Silas Marner Day 27 : A Quickening and a Growth Mindset and then Dress That Baby!

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Some growth mind set yellow flowers at Kew – at least tewn feet tall – what are they?

I’ve been reading Silas Marner very slowly here (search ‘Silas Marner’) and  intermittently for a few months. I’m in Chapter 14, at the point where Dolly Winthrop is offering to  help Silas in looking after the child. I want to read this chapter very slowly, stopping to think a lot about Dolly, and why she matters as a human model. Why do I love Dolly Winthrop so much? She’s astute and quick, which is deeply attractive, but it’s her loving kindness, too, that pulls me towards her. Here is Silas, not just a bachelor, but an oddball, who has been called a witch and probably worse, in the village and is known to have fits; what does Dolly see? A human creature vulnerably roused to life by caring for a baby;

 “Eh, to be sure,” said Dolly, gently. “I’ve seen men as are wonderful handy wi’ children. The men are awk’ard and contrairy mostly, God help ’em–but when the drink’s out of ’em, they aren’t unsensible, though they’re bad for leeching and bandaging–so fiery and unpatient. You see this goes first, next the skin,” proceeded Dolly, taking up the little shirt, and putting it on.

“Yes,” said Marner, docilely, bringing his eyes very close, that they might be initiated in the mysteries; whereupon Baby seized his head with both her small arms, and put her lips against his face with purring noises.

“See there,” said Dolly, with a woman’s tender tact, “she’s fondest o’ you. She wants to go o’ your lap, I’ll be bound. Go, then: take her, Master Marner; you can put the things on, and then you can say as you’ve done for her from the first of her coming to you.”

Marner took her on his lap, trembling with an emotion mysterious to himself, at something unknown dawning on his life. Thought and feeling were so confused within him, that if he had tried to give them utterance, he could only have said that the child was come instead of the gold–that the gold had turned into the child. He took the garments from Dolly, and put them on under her teaching; interrupted, of course, by Baby’s gymnastics.

Dolly’s general observations about men are undercut by specifics she has observed and noted, (‘I’ve seen men as are wonderful handy wi’ children’). There’s also the loving ,uncritical ‘god help ’em’ which seems to forgive or at least generously accept the general ways of things. But what I really love here is the inconsequential conversational meander from men being bad at leeching and bandaging ‘so fiery and unpatient’ with barely a full stop between her kind instruction to Silas, ‘You see this goes first, next the skin.’

She’s teaching and talking, talking partly almost to herself. Silas  has so much to learn – not just about the baby, but about being in a room with another creature, about conversation. Everything in this scene feels to me tender, almost raw, there’s something almost baby-like about Silas himself, he is a creature just born into this new part of life.  How lovely to have Dolly alongside. When the baby grabs him, she takes it as a clue:

“See there,” said Dolly, with a woman’s tender tact, “she’s fondest o’ you. She wants to go o’ your lap, I’ll be bound. Go, then: take her, Master Marner; you can put the things on, and then you can say as you’ve done for her from the first of her coming to you.”

Is Dolly imagining here, with an instinctive growth mindset, what will happen to Silas as the years of raising this child unfold? She is a parent herself. It’s the thought – that Silas might want, need, to say he has done for the baby from the first, that I find so moving. Dolly imagining the pride and sense of achievement Silas will build. I know right now that she is going to be a good friend, a guide, to him through whatever lies ahead. This generous – you take it – act is an act of belief. A less tactful, or a less sensitive, or a less feeling intelligence, would simply have dressed the child, instructing Silas verbally.  But Dolly trusts him and hands over.

Marner took her on his lap, trembling with an emotion mysterious to himself, at something unknown dawning on his life. Thought and feeling were so confused within him, that if he had tried to give them utterance, he could only have said that the child was come instead of the gold–that the gold had turned into the child. He took the garments from Dolly, and put them on under her teaching; interrupted, of course, by Baby’s gymnastics.

I’d want to reread Silas’ trembling  ‘something unknown dawning on his life’  and ask my group have you ever had that feeling of something irrevocably serious in your life? Can we imagine how that feels?

My group will say things like:

I felt like  when I made my wedding vows.

I felt like it when I got my divorce papers someone else will laugh.

I felt it  when I got my diagnosis, though it wasn’t a happy feeling like this is, it was like, oh, this is my life now.

I felt it when my first child was born.

I’d want to think about how those feelings felt and whether or not we can think when we are feeling so much. I’d want to look again at the words in the paragraph;

Thought and feeling were so confused within him, that if he had tried to give them utterance, he could only have said that the child was come instead of the gold–that the gold had turned into the child.

Silas is thinking  (gold/child/child/gold)  and feeling (gold/child/child/gold) at the same time. We know he loved the gold, felt warm companionship  when he gazed on the faces of the coins. But the word ‘love’ isn’t here, we only know, and he only knows, it is ‘an emotion mysterious to himself’. It is deeper than language or thought, this exchange of one love object for another. And dressing the child, taking parental responsibility for her, soon elbows complicated  language-less feeling aside.  In the next sentence he is dealing with baby’s gymnastics. So life pushes us on.

 

Silas Marner Day 26: Dolly Winthrop and Shakespeare’s Paulina, my top women

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Mature Beauties in the Long Border at Calderstones 11 August

I’ve been reading Silas Marner very slowly here (search ‘Silas Marner’) intermittently for a few months. I’m in Chapter 14, at the point where Dolly Winthrop is offering to  help Silas in looking after the child.

Long quotations this morning, but I want to emphasis how important it is to read slowly and to notice things. People may  initially struggle with the way in which George Eliot writes dialect. No need to over-worry about that. Just read slowly and stop whenever  anyone is troubled. I don’t think it matters what kind  of accent you land on for reading – mine veers around from county to county!

Here’s Silas and Dolly as Dolly brings him clothes for the child. Let’s read  this aloud before we go on:

“Yes,” said Silas, meditatively. “Yes–the door was open. The money’s gone I don’t know where, and this is come from I don’t know where.”

