Imagine a stone age hunter-gatherer: spears of wood, needles of bone, axes of flint. Imagine him meeting someone with a bronze dagger – or cloak pin, or anything else sharp – and marvelling at the magical new substance. Imagine the newcomer had seen smelting in progress and described it: alchemy.
The other week, when I was mired in overtime cover for flu-savaged co-worker, dealing with my own poorly kin and critiquing young writer poems (meanwhile blogging was rather at the bottom of the pile of Things-That-Must-Be-Done-Or-Else) I glimpsed this wonderful review in the Guardian: Poem of the week: The Blacksmiths; a brilliantly noisy evocation of a smithy from the 15th century still conjures quite a racket 550 years later.
It reminded me of one of my favourite poems by my father which was about that magical liberation of gleaming metal from mother earth.
The Sword in the Stone
The Elements of Magic
The magician slept in the sunshine.
He dreamed that the rocks on which he rested,
and which his face grew to resemble,
could be changed into precious metal.
He devised a spell:
Take the rocks and break them, and grind them
to restore them to the earth their mother.
Take fire and mix with the earth.
Use air to feed the mixture
until it is as hot as the sun the father of fire.
When the spirit of the rock is released
catch it in the shape of the earth again.
With the strength of your arm
use fire and water to temper the spirit of the earth.
Sharpen it on a rock, sparkling rock,
which reflects the light of the fire.
The sword has been released from the stone!
The magician’s stone,
the transmuting stone,
the philosopher’s stone,
which gives the power of death.
He woke and dreamed of the elixir of life.
© Jim Badman’s estate