Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Songbird

Listen… listen. Head tilted, eyes half closed, the man listened. The thrush sang so enchantingly today. If luck was with him, he knew that he would not have to wait long for the answer from the other side of the bushes. Yes! Listen... there was the female… ah, she did not disappoint him. Oh, just listen… a little concert, all for free.

“Would you like to have French beans for dinner?” His wife’s voice beside him cut through the duet of nature. Everyday concerns returned with a little jolt, and the birdsong receded into the woodland background.  The man turned towards his wife with a disturbed glance. What in heaven's name was she talking about?
"What did you say?" he asked rather brusquely.
"If you would care for French beans tonight, maybe with a braising steak?"
"Woman! What has gotten into you? How can you think of braising steak right now?"
"With French beans." his wife added kindly, apparently unaware of having done anything wrong. "You do like that, don't you?"

The man looked at his wife as if at a stranger. Was it really possible to live on a totally different wavelength after so many years together? The thrush was now singing its heart out, right above them. Could it really be so that she did not even notice? He was astonished. His wife's reaction was beyond his comprehension.
"Why are you looking like that? Did you lose your tongue?" She nudged him, uncomprehending. "Or do you prefer French toast with rhubarb? It's at its best at the moment!"

Oh dear lord, she really did not hear the bird. The man inhaled with a slow whistling sound, pulled himself together, then patiently answered: "No, French beans is fine, you already have them in the house, after all." He thanked the thrush in spirit for its beautiful song. "Come dear, let us walk further," he said, and took her hand with a gentle gesture.

That evening at the dinner table his wife was very quiet, toying with her food. A little concerned, he asked: "Anna, is something wrong?"


She seemed to come from far away, answering him with a distant look: "How enchanting that was this morning. Did you hear it too? First the male, and then the answer of his lady friend... two voices, one song!" 
She paused a little, pondering, as if nodding in agreement over something.
But it was her husband who bowed his head in silence at her words:  "As long as I keep a greening twig in my heart, the songbird will always come."

To the memory of my mother who always kept a greening twig in her heart.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Spirit of the Forest

There is nothing here,
Light and shadows of leaves,
and stillness.
Even the birds are silent now,
as if waiting 
for something to pass.
There is nothing here,

You who walk here,
this is what you tell yourself,
what you would have yourself believe.
Why, then, does your step quicken
towards the light at the forest’s edge?
Why, then, do you no longer 
glance behind 
as you tread the carpet of leaves?

Have you so distanced yourself
from my world
that my body has become a thing
of revulsion to you,
something that you would prefer 
not to see?
How, then, do you imagine me?
Brown mould-face, 
tangled twig-hair,
cracked bark-flesh?

Look now, right behind you,
if you dare.
For only by daring to look,
will you see how beautiful I am.

Look, look now!

Perhaps there is nothing here,
Just light,
and shadows of leaves,
and stillness.

Dryad  by  Lucien Levi Dhurmer

Monday, September 16, 2013

September's Morning Mists

The morning mists blanket the farmlands in silence. In the distance a cow is lowing. Closer-by a horse whinnies. The goats in the field next to the last farm walk stiff-legged and sleepily about, in search of forage. They look up momentarily as the early wanderer passes them, then continue further undisturbed. His footsteps echo muffled on the cobbles. The sprightly tapping of his walking stick strikes the beat. Step tap step, step tap step, in flowing cadence.

The road in front of him lies as yet undiscovered; the village behind him still lies deeply at rest. This is the most beautiful hour of the day, when the damp night air with its purple-grey tints slowly makes way for the diffuse gold of the rising sun. When the spider webs heavy with dew hang glistening in the light of the new morning, and the majestic poplars along the road stand tall and silent above their own watery reflections.

The wanderer stands still and looks up to the crowns of the trees moving in the breeze, and he wonders aloud: 'How many others have you seen go by in their haste to be elsewhere, without once standing still.. without once even looking at you?' Again a cow lows - now closer-by, as if she urges the wanderer to go further. He nods thoughtfully to the poplars and walks on. The mist begins to evaporate in trailers, the light changes colour.  Slowly the deep black water is restored to its daylight blue. The ducks, still at rest, their heads tucked well away under their wings, are not aware of the wanderer. They lie in the wet grass. Not one is moving. When he returns along this road, he knows that they will be busy foraging. He grins aimiably.

