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August 2013

Moving Day approaches...

The Goods and Chattels Man by Rima StainesNot mine, don't worry, but my mother-in-law's. She's moving house, and I'll be off-line all next week while we're doing the final packing.

Myth & Moor will resume the following week (the first week of September).

In the meantime, please feel free to carry on the discussion and poetry exchanges in the Comments sections of previous posts. And wish us luck!

The art above, of course, is by the wonderful Rima Staines; it's called "The Goods and Chattels Man." Below, Tilly makes certain that no one packs up her dog toys by mistake...

Dog toy

See you in September!

Into the Wood, 32: Swan Maidens and Crane Wives

Swans by Gennady Spirin

From "The Swan Maiden's Feathered Robe" by Midori Snyder:

"It is hard to imagine a more visually beautiful image in folk tales than the one presented by the figures of the swan maiden and her sisters. With a flurry of wings, they swoop down from the sky to glide The Swan Maidens by Walter Crane
elegantly across a clear pond. Then, throwing off their feathered gowns, they bathe and frolic in the water as women. They are always lovely, sensual, a combination of exotic sexuality and innocent charm.

"In the traditional swan maiden narrative, a hunter or young prince is smitten with love at first sight for the youngest swan sister — smitten enough to commit several crimes against the very object of his desire for the sole purpose of keeping such a magical creature within his grasp. These crimes culminate in marriage and the attempted domestication of the wild, fantastical swan maiden, turned into a wife and mother. But this is less a tale about love than one about marital coercion and confusion. Neither husband nor wife is on the same page; their union is at best a tenuous détente, made possible only by the husband's theft of the swan maiden's feathered gown, forcing her to remain human and estranged from her own world. The husband has done nothing to earn such a Lohengrin by Walter Cranepowerful wife, and the swan maiden has no opportunity to choose her own fate. This is a marriage that cannot last in its fractured form. It must either go forward to find a level playing field for husband and wife, or it must end in miserable dissolution.

"Let us consider a European version of the tale reconstructed from a variety of sources by Victorian author Joseph Jacobs. A hunter is spending the night in a clump of bushes on the edge of a pond, hoping to capture wild ducks. At midnight, hearing the whirring of wings, he is astonished to see not ducks but seven maidens clad in robes of feathers alight on the bank, disrobe, and begin to bathe and sport in the water. The hunter seizes the opportunity to creep through the bushes and steal one of the robes. When dawn approaches, the sisters gather their garments and prepare to leave, but the youngest sister is distraught, unable to find her robe. Daylight is coming and the older sisters cannot wait for her. They leave her behind, telling her 'to meet your fate whatever it may be.'

"As soon as the sisters are out of sight, the hunter approaches her, holding the feathered robe. The young maiden weeps and begs for its return, but the hunter, already too much in love, refuses. Instead, he covers her with his cloak and The Child Finds the Feather Dress, from the Europa's Fairy Book, 1916; artist unknowntakes her home. Once there, he hides her robe, knowing that if she puts it on again, he will lose her. They are married, and she gifts him with two children, a boy and a girl. One day, while playing hide–and–seek, the little girl finds the hidden robe and brings it to her mother. Without a moment's hesitation, the wife slips on the robe. We can almost imagine the mother's sigh of relief to be herself again, her true fantastic self, and not the pale wife weighted down by domestic drudgery. And yet, she offers a spark of hope for the future of the marriage. 'Tell your father, if he wishes to see me again, he must find me in the land East o' the Sun and West' o' the Moon,' she says to her daughter just before flying out the window.

Wings by T Windling"No matter how compliant a swan maiden may appear as a wife, there remains an unspoken anxiety and tension beneath the surface of her marriage. Her husband can never be certain of her affection, for it has been held hostage by her stolen skin. He offers her his cloak, but it is an exchange of unequal goods. Her feathered robe is the sign of her wild nature, of her freedom, and of her power, while his cloak becomes the instrument of her domestication, of her submission in human society. He steals her identity, the very thing that attracted him, and then turns her into his most precious prize, a pale version of the original creature of magic.

