Tuesday, 28 October 2008


Wistmans Wood 2008

To one who said that myths were lies and therefore worthless, even though ‘breathed through silver.

Philomythus to Misomythus

You look at trees and label them just so, (for trees are ‘trees’, and growing is ‘to grow’); you walk the earth and tread with solemn pace one of the many minor globes of Space: a star’s a star, some matter in a ball compelled to courses mathematical amid the regimented, cold, Inane, where destined atoms are each moment slain.

At bidding of a Will, to which we bend (and must), but only dimly apprehend, great processes march on, as Time unrolls from dark beginnings to uncertain goals; and as on page o’erwritten without clue, with script and limning packed of various hue, an endless multitude of forms appear, some grim, some frail, some beautiful, some queer, each alien, except as kin from one remote Origo, gnat, man, stone, and sun. God made the petreous rocks, the arboreal trees, tellurian earth, and stellar stars, and these homuncular men, who walk upon the ground with nerves that tingle touched by light and sound. The movements of the sea, the wind in boughs, green grass, the large slow oddity of cows, thunder and lightening, birds that wheel and cry, slime crawling up form mud to live and die, these each are duly registered and print the brains contortions with a separate dint.

Yet trees are not ‘trees’, until so named and seen – and never were so named, till those had been who speech’s involuted breath unfurled, faint echo and dim picture of the world, but neither record nor a photograph, being divination, judgement, and a laugh, response of those that felt astir within by deep monition movements that were kin to life and death of trees, of beasts, of stars: free captives undermining shadowy bars, digging the foreknown from experience and panning the vein of spirit out of sense. Great powers they slowly brought out of themselves, and looking backward they beheld the elves that wrought on cunning forges in the mind, and light and dark on secret looms entwined. He sees no stars who does not see them first of living silver made that sudden burst to flame like flowers beneath an ancient song, whose very echo after-music long has since pursued. There is no firmament, only a void, unless a jewelled tent myth-woven and elf-patterned; and no earth, unless the mother’s womb whence all have birth.

The heart of man is not compound of lies, but draws some wisdom from the only Wise, and still recalls him. Though now long estranged, man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed. Dis-graced he may be, yet is not dethroned, and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned, his world-dominion by creative act: not his to worship the great Artefact, man, sub-creator, the refracted light through whom is splintered from a single White to many hues, and endlessly combined in living shapes that move from mind to mind. though all the crannies of the world we filled with elves and goblins, though we dared to build gods and their houses out of dark and light, and sow the seed of dragons, ‘twas our right (used or misused). The right has not decayed. We make still by the law in which we’re made.

Yes! ‘wish-fulfilment dreams’ we spin to cheat our timid hearts and ugly Fact defeat!
Whence came the wish, and whence the power to dream, or some things fair and others ugly deem? All wishes are not idle, nor in vain fulfilment we devise – for pain is pain, not for itself to be desired, but ill; or else to strive or to subdue the will alike were graceless; and of Evil this alone is dreadly certain: Evil is.

Blessed are the timid hearts that evil hate, that quail in its shadow, and yet shut the gate; that seek no parley, and in guarded room, though small and bare, upon a clumsy loom weave tissues gilded by the far-off day hoped and believed in under Shadow’s sway.

Blessed are the men of Noah’s race that build their little arks, though frail and poorly filled, and steer through winds contrary towards a wraith, a rumour of a harbour guessed by faith.

Blessed are the legend-makers with their rhyme of things not found within recorded time.
It is not they that have forgot the Night, or bid us flee to organised delight, in lotus-isles of economic bliss forswearing souls to gain a Circe-kiss (and counterfeit at that, machine-produced, bogus seduction of the twice-seduced).

Such isles they saw afar, and ones more fair, and those that hear them yet may yet beware.
They have seen Death and ultimate defeat, and yet they would not in despair retreat, but oft to victory have turned the lyre and kindled hearts with legendary fire, illuminating Now and dark Hath-been with light of suns as yet by no man seen.

I would that I might with the minstrels sing and stir the unseen with a throbbing string. I would be with the mariners of the deep that cut their slender planks on mountains steep and voyage upon a vague and wandering quest, for some have passed beyond the fabled West. I would with the beleaguered fools be told, that keep an inner fastness where their gold, impure and scanty, yet they loyally bring to mint in image blurred of distant king, or in fantastic banners weave the sheen heraldic emblems of a lord unseen.