He had not mentioned to any one his unconsciousness of the child’s entrance, shrinking from questions which might lead to the fact he himself suspected–namely, that he had been in one of his trances.

“Ah,” said Dolly, with soothing gravity, “it’s like the night and the morning, and the sleeping and the waking, and the rain and the harvest–one goes and the other comes, and we know nothing how nor where. We may strive and scrat and fend, but it’s little we can do arter all–the big things come and go wi’ no striving o’ our’n– they do, that they do; and I think you’re in the right on it to keep the little un, Master Marner, seeing as it’s been sent to you, though there’s folks as thinks different. You’ll happen be a bit moithered with it while it’s so little; but I’ll come, and welcome, and see to it for you: I’ve a bit o’ time to spare most days, for when one gets up betimes i’ the morning, the clock seems to stan’ still tow’rt ten, afore it’s time to go about the victual. So, as I say, I’ll come and see to the child for you, and welcome.”

“Thank you… kindly,” said Silas, hesitating a little. “I’ll be glad if you’ll tell me things. But,” he added, uneasily, leaning forward to look at Baby with some jealousy, as she was resting her head backward against Dolly’s arm, and eyeing him contentedly from a distance–“But I want to do things for it myself, else it may get fond o’ somebody else, and not fond o’ me. I’ve been used to fending for myself in the house–I can learn, I can learn.”

Dolly is one of my favourite women in literature. If she was to be in a Shakespeare play, she’d be Paulina, in The Winter’s Tale. I might want to stop here, after only a few lines and get my group thinking about her and her womanly wisdom. So I’d pick out this philosophical sentence which would give us all a chance to think about big things that had come, or gone, in our own lives:

We may strive and scrat and fend, but it’s little we can do arter all–the big things come and go wi’ no striving o’ our’n– they do, that they do;

A lot of the conversation which is typical of a Shared Re ading group would arise out of this – what can you control and what can’t you control – and we might be talking to each other for some time about our real experiences. But before we read on, I’d want to stop again to see some of the busy practicality of Dolly:

and I think you’re in the right on it to keep the little un, Master Marner, seeing as it’s been sent to you, though there’s folks as thinks different. You’ll happen be a bit moithered with it while it’s so little; but I’ll come, and welcome, and see to it for you: I’ve a bit o’ time to spare most days, for when one gets up betimes i’ the morning, the clock seems to stan’ still tow’rt ten, afore it’s time to go about the victual.

In the first sentence, she’s providing moral support in a world of village gossip where the possibility of a man taking care of a child is unlikely and odd –  as we saw from the Cass party, people would prefer if  the child went  to the workhouse, just as these days , the proper channels of Local Authority Care might be seen as the right  course of action. Dolly wants to make it clear she supports Silas, ‘seeing as its been sent to you.’ But after this she’s on to what the actual experience of taking in a toddler will be like – ‘You’ll happen be a bit moithered with it while it’s so little’. And from there to practical help: ‘but I’ll come, and welcome, and see to it for you: I’ve a bit o’ time to spare most days, ‘. And finally, we see something of her character.  she’s a busy intelligence, and not enough demands on made on her, ‘I’ve a bit o’ time to spare most days, for when one gets up betimes i’ the morning, the clock seems to stan’ still tow’rt ten, afore it’s time to go about the victual.’

Interesting that the power of Silas’ feeling for the child (or for his own needs) allows him the courage to argue with Dolly:

“Thank you… kindly,” said Silas, hesitating a little. “I’ll be glad if you’ll tell me things. But,” he added, uneasily, leaning forward to look at Baby with some jealousy, as she was resting her head backward against Dolly’s arm, and eyeing him contentedly from a distance–“But I want to do things for it myself, else it may get fond o’ somebody else, and not fond o’ me. I’ve been used to fending for myself in the house–I can learn, I can learn.”

I love the observation here in the body language of the child – it’s like a lovely quick sketch by a very confident artist; the child is ‘resting her head backward against Dolly’s arm, and eyeing him contentedly from a distance’.

Silas understands his own motives very clearly – so powerful and straightforward are they, ‘But I want to do things for it myself, else it may get fond o’ somebody else, and not fond o’ me.’

This self-interest leads to a key change. Where  before Silas has been stuck in his long years of spider-like repetitive behaviour, he now has motivation to change. It’s a great moment when he tells Dolly, ‘I can learn, I can learn.’

The next section is astonishingly tender, and seems built from the feelings new parents might have as they struggle to dress a brand new baby – but time’s up. I’ll paste it here in case you want to read it now. More tomorrow – no, not tomorrow as busy  early London day and won’t have time to write. See you Wednesday.

“Eh, to be sure,” said Dolly, gently. “I’ve seen men as are wonderful handy wi’ children. The men are awk’ard and contrairy mostly, God help ’em–but when the drink’s out of ’em, they aren’t unsensible, though they’re bad for leeching and bandaging–so fiery and unpatient. You see this goes first, next the skin,” proceeded Dolly, taking up the little shirt, and putting it on.

“Yes,” said Marner, docilely, bringing his eyes very close, that they might be initiated in the mysteries; whereupon Baby seized his head with both her small arms, and put her lips against his face with purring noises.

“See there,” said Dolly, with a woman’s tender tact, “she’s fondest o’ you. She wants to go o’ your lap, I’ll be bound. Go, then: take her, Master Marner; you can put the things on, and then you can say as you’ve done for her from the first of her coming to you.”

Marner took her on his lap, trembling with an emotion mysterious to himself, at something unknown dawning on his life. Thought and feeling were so confused within him, that if he had tried to give them utterance, he could only have said that the child was come instead of the gold–that the gold had turned into the child. He took the garments from Dolly, and put them on under her teaching; interrupted, of course, by Baby’s gymnastics.

