“She was free in her wildness. She was a wanderess, a drop of free water. She belonged to no man and to no city.”
Roman Payne (“The Wanderess”)
How this quote became so popular, I have no idea. I wrote it about one woman: The heroine of “The Wanderess,” Saskia; yet I wrote these lines to describe Saskia at her best—praising the qualities of a heroine that all women should strive to have, or keep if they have them. I wrote these lines to make Saskia be like a statue of Psyche or Demeter. The masculine sculptor doesn’t see rock when he carves Aphrodite. He sees before him the carving of the perfect feminine creature.
I was creating my ‘perfect feminine creature’ when I wrote about Saskia. She is completely wild and fearless in her dramatic performance of life. She knows that she may only have one life to live and that most people in her society wish to see her fail in her dream of living a fulfilled life. For if a woman acts and lives exactly as society wants her to live, she will never be truly happy, never fulfilled. For societies do not want girls and women to wander.
I am surprised that this quote became so famous, since I didn’t spend more than a few seconds writing it. It was written merely as three sentences in a novel. I didn’t write it to be a solitary poem. This quote that touches so many people is no more than an arrangement of twenty-four words in a book of three-hundred pages.
What touches me the most is when fans send me photos of tattoos they’ve had done of this quote—either a few words from it or the whole quote. The fact that these wonderful souls are willing to guard words that I’ve written on their precious skin for the rest of their lives makes me feel that what I am writing is worth something and not nothing. When I get depressed and feel the despair that haunts me from time to time, and cripples me, I look at these photos of these tattoos, and it helps me to think that what I am doing is important to some people, and it helps me to start writing again.
Am I a masculine version of the wanderess in this quote? Of course I am! I am wild and fearless, I am a wanderer who belongs to no city and to nobody; I am a drop of free water. I am—to cite one of my other quotes—“free as a bird. King of the world and laughing!”
(-Roman Payne, January 1, 2018, Marrakech, Morocco)
First stepping through the blushing dawn, I crossed beneath a garden bower, counting every hermit thrush, counting every hour.
When morning’s light was ripe at last, I stumbled on with reckless feet; and found two nymphs engaged in play, approaching them stirred no retreat. With naked skin, their weaving hands, in form akin to Calliope’s maids, shook winter currents from their hair to weave within them vernal braids.
I grabbed the first, who seemed the stronger by her soft and dewy leg, and swore blind eyes, Lest I find I, before Diana, a hunted stag.
But the nymphs they laughed, and shook their heads. and begged I drop beseeching hands. For one was no goddess, the other no huntress, merely two girls at play in the early day.
“Please come to us, with unblinded eyes, and raise your ready lips. We will wash your mouth with watery sighs, weave you springtime with our fingertips.”
So the nymphs they spoke, we kissed and laid, by noontime’s hour, our love was made, Like braided chains of crocus stems, We lay entwined, I laid with them, Our breath, one glassy, tideless sea, Our bodies draping wearily. We slept, I slept so lucidly, with hopes to stay this memory.
I woke in dusty afternoon, Alone, the nymphs had left too soon, I searched where perched upon my knees Heard only larks’ songs in the trees.
“Be you, the larks, my far-flung maids? With lilac feet and branchlike braids… Who sing sweet odes to my elation, in your larking exaltation!”
With these, my clumsy, carefree words, The birds they stirred and flew away, “Be I, poor Actaeon,” I cried, “Be dead… Before they, like Hippodamia, be gone astray!” Yet these words, too late, remained unheard, By lark, that parting, morning bird. I looked upon its parting flight, and smelled the coming of the night; desirous, I gazed upon its jaunt, as Leander gazes Hellespont.
Now the hour was ripe and dark, sensuous memories of sunlight past, I stood alone in garden bowers and asked the value of my hours. Time was spent or time was tossed, Life was loved and life was lost. I kissed the flesh of tender girls, I heard the songs of vernal birds. I gazed upon the blushing light, aware of day before the night.
So let me ask and hear a thought: Did I live the spring I’d sought? It’s true in joy, I walked along, took part in dance, and sang the song. and never tried to bind an hour to my borrowed garden bower; nor did I once entreat a day to slumber at my feet. Yet days aren’t lulled by lyric song, like morning birds they pass along, o’er crests of trees, to none belong; o’er crests of trees of drying dew, their larking flight, my hands, eschew Thus I’ll say it once and true…
From all that I saw, and everywhere I wandered, I learned that time cannot be spent, It only can be squandered.”
I am thankful for all of the photos I have received from women around the world who tattoo words from my books and poems, or simply inscribe the title of my novel The Wanderess anywhere from their breasts to their dimples of Venus; or on their wrists, ankles, and toes.
A special ‘Thank You’ to this young woman (below) who sent me this testimony of her body’s permanent appreciation of my art. I only hope that she doesn’t grow to hate me before her skin withers from age and dies.
…In any case, by tattooing my words on your delicate self, I am obliged to love you for your entire life, you realize… to answer all of your letters (though otherwise I almost never answer readers’ letters [simply because I am lazy]). Yet now, I am obliged, you understand, to treat you always with profound kindness, replying with courtesy to every message you send me. For I would never forgive myself if a woman started to hate one of her body parts because she found out just how selfish, idle and monstrous the author of her tattoo is in real life. So for you, My Loves, I will offer my eternal affection, and I will pretend that I am a good person – God forbid you should learn that my soul is dirty and I am only “slightly” better than the Devil.
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