Pasifika Queen Mab is a dichotomy poem. It deals with two different worlds, the world of the quintessential English transposed into the world of the New Zealand bush. In some ways it is a poem about immigration, but not intentionally. It is more about abandonment and loneliness. Although not written as an exercise, such dichotomy poems where two different, perhaps conflicting, ideas are brought together make good workshop practice and stretch the imagination.
The central character, Queen Mab, is a mythical figure. The epigraph is from Mercutio’s speech in Romeo and Juliet Act 1 Scene 4, and is sometimes curtailed from some transcripts. The postscript is from Percy Bysse Shelley’s “Queen Mab” which can be found at http://www.bartleby.com/139/shel111.html. A further reference is Richard Dadd’s great painting “The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke”, held in the Tate Gallery, London and imaged at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Image-Dadd_-_Fairy_Feller%27s.jpg. Mab can be seen as an English fairy, but this does not quite mean a cute flying girl in a fluffy white dress, but more along the rather wild and ambivalent figures often portrayed in European stories such as those told by the Grimm brothers. There are often elements of madness associated with faery, and it is noteworthy that the patricide Dadd painted “The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke” while incarcerated in Bedlam. Mercutio’s state of mind was not at its clearest in his “Queen Mab” speech. Elements of chaos are also present in Dunsany’s “The King of Elfland’s Daughter”
There are references to other works made in the poem. “Attercop” is a dialect word from Yorkshire, but was used by Bilbo Baggins to insult the spiders of Mirkwood in Tolkien’s “The Hobbit”. References to the phosphorescent sea could come from anyone with an experience of planktonic phosphorescence, but is, in fact, based on a passage from Sheldon Vanauken’s “A Severe Mercy”. The moths’ drift to immolation is a lingering memory from Robert Way’s “The Garden of the Beloved”. There are also major elements of the unhappy tension between Lirazal and her love for her homeland, Alveric and her son Orion and the resulting disorder in Lord Dunsany’s ” The King of Elfland’s Daughter” included in the poem. Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott is present in her skiff. The mystical Sybil of Cumae is also added to the mix, who, according to legend, made an unfortunately thoughtless wish for longevity and lived to wither away, until only her voice was left.
These varied references make Pasifika Queen Mab a difficult poem, which often seems to cause confusion. The epigraph and postscript offer clues, but the allusions to niche works require particular knowledge. There are issues in how much this should intrude into understanding the poem, and how much the poem should be able to be a self-contained whole. Hopefully the background knowledge enhances the poem and is not an essential to the narrative. Perhaps because of its central character, Pasifika Queen Mab may be seen as a “childrens’ poem”. It is not intended as such, nor is it suitable as such. Our concept of “fairy” has changed substantially from the more indimidating concept of the supernatural and unseen world of the past.
The structure of Pasifika Queen Mab is designed to enhance the “magic” element of the poem. The verse structure is based around the “lucky number”, 3. It consists of three lines in each stanza, with nine ie: 3×3 stanzas. There is an element of the inverted pyramid, with the nine stanzas being split into a four stanza scene-setting, a three stanza “incantation” and a two stanza conclusion. The stanzas of the introduction scene and conclusion have an aba rhyming structure, but the incantation has an aaa rhyming structure, to emphasise the magical concept of an incantation, as if some charm was being recited to bring Queen Mab into the conscious world. The incantation is distinguished by each line starting with Queen Mab herself, in the word “She”.
Likewise, the language is chosen to reflect a world of half-light, dankness, decay, heavy scents and inhuman life forms. A sense of weariness, loss, loneliness, mistrust, regret and detachment from ancestry is injected into the poem, sometimes directly, sometimes by implication due to the choice of words. A sense of anger or fear is avoided by careful use of language to emphasise the sense of resignation, perhaps depression
Pasifika Queen Mab
“This is the hag, when maids lie on their backs,
That presses them and learns them first to bear,
Making them women of good carriage:”
Romeo and Juliet
Doping nocturnal moths, dry and empty in their brown winged shells,
The densely sweetened perfume of manuka hugs the ground
Insinuating through the dreams of wood-wasp in their paper cells.
As day gives up her irksome work the dark womb meets her need
And sultry through the musky heat the moon rests in her cup
And counts each starry glimmer as her seed.
Phosphorescent seas collapse on broken shingle spits to sing
Of lost atolls, of mattocked rings of brittle rock
And henges built of mushrooms in the close-grazed faery ring.
The husks lie shattered on the moss, the gnats have long since flown,
Attercop spins deadly wheels, there is no cricket wing,
The open rides of lovers’ hopes are long since overgrown.
She does not trust the traveller, the rider on the ridge,
She has no faith in whispered words, the secret tryst or pledge,
She will not stride the open plains or creep along the ledge.
She does not trust the stay-at-home, nor the fly-by-night,
She has no faith in song and dance, the contract or the fight,
She takes no comfort from the wren nor fears the eagle in full flight.
She is the witch of borderland, she is the sage of time,
She is the aged Sybil, midwife of the troubled mind,
She is the orphaned wanderer with no family, hound nor kine.
On a skiff of gilded darkness crafted from a lizards skin
She searches for companionship in dank ditches, rilles and brook ,
She rests, bewildered, longing for her now ancestral kin.
The heavy musk of twilight revisits her again.
In loss she finds acquaintance with the peace she craves
To drift to immolation like moths to candle flame.
“And it is yet permitted me to rend
The veil of mortal frailty, that the spirit,
Clothed in its changeless purity, may know
How soonest to accomplish the great end
For which it hath its being, and may taste
That peace which in the end all life will share.”
Queen Mab – Percy Bysshe Shelley
© Martin Porter 2008
This poem is unpublished, but has been submitted for publication in a proposed collection. Written in 2008, it has been read to the innominate writing group based in Jersey, C.I., and also to an informal group of writers in Whangarei, N.Z.