Duendes' Mead [Poem]

By A.D. Russell

Nightfall on the Seashore.

When the sun has sunk to rest,
Somewhere — who knows? — in the west
O'er yon fairy dome that marks the crest
Of the towering Spanish Main;
And skies erewhile in crimson drest
Doff their mantle, and in plain
Hodden-grey are clad again;
When the darkness 'gins to thicken,
(Ah, that hour of doom,
Then it is sweet babes do sicken,
By curst necromancers stricken,
To their early tomb).
And lifeless things beseem to quicken
'Mid the growing gloom;
See, along the shelving strand,
Over shingle, over sand,
Over cruel rocks, unmeet
For little toddling feet.
One by one, or hand in hand
Tiny figures steal along
In a shadowy band.
Without father, without mother,
Without God to bless,
Close they cling to one another
In their helplessness.

p. 58


A Melancholy Doom.

Forbid to grow,
In their bosoms
Leap and glow
Heats and passions such as men know.

As our failings,
So are theirs:
Idle wailings,
Brief despairs.
Mimic mortals' shallow cares.

Nay, our sorrow
Cannot match
Theirs: no morrow
E'er shall snatch
Light from the Daystar to brighten their watch;

Watch never-ending,
Instinctive, yet vain;
From woe beyond mending
A solace to gain —
The daydream called living to dream once again.

None now may sain them:
The priest and his book
Are powerless to gain them
In heaven a nook;
What the Dove hath not blessed must belong to
the Rook.

Formed in His fashion
Who died on the tree.
Even God's passion
Cannot set free
One of these little ones such as they be.

p. 59

Such as dead ages,
In lust and in crime,
Have writ in the pages
Of pitiless time,
Such, such are these creatures formed
out of earth's slime.

Formed of earth's slime.
And set forth on life's path,
Brief was the time
Of your sinning; yet hath
The sentence gone forth that condemned
you to wrath.

Duendes' Song.

"Come away, brother! Come and see
How the mist is yellow over the moon,
And the long, long roll coming in from the sea
Has set the Bell-buoy playing his tune.
Ding-dong! Ding-dong! 'Twere sweet to be
A Bell-buoy swinging out on the sea;
Others are merry — but never we.

"Look, look, sister! There, far away,
The waves are gathering more and more;
Soon the reef will be hid with spray,
And the waters flow free from shore to shore.
'Twill be merry so, for the waters, to flow
Now in at the Boca, now out to sea;
They may make merry — but never we.

p. 60

Brother, sister, listen well;
We feel no breeze, but the air is humming;
The mist is torn, and the waters swell —
Alack, alack, the rain is coming.
By the long grey shore of the angry sea,
Homeless, comfortless go we."

Chacachacare : Its Changing Aspects.


On Chacachacare, when the nights are starry,
The north wind plays a tune
O'er the gap in the middle, like the bow on a fiddle.
And it runs in an endless rune.
Ever and ever and ever the same,
Yet ever the lilt is new;
'Tis the song of the deep, and the winds that sweep
O'er its leagues of changing blue,
Where the Witch of the Sea alone sits she,
And her magic cauldrons brew;
And the meteors stream like the steely gleam
Of her locks blown loose on the breeze;
And bright as day is the silvery bay
That laughs to the outer seas.
Fair, fair as by day the wavelets play,
And flash in the charmed night;
And over each wave, come they never so oft,
An elfan rainbow gleams aloft,
All made of the moonbeam's light.
But it is not so when the Duendes come;
The stars are gone, the winds are dumb ;
The moon on the horizon's rim,
Through a watery haze looks dwarfed and dim.
Now, m the hush of the witching hour.
The waters are silent, the headlands lower;
And rocks and shadows and woods conspire
In dim funereal attire,
And leaden hue
To mantle o'er the cheerful view.

p. 61

Duendes' Ball


"Brothers, sisters, heed the call,
At your liking, at your leisure:
Dance, dance in the Duendes' ball;
Without music, without measure;
Foot it bravely, little ones all.
Let us make belief of pleasure.