I will not walk with your progressive apes erect and sapient. Before them gapes the dark abyss to which their progress tends – if by God’s mercy progress ever ends, and does not ceaselessly revolve the same unfruitful course with changing of a name. I will not tread your dusty path and flat, denoting this and that by this and that, your world immutable wherein no part the little maker has with maker’s art. I bow not yet before the Iron Crown, nor cast my own small golden sceptre down. In Paradise perchance the eye may stray from gazing upon everlasting Day to see the day-illumined, and renew from mirrored truth the likenesses of the True. Then looking on the Blessed Land ‘twill see that all is as it is, and yet made free: Salvation changes not, nor yet destroys, garden nor gardener, children nor their toys. Evil it will not see, for evil lies not in God’s picture but in crooked eyes, not in the source but in malicious choice, and not in sound but in the tuneless voice. In Paradise they look no more awry; and though they make anew, they make no lie. Be sure they still will make, not being dead, and poets shall have flames upon their head, and harps whereon their faultless fingers fall: there each shall choose for ever from the All.
JRR Tolkein

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

The Madness of the Caravanserai

Photo - West Bay, Dorset

And then there are places and regions farther afield, places on the verge of London, as unknown to the vast majority of Londoners as Harran in Abyssinia. To attain these, the general recipe is to take something that goes out of London by the Seven Sisters Road, something that touches on Finsbury Park, which, I take it, is the extremest mark of the  Londinia cognita Londiniensibus; the caravanserai from which the caravans set out across the wilderness; the merchants telling tales of travellers who journeyed on just such a voyage and travail and were heard and seen no more of men; though some chroniclers, in the fashion of old Mandeville, and therefore not to be trusted overmuch, hardily affirm that these very rapt personages have been noted going to chapel on Sundays in Grinders Green, wearing silk hats and frock coats, or as doing their own marketing on Saturday nights, haggardly, awfully, as men dwelling under the command of a djinneh, on the heights of Tottenham Rye. Such tales they tell of them that scoffed at the predictions of the geomancers, and undertook the journey of the great caravan that sets out from Finsbury Park, a station on the Great Northern Railway – I have not duly noted its new name – from York Road. His Name is the Merciful, the Compassionate, the King of the Day of Judgment; and in the Halls of Eblis there is no backyard gloomier than the backyard in which York Road Station, King’s Cross, is situate. O true believers: be not misguided by those who speak proudly of Euston and Somers Town: for they stray from the truth.
Alas ! I am sane, as the doctors persist, and so I cannot show these visions.

The London Adventure p.134 Arthur Machen

Arthur Machen Laments

Photo - Margate Festival 2008

“Really; it is quite clear that Art… is in the very bones of humanity, that it is the differentia of man, that which makes him to be what he is, that distinguishes him from sheep and goats, that nourish a blind life within the brain. And how infinitely strange it is that we, who are men because we are artists, should begin to suspect that if we are artists we are mad. Genius, art are, I take it , vision; the power of seeing further, seeing deeper, seeing more than we others see, with secondary part of expression, the power of communicating in notes, or paint, or marble, or words the thing that has been thus seen…

… ah! If I had but been one of this happy race of lunatics; how I would have shaken your hearts with the picture of Clarendon Road, Notting Hill Gate (Arthur Machen as a young man) , somewhat bowery, somewhat stuccoey, vanishing into October mists and dimness forty years ago on still, dull evenings; with the picture of the poor lad who lived in the little top room on No. 23, issuing forth and pacing the dull, still ways, dreaming, ever dreaming and burning for the great adventure of literature; seeing the stones glow into spagyric gold beneath his feet, seeing the plane trees in the back gardens droop down from fairyland, seeing a mystery behind every blind, and the infinite mystery in the grey-blue distance, where, as they tell me, for I have never sought to know, the street becomes dubious, if not desolate.”

