Me (near the beginning of August): You know, I could write an essay analyzing this poem. It's so rich in multiple levels of meaning and symbolism.
Her: I think you should flesh this out. We can always post it as an essay after the poem is fully sponsored. I'm scholar enough to admire your analysis, and really, there just is not enough good literary analysis of speculative poetry. More is good.
Her, again (about three weeks ago): "Stained" was fully sponsored this morning… If you're still willing to flesh out that lovely essay for public posting, that can be done at your convenience now.
How could I refuse? :)
I apologize for the lack of cuts, but the journal entry editor is being stupid today.
The Symbolism of "Stained"
The poem "Stained", by ysabetwordsmith, presents a number of interesting symbols and parallels to further enrich the meaning of character and story elements found with the serial poetry series 'The Path of Paladins'. Key among them is the characters Ari and Johan, the Bright Temple and beams of sunlight in both material and metaphorical forms, conveying a powerful message of hope.
In this poem, Ari is proving to play a greater role than that a typical sidekick for the primary protagonist to play off of. As has been established in an earlier poem, there are some important parallels between Ari and Gailah, the goddess of the principle character, Shahana. Both Ari and Gailah have survived a brutal attack and rape by male antagonists. Both, however, also show resilience and growing strength. In taking Ari under her wing, Shahana is not only rescuing the girl, but, in educating Ari in the ways of her faith, she is also in the act of rescuing the religion of Gailah. In this poem, Ari comes to represent divine presence, stepping beyond the parallels and seeming to act in the stead of the Goddess Gailah by displaying disapproval for Johan’s actions early in the poem and later reaching out to him in forgiveness. In particular, Ari consciously attempts to speak on Gailah’s behalf, upon Johan’s departure, when she whispers “Gailah knows,” planting the seed for Johan’s possible self-forgiveness in the future.
The topic of forgiveness is explored in an interesting fashion by the actions and statements of Johan. Outwardly, he claims no interest in rejoining the path of Gailah, claiming that She is weak. He even attempts to refuse Shanana’s much needed assistance in healing his injured arm. His actions, however, tell another story. Shahana and Ari find him in a small roadside shrine dedicated to Gailah. The statue has been brushed clean by hand and a branch of blackberries has been laid in the offering. It may seem meager service, but it must have been dedicated and difficult effort for Johan, given the state that he was found in, with one arm crushed. Furthermore, the descriptions of him silently mouthing the prayers sung by Ari, and being found curled up beside Shahana in the morning, betray a desire to return to the fold. This contrast between his spoken and unspoken behaviour reveals an inner conflict. Between Ari’s thoughts on the situation, and Johan’s own admissions, it would appear that he feels unworthy of Gailah’s forgiveness, though this seems to something difficult for this previously proud man to deal with. His path to redemption, being further explored in the poem ‘Will Not’, will be interesting to follow.
In the poem, Ari brings up the topic of the Bright Temple, which served as home for the paladins of Gailah. Shahana mentions that the Temple is always open should Johan choose to return to it, to which he replies, “The bright temple was destroyed.” From here, Shahana brings up the point that only the physical temple was destroyed. This brings up the theme of where the heart of a faith lies. The founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, once wrote “One does not need buildings, money, power, or status to practice the Art of Peace. Heaven is right where you are standing, and that is the place to train.” For both Ueshiba and Shahana, the most important ‘temple’ that any religion possesses, is the one built within the spirit of its practitioners. Johan may currently see Gailah’s religion as being as being in ruins as the Bright Temple, but Shahana reiterates that, so long as there are those who hold true to the faith, the religion can always rebuild. The true temple is, in essence, one’s own faith.
Rebuilding is touched on in many other ways throughout the poem. There are mentions of tangible reconstruction, such as Shahana’s statement that the Bright Temple will be rebuilt one day, and the healing of Johan’s arm. Interestingly, these are both events that would be, or are, enacted through the power of faith, be it the resolve of more numerous future worshippers or divine intervention via the faith of Shahana. However, there is more subtle discussion of rebuilding through faith that is brought forth in this poem and others in the series. In this poem, Johan begins his journey in rebuilding his spirit, a process that will require him to renew his faith in Gailah and, perhaps more importantly, himself. This is suggested in the dialogue between Ari and Shahana towards the end of the poem where Ari states that whatever Johan is holding against himself will eventually be resolved by the knowledge that Gailah knows his struggle and understands. However, both Shahana and Ari, in their discussions with Johan, point out that nothing can be rebuilt as it was, something that Johan seems to be fixated upon as one reason not to move forward. Ari’s analogy of silk being dyed to match a stain is an eloquent description of this concept.
At the end of the poem, all of these themes and ideas are tied together with a single act. As Ari states that being aware of Gailah’s understanding of Johan’s inner conflict will eventually be enough for him to forgive himself (and, thus, rebuild his spirit), she smiles in a fashion described as being as “sudden as a sunbeam through clouds.” This gives a suggestion of the Bright Temple, which is earlier described as being “like yellow fire in the morning light.” Also, given how Gailah often reveals herself through beams of sun and moonlight, as well as other natural phenomena, throughout other poems in the series, this act also shows Ari as a surrogate for Gailah with another parallel. Finally, in being described as a beam of sunlight through clouds, this act becomes symbolic of hope; though things may be currently gloomy, a brighter future is in store.
It is this message of hope, shown through the expression of faith, forgiveness, reconstruction, and divine presence, that seems to drive this poem and lends it power. As the characters from this poetry series battle against darkness and fight ever closer to a brighter tomorrow, we can not only see our own struggles within theirs, but also that beam of golden sunlight piercing through the clouds to shine upon our own world.