The Castle of Cold Water

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 reduce 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 their 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 sponge away the Here and 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.

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1 thought on “The Castle of Cold Water”

  1. I love this poem!
    I feel the urging of a higher calling quite clearly throughout, as well as a sort of call to adulthood. In an age with so few people taking responsibility for themselves, true adulthood is as rare as true faith, and coincidentally mutually dependant. True faith has experience inside it. It is honed. It is scarred. This poem brings the struggle of vice and soul into a realistic arena, not the fairy tales of youth, and plainly exposes the plans of deamons.
    He who has an ear let him hear.

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