 

CBT in the C18: a poem by Ann Finch

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Buckler fern and Astrantia (and couch grass, naturally), front garden, 11 August

Thanks to Dave Kelly, via Chris Lines, at Liverpool Parks, who tells me the unrecognised shrub of yesterday  is Clerodendrum Bungei, a deciduous shrub ‘with unpleasantly-scented leaves and sweet-scented flowers’…  Thanks Chris, and thanks Dave. I did think the smell was strangely mixed! Will go back to the Old English Garden for another sniff today.

But back to Ann Finch and ‘Hope’ which I started yesterday.

Hope

The Tree of Knowledge we in Eden prov’d;
The Tree of Life was thence to Heav’n remov’d:
Hope is the growth of Earth, the only Plant,
Which either Heav’n, or Paradise cou’d want.

Hell knows it not, to Us alone confin’d,
And Cordial only to the Human Mind.
Receive it then, t’expel these mortal Cares,
Nor wave a Med’cine, which thy God prepares.

Orientikate commented yesterday,

Reading the verse again it feels to me as if the 2 Trees are kind of done and dusted, like – OK, we’ve been told about those – we chose (for better, for worse?) knowledge over life.

Yes, I agree the information about the two trees does seem done and dusted – that happened. Now here we are. Kate also suggested we might read ‘earth’ in line three as the plant of heaven, the only plant…  yes… look at lines three and four again:

Hope is the growth of Earth, the only Plant,
Which either Heav’n, or Paradise cou’d want.

If we read it that way we’d have a meaning which was something like: earth (where hope grows) is the only plant Heav’n (God) or Paradise ( or the initial creative act ) could want (need).  Hope then becomes a kind of power of earth directly linking life on earth to  life in heaven – it – could you go so far as to say – almost remakes paradise anew.

Thank you Kate!

Let’s go on into stanza two, which amplifies  Ann Finch’s thinking about ‘hope’ ;

Hell knows it not, to Us alone confin’d,
And Cordial only to the Human Mind.
Receive it then, t’expel these mortal Cares,
Nor wave a Med’cine, which thy God prepares.

The idea that came out of Kate’s reading, that hope is a kind of link between Earth and Heaven, is picked up here in ‘hell knows it not’.  For Christians  of  the seventeenth century, Hell is a third place in the cosmos (which is made of  Heaven, Earth, Hell and at least as far as Milton, which is where I get my information from,  is concerned,  there’s also Chaos or Void). But for us, reading now (and also for Ann Finch and others, at other times, I’d imagine)  ‘hell’ is also those times in life when we have no hope.

Hope is ‘to us alone confin’d’, and cannot be in Hell.  We seem to have moved back into a geo-cosmoligical  level  – the very nature of the universe doesn’t allow it to be there  – it is ‘confin’d’ to us.

The verb ‘confin’d is about keeping within limits, borders.  This is beginning to make me think about what can be where and how some places /states  have atmospheres or the ability to let things grow.

With hell within him, ( ‘where I am is hell’) Satan can never experience hope, as hell is a place  where ‘hope never comes, that comes to all’

No light, but rather darkness visible
Serv’d onely to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace [ 65 ]
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes to all; but torture without end
Still urges, and a fiery Deluge, fed
With ever-burning Sulphur unconsum’d:

Paradise Lost, Book 1

If hope is ‘confin’d’ to us  – to humans, if it sits within a natural border here within us, available only to us – not to  those who are forever in hell, then it is a sign of our possible movement – towards Heaven. It’s a special thing, given to, or held by us as part of that heavenly connection.

Now,  let’s think about cordial.

Hell knows it not, to Us alone confin’d,
And Cordial only to the Human Mind.

Online Etymological dictionary gives us:

late 14c., “of the heart,” from Middle French cordial, from Medieval Latin cordialis “of or for the heart,” from Latin cor (genitive cordis) “heart,” from PIE root *kerd- “heart.” Meaning “heartfelt, from the heart” is mid-15c. The noun is late 14c., originally “medicine, food, or drink that stimulates the heart.” Related: Cordiality.

So yes, let’s think of it as something that stimulates the heart. But Finch actually writes ‘mind’. What are you thinking when you are depressed, low, brought down, when things are hellish? Your heart may be sick but you need different thoughts. The medicine is hope.  Yet how to get yourself to take it?

I was thinking about the ‘only’  (cordial only to the human mind) and thinking at first of  other minds – animals, dogs, horses.  Do they not experience ‘hope’? But  on second or third reading I wondered if that distinction of ‘only the human mind’ was  more about the set up of the universe, the thing Kate called in her comment, the cosmology.  In all the universe, in the whole shebang,  hope is only found , like a rare and precious metal, in one place. In us.

Shall we  reread the whole poem now?

Hope

The Tree of Knowledge we in Eden prov’d;
The Tree of Life was thence to Heav’n remov’d:
Hope is the growth of Earth, the only Plant,
Which either Heav’n, or Paradise cou’d want.

Hell knows it not, to Us alone confin’d,
And Cordial only to the Human Mind.
Receive it then, t’expel these mortal Cares,
Nor wave a Med’cine, which thy God prepares.

I like that ‘hope’ is a  plant rather than my analogy of a precious metal – it’s a natural cordial, like a herb, which eases the heart. It grows on earth, in us, and is antipathetic to hell. Making me think of magnetic attraction and reulsion: if hell, no hope. If hope, no hell.

Having established these clearly set out thoughts, Ann speaks directly to the person to whom she writes ( herself, perhaps):

Receive it then, t’expel these mortal Cares,
Nor wave a Med’cine, which thy God prepares.

Now I see the poem has arisen from a particular place and a sort of argument, which has been ongoing. She (or the  person to whom she writes) has been denying hope, has not received it. This person is suffering ‘mortal Cares’ –  a double-edged word: these cares are human and they may be actually killing her, they are mortal to her. How do we know she has been actively denying this help?  The last line ‘ nor wave a med’cine’, where ‘wave’ is both wave as in the hand gesture (waving you and your medicine away) but also I think waive as in abandon, give up on.