"At your liking, at your choosing,
Come who will, stay who would stay ;
Nor complying, nor refusing
Matters, let who will obey.
Laughing's weeping, winning's losing.
In our mockery of play.

"In our play, as in our dances,
All is empty, all is show:
Void of change, secure from chances,
Ever driven to and fro;
Naught decreases, naught enhances
Our share assured of weal or woe.

"Ah, our weal is grief unending,
Life-in-death, a lengthened trance;
There alone is no pretending —
Frisk it, Duendes, frisk and prance ;
Bigones litde ones befriending,
Cheerly come, and join the dance."

p. 60

Why They are Doomed.


Child "Oh, mother, what may Duendes be?
And were they little ones once like we? "'

Mother "Angels and blest Saints be near
Hush, hush, my child, who knows who
hear us?"

Child "Were they born of real mothers?''

Mother "Heaven sain the child! Ay, of
what others?"

Child "Cradled and kissed, and wrapped
and tended,
From every thought of harm defended?
Oh, did their mothers love them true,
And they love them, as I love you?"

Mother (aside) "What folly is in it?— Darling, yes;
It must have been so, more or less.
A mother must love, who-so she be,
How vile so-e'er,
The little child that climbs her knee
And claims her care.
It is but the sign of the blessed cross
In its last hour,
To save it from eternal loss
And the Devil's power.
But the Devil, oh he walks cunningly,
With aspect mild,
Along the shore of the treacherous sea,
Or in the wild
Where ravine lurks in cave and tree),
To snare the child.
Too late the mother, in despair,
Besieges heaven with plaint and prayer —
Too late, too late!
Her child is gone to the demons' lair
In the hands of hate."

p. 63

Child "Now shame, now shame, mother
so dear,
The little child was not to blame!"

Mother "Nay, but the mother was, my
And that is nigh the same.
'Tis God Himself has set a shore,
Where they are bid to dwell;
And he who would the gulf bridge o'er
In danger is of hell.
Alack and well-a-day.
If one should cross your way!
Say, say your prayers in haste and dread,
And make God's blessed sign ;
Or ere the morrow you'll be dead.
And your soul will be in tyne."

Satan in Watch.


The Angelus had toned its chime,
The cottage lights been lit a time,
And dew lay thick on the grass like rime.

The wind was still, the sea scarce heard
Far out on the shore; not a thicket stirred
Till the silence broke in the note of a bird.

Loud it came in the hush of night,
Strident and strange — a sound that might
Affray, but was not a cry of affright.

A thrill it sent through the ceibas tall,
Where they stretched their boughs like a leafy pall,
It seemed — it seemed like a signal call.

Why should signal call be made?
Something comes through the tangled glade,
But 'tis only the form of a tiny maid.

A thing of joy, a heavenly sprite,
That threads the gloom by some inner light.
What does she here in the lonesome night ?

p. 64

San Juan's Shrine.


She has been to the stream by the ruined tower,
Whose waters, flung in a crystal shower,
To banish ill have a heavenly power.

The old-time builder, void of guile,
Has been laid in his grave a goodly while,
But his angel haunts the mouldering pile.

And the folk from the neighbouring villagery
Will kneel and pray as they pass that way.
To good San Juan of Santa Fe.

The little maid her prayers has said,
In the lonely church withouten dread;
She prayed for the living, she prayed for the dead.

For the suffering souls in Purgatory,
That quickly cleansed they might be,
And from the winnowing flame set free.

And ever she pleaded, o'er and o'er,
Till her eyes grew dim, and her knees were sore,
For the little souls on Limbo's shore;

That they might be spared the grief and pain,
Outcasts forever to remain,
And be taken in heaven's grace again.


Maiden's Prayer.


"Father," she prayed, "Thy will be done,
But let my soul be pledge for one,
For Jesus sake, Thy only Son.

"He was a sinless child on earth,
Perfect and pure from His holy birth,
Yet others too He deemed of worth.

"For when His followers forbade.
He called to the little ones and said,
'It was of such that heaven was made.'

Awhile to save one from its doom,
In that rueful realm, that land of gloom,
Lord, let me suffer in its room.

