Animated gif of the silent film actress Louise Brooks reading a book, wearing a crown of flowers, and looking askance.

When I am among the words

Someone once said:

“In time of trouble, I had been trained since childhood, read, learn, work it up, go to the literature. Information was control.” *

It’s true that I tend towards words for comfort and solace when needed. And they’re needed right now. Lots is changing.

I found these words again whilst looking for comfort in a well-kent book (some books are like friends). And whilst I have a natural inclination towards the literature, I’m not sure I agree about control. I might be trying to process some feelings, or make sense of the world, which is a kind of control I suppose, but I’m not sure that’s what I actually find in words.

Someone else said:

“It is the job of artists to open doors and invite in prophesies, the unknown, the unfamiliar; it’s where their work comes from, although its arrival signals the beginning of the long disciplined process of making it their own. Scientists too, as J. Robert Oppenheimer once remarked, ‘live always at the ‘edge of mystery’­—the boundary of the unknown.’ But they transform the unknown into the known, haul it in like fishermen; artists get you out into that dark sea.” **

I think that rather more often I am taken out on that dark sea and moved by what I read. I can’t predict what I’ll find, or how it will make me feel once I start reading. Reaching for the literature feels like taking risk, and accepting uncertainty.

Beyond the two books quoted from above, I’ve been reading David Whyte’s “Consolations” and “Antlers of Water”, a fine collection of nature writing edited by Kathleen Jamie. I’ve thought about rest, friendship, ambition, aloneness, pathways, earth others.

A friend sent me another Mary Oliver poem yesterday. I would like to be saved by the trees.

by Mary Oliver

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

And tonight I found another most perfect David Whyte poem. I vibrate each time I read it.

by David Whyte

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.

There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your womb

The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.

You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

* Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

** Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

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