We’ve got this amazing, rare, precious, transporting thing – use it!

Of course, if you are  badly depressed, no matter how hard you tell yourself, or someone else urges,  you can’t make yourself feel hope.

I read in Wikipedia that Ann Finch suffered depression.

I wonder if the poem’s language and thought pattern is a kind of home-made CBT. It is a set of thoughts, laid down in  a pattern. As your mind reads, it follows the pattern. If you put the word, and larger than that, the concept of ‘hope’ into a mind, there it is in some form, wher before it wasn’t. Psychologists have done many experiments which show that planting words in a mind affects the way it thinks.

Setting hope in this huge context adds perspective – it’s not just little you, an individual with an individual problem. It is a universal problem and there is a structural answer to it.  Read the poem again.

More poems by Ann Finch can be found here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Silas Marner Day 25: literature makes history disappear

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Inlua flourishing in the Old English Garden at Calderstones, 7 July

This morning, after my days with mind-bending Traherne, I’m returning to the solidity of Silas Marner. I’ve been reading Silas very slowly here (search ‘Silas Marner) intermittently for a few months, and have this is my twenty-fifth session on it.  Writing ‘Silas Marner Day 25’ in the title of this post made me think about the reality of such a reading in a group: on a weekly basis, that’s half a year!  But a Shared Reading session would cover more ground than I do here, wouldn’t it?  Yes, probably.  But not necessarily. Slowing down is key part of Shared Reading and why would you want to rush this?

But there’s a hard balance between  deep thinking, or what might be called personal reflection, and the story. ‘Get on with story!’ said Terry, a young man living in a hostel, in one of my early groups. We were reading Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce and had stopped to talk about life after death. Terry was so frustrated  by the diversion of our  talk that he picked the book up and started trying to read the next chapter. Terry couldn’t read. But his desperation for ‘what happens next’ provoked him into a serious attempt.

Everyone feels that need for continuing the narrative and it is easy to agree to the forward pull.  I don’t myself plan in advance what I am going to stop and talk about  in a Shared Reading session, I just read and see what happens, see how the mood and the meaning take me. But I stop a lot. I would hardly make any progress with the story. So many sentences offer the opportunity of  meaningful thought, and that’s what I want to bring about in my groups.

So here we are at the opening of chapter fourteen. Molly has brought her child to Raveloe, Godfrey Cass has denied (to himself)  his  paternity, the child has ended up with Silas, and Silas wants to keep it.

There was a pauper’s burial that week in Raveloe, and up Kench Yard at Batherley it was known that the dark-haired woman with the fair child, who had lately come to lodge there, was gone away again. That was all the express note taken that Molly had disappeared from the eyes of men. But the unwept death which, to the general lot, seemed as trivial as the summer-shed leaf, was charged with the force of destiny to certain human lives that we know of, shaping their joys and sorrows even to the end.

Would you stop here, so close to the beginning of the chapter, with everyone only just settling to their tea and biscuits? I would. I want to think about  people who might disappear from view and no one notice. I want to think about the ‘unwept death’.  And I want to think are we really as different from the Victorians as we think we are? That couldn’t happen now, could it – that a woman and child would have no social connectors? That a woman could appear as a lodger or a tenant for a short while and then disappear? that no note would be taken when two humans disappear ‘from the eyes of men’? Worse than that, it could not still be the case that such a death might seem  ‘as trivial as the summer-shed leaf’, could it?

For me, in leading a Shared Reading group who are reading this book, a key aim would be to make links with the human experience, so that we wouldn’t think of the characters, the author, as somehow different to ourselves. I want to make making links between ‘now’ and ‘then’. A key aim in my leadership of the group is to make Raveloe, and the entire world of Silas Marner deeply recognisable, here and now. I perform or call for translations into our  own language. Do we still have pauper’s burials now we have the welfare state? We do, and they are called public health funerals.

A question I might want to ask to slow things down is:What is moving in those opening lines, which bit is most like poetry?  I hop someone will find the word ‘unwept’, and we will have the chance to talk about the prefix ‘un’ – it gives us the verb, ‘wept’, but it takes it away. It makes us feel the loss of no one to cry for her.

Now I read on:

Silas Marner’s determination to keep the “tramp’s child” was matter of hardly less surprise and iterated talk in the village than the robbery of his money. That softening of feeling towards him which dated from his misfortune, that merging of suspicion and dislike in a rather contemptuous pity for him as lone and crazy, was now accompanied with a more active sympathy, especially amongst the women. Notable mothers, who knew what it was to keep children “whole and sweet”; lazy mothers, who knew what it was to be interrupted in folding their arms and scratching their elbows by the mischievous propensities of children just firm on their legs, were equally interested in conjecturing how a lone man would manage with a two-year-old child on his hands, and were equally ready with their suggestions: the notable chiefly telling him what he had better do, and the lazy ones being emphatic in telling him what he would never be able to do.

Lots of stuff here!  Oh dear, how ever will we finish this book, with me wanting to stop every ten lines. But really – worth noticing two human psychology things here, way before the discipline, through the  practice and writing of William James, was born. George Eliot is brilliant at noticing and recording how humans work.

In this paragraph, first how groups change their behaviour, second how individuals take a positive or negative stance. Taking the first of these first. Silas was an outcast; people began to ‘soften’ towards him when he was robbed. the village had got to the point where it had merged ‘suspicion and dislike in a rather contemptuous pity for him as lone and crazy’.

No one would call that sympathy, yet George Eliot nearly does. She refers back to this state when she says it was  ‘now accompanied with a more active sympathy’. Does ‘more active’ imply that the previous state of feeling  towards him was an inactive sympathy? Can contemptuous pity change into  more active sympathy? If so, hurray! We need to understand how and why.  What is pity? What is sympathy? ( I look them up in the  online etymological dictionary – they are deeply connected at root) How do we distinguish those things, and how – why – do they merge into each other?

These are useful  social questions for a group of humans to ask, in a world where ‘diseases of despair’ , as The Times calls them this morning are rising at such an alarming rate.

