‘The Witch’

By Bernie Bell

I read this poem by C.S. Lewis, and thought of the Orkney Witches…..

‘The Witch’

Trapped amid the woods with guile

They’ve led her bound in fetters vile

To death, a deadlier sorceress

Than any born for earth’s distress

Since first the winner of the fleece

Bore home the Colchian witch to Greece-

Seven months with snare and gin

They’ve sought the maid o’erwise within

The forest’s labyrinthine shade.

The lonely woodman half afraid

Far off her ragged form has seen

Sauntering down the alleys green,

Or crouched in godless prayer alone

At eve before a Druid stone.

But now the bitter chase is won,

The quarry’s caught, her magic’s done,

The bishop’s brought her strongest spell

To naught with candle, book, and bell;

With holy water splashed upon her,

She goes to burning and dishonour

Too deeply damned to feel her shame,

For, though beneath her hair of flame

Her thoughtful head be lowly bowed

It droops for meditation proud

Impenitent, and pondering yet

Things no memory can forget,

Starry wonders she has seen

Brooding in the wildwood green

With holiness.  For who can say

In what strange crew she loved to play,

What demons or what gods of old

Deep mysteries unto her have told

At dead of night in worship bent

At ruined shrines magnificent,

Or how the quivering will she sent

Alone into the great alone

Where all is loved and all is known,

Who now lifts up her maiden eyes

And looks around with soft surprise

Upon the noisy, crowded square,

The city oafs that nod and stare,

The bishop’s court that gathers there,

The faggots and the blackened stake

Where sinners die for justice’ sake?

Now she is set upon the pile,

The mob grows still a little while,

Till lo! Before the eager folk

Up curls a thin, blue line of smoke.

‘Alas!’ the full-fed burghers cry,

‘That evil loveliness must die!’

C.S. Lewis

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