Six feet under, Niobe’s short summer.
Six sons' dolour and six daughter’s torture.
Six secret items on the chain Gleipnir.
To conquer Fenrir, a hand’s given Tyr.
Life’s woven of thread with a hidden end.
We pace a blade’s end in fate’s grim old hand.
Six years or sixty-six by River Styx?
End employs her tricks; breaks all walking sticks.
Some take a stand, to stars they hitch a strand
despite Fates' command, swim upstream to end.
It's light they befriend; a life to amend.
To a child's small hand, a sunrise they lend.
Is sweet summer sublime or fierce fight prime
when where one lingers is a star guised rhyme?
Styx in silent sleep sneaks and surely sweeps
those in summer’s hips that one sows and reaps.
Some kneel by waters; misers of piers.
Those who dread rivers drown in feckless fears.
Some die on the pyre yet live on the lyre.
Those who dare the river know none to fear.
Old deeds that ripple, from stars they flicker.
To Charon’s rider, nothing’s aglitter.
When where one lingers is a star guised rhyme,
flesh will bow to time, for deed is what’s prime.
Won’t End in the end cut off her own hand,
awed by the man who had his breath for lend?
Is living all about fighting to make earthly gains while all the same fearing death?
Given the chance, what would be the greatest gain you would make in life?
Would the river sweep that after you were gone?
How many of the people you know seize the passing time and bless it with meaning? Meaning is that which the river can’t sweep away.
The topic being life and death, I couldn’t help making mythological allusions to bring some univesality to the poem. In Greek mythology, River Styx separates the realm of the living from that of the dead. If you are able to wade across River Styx by yourself, it may also mean you have carried your mortal flesh across time. Does this make you an immortal in a way?
There are two sorts of crossings of the River Styx: catabasis versus necromancy, the former being crossing it before death and the latter after. Well, I know of three figures in Greek mythology who have done it; Odysseus, Orpheus and Heracles. Orpheus, as tragedy would have it, dies seconds after he exits back from the entrance of the underworld. But, with the ‘gesture’ he has made -to descend to the depths of the world and claim back the woman he loved- he earned his place amongst the stars to look up to.
The river represents the grim hands of fate to me, and it must take a lot of pain, strength and bravery to wade or swim across it. How many important people in history have made this crossing? How would you describe them?
I love how Ernest Hemingway coins the might of human life before mortality: “Man can be destroyed but not defeated.” And what I suss out from this is men, if they deliberate and thus manage to take fate into their hands, are stellar beings like gods. Or in the least regard, if not us, some of our feats are godly: a star guised rhyme they will always be.
Fortune in life is fickle and summer time is not to be trusted to last long. Niobe, let's take for example, is the daughter of Tantalus, a son of Zeus born to a nymph. She has these six sons and daughters; all beautiful lads and lasses. As fate would have it, Niobe boasts about the superiority of her siblings to those of Leto: Apollo and Artemis fathered by Zeus. Oops! Leave Zeus alone, Leto is already the granddaughter of the titans Uranus (Sky) and Gaea (Earth), and she is enraged at this outrageous presumption of a god descendent mortal, so she commissions Apollo and Artemis, who are -along with their many other skills- supreme deities in the art of hunt with bow and quiver, to go hunt these six hapless sons and six ill-fated daughters of Niobe in front of her eyes. So is the gory deed done. Grief stricken, Niobe weeps and mourns herself to stone on Mount Sipylus. Today, this place is on Yamanlar Dağı, northwest of Izmir, Turkey. Summer didn't last pretty much for Niobe....
Well, the thematic relevance of this motif is that not only humans but also titans could not escape the grim hands of fate even in the summer of their time. In fact, gods were no exception. The Moirae (Norns or Fates) spun, measured and cut thread for all.
Yet, if not how long, one may at least determine how beautiful the lent time will be. ‘Memento mori’ so let’s ‘carpe diem!’
In Assyrian mythology, too, Gilgmesh travels across the river to ask immortality from Utanapishtim. So the river image in the poem is an instrumental image of death juxtaposing both those who succumb to ill fate and the fighters taking a stand in the face of peril.
There is allusion to Norse mythology in the poem as well. There is reference to the sacrifice deity Tyr makes to keep away Ragnarok, doomsday. Loki's son Fenrir, an ever growing ferocious wolf, has to be tethered to lag his growing; otherwise he will be big enough to devour the entire world, Midgard. Alas, there is no powerful enough chain to do it. In the end, some dwarves fashion it from six mysterious items: The sound of a cat's footfall, the beard of a woman, the roots of a mountain, the sinews of a bear, the breath of a fish and the spittle of a bird. They call it Gleipnir (Old Norse 'open one'). As seen in the list, it is impossible to make this chain. Aren't there some people undertaking the mission impossible to defy the grim hands of fate?
Well, the chain is ready and the Gods have to dupe Fenrir to let them bind him with it as part of a game. Tyr has to place his hand in the mouth of Fenrir for surety that the gods will take the chain back from the sly wolf's neck. However, this is not the gods' plan, so Fenrir snaps off Tyr's hand from his arm as soon as he understands he has been duped. Aren't there those wonderful people around who wouldn't hesitate to give an arm for a good cause to happen?
Charon, the Ferryman in Greek mythology, rows across only the dead. And the dead may see they failed to see all the answers, yet it may be too late... Why not be skeptical and pursue meaning when alive?
We have the tendency to imagine the great people who have passed away inhabiting the stars, or becoming a star indeed. We are wont to attributing this eternity to them. Is it because we love them and we can't bear the pain of acknowledging their departure, or is it because the good deeds they have done during their lifetime has gratified both their and our lives and we can't let this meaning slip through our fingers and we tend to hitch their memory to stars: those twinkling jewels and beacons to the good and happiness in the dark of the night? Yep, do we do this out of love or admiration?
"Some die on the pyre yet live on the lyre." This line draws on the importance of both the ancient and medieval bards in perpetuating the battle glory of knights with the lyrics they wrote, played and sang on the lyre. Yes, heroes who died in battle were sent to their last journey on the flames of a pyre, yet their fame was perpetuated and it did glow like stars.
One thing for sure, we live to die, but beautifully at that, which is only possible with meaningful deeds. And we associate stars mainly with three concepts: eternity, godliness and meaning... Watch out the last item of the list of three; it may bestow upon your life a godly quality and make you a flickering star. To shine, we need a good scraping and rubbing; these are both the toils and tribulations of life we have to bear and how we employ our strength to fight them.
Enjoy your fight and always shine!