This poem was written as part of a Winter Solstice present for a great friend, Lucien Featherstone. Shodo (calligraphy) using sumi ink (black-soot-based ink, available in sticks that are hand-ground with water on a stone of slate) was set on brown kozo (paper made with rice fibers), which I used to wrap a book, The Prose Edda, and which I tied shut using kumihimo (Japanese braided cord, similar to fingerloop braids) instead of ribbon. Warder Lucien is one of the best rapier fighters I have ever met, and this present is full of symbolism related to fencing. In the poem itself, “stands” acts as a pivot word, invoking both the image of an oak tree in a forest (“In the forest stands an oak tree…”) and an oak in a group of trees in the forest (“In the forest stands, an oak tree…”). In both cases, the word is associated with trees, a theme present throughout the poem. ”An oak among trees” was a common allusion in Heian era to a Captain of the Imperial Guard, a position roughly equivalent to the Midrealm’s Order of the Bronze Ring, the highest award for fencing currently available. Anyone who has met Warder Lucien will instantly understand the mighty trunk reference – he’s often referred to as the “barrel-chested farmboy.” Lucien offers assistance to those who need help, sometimes to a fault. The basic fencing award is the Cavendish Knot, the symbol for which is four conjoined green Cavendish (figure-eight) knots. And as noted before, the top level fencing award is the Bronze Ring. The kumihimo was an 8-strand braid in a spiral pattern, made from green and bronze thread, a ~4′ long braid started after Christmas. The side of the package opposite the bow was tied with four Cavendish knots. Finally, the choice of paper color represented the Bronze Ring.
The form is waka, Japanese in origin with a 5-7-5-7-7 pattern of syllables. Composed 19th day of 11th month, AS XLVII (the morning of New Year’s Eve by the Gregorian calendar). I hope to have a photo of the calligraphy in a future update. As a side note, I finally found out the proper method of inking my tenkoku (carved seal stone). What a difference!