The London Adventure p.130 Arthur Machen

Catching Abstract Triangles

Photo - Margate Festival 2008

We move, as I have said before, in a world of illusions, but of illusions on one plane. We are mistaken if we think that there is, in ultimate reality, any such thing as a cube, any such thing as a cow; but, at all events, these two are apparently on the same surface of being. But, now and then, there are intrusions upon us from other worlds, probably quite as illusory as our own. And we are accordingly left stupefied. There is no t” therefore”; no ratio. Suppose a mathematician, in the high matters of his science, to come upon a conic section singing a comic song. Suppose a gamekeeper trapping weasels – and catching Abstract Triangles, or a classical scholar finding the optative mood turning into white mice, with small, gilt bells. Thus it was when the coals shot out of the coal-scuttle at Farringay on the King’s Cross Line (a case of poltergeist), when the mud walls broke upon the Bishop’s holy head in Zanzibar; when I say the name “ Le Fleming” - or Fleming – on the brass plate in the Earl’s Court Road…

But, after all, from all this there does result this one moral…that the world, the sum of things of which we are cognisant, is infinitely queer, that even in the rind or surface of it the strangest essences are lurking, that tremendous beauties, amazing oddities are everywhere present, wearing very often, to use the Wardrobe Master’s phrase, Disguise Cloaks of the most commonplace pattern.

The London Adventure p.122 Arthur Machen

The Grey Hills

Sun Through the Leaves

I would write of a man on his summer holiday,… I would write of him as coming to my old territory , and as he ran down the shore of the Severn and the level lands to Newport noting something strange, in the shape of the wild Grey Hills to the north, something outland in those greeny dells of Wentwood, that hide in their lower slopes buried walls and temples. I would take my man to Caerleon-on-Usk and show him the grey Roman walls mouldering there above the green turf, and show him the red sunset over the mountain, and the tawny river swimming to the flood. He should go wandering away, this unfortunate fellow, into such a country as he had never dreamed of; he should lose himself in intricacies of deep lanes descending from wooded heights to hidden and solitary valleys, where the clear water of the winding brook sounds under the alder trees. He should be high on Mynydd Maen in the morning, in the fullness of the sun, and drink in the wind that blows there, and look out on the rolling billows of the land, and far down yellow Severn Sea; and finally he should come home again to London and perceive that wonderful things have been wrought in him; that these woods and hollows, these ancient walls and buried temples, this might and majesty of sun and wind upon the summit of the great mountain wall, these enclosed, still valleys of hidden peace and wonder; that all these things have discoursed to him a great mystery, whereby his soul has been renewed within him.

The London Adventure p.137 Arthur Machen

Notes for the Hill of Dreams

The Colour Purple - 2008

He wondered whether all the objects of nature are not purely symbolical; whether nature does not endeavour to talk to us and tell us amazing secrets by the signs and ciphers of trees and ferns and herbs and flowers and hills and streams… the oak and the elm that we fell for our need may be wonderful signs: the brooks may indeed be books: the fern may be a great secret: the flower by the way the word of a great mystery: and whether we call the hills beautiful or dig coal from them, we may equally misunderstand their office.

The London Adventure p. 80 – Arthur Machen

Poets Catch Strange Glimpses Of Reality

Photo - Margate Wandering 2008

I am afraid “wandering a little” is almost a hobby of mine - I began to consider whether, in this respect, London were the unique matter I had considered it. For, referring back the axiom to its most august origin: we are ready enough to confess – if we be not occultists, who know everything – that no man hath seen God at any time. But are we prepared to admit that no man hath seen anything at any time? Yet, this is most indubitably the truth. We see appearances and outward shows of things, symbols of all sorts; but we behold no essences, nor could we bear to behold them, if it were possible to do so… Tennyson [said] - that if any man could see a grain of wheat as it is in its essence, he would instantly become a raging maniac. We see nothing real, we can no more see anything real than we can take our afternoon tea in the white, central heat of a blast furnace. We see shadows cast by reality. The more foolish of us gather up some of the shadows and put them in saucepans and boil them and then strain: and find out that water is really H2O, which is true enough in its way, and will remain so: till it is found out that H2 is shorthand for ten distinct forces, while O is a universe of countless stars, all revolving in their eternal order about an unknown, unconjecturable orb. And this, again, will be a good working hypothesis - till, new discoveries call for an entire revision of all our notions on the subject. No; we see nothing at all; though poets catch strange glimpses of reality, now and then, out of the corners of their eyes.

