The composer Brigitte Doss-Johnson has used the text from my poem The Rise (from the collection Mouth Quill—Poems with Ancestral Roots) to create an cappella choral composition. The old runic song that was an inspiration for the poem is masterfully woven into an SATB setting. Fragments of the old runic song, Uni Tule Lapse Silma Peale (Sleep, Come on the Child’s Eye), survived as early memories of my mother’s lullaby singing, which she would have learned from her own mother, born on the coast of Estonia in the 19th century. The Rise, along with the song Midsummer (from the poem Midsummer Birches) will be performed by a virtual choir.
An exciting new creative project has grown from from my collection Mouthquill—Poems with Ancestral Roots. Brigitte Doss-Johnson, composer and choral conductor, has set two poems to music. The compositions will be performed by a virtual choir.
I am honored that Mouth Quill, the title poem from my chapbook, Mouth Quill—Poems with Ancestral Roots, has been nominated by The Poetry Box for a Pushcart Prize, an American literary prize.
The Poetry Box, publisher of my book, will host its monthly live Zoom Poetry Reading on Saturday, October 10, 2020, 4 PM Pacific, 7 PM Eastern. I look forward to joining readings of two other poets, Christopher Bogart and Joan Colby (read by Wendy Colby).
Please join me to hear Ancestral Journey—Beneath Ice Sheets, Old Tunes on Spruce, Seabrook Farms (1949), The Songstress and more.
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 933 9288 2128
The Wedding of Salme*
By Kaja Weeks
* Adapted from Tähemõrsja (Starbride), an ancient Estonian runic song/verse
and composed in memory of my mother, Salme M.
On a field moist with morning fog,
by a craggy shepherd’s path it lay.
A little hen’s egg, left alone,
no nest, poor thing, just dew.
Walking there a widow spied it,
lifted it gently, clutched it closely
into her apron pocket she tucked
the tiny treasure, a chilly shell.
Then the egg she did warm,
three months, another and then a day.
The foundling was born, a child emerged,
a girl so sweet and full of grace.
Salme blossomed, into beauty
she grew. A maiden chaste who
many courted, wooed with gifts
and begged her to wed.
Not to the Sun with fifty horses,
Nor to the waxing-then-waning moon,
but to a celestial suitor, steady and bright,
son of the North Star, she did consent.
“Wed, Maid Salme, with Starry Youth,”
I did whisper, hidden in time.
“So airy and light and silver-voiced,
your daughter fine I can be.”
The tall wise oaks and dashing alders,
their trailing catkins, roots and branches,
all to your wedding who come, then
my uncles and aunties – my kin shall be.
So Salme, in silk, and Star, a-shimmering,
the Cross-Cane danced upon the green,
Thus betrothed, the chariot alit,
they ascended to dwell in the sky.
Now fearless and free, I may dance
across earth or foaming sea.
Mother, your shield casts from above,
so constant, so bright, ever on me.
Copyright © 2015 by Kaja Weeks
The Wedding of Salme was first published by Fickle Muses: Journal of Mythic Poetry and Fiction
About the Poem …
The Wedding of Salme is derived from one of the most ancient surviving Estonian myths, Starbride (Tähemõrsja) and recreated with my personal twist of longing by entering the imagined space –“I did whisper, hidden in time.” A characteristic of my writing often is that the past, even very distant past, fluidly interlaces the present or future.
There are many versions of this beautiful myth to be found in Estonian sources. While they all tell the same basic story, the verse expressions of the runic verses (regilaul) show rich regional variety and it was a thrill to research beyond my own basic knowledge when I began creating an interpretation in my own words. I loved knowing how ancient the origins were — over a thousand years or more — reciting the beautiful sounds aloud, and cherishing the early oral preservation that spoke of people’s hopes, wishes, and understanding of their world.
Estonian runic verses are highly stylized in meter and other literary qualities. Although it wasn’t possible to re-create all of that, I wanted to pay homage to some of the rhetorical characteristics, such as alliteration (the same sound at the beginning of words, e.g. “So Salme in silk and Star a-shimmering”); assonance (repeated vowel sounds, e.g. “moist with morning fog”); and parallelism (repeating ideas in a symmetrical way, e.g. “the tiny treasure, a chilly shell.”) all framed within a rhythmic, prosodic style.