Wolf Call

In recent weeks there’ve been few points of light to lift a work-strewn, chore-heavy, deadline-driven, and often bleak midwinter landscape. Angela Carter’s classic gothic tale, The Company of Wolves, rich with evocative prose from the shape-shifting heart of a forest teeming with lycanthropes, captures the mood of the season perfectly. We read it this week at Tricycle Readers and I loved this paragraph:

There is always something to look at in the forest, even in the middle of winter – the huddled mounds of birds, succumbed to the lethargy of the season, heaped on the creaking boughs and too forlorn to sing; the bright frills of the winter fungi on the blotched trunks of trees; the cuneiform slots of rabbits and deer, the herringbone tracks of the birds, a hare as lean as a rasher of bacon streaking across the path where the thin sunlight dapples the russet brakes of last year’s bracken.

The precision of Carter’s writing brings the forest to life. She also taxes the reader’s knowledge. There were a number of words we had to double-check once the story had been read: canticles, threnody, integument, prothalamion, Liebestod, Walpurgisnacht. As ever, this was a task taken up with gusto.

Walpurgisnacht, we discovered, is named after Saint Walpurga, an English missionary. Her name is associated with witches, with Satanists, and with the arrival of spring. While unremarked on home soil, she is celebrated in many parts of Europe on, or just before, May Day and is referred to in works from Faust to Dracula. This is a translation of A Walpurgis Night in Faust, taken from Wikiquote:

How strangely through the hollows glimmering
Like a false dawn the dull light glows!
Into crevasses glinting, shimmering,
Into each deep abyss it goes.

The only devilish doings at our Tricycle Readers meetings centre on the consumption of chocolate fingers – the biscuity sort – and the occasional appearance of a glass of wine in the hands of one of our group. When faced with darkness, we pull on our head torches and shine a light through it. If your bleak midwinter landscape could do with a little illumination, why not join us?

wolf face



  1. HE was the one man I met up in the woods
    That stormy New Year’s morning; and at first sight,
    Fifty yards off, I could not tell how much
    Of the strange tripod was a man. His body,
    Bowed horizontal, was supported equally
    By legs at one end, by a rake at the other:
    Thus he rested, far less like a man than
    His wheel-barrow in profile was like a pig.
    But when I saw it was an old man bent,
    At the same moment came into my mind
    The games at which boys bend thus, High-Cockalorum,
    Or Fly-the-garter, and Leap-frog. At the sound
    Of footsteps he began to straighten himself;
    His head rolled under his cape like a tortoise’s;
    He took an unlit pipe out of his mouth
    Politely ere I wished him “A Happy New Year,”
    And with his head cast upward sideways Muttered–
    So far as I could hear through the trees’ roar–
    “Happy New Year, and may it come fastish, too,”
    While I strode by and he turned to raking leaves.

    When I read this, it reminded me of a poem by Thomas-The New Year. Especiaaly the use of shape and light to define form.Thomas also uses links to animals to add a mystic, strange view of looking into the woods in winter.
    Carter’s writing is tighter, less form free and has highly descriptive prose.

    Same effect- different styles. Continuity and change?


  2. I can’t see it. Carter’s prose is evocative and naturalistic and she takes us to the heart of the forest without an imprint. Thomas puts himself at the heart of the poem. The man is a vehicle for the poet’s perceptions and responses. One to ponder!


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