The London Adventure p.69– Arthur Machen

Strangeness Which Is The Essence Of Beauty

View from Primrose Hill - North London

Strangeness which is the essence of beauty is the essence of truth, and the essence of the world. I have often felt that, when the ascent of a long hill brought me to the summit of an undiscovered height in London; and I looked down on a new land.

The London Adventure p.127 Arthur Machen

The Question Of The Pattern

Then the question of the pattern. (Compare with the whorl, the spiral, Maori decoration.) Why was this form common to all primitive art?

The problem perplexed him. He took it, as was his custom, for a long walk; and in the dreariest, most grey street of a grey, remote suburb, just as the men were coming home form the city, the thought, with a pang of joy, rushed into his mind, that the maze was not only the instrument, but the symbol of ecstasy: it was a pictured “inebriation,” the sign of some age-old “process” that gave the secret bliss to men, that was symbolised also by dancing, by lyrics with their recurring burdens, and their repeated musical phrases: a maze, a dance, a song: three symbols pointing to one mystery.

The London Adventure p. 89 – Arthur Machen

We Learn By Experience, Say The Good Men

Photo - Margate Festival 2008

We learn by experience, say the good men; but I believe the fact to be that experience cause us to forget most things that are worth knowing … the sense of the eternal mysteries, the eternal beauty hidden beneath the crust of common and of commonplace things; hidden and yet burning and glowing continually if you care to look with purged eyes…

The London Adventure p.71 – Arthur Machen

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Solitude and the Creative Person

It is true that many creative people fail to make mature personal relationships, and some are extremely isolated. It is also true that, in some instances, trauma, in the shape of early separation or bereavement, has steered the potentially creative person toward developing aspects of his personality which can find fulfillment in comparative isolation. But this does not mean that solitary, creative pursuits are themselves pathological…

(A)voidance behavior is a response designed to protect the infant from behavioral disorganization. If we transfer this concept to adult life, we can see that an avoidant infant might very well develop into a person whose principal need was to find some kind of meaning and order in life which was not entirely, or even chiefly, dependent upon interpersonal relationships.

Solitude: A Return to the Self – Anthony Storr

Speed and Happiness

I wanted movement and not a calm course of existence. I wanted excitement and danger and the chance to sacrifice myself for my love. I felt in myself a superabundance of energy which found no outlet in our quiet life.

Family Happiness – Leo Tolstoy

Creative Talent

It may, after all, be the bad habit of creative talents to invest themselves in pathological extremes that yield remarkable insights but no durable way of life for those who cannot translate their psychic wounds into significant art or thought.

In Search of the Miraculous – Theodore Roszak

Life in the Woods

Photo - Woods below Golden Cap, Dorset

Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth. I sat at a table where were rich food and wine in abundance, an obsequious attendance, but sincerity and truth were not; and I went away hungry from the inhospitable board. The hospitality was as cold as the ices.

Walden, or Life in the Woods – Henry David Thoreau


The physical domain of the country had its counterpart in me. The trails I made led outward into the hills and swamps, but they led inward also. And from the study of things underfoot, and from reading and thinking, came a kind of exploration, myself and the land. In time the two became one in my mind. With the gathering force of an essential thing realizing itself out of early ground, I faced in myself a passionate and tenacious longing – to put away thought forever, and all the trouble it brings, all but the nearest desire, direct and searching. To take the trail and not look back. Whether on foot, on snowshoes or by sled, into the summer hills and their late freezing shadows – a high blaze, a runner track in the snow would show where I had gone. Let the rest of mankind find me if it could.

The Stars, The Snow, The Fire: Twenty-Five Years in the Northern Wilderness – John Haines

An Ideal Stage

Photo - Looking towards Mounts Bay, Kernow

Wilderness appealed to those bored or disgusted with man and his works. It not only offered an escape from society but also was an ideal stage for the Romantic individual to exercise the cult that he frequently made of his own soul. The solitude and total freedom of the wilderness created a perfect setting for either melancholy or exultation.

