Prisons. Odd topic to consider at the beginning of Advent but there you go.
I know October hasn’t gone yet but the nostalgia, the sentimental overload of years gone by has settled itself in my thoughts like that old Johnny Mercer song …
And when October goes
The snow begins to fly
Above the smoky roofs
I watch the planes go by
The children running home
Beneath a twilight sky –
… and I have to shake my head to clear out the old mists and let the chill winds blow through me and bring me back to the present, new days, new breezes, new moments which go by too fast but will be savored in later years.
Yet as October goes, I can’t help but linger in it just a little longer, because there have been mornings when I’ve walked with someone “through the parables of the sunlight and the legends of the green chapels,” when the presence of that person beside me – in that moment, in that time – has impressed itself upon me because of the added presence of Another, an unseen Presence, all-encompassing and immediate, who in His infinite grace, mercy, and inscrutable wisdom had ordained that moment from all eternity, and there is nothing like the autumn sunlight to cloak it all in golden mystery. Relived, it becomes a golden moment once again, lost only to be recaptured as a foretaste of what yet awaits in that promised golden time still to come, and I think Dylan Thomas, for one, would understand.
Poem In October
It was my thirtieth year to heaven
Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood
And the mussel pooled and the heron
The morning beckon
With water praying and call of seagull and rook
And the knock of sailing boats on the net webbed wall
Myself to set foot
In the still sleeping town and set forth.
My birthday began with the water-
Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name
Above the farms and the white horses
And I rose
In rainy autumn
And walked abroad in a shower of all my days.
High tide and the heron dived when I took the road
Over the border
And the gates
Of the town closed as the town awoke.
A springful of larks in a rolling
Cloud and the roadside bushes brimming with whistling
Blackbirds and the sun of October
On the hill’s shoulder,
Here were fond climates and sweet singers suddenly
Come in the morning where I wandered and listened
To the rain wringing
Wind blow cold
In the wood faraway under me.
Pale rain over the dwindling harbour
And over the sea wet church the size of a snail
With its horns through mist and the castle
Brown as owls
But all the gardens
Of spring and summer were blooming in the tall tales
Beyond the border and under the lark full cloud.
There could I marvel
Away but the weather turned around.
It turned away from the blithe country
And down the other air and the blue altered sky
Streamed again a wonder of summer
Pears and red currants
And I saw in the turning so clearly a child’s
Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother
Through the parables
Of sun light
And the legends of the green chapels
And the twice told fields of infancy
That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.
These were the woods the river and sea
Where a boy
In the listening
Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy
To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.
And the mystery
Still in the water and singingbirds.
And there could I marvel my birthday
Away but the weather turned around. And the true
Joy of the long dead child sang burning
In the sun.
It was my thirtieth
Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon
Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.
O may my heart’s truth
Still be sung
On this high hill in a year’s turning.
—-Dylan Thomas (1914)
I love stories with twist endings, and thought I’d share one from a favorite blogger who writes fairy tales, fantasy, science fiction, novels, and short stories.
There Will Never Be Any More Solken Wine (fantasy short story reblogged from Heaven, Hell & All of Us)
“There will always be more emeralds,” Jaidus said, studying the still, moonlit valley below. “And rubies? A pence apiece! But there will never be any more Solken wine.”
“Diamonds? A dinar a dozen! But there will never be any more Solken wine,” Durpen agreed.
Jaidus surveyed the narrow valley of the Stanis River, far below the rock ledge where he lay, steep walls heavily forested with oak and poplar as the hills drew together here where the river tumbled out of the mountains, the snow still covering the higher slopes not far beyond the crumbling arches that led into the ruined palace of the last, and now long dead, Solken king. He rolled to the side and shifted his dagger, pinching him at his waist.
“Did you ever taste any of it?” Jaidus asked.
Jane Austen, Mansfield Park:
Here had been grievous mismanagement; but, bad as it was, he gradually grew to feel that it had not been the most direful mistake in his plan of education. Something must have been wanting within, or time would have worn away much of its ill effect. He feared that principle, active principle, had been wanting; that they had never been properly taught to govern their inclinations and tempers by that sense of duty which can alone suffice. They had been instructed theoretically in their religion, but never required to bring it into daily practice. To be distinguished for elegance and accomplishments, the authorised object of their youth, could have had no useful influence that way, no moral effect on the mind. He had meant them to be good, but his cares had been directed to the understanding and manners, not the disposition; and of the necessity of self–denial and humility, he feared they had never heard from any lips that could profit them.
