Edinburgh’s buzzing again in the run-up to the Festival. There’s enough action-packed celebration of all-things-arts to make a person dizzy with the choices on offer. And sometimes just being here during August, soaking up the atmosphere, is celebration enough. My run-in with Covid-19 pretty much wiped out July for me. I’ve a feeling that August is going to be a very different kinda month!
Forever delighted by silhouettes of mountains and trees against the sky – brightest blue, or overcast and dotted about with cotton wool, there’s never a day when an hour’s drive in Lakeland is not rewarding. The scenery is constantly changing and never appears the same twice. And so it is with us. Vibrant with energy, unique beauty, and giftedness too, we can’t hold off change in the dynamic art of our lives, even if we wanted to.
After a few grey days it’s great to welcome back sunshine, and all the flowers have woken up thinking that today must be the day of the Wildflower Summer Party. And the apples are puffing themselves up, while their branches are building up strength, aware of their supporting responsibilities until September …
I’ve had a few conversations about joy today – and they brought to mind one of the ‘flash mobs’ I never tire of. Many hope-filled thoughts might be gathered around the notion of drawing people together ‘to make music.’ Some of these films have been adverts for European banks, I think. But they’re drawing attention to some really good and inspiring human connection, aren’t they?
… and out there, you know, rolling around and swimming through, and perfectly at home in the waves, are these enormous animals, and by golly – they’re singing, of all things! … What lies ahead to be discovered is absolutely limitless. We are not at the pinnacle of human knowledge. We are just beginning …
How readily I attune my ear to all who draw attention to the natural wonders of planet Earth! Our world-view is changed, healthily and helpfully, every time we take a few moments to hear the poetry of the great and giving Universe in which we live – and to notice that the birds of the air, and aeolian harps in the forests, and children, and some of the great leviathans of the ocean, and even some of us, are singing! If the power of poetry and song can change societies and protect our future – what shall we recite, and write, and sing?
… the big anthropocene question: are we being good ancestors?
When I slip beneath the quilt and fold into her warmth, I think we are like the pages of a love letter written thirty years ago that some aging god still reads each day and then tucks back into its envelope.
Ellen Bass ‘Getting into bed on a December Night’ – in How To Love the World, Poems of Gratitude and Hope
A bit out of post-Covid puff after doing some laundry – but I did smile when I happened upon Ellen Bass’ Getting into bed … earlier. Who but a poet sets about expressing the undoubted joys of pristine clean sheets? But who hasn’t experienced the said joys?
Roger Housden once again reaches into the soul of me in a short chapter on Mary Oliver’s West Wind #2
There is life without love.
Mary Oliver is speaking directly to that part of you and me that knows, however faintly, that when we rush into life, when we leap into action without any connection to the deeper currents that move through us always, we are acting without love. Our oars thrash at the water, and we break the gossamer web of life this way.
There is indeed a life without love, she says. It is quite possible to live a life in which your soul plays no part. You can jump up and down with every passing impulse, and never hear the whispering call that is there all along.
Yes: the cantus firmus – the enduring melody. That’s the note and that’s the song that I’m trying daily to listen out for. Of course there’s life without love, but such a life is not what we were made for.
… when you feel the mist on your mouth and sense ahead the embattlement, the long falls plunging and steaming – then row, row for your life toward it.
One thing is certain, and I have always known it – the joys of my life have nothing to do with age. They do not change. Flowers, the morning and evening light, music, poetry, silence, the goldfinches darting about …
Freesias, for me. For my desk. Peppery and colourful. And my best ever morning light? Two best ever! i – Sunrise over Galilee. ii – Normandy. Scented apple orchards and a golden mist hung a few feet above rolling fields, just after sunrise. Evening? In winter when it’s time for firelight. Music? Usually one piece at a time, silence before and aft to hold words, notation, resonance (!) and echo. Poetry? – my way of allowing the Universe to speak to me randomly: close my eyes and take down a volume – pot luck, usually followed by more of good fortune than anticipated. Silence? – why silence? William Stafford’s glorious ‘Listening’ suggests an answer more exquisitely than I’ve ever penned to date. And goldfinches? The ones who seem to enjoy my Japanese Acer as much as I do. Two little tininesses that fly-in disproportionate measures of duty-free joy from wherever they’ve been playing.
My father could hear a little animal step, or a moth in the dark against the screen, and every far sound called the listening out into places where the rest of us had never been.
More spoke to him from the soft wild night than came to our porch for us on the wind; we would watch him look up and his face go keen till the walls of the world flared, widened.
My father heard so much that we still stand inviting the quiet by turning the face, waiting for a time when something in the night will touch us too from that other place.
William Stafford Listening from West of Your City Talisman, 1960
Solitude itself is a way of waiting for the inaudible and the invisible to make itself felt. And that is why solitude is never static and never hopeless
Post-Covid-19 breathlessness has somewhat increased my present solitude as I lack energy to tackle grocery shopping, or to eat much anyway, or to engage with ordinary human encounters – though I’d love a big warm hug right now!
Yet there is fine company to be enjoyed in a library populated by other solitary souls. ‘Virtual friendships’ and connections existed long before the advent of the world-wide web. And many the seeming disadvantage that offers gifts hidden just beneath the surface – many the refreshing pail to be drawn from the well at home on a quiet day.
This afternoon I’ve had my thirst quenched again ‘From May Sarton’s Well’ and by Hartmut Rosa’s ‘Resonance.’ In a world in which (regrettable) acceleration seems to be the aim and the way in all things, Rosa proposes not deceleration as a governing balance but resonance instead. And though there’ll be a lot more to be said about a work with which I’m taking my time, the proposal already resonates with me!
May Sarton proffers solitude as ‘a way of waiting for the inaudible and the invisible to make itself felt.’ And I find myself having a bit of time to apply both Rosa and Sarton’s notions to the ways we relate to each other – and the ways we feel about what can’t immediately be seen or spoken. In frustration, sometimes, we err on the side of either acceleration or deceleration in our encounters – be we artist or scientist, carer, caterer or consumer, educator, engineer, fabricator, lawyer, lover, medic, musician, parent, politician or retailer. How would it be for us if we afforded more attention to resonance, to vibration, to a being able to tune into resonating wavelength?
Solitude. Resonance. Waiting for the inaudible and the invisible to make itself felt. I intuit that such a way of living – even dreaming, perhaps – will prove worth the wait and the always growing sense of hope and of wonder at the well.
Writing is a journey of discovery that takes me places that I never expected …
… a friend wrote to me today. And – in the way of such things – I have been taken thereby to places that I never expected, wondering all day about the extraordinary gift of languages in words, and in music, which can sometimes transport our words so exquisitely.
When I was first moved by Les Miserables in the 1990s I remember being sure in my mind that Marius’ grieving in Herbert Kretzmer’s Empty Chairs and Empty Tables was not for one revolution alone, but for every reflection and reconsideration of past, present and potential. A Universal Song.
Hearts are breaking all over the world for innumerable reasons today. Too many empty chairs and empty tables. I find myself awed by the purity of young Cormac Thompson’s rendition here – a clarity that carries an invitation to reflect straight to human hearts.
May our words be quiet, kind and clear; may our music sometimes be hope-filled silence – so that we really hear both, allowing ourselves to be reshaped, that we may the better transform our world. A quiet revolution. Thus may we be taken to unexpected, perhaps joy-filled and hopeful places.