"Conflict is never far beneath the veneer of the swan maiden's compliance. In a German version of the tale, a hunter captures a swan maiden's skin, and although she follows him home pleading for its return, he offers her only marriage. She accepts, not out of love but to remain close to the skin which is her identity. Fifteen years and several children later, the hunter leaves to go on a hunting trip, for once forgetting to lock the attic. Alone in the house, the wife searches the attic and finds her skin in a dusty chest. She immediately puts it on and flies out the window before the startled eyes of her children, with nary a word of farewell....

"The swan maiden stories suggest that there are marriages that will themselves to dissolution because of the inability of the pair to mature and to integrate into each other's world. In the human Illustration by John Bauerworld, the swan maiden loses her fantastic nobility and is subjected to the daily labors of a human wife – including childbearing, which is portrayed as so distasteful the swan wives often seem to have few qualms about leaving their children behind the moment they recover their skins. The husband either cannot find her world (and dies of melancholy), or, when he does succeed in arriving in her domain, he cannot accept the fantastical world on his wife's terms. These are, at best, temporary reunions....

"There was considerable renewed interest in the swan maiden tales in Europe throughout the late 19th century. For the English Victorians it was the era of the 'Married Woman's Property Acts' and of the 'New Woman.' Marriage roles, divorce, and the appropriate role of a wife were being re-examined and questioned.  The swan maiden, with her ability to effectively fly away from her marriage and her children, became a fascinating study for Victorian folklorists, who saw in the narrative the evolution of the institution of marriage. According to Carole Silver in her illuminating article 'East of the Sun and West of the Moon': Victorians and Fairy Brides, the interpretations of the tale varied widely, and depended on one's attitudes toward women's role in marriage, an imbalance of power between the sexes and women's sexuality.

"Joseph Jacobs felt that the reader's sympathy lay with the abandoned husband, not the swan maiden as representative of a matrilineal society with 'easy and primitive' marriage bonds that could be more easily broken. Silver reports that Jacobs believed 'that the "eerie wife," in separating from her mate, forfeited the audience's respect; her behavior reinforced the listener's sympathy with the husband. "Is he not," Jacobs asked, to be "regarded as the superior of the fickle, mysterious maid that leaves him for the break of a On the Shores of the Land of Death by Akseli Gallen-Kallelataboo?" ' Silver argues that folklorists like Jacobs were expressing anxiety over the emerging institution of divorce, believing that the looseness of the marriage bond was a trait among 'savages.' Silver continues: 'Clearly, free and easy separation was associated with primitive societies and savage eras. Complex and difficult divorce, on the other hand, was the hallmark of a highly evolved society. . . .By diminishing the claims to superiority of the fairy bride, neutralizing her sexuality, and limiting or denying her right to divorce, Victorian folklorists rendered her acceptable to themselves and their society.'

"Can we love the swan maiden? She seems to offer both an image of feminine power and feminine weakness: a girl who submits to the deceptions of a suitor and a woman who rejects the terms of an unfair marriage. She is at once a doting mother and one who will happily abandon her children in favor of her own needs. Her ambiguous tale can be read as the suppression of women's rights and women's creative power through enforced domestication, but it can also show such a woman's resolve to not only survive a questionable marriage but to remain true to her nature. When given the chance, no amount of suppression can keep the swan maiden down. I feel a terrible tenderness for the youngest swan–girl, abandoned by her sisters to her fate on the ground. I want to shelter her from the routine ordinariness of her human marriage, given over to the demands of others. And I want to cheer, relieved and inspired, when she finds her own true self again, and rises to soar."

(Read Midori's full article here.)

