Monday, December 31, 2007

Sunset in a factory window

We were driving home from visiting friends a couple of days ago, feeling tired and emptied, not in a bad way, not unhappy, far from it, simply tired from company, introverts' weariness, introverts who, be assured, love their friends enormously. And tired from a peaceful, timeless, time-honoured post-Christmas walk through muddy lanes with a baby in a pram and two dogs on leads.

Nothing much needed saying; the visit had been a good one, conversations with individuals were yet to be reviewed, observations made ( " did you notice his wonderful slippers? Like a mediaeval jester's!" " She still loves and fusses the dog, doesn't she? ) but there was no urge and no urgency, we lapsed into silence.

I looked out of the passenger window at a sunburst in the western sky, a beauty, a blessing. One of those sunset sunbursts that looks like an opening in the sky, an archway to heaven, a glimpse of enlightenment, a view onto an altered state, or else perhaps a 1930s radio front, or something from a Cecil B. de Mille movie. An archetypal sunburst. Yet in my weariness I turned from the effort of any creative impulse towards it; the camera remained in my pocket, the words largely unformed in my head. I could do it no justice; the idea seemed utterly pointless, what's another sunset, in words or images? Yet with this abandonment and apathy came not only a sense of disappointment in myself, an oppression of the spirits, but then a restfulness and peace, a going beyond what seemed a paltry human need to reach and grasp and take possession, always to form beauty into an artefact, to shape and contain it, to take nibbles out of it with our silly narcissistic chatter . The sunburst did not need me to make anything of it, but I could come to rest in it. If this was emptiness or fullness I could not quite tell.

Then next morning I found this essay about Rilke ( about whom I am shamefully ignorant...) on Alistair's blog, which I was led to by rr. Quoting Robert Hass on Rilke,

' " The angels embody the sense of absence ... They are absolute fulfillment. Or rather, absolute fulfillment if it existed, without any diminishment of intensity, completely outside us. You feel a sunset open up an emptiness inside you which keeps growing and growing and you want to hold on that feeling forever: only you want it to be a feeling of power, of completeness and repose: that is longing for the angel." '

Alastair writes that Rilke first perceived this as a longing for death,

'(Rilke)... doesn’t get fooled by the idea that romantic love or religion or fame are going to paper over that chasm. But in the first half of his career he does think that death might. Over and again, Rilke sees death as a place where this ragged longing becomes beautifully quiescent.'

But, paradoxically, in contemplating the actual death of a young woman he knew, he transmutes it into a stronger force for creativity, writing in a letter,

' "Everywhere transience is plunging into the depths of Being… It is our task to imprint this temporary, perishable earth into ourselves so deeply, so painfully and passionately, that its essence can rise again, “invisibly”, inside us. We are the bees of the invisible. We wildly collect the honey of the visible, to store it in the great golden hive of the invisible." '.

*****

In the late afternoon of that day, there were more sunbursts. I walked the road along the ridge which forms the watershed between Channel and Biscay, watched the cumulus bubbling up over the Channel to the north and east, arching over us and flattening out in layered horizontals south and west, mirroring the opaque layers of the receding hills away to the interior of the peninsular and eventually to the Atlantic. I looked at the familiar winter silhouettes of the lopped trees, their branches inky rivulets streaming out from their uneven trunks, and I thought about the water courses springing invisibly from somewhere under my feet and falling away downhill, merging and joining and increasing in substance.


Three gulls wheeled between the planes of ploughed earth and backlit cloud, a buzzard like a bark-coloured ghost swept low over the mudded meltwater and rapeseed stalks and perched in the top of a spruce tree, and a flock of lapwings whorled upward and out from behind a dark row of pines. I snapped haphazardly at the sky, clichés, the cross-linguistic pun aposite. The pictures at once over-dramatise the light and fail to represent the grandeur, and the small moving detail of the birds is lost altogether, or never caught. Like these words they are inadequate, fragmentary shards of record, of just an ordinary winter sunset over an unremarkable agrarian landscape, which cannot show much at all of the endless, ever-moving, ever-changing skin of light and dark and life and death which surrounds us. But I am moved to take the pictures, to write the words, all the same.


At the top of the hill, beyond the village and between the fields is a small factory. A family business and workaday piece of light industry, it manufactures suspended ceilings mostly for public buidings. The mirrored glass of its office windows faces the fields and trees and the setting sun. As I approached it I felt that curiosity, now what if ? This was surely a more interesting way to photograph the sunset, framed in those windows, then I could crop it, straighten it, tweak it a bit...

From the angle I could see it from the sunset wasn't even fully visible. The image is reflected, darkened, cropped and lopped, distorted, rendered artificial, an artefact, a manufactured thing; it is contained within square panes, drawn around, serried, divided, limited. But I made it, it's mine.


And, one way or another, this is what we do, all we can do. It is the nature of our minds, our creativity, our humanity and our spirituality . It is pointless and inexplicable, and it may be the source of our destruction or of our salvation, but do it we must. Happy New Year.

30 comments:

andy said...

Lovely! Happy New Year to you too, Lucy.

zhoen said...

(o)

Rosie said...

xxhappy new year

Nancy said...

Happy New Year! Look forward to seeing many more of your beautiful words and photographs.

