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‘Epithalamium in Twenty Six Creatures’

The air holds highways, paths; perches
firm as knowledge. Like nouns are held by verbs:
windhover, hawk. The doing is the thing.

A slink, a splash, a slick gleam of dark:
splitting the river’s glass together,
wearing the water’s name.

Dog mother, dog father,
chasing sun over the blue-blind snow,
loping home to winter.

Small king, small queen, with crowns of bone,
grazing the shallow grasslands of the sea.
Equine commas in carved armour.

We learn the pattern of ourselves in dance:
lock our shoulders, ride the sky’s warm slopes
and shape it with the language of our bond.

Yellow-belly small-ears: a scurry of burrows
under roof of earth, of grass, of sky.
Overhead the wide plains call like thunder.

Anguilla, lupus, deep in sheep or grandmother,
on rocky reefs and stony shelves, in crevices
of disguise, they hide entwined in fairy tale.

A crouch of feathers launching to broad sky:
splayed wingtips raking wind – talons locked – each
trusting each to make release before the soaring ground.

We are a palimpsest of transformations:
our gaze reflects us in an imaged heart.
At the final creeping dark, we sing.

After the long night, the morning cries:
reaching with slow arms through the rainforest,
parting the trees, shaking the watery dawn.

Bird-fish dives and slides, fish-bird hops:
the high vast air abandoned for the family
of deep wide water, solid earth, and ice.

Bluetongue lizards basking in the legends.
Bobtail, bogeye, sleepy, pinecone:
replete with mutual identity.

The world holds roots and perches firm as promise.
It’s the way that verbs are held by nouns:
marriage, wedding, spouse.
The doing and the being: they’re the thing.


31 Jul 2015 10-57-12




Sally Douglas is a Devon-based poet. Her first collection Candling the Eggs is published by Cinnamon Press. She blogs at and tweets as @SallyDPoet.

“One of the assignments on Steve Ely’s online course ‘Liberating Poetic Chaos’, was to write an epithalamium: a marriage poem. For my daughter’s wedding  I had written some riddles about animals that mate for life, and I thought I might try to bring that research into this assignment and create a poetic manifesto about marital commitment.

The seed for the idea behind the poem comes from linguistics: Speech Act Theory’s ‘performative utterances’. These are sentences in which the verbs, rather than simply describing, perform an action by virtue of being said: a typical example being ‘I do’ in the traditional marriage service. However, in this poem, I wanted to further examine the linguistic and physical relationship between what one does and what one is, and these creatures, in their non-verbal lives, were a way for me to explore this.

I decided to delay naming the creatures, and thus keep something of the feel of the original riddles, for two reasons. Firstly, I live near Exeter, the original home of the C10th Exeter Book. The Exeter Book is, in effect, an anthology of Anglo-Saxon poetry, including over ninety riddles. I liked the idea of paying a small homage to the text, particularly as one of the Exeter Riddles is about a swan. In addition, I wanted the reader to have to make some effort in reading the poem: a kind of tongue-in-cheek metaphorical enactment of marriage itself, in that to make it work, you have to do some work towards it!”

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