Ian Stewart Black

Modern master of classical poetry

Embers In A Darkened World

The flame is borne tonight: a candle burns
In solitude for all that’s sacred, all
That’s beautiful. As dreams to ashes turn,
My words from want and recollection fall,
While yours still linger in our darkened world;
The embers now are few, aglow within
My grasp as fireflies whose wings are furled
In resignation. Weary bones begin
To petrify, so long have I withstood
The ache of love’s enduring martyrdom,
If only to attend the flame that would
Await you should the end of sorrow come.
And if I yearned in vain, at least you knew
That someone burned in solitude for you.

Nameless Here For Evermore

Perhaps I loved you then.
But time is seldom kind
To anything so true,
And I may never find
Sincerity again.

It pains me to confess
The dying of the flame:
Four years I yearned, to learn
That yours is just the name
I give to loneliness.

Last Of Winter Snow

‘Summers fade to frost
As falling snows diminish
Ever unto Spring.’

Gleaming waves of moonlight broke upon the
Blizzard, bursting into shards that rippled
With a crystal sheen and danced amid the
Silent fury of the storm. The snowflakes
Settled in the freshly trodden tracks of
Animals and men, as if devout in
Smothering the vestiges of evil.

Almost imperceptibly, a candle
Flickering in isolation vainly
Strove against the tempest, its muted flame
Like starlight twinkling through the snow-veiled glass.
Solitary beams alighted with a
Gentle glow upon a figure lying
Helpless on the steps, alone amid an
Infinite expanse of snow. Weary eyes
Surveyed the marbling moonlight made obscure
By plumes of laboured breath, evoking wraiths
Arisen from the ashen earth to fade
In wisps of shadow. The helpless figure
Peered into the night, its eyes transfixed by
Some anomaly; the wraiths of shadow
Rose and fell in legions, all distortions
Of the dusk – except for one. A darkness
Grew amid the silver night, acquiring
Form in empty space among the snowflakes,
Wrought of blackness in the white eternity.

Motionless, the helpless figure watched in
Trepidation as the shade drew closer,
Shimmering in unifying discord
With a world beset by winter. ‘Do I
Before me see an apparition of
The blizzard’s wrath; is this The Haunted One,
The Ghost Who Roams The Night betrothed to some
Unhappy pilgrimage; or does the storm
Conspire to make a spectre of a man,
And thus apply its sorceries to one
Unwitting ronin lost amid the dusk’.

Thus engrossed in contemplation, peering
Vainly in the vast unknown, the figure
Clutched its wounded flank and slumped inertly
On a bed of bloodstained snow; stillness reigned
Where candlelight assailed the frozen wild.

‘Carnations blossom
In the void of the tundra;
Spring has kissed the earth.
Parting ways, the sun will rise
And harvest flowers of blood.’

The candle flame gave way to morning glare,
A stream of warming light distilled by flakes
Of falling snow. The helpless figure woke
Enwrapped in bandages and blankets, with
A wrinkled hand pressed firmly on its wounds,
And weary eyes aglow with gratitude.
It summoned up the strength to find its feet,
And shuffled off in search of kindly souls.
On the steps, its saviour stood enrapt in
Some impenetrable contemplation,
Icy eyes attuned to bleak horizons.
“You must be the one! The wandering soul,
The Ghost Who Roams The Night – and now, it seems,
An old man’s champion…” And so it went
On uttering its praises, offering
Its countless hospitalities to the
Unmoving edifice until at last
They stood in silence… “You must leave this place”.

The sound of snowfall reigned unchallenged, hush
Presiding over all unspoken truths
Until the phrase rekindled in the cold
Air: “You must leave this place. In different times,
I would have bade you stay until the snows
Had melted and your way was clear, but such
Is not the age in which we live. My home
Is under siege, what little I have left
Will soon be lost to bargain for my blood.
And so I ask you, leave this place before
The fiends who stake their claim on land and life
Can settle their desirous eyes on you”.