''A little while to feel the bliss
Of a father's arms, a mother's kiss,
Ah, grant it only, only this !"

Who Overheard.


(An angel listened,
A tear glistened,
On flashing wing;
It sprang to heaven as rainbows spring.

"A miracle
Grant, of Thy might;
Her prayer fulfil
This very night;
Let a child of woe be a child of light !"

p. 66

But the Devil, too,
Her prayer had heard ;
He mocked and flew
As an evil bird
That scents a prey when the night is stirred.)

On the Way Home.


Now, the pathway homeward wending,
To left, to right, uncertain bending.
Her prayer still ran on without ending.

Stay, what is there in the narrow track?
A helpless babe — look, look, alack,
Its limbs are maimed, its feet bent back !

Its look is raised to the heedless sky;
Its face is woe, but it makes no cry;
A tear is standing in either eye.

Its garment floats like a tattered doud
That is swept from view when the winds are loud;
Oh! God, it looks like an infant's shroud !

p. 67

A Comparison.


Child and child. Alike? Ah, no;
One pure, through Christ, as the driven snow;
And one condemned, a waif of woe.

One fresh from font and hallowed cell,
With saints and angels fit to dwell;
The other, a denizen of hell.

Oh, fate severe ! Oh, woeful place,
For demons e'en ! And see, that face
Were fitter for a child of grace.

Eternal woe ! What grief was there
In its great eyes and piteous air —
Infinite, infinite despair !

A look ne'er seen 'neath earthly skies,
Where the gleam of the glow-worm never dies —
The glow-worm hope that shines in men's eyes.

What a Babe Dare Do.


A little child is wiser far
Than learned theologians are;
They puzzle o'er the things to do ;
It knows the thing;, and does it too.
A little child can be more brave
Than those who greatest powers have;
And heaven oft in joy has smiled
On the foolishness of a holy child.

The little maid no tarry made,
No time took she to be afraid ;
Heedless of dangers and of harms.
She clasped the Duende in her arms.

p. 68

Passing Away.


"Baby dear, I love you so !
Listen how the waters flow;
As they still and stiller play,
So my life too ebbs away.
When 'tis ended, you and I
Swift to heaven then shall fly.

"Baby dear, when I am dead . . .
There's a halo round your head !
Can you feel it ? — Nay, 'tis true,
Christ Himself had given it you.
He has washed away your sin,
And holy Saint Peter will let us in.

"Baby, the tide is nearly out,
The wash at the bar has turned about.
My soul says yes, my body no;
Is it my sins won't let me go?
Ah, all my sins on Christ I cast . . .
Now my soul will go at last.

"Baby, baby, let me cling !
I am but a little thing.
Darling, you've been dead before,
Guide my steps the threshold o'er;
The spirit world is strange and new,
Baby, for me, more than for you.

"Hark the rushing sound ! They come,
Angels to bear us quickly home.
Look, look, afar in the crystal skies—
'Tis all alight with children's eyes.
By the jasper stream and the golden stair,
What happy faces wait us there.

p. 69

"Ah, surly this must be a land,
Fashioned for babes by Jesus' hand;
As He promised long ago,
When He blessed them down on earth below.
See, He looks smiling from above
On children's play in this land of love."

Her Memory.


There is a spot by Tinta's shore,
It stands for all the world to see;
The humming-bird oft poises o'er,
And flow'rets tempt the honey bee;
The lilac scents the tranquil air,
The cassia casts its shower of gold;
The plenteous foison of God's care,
Bourgeons in splendours manifold —
All that Dame Nature's lap can hold.

All that Dame Nature's lap can hold,
Of sweets and virtues here combine;
O'er cedar fair and camphor old
Pours in cascade the flow'ring vine.
The murmur of the laughing wave
Runs endless on, like childhood's song;
The stealing deer, with aspect grave,
Comes here to gaze, and tarries long.
As if this spot could know no wrong.