Swans by Jeanie Tomanek

The Six Swans by Warwick GobleWhen the change came
she was floating in the millpond,
foam like white lace tracing her wake.
First her neck shrinking,
candle to candleholder,
the color of old, used wax.
Wings collapsed like fans;
one feather left,
floating memory on the churning water.
Powerful legs devolving;
Powerful beak dissolving.
She would have cried for the pain of it
had not remembrance of sky sustained her....

- Jane Yolen (from "Swan/Princess")

The Crane Wife by Diana Torledano

"The Crane Wife," from Asia, is a closely related tale in the animal bride tradition. Details vary according to country, century, and teller, but the basic story is this: A poor weaver (or sailmaker) finds an injured crane on his doorstep (or in the fields, or by the side of a moonlit lake), dresses her wounds, and nurses her back to health. He kindly releases the crane back into the wild...after which a beautiful woman appears (the crane in human form), and the two of them promptly marry.

All goes well for a while, until the man's business falls on hard times. The crane wife tells her husband that she can lift them out of poverty by weaving a bolt of wondrous cloth (or an extraordinary sail) --  but he must solemnly promise not to watch her as she does it. She weaves the cloth, they sell it for a tremendous price, and soon the couple is rich. But now the man grows greedy, and he pressures her to make more and more. His wife grows tired and begins to waste away, but the man ignores this and continues to press for more cloth. Finally, at death's door, she tells her husband she can make only one more bolt. That night her husband decides it's time to learn what the secret of her weaving is. Spying on her as she works, he's horrified to see a crane at the loom, plucking feathers from her own breast and weaving them into the magical cloth. He cries aloud, and the crane wife knows he's broken his promise to her. She flies away, and he spends the rest of his life lamenting his lost love.

A Crane Wife illustration by Gennady Spirin

A Crane Wife illustration by Gennady SpirinJeannine Hall Gailey gives voice to the Crane Wife's sorrow and anger in her poignant poem based on the folktale:

I flew away, a crane who had given you
her white glory, and you knew the cloth

to be the sacrifice of my own skin, my feather coat.
A thousand cranes descended on your hut,
crying with betrayal. You searched all of Japan for me
until you found a lake of cranes, those white ciphers,

cried your goodbyes, useless, now, with age.
You had the gift of my wings, knew the lift
of flight and the gentle neck. Now, old man,
remember, when you watch a flash in the sky,

remember me, remember

The folk tale also inspired the title poem in Sharon Hashimoto's debut poetry collection The Crane Wife, winner of the Theodore Roerich Poetry Prize -- a haunting volume that explores the author's Japanese heritage and life in the Pacific Northwest.

Crane Wife illustrations by Gennady Spirin

Patrick Ness's novel, The Crane Wife, explores the folk tale's theme of love and betrayal, transplanting its setting to modern-day London. In an interview with in Polari Magazine, Ness explains why he find the old tale so compelling:

The Crane Wife by Cheryl Kirk Noll"[U]nlike most folk and fairy tales, it starts with an act of kindness.Most start with an act of cruelty, but this one starts with a kind act and then turns into [a tale about] that kind person making a mistake, and letting their worst instincts get the best of them, and that's why it appeals to me. It's a really different flavour than most tales. It ends tragically but you can understand it in human terms, that you're given a chance with the eternal, the beautiful, the magical, but you blow it. I think that's really human."

Ness was inspired not only by the story itself, but by the Crane Wife songs penned by Colin Meloy and recorded by his alt-folk band, The Decemberists.

Lyrics for Colin Meloy's The Crane Wife 3Meloy first came across the Crane Wife folk tale several years ago in the children’s section of a bookstore in Portland, Oregon. “I thought that it would be a great thing to try to put it to some sort of song form, be it a single tune or something longer,” Meloy says. “So I struggled with that for years until finally I realized that it just needed more parts and set about building those.” He ended up with a collection of songs, three of them based on the Japanese story and the rest using other old folk motifs: death, war, greed, and murder.  (The full lyrics to Crane Wife 1 & 2 are here, to Crane Wife 3 here, and Meloy discusses his songs on National Public Radio's "Fresh Air" program here.)