Plutarch said...

Happy New Year. Your sunburst descriptions and photographs have finished this one with beautiful images.

Tall Girl said...

you have to tell me how you put that photo on your header - it looks stupendous. I didn't think such things were possible on blogger!!

jzr said...

Beautiful words and photos! Perfect for New Years Eve!! Thank you!!

Catalyst said...

Discovering your blog made 2007 a sweeter year, Lucy. I'm looking forward to more in a Happy New Year!

tristan said...

more good stuff ... hooray and happy new year

marja-leena said...

Lovely post, images and new page! Your blog is one of my very favourites and I treasure our new friendship! Wishing you and Tom many new successes and joys, good health, peace and contentment, and abundant creativity. Happy New Year! Bonne année!

Lucas said...

This is an inspiring and amazing post to finish the year on. It puts so many vital insights together. Happy New year to you.

Bob said...

Thank you. Happy New Year!

herhimnbryn said...

Dear Lucy,
This was a wonderful piece to read at the beginning of the year. It is hot as Hades here right now...can I come walking too? I'll bring my camera and and walk quietly.

Dick said...

Ah, synchronicity! 'We are the bees of the invisible.' A phrase to treasure. Happy New Year, Lucy.

frankofile said...

Yes! Thank you for putting this into words, Lucy. A joy to find your blog

Nancy said...

Lucy, thanks so much for pointing out the bad link on my blog. Here's the correct one: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,2233334,00.html

Robin Starfish said...

What a wonderful walking essay from which to step into the new year. And to discover how you crafted the new header - illuminating.

Happy New Year, Lucy!

leslee said...

Oh, that is lovely as your new header! It looks like a filmstrip, and at that a good metaphor for the blog. Not sure about "displaced dilettante," but I know how you feel. Anyway, happy new year, Lucy. Looking forward to more here in 2008.

marly said...

It is delicious not to have read somebody wonderful--and to have all that before you.

Lovely meditation for the new year, Lucy. May you have a year with Rilke and angels and beauty-struck moments.

apprentice said...

What a thoughtful way to start the year.

I must admit to feeling that sense of "why bother". I think it can be useful though as it gives you time to mull over things, and to push yourself to find other ways of looking at and seeing things.

I like photographing the sky in the big puddles of standing water that we get.

I also feel a little "peopled out"
I look forward to routine reasserting itself so I can get out on my own again.

stitchwort said...

Thank you for your blog - may you find more details to delight you in 2008, and may you continue to share them with us.

Lee said...

Happy New Year Lucy!

julie said...

A Happy New Year to you, too, Lucy. What a wonderful rumination! Truly, there is treasure everywhere. Some of it is for sharing while other bits, like those beautiful sunbursts, are like little gifts for the viewer alone, simultaneously emptying us and yet filling us with the need to share that bit of wonder.

DH and I are both introverts, too, so after a couple of weekends of delightful company, we are enjoying our own solitary pursuits today. We've done nothing so marvelous as you have, though - I love the new header!

Lucy said...

Thank you all so much, for these comments, for reading and for your wonderful blogs too. It really has been a very marvellous year for writing and pictures!
The photo fitted the header exactly (TG - very easy, go to 'page elements', then 'edit' on the header bar, then 'add picture', I think that's it), I tried trimming off that end half a pane but that made it too short and left a gap, so it was clearly supposed to go there as it was!
New Year resolves, (if I do them, I'm not sure...)include discovering Rilke and giving up disingenuous self-deprecation. That said, I am keeping the 'displaced dilettante' epithet - which has always been there but is perhaps now more noticable - as I still recognise myself in it, and formerly a dilettante was not a bad thing to be, and displaced I unarguably am, and none the worse for that!

Jean said...

I love, love your new design and banner photo. The cloth you are spinning here grows ever more subtle, interesting and beautiful.

Warmest New Year wishes to you and Tom and Molly!

Zephyr said...

Beautifully said, Lucy!!

Happy New Year...and wishes for many more fulfilling moments!!

Dave said...

Rilke was one of the three or four greatest poets of the 20th century. I didn't discover this myself until about ten years ago, when I happend upon on of the Michael Hamburger translations. In Hamburger, Rilke finally has his ideal translator into English. Accept no substitutes.

Lucy said...

Jean, thanks, lovely to see you. Zephyr, you too.
Dave - now you tell me! I've just ordered another, never mind, thanks anyway!

Dave said...

Wait - ignore that previous comment. I'm mixing up translators of great German poets! Hamburger was Celan's translator. The Rilke translator I mean to give props to is Edward Snow.

(I should know better than to leave blog comments late at night.)

Lucy said...

(I'm partly answering the last comment here as it brings the total on this post to 30 comments, a record total which I am simply too egotistical and narcissistic not to reach for...)
Nope, Dave, it's a Leishman selection I've gone for. Snow apparently didn't do selections as he thought they should be translated in the order and form that Rilke wrote them. As I gather you're not overly keen on anthologies and presumably, by extension therefore, selections, you would agree with him. I'll order the Snow ones in due course.
What do you think of Robert Bly, I have some resistance to him generally, (I'm not quite sure why, perhaps 'Iron John'brought it on?) but apparently his Rilke translations are freer than Snow's but are 'more magical'.