile her, and all sober men
Ruled by the God Apollo’s golden mean –
In scorn of which we sailed to find her
In distant regions likeliest to hold her
Whom we desired above all things to know,
Sister of the mirage and echo.

It was a virtue not to stay,
To go our headstrong and heroic way
Seeking her out at the volcano’s head,
Among pack ice, or where the track had faded
Beyond the cavern of the seven sleepers:
Whose broad high brow was white as any leper’s,
Whose eyes were blue, with rowan-berry lips,
With hair curled honey-coloured to white hips.

The sap of Spring in the young wood a-stir
Will celebrate with green the Mother,
And every song-bird shout awhile for her;
But we are gifted, even in November
Rawest of seasons, with so huge a sense
Of her nakedly worn magnificence
We forget cruelty and past betrayal,
Heedless of where the next bright bolt may fall.

I love the last stanza. To be perfectly honest, I think that in creating his White Witch, Lewis was mostly influenced by George MacDonald’s Lilith, from his book of that name. Lilith was the first wife of Adam, who was cast out of Eden when she refused to be subject to him. She became a demoness, or at least that’s how the story goes. Lewis’ Jadis is of the line of Lilith, and is part jinn and part giantess, not human at all. The White Witch, in the first Narnia novel, isn’t quite Jadis yet: Lewis has not yet created the character fully. By the time he introduces the Empress of Charn, she has become more beautiful, more sexual, more dangerous. I also wonder to what extent he was influenced by H. Rider Haggard’s Ayesha, from the novel She? At one point, Ayasha also plans to conquer England, and she also has magical powers, as well as unending life.

Although this is not at all the book Lewis wrote, it almost seems to me as though Aslan and Jadis are opposites, principles in opposition, almost counterparts. If I were to write about them in some way, I think that’s how I would do it.

I’m very tired, but there are things I need to start doing, just so my writing life does not go completely stagnant. Updating this website, for example. I’ll try to do a little of that in the next few weeks, but mostly I’ll be working, studying. I’ll let you know when it’s all over. And then, I’ll be back.

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