Sunday, June 24, 2012

Lady Franklin's Lament

From Baffin Bay where the whale fish blow
The fate of Franklin no man may know
The fate of Franklin no tongue can tell
Lord Franklin – has sailed – too well –

I don't know if anyone actually sings it that way: it's the way it came to my ear, long ago, and I like it better than the words I find by googling, which say “In Baffin's Bay” and have the clunky fourth line “Lord Franklin with his seamen do dwell.” The point of the song and the lament is that we don't know where Franklin is – last seen, Baffin Bay, heading northwest – and that he's too bold and skillful for his own good.

Such a haunting song. I sing it to myself often, as I walk along, baffled by the fact that I, of all people, am still here. Not that Franklin was all that skillful, apparently: a bit of a good-natured bungler, maybe, without the wide streak of ruthlessness that makes a good explorer. But that's reality. We were talking about longing, and those people who vanish over the horizon. Which is, of course, all of them.

Huge clouds pile up, throw a water-balloon of rain, run away over the hills. They're followed by blue sky, and then another pile of huge clouds. Makes me uneasy. This is the weather of Ohio, not of Oregon, this whipsaw weather is not what I'm used to. But the shapes of the clouds are arresting. Citadels – cathedrals – lovingly worked and infinitely detailed, shifting like the minute hand of a clock, ineluctably but imperceptibly. You look back up and all the workmanship has changed.

Raw clay under my hands, the creak of the wheel, the spin of moody flesh, the crust of dry earth flaking away, sandalwood and lavender.

“Make me beautiful,” said one of my clients, with a hopeless shrug

“Well, that's easy,” I said. That's always the first thing you do, if you're doing it right. You just lay on hands, and wait for what's beautiful to rise up to meet them. Exactly like crouching down and waiting for an interested cat to come and smooth its whiskers against your hand. No skill required but patience, stillness, and kindness; but it's surprising how few people learn the knack of it.

I dreamed a dream and I thought it true
Concerning Franklin and his gallant crew


marly youmans said...

Lovely mix, Dale--the vanishing Franklin, the changing clouds, the lost beautiful rising.

Dale said...

thanks Marly! x