Can a poem be said to work if it requires the reader to do some research? Does the poet have a duty to add a footnote explaining the background? Does it matter that the topic of a poem is obscure?
What do you think? I have not got an answer. My reason for posing this question is that I have been writing a poem about Weyland the Smith, an old English myth. Not one that I read when a child. I first came across the legend when I read Basil Branston’s The Lost Gods of England in the middle 1970’s.
If I am honest I never thought about the story until recently. The poetry group I am a member of, Juncture 25, is reading at the Porlock Festival in September. Originally we were going to be on at a gallery that was an old smithy, the location has since changed, but I thought to mark the event I would have a go at writing about Wayland.
Essentially his story is this; Wayland, a master metal worker is captured in his sleep by King Niðhad and imprisoned on an island. Wayland is ham strung to prevent him escaping, and he is forced to produce works of art. To take his revenge Wayland secretly lures the king’s sons to his workshop and kills them, fashioning drinking vessels from their skulls, jewels from their eyes and a broach from their teeth. He sends these to the king and queen. He rapes and murders their daughter (in some versions he does not murder her. This could explain why I never heard the story as a child.) then flies away on metal wings that he has secretly fashioned.
Over a period of time I wrote this:
WAYLAND THE SMITH
Hamstrung but not ham-fisted,
you knew the names of colours of flames
and what each would lend to the metal,
fashioning beauty from royal cruelty.
Shuffling, each step a slap in your face,
a physical jeer that rakes the pain of your past anew.
In work you are lost, motionless,
silver solder runs as molten as your hate.
The princes in thrall to your whispers,
their greed filled eyes their undoing.
Where are my sons he asked,
then drank deep from the cup
chased in silver, chased in gold,
a bone white vessel built to hold
revenge for royal cruelty.
You had a special fate reserved for the princess.
Let me ask you;
When she lay despoiled and dead at you shambling feet,
as you fitted your cold metal wings to fly from royal cruelty
and your own stale revenge,
did all the blood assuage the pain
or ring hollow as a tinkers trinket?
When I read it the other night at a meeting I had to launch into a lengthy preamble about the story and this made me ask the questions above. What do you think?