Bonfire Night by Debi Crow

Bonfire Night

Paper flies to the fire.
Hair stings. Fingers gather up
a posy, a coin, a string.

The star burns down
to unreadable ashes.
The harvest swings at my hip.

The estuary wind sucks my skirt.
Water meets earth
with a whooshing hymn.

They splinter my door,
brutal and wary,
clattering into my room.

I have no cunning.
I am barely wise,
and definitely not a devil.

Yet here I am;
no more than driftwood,
and much too damp to kindle.

Ā 

Inspiration for the Poem:

An extract from Gyn/Ecology by Mary Daly:

European Witchburnings: Purifying the Body of Christ

Just as social historian Baroja has recourse in the end to feeble psychologizing so also does moralist WEH Lecky in his two-volume History of European Morals. He writes revealingly (in the sense of unveiling and re-veiling at the same time) of the conditions that drove some witches to suicide:

In Europe the act was very common among the witches, who underwent all the sufferings with none of the consolations of martydom.

Without enthusiasm, without hope, without even the consciousness of innocence, decrepit in body and distracted in mind, compelled in this world to endure tortures, before which the most impassioned heroism might quail, and doomed, as they often believed, to eternal damnation in the next, they not unfrequently killed themselves in the agony of their despair.

This is a perfect description of the condition to which the lords of patriarchy desire to see defiant women reduced. It is an announcement of androcratic intent. How would Lecky know that the witches were “without even the consciousness of innocence”? The expressions “decrepit in body” and “distracted in mind” are deceptive because not accompanied by any description of the christian torturers’ methods.

On the following page, this “historian of morals,” having admitted the fact of unspeakable torture of witches, actually manages to write that “epidemics of purely insanesuicideā€¦not infrequently occurred.” Lecky here refers specifically to the women of Marseilles and of Lyons. He then goes on:

In that strange mania which raged in Neapolitan districts from the end of the fifteenth to the end of the seventeenth century, and which was attributed to the bite of the tarantula, the patients thronged in multitudes towards the sea, and often, as the blue waters opened to their view, they chanted a wild hymn of welcome, and rushed with passion into the waves.

By naming this phenomenon a “mania” and failing to note the significance of the dates, Lecky makes its meaning invisible to most readers. Hags, however, knowing something about the history of The Burning Times, can see that this was a completely sane decision. Multitudes of women rushed into the sea, precisely because they refused to be “patients” for the witch doctors/torturers and chose to be agents of the one Self-affirming act possible under the Reign of Infernal Justice.

The words of the hymn , according to Hecker’s Epidemics of the Middle Ages (London, 1844), are:

Take me to the sea
If you are willing that I be healed,
To the sea, to the way
Thus does my lady love me,
To the sea, to the sea,
While I live, I must love you.

End extract.

by Debi Crow

4 Responses

  1. Thanks for publishing this! It’s one of my favourites. I know I’m not supposed to say that, but anyway…:) xx

  2. I really love this poem too, Debi. That passage in Gyn/Ecology is extremely haunting. And who said authors can’t have favourites? I do all the time with the stuff I write.

    I hope the format is okay. I had a bit of trouble adapting the post.

  3. Yeah it’s fine, I wasn’t expecting you to put the Mary Daly bit there too, but the poem probably doesn’t make much sense without it, so thanks! :)

  4. The poem stands fine by itself; it is well written, makes sense etc. I just like the story behind it, so wanted to include that too. I think it adds another level of appreciation/understanding to the poem.

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