Malcolm M. Sedam’s “The Hill Maiden”

Ron W. G. – The Old Homestead
A Commentary on Malcolm M. Sedam’s “The Hill Maiden”

In his poem, “The Hill Maiden,” Malcolm M. Sedam has created a speaker voicing cheerful vaticination that his teenage angst-ridden student will one day shed her nihilism and burst into life affirming joy.  The best teachers are those who can inspire as well as instruct their students.  This poem represents a stellar example of that kind of inspirational educator

Introduction and Text of “The Hill Maiden”

Malcolm M. Sedam‘s “The Hill Maiden” features a teacher dramatizing his observations about a particularly inquisitive but melancholy student.  His ultimate purpose is to instill in the student the notion that she will ultimately be able to appreciate the life that she seems to disdain.

The poem plays out as an American sonnet in three unrimed stanzas—a cinquain, a sestet, and a tercet.  This organization allows the speaker to touch lightly on the physical reality of the subject but then move more intensely to the mental and finally the spiritual possibility of the subject’s inclinations. 

Because the speaker can only infer certain facts about his student, the poem remains metaphorically and imagistically implicative instead of unequivocally literal.  For example, the teacher has no exact idea what the student does at her home; thus he places her in an image of “moving among the phantom rocks of reverie.”  

The teacher/speaker knows from the negativity the student has been expressing to him that she mentally resides among hardness that causes her to imagine that things are worse than they are.

Mentally she travels like a rocket through her ghostly musings until night fall when she sleeps but likely gets little rest, accounting for the nervous, brittle energy the educator perceives in his young scholar.

Likely the adolescent girl is simply suffering the turbulence of teenage angst through which most individuals of that age group must travel.  But the best, most effective teachers are those who can inspire as well as instruct their students.  This poem represents a stellar example of that kind of inspirational educator.

As a poet as well as an educator, Mr. Malcolm M. Sedam wrote poems to many of his students, always with the goal of inspiring them to high thinking and plain living.  Mr. Sedam once said he felt that his function as an educator was “to kick the dirt off of his students.”  By that he meant to help them see life more clearly without the fog of stereotypes, prejudice, and provincialism.  

(Please note:  Dr. Samuel Johnson introduced the form “rhyme” into English in the 18th century, mistakenly thinking that the term was a Greek derivative of “rhythmos.” Thus, “rhyme” is an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form “rime,” please see “Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.”)

The Hill Maiden

(for Linda, over in the valley)

She is moving among the phantom rocks of reverie
Hurtling through by mind bringing days into darkness
Where the pull of growth rings the heart and spurs the soul
Where her wish strings questions in the mysterious night
Of snow bringing a promise that only the hills can sing.

Her smile waits behind a frown of swords that rend her days
In the melancholy of the deep valley of dreams where she lives
Among flowers gathering her moods that may bring peace
Once the sorrow of lonely distance has closed on hands—
The same hands that Zen-like reach to answer each knock
At the door of her heart, broken to be mended by tender time.

Her mind is speeding through a galaxy of intensity where the blood rose
Will speak to her frozen will, all forgiven by decree in warring winds—
The nature of her plight? Without wings, she will still spring into flight.

Reading of “The Hill Maiden” 

The Cinquain:  Dreaming amongst the Hills

She is moving among the phantom rocks of reverie
Hurtling through by mind bringing days into darkness
Where the pull of growth rings the heart and spurs the soul
Where her wish strings questions in the mysterious night
Of snow bringing a promise that only the hills can sing.

The speaker begins by placing the object of his speculative musing in an image that implies sharp but dream-like rigidity.  Rocks appear ghost-like through a dream-scape as they bewilder the mental musings of the young girl with whom the mature educator is engaging both as a mentor as well as a teacher.

Teachers often counsel their students who seek out their advice and direction even in issues outside of the academic sphere as well as within the educational arena.  Those teachers who must essentially become counselors will either direct the students to other professionals, or they will attempt to offer their own gleanings from their life experience.

The teacher in this poem demonstrates that he is the latter kind of teacher, and he has given the mind of the young student some serious analysis.  Thus he not only describes her environment, but he also speculates and then foreshadows what is likely to befall the girl once she is able to erase her current adolescent fog.

Until that glowing day arrives, however, the speaker sees that the girl’s maturing process weighs heavily on her heart and soul.  She is full of questions brought on by the mystery of life.  The “snow” that brings beauty as it covers the hills also brings bitter cold and slippery conditions the cause the girl to miss the music that her hill-valley home affords her.

By pointing out these images of beauty and placing them a context of mystery and difficulty, the speaker hopes to allow his charge to contemplate the possibility that life is real and offers hope to those who search its reaches with an open mind and cheerful heart.

The Sestet:  Frowning Swords

Her smile waits behind a frown of swords that rend her days
In the melancholy of the deep valley of dreams where she lives
Among flowers gathering her moods that may bring peace
Once the sorrow of lonely distance has closed on hands—
The same hands that Zen-like reach to answer each knock
At the door of her heart, broken to be mended by tender time.

The speaker has observed the teen’s unwillingness to show a cheerful countenance.  Her bitterness “behind a frown of swords” likely often gives the mentor a shudder for the possibility that this young girl is suffering intensely when she could be dancing merrily among “flowers” and allowing her sorrowful moods to dissolve in the “deep valley of dreams.”

But again, he returns to prognostication that once she has learned to fold her hands in wonder and listen to the love that knocks at the “door of her heart,” her melancholy will be rendered null and void as “tender time” moves her through the rough spots of her anguish.

Again, the speaker chooses beauty—”flowers gathering”— to balance the “frown.”  He offers the image of the heart’s door to harmonize with the environment that will reach her with the “Zen-like” hands of mystery and the ultimate gain-of-wisdom.  Like a Zen koan, the riddle of life will remain before her as she continues to search for answers to her perplexing questions.  

The Tercet:  Springing into Flight

Her mind is speeding through a galaxy of intensity where the blood rose
Will speak to her frozen will, all forgiven by decree in warring winds—
The nature of her plight? Without wings, she will still spring into flight.

Finally, the speaker makes his most striking vaticination after asserting that his young charge has a strong mind that is quick to show intense emotion.  That the “blood rose” will speak itself undeniably to the girl’s will portends that all of her negativity and nihilism will be “forgiven” as she continues to navigate through the conflicts that life bestows on all searching souls.

Then the speaker offers the question that he is likely very content to answer.  The frustrating situation that befuddles the young scholar’s heart and soul has been implied by all the imagery that went before, but then what will eventually be the path chosen by and/or for the student?   She will be able to navigate through all the trials and tribulations as a bird that so easily lifts it wings to the wind and takes to the air through the abundant space of sky.

The speaker is not so naïve as to insist that such navigation will come easily, but he does remain assured that the path will open to the girl, and she will become willing to follow it. Thus the speaker can conclude affirmatively that “Without wings, she will still spring into flight.”

Offered by a beloved and well-respected mentor, such faith in a young scholar’s ability to navigate life is bound to redound in blessings, despite the pitfalls and rough spots that life, no doubt, will place sphinx-life before that mind and heart.

Malcolm M. Sedam

🕉

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