The next  point is about a distinction between ‘notable’ or ‘lazy’ mothers – a distinction bound to get some people’s backs up.  I’m sure I am a lazy one and have nothing to  protect on that score. But leave motherhood aside for a moment – because it’s painful to be critcised there, for many.  Aren’t lots of humans, let us say at work, ‘notable’ or ‘lazy’? Isn’t that a  natural bell curve distribution in any field?

What’s interesting is how George Eliot jumps to the nub of things in a way that contemporary psychology would  recognise. The ‘notable’ believe things can be done. Those who are ‘lazy’ believe things can’t be done.  What I love is how both groups are united in the slightly malicious pleasure they take in imagining a man dealing with a two-year old child. That conversation is taking place right now as a  real  twenty-first century woman plans a weekend away with her girlfriends. ‘Let’s see how he gets on.’ Well, we will. Silas is becoming a single parent dad, which not what we think of when we think of a Victorian stereotype.

 

A Universe-bending proposition from Thomas Traherne

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Climbing black fuschia in the rain, back garden, 7 August

I am continuing to read the Thomas Traherne poem ‘Shadows in the Water’ : search ‘Traherne’ and you’ll find the posts. Here’s the poem – always worth re-reading aloud to get into the flow;

I’m adding numbers to the stanzas, for easy of reference.

Shadows in the water

1

In unexperienced infancy
Many a sweet mistake doth lie:
Mistake though false, intending true;
A seeming somewhat more than view;
That doth instruct the mind
In things that lie behind,
And many secrets to us show
Which afterwards we come to know.

 

2

Thus did I by the water’s brink
Another world beneath me think;
And while the lofty spacious skies
Reversèd there, abused mine eyes,
I fancied other feet
Came mine to touch or meet;
As by some puddle I did play
Another world within it lay.

3

Beneath the water people drowned,
Yet with another heaven crowned,
In spacious regions seemed to go
As freely moving to and fro:
In bright and open space
I saw their very face;
Eyes, hands, and feet they had like mine;
Another sun did with them shine.

4

’Twas strange that people there should walk,
And yet I could not hear them talk;
That through a little watery chink,
Which one dry ox or horse might drink,
We other worlds should see,
Yet not admitted be;
And other confines there behold
Of light and darkness, heat and cold.

5

I called them oft, but called in vain;
No speeches we could entertain:
Yet did I there expect to find
Some other world, to please my mind.
I plainly saw by these
A new antipodes,
Whom, though they were so plainly seen,
A film kept off that stood between.

6

By walking men’s reversèd feet
I chanced another world to meet;
Though it did not to view exceed
A phantom, ’tis a world indeed,
Where skies beneath us shine,
And earth by art divine
Another face presents below,
Where people’s feet against ours go.

7

Within the regions of the air,
Compassed about with heavens fair,
Great tracts of land there may be found
Enriched with fields and fertile ground;
Where many numerous hosts
In those far distant coasts,
For other great and glorious ends
Inhabit, my yet unknown friends.

8

O ye that stand upon the brink,
Whom I so near me through the chink
With wonder see: what faces there,
Whose feet, whose bodies, do ye wear?
I my companions see
In you, another me.
They seemèd others, but are we;
Our second selves these shadows be.

9

Look how far off those lower skies
Extend themselves! scarce with mine eyes
I can them reach. O ye my friends,
What secret borders on those ends?
Are lofty heavens hurled
’Bout your inferior world?
Are yet the representatives
Of other peoples’ distant lives?

10

Of all the playmates which I knew
That here I do the image view
In other selves, what can it mean?
But that below the purling stream
Some unknown joys there be
Laid up in store for me;
To which I shall, when that thin skin
Is broken, be admitted in.

Yesterday I’d got as far as stanza 8, and that’s where I’m picking up today:

O ye that stand upon the brink,
Whom I so near me through the chink
With wonder see: what faces there,
Whose feet, whose bodies, do ye wear?
I my companions see
In you, another me.
They seemèd others, but are we;
Our second selves these shadows be.

Here Traherne looks more closely –  ‘through the chink’ –  at the people in the other world of the puddle/window. These are people who ‘stand upon the brink’,  at the very edge of our world. Traherne asks about particularities – what faces do these people have? And then the surprise realisation:

I my companions see
In you, another me.
They seemèd others, but are we;
Our second selves these shadows be.

There’s a strong slide of meaning, possible meaning slipping into possible meaning, in the syntax of these lines – who is seeing what, where? The slippage is compounded by the rhymes: I, my, see, me, we.

I my companions see
In you, another me.

I just don’t know who ‘my companions’ are here – the people under the water?  Or the people alongside me in this world? Yes, it’s that latter: it means  ‘I and my companions see’. The syntax (the ways the words, punctuation, lines are arranged)  is so clever here: the more you look the more you can’t tell what you are seeing, as if the puddle has ripples in it which break up the  reflection into lots of parts, yet they are all still essentially ‘I’, ‘my companions’, ‘you’, ‘me’.

Finally we get to a resting place where the water, the vision, clams and we see clearly:

Our second selves these shadows be.

And now, in stanza 9, having achieved a moment of calm, Traherne flings a new, dizzying question into the pool:

Look how far off those lower skies
Extend themselves! scarce with mine eyes
I can them reach. O ye my friends,
What secret borders on those ends?
Are lofty heavens hurled
’Bout your inferior world?
Are yet the representatives
Of other peoples’ distant lives?

Now Traherne unleashes a stream of questions which can’t be answered: it’s as if the walls of the universe have fallen away. How far does this go? What does that unendingness mean? ‘What secret borders on those ends?’  When Traherne asks ‘Are lofty heavens hurled/ ’bout your inferior world’  it is as if he in free-fall, not knowing which way is up. Is there an ‘up’ in this place we look down into? If  there are reflections in that other world, what do they reflect? Are they ‘the representatives/ Of other peoples’ distant lives?’