Nothing seemed to stir within the solemn
Wanderer, whose gaze remained intently
Fixed amid the vast, unknown horizon.
Softly and serenely, it exhaled its
Answer with as little diligence as
One may draw a breath – as might a passive
Voice receptive to a greater conscious:
“The tears of heaven
Wash away the fallen leaves,
For such is The Way”.

Perplexed, the helpless figure waited for
An explanation that would never come;
The only answer to be found lay mute
Inside a wooden scabbard, firmly clutched
Within the tranquil drifter‘s waiting fist.
“It seems that you’re intent on staying, and
I can’t in all good faith refuse. But if
You must reside in this unruly place,
I’ll need a name to mark your grave.” Seeing
That the warrior remained as ever
Centred, it continued thus: “perhaps a
Title to reflect your qualities; if
You will not lay claim to one, then Yuki
Is a fitting name, or fit enough if
Nothing else to mark upon your tombstone.”

The nameless one imagined Spring in full
Regalia where the Winter snows prevailed;
Peace to sleep away the untold ages
Nestled in the shade of burgeoning life.
“There is no honour
In defeat, nor victory,
But in the struggle;
No eulogy is owed to
One who dies without regret.”

For a time, the helpless figure pondered
On the meaning of these words, before the
Blankness of its mind was etched upon its
Face. “I was never one for poetry…
My wife was taken with a verse she read
Among the temples east of Edo; there,
A stone lay level with the silken face
Of a reflecting pool in such a way
That its inscription vanished with a breeze.
When all was calm, it bore the epitaph,
‘It is not for us
To reap the coming harvest,
But to sow the seeds.’
It pains me never to have understood
The words my love had taken to her heart.”

For a moment’s breadth, a distant smile had
Played upon the lips of the insightful
Traveller, subsiding as another
Treasure of the ages found its vessel:
“To a landlocked eye,
The ship is so much kindling
Lost to no avail.
The promise of a distant
Shore is wrought in heresy.”

Dissatisfaction carved its ugliness
Upon the helpless figure, twisting its
Bewilderment into a hapless frown;
‘Nothing said thus far has served to teach me
Anything; not a name has met my ears
Despite my inquisition; nothing have
I heard but pretty words perplexing truth.
What purpose has this wanderer who roams
Amid the dusk to settle here? To step
Into the candlelight from the abyss,
And to deliver me the remnants of
My life with nothing sought in recompense?’

An inviolable stillness settled
On the frozen wasteland, and the winter
Snows diminished to a listless flutter;
Soon, the sun would purge the lingering clouds
From a newly wakened sky, and pave the
Way for spring to kiss the earth – but not yet.
For now, the all encompassing repose
Intensified, the peaceful silence grew
And grew until at last tranquillity
Begat anticipation. All the while,
The night surmounted the horizon, bent
On swallowing the barren landscape. Three
Distant specks of white emerged against
The coming darkness, growing bolder as
The daylight seeped into obscurity.

The helpless figure trembled, mouthing words
That bore no sound in a frenetic bid
To reassure itself. Enclosed in dusk,
The three white horses galloped through the snow,
Their masters’ watchful eyes unwavering.
Twilight marbled into being as the
Helpless figure inched its way onto the
Frozen wasteland, clutching at its wounds with
Gritted teeth to counteract the pain, and
Still the motionless enigma waited.

The strangers from the east descended from
Their pallid horses, swiftly to beset
The helpless figure with their brandished blades
And boorish jeers. It wasn’t long before
Their taunting yielded to brutality,
Their leader cruelly casting down its prey
To writhe in anguish on the icy ground.
The hitherto unmoving sentinel
Arose to this injustice, launching forth
Into the tundra with a stoic gaze
Steadfastly trained upon the savages.
Its scabbard from the blade removed by just
An inch, a steel katana colder than
The winter field lay shimmering amid
The twilight; all was rendered deathly still.