Below, Meloy sings a stripped-down, solo version of the three Crane Wife songs at the Ace Hotel in New York City (recorded  in October, 2010).

"There were as many truths - overlapping, stewed together - as there were tellers. The truth mattered less than the story's life. A story forgotten died. A story remembered not only lived, but grew." - Patrick Ness (from The Crane Wife)

Swans by Walter Crane

The illustrations above are: "Swans" by Gennady Spirin; "Swan Maidens" and Lohengrin" by Walter Crane (1845-915); "The Child Finds the Feather Dress," artist unknown (from Europa's Fairy Book, NYC, 1916); a swan maiden drawing of mine called "Wings" (inspired by a Kim Antieau poem); "Wild Swans" by John Bauer (1882-1918);  "On the Shores of the Land of Death" by Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865-1931) ); "Swans" by Jeanie Tomanek; "Six Swans" by Warwick Goble (1862-1943); "The Crane Wife" by Diana Torledano; three "Crane Wife" illustrations by Gennardy Spirin; a "Crane Wife" illustration by Cheryl Kirk Noll; lyrics for Colin Meloy's Crane Wife 3, art by Carson Ellis; and "Swans" by Walter Crane (1845-915).

Into the Wood, 31: Swan's Wing

The Wild Swans, illustrated by Kaarina Kaila

From The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit:

"Fairy tales are about trouble, about getting into and out of it, and trouble seems to be a necessary stage on the route to becoming. All the magic and glass mountains and pearls the size of houses and princesses beautiful as the day and talking birds and part-time serpents are distractions from the core of most of the stories, the struggle to survive against adversaries, to find your place in the world, and to come into your own.

The Wild Swans by Gennady Spirin"Fairy tales are almost always the stories of the powerless, of youngest sons, abandoned children, orphans, of humans transformed into birds and beasts or otherwise enchanted away from their own lives and selves. Even princesses are chattels to be disowned by fathers, punished by step-mothers, or claimed by princes, though they often assert themselves in between and are rarely as passive as the cartoon versions. Fairy tales are children's stories not in who they were made for but in their focus on the early stages of life, when others have power over you and you have power over no one.

"In them, power is rarely the right tool for survival anyway. Rather the powerless thrive on alliances, often in the form of reciprocated acts of kindness -- from beehives that were not raided, birds that were not killed but set free or fed, old women who were saluted with respect. Kindness sewn among the meek is harvested in crisis...

The Wild Swans illustrated by Nadezhda Illarionova"In Hans Christian Andersen's retelling of the old Nordic tale that begins with a stepmother, 'The Wild Swans,' the banished sister can only disenchant her eleven brothers -- who are swans all day but turn human at night -- by gathering stinging nettles barehanded from churchyard graves, making them into flax, spinning them and knitting eleven long-sleeved shirts while remaining silent the whole time. If she speaks, they'll remain birds forever. In her silence, she cannot protest the crimes she accused of and nearly burned as a witch.

"Hauled off to a pyre as she knits the last of the shirts, she is rescued by the swans, who fly in at the last moment. As they swoop down, she throws the nettle shirts over them so that they turn into men again, all but the youngest brother, whose shirt is missing a sleeve so that he's left with one arm and one wing, eternally a swan-man. Why shirts made of graveyard nettles by bleeding fingers and silence should disenchant men turned into birds by their step-mother is a  question the story doesn't need to answer. It just needs to give us compelling images of exile, loneliness, affection, and metamorphosis -- and of a heroine who nearly dies of being unable to tell her own story."

