The “lazy and indifferent” heron of “Monday or Tuesday”, Virginia Woolf

The only short story collection that she had selected in her lifetime, “Monday or Tuesday” is a 1921 collection in which she pursued the approach to writing set out in Modern Fiction:

Look within and life, it seems, is very far from being “like this”. Examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day. The mind receives a myriad impressions–trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel. From all sides they come, an incessant shower of innumerable atoms; and as they fall, as they shape themselves into the life of Monday or Tuesday, the accent falls differently from of old; the moment of importance came not here but there; so that, if a writer were a free man and not a slave, if he could write what he chose, not what he must, if he could base his work upon his own feeling and not upon convention, there would be no plot, no comedy, no tragedy, no love interest or catastrophe in the accepted style, and perhaps not a single button sewn on as the Bond Street tailors would have it. Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end. Is it not the task of the novelist to convey this varying, this unknown and uncircumscribed spirit, whatever aberration or complexity it may display, with as little mixture of the alien and external as possible? We are not pleading merely for courage and sincerity; we are suggesting that the proper stuff of fiction is a little other than custom would have us believe it.

I’ve often felt, of late, this aversion to the supposedly well-made story, the contrivances that feel all too literary. My own sense is that in recent decades the literary world has become much more conformist and predictable than the “convention” Woolf decried.

The title story, or rather piece, would perhaps be classed as “flash fiction” today, except it is a mysterious, in its own way “indifferent” piece of prose. As well as the meaning of “the life of Monday or Tuesday” from the passage above, I can’t help reading the title as alluding to the indifference of the heron, and indeed the Universe, to such human-made concerns as the day of the week. Anyway, here is “Monday or Tuesday”:

Lazy and indifferent, shaking space easily from his wings, knowing his way, the heron passes over the church beneath the sky. White and distant, absorbed in itself, endlessly the sky covers and uncovers, moves and remains. A lake? Blot the shores of it out! A mountain? Oh, perfect—the sun gold on its slopes. Down that falls. Ferns then, or white feathers, for ever and ever——

Desiring truth, awaiting it, laboriously distilling a few words, for ever desiring—(a cry starts to the left, another to the right. Wheels strike divergently. Omnibuses conglomerate in conflict)—for ever desiring—(the clock asseverates with twelve distinct strokes that it is midday; light sheds gold scales; children swarm)—for ever desiring truth. Red is the dome; coins hang on the trees; smoke trails from the chimneys; bark, shout, cry “Iron for sale”—and truth?

Radiating to a point men’s feet and women’s feet, black or gold-encrusted—(This foggy weather—Sugar? No, thank you—The commonwealth of the future)—the firelight darting and making the room red, save for the black figures and their bright eyes, while outside a van discharges, Miss Thingummy drinks tea at her desk, and plate-glass preserves fur coats——

Flaunted, leaf-light, drifting at corners, blown across the wheels, silver-splashed, home or not home, gathered, scattered, squandered in separate scales, swept up, down, torn, sunk, assembled—and truth?

Now to recollect by the fireside on the white square of marble. From ivory depths words rising shed their blackness, blossom and penetrate. Fallen the book; in the flame, in the smoke, in the momentary sparks—or now voyaging, the marble square pendant, minarets beneath and the Indian seas, while space rushes blue and stars glint—truth? content with closeness?

Lazy and indifferent the heron returns; the sky veils her stars; then bares them.

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No green to be seen 2: “Dead From the Neck Down” in Wales

In September 2016 I posted “No green to be seen: a biodiversity desert on Slievenamon” about the void that was a conifer plantation on Slievenamon. David Elias, at his blog Dispatches from the Undergrowth,  has an evocative, sobering piece on a similar experience. I was particularly struck at how he, too, had experienced this at an affective level as disturbing, indeed unbearable.

“A culture is no better than its woods” indeed.

It is 8.30 on a peerless sunny morning in late April, the sort of morning I had waiting for all through a long cold winter here in North Wales. I am sitting in a conifer plantation that looks like a Bridget Riley painting in brown (an unlikely thought). The trees are forty foot […]

via Dead from the Neck Down — dispatches from the undergrowth

What Does it Take? – from “Dispatches from the Undergrowth” blog, on saving a species

From the blog “Dispatches from the Undergrowth”, here is a fascinating post about conservation, and the ingenuity, hard work, and patience required to keep a threatened species going. As the author writes, “not many people would miss the marsh fritillary … for me it would mean one more spark going out in the firmament and another small step towards the darkness”T/%

I have posted a wee comment, also….

dispatches from the undergrowth

 Conservationists constantly worry about how to ‘keep things going’ – be it a bird, butterfly, or some other organism teetering on the brink. It is a pretty sad state of affairs, but that’s the deal by now. It takes a lot of dedication by a few, in the face of indifference by the many, to stand against the flow of wildlife disappearing down the plughole. Last summer I came across a vivid example of what it takes to keep things going.

