Editor’s Note: Our first guest post arrives from Alex at Cirsova. Over the next couple of months on his blog he’ll be doing some worldbuilding posts over there, and he decided to share some of that worldbuilding with us as a sneak preview. This is a great example of how much world-building you can pack into a few pages and a poem. Really evocative stuff. Thanks, Alex! Also, it’s not too late to join in the Blog Carnival! We’ve just started, and still have two weeks left.
This song arrives to us in a fairly ramshackle form, such that its origins and meaning may be open to debate for some time, however the grim outlook contained in the poem, its link to the lost Northern Civilization in context of what we know of them through Polaris, brings sufficient concern to the academic community in regards to how we perceive the Northern Civilization, how Northern Civilization perceived itself and how the Polarans perceive their relationship with the heartland Cirsovan culture.
The song itself is only known to have been committed to writing in recent history, not long after the rediscovery of far Northern culture. A linguist from Delivals, who traveled with one of the first parties to entreat Polaris to open her doors to trade, claims to have heard the song sung in the court of Gaciall. It is important to note that the linguist claims to have never heard the song in its entirety, nor did the song sound the same upon subsequent hearing. The order of the three stanzas he preserved is an interpolation; and a note accompanying the manuscript remarks that each of the three stanzas was never heard in accompaniment with the other two. It is therefore thought that there are either three different songs, with similar structures, themes and lyrics that were sung in the court during their visit, or a single long-form song that may have been sung over the course of many nights. In either case, these three stanzas are all that remain of what is probably a significantly longer piece.
Also problematic, the text is based on an early attempts at phonetic transcription of the then unknown language of the Polarans (who, it is said, were able to pick up Cirsovan in a matter of days “…as though the tongue had been their own, once, in a near forgotten dream.”). Since the poem was written down, much has been learned about the language of the Polarans, and from that, corrections, interpolations and a translation has been able to be made. This translation, which has been more or less accepted by the scholarly community, was done (unfortunately) with little to no direct input by any delegation of Polaran academes, who refuse to acknowledge the manuscripts as anything but fabrication and deny that it was ever sung by the minstrels in the noble houses of Polaris. Despite this insistence, the corroborating reports and similar transcriptions (which have been used to eliminate many lacunae in the earliest version), indicate that this song, or a variant thereof, was still being sung for a few years after initial contact. At present, the song is not sung in Polaris or anywhere else.
1 Someday, the ice shall take us,(1)
And thus we wait and dream.(2)
Our brothers and sisters have gone before us (3)
Taken by the ice.
5 What sins we must atone for,
Grave they were indeed,
That we must forget them, lest we commit them again.
Ignorance is our curse, to take with us to our grave
The unspeakable atrocity to our name (4)
10 That none below us know. (5)
Someday, the ice shall take us,
And thus we wait for death.
The wizards of old had conspired against us (6)
Condemning us with ice.
15 Their sins are ours and ours theirs,
Grave they were indeed.
We still remember in our dreams, where we commit them again,(7)
That which we forget upon waking, yet strain our thoughts
To remember that which we must remember to forget(8)
20 That none below us know.
Someday, the ice shall take us,
And thus we wait to starve.
When traders will not brave the roads for us,
And all remains is ice. (9)
25 Our beds and dreams are all we have
And Graves they are indeed.
We shall sleep a final sleep, and in dreams shall come again
To that distant land we called dominion, kingdom, home,
That we may escape our past (10)
30 That none below us know.
1. This line appears as the first in all stanzas, in all transcriptions, in all accounts of the various songs.
2. Because we know so little about the Northern Civilization, we are unsure if the use of Shuul is exclusive to Polaris or if it were ubiquitous throughout their culture. As the ice sheet grew, more and more of their cities must have been either abandoned or destroyed. Thus, it cannot be said with any certainty that the song originated in Polaris or was an older traditional lament.
3. The words here used for “Brothers and Sisters” are actually proper names (Tyurani and Velina), either of gods or historical figures whose name have become synonymous with Men of the North (“Tyurani”), Women of the North (“Velinai”), and when used together, as here, “People of the North” (“Tyuravelinai”). No Polarans have ever confirmed or denied that they are or refer to themselves as “Tyuravelinai”
4. Lines 5-9 refer vaguely to a crime or betrayal, but many of the Polaran words used here have awkward translations; some Polaran linguists claim this is best described as “the Thing Which Should Not” (be done, be forgotten, be remembered, etc.; this is a commonly used phrase in Polaran). Some anthropologists argue that this may be a reference to the story of Jorgora. However, since neither this song nor the tale of Jorgora have any known dating other than that they were composed before Cirsovan contact, the Jorgora connection cannot be confirmed. A more popular theory supposes that it refers to something which occurred deeper in the heartland of the Northern Civilization. Whatever it was, many theorize it is part of a deep-seated cultural guilt on which they blame (justly or unjustly) the Ice age which pushed their civilization to ruin.
5. The word Polarans use for outsiders, “wyhossa”, means “those who live below (to the south) of us”, hence the choice of translation for this refrain. Whether “wyhossa” here means outsiders (non-Northerners) or more literally “People to the south of us” is uncertain, muddying speculation on whether the song was Polaran or had its origins further North.
6. Some versions, “dreamers” instead of “wizards”.
7. Lines 15-17, again, the collective guilt for a deed they feel has doomed them.
8. Lines 18-19 are a commonplace riddle or tongue-twister, still used now and then in Polaris by Shuul users.
9. Though lines 22-24 appear to refer to the Long Road, the circumstances could very well be universal among Northern Cities that were falling victim to the encroaching ice. There would come a point that the surrounding areas would be too barren to provide enough food for the populace and the city would be forced to rely on imported food to sustain itself. As the cold moved further south, the cities could be cut off from roads and slowly starve. One case made for the farther north origin of the song is that scholars question why Polarans were already singing of the trade-route closing just as it was being opened.
10. Lines 25-29: Little is known about the beliefs of the ancient northerners, but it would seem from this, and other writings, many preferred to remain in their doomed cities than migrate to warmer climes. Oddly, neither the word “Shuul” nor reference to “the Kingdom of Shuul” is found in any transcriptions. Again, we do not know if these songs reflect the contemporary and modern views of the Polarans, as the songs have not be sung there for some time. Still, it gives us a fascinating glimpse into the outlook of the first Polarans encountered by the Empire, and perhaps a snapshot of a culture that had resigned itself to disappearance.