Monday, August 3, 2009

the story of my heart

ophelia lying in the meadow john waterhouse

look at ophelia.
blissful. given to the whole of the moment unfolding.
there she lies full filled with the meadow blown scent of summer trees and sun-warmed grass.
flowers buzzing with the scent of day-heated pollen.

birds gliding, flitting in song filled pirouettes through tree to tree to sky.
riding thermals from the little patches of bare earth to the whole sky-cloud drift overhead.

i put myself in ophelia's experiencing of this moment as i read richard jefferies.

i first came across the writing of richard jefferies when i read henry williamson's ancient sunlight series.
there was a reference to jefferies somewhere in the foreword and so i looked him up.
i found out that it was after reading jefferies' work "the story of my heart" that williamson
decided to take his writing seriously.

i can hardly blame him.

jefferies' writing is the sort of detailed ecstatic nature-writing that transports the reader
into both the natural world and the heart and mind of the writer.
in that near-total immersion you experience something that feels very familiar
and that likely dates back to childhood.

it is exquisite and detailed writing.
to paraphrase dan, it is a love -letter to the earth.

i could have chosen many sections of this man's writing to share here, but i chose this because it contains the deep and real rapture jefferies experienced in his long moment of remembering a summer of enlightenment.

be kind to yourself,
slow down.
let these words paint their way into your self.

"in summer i went out into the fields, and let my soul inspire these thoughts under the trees, standing against the trunk, or looking up through the branches at the sky. if trees could speak, hundreds of them would say that I had had these soul-emotions under them. leaning against the oak's massive trunk, and feeling the rough bark and the lichen at my back, looking southwards over the grassy fields, cowslip-yellow, at the woods on the slope, i thought my desire of deeper soul-life. or under the green firs, looking upwards, the sky was more deeply blue at their tops; then the brake fern was unrolling, the doves cooing, the thickets astir, the late ash-leaves coming forth. under the shapely rounded elms, by the hawthorn bushes and hazel, everywhere the same deep desire for the soul-nature; to have from all green things and from the sunlight the inner meaning which was not known to them, that i might be full of light as the woods of the sun's rays. just to touch the lichened bark of a tree, or the end of a spray projecting over the path as i walked, seemed to repeat the same prayer in me.

reach for the sky dee toms

the long-lived summer days dried and warmed the turf in the meadows.
i used to lie down in solitary corners at full length on my back,
so as to feel the embrace of the earth.
the grass stood high above me, and the shadows of the tree-branches danced on my face.

corner of summer field jack davis

i looked up at the sky, with half-closed eyes to bear the dazzling light. bees buzzed over me, sometimes a butterfly passed, there was a hum in the air, greenfinches sang in the hedge. gradually entering into the intense life of the summer days--a life which burned around as if every grass blade and leaf were a torch--i came to feel the longdrawn life of the earth back into the dimmest past, while the sun of the moment was warm on me. from all the ages my soul desired to take that soul-life which had flowed through them as the sunbeams had continually poured on earth. as the hot sands take up the heat, so would i take up that soul-energy.

dreamy in appearance, i was breathing full of existence; i was aware of the grass blades, the flowers, the leaves on hawthorn and tree. i seemed to live more largely through them, as if each were a pore through which i drank. the grasshoppers called and leaped, the greenfinches sang, the blackbirds happily fluted, all the air hummed with life. i was plunged deep in existence, and with all that existence i prayed.

hot summer afternoon ann ruttan

through every grass blade in the thousand, thousand grasses; through the million leaves, veined and edge-cut, on bush and tree; through the song-notes and the marked feathers of the birds; through the insects' hum and the colour of the butterflies; through the soft warm air, the flecks of clouds dissolving--i used them all for prayer. with all the energy the sunbeams had poured unwearied on the earth; with all the soul-life that had flowed a long stream down to me, i prayed that i might have a soul more than equal to, far beyond my conception of, these things of the past, the present, and the fulness of all life. not only equal to these, but beyond, higher, and more powerful than i could imagine. that i might take from all their energy, grandeur, and beauty, and gather it into me. that my soul might be more than the cosmos of life."

excerpted from "story of my heart" by richard jefferies.

to read the complete text of this beautiful story go here.

22 comments:

Margaret Pangert said...

Hi Steven! This is a beautiful post! I love the connection woven between the paintings and the written word. So much reminded me of Thoreau and the naturalist John Muir. I love how Ophelia is portrayed here, and the words you chose to use echo the painting perfectly. I have a book of Victorian paintings, one of which has Ophelia floating, covered with flowers, almost two-dimensional (by Millais). I wonder if she foreshadows Virginia Woolf. I am very interested in reading more of Jefferies! Will follow the link. Best, Margaret

Delwyn said...

Hello Steven

the writing of Richard Jeffries is exquisite and reminds me of Mary Oliver's poems. The images blend with the prose very well - you have presented us with a visual and mental feast today.

I hate to disillusion you but I think Ophelia might be about to throw herself in the river... But we shall use your interpretation for today...

Happy days

steven said...

hello margaret, thanks for your kind compliments! i love victorian paintings and you'll see them pop up here every so often. i especially like the paintings that hover right in that nice emotional space between despair and bliss. i think that ophelia foreshadows much of what was to come in expanding the space women occupied in general. that's the whole victorian thing for me - they held onto a world that (much like ours is making way for an incomprhensibly different world and so their writing, their art reflects that. have a lovely day. steven

steven said...

hello delwyn, there is so much they share - that insightful, ecstatic, powerful connection between the essence of self and the whole of nature.
no disillusionment delwyn!!! i know she's about to chuck herself in the river, but i like to think that there's something of an immersion in the whole of everything. but, even on the cusp of her most desparate moment, she gives herself over to the beauty of it all. have a lovely day by the river. steven

willow said...

