Monday, March 31, 2008

Buckland Hall, Wales

This is where I will spend the next week, April 1st to 8th. Two times a year for a couple of years my husband and I have been here.

In this landscape, J.R.R Tolkien crafted parts of his Lord of the Rings-trilogy, and the trees, rivers, little roads, meadows and shrubbery tell the tale of hobbits. I wouldn't be at all surprised if a hobbit would come trotting down one of the rural roads, nor to find a hobbit's cave in one of the many green fields and copses around this venue. Many of the local names for places and rivers have obviously inspired Tolkien

You have the Buckleberrys (closely resembling the name of Buckland), Crick Hollow which most probably stems from the near Crickhowell, and many more that I have thought of before, though now I need a revisit to remember all of the striking resemblances of Welsh names and places to Tolkien's world of the hobbits. But names such as Talybont-on-Usk and Bagginshire surely had an inspirational effect og Tolkien's creative mind.

Well, there won't be any postings from me for at least a week - although probably no one ever reads this blog anyway, so...

Sunday, March 23, 2008

A modern heroine revealed

I love this portrait of J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter's mom. The whole atmosphere seems to mirror perfectly some inner state of closeness and simplicity I recognize as essential when sitting down to write.

I remember reading Ms. Rowling's own reaction to this portrait (painted by Stuart Pearson Wright) as capturing her in paint more than she thought possible for someone not close to her. In my opinion, not even those close to you will often be able to portray you in such an illuminating way. They may be able to describe you in words, perhaps, or list the things you like to do, which authors you like, what music you listen to, which movies you choose to view over and over - but to capture something central about you in a flash like in a painting or a poem, very few are able to do.

That is why, when it finally happens in one way or another, I feel a sense of gratitude. Perhaps you might view this as a kind of vanity, of a want to be seen and understood, but really it is about recognizing truth and then conveying it. And to me this portrait reveals something essential about this woman's creative space, which resembles most artists' locus of creativity; a lonely but wonderfully rich and exciting place in one's psyche.
You must dare to be still, or no work of art will leave your hands.
(I happened to read this article today, showing that Rowling, the now deservedly successful author has hit lows to equal her present heights.)

Friday, March 21, 2008

We call this Friday Good

This amazing painting by Salvador Dalí tells us what this day is about. Good Friday - if you have grown up in a Christian culture, it is hard not to be touched by this most central story to our culture; The Passion of Christ. These still, silent days in my city (Oslo, Norway), are a perfect frame for the deep, grave sincerity of this story and what it has meant, and means, for our culture.

In these secular times, referring to Christ is often frowned upon here in my country, and in Scandinavia in general. But one does not have to be a Christian to be moved by this tale, by this destiny, by this stirring of the water whose ripplets founded a whole spiritual tradition that is most alive 2000 years after the man himself walked around, all flesh and blood - and light.

His act of compassion, his whole mindset and heartful understading of life, of Being, is what reverberates in this last tale from his earthly life that we know of.

The following stanzas stem from T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets, from the fourth section of the second quartet called "East Coker", and touch upon the Easter topos:

The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer's art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.

Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But to remind of our, and Adam's curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.

The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire,
Wherein, if we do well, we shall
Die of the absolute paternal care
That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere.

The chill ascends from feet to knees,
The fever sings in mental wires.
If to be warmed, then I must freeze
And quake in frigid purgatorial fires
Of which the flame is roses, and the smoke is briars.

The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood—
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.
T.S. Eliot

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Theme poem of my last week

The incomparable Emily Dickinson often strikes a chord that is perfectly in tune with my present mental and/or emotional whereabouts. Sometimes more so, as her verse deepens and refines a mental or emotional state, and gently steeres me into another landscape; wider, deeper, sharper and more vivid in colouring. She's been everywhere, she's seen it all, she's spelled it all.

She is a poet that never stops astonishing me with her imagery and her conceptual sharpness, innovativeness and elegant, poetic grandeur. There is nothing that can't be enveloped in that mind of hers and no new world or even universe of dimension that she can't unfold from the nooks of her imagination.

The following poem - one of her more famous, I am sure - is as good a witness of my sense of gloom, heaviness and depression as anything I have come across in literature. This landscape is familiar, though not the underlying tone of my life.

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading — treading — till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through —

And when they all were seated,
A Service, like a Drum —
Kept beating — beating — till I thought
My Mind was going numb —

And then I heard them lift a Box
And creak across my Soul
With those same Boots of Lead, again,
Then Space — began to toll,

As all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear,
And I, and Silence, some strange Race
Wrecked, solitary, here —

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down —
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing — then —

- Emily Dickinson

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Wallace Stevens: The Plain Sense of Things

The Plain Sense of Things

After the leaves have fallen, we return
To a plain sense of things. It is as if
We had come to an end of the imagination,
Inanimate in an inert savoir.
It is difficult even to choose the adjective
For this blank cold, this sadness without cause.
The great structure has become a minor house.
No turban walks across the lessened floors.
The greenhouse never so badly needed paint.
The chimney is fifty years old and slants to one side.
A fantastic effort has failed, a repetition
In a repetitiousness of men and flies.
Yet the absence of the imagination had
Itself to be imagined. The great pond,
The plain sense of it, without reflections, leaves,
Mud, water like dirty glass, expressing silence
Of a sort, silence of a rat come out to see,
The great pond and its waste of the lilies, all this
Had to be imagined as an inevitable knowledge,
Required, as necessity requires.

Often you cannot explain why a poem strikes you the way it does. Some poems simply nail you and your experience of things and settles itself between thoughts and empty space. To me, this is one of them.

I recognize the vague and unexplicable feeling of sadness and sorrow, as well as a simplicity hard to articulate. There are certain images that strike me, like the disembodied turban floating across the floor, and the green pond in its it-ness and is-ness, just sitting there behind the letters and words, stating its existence as objectively and matter-of-factly as only reality can.
Of course, there are other dimensions to this poem, like Stevens' metapoetic statemens like "it is difficult even to choose the adjective" and "Yet the absence of the imagination had/ Itself to be imagined"

It's the simplicity of the whole thing that strikes me so, I think. We can all recognize the simplicity and sorrow weighing beneath the words, the real reality so to speak. Nature in its merciless objectivity. Quite a feat, I think, for such a short poem to incarnate that much.