Wilderness and the American Mind - Robert Nash

Life as Sacrifice

Mulfra Quoit

Now what is history? It is the centuries of systematic explorations of the riddle of death, with a view to overcoming death. That’s why people discover mathematical infinity and electromagnetic waves, that’s why they write symphonies. Now, you can’t advance in this direction without a certain faith. You can’t make such discoveries without spiritual equipment. And the basic elements of this equipment are in the Gospels. What are they? To begin with, love one’s neighbour,, which is the supreme form of vital energy. Once it fills the heart of man it has to overflow and spend itself. And then the two basic ideals of modern man – without them this is unthinkable - the idea of free personality and the idea of life as sacrifice.

Doctor Zhivago - Boris Pasternak

The Unhandselled Earth

Looking towards Logan Rock - Treen

Nature was here something savage and awful, though beautiful. I looked with awe at the ground I trod on, to see what the Powers had made there, the form and fashion and material of their work. This was the Earth of which we have heard, made out of Chaos and Old Night. Here was no man’s garden, but the unhandselled* globe. It was not lawn , nor pasture, nor mead, nor woodland, nor lea, nor arable, nor waste land. It was the fresh and natural surface of the planet Earth, as it was made forever and ever, - to be the dwelling of man, we say, - so Nature made it, and man may use it if he can. Man was not to be associated with it. It was Matter, vast, terrific, - not his Mother Earth that we have heard of, not for him to tread on, or to be buried in, - no, it were being too familiar even to let his bones lie there, - the home, this, of Necessity and Fate. There was clearly felt the presence of a force not bound to be kind to man. It was a place of heathenism and superstitious rites,- to be inhabited by men nearer of kin to the rocks and to wild animals than we… What is it to be admitted to a museum, to see a myriad of particular things, compared with being shown some star’s surface, some hard matter in its home! I stand in awe of my body, this matter to which I am bound has become so strange to me. I fear not spirits, ghosts, of which I am one, - that my body might, - but I fear bodies, I tremble to meet them. What is this Titan that has possession of me? Talk of mysteries! Think of our life in nature, - daily to be shown matter, to come in contact with it, - rocks, trees, wind on our cheeks! The solid earth! The actual world! The common sense! Contact! Contact! Who are we? Where are we?

Ktaadn - Henry David Thoreau
*handsel - v. To inaugurate the use of; to use for the first time; to be the first to test, try, prove, taste.


Looking towards Porth Curno Beach

Reality is a thousand times more subtle and complicated, more labyrinthine in its retreats and evasions, than the dream-world of the most recondite idealist. It is also a thousand times more stark and bleak than the crudities of the most ferocious realists. It is both these, because it is the Protean offspring of the psychic embraces of every sensibility that exists with the original plastic life-stuff.

The Meaning of Culture - JCP p. 41

Beer & Chips

On top a double decker bus heading for Sennen Cove

It is a memorable moment in one’s intellectual life when one realizes that it is not learning for learning’s sake, or knowledge for the sake of knowledge that is the object of our secret struggle with inertia and futility. It is simply that we may enjoy the most exciting sensations that life offers; and enjoy them over the longest possible extension of time. Among such sensations one of the most thrilling is that vague feeling of old countryside romance which emanates from certain far-off highways and certain remote villages. Standing upon some old stone bridge where the moss grows green and untouched on the curve of the dark arches above the water, one often feels that there is a silent unspeakable secret hovering about such places that no writer has ever really caught. Perhaps these are things that cannot be caught; but, if they ever are, it will be by a mind that has made of such memories a rich, dim background, a background full of supernatural power that has the strength to push back, if not to obliterate, the crude pressure of modern preoccupations. Such a mind was that of Emily Bronte. Even if your nature finds something monstrous and shocking about the physical brutalities in “Wuthering Heights” …(it) is indeed a terrific emanation – the breaking out of an electric storm – from that obscure reservoir of unexpressed yearnings that most hearts conceal under a thousand decorous masks. To lose the power of imaginative sympathy with their dark thunderous ways were to subside upon a sort of death-in-life! From such a death-in –life Emily Bronte exultantly releases us, as if she were herself on of those strange mythic figures in William Blake’s pictures.