I’m remembering something Doris Lessing wrote in her ‘Remarks’ at the beginning of The Sirian Experiments.

It has been said that everything man is capable of imagining has its counterpart somewhere else, in a different level of reality.

Traherne loves to inhabit this place between fixed points – the place where those different levels of reality meet, or touch, and  he is not all scared, but childlike, full of wonder at the  far-reachingness of  his own possible thought, or experience.

Of all the playmates which I knew
That here I do the image view
In other selves, what can it mean?
But that below the purling stream
Some unknown joys there be
Laid up in store for me;
To which I shall, when that thin skin
Is broken, be admitted in.

He puts the question, ‘what can it mean?’ squarely and without fear. What can it mean that  ‘I do the image view, In other selves’? – It means ‘unknown joys’ await him.

The idea of the ‘thin skin’ between this world and another pleases him – he wants to be ‘admitted in.’ You get the feeling that is what he has wanted all along – to dive in, to go there…there is a fascination with the world reflected in the puddle, and with the thoughts that then grow from that experience

There’s nothing in the poem about  heaven, Christianity, any sort of expounding of doctrine, though Traherne was a priest.  If there was only this poem in existence Traherne would seem to me a true Romantic –  though he lived way before ‘Romanticism’ emerged as a movement, and  was unknown to Wordsworth and the other Romantic poets, because his work was unknown and unpublished until into the twentieth century.

Why do I say Romantic? Because he apprehends the world through his feelings and tries to think from there. Because he has a naive, childlike belief in those first feelings, which I’m glad to celebrate. Because ‘God’ doesn’t seem to come with human thinking attached, but rather as a direct and ordinary experience – the limilessness of God in a puddle.

And that’s what this poem is, isn’t it?  A small thing happens – child looks in puddle, see other  people there, other sky. From that experience comes this echoing hall of mirrors universe/time/space bending proposition which is about the thin barriers between states of being,  between life and death, this earth and heaven, whatever that is – this is what Wordsworth, a hundred years or so  later will call an of immortality’.

Read about Thomas Traherne here.

 

 

See the possibilities? Thomas Traherne’s ‘Shadows in the Water’

japanese anenomes.JPG
Japanese anenomes, white hydraganea and couchgrass, 6 August

I’ve been reading Thomas Traherne’s poem ‘Shadows in the Water’ for a few days: search ‘Traherne’ and you’ll find the posts. Here’s the poem – always worth re-reading aloud to get into the flow;

I’m adding numbers to the stanzas, for easy of reference.

Shadows in the water

1

In unexperienced infancy
Many a sweet mistake doth lie:
Mistake though false, intending true;
A seeming somewhat more than view;
That doth instruct the mind
In things that lie behind,
And many secrets to us show
Which afterwards we come to know.

 

2

Thus did I by the water’s brink
Another world beneath me think;
And while the lofty spacious skies
Reversèd there, abused mine eyes,
I fancied other feet
Came mine to touch or meet;
As by some puddle I did play
Another world within it lay.

3

Beneath the water people drowned,
Yet with another heaven crowned,
In spacious regions seemed to go
As freely moving to and fro:
In bright and open space
I saw their very face;
Eyes, hands, and feet they had like mine;
Another sun did with them shine.

4

’Twas strange that people there should walk,
And yet I could not hear them talk;
That through a little watery chink,
Which one dry ox or horse might drink,
We other worlds should see,
Yet not admitted be;
And other confines there behold
Of light and darkness, heat and cold.

5

I called them oft, but called in vain;
No speeches we could entertain:
Yet did I there expect to find
Some other world, to please my mind.
I plainly saw by these
A new antipodes,
Whom, though they were so plainly seen,
A film kept off that stood between.

6

By walking men’s reversèd feet
I chanced another world to meet;
Though it did not to view exceed
A phantom, ’tis a world indeed,
Where skies beneath us shine,
And earth by art divine
Another face presents below,
Where people’s feet against ours go.

7

Within the regions of the air,
Compassed about with heavens fair,
Great tracts of land there may be found
Enriched with fields and fertile ground;
Where many numerous hosts
In those far distant coasts,
For other great and glorious ends
Inhabit, my yet unknown friends.

8

O ye that stand upon the brink,
Whom I so near me through the chink
With wonder see: what faces there,
Whose feet, whose bodies, do ye wear?
I my companions see
In you, another me.
They seemèd others, but are we;
Our second selves these shadows be.

9

Look how far off those lower skies
Extend themselves! scarce with mine eyes
I can them reach. O ye my friends,
What secret borders on those ends?
Are lofty heavens hurled
’Bout your inferior world?
Are yet the representatives
Of other peoples’ distant lives?

10

Of all the playmates which I knew
That here I do the image view
In other selves, what can it mean?
But that below the purling stream
Some unknown joys there be
Laid up in store for me;
To which I shall, when that thin skin
Is broken, be admitted in.

and had got to  this point in stanza 4:

Strange….

…We other worlds should see,
Yet not admitted be;
And other confines there behold
Of light and darkness, heat and cold.

As I reread this morning I was arrested by the opening of stanza 3 which I’d passed over rather quickly the first time round;

Beneath the water people drowned,
Yet with another heaven crowned,
In spacious regions seemed to go

It was ‘drowned’ that struck me – partly because yesterday I’d been thinking of the oddness of this world being vulnerable to a thirsty ox, and thinking of  in almost sci fi way about ways to move between worlds or modes. That thoughts developed after I’d read ‘drowned’ yesterday and I didn’t go back to  this word – but now with the odd thought firmly established in my mind, as I reread, ‘drowned’  is a clue.

A clue to what? To the strange point of  view Traherne is inhabiting – where he can see two worlds, he’s in a virtual doorway. Looked at from one point of view (this world) the people  he can see are drowning. Looked at from  inside the puddle-world they are not drowning they are ‘freely moving to and fro’.

