When I was a younger man, perhaps from the time of my sophomore or junior year at university I wanted to be a poet. (Go ahead and snicker, really, it’s okay.) During this obvious and earnest phase of my life I came across and read Robert Graves’ dense and obscure “White Goddess.” Labeled ‘a grammar of poetry,’ it was nothing of the sort. It’s full of Graves’ ramblings about a pan-European Goddess of poetry and the secret language used by the ancients, medievals and early-moderns to summon her. Don’t get me wrong, some of the historical anecdotes are fascinating, but as a whole? It’s bizarre.
The book, which I still own, sits on that bookshelf we all have filled as it is with other random books that make up a category all their own. Defiant in their solitude. “The White Goddess” is still as canary yellow as the day I purchased it, too.
During one of Graves’ discussions of the ogham script and its relation to pan-Celtic, Druidic poetry (yes, there are a few in the book), he mentions the Welsh mountain Cadair Idris. The Chair of Idris is a wild, glacial-scraped mountain of the Snowdon range that towers over and protects Lyn Mwyngil and Abergynolwyn on one side and dominates the town of Dolgellau on the other. It’s a stupendous rock with an absolutely stupendous (and cold) lake right in the middle of it.
I’ve climbed it several times and it seems each time I’ve learned a new myth or legend about it. Some myths were gleaned while meeting other climbers on the mountain: it’s an odd rock too, one that makes climbers loquacious. Other legends I have heard while having tea in local Welsh B&Bs or ale in the pubs and one loutish legend a crazy transplanted-Kiwi told me and my best friend one summer as we hitch-hiked through Northern Wales.
But only one legend concerns us here, that which Graves recounts about the mountain in his book.
“For it is said,” and I paraphrase, because even though I have the energy to go out and take a photo of the book I have not the strength to open it up and wrestle with the demons from my youth that will inevitably claw their way out of the pages as memories, the spawn of demons, are wont to do, “that he who spends the night atop Cadair Idris will either become a poet, a madman or die that night in his sleep.”
Youth being exquisite in its stupidity and foolhardiness I was just dumb enough and foolish enough once to attempt this feat. And I succeeded.
I didn’t die up there that night, although it was cold enough even in the middle of summer on that barren summit that I shiver now. And I do not write poetry any more, for as Bukowski said (or maybe it was Catullus) “I see there are many poets in the world but not so very much good poetry.” (Even though once upon a time I was good enough to get published.)
So, that leaves only the one option.
Makes complete sense.