With this poem, Fred Chappell takes his readers far from the southern landscape and familiar passions of his acclaimed Midquest tetralogy. He tells instead of a forbidding medieval castle ruled by a mad king and peopled by bitter, scheming grotesques and melancholy weaklings who cower at the sound of the sweet, sad voice of truth that haunts their nights.
Castle Tzingal is a fairy tale without moral or happy ending, a tale in which lies and self-deceptions take the place of ogres and in which moral corruption is the dragon to be slain. In a series of highly formal dramatic monologues, Chappell presents the corrupt longings and fears of the court’s manipulative astrologer, its forlorn queen, a pensioned admiral, a seductive page, and the homunculus—born of chemicals and fire—who spies on them all:
What things I might say if I so inclined!
The astrologer’s passion for a comely page
Is news; Queen Frynna has no peace of mind
Since a nimble harpist sojourned here
Last twelvemonth; there’s a wealthy vein of silver
Runs beneath our Castle Tzingal; the magpie
Singing in the courtyard wicker cage
Is a transformed enemy sorcerer.
This kind if information finds its flowering
In time; all knowledge becomes of use,
And when it does I bear it to the King.
Ruling over this monstrous court is King Tzingal himself—self-proclaimed “great lord of toads”—whose only power is hatred and whose reign can only be ended when his dismal kingdom is finally overrun by truth, by poetry.
Set in a mythical kingdom in a mythical age, Castle Tzingal is a political fairy tale that speaks with the vivid, sometimes harsh truth and knowledge of our most fevered nightmares.
Fred Chappell is the author of twenty-six books of poetry, fiction, and critical commentary. His most recent collection was Shadow Box. A native of Canton in the mountains of western North Carolina, he taught at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro from 1964 to 2004 and was the Poet Laureate of North Carolina from 1997 to 2002. He and his wife, Susan, live in Greensboro.
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