Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper

The Dark is Rising

When the Dark comes rising, six shall turn it back;
Three from the circle, three from the track;
Wood, bronze, iron; water, fire, stone;
Five will return, and one go alone.

Iron for the birthday, bronze carried long;
Wood from the burning, stone out of song;
Fire in the candle-ring, water from the thaw;
Six Signs the circle, and the grail gone before.

Fire on the mountain shall find the harp of gold
Played to wake the Sleepers, oldest of the old;
Power from the green witch, lost beneath the sea;
All shall find the light at last, silver on the tree.

Grail Poem

On the day of the dead, when the year too dies,
Must the youngest open the oldest hills
Through the door of the birds, where the breeze breaks.
There fire shall fly from the raven boy,
And the silver eyes that see the wind,
And the light shall have the harp of gold.

By the pleasant lake the Sleepers lie,
On Cadfan’s Way where the kestrels call;
Though grim from the Grey King shadows fall,
Yet singing the golden harp shall guide
To break their sleep and bid them ride.

When light from the lost land shall return,
Six Sleepers shall ride, six Signs shall burn,
And where the midsummer tree grows tall
By Pendragon’s sword the Dark shall fall.

Y maent yr mynyddoedd yn canu,
ac y mae’r arglwyddes yn dod.
(The mountains are singing, and the Lady comes.)
--Susan Cooper

These poems are from the Dark is Rising Series by Susan Cooper. They're prophecies that guide the Will, Merriman, Bran and the Drews on their quests to defeat the Dark. I was told once that Susan Cooper found these very old poems somewhere, and wrote her books to fit them. I'm rather skeptical about this, though I find the idea romantic. If anybody knows one way or another, you should let me know. I memorized these poems while walking home from school after Track practice in High School. Doug and I had a goal of one day making a full set of Signs. I think he made a pretty good sign of Iron on the forge out back, and a sign of wood was roughed out at one point, but I'd really like to see it done well. That reminds me -- They're making a movie of these books, and they're sure to have nice ones there!

I really like books that have poems as part of they storyline -- as you'll see if you read more of my posts. They're the book world's version of Broadway Musicals. A good poem can really push the storyline forward, and make the book more memorable. Also, poems and songs are part of my everyday life, so it stands to reason that I would relate well to stories that include them as part of the characters lives.

Some notable authors who use poetry well:

  • Lewis Carroll - King of nonsense poetry and parody, I especially liked reading The Annotated Alice for showing me the originals poems he was making fun of.

  • Anne McCaffrey - I like the way the poems are generally quoted only in the epigraph part of each chapter where they don't stop the action of the book. The characters and narrator then refer to by name, or by quoting a couple of lines. This is they way things happen in real life with poems that are in the collective consciousness.

  • JRR Tolkien - OK so the poems do occasionally stop the action in his books, especially when they're long, but you can skip them if you want. The thing about Tolkien is that he had such an ear for language that his poems - even the ones in made up languages - are a pleasure to read aloud.

  • Robert Heinlein - One summer I read a lot of Tolkien and Heinlein, and it inspired me to write poetry and melancholy Sci-fi/fantasy.

  • Brian Jacques - In his early books, the puzzle poems and happy feasting songs were a real delight. I'm sad that his later books and poems are so formulaic now.

  • Roald Dahl - His poems, like his stories are wickedly funny. Of particular note are the Oompa Loompa songs from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He also wrote a fun one about Red Riding Hood.

You'll be seeing more of these authors as we go on...I just thought I'd mention them here.


  1. Hey, I know somebody who could say those Welsh lines for you! ;)

  2. I really like your comparison of poetry in books with Broadway musicals.