The Wild Swans, illustrated by Susan Jeffers

From my essay "Transformations" (published in Mirror, Mirror on the Wall):

"Silence is another element we find in classic fairy tales — girls muted by magic or sworn to silence in order to break enchantment. In 'The Wild Swans,'   a princess is imprisoned by her stepmother, rolled in filth, then banished from home (as her older brothers had been before her). She goes in search of her missing brothers, discovers that they've been turned into swans, whereupon the young girl vows to find a way to break the spell. A mysterious woman comes to her in a dream and tells her what to do: 'Pick the nettles that grow in graveyards, crush and spin them into thread, then weave them into coats and throw  The Wild Swans by Gordon Robinsonthem over your brothers' backs.' The nettles burn and blister, yet she never falters: picking, spinning, weaving, working with wounded, crippled hands, determined to save her brothers. All this time she's silent. 'You must not speak,' the dream woman has warned, 'for a single world will be like a knife plunged into your brothers' hearts.'

"You must not speak. That's what my stepfather said: don't speak, don't cry, don't tell. That's what my mother said as well, as we sat in hospital waiting rooms -- and I obeyed, as did my brothers. We sat as still and silent as stone while my mother spun false tales to explain each break and bruise and burn. Our family moved just often enough that her stories were fresh and plausible; each new doctor believed her, and chided us children to be more careful. I never contradicted those tales. I wouldn't have dared, or wanted to. They'd send me into foster care. They'd send my young brothers away. And so we sat, and the unspoken truth was as sharp as the point of a knife."

The Wild Swans, illustrated by Yvonne Gilbert

The Wild Swans, illustrated by Anna and Elena Balbusso

The Prince by Steve KenneyYoungest Brother, swan's wing,
where one arm should be, yours the shirt
of nettles short a sleeve
and me with no time left to finish --
I didn't mend you all the way back into man
though I managed for your brothers;
they flit again from court to playing-courts
to courting, while you station yourself,
wing folded from sight, avian eye
to the outside, no rebuke meant but love's.
Was it better then, the living on the water,
the taking to air...?

- Debora Gregor (from "Ever After," published in The Poets' Grimm)

The Wild Swans, illustrated by Nadezhda Illarionova

“There are ways of being abandoned even when your parents are right there.”   - Louise Erdrich (from The Plague of Doves)

The Wild Swans, illustrated by Anton Lomaev

Books inspired by The Wild Swans

The illustrations for The Wild Swans above are by: Kaarina Kaila (Finnish), Gennady Spirin (Russian), Nadezhda Illarionova (Russian), Susan Jeffers (American), Gordon Robinson (English, early 20th century), Yvonne Gilbert (English), Anna and Elena Balbusso (Italian), Steven Kenney (American),  Nadezhda Illarionova (Russian), and Anton Lomaev (Belorussian). Also, four good novels inspired by the Wild Swans fairy tale.

Into the Woods, 30: Spinning Straw into Gold

Rumplstiltskin by Paul O Zelinsky

In her luminous book The Faraway Nearby, Rebecca Solnit writes:

Sleeping Beauty by Walter Crane"A thread now most often means a line of conversation via e-mail or other electronic means, but thread must have been an even more compelling metaphor when most people witnessed or did the women's work that is spinning. It is a mesmerizing art, the spindle revolving below the strong thread that the fingers twist  out of the mass of fiber held on an arm or a distaff. The gesture turns the cloudy mass of fiber into lines with which the world can be tied together. Likewise the spinning wheel turns, cyclical time revolving to draw out the linear time of a thread. The verb to spin first meant just this act of making, then evolved to mean anything turning rapidly, and then it came to mean telling a tale.

"Strands a few inches long twine together into a thread of yarn that can go on forever, like words becoming stories. The fairy-tale heroines spin cobwebs, straw, nettles into whatever is necessary to survive. Scheherazade forestalls her death by telling a story that is like a thread that cannot be cut; she keeps spinning and spinning, incorporating new fragments, characters, incidents, into her unbroken, unbreakable narrative thread. Penelope at the other end of the treasury of stories prevents her wedding to any one of her suitors by unweaving at night what she weaves by day on her father-in-law's funeral garment. By spinning, weaving, and unraveling, these women master time  Sleeping Beauty by Jennie Harbouritself, and though master is a masculine word, this mastery is feminine.

