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Lay for the Day
15th February


The festival of Lupercalia, one of the more mysterious of Roman sacred days. It seems to pre-date the religion of the Olympian gods, since it did not propitiate any of them, nor was it centred on any of their temples, but rather on the Lupercal, the cave on the Palatine Hill in which the founders of Rome, the twin brothers Romulus and Remus, were suckled by a she-wolf.
The rites were said to have descended from the shepherds who were, according to legend (and also according to archaeology), the first to settle the Palatine Hill, in the 8th century BC. Sacrifices of goats and dogs were made at the Lupercal on this day, and young men clad in goat-skins – the Luperci – ran through the arena wielding thongs also made of goat-skin with which they would lash at anyone who came within reach.
Young brides actually sought these strokes, which had a fertilising reputation. “Neither potent herbs, nor prayers, nor magic spells shall make of thee a mother,” wrote Ovid, “submit with patience to the blows dealt by a fruitful hand.”
A ritual for the fertility of flocks, and also a celebration of the wolf – the taker of younglings, but also the “first mother” of the city: a paradoxical feast, as the old ones sometimes are.


Howling Wolf

I am the howling wolf, babe, howling all around your door.
I am the howling wolf, babe, howling all around your door.
Don’t you hear me howling? Don’t you want the wolf no more?

I’ll be in the woods, girl, you just whistle when he goes.
I’ll be in the woods, girl, you just whistle when he goes.
I’ll cover up my traces, oh your good man needn’t know.


Don’t mess with the wild wolf if you meet him in your unripe corn.
Don’t mess with the wild wolf, running through your fields of corn.

Mama was that mountain, Daddy was a rolling storm.

Saw my baby brother, hanging by a rusty nail.
I saw my baby brother hanging by a rusty nail.
But you won’t adorn your barn door with my big long bushy tail.

The trappers try to track me, the hound dog howls along my trail.
The trappers try to track me and the hound dog howls along my trail.
But I drift like the snowflakes, silent through the wailing gale.

Saw your lamplight shining, warm and friendly through the pines.
Saw your lamplight shining just like honey through the pines.
Ooh your buttermilk may make me reel like champagne wine.

Heard you in the hollow, whisper: Wolf come home again.
I heard you in the hollow, whisper: Wolf come back again.
Here I am, the wolf now, with my green eyes shining in your pane.

 

Words and music by The Children
from Come Aboard

 

The Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar