Posts Tagged ‘allegory’

A short story inspired by the satirical poem “Smeden og Bageren” by Johan Herman Wessel.



Rendering Life For Life

Once upon a time, there was a traveller who was on his way to the capital. As it happened, he was about to pass through a small village, when on its outskirts, he witnessed a most gruesome sight: A man had been hanged in an old oak tree. The corpse had obviously been left there to hang for some time, and the crows and the buzzards had made a good feast out of it.

Shaken, but also morbidly curious, the traveller continued into the village and soon came past an old man sitting outside his house, smoking his pipe and enjoying the good weather.

“Good day to you, sir,” the traveller greeted him. “Tell me, who is that man hanging in the tree back there?”

“Oh, that’s our former baker, Jamesson,” the old man replied. “Aye, ‘tis a sad story, it is. He was condemned at the Magistrate’s only last week.” He shook his head.

“Must have been a serious crime,” the traveller said. “A murder, perhaps?”

“Exactly, “ the old man said. “You know the story: A bit too much to drink in the pub, a brief argument, and then POW!, a blow to the head an’ there’s another man won’t see the next sunrise. Very sad. And the baker was such a pleasant man, too.”

“Well, he can’t have been all that pleasant if he killed someone,” the traveller objected.

“Oh, no, you misunderstand. It wasn’t the baker what killed him,” the old man said. “That was our smith, Hendricks.”

“What!?” the traveller exclaimed, appalled. “Why did you hang the baker, then, if the smith committed the murder?!”

“Well,” the old man sighed, “you see, here’s the problem: We had to punish somebody for it, of course, but we only had the one smith in the village, and we couldn’t do without him… but fortunately, we had two bakers!”

(Photo by AugustStudios, licensed under the Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 3.0 license)


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It’s very rare that I write poetry, but I got inspired to write this little thing today. I call the style ‘epic vers libre’. Been playing around a bit with the metre – try reading it out aloud to get the best feel for it.



I stand for a moment in the mouth of the cave,
feeling the icy cold air and the faint smell of sulphur
wafting out from the depths of the mountain.
I am deadly afraid, nigh paralysed with fear
yet I cannot turn back, for my love is within.

My love is within; the villagers took her,
they brought her to this place, our friends and our neighbours.
They held me back, they tried to reason:
“The dragon has awoken, we must pay it our dues.
Would you have all of us perish in flames and in darkness?
She is only one person; a small price to pay for another year’s peace.”
Then they hardened their hearts to my cries and my pleadings,
and carried her off to the depths of the mountain,
a cowardly tribute paid in tears and in blood.

So I curséd their names and their ancestors, spat on their doorsteps,
swore eternal ill will between their houses and mine.
Then I made for the mountain, wearing no mail but my steely resolve,
clutching the rust-covered sword that my father brought back from the wars;
‘twas a far cry removed from the knights of the legends,
clad cap a pied in gleaming plate armours,
hefting their swords that glowed with magics arcane.

But here, today, no knights stand ready,
only I, who am no warrior; but my love is within.
Gath’ring my courage, I enter;
step by step, I press forward to the heart of the mountain.
A single sputtering torch my light in the darkness,
the chilly stone walls dirty and damp to my touch,
the air still heavier with the rank smell of sulphur and rust.

I turn a corner and see it, the dragon!
Majestic in might, clad in black scales,
borne on wings of shadow and fire,
An image of power from the dawn of the world,
immortal in nature, destruction incarnate.

It sees me! and stirs from its rest, rising up, I am dwarfed by its size;
It speaks! a thundering voice that echoes with the weight of the aeons:
“A little human, how quaint. You disturb my sanctum; explain yourself, and quickly!”
Heart racing, shaking with fear, I raise my humble weapon in defiance:
“The woman I love was brought to you as an offer, but she’s not yours to keep;
I demand her release!”

Its contemptuous laughter resounds through the cavern:
“Then come, little man, I will show you your love.”
I follow the wyrm through the tunnels and shafts
till at last we emerge, a cathedral-esque cavern.
On the shores of a lake, a thousandfold marbly-white statues assembled,
I recognise one; I hurry ahead.

I kneel at the statue; ‘tis the shape of my love, but what have they done?
No breath in her lungs, her heart beats no more,
her body mere cold and unyielding stone.
But wait! not wholly of stone: A single bright tear runs down from her eye.
Again, the dragon laughs his contemptuous laughter:
“There, little man, is your precious love.
But as you can see, I fear that all she can offer is a chilly embrace.”

Blinded with wrath, I strike out at the dragon,
slashing with fury at impenetrable scales,
I call out to any divine that will listen,
I run,
I dodge,
a bite,
a strike from the tail,
a breath of fiery death!
Panicked, I jump on its back, climb up to the head
hang on to the horns with every ounce of my strength.
A single frantic stab at the eye, my swordspoint connects!
From the wound a shower of dragonblood burning like acid,
hissing and marking the floor where it falls all around me.
The creature rears up, roars in torment then falls to the ground
flailing about in the anguish of death till at last it lies still.

Now I wander the world, seeking answers and powers,
wearing the intricate silver-weaved mail of the Sidhelien,
and wielding a sword that was forged by the Karamhul lords.
Men call me ‘Dragonsbane’, honours and patronage are thrown at my feet,
but I pay them no heed; the resolve in my heart remains steady, unchanged.
I will wander the world until I hold in my hand the cure to the curse;
then will I return to the mountain
for my love waits within.


And as always: Liked or hated it? Or somewhere in between? I really want to know about it, critique and suggestions just as well as any positive comments.

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