Diary: Wind, Sleep, and Sorrowful Songs

over

The wind certainly does add a touch of drama to everything.

Just before it fully picked up, I observed a bumble bee on a dandelion. It looked like it was clinging on to the flower for dear life. I tried to imagine what the experience must be like from the bee’s perspective; the whole world a-whorl around you; your only haven a golden circumference the elements are ever conspiring to tear you from.

As I crossed a wooden bridge over a marsh, the wind really began to fulminate – not quite King Lear territory, yet – but a nearby Hamlet, perhaps? A legion of black clouds rolled in, in true Roman imperial fashion. Poplar trees were blown into bowing, willows cracking under the pressure like so many arthritic limbs, and the air was suddenly a chaotic mosaic of catkins, leaves, and dandelion seeds – a ballet caught in a tornado.

As I neared home, I moved through a large corridor of brambles that I pass through every day. I’ve been reflecting on how different they look throughout the procession of the seasons. At the moment, they are all re-leafing. There is sumptuous, magisterial quality to them, as though every leaf is a fanfare celebrating the very concept of greenness.

In Winter, they become nature’s equivalent of barbed wire. And if we should ever be so lucky as to experience some snowfall, then they look like giant, gelid spiders, trying to dislodge themselves from some awful frost that has consigned them to petrification as a punishment.

The previous night had not been so peaceful. I could not sleep. I felt sad, lonely, and restlessly in want of human contact –a sleepy embrace to compose a counterpoint to my being. Venus was glaring through the window at me, and I had the radio turned on low to give my maudlin mind something to occupy it.

After some avant-garde Jazz, and a light spell of semi-somulence, I awoke to find them playing Gorecki’s 3rd symphony – ‘A Symphony of Sorrowful Songs’ which I had actually been thinking about listening to earlier that day. It seemed the perfect companion to my current state: slow, sombre, and sad, with occasional euphoric bursts of near-prophetic hopefulness.

My favourite moment occurs in the second movement, when, after a gloomy, lingering melody, the hopeful chords at the beginning of the movement return, and the soprano explodes with this call of grief and euphoria which seems to cry out: “WHERE ARE YOU?” Like a lone wanderer on a desolate, war-barren planet, who has just detected the first murmurings of possible love, but does not yet know how to trace them.

(The words are actually an invocation to The Virgin Mary, found on the cell of the Gestapo headquarters, and written by an eighteen year-old girl imprisoned there. But, that sense of crying out for love, for salvation, across long swathes of impossible space, still, unolibteratingly, remains).

When I finally did sleep, I dreamed I was in a strange, video game world, where I was roaming around the winding passageways of a monster-filled sewer. I felt no sense of danger, nor fear. Then I awoke to the sounds of a sparkling piano – thinking of friends I missed – and the birth-song of the wind.

Diary: Childhood, Imagination, Nature

constable.jpg

Today I have been looking after my niece. We have been wandering around the garden, examining insects – (all of which she idiosyncratically refers to as ‘Ladybugs’) – and I have every confidence that she will go on to be a pioneering entomologist!

It reminded me of how an appreciation of the natural world is innate in us, and only later lost, as our quest for pleasure becomes confined to silicon screens; consigned as useless because, while it may make us happy, it will not make us money or orgasms – better to get lost in the pulse of clubs and pornography, than listen to the jukebox of songbirds in succession.

There is a virtue to being a small child: from the vantage of your innocence and unworldly perspective, you look at things more closely, with a more immediate intensity; even seeing a single ant in motion was enough to make my niece gasp – when was the last time you gasped in wonder at something so small, it could be crushed by your little finger?

It reminded me of my own innate love for nature as a child. At Primary School, I always loved those activities that most involved interplay with other forms of life: catching crickets in the long-grasses; fishing for newts, insects, and fish with our nets in the pond – and if you ever had the good fortune to capture a frog, you were tantamount, for a day, to a king.

Now, as I write this, I am reclining on a sandy bank against a willow tree I have known since I was four. Its long, sinewy flanks lie horizontal on the river’s edge; and for its sheer clamberability, and adjacency to water, it was our imaginal ‘Pirate Ship’ when we were children. We would climb its limbs, improvising stories – the River Usk a gateway to the rollicking high seas.

This again shows how natural creativity is – the desire to ‘make things up’ – the eternal art of story-telling. For so many of our ancestors, whether read from a book, improvised, or from memory, the relating of stories would have formed much of the entertainment and social cohesion during idle hours – an opportunity for a whole family or community to be transported together into the past – into The Dream Time – into the bourn of other worlds.

Now, there is the sense that stories are only acceptable within the safe confines of a film or paperback novel – people seldom get together to tell stories anymore. It’s almost as though we fear fiction – we fear imagination – as though, if we do not keep it too tightly imprisoned within a well-ordered space, it may threaten to spill over into our reality, and stretch and warp it beyond our means of comprehension.

But reality and imagination are inseparable. Reality feeds imagination, and imagination ornaments and modifies reality. Nature is the collective dream of gods, daemons, and faeries; art, culture, and civilization are the hardened nightmares and fancies of women and men.

This is something that children intuitively understand. Nature is more than just a resource, a biologic reductionism, a house dead of green furnishings – it is the birth place of dreams. An ant is not just ant, but an introduction to an adventure – a flower is not just a flower, but a portal to another world.

And if you were infinitely small, and capable of falling into the cup of a bluebell as into a wormhole, who’s to say what worlds of magic iridescence you would endlessly discover?

 

Poem: Half Past Moon

Half moon

Half past Moon
Half mast Moon
Borrower of light
And summoner of elves
Invisible monkeys
Scramble across the branches
of a red ash
Susurrations come from the motorway
singing of sirens and slit-throats
The Himalayan Balsam
Have turned a ghostly white
Chalked by the moon
Until the raging dawn
Kisses them pink
Once again

Poem: Eleven O’Clock Swan

Swan

Eleven O’clock Swan
Adrift on your oily lake
Perfect, viscous blackness
How is it you can sit
In such impenetrable goo
Without gluing your feathers together?

The Robin’s Song

Robin

The robin is undoubtedly one of our finest songbirds. This morning, I had the pleasure of listening to two robins singing to one another. One was perched in the boughs of a Hawthorn Tree, whilst the other must have been at least twenty meters away, and was well out of sight. Every time the first robin sang a melodic phrase, there would be delicious pause, as though the second robin was mulling it over, considering their words, before belting a few beautiful bars back. And on it went, much to my delight.

The notion that birdsong is NOT a language is utter nonsense, and is born of the haughty anthropocentrism of which so much science and human thinking  is guilty. All of nature has a language. Just because it is not as clumsy and as crude as our own, we have ignorance just to refer to it as sheer mechanics and conditioning.

Until we stop seeing humans as being superior to everything else in the known universe, then we will always be deaf to nature’s silent words.

Just listen to two robins singing, and the truth will be yours.