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Improbable Tales Poem

Cheryl L. Higgins

The Moor-lands Witch

Each bore a burning branch of beech
In silence towards the moor
and knocked while nodding, each to each
On Widow Liston's door.

As Lady Liston looked alarmed
(And would not let them in),
They called out "Coo, we'll not ye harm
Tho' sinner you have been"

So, looked she long through lowered lash
At men who, wary, stood;
Un-tied her trailing apron sash
And let slip back her hood.

A hot and hearty head of hair
Around her face did fall.
She toyed with tendrils (most unfair)
Then on the moon did call.

"They wish a widow was a witch
And so shall bear that shame.
Let thoughtless thinking to them hitch!
Like sheep! They're all the same!"

No more than musing mention made
Before her oaken door -
She gaped and gasped, for thirty sheep
Were headed 'cross the moor!

November, 1998

Cheryl L. Higgins's questions:

Here is "The Moor-lands Witch", about a woman who surprises herself with her own power. Rather than "grisley", maybe its lighter and a bit fun.

In this poem, I have attempted some alliteration, repeating a pattern in the first and third lines, which can be picked up in the first stanza. My question in order to keep to the pattern, I have used archaic phrasing. Does it all work, and can the story be followed?

Oh, I used the name of "Janet Liston", who was one of those accused of witchcraft in Ireland at the last trial for witches there, in around 1711. She and 4 other Janets, along with three others, not so wittily named, are the subjects of a slow-coming short story I began called "The Pillory of Cerrik-Fergus". Janet Liston was not, in real life, a "Lady", but I needed her to be so, here, so I could alliterate alot.

Interesting poem. I'm partial to the leading lady...she is my namesake! :) Sincerely, Janet Liston
Janet Liston
Canada - Sat Apr 12 16:09:47 2003
I like the way you "twisted" the poem, you changed the whole emotional image with 90 degrees. The beginning belongs to those "wary" travellers in that they are the ones who could harm "somebody" idea suggested by the second stanza. It really doesn't matter what Liston's sins could be, it matters that the word "sinner" emphasises the her pitiful aspect which suddenly changed into a savage beast in the last rwo stanzas. Maybe only the title diminishes a bit the reader's impact in that they expect a "witch" to handle any situation possible. I'm not going to comment on the form of your poem because it is a classical form of a ballad, an alternating quatrain with four iambs in a line. That's why people are not to judge this poem according to the modern items of versification as they cannot be applied to it. Maybe just one idea - try to use this form and write about a present day topic like "Sam, the undertaker manager" or "The Voyage of a Can of Coke ", or whatever topic you have in mind. To Scott. I don't think that the purpose of this poem is to spot out the persecutions of women. There are indeed certain things that coulsd lead you to this conclusion but I say it's far too much to try such an interpretation. Remus
Baia Mare, MM Romania - Thu Jan 17 08:18:41 2002
It has an intriguing beginning that I think everyone gets right away, namely, what is the Widow Liston's sin exactly? If there is any victim, maybe he or she can reply poetically someday too in your poetry. To end on a humorous note that even she is surprised she (or whatever) turned them to sheep is the kind of surprise ending I like. The rhyme and meter is very good. I do not mind the convoluted language because it is consistent with the archaic or even obsolete (to some) ballad form of poetry. Keep up the good work!
Janine Kwasnik
USA - Wed Oct 10 18:49:19 2001
Thank you, all, for your comments on this. They are well thought out, and I have put them in my notes to use when re-working this. Scott, Bill, and Greg, this is great. Thanks again.
Cheryl Higgins
USA - Fri May 28 07:37:41 1999
These are only suggestions, this is how I would write the poem, and my expounding on it means in no way that I'm rewriting the poem, but where the changes are, would be my critiques. I would like to see all of the verbs be present or past tense.

Witches bearing burning branches of beech
In silence along the moor
knocking and nodding, each to each
On Widow Liston's door

Lady Liston looking alarmed
not letting them in,
and they calling to her, "Coo, we'll not ye harm
Tho' sinner you have been."

Looking,longing,lowering lash,
At men warily standing,
Untying a trailing apron sash,
slipping back her hood.

Hot and hearty head of hair,
around her face falling
toying with tendrils, most unfair
to the moom calling.

"They wish a widow to be a witch,
to bear the shame.
Let Thoughtless thinking to them hitch.
Like sheep. They all the same.

No more than musing mention making
Before the oaken door-
gaping and gasping, for thirty sheep
heading across the moor.

greg anderson
Oshkosh, wi USA - Sat Dec 19 18:42:36 1998
loved the poem, but in the second stanza after sinner "you" should be "ye" to be consistent. Bill
Bill Killen
USA - Wed Nov 25 15:11:52 1998

Thanks for sending this one. Though the story doesn't seem to derive from a tabloid tale, it is a timely one, in light of the present-day persecutions of women. The trick in a ballad, of course, is not to make your phrasing sound awkward. You've done well with the ballad form here, and I think the story is understandable.

I'm a little troubled with "Let thoughtless thinking to them hitch." The word "Let" seems to allow the persecutors their thought. Also, though the moon resonates here with Widow Liston's fate, the line in which you use the image of the moon might be tied in better by using a colon instead of a period at the end of that line, so it appears that the following stanza is to be understood as the words she speaks to the moon.
Scott Reid
USA - Sat Nov 21 18:30:17 1998