If I was reading this in a group I’d want to open up a conversation about what we all know about different worlds, different possible worlds, and whether we ever sense them.  I’d be looking for an example.  Time and chance  offer the easiest examples, perhaps. You meet an old boyfriend after twenty years in some unexpected situation, there he is, selling you a new car, working as an ambulance driver, the police detective who comes about your burglary, at a school reunion/  Possible lives – what if we had stayed together? – open up. You look at them briefly. Most likely the possible closes down.

Another example? You were injured in an accident when you went on a VSO project, you lost a hand. Wouldn’t the moment of choosing to go on that adventure keep replaying? Possible lives where you chose something else?  How close are those worlds?

Of course, these examples  are linked by choices, and Traherne’s are not – his are wild and unpredictable  glitches in the universe.  Have you ever  experienced anything like that? Sometimes landscape seems to open up other ways of seeing – for me, very big landscapes – the Lake District, the Bay of Kotor, the Pembroke Coast seem to offer intimations of  the world in a different mode – rather like  in the Coventry Patmore poem last week.

But Traherne’s vision is odder than that. That’s what  I love about Traherne. It’s all very strange for him.

So in stanza 3 Traherne sees that double vision, and in stanza 4 he comments the strangeness of his own (our own) position, ‘strange’ he says ;

We other worlds should see,
Yet not admitted be;
And other confines there behold
Of light and darkness, heat and cold

The experience seems increasingly about vision – I am just noticing all the words that are about seeing, a list which begins early on with the word ‘seeming’; which contains ‘seeing’ ; it’s Traherne’s eyes which are initially tricked by the experience (stanza 2) in stanza 3, ‘saw’, stanza 4 ‘see’, stanza 5 ‘saw’ ‘seen’, stanza 6 ‘view’, stanza 8 ‘see’ ‘see’ and ‘seemed’, stanza 9 ‘look’ ‘eyes’, stanza 10 ‘image’ ‘view’.

Here is something we can see but not enter, not touch, not talk or otherwise communicate with and yet the seeing is strong;

I called them oft, but called in vain;
No speeches we could entertain:
Yet did I there expect to find
Some other world, to please my mind.
I plainly saw by these
A new antipodes,
Whom, though they were so plainly seen,
A film kept off that stood between.

‘Antipodes’ is a great word to have here ; it means ‘having the feet opposite’ and signifies usually  in English, Australia and New Zealand – the opposite sides of the earth.  These were places people once couldn’t imagine. In flat earth days it would have been impossible that there could be another side to the planet.  butthat thinking about possibility grew outmoded – we found ‘the antipodes’ and learned  more about our planet.

What is the child who plays in this puddle learning ? (Thinking of Emerson asking what does the wave teach the fisherman).  The child is learning that things can look very different – that there are other worlds, other beings…that we can’t communicate with them in the usual ways – because

though they were so plainly seen,
A film kept off that stood between

How important is this ‘film’, this thin but apparently impermeable barrier? And is it a metaphor for something else? I’m not sure yet, so I read on into stanza 6;

By walking men’s reversèd feet
I chanced another world to meet;
Though it did not to view exceed
A phantom, ’tis a world indeed,
Where skies beneath us shine,
And earth by art divine
Another face presents below,
Where people’s feet against ours go.

This joining at the feet, this mirroring, seems very important now.  This is the place of the film and yet it is also the place of view – not a doorway, as I thought earlier, but a window which opens a view –  yes, a view of a phantom, yet ’tis a world indeed’. The repetition of the joining point, the keeping coming back to it ‘where people’s feet against ours go’.

Now I come to  stanza 7 which I’ve found  most hard to understand when I’ve been reading through;

Within the regions of the air,
Compassed about with heavens fair,
Great tracts of land there may be found
Enriched with fields and fertile ground;
Where many numerous hosts
In those far distant coasts,
For other great and glorious ends
Inhabit, my yet unknown friends.

Does Traherne look up at this point? He has been (remembering) looking down at the world in the puddle, but suddenly now he’s talking about ‘the air’, ‘heavens’. The puddle world wasn’t so much a metaphor as a clue to possibility: there may be such worlds in other  places and look up! there’s all that space up there. Given what we have just seen in the puddle, is it possible that there are worlds, lands;

Great tracts of land there may be found
Enriched with fields and fertile ground;

And beyond the land, may there be creatures, my yet unknown friends, (walking foot to foot with us?)

Where many numerous hosts
In those far distant coasts,
For other great and glorious ends
Inhabit, my yet unknown friends.

Host is often a word for angels – the heavenly host – and if they are there – we may not know what they are doing, we will not understand their ‘great and glorious ends’, just as there is no communication between the people in the reversed world of the puddle. Now we come to stanza 8 where Traherne makes his leap of thought explicit:

O ye that stand upon the brink,
Whom I so near me through the chink
With wonder see: what faces there,
Whose feet, whose bodies, do ye wear?
I my companions see
In you, another me.
They seemèd others, but are we;
Our second selves these shadows be.

 

But that’s it for today – will read  this stanza tomorrow. But look at the skies today, look up.

A Thirsty Ox Connecting Thomas Traherne to Terry Pratchett?

sweetpeas.JPG
Post-admin aromatherapy: sweetpeas and other flowers scenting my desk, 5 August

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yesterday I started reading Shadows in the Water by Thomas Traherne – a longish poem which I’ll be reading for a  few sessions.  Need it this morning because I did a bit of admin before starting my Daily Reading Practice, something I never normally do, and it has got me into a very bad temper. Passwords, timed outs, and verifications –  hours of it. You all know how irritating that is. and it is a sunny morning and I want to get gardening.  So – deep breath. Read.

Shadows in the water

In unexperienced infancy
Many a sweet mistake doth lie:
Mistake though false, intending true;
A seeming somewhat more than view;
That doth instruct the mind
In things that lie behind,
And many secrets to us show
Which afterwards we come to know.