Bitterly did he deplore a deficiency which now he could scarcely comprehend to have been possible. Wretchedly did he feel, that with all the cost and care of an anxious and expensive education, he had brought up his daughters without their understanding their first duties, or his being acquainted with their character and temper.
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859):
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair …
The great French artist, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, suffered so much from rheumatoid arthritis that it was difficult for him to paint due to progressive deformities in his hands and shoulders. The painting on the left, “Young Girls at the Piano” (1892), was done when he first developed the disease.
Yet when a friend said, “You have done enough. Why do you torture yourself?” Renoir replied, “The pain passes, but the beauty remains.”
The Clod and the Pebble (William Blake, 1794)“Love seeketh not itself to please,Nor for itself hath any care,But for another gives its ease,And builds a Heaven in Hell’s despair.”So sung a little Clod of ClayTrodden with the cattle’s feet,But a Pebble of the brookWarbled out these metres meet:“Love seeketh only self to please,To bind another to its delight,Joys in another’s loss of ease,And builds a Hell in Heaven’s despite.”
William Blake, writing in the eighteenth century, was an unusual fellow (take a close gander at his drawing above), a printer by trade and a great poet by vocation. He quite unaffectedly combined in his person and poetry a certain childlikeness that can catch you off guard with its pointedness, like a child’s penetrating stare, a sharp goad to the smug and self-righteous. The above poem is an instance of this.
For starters, “The Clod and the Pebble” makes you wonder at the order of the stanzas, whether they weren’t inverted accidentally in the printer’s press. Why, after all, let the Pebble have the last word? Why not the inglorious Clod? But that wouldn’t be Blakean at all! Imagine a child fed at Sunday School the sweet word of God by one in the robe of authority who sees that same one later in the week intemperately cursing the day an incorrigible brother was born. Which impression is the lasting one? Which would it be to you? It was hardly random that Blake chose to include this poem in his Songs of Innocence and Experience collection under Songs of Experience.
The deceptively simple verse leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth, like the world usually does, like worldliness in ourselves when we catch ourselves at it.
It makes me wonder too, as I walk the road of sanctification as we all must as Christians, how far down the road have I come? Am I still more of the Pebble than the Clod?
And one last thought. Doesn’t the last word of the poem resonate with a particularly fine invocation of Satan’s response to God’s creation of Eden?
Inspired by the Georges de La Tour painting below, the following poem attempts to give an added voice to the expressive eloquence of Tour’s work by “unmuting” Job’s wife. As a character in the book of Job, his wife is not prominent but, perhaps, delivers the most bitter blow to Job. Through her, we hear the voice of Satan speaking most directly to Job when she asks, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die” (Job 2:9). In the midst of his sufferings, I believe Job’s greatest challenge was to withstand this voice and choose to trust God.
It is no wonder that Virginia Woolf entitled a collection of essays on writing “A Room of One’s Own” since not only does a writer’s room occupy a space all its own, like a creative work or an individual’s life, but it maintains the boundaries of that space with enclosing walls formed at its conception. Only a doorway admits entrance or exit both to the occupant and visitor. And whatever that “room” may be, however modest or grand, private or public, man-made or natural, we leave one room only to enter another which in turn we leave for another. It is this sense of leave-taking that we see played out in our lives and in our occupations, but also in the interior spaces of the imagination as artists and storytellers, scholars, and critics.
In our lives, we pass through places, events, times, and histories, our own history intersecting with others’, passing from one day to the next until time stops. As writers we leave the “real” world with its ready-made structures and demands into a self-created world which may or may not bear a resemblance to any we have known.
But leave-taking in its many forms is not an easy job, and the dynamics of its interplay between the leaving of one room for another creates an uneasy tension.
There is an entrance that must be made and, more often than not, what we see is a closed door. Maybe even locked. Perhaps only slammed shut by an unceremoniously hostile exit echoing with the finality of rejection. It doesn’t matter that you yourself may have slammed it shut, stung by criticism or scorn or frustration at fruitless effort. The closed door dares you to approach it once more and make your entrance.