The place occupied in the older times by poetry seems in our own day to be occupied by imaginative prose. The role of culture among modern minds must imply, therefore, an attempt to turn all the critical searchlights we can summon upon contemporary writings, choosing what stimulates us and avoiding what disintegrates and confuses us. The desirable effect upon one’s mind of imaginative literature is not to strengthen one’s memory or enlarge one’s learning, or to inspire one to gather together a collection of passages from “great authors”; it is to encourage one to learn the art of becoming a “great author” oneself; not in the sense of composing a single line, but in the sense of sufficiently detaching oneself from the chaotic spectacle of reality so as to catch on the wing that fleeting loveliness of which no genius has the monopoly and which only the stirred depths of one’s own deepest nature can prevail upon to pause in its eternal flight.

The Meaning of Culture – JCP, p. 38

The Meaning of Culture

To realize the advantage that a person who loves books has over one who cares nothing for them, consider the contents of two separate human heads whirling through a New York subway tunnel. Both these heads are covered with hats. Both are staring helplessly at the subway advertisements. Both are swaying to and fro with a dense crowd of other human heads. Both are preserving an expression of democratic patience. But there the resemblance ends. The un-bookish head, likely enough endowed by Nature with a whimsical philosophy all of its own, has probably been so debauched but its daily reading of newspapers and magazines that its only humour consists in a pathetically standardised facetiousness. Such facetiousness is no doubt at this very moment playing grimly enough over very practical problems. The angry or the sarcastic words of our gentleman’s employer… the worry about his unpaid doctor or furious landlord… his wretched quarrel over God knows what, with his difficult sweetheart… such matter, gone over and over again in this harassed mind, throw their fretful patterns over the pictures of soap and tooth-paste and toilet-powder. On the other hand his thought may be complacent and self-satisfied; his curiosity piqued by some recent scandalous incident, may be pleasantly provoked to humorous ponderings. It is quite possible to live a busy, entertaining, and eminently respectable life, independent altogether of literature; but in such a case it will probably be concrete objects, realistic situations, external shocks rather than any kind of fanciful dreaming that will fill a person’s head.

But what about that other human skull? If one could visualise mental impressions one would be able to observe, floating in and out of this opaque, bony structure, how may airy clouds of fanciful craziness! This human head would doubtless in any case dream its dreams; but now, in its present pendulous position, when the charm of its own vision of things shrinks and wilts under reality at its worst, now is the moment when the imaginative worlds created by great geniuses, long ago dead, may, the mental will is strong enough, come to that poor head’s rescue. Under more normal conditions these imaginary “worlds” would serve, when our book-lover was remind of them, to rouse him to mould reality after his own secret pattern. But now, driven inwards, driven back upon itself, his mind struggles to fling the magic of these unrelated worlds, like a sorcerer’s hypnosis, over this whirling panorama of the raw and the crude. From Charles Lamb’s “Essays,” for example, why should he not be snatching something that might hover ironically and with a rich mellowness between himself and those rows of monotonous grey hats and black boots. The there would arise in that Manhattan tunnel a friendly assemblage of old-word humours, a fragrance, as it were of old folios, old wainscoted hall-ways, old gardens and purlieus of old college courts!

But more relevant perhaps to the nature of the motley spectacle before him might there not float and eddy round such a head quite a different host of airy sprites… the grotesque-sentimental population of Dickens’ reckless fancy? Weeping, chuckling, leering, grimacing, this cloud of lively hobgoblins might bear a resemblance to our traveller’s strap-supported neighbours. Hardly a photographic resemblance; a cerebral phantasmagoria rather, wherein a chance-tossed crowd of preoccupied New Yorkers is transformed into fairy-story ogres and angels!

But it is not only when in contact with the great outer world that a person’s saturation with literature thickens by a phalanx of portentous witnesses his vision of the familiar. Alone in one’s room of a late evening, bending over the fire, with the night sounds of the city or the night –silences of the country flowing through one’s absent-mindedness, how deeply does one’s inkling of the nature of life’s wild dream-stuff respond to the gestures of Dostoievsky’s fatality-masks! Let them beckon to us, these living figures, from amid their red coals! They are more than characters in fiction, these people of Dostoievsky. They are apocalyptic prophecies of psychic ecstasies, only to be revealed when some use-and-wont shutter of the human mind swings back in some Pentecostal wind….

