They call it the Castle of Cold Water.
There Ugolino on a pinnacle
built his lonely citadel
in signal of his reign,
as if mere height and commanding vision
would grant a man whole dominion
over the very earth itself.
And there from the Castle of Cold Water
Ugolino surveyed his lands
and dreamt of well other demesnes
and other reigns than these:
for man is hungry and feeds his sinful heart
on things that are inchoate and far
from the touch of eye or hand.
Behold how from the Castle of Cold Water,
from its lofty lonely towers,
the light glories and conspires
at the mere periphery of sight:
behold how there it tangles teeming well
in the haze and hoar upon the mounts,
far from where Ugolino stands.
But here in the Castle of Cold Water
a darkness centers and abounds,
as if sucking glow from peripheries
into the aching core itself;
for man hivelike is elsewhere than where he is
and seldom abides where he simply stands:
each heartbeat a faltered rhyme.
Yet here in the Castle of Cold Water
Ugolino keeps his barren watch
and dreams of higher keeps than this
from whose haughty ramparts
he would gaze back
across sightless iridescent distances
to dream of fine and halcyon days
passed in the Castle of Cold Water.
It was by Dante’s hand that the castellan
of the Castle of Cold Water
dwells now in the Place of Longing
and eterne unfulfilled fire,
where the hand is mauled and the foot is cloven
and the lyre and lute untunable,
and reduced to shrieks man’s singing.
O Ugolino! O ecstatic man!
Who gluts his heart by longing,
who gazes ever out and outward
but never in and over
to that First Sun where the soul, like a lover,
might rise arms wide to its prerogatives
and consummate its meaning!
O castellan of the Castle of Cold Water!
Whosoever and where ye be:
there is an ice within your heart
that would thaw like a springtide flow
when fey ambition ye’ve lain to rest
and garnered up the fruits of this test
that life does conspire to grow.
Man’s as hungry as the chill river
of a thawing springtide flood:
man the hungry animal,
who, already from Eden,
did mark and measure his good and ill
by what he’d take to make his fill,
how soul and body he would sustain.
Let him not sup of hypothetic waters.
Let him not feed of ghosts.
Let him not hang in the dreary web,
silken but unbreakable,
of the spider Vanity, with its Tomorrow,
tomorrow, tomorrow; for tomorrow
gapes already the mawing grave.
Behold instead, from this Castle of Cold Water
how cool refreshing waters flow.
Charms abound in the farmyard rows
that line the open vales,
the verdant streaks of the clustered vines
and the golden troves of the honeycombs
and the quiet brooks in glimmering glades.
Abundant are the orchard groves
and suffice to what the body craves
in pomes and drupes like clustered jewels.
See how the light dances and plays
upon the face of the world and the majesty of being!
This that you despise, calling it your exile —
men would kill for vistas like these!
Yet you kill time in vapid dreams:
which, I say, is the greater sin?
The assassin slays the flesh,
but you would slay a mind;
the one has robbed but future moments
but you efface the very nick of time
and drive your blade into the Now.
So, high in the Castle of Cold Water,
weave not of distance a tapestry
of things promised tomorrow,
but a symbol of what is nigh
and an icon of what is ever.
Work there is to be done enow;
ramparts and chancels to fortify.
We are the castellans of Cold Water,
we are the keepers of our time;
we are the layers of the lime
and mortar ’neath this rock.
Take us heed, and take us stock,
and let us cease to live in mock,
but fulfill the Kingdom in our time
by this castle of living water.