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The Poets

October 31, 2009

The Witch of Aberdeen

I knew a girl who loved the dark,
Whose lonely laughter plagu’d the night:
She flew a broom of riddled bark
Against the pale of crescent light.

One day en masse her village rose
And seized her from her dwelling place-
Entangled violence ripped her clothes,
And all the struggle bruised her face.

They tossed her to the fi’ry hearth-
Condemned she was by town’s decree:
So that it’s known through all this earth,
No witch will ‘mongst us ever be.

But soft reply would softly come
From copper blazes flaming high:
You seize me 'cause your hearts are numb,
That's why I flew the velvet sky.

Now bones beneath a ravenstone
Condemn those callous hearts so mean ...
And if you listen there's the moan
Of her, the witch of Aberdeen.

-jwm


Of the Poem:

Although intended as a fun Halloween poem, there’s actually some tragic historical basis to it. During the late 1500s James VI of Scotland, completely obsessed with witches and their witchcraft, decreed laws and techniques of torture that would expose those involved in the otherworldly art of darkness. The problem- as I see it- is that most of the people accused were tortured into confessions that led to their executions. In fact, and there’s plenty of evidence for this, some were executed despite their enduring torture without confession (Dr. John Fian comes to mind).

The Scottish town of Aberdeen fell victim to this trend. Take as an example the trials that occurred between 1596 and 1597 … 23 women and one male were convicted and executed (execution was usually by hanging and only afterwards a torching of the bodies).

The Witch of Aberdeen is a poem about a hypothetical female thought to be a witch (which the poem neither affirms of denies), about a female who, after having been condemned by arbitrary local laws, is taken forcefully from her home and beaten and burned to death. The subject matter- though a little morbid- was necessary in order to convey the sad and brutal historical reality of witch hunts and their executions.

2 comments:

Nancy said...

I really like this poem. No. I love this poem. You just get better and better. Seriously, John.

I love how it starts with "I *know* a girl…" bringing us along into the familiar, as if telling a tale of someone you know; someone you care about.

I love how the descriptors contrast between soft (loved, laughter, grace, soft, innocence, …) and harsh (seized, ripped, struggle, twisting, …). Your reference to "a touch of morbidity" at first seems mild… more than a touch I at first think, but the interwoven softness overrides it.

I love this rhyme scheme… maybe I'm just old fashioned in my poetic tastes. Or maybe because it gives it such a melodic flow. A sweet rhythm that in itself helps temper the brutality of the subject matter.

I love "bruised her grace" - beautiful!!!

I love the spelling of "fi'ry" - no reason. It is just so perfect. I think not necessary for the rhyme, but perfect for the overall atmosphere.

The fourth stanza is my favorite, as the girl is gracefully submissive to her fate -- so sad, so sweet, so horrible. And the lesson unfolds in the last verse - her moan telling of the pointlessness of the atrocities taken against women who were mostly healers and doers of good, not evil. Ignorance is such a dreadful crime.

I read (read as in reed, not as in red - somehow the distinction seems important) this poem with chills, tears, sadness, yet somehow a peace….. a very lovely rendering of a very un-lovely topic. Bravo! Well done.

Nancy said...

I was reading this aloud to a friend just now and only in doing so noticed that the final two stanzas are different from the version posted on FB. My comments above were for and make more sense about the alternate version.

Do you mind if I humbly say that I prefer the 4th stanza (my favorite) of FB version. However, the final stanza seems much stronger here.

But why am I saying all this? LOL John, I just can't seem to stop rambling on.

As of April 9th, 2010