A candle

A group of us were sitting in the Misanthropes, sharing a bottle, pondering nothing much and talking in a desultory manner about verse. It was then that Dallin Ergold came in. He sat at the table and was told off sternly for not arriving with a bottle. He gestured to the bar and one was brought over, and as we drank it, we listened as he elucidated his predicament.
He had been inspired to write a verse based on a candle. But was trapped, he hung between two allegories, neither of which satisfied. To be fair I could see his point. I rarely buy candle. In summer, if I’m that late to bed, I’ll undress by the light of the false dawn seeping through the cabin windows. In winter what is the point of having light to work by when penury ensures you cannot afford fuel for the stove.

But yes, we do use candles, but we don’t buy candles. When I’m working for a patron, the housekeeper will give me the short stubs they have left that are too short for their holders. I’ll float them on salt water to keep them burning longer. But a new candle is a luxury, an indulgence. How much work could I get done if I wasn’t constantly watching the burning stub out of the corner of my eye, wondering how long I have left?

Indeed I sometimes wonder, what if I stopped fussing and just let it burn down. Do I waste more light with my fretting than I gain through my increasingly desperate expedients?

But then you have the sheer beauty of the candle. The glory of its light. The gallant way it drives back the shadows and creates a limpid pool of radiance. A challenge cast into the teeth of the darkness which reels back, stunned.

But then there is the other allegory. Our life as a candle flame. Brief, flickering, soon extinguished. Some manage to live their life down to the last pathetic stub, but is it worth it? Others are snatched from us when there must be plenty of candle left. Be they the bully whose thuggish comrades mourn his passing, recognising that death is the purpose of every man. Or perhaps they are the wealthier type, the committee thug, who regards reducing fellow committee members to tears as just another tactic. His acquaintances, his colleagues and competitors, stand aghast. “But he was so young.” “Barely over fifty.” “It’s no age.” Unfortunately the words, “I am entitled, I have rights,” lack conviction when they linger on the lips of a corpse.

But Dallin Ergold set us to talking, names were mentioned. What about young Spar. It’s true there have been better poets, but few lived as a poet should. His candle was burning at both ends, and probably from the middle as well. He even died poetically, a woman had been assaulted in the street, and knife in hand he stood over her, taking down her three assailants, slaying them even though he took his mortal wound doing so.

But then there is old Muncher Dree. A more miserable wight you’ll never meet, his candle has given off more smoke than flame for thirty years, yet he still lingers on like the aftertaste of indigestion to remind everybody that life is a serious and wretched business.

But then somebody remembered Widow Morpeth. She’s laid out more folk for the dead boat than anybody else I know. The families all send for the widow. She will chat tenderly to the deceased, bring them back what dignity she can, and then wrap them in the shroud with the tenderness of a mother dressing her new baby. She cannot have much candle left but her flame burns bright and clear.

Eventually people started to drift away and only I was left. I picked up a discarded bill and wrote on the back, then placed it on the table, held down by an empty bottle.

A new candle

Rich in potential

Brilliant, potent, infinite

A raft of projects

The time is ample

We taste wine

Savour its sweetness

Sharp, inspired, careless

Work commences

Our thoughts align

The time gone?

The candle flickers

Dim, guttering, transient.

Work unfinished

The candle is done

Too cold to scorch a shroud.


If you don’t know Tallis Steelyard, now might be your chance to remedy the oversight

As a reviewer commented, “When I pick up a Tallis Steelyard book I know I am going to have the most enjoyable of rides start to finish. There will be social comment and cynicism, there will be intriguing concepts and fascinating settings, there will be battles of wit and cunning plans, but two things above all will stand out – the incredibly interesting characters and the wonderful moments of both subtle and laugh-out-loud humour.
The author has an eye for personality quirks and the humorous possibilities in just about every occasion, and seldom leaves either unexploited to the full.
This book was, however, something I embarked upon with a little more trepidation that usual when approaching a Tallis Steelyard book, because unlike the collections of vividly imagined and portrayed cameos which I have come to know and love, this is an entire novel.
Yes, there are still those wonderful cameos, but there is also a rare opportunity to follow Tallis through an unwitting adventure, all thanks to the indomitable Maljie of course. The way Jim Webster writes, I was sitting in the hot air balloon along with them.
If you enjoy Tallis Steelyard in shorts, you will enjoy as much in long form. If you have yet to make his acquaintance, then dive right in and do so, but hang onto your hat it’ll be a very wild ride!”

12 thoughts on “A candle

  1. Until now i had not proceeded to this part of the story, Jim! But you are fantastic. Artwork inside the artwork, and also a good tip for the household. Keeping the candle in salty water makes burning them longer. Wonderful! Have a nice rest of the weekend! xx Michael

    Liked by 1 person

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