Edinburgh is arts, art and festival 24 hours a day, 365 days a year – which makes it a natural environment to host arts, art and one of the world’s best known International Festivals. Nature, and innumerable artists working together, will touch this vibrant city with colour, drama, light and great literature; with prose and poetry, music, song and dance throughout a happy August. And just outside my window I behold gold 🌱
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
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.
Raining again – and I remember to give thanks for it: everything that is, here, has need of it. I shall be glad of the hot shower when I return home. The grass in near sight and farther, on the fells, is the greener and the richer for it. And the tap tap tapping of raindrops on the hood of my jacket lends a rhythm to my pace and heartbeat so noticeable that it brings me to a standstill, slightly out of breath, and silenced by the grey light of this early morning. And – not for the first time – I know within my soul that music is sometimes silent. It is, in fact, as often silence as it is ‘sound.’ Without the silences, all the notes would be jumbled together. There’d be cacophany, well enough, to be sure, but lacking nuance, depth, expression; dare I say it? – lacking comprehension. But there are two melodies: ‘one easier to hear, the other / lower, steady, perhaps more faithful for being less heard / yet always present.’ And I so easily might have missed it – today, and a hundred thousand million times before, and in the future. So I shall try to remember – for I was, am, and will be created by The Great Silence.
Make no mistake, I only achieve simplicity with enormous effort. As long as I have questions and no answers I’ll keep on writing.
Clarice Lispector Hour of the Star
There’s no music without depth of silence upon which to paint notes. Often I have shared my love of ‘silent music’ – the spaces in between. Absence of answers, the unfinished, the infinite, the eternal, the questions – are as important to me as expressed chords and symphonies, every bit as important to me as the words I yearn to read, and shape upon my tongue, and set down upon a page, and have engraved upon my heart, occupying my days and nights, my soul-work, my love, my leisure.
It’s not arriving, or the making of judgments, proclamations, speeches or songs that draws me towards the eternal. It’s living with questions that have no trite answers. Writing, reading, making poetry and prayer, long-savouring notes and words, meditating before the great backdrop of silence. Effort. Gratitude. Occasionally glimpsing an Eden of simplicity.
It was warm and we were ambling. Glorious cloud formations floated in the blue dome above us and I suppose I must have been waxing lyrical a bit! ‘Where does your imagination come from?’ my friend asked. ‘From dust,’ I replied immediately. ‘Or, to be more precise, from dust flecks in my eyes.’
Everyone’s experienced them. Perhaps lying in sunshine, on a freshly mown lawn in August. I didn’t know then, as a very small boy, about the Hebrew vision of Creation formed out of dust. But, in company with summer daydreamers all over the world, I could see – behind closed eyelids – little floating flecks of dust (or whatever it is that floats there) and thus began the habit of a lifetime: ‘watching’ a Creator’s playtimes. The beginnings of meditation, one might say. Knowing with a faith-full certainty that there are colours and causes, glories and great wonders, lights and shades of darkness, silences and sounds, warmth and coolness, profound music and mysteries, that are already ‘accessible’ to us long before we complicate our lives by straining (or training!) to see, or hear, or smell, or touch, or taste.
And in that garden ‘knowing’ I learned that faith is about something deeper and greater than humankind could possibly draw ultimate boundaries around. So, for me, our philosophical, political and religious convulsions, and our loves and hates – important though they be – are situated in a space much larger and freer than we usually inhabit.
And here, and there, in the poetry of eternal creativity, I anticipate, I imagine, and whether my eyes are closed or open, for me and for all of us, I hope. Today’s flecks of dust – ourselves and all created things – will be reshaped for the joy of creation.