As if this spot could know no wrong,
To beast, or insect, bird or flower,
No ravening tribe brine feud among
The habitants of such a bower:
So formed for joy, so fashioned fair,
The cynosure of all around,
No eye may grieve, no sorrow wear
Its antic cloak with cypress bound.
But memory whispers: "Holy ground."

p. 70

Memory whispers : "Holy ground,"
And points with loving care the spot
Where once a little maid was found,
Her chosen name: "Forget-me-not."
Ay, ne'er forgotten shall she be,
While grudging time on his dusty roll
Of dull things that have ceased to be,
Still guards the simple cross and scroll:
"A little babe that saved a soul."


Scribbler adopted the Spanish form of the word
"Duende." The vocal e at the end evidently suited his lines;
also the French patois form looks so appalling when spelt,
"douennde." Ghosts of unchristened children is of course
the meaning. "Duendes' Mead" (so named by Scribbler
and the Child on the ground of some fancied resemblance
to "fairy rings" at home), an insignificant depression ad-
joining La Tinta, Chacachacare, in no way justifies Scribbler's
description ; while the story, in my belief, is an absolute

"Fairy dome that marks the crest." There is a dome —
rather leaning to one side — in the sky-line of the Mountains
of Paria, which form such a romantic background to the
Bocas. (See Legend VIII).

"Chacachacare." Dog-island this is supposed to mean.
The isthmus of La Tinta dividing it, "the gap in the middle"
is a striking feature, being little above sea-level; while the
portion on which the Roman Catholic Church stands is high,
and on the east the island rises suddenly to an extraordinary
altitude, with a light-house on the top, 800 feet above sea-level.

"Feet bent back." Twisted round it should rather be.
You can always tell a duende by this peculiarity. Avoid it
when possible, but if it actually bars your way, walk back upon
, turning your head left and right on your shoulders. In this
way its feelings will be hurt, probably through a suggested
resemblance to its malformation, and it will vanish.

"San Juan of Santa Fe." We have been unable to identify
this saint.

p. 71

"Chosen name." Creoles indulge in many names. A most
unattractive elderly black lady once explained to me that her
pet name was such and such, her motto name something else,
and — really I forget the rest.

"Cross and scroll." There is nothing; of the sort at
Duendes' Mead. This is another of Scribbler's crams.

"Limbo," i.e., limbus infantium of the theologians. Scrib-
bler, who was always in a hurry, set to work on the basis of
local superstition. Had he troubled to consult the Catholic
Encyclopedia, for example, his views might have been
considerably modified. He writes from a mediaeval point of
view, so is entitled to claim the authority of St. Augustine
and the African Fathers, who held that unbaptized mfants
share in the positive misery of the damned, though in the
mildest way, so that their existence is worth something to
them, though query, how much? But it is right to state that
many centuries ago. Pope Innocent III rejected that view,
and was followed by St. Thomas Aquinas, "the Angelic
Doctor," who declared that the infants' limbo is a place of
positive happiness, in which the soul is united to God by a
knowledge of Him proportionate to nature's capacity. Savon-
arola held that these infants' souls will be united to glorious
bodies at the Resurrection, and that the renovated earth, of
which St. Peter speaks (II Pet. iii, 13), will be their happy
dwelling place for eternity. Protestants, especially Calvinists,
have generally followed the harsher Augustinian view, which
was also maintained by Catholic theologians such as Bellarmine
and Bossuet; but the prevailing view among modern
Catholics is that limb. inf. is a place or state of perfect natural
happiness. (Cath. Enc. s.v. "Limbo.")

"Glow-worm hope." Too reminiscent of Poe. I pointed
it out to Scribbler. His only answer was a pun: "Well,
but if it is a propos? " And the Child laughed, as though
he had said something clever.

p. 72

SOURCE: Legends of the Bocas, Trinidad. By A.D. Russell, London: Cecil Palmer, 1922. pp. 58-72
"Patria est communis omnium parens" - Our native land is the common parent of us all. Keep it beautiful, make it even more so.

Blessed is all of creation
Blessed be my beautiful people
Blessed be the day of our awakening
Blessed is my country
Blessed are her patient hills.

Mweh ka allay!