Wikimedia.commons.org. Charlesjsharp – Own work from Sharp Photography

Not far from where I live is a scruffy looking, overgrown meadow in a nowhere-in-particular sort of place. The rushes and grasses are knee high and tussocky, birch saplings and sallow bushes threaten to overrun it. Although it doesn’t look much it is in fact carefully cared for. On a sunny day in June I went there with my friends…

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Researchers warn that bird feeders could aid the spread of disease

Researchers warn that bird feeders could aid the spread of disease

James Common

Diseases among bird populations are on the increase and, as a growing number of households take to feeding their garden birds, researchers have claimed that bird feeders are contributing to the spread of dangerous pathogens, viruses and bacteria in certain species.

Scientists from both the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) have learnt that poor cleanliness, the accumulation of droppings around feeders and the build-up of stale food are aiding the transmission of diseases between garden birds. A problem made worse by the tendency of feeding stations to attract large numbers of birds – including species who would not usually encounter each other at such close quarters in the wild.

Trichomonosis is a notable example of a disease whose spread is facilitated by bird feeders: a condition transmitted largely, it is thought, through contaminated food sources and caused by the parasite Trichomonas gallinae. This disease…

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“Thinking about the immortality of the crab”

Via the Wikipedia page devoted to Miguel de Unamono, I came across this  wonderfully evocative Spanish idiom: 

 

Thinking about the immortality of the crab (SpanishPensar en la inmortalidad del cangrejo) is a Spanish idiom about daydreaming. The phrase is usually a humorous way of saying that one was not sitting idly, but engaged constructively in contemplation or letting one’s mind wander

The wikipedia page also features two poems entitled Immortalidad del cangrejo, one by Unamuno:

El más profundo problema:
el de la inmortalidad
del cangrejo, que tiene alma,
Una almita de verdad …

Que si el cangrejo se muere
todo en su totalidad
con él nos morimos todos
por toda la eternidad

 

translated (on the same wikipedia page) as:

 

The deepest problem:
of the immortality of the crab,
is that a soul it has,
a little soul in fact …

That if the crab dies
entirely in its totality
with it we all die
for all of eternity

 

The other is by the Mexican poet José Emilio Pacheco:

Y de inmortalidades sólo creo
en la tuya, cangrejo amigo.
Te aplastan,
te echan en agua hirviendo,
inundan tu casa.
Pero la represión y la tortura
de nada sirven, de nada.

No tú, cangrejo ínfimo,
caparazón mortal de tu individuo, ser transitorio,
carne fugaz que en nuestros dientes se quiebra;
no tú sino tu especie eterna: los otros:
el cangrejo inmortal
toma la playa.

 

 

Translation:

Of all the immortalities, I believe in
only yours, friend crab.
People break into your body,
plop you into boiling water,
flush you out of house and home.
But torture and affliction
Make no apparent end of you. No…

Not you, poor despicable crab –
brief tenant in this mortal carapace
of your individuality; fleeting creature
of flesh that quails between our teeth;
Not you but others of your eternal species:
infinite crab:
take over the beach.

 

Elegy For Jane (My Student, thrown by a horse) – Theodore Roethke

Text taken from here.

Elegy for Jane
(My student, thrown by a horse)

I remember the neckcurls, limp and damp as tendrils;
And her quick look, a sidelong pickerel smile;
And how, once startled into talk, the light syllables leaped for her,
And she balanced in the delight of her thought,

A wren, happy, tail into the wind,
Her song trembling the twigs and small branches.
The shade sang with her;
The leaves, their whispers turned to kissing,
And the mould sang in the bleached valleys under the rose.

Oh, when she was sad, she cast herself down into such a pure depth,
Even a father could not find her:
Scraping her cheek against straw,
Stirring the clearest water.

My sparrow, you are not here,
Waiting like a fern, making a spiney shadow.
The sides of wet stones cannot console me,
Nor the moss, wound with the last light.

If only I could nudge you from this sleep,
My maimed darling, my skittery pigeon.
Over this damp grave I speak the words of my love:
I, with no rights in this matter,
Neither father nor lover.

Poetry is Beauty’s Voice

I had a copy of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s “Wherever You Go, There You Are” for a long time… before mindfulness was as trendy as it is now. Recently I opened it again and was struck the meditation highlighted here. Watts and Hillman are not familiar to me. This post resonated with me with its discussion of the non-correspondence of language with absolute reality, and the poetry of living:

“I think we’ve spent so much of history arguing over the critique of good written poetic form, high art that carries us on the lofty tailwinds of meaning, that we’ve lost our ability to see poetry in its seed form and the many ways we live it daily. We’ve in some ways deeroticized it, made it too narrow, made people think it doesn’t apply to them. If we could recover this sense of poetries of living, it might help more people appreciate the high poetic craft again, as but one expression of the seed poem’s transfigurative power”

Signs of Life

“Words and measures do not give life; they merely symbolize it” (Alan Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity 48).

For any kind of beauty there is, there is a form of poetry to give it voice.  We think of poetry often as involving meter, verse, stanza, rhyme, prosody–pricking the senses through artfully arranged language. However, I’ve experienced, and I know others have too, poetry that transcends or seems to happen prior to language, and, while the purist poets may object, that’s the topic of this blog.

Jon Kabat-Zinn gives a great example in his book Wherever You Go, There You Are of such language-less poetry when he writes of geese flying overhead:

“As I pull into the parking lot of the hospital, several hundred geese pass overhead…. Hundreds are in V’s, but many are in more complex arrangements. Everything is in motion.  Their lines dip and ascend with grace and harmony…

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