Nettie’s Lament by Christine Irving

Reading Elizabeth Ann Bartlett’s beautiful post inspired me to share the following poem. I wrote it many years ago for my friend Lynette Eldridge to honor her love of the darker shorter days of winter.

As a devotee of the Divine Feminine, I have received many gifts that have enhanced and enriched heart, mind and soul. The greatest of these is the friendship of women. I became friends with Nettie during the hours-long drives we made together once a month for nine months from Nevada City, CA to Santa Cruz, CA to prepare for a Vision Quest in the Mojave Desert. Our journeys began in January, in the early morning dark of the short days following winter solstice.

Our most profound experience of light took place eight months later. As prep work for the vision quest, we had been tasked with spending a day in August, outside in the wilderness, from dawn to dusk. Nettie and I left in the dark hours of early, early morning to arrive at an isolated state park in the high Sierras.  Agreeing to meet at sunset, we headed off before first light on separate adventures. 

It was the longest day I’ve ever known- we were on the western face of the mountain and the sun seemed to slow down the closer it got to the horizon. It wasn’t that I wanted to go home. In fact, I could gladly have stayed on that mountainside forever. It was the relentless persistence of light for fifteen hours without surcease that wore on me and made that last hour pass with excruciating slowness.

I spent the time pondering the relationship between light and dark- the mysterious physicality of each state, and my own preferences which had nothing to do with dislike and everything to do with degrees of comfort and inclination. Nettie and I shared our insights on the way home. Such conversations deepened our friendship and inspired Nettie’s Lament.

Years later, flying back from a trip to Ireland spent visiting some of Ireland’s most ancient goddess sites with another extraordinary group of women, I once again pondered the dark mysteries of womb and tomb, stone and bone. Leaving Ireland, I promised to write a book for the land about the land. My promise became Sitting on the Hag Seat: A Celtic Knot of Poems. 

Ireland lies far to the north and experiences longer days of darkness than most of the United States and the Irish, in their mythology and poetry, seem to possess a profound and extensive appreciation for the myriad aspects of darkness. To explore this island rife with ancient goddesses, one must encounter the dark in both its malign and beneficent aspects. I hope my book reflects some of this complexity

Because our deep, precious bond is rooted in the desert land in which we undertook the quest for vision, and because of our shared love of the dark, Nettie’s Lament slipped into place in Sitting in the Hag Seat as comfortably as if I’d written it for that purpose. Given the erratic nature of cosmic timing – perhaps I did…

Nettie’s Lament

I love the hunkering towards dark that lengthens night

draws down winter’s amber light, etching

wet black bark in convoluted arabesques

against the pale apricot of autumn dusks.

Stave off returning for just another day or week.

Must we begin to ride, so soon, the bright returning year?

Pelt, feathers, fleece and flannel muffle any draft

sleep draws me down ten fathoms, sea-changes old lovers,

sets new fancies tumbling in slow motion, twines tawny kelp

and feathered weed round languid limbs then sprawls me

flat upon its farthest shore.

Oh, let me slumber deep in fur another hour

amidst the sweet caress of winter’s den.

I would not quicken yet.

But who can stop the sun

hurling his bright shaft on solstice day? 

Shot across horizon’s edge it hugs the frozen ground

skims snow fields, slides down ice-glazed trunks

of rowan, beech and pale birch, darts

unerringly toward my buried keep.

What crow or magpie, mouse or squirrel dug sharp claws

against the ground?  Pecked and pawed that small depression?

Stuffed acorn in to fill the hole tight, till hunger forced

its reclamation, leaving space for water and the fickle air

to gnaw an entrance there?

Light finds that empty niche, the single hollow chink.

Its beam strikes true – hits my startled eye, twists down

my spine to lodge in that most secret holy room

where life insists on schedules preordained

and I must stir, and wake to play its game.

BIO: Christine Irving is ordained as a Priestess of Isis in both the Fellowship of Isis and the Gnostic Church of Saint Mary Magdalene. She is an experienced ritualist, facilitator of women’s circles, and workshop leader. Christine is an accomplished poet with seven books of poetry as well as one collaboration. Her recent work Return to Inanna, revisits the myth of Inanna and explores its relevancy to the spiritual life of modern women. She is also the author of Magdalene A.D., an historical novel about Mary Magdalene as she undertakes a parallel physical and spiritual quest many years after the crucifixion of Christ. Find her at her website:  or check out her blog Christine’s book, Sitting on the Hag Seat can be ordered here.

5 thoughts on “Nettie’s Lament by Christine Irving”

  1. Christine – what a wonderful poem! Your use of language is exquisite here. I am biased in that I share the same lament as your friend and you have captured it so perfectly. I love the way you liken the womb of winter to a furry sett or den – it’s a gem of an idea and a jewel of a poem.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Yes, yes, yes, in the winter I always want to go to bed earlier and sleep later in the morning. Many thanks for you poem and your brief account of preparing for your vision quest. Bright blessings!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I share your love for the shorter days of winter… lounging like a lizard infant of my fire I feel “the peace of the wild things” entering me at dusk unless the wind is roaring and storms are cracking my tree limbs – its another both and – both the beneficent spirit and soul of winter and its opposite, it’s more deadly aspect….. such a beautiful poem – thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

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