Wednesday, May 13, 2020

To Serve Beauty

"What  wish do I keep now after seventy years of struggle, success, and failure?" asks Ella Young in her autobiography Flowering Dusk. I read this line long ago but now I feel Ella in those words for the first time. And now, my own thoughts and reflections are mirrored in her thoughts. Not surprising, as Ella Young and I have been on a journey together for quite some time.

Ella asks this question while "sitting here with sunlight glinting among the ruby-hearted lilies...with sunlight filtering through the boughs above me." I picture this scene in her quirky wooden cottage in Oceano, California surrounded by eucalyptus trees and the sound of the sea weaving through the air like a spell.
Image by Denise Sallee. All Rights Reserved, 2020.

She goes on to answer her question. "I think that I keep my first conscious wish: to see beauty always with keener perception and subtler understanding. I have wished to serve beauty as writer, gardener and citizen—though I have fallen far short of the wish."

The first time I read the poem by John Keats Ode on a Grecian Urn,  I was in my early twenties and hungry for a world I knew must exist but had yet to discover. He spoke of "wild ecstasy" and those words certainly spoke to me. And then that final stanza that haunts so many:

 O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
         Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
         Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
         When old age shall this generation waste,
                Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
         "Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
                Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."

Ella Young was a romantic and she was a warrior. Do her astral planets struggle within her as my own do within me?

And she continues her musings: "Beauty is like flame—it lives by escaping: but where it touches one, like flame it leaves a mark. Burnt into my mind is the image of the first rose that as a child I really saw. At that moment, that epoch of consciousness, rose bush, garden—the whole cosmos—disappeared : only the rose remained effulgent and heart-filling—only the rose remains in my memory."
Image by Denise Sallee. All Rights Reserved, 2020
"Every lover of beauty becomes oversoon aware of that tragic shadow, the destruction of beauty: the destruction of joy which is in itself a kind of beauty...I understood that Beauty is outside of and independent of all form. It is imperishable."

She gives examples of what she calls "the poor image of Beauty" transient objects and moments. But, she announces "the sun remains! Reaching out toward this beauty—conceived at once as formless and having every form, understanding it to be approached as much through sorrow as though joy one apprehends the fringe of it as an ecstasy, lifting mind, body and soul beyond the trammeled existence we mistakenly call life."

Do I hear in Ella Young's words echoes from an earlier time and an earlier poet?

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
                Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

So I try not to miss anything...

Sheltering in Place Solo, Day #41.

I like to, but don't always, walk around my hill early in the morning before my neighbors are awake and the cars begin to arrive, and the noise starts. Before the reality of the world settles in and upon me.  There are birds for companions ~ their morning song, their flight from branch to branch all I need. The world is too large for me now, I don't fit in. I look instead for the small gifts nature leads me to. My hill, the forest, the birds and other creatures are all around me and not far breathes the sea I have too long ignored because...the world is too large for me now, I don't fit in.  

Silver linings of a world in isolation is my beach returning to me much as it was decades ago: nearly deserted, and contemplative.  It is easy to lose yourself in the big vista  - the immense sea and her roaring waves. But for me the real treasures are nearer, often underfoot.
Stones washed down by the river onto the sea's edge then revealed, all shimmering in the morning light, as the tide recedes. 

Or the seaweed, left by the tide to sunbath on the sand, the same sand that has known my bare, often dancing, feet for these many years. 

I recall this poem by Mary Oliver, so perfect in its simplicity. And I will remember in the years left to me, the fallen feathers and the river stones.

When it’s over, it’s over and we don’t know
any of us, what happens then.
So I try not to miss anything.
I think, in my whole life, I have never missed
the full moon
or the slipper of it’s coming back,
Or, a kiss.
Well, yes, especially a kiss.
~ Mary Oliver

Monday, December 30, 2019

Ella Young in the Brugh of Angus ~ commonly known as Newgrange

Irish poet, mystic and folklorist, Ella Young (1867 – 1956) wrote in her memoirs Flowering Dusk... (1945) about an experience she had, on her own, inside what she names as "the Brugh of Angus" and what is commonly called Newgrange in County Meath.  The date of this visit is not given but Ella left Ireland, never to return, in 1925.
Image by Denise Sallee, ©2009

In her chapter entitled "Cave of the Red Steeds" she recounts her lengthy stay in a farmhouse near Cong, County Mayo, and entering a natural cave with many chambers where she remained for some time. 

"My thoughts went back to another silence—silence and darkness in the Brugh of Angus, the artificial chambered mound at Newgrange by the Boyne. I sat alone in the Central Chamber of the Brugh (having bribed the custodian to absent herself and her candles). The roof arched above me in blackness and there was great silence about me, penetrated by the chill joyousness of the Brugh. Suddenly, I became aware that the Chamber was filling with pale light that surged like water through the narrow tortuous entrance passage. Like water, it seemed to have weight and substance. Washed by this pale liquid slow-moving light the pillar-stone of the Brugh suddenly flamed silver, shot up like a column of moon-fire. The Sun, journeying westward, had touched it with an out-stretched finger.

Ella Young goes on to compare the cave in Cong and the Brugh in Meath—noting that "the Brugh of Angus had been carefully fashioned. The Ultonian* kings paid honour to it, and at the Samhain Festival processions wound among the standing stones that still, in broken formation, circle the mound. Fire leaped on the summit. Five great roads converged on it."
* A native or inhabitant of Ulster