Now, the bandits’ eyes aglow with bloodlust,
And their swords held ready with an eager
Malice of anticipation, nothing
Stirred except the helpless figure crawling
Painfully away to solace. Half-light
Gilded the primeval lands, a rosy
Tincture seeping from the setting sun to
Marr the scene with fateful auguries. And
As the very land they stood upon seemed
Poised for battle, the enlightened ronin
Sheathed its blade and bowed as low as any
Beggar in the presence of a monarch.

This supplicating gesture baffled the
Assailants, all of whom were stupefied
By the incongruous display of such
A warrior compelled to kneel – to all
But kiss the earth before its sword was drawn.
Their silence evanesced as one by one
They broke into a spiteful laughter; still
The lowly samurai lay spiritless,
Its brow obediently pressed against
The snow – petitioning the merciless.

Their leader smiled with menace in its eyes,
Approaching the unmoving edifice
With such an air as fit for conquerors
And kings. But the ready viper even
Now lay still, unflinching as the savage
Raised its sword above its head; a vicious
Lunge ensued, and all returned to silence.
Silence overcame the gloating brutes, and
Silence overcame the helpless figure;
Silence overcame the frozen lands, and
Ever silent stood the stoic soldier,
Whose unsheathed katana glinted red as
If the morning dew had formed upon its
Blade – a mirror to the rosy twilight.
As the first resplendent beads began to
Trickle to the ground, the hand of justice
Blankly stared into the ether, musing:
“It is not for us
To reap the coming harvest,
But to sow the seeds.”

With that, the enigmatic wanderer
Withdrew into the coming night, to roam
Once more amid the last of winter snow.

Amethyst

No safer refuge has a lonesome traveller than the night,
Nor nobler company than kindred sorrows of the moon.
For all my melancholy years, the dark has wept with me
In solitude; a thousand shadows with my heart commune
In wordless poetry, lamenting in our common plight.

From nebulous gloom, swirling vapours yield a silhouette
Akin to no familiar form; apostles of the dusk
Emerge from in their native shadow veiled in silken night,
Emancipated from the searing daylight’s gaudy husk
And cast in peerless truth as only darkness can beget.

To walk the world by moonlight is a sacrament; to breathe
The hallowed silver air is to immerse oneself in grace.
And seldom is a vision so sublime as that of dusk,
When countless vanities that constitute the commonplace
Subside beneath the mystic paths that stars and moonbeams weave.

When all chaotic voices still, a primal serenade
Of whispers emanates from shadowed regions of the world;
A dusky magic sinks into the earth, and floral bells
Of regal amethyst resplendent in the gloom unfurl,
Enticing from the heart of nightfall’s own celestial glade.

The forest floor is paved with moonlight: streams of spectral white
Converging in the heart of darkness bear a solemn bond
To all who wander aimless and alone throughout this life;
Nocturnal claims you as her own beneath these raven boughs,
Her love will bring you peace amid the purity of night.

Modern Life In The Western World

The mournful lustre of a dying sun
Alights on charcoal silhouettes of bent
And faceless mockeries of man: in one
Amalgam rising from the bleak cement.

The sons and daughters of the city feast
Upon each other, knowing only love
As ceremonious recital pieced
Together in oppressive spires above.

Indoctrinated by legality
Which hears no question as it answers all:
Eschewing virtues of morality
Beyond the summit of a master’s thrall.

Our worth is wrought upon complicity
With ignorance and bloodshed, yielding no
Admission of our own toxicity;
But in the quiet of the night, we know.

Has no one left the will to speak aloud
And rail against the mass insanity;
Is there no better angel still unbowed?
The sun is setting on humanity.

Jade

A kiss before you break my heart: how time
Has worn upon the summit of my dreams;
The fading echoes of seraphic chimes,
And fallen snow adrift in summer streams.
The sun and moon and stars are listless dregs
In spiritless lament of days gone by;
A cold and colourless horizon begs
To reawaken in your emerald eyes.
But if these moments are to be our last,
And I must face the loss of everything,
Before the endless winter comes to pass,
Allow me one idyllic touch of spring;
Thus with an act of love from love depart:
A final kiss before you break my heart.

