Wood nymphs are traditionally minor female deities, divine spirits who animate nature.They are often depicted as young, nubile maidens who dance, sing, and, in some legends, play with men (or women’s) feelings. “They are known for their “beauty, passion and caprice…
Nymphs tended to frequent areas distant from humans but could be encountered by lone travelers outside the village, where their music might be heard, and the traveler could spy on their dancing…in the middle of the night. Such encounters could be dangerous, bringing dumbness, besotted infatuation, madness or stroke to the unfortunate human.”
The Wood-nymphs are companions and attendants of the moon goddess Artemis.
In the poem to follow, I have imagined a variation of the above scenario, with a twist, probably deriving from the fact that I was born in the 20th century and am a feminist. Here, the Wood Nymph’s perception of her own situation lies at the heart of the drama, rather than the young men she deceives.
LAMENT OF THE WOOD NYMPH This autumn day is beautiful, so am I, they say. The trees give way before me, blushing bright colours as I pass by. Thus, I bring Autumn in my train to this wood, sing a siren's song, steal men's hearts and, beware, never give them back again. Like all beauty I am dangerous. Victims come upon me by mishap, they say, against their will to this livid wood. This abominably beauteous wood. Why does my heart yearn so, filled with longings no lover can cure because of a drama legends ago? Why does my heart beat its own requiem, the young men gone, whilst i go on forever? Why do I feel so alone? There are tales of me, the haunted they call me. Young men come to my call, they say, they cannot turn away, in autumn's evening they hear me singing, my song is like light of the moon upon the wood, the snow owl splaying his wings in silence upon his prey, on silver ponds, on fronds of summer's memory, Artemis, the huntress, looks on helpless. Poor young fellows follow their virgin ears by windsong, they espy my emerald eyes filled with their own longing, and forget why they came looking for me, the haunted wood- nymph, under the frowning purple sky. The heather beckons them make love to me, nor do I refuse them this delight, the curse, they say, is upon them, for grieving, they all die. As they embrace me, my eyes impale theirs, they cannot battle their dreams or desires, they take me upon the wood's moss-lined floor, wolves howl at the moon, blood-red foxes stir. All the world sleeps in their dreams, they forget all the warnings, follow the deceiving movement of my dancing limbs, forget they will grow old, no warm heart or hearth against the cold. What no one knows or dares imagine is that it is I who am cursed, cursed! My story is one of doom. For I awoke here in this wood, this horrid wicked wood, where only the white deer were kind. The other world burst upon me in its fir tree gleesome green, tore all memory of my girlhood from me bathed me in sleepless waters, made me human. Alas, it was not for me their labours, but for lies. The powers-that-be glimpsed me with my own true love in love's travail under the winsome winking stars. No god, but a fair-haired, handsome human, love's loveliest. I, a mere nymph, in love's thrall? They would not have it. Elves and trolls surrounded us, croaking black ditties which we hardly heard, our whispers, our sighs running down our hearts' wide corridors, down our dancing thighs. And so it is they killed my love, stomped out our fire's light. Imprisoned me here in this horrid wood, turned all love to blight. Why does my heart yearn so, filled with longings no lover can cure because of a drama legends ago? Why does my heart beat its own requiem, the young men gone, whilst i go on forever? Why do I feel so alone?
© Marya Berry 2013