Winter Solstice, Camelot Station

I seem to blog about John M. Ford’s poem, Winter Solstice, Camelot Station, every year.




I spend a lot of time thinking about the process of growing up. I think about this because I have kids, and I want them to enter the world as adults fully prepared to face life. Or as prepared as I can make them. As prepared as the thing I can control can be controlled.

I look at various adult people I know, friends and family and coworkers and internet acquaintances, and I think, “yes, I want my kid to have THAT trait. How did you get that?” Or I think, ” … that seems a less-than-perfectly-optimal strategy you have, there. How can I give my kid a tool that will perform that skill better?”

And I look at myself, at how I have always thought I was a perfectly competent human being, from the age of twelve on up. And every five years or so I look back at the me of five years past and I shake my head, wanting to weep with how naive and ignorant I was then. And this, this process? It doesn’t end. Or, it hasn’t ended yet.

This growing up business, it doesn’t seem to ever end.

Arthur, Lance, Gwen — god, they were changing the world. They changed the world. They changed their world. They were young and certain and passionate and held glory in both hands. Purpose and promise spilled forth from them and covered all of mythic England.

And then they got older. Mistakes were made. And those mistakes lingered, became part of identity. Did they grow wiser as they grew older? Sometimes. In some versions of the story, they did. They do. They will. Mostly, not. Mostly they don’t get that chance.

In Ford’s poem, we have a moment in which the chances are still there. The future hangs in the steel-and-glass rafters of Camelot Station, it drifts in the steam and smoke, the future sounds in the clank of lever and gear and wheel. In Ford’s poem we have the darkest day, in a moment of shadow and uncertainty for these glorious people. They have built, they have wrought, and they don’t know what to do next. They can’t see the path ahead. There are no tracks there, yet.

Tradition would dictate that what happens next is fall, and ruin, and betrayal that leaves a bitter taste in one’s mouth until death clears it away. Tradition says, all this crumbles and is lost.

But in the poem it hasn’t happened yet. And the magic of solstice is, this is as dark as things will ever get. The truth of solstice is that there can and will be more light tomorrow. Situations will improve. As cold and dark and trackless as this moment is, it will not get worse.

I like to think that this is true in the poem. I like to think that this time, in this steampunk rail-fantasy Arthurian AU, THIS time these flashing, blazing, brilliant people figure out a way through darkness. I like to think that this is as dark as it gets. That they meet, and they talk, and they learn and grow. I like to think that these knights become greater than the sum of their parts. That they find strength in their broken places.

The sun is winter-low. Kay’s caravan is rolling.
He may not run a railroad, but he runs a tight ship;
By the time they unload in the Camelot courtyard,
The wassail will be hot and the goose will be crackling,
Banners snapping from their towers, fir logs on the fire, drawbridge down,
And all that sackbut and psaltery stuff.
Blanchefleur is taking the children caroling tonight,
Percivale will lose to Merlin at chess,
The young knights will dally and the damsels dally back,
The old knights will play poker at a smaller Table Round.
And at the great glass station, motion goes on,
The extras, the milk trains, the varnish, the limiteds,
The Pindar of Wakefield, the Lady of the Lake,
The Broceliande Local, the Fast Flying Briton,
The nerves of the kingdom, the lines of exchange,
Running to a schedule as the world ought,
Ticking like a hot-fired hand-stoked heart,
The metal expression of the breaking of boundaries,
The boilers that turn raw fire into power,
The driving rods that put the power to use,
The turning wheels that make all places equal,
The knowledge that the train may stop but the line goes on;
The train may stop
But the line goes on.

The train may stop.

But the line goes on.

Happy Solstice, everyone. Tomorrow will be brighter.


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