…Down there, in those caverns of red coals, over which we dream, we, our very selves, will be watching all this; watching it and sharing in its monstrous terror. And how is t, that while from the wretched tales of contemporary brutality there only rises within us a wretched nausea of outrages nerves, or, at best, a simple human pity and indignation, there should mount up from these Dostoievsky tragedies a strange quivering beauty, that beyond all and in spite of all, seems to avenge and to absolve the human race? Is it that in the great moments of these heart-piercing novels we touch the fringe of some unguessed-at Absolute of feeling, which, in “the dark backward and abysm” of human suffering, hints at unspeakable consolation? Or is it simply that art itself, creating a reality beyond reality, turns with its demiurgic finger the intolerably pitiful into the symbolically tragic?

A person certainly does not realize all in a moment the influence that literature exerts over human minds, the power it has of transferring to one’s real experience that mythical heightening which it diffuses through its imaginary world. It is indeed only after we have saturated ourselves in these things, only after we have read these books over and over again, that the charm begins properly to work. But delayed though it may be, the moment will come at last when we find ourselves better able to cope with our won misadventures because of what we have caught, let us suppose from the heroic fantasies of the author of Don Quixote, or from the sly humours of the author of Tristram Shandy.

One of the most invaluable clues to that difficult casuistry that keeps the integrity of the ego intact amid the rough-and-tumble of life can be derived from the writings of Henry James. But neither does the spacious aroma of this high secret reveal itself at the first encounter; too diffused is it in the provocations of plot, too involved in the complications of character. By degrees, however,, as we read – say “The Golden Bowl” – for the second or third time, it dawns upon us that these punctilious and roundabout approaches to the quintessence of life, these wavering and reluctant moth-hoverings about the problems of good and evil, have a definitely significant worth in one’s personal adjudication of human values, as one goes through the world; a worth that, although implicated here with the cunning craftsmanship of a rich aesthetic creation, is in reality a redoubtable asset to the armoury of one’s own private life-weapons

The Meaning of Culture
John Cowper Powys p26

Friday, 3 October 2008

Raw Wilderness

Dark Spruce forest frowned on either side the frozen waterway. The trees had been stripped by a recent wind of their white covering of frost , and they seemed to lean toward each other, black and ominous, in the fading light. A vast silence reigned over the land. The land itself was a desolation, a lifeless, without movement , so lone and cold that the spirit of it was not even that of sadness. There was a hint in it of laughter, but of a laughter more terrible than any sadness – a laughter that was mirthless as the smile of the Sphinx, a laughter cold as the frost and partaking of the grimness of infallibility. It was the masterful and incommunicable wisdom of eternity laughing at the futility of life and the effort of life. It was the Wild, the savage, frozen-hearted Northland Wild.

White Fang - Jack London

The Desert

The desert is the environment of revelation, genetically and physiologically alien, sensorily austere, esthetically abstract, historically inimical… Its forms are bold and suggestive. The mind is beset by light and space, the kinesthetic novelty of the aridity, high temperature, and wind. The desert sky is encircling, majestic, terrible. In other habitats, the rim of sky above the horizontal is broken or obscured; here, together with the overhead portion, it is infinitely vaster than that of rolling countryside and forest lands… In an unobstructed sky the clouds seem more massive, sometimes grandly reflecting the earth’s curvature on their concave undersides. The angularity of desert landforms imparts a monumental architecture to the clouds as well as to the land…

To the desert go prophets and hermits; through deserts go pilgrims and exiles. Here the leaders of the great religions have sought the therapeutic and spiritual values of retreat, not to escape but to find reality.

Paul Shepard
Man in the Landscape
A Historic View of the Esthetics of Nature

Quoted from Into the Wild – Jon Krakauer

Thursday, 2 October 2008

All Nature is your Congratulation

Crossing the stream that runs down to Zennor
If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal, - that is your success. All nature is your congratulation, and you have cause momentarily to bless yourself. The greatest gains and values are farthest from being appreciated. We easily come to doubt if they exist. We soon forget them. They are the highest reality… the true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening. It is a little star-dust caught, a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched.

Walden, or Life in the Woods - Henry David Thoreau
Quoted form: Into the wild - Jon Krakauer