Thus did I by the water’s brink
Another world beneath me think;
And while the lofty spacious skies
Reversèd there, abused mine eyes,
I fancied other feet
Came mine to touch or meet;
As by some puddle I did play
Another world within it lay.

Beneath the water people drowned,
Yet with another heaven crowned,
In spacious regions seemed to go
As freely moving to and fro:
In bright and open space
I saw their very face;
Eyes, hands, and feet they had like mine;
Another sun did with them shine.

’Twas strange that people there should walk,
And yet I could not hear them talk;
That through a little watery chink,
Which one dry ox or horse might drink,
We other worlds should see,
Yet not admitted be;
And other confines there behold
Of light and darkness, heat and cold.

I called them oft, but called in vain;
No speeches we could entertain:
Yet did I there expect to find
Some other world, to please my mind.
I plainly saw by these
A new antipodes,
Whom, though they were so plainly seen,
A film kept off that stood between.

By walking men’s reversèd feet
I chanced another world to meet;
Though it did not to view exceed
A phantom, ’tis a world indeed,
Where skies beneath us shine,
And earth by art divine
Another face presents below,
Where people’s feet against ours go.

Within the regions of the air,
Compassed about with heavens fair,
Great tracts of land there may be found
Enriched with fields and fertile ground;
Where many numerous hosts
In those far distant coasts,
For other great and glorious ends
Inhabit, my yet unknown friends.

O ye that stand upon the brink,
Whom I so near me through the chink
With wonder see: what faces there,
Whose feet, whose bodies, do ye wear?
I my companions see
In you, another me.
They seemèd others, but are we;
Our second selves these shadows be.

Look how far off those lower skies
Extend themselves! scarce with mine eyes
I can them reach. O ye my friends,
What secret borders on those ends?
Are lofty heavens hurled
’Bout your inferior world?
Are yet the representatives
Of other peoples’ distant lives?

Of all the playmates which I knew
That here I do the image view
In other selves, what can it mean?
But that below the purling stream
Some unknown joys there be
Laid up in store for me;
To which I shall, when that thin skin
Is broken, be admitted in.

Yesterday I’d only got as far as stanza one, so picking up where I left off…Traherne is about to tell us about a childhood error, a mistake due to what he explains as believing a ‘seeming’ rather than seeing a true ‘view’.

Thus did I by the water’s brink
Another world beneath me think;
And while the lofty spacious skies
Reversèd there, abused mine eyes,
I fancied other feet
Came mine to touch or meet;
As by some puddle I did play
Another world within it lay.

Have you ever seen this ? In a powerfully clear puddle of water on a strongly lit day – the blue of sky reflected, the sense of another world opening up at your feet? It is the great height (or depth) of those ‘lofty, spacious’ skies that provide the ‘seeming’. The verb is ‘abused’ –  a strong word. But is there an older less dangerous meaning?  Ab + used  – used wrongly?  No used up…(from the online etymological dictionary: early 15c., “to misuse, misapply” (power, money, etc.), from Old French abuser “deceive, abuse, misuse” (14c.), from Vulgar Latin *abusare, from Latin abusus “an abusing; a using up,” )

In the first stanza, this kind of mistake is called ‘sweet’, and is seen as having a true intention behind it – ‘mistake though false, intending true’, therefore an error of no bad intent which may ‘instruct the mind’.  All this makes me think I can’t take that ‘abused’ too strongly.  The experience is what it seems – a child, playing by puddle, imagining another world. Provoked or tricked into imagining but with no bad intent.

Beneath the water people drowned,
Yet with another heaven crowned,
In spacious regions seemed to go
As freely moving to and fro:
In bright and open space
I saw their very face;
Eyes, hands, and feet they had like mine;
Another sun did with them shine.

Hard to tell whether these are totally imaginary people or reflections of real people, like Traherne himself, near the puddle. I’m going with imaginary, because he used the word ‘fancied’ – and there’s a connection between ‘fancy’ and ‘imagination’ (fantasy). But the opening line – ‘people drowned’ is  worrying – is this about a kind of margin between this word and the other. If we have our head in this word,  then those upside down in the puddle must be drowned. but if that world is the real world then they are ‘with another heaven crowned.’

I fancied other feet
Came mine to touch or meet;

I notice that we get the word ‘spacious’ again in this stanza ( ‘the lofty spacious skies’ feature in the previous). Somehow this word is key to the experience – the  largeness of the sky, and of the reflected sky, giving Traherne a sense of  vast room, which somehow makes me think about room for other things, things we haven’t yet imagined or thought.

It’s rather like that line in Paradise Lost  when Satan feels the roominess of hell and gloats as he sees Adam and Eve for the first time

Hell shall unfold,
To entertain you two, her widest Gates,
And send forth all her Kings; there will be room,
Not like these narrow limits, to receive
Your numerous offspring;

Room, space, as potential. As Thomas Traherne watches (or remembers watching) this world gets more real – the people  no longer seemed drowned, they seem close-up and very particular ;

I saw their very face;
Eyes, hands, and feet they had like mine;
Another sun did with them shine.

But there is a gap,  which Traherne calls ‘a watery chink’.  I’m thinking about doorways, margins, cross-over points. He can see these people very closely but he can’t hear them, he’s not in the same world as them:

’Twas strange that people there should walk,
And yet I could not hear them talk;
That through a little watery chink,
Which one dry ox or horse might drink,
We other worlds should see,
Yet not admitted be;
And other confines there behold
Of light and darkness, heat and cold.

Great to imagine the thirsty beast who might close this chink with the practical necessity of drinking! Suddenly every thing seems very odd,  very sci-fi, very unstable. Worlds open up at your feet,  but a  thirsty ox can close them down – it’s like something from  Terry Pratchett! And  things are stranger still, Traherne continues:

We other worlds should see,
Yet not admitted be;
And other confines there behold
Of light and darkness, heat and cold.

I’m breathing normally now and have got over my admin tensions…and what’s left of my Daily Practice time is up, because the sun may no last all morning and the gardening must begin. More of this tomorrow.