Tripping the Light Fantastic

To trip the light fantastic means to dance, usually ballroom dancing. The idiom trip the light fantastic has its roots in the poem L’Allegro written by John Milton: “Come, and trip it as you go / On the light fantastic toe.” In this case, the word trip means to dance nimbly and the word fantastic means extremely fancy. Originally, the phrase light fantastic described the word toe, meaning a person’s footwork. The word toe was eventually dropped from the idiom, leaving only trip the light fantastic. This phrase was popularized in an American song written at the end of the 1800s by Charles B Lawler, The Sidewalks of New York: “Boys and Girls together, Me and Mamie O’Rourke, Tripped the light fantastic, On the sidewalks of New York.” –Wikipedia

I love to dance with words, and sometimes I get fancy. Today is one of those days, as I’m going to share some of my favourite poems with you.

The first is a poem that came from a day of introspection with the I Ching (pronounced Yee Ching). I had cast my own lovingly made set of yarrow stalks to form the Hexagram called Grace (a long line, two short lines, two short lines, a long line, two short lines and a long line, all stacked on top of each other to form a six-line drawing or hexagram). Then I looked up the corresponding passage written by a Chinese emperor and studied the comments. They centred around the current condition of the natural man or fool. It struck me so deeply that this was the result:


Happenstance is but a way of words,
The stumbling path of fools;
Yet a trail met in the wooded night
Cares not for weathered rules.

Deaf and dumb goes the traveller
Toward the outward shape;
Glancing not beneath the rock and leaf,
A sketch of the human ape.

But in vapid searching one still learns
To scratch the inner vein.
Eyes roll and bangles burn in that light—
The answers seem insane…

For piercing the learning dark we see
New visions clear and clean,
Struggling with our ever-cluttered minds
To grasp what they might mean:

A white-winged horse and a graceful moon
Seek form in mountain fire,
While I, the fool, not too simple yet
Of ornaments do tire.

Copyright © Clayton Bye, 2008


Next comes a poem written on a particularly bleak day. It’s not a happy verse, but it has a certain beauty nonetheless:

The Town of Me

My days have been

the passing of dreams,

not quite real clouds

built of smoke and dust,

marking each pained

but gritty footstep

with rasping laughter

to steal away

the life-blood of

this aging ghost town,

while colourless

thoughts raised without form

walk through my halls,

echos of silence.

Copyright © Clayton Clifford Bye 2013


And finally some simple Haikus. They are my gift to you:

Air Stones

Dream of high places

slicing light into fragments

of coloured air stones.


Beauty Drifting Downward

Dark hair in the wind,

beauty drifting downward,

fire my mind and soul.


Old Love

Love from a time past

opens rose petals of flesh:

the pain bleeds its scent.


Copyright © Clayton Clifford Bye 2020

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