A motor boat approaches. The muffled gurgle of the motor penetrates the stillness. The once-smooth water surface begins to ripple and wrinkle like the face of an old woman. Still there is nothing to see, but it doesn't take long before a figure looms out of the mist. With his cap pulled well-down above his eyes he calmly steers his boat, knowing that in spite of the mist his course is straight ahead. The skipper touches his cap with a finger by way of greeting. The wanderer lifts his walking stick in silent acknowledgement.

The boat leaves a ripple behind it on the water, and the crowns of the trees move with their reflections. He looks up again, the trees stand as directionless as before. But the man knows, while he stares at the water's surface, that they too were touched by the silent presence of the passing boat. 'That's the way it is.' he mutters. 'Each change finds it echo. Even the smallest movement makes a difference.'.

He walks on as he loosens the top button of his coat. It begins to feel a little warmer. The first rays of the sun take hesitating possession of the chill night that has stirred him so early. The light changes quickly now. Rays of sunlight fall across the revealed landscape, and the man sees a wider view of the world. The cows are no longer hidden in mists, the reeds comb the roots of the poplars that sigh in the soft breeze of morning. They also greet the sun in their own way. The man breathes in deeply, and throws his coat open, he stretches his arms and allows his walking stick to point upwards, towards the sun, towards the sky, towards the tops of the trees. He turns around in a circle and touches everything, to the farthest point.

The animals look at him, the cows chew the cud slowly, a horse whinnies and begins to trot. The ducks are awake and spatter around. Nature awakens, and each creature in the peaceful world is in its element.

The rest of the world is now also awake. A farmer drives past him on a tractor. The man wanders further, the sounds of the new day dominate his passing, and the magic is silently withdrawing in invisible haze.        

Monday, September 9, 2013


Like the tide of the ocean
my body just holds its balance
between sea and sky
between worlds
the drum of the wave
almost claims me
but I hold my ground.

Love is the ocean tide 
that tugs and pulls 
then withdraws herself once more
returns to devour the land
leaving behind what no longer interests her
later, like a proud woman,
she slides back once more
in her fluidity.

How dear this ocean is to me
how I yearn for her fierce power 
when I cannot be with her
when she is far from me
Sea, sky, land
and the roar of the breakers
defining her territory with their song
There you can find me
ever again.

It is the motion
which draws me back
each time again
only to leave once more
just like the waves
just like the tides - 
these are the forces which sustain me

My stories are written
in the rise and fall of the waves
which carry the invisible imprint
of my existence
to the far and undiscovered shores
of Love.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Way to Heaven

We know by his sword and a glimpse of grey steel armour that this is a knight who is being borne heavenward. His dark shroud billows around his bier, which is carried by four of the heavenly host. All around are soft cumulus lit by the rosy light of an evening sun, and the whole mood of the painting suggests that this is a noble hero going to his rest.

How did this knight die? We cannot know, although we might presume that death came in battle, or as the unexpected climax of some adventure or undertaking. Our imagination might reach to the idea of a betrayal, or even an unexpected but peaceful death whose cause lay far from the field of battle. But the knight died, and his deeds in life have assured him a place among fallen heroes. 

But who are these heroes? In George Eliot’s novel Middlemarch, the events in the village of the novel’s title weave and swirl around a character whose deeds of common humanity go largely unnoticed by her fellow villagers, but whose mere presence among them constitutes a state of grace. Her simple existence represents something ineffable, something beyond the worldly, as she moves through the distractions of the everyday chatter and gossip around her. Our own humanity recognises this character as a good person. The author gives her readers the space to draw their own conclusion about this character: that in her own way this pure soul is also a heroine, although her own deeds are far distant from, and more subtle than, the more obvious heroic gestures of our knight.

What we respond to, what we recognise, is a sense of ‘doing the right thing’. Many who do good work, or perform some selfless act to help others, are noticed and acknowledged for their actions by those others. Perhaps such recognition might even happen through mere chance: that their actions were witnessed by the media, or for some other reason of circumstances. But we also realise that for every individual who might receive recognition – perhaps even a civic award – there are many more who remain unsung, never receiving acknowledgment for their selfless humanity.

We might wish to think that their reward lies along the way to heaven. But this is a matter of belief, not certainty, and death remains an unknown, even for those who might believe passionately in an afterlife. It is here while we live that we must seek to find that state of grace, whatever our personal beliefs or non-beliefs might be. To move through the world in grace, neither looking to right nor left, with all their distractions along the way, is the way to heaven, whether such a way ultimately exists or not.

Painting: Avatar, by Henry John Lintott, 1916.