‘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.
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.