Songs for Ophelia, by Theodora Goss

Songs for Ophelia, by Theodora Goss.  The cover art is 'Moorland Melodies' by Virgina Lee.
Songs for Ophelia, by Theodora Goss. The cover art is ‘Moorland Melodies’ by Virgina Lee.

Quite some time ago now I was fortunate enough to be given an advance copy of the new poetry collection by talented writer and poet Theodora Goss, which I held off on reviewing for some time, predominantly because, on reading the first ten pages, I was struck by how this is a book to hold in the hands, to read slowly, meditatively, savouring each line of each poem. Recently I finally got myself a copy, and the wait to read it properly has been worth it! I find it difficult to read poems on the screen, much preferring the printed word where possible, so it was with some delight that I unwrapped my copy of ‘Songs for Ophelia’ and, making myself a cup of my favourite tea (Friar’s Potion, a delectable mixture of fruits and black tea) and settling in with a blanket on a stormy, rainy afternoon, I looked at the book properly for the first time.

The first thing that strikes me about this book is the cover art, named ‘Moorland Melodies’, by Virginia Lee – I’ve rather loved Virgina Lee’s work for a while now, and the beautiful painting used for the cover art fits the style of the poetry perfectly. The book, published by Papaveria Press, is organised in seasonal chapters, which fits the nature of the poems perfectly. Sinking slowly into the book is a delight, with the foreword by Catherynne M Valente, herself a talented writer, being a beautiful introduction to the rest of the book. She warns that the poems within are otherwordly, melancholy, ethereal, beautiful. They will sweep you away into another world, a different time of dancing trees, enchanted nights filled with ghosts and sorrow, forgotten dreams and stories told a thousand times, and yet never heard before.

Delving into the book, I am immediately struck by Goss’s mastery of language, how each poem has an underlying rhythm. If you slow down and read them to yourself, there is a cadence like that of a rippling stream to some of them. Others sound like a slow thunderstorm over twilight hills. Even more sound like the quiet motion of falling leaves on an autumn morning.

Beauty to the Beast
by Theodora Goss

When I dare walk in fields, barefoot and tender,
trace thorns with my finger, swallow amber,
crawl into the badger’s chamber, comb
lightning’s loose hair in a crashing storm,
walk in a wolf’s eye, lie
naked on granite, ignore the curse
on the castle door, drive a tooth into the boar’s hide,
ride adders, tangle the horned horse,
when I dare watch the east
with unprotected eyes, then I dare love you, Beast.

The subject matters range widely, from love to loss, to goblins and gambolings, life and death, ghosts and hauntings, revisiting old folk and faery tales along the way. Arthurian legends, Greek myths and the sorrow that walks in their heroes’ footsteps. Some of my favourites would have to be ‘What the Ogre Said’, ‘Beauty to the Beast’, ‘Advice to a Daughter’, ‘The Witch Wife’, ‘Green Man’, ‘The Chase’, ‘Autumn’s Song’, ‘Shoes of Bark’, and ‘The Bear’s Daughter’ but honestly there isn’t a single bad poem in this entire book. I love them all, and was hard pressed to pick a favourite!

These poems could be the stories behind the great Pre Raphaelite paintings of old – both those which were created, and those which never were, but which will appear in your head in glorious shades of oil and watercolour, night, sunset and twilight, morning and noon, spring, summer, autumn and winter. This is easily my favourite poetry collection to date, and ranks alongside Jane Yolen, Charles de Lint and Terri Windling’s work in terms of sheer magic. I adore it and will be dipping into it repeatedly when my well of enchantment runs dry and needs refilling.

Theodora Goss’ website is well worth a visit, and on there, her blog and her facebook page she regularly posts snippets of poems and information on her latest stories and writings. I’ve got copies of ‘In the Forest of Forgetting’ and ‘The Thorn and the Blossom’, both of which are beautiful and well worth a look if you adore books that create paintings in your head that are so lifelike you can step into them and, wandering dreamily, leave this world for another, both more innocent and more haunting.

Theodora Goss’s website can be found at http://theodoragoss.com/

Virginia Lee’s website can be found at http://www.virginialee.co.uk/home.html

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