Haven

Among the cattle,
My naked feet are rooted
In the long, wet grass.

Untitled

A lonesome raindrop
From the clouds into the sea;
All things are falling.

Seclusion

A maelstrom rages at the centre of my being,
And the mausoleums of the vanquished quake;
The reign of chaos sends my better angels fleeing
As forgotten devils in their tombs awake.
Some hellish sorcery avails, the seal is broken:
There is nothing left to stem the dreaded flood;
Whatever I once was, I now retain no token:
Doubtless, all is lost amid the tide of blood.
The Sorrow whispers to the wounded, its seduction
Apt to still the voice of any who decry;
My own relentless soul assents to self-destruction,
And the world hears nothing but a midnight sigh.

My dearest allies fall from favour, some delusion
Preys upon the virtues nature made my own;
A spectral vestige left to wither in seclusion,
I descend into adversity alone.
As pain and beauty pass beyond distinction, whether
By a mind’s emancipation or decline,
No longer may I claim the strength of will to tether
Thrashing horrors none would recognise as mine.
Upon a vacant throne there sits a crown surrendered,
Thus to exile is a broken king resigned;
Bereft of honour, stripped of sovereignty, and rendered
Low: adrift upon the waters of his mind.

Assailed by cherished hopes of old – the now fragmented
Flourishes of bitter memory that ache
As only all-consuming love – a long lamented
Innocence that life has smothered in its wake.
The gossamer conceit of self descends in splinters,
Raining doubt on all I struggle to appear;
I faded with the warm caress of tears in winter,
Even now I hold you on the windswept pier.
And still I see and feel and taste your hallowed essence;
Still I bask in your resplendence as the dawn;
And still I mourn your loving smile in evanescence;
Still I cry for us – both you and I are gone.

Perhaps too perfectly for truth I yet remember
How your jaded eyes outshone a falling star
The night we buried deep our one remaining ember
In that lonesome corner of the reservoir.
Where memory affects the colours of illusion,
There I labour under frail humanity;
But nothing seems more real to me than this collusion
Of an ailing mind with its insanity.
Depression harbours more of me than my reflection,
Wanders freely through the gardens of my soul,
And casts its shadow on my every recollection,
Daily waging war against my self-control.

Repugnant snarls of savagery are echoed loudly
To the farthest reaches of the battlefield,
To call upon the one whose scars are carried proudly
In defiance of the foe that bid him kneel.
The Samurai will meet his own annihilation
With a headlong surge into the hands of fate;
And as The Sorrow seeks to bind him in damnation,
Still he quickens: retribution cannot wait.
And so he charges into battle unencumbered
By dismay, for there is honour in his plight;
Whatever comes to pass, we all shall one day slumber
In the shade of leaves – until that day, we fight.

Alas, we forge our futures in the fire of anguish,
Better knowing who we are in times of peace;
And in such horrid days as these, if we should languish,
This eclipse of all we love shall never cease.
Therefore we take up arms to prove ourselves defiant
When the soundness of our strength is most unsure;
Upon resolve alone is destiny reliant:
Though perdition burns within us, we endure.
Although our lives are given to the whims of madness,
I will not believe we suffer it in vain;
In rising from the depths of such abysmal sadness,
We are stronger for the measure of our pain.

Beautiful Night

Autumnal leaves of sycamore,
Perhaps the pinnacle of nature,
Meekly strewn in perfect disarray
To gild a world of great indifference;
Yearly trampled underfoot,
A marker of the tide.

Dim beneath the royal starlight
Strained through drifting wisps of cloud;
The rain surmounts the fallen leaves,
And solemn city streets uphold
A mirror to the heavens.

All is still, and all is silent,
Save for the interminable ebb
Of a young man growing old;
The royal starlight only serves
To light the long road home.

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