I can hear that cricket chirping in the Jack Davis piece. Ahh. The sounds of late summer are always so comforting. Interesting thoughts on Ophelia. And thank you for your wonderful analogy of comments and breeze. Quite a few other bloggies enjoyed, it too!

Titus said...

Steven, you have left me nothing to say except thank you. So Thank You.

steven said...

hi willow, nice comment about the jack davis piece. there's that sweet smell of hot grasses, clover and sun-warmed "weeds" that goes into the sound of the grasshopper. thanks also for posting the question about comments. the comments that have come from that are fascinating and i have read them all!!! have a sweet day at the manor! steven

steven said...

hi titus, you're welcome. i had great pleasure assembling this piece and reconnecting with jefferies' writing. have a lovely day. steven

Eryl Shields said...

Great post, Steven, I'll need to reread it all a few times but your choices of images to go with are really marvellous.

steven said...

hi eryl, mmm hmmmm i like those images myself. it's a long sample of writing but i really think that it's so beautiful that i couldn't cut-and-paste without blurring its integrity as a complete meditation. i hope you find time to read it through, either a little bit at a time or all in one go. have a lovely day. steven

Barry said...

This was a very energizing and enriching post, Steven. Both the images and the words have lifted my spirits and reminded me of the beauty and richness of life.

Abraham Lincoln said...

This is a glowing post, Steven. I really like it, the poetry and the artwork are sensational. The thoughts and feeling they evoke in me brings back lots of fond memories.

And thanks for stopping at my Pick a Peck of Pixels blog. I appreciate your being there and the comment about the banner was nice reading. It does look like Christmas lights. Actually it is a partial shot of a Cleome or an old fashioned flower.

steven said...

hi barry, i'm glad that you enjoyed it and that it reached deep inside you!! i am amazed at the apparent ease with which some writers can capture what walkers like you, cyclists like me, runners like my wife, experience and feel inside but find challenging to express in words. this writing is filled with images that makes me think about what i see. have a lovely afternoon. steven

steven said...

hi abe, thanks and i'm glad that this post glowed for you. me too. it really opens up the experiencing of summer time for me to read this writing and then to search out the images was really rewarding as well. i figured the source image was plants. i've always liked shots like that and look for almost any excuse to find a hunk of something to shoot through to play with whatever i am shooting. have a peaceful afternoon. steven

Kay said...

Hi, i just popped over from willow...that piece by richard jeffries is just stunningly beautiful... as I read it I had playing in the backround The Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams and as i scrolled down...there was the very same piece of music shown on your blog!! How weird!! Love it all...anything with lichened bark does it for me...one of my favourite things!!

steven said...

hi kay, thanlyou for visiting. i'm in that frame of mind - mid summer, vaughan williams, richard jefferies, bike rides in the countryside and lichens and moss - oh yeah those are very high up on my list of often overlooked and yet unexpectedly beautiful things. i love synchronicity also - it tells me when i'm in the right place!!! have a peaceful afternoon wherever you go. steven

Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

I was deeply moved reading your excerpt of Jefferies and did read more on the link. I love the image (suggestion) of lying down on the face of the earth to feel her pulse, to absorb her rythmns. I'm sure that takes place literally, just as beautiful mud placed placed on the skin can impart its healing ingredients.

Once, on a retreat, after a sauna I lay in a pond of crystal, cool water, looking at hosts of stars allowing not just communion but at-one-ment. The experience was so profound physically that I felt disoriented and dizzy afterward; emotionally and spiritually it still reverberates today.

Jeffries sweet song took me back to that moment in the pond and gave me the intent to find some quiet, private time to lie close to mother earth and drink from her pores this summer.

Thanks so much for sharing Jeffries here, Steven.

steven said...

hi bonnie, i'm so glad for you that this reached deep into your soul and that it reconnected you with that magic memory at the retreat. reading that was extraordinary. what an experience!!!! there's huge power in being connected to the earth in a literal and spiritual sense and what i like is that so many people are rediscovering that simple experience for themselves. have a peaceful evening. steven

Rose Marie Raccioppi said...

Came by you via Bonnie and see the common threads we weave. Upon entry moments ago, when seeing the image posted, I had but to smile for all we do share across the silent throbbing of cyberspace. I appreciate and applaud the feeling and content of this post and welcome you to view our connecting perspectives.
http://apogeepoet.blogspot.com/2009/07/sweet-summer.html

So very pleased to connect!
http://apogeepoet.blogspot.com/2009/04/days-end-impending.html
http://apogeepoet.blogspot.com/2009/05/word.html
http://apogeepoet.blogspot.com/2009/06/ophelia.html

steven said...

hello rose marie, that's synchronicity f the highest order. i am so glad that we connected and that i am now aware of your writing. readers of the comments will hopefully cruise on over to read your words. have a peaceful evening. steven

Linda said...

Even though summer is at least six weeks old, I haven't felt "summer in my soul" until this week. That feeling of "summer in your soul" is about everything you posted Steven, plus dancing in the summer rain and communing under the "summer stars" as Bonnie suggested. The feeling is empowering, warm and energizing and I was beginning to think I might miss the spirit of summer entirely this year. This is such an uplifting post. THANK YOU so much! I like the art by Jack Davis.

steven said...

hey linda - it's funny that. the mix of rain and sun and cold and hot has been sort of like last summer for us. hard to see it as summer in the traditional sense but i'll take it!! it's the quality of letting go of the fragmented flow of the schoolyear and melting into the soft sweet flow of the summer. i really appreciate your thoughtful comments here. have a lovely evening. steven