"Women were spinsters before the word became pejorative, when distaff meant the female side of the family. In Greek mythology, each human life is a thread that the three Moirae, or Fates, spin, measure, and cut. With Rumpelstiltskin's help, the unnamed fairy-tale heroine spins straw into gold, but the wonder is that every spinner takes the amorphous mass before her and makes thread appear, from which comes the stuff that contains the world, from a fishing net to a nightgown. She makes form out of formlessness, continuity out of fragments, narrative and meaning out of scattered incidents, for the storyteller is also a spinner or weaver and a story is a thread that meanders through our lives to connect us each to each and to the purpose and meaning that appear like roads that we must travel."

A detail from 'Penelope and the Suitors' by John William Waterhouse

Sleeping Beauty by Nadezhda Illarionova

"It’s no accident that spinning is associated with language, that we may be said to 'spin' a tale or tell a 'yarn'," notes Lori Widmer Hess (in her fine essay on the subject):

Rumplestiltskin by Paul O. Zelinsky"Spinning brings a cosmic 'twist' into the raw materials of nature, giving them strength and continuity. When we look at events with a higher awareness, we can perceive the links between them and weave them into an ongoing story, coming to an understanding of their true essence. The spinning of straw into gold can be transformed from a mechanical search for material gain into a quest for meaning and knowledge.

"As anyone who has tried it knows, spinning is not a mindless task. It requires constant attention not to end up with a tangled mess or a broken thread. At the same time, the rhythmical balance of manual and mental activity, hand and mind working together to produce a continuous, even thread, is deeply satisfying and calming. The spinner often finds her thoughts becoming organized along with the fiber, leading to new insights or creative inspiration. An inner 'golden thread' can be sensed, one that we can try to cultivate ever more strongly.

"This is the thread that we can try to make of our lives, when we accept the materials we are given; on the other hand, we reject them at our peril. In 'Sleeping Beauty,' for example, the king tries to avert the prediction that his daughter will prick her finger on a spindle and fall into a deathlike sleep by burning all the spinning wheels in the kingdom. He thus brings about the very fate he seeks to escape, when the princess’s curiosity leads her to touch the first spindle she sees. Destiny cannot be averted through ignorance, but only transformed through knowledge."

Wild Swans by Nadezhda Illarionova

Wild Swan illustrations (knitting coats from nettles) by Mercer Mayer and Eleanor V. Abbott

In the "The Six Swans / Wild Swans" fairy tale, the heroine's brothers have been turned into swans by their evil stepmother. A kindly fairy instructs her to gather nettles in a graveyard by night, spin their fibers into a prickly green yarn, and then knit the yarn into a coat for each swan brother in order to break the spell -- all of which she must do without speaking a word or her brothers will die. The nettles sting and blister her hands, but she plucks and cards, spins and knits, until the nettle coats are almost done -- running out of time before she can finish the sleeve on the very last coat. She flings the coats onto her swan-brothers and they transform back into young men -- except for the youngest, with the incomplete coat, who is left with a wing in the place of one arm.

Although the nettles in the story have magical properties (as indicated by ritual method with which they're harvested), the use of nettles for making coats is not as outlandish at it may seem to modern readers. Nettles once rivaled flax and hemp (and later, cotton) as a staple fiber for thread and yarn, used to make everything from heavy sailcloth to fine table linen up to the 17th/18th centuries. Other fibers proved more economical as the making of cloth became more mechanized, but in some areas, such as the highlands of Scotland, nettle cloth is still made to this day.

(For more on the folklore of nettles go here.)

The Wild Swans by Adrienne Segur

Each day she weaves for twelve brothers, twelve golden shirts
twelve pairs of slippers, twelve sets of golden mail.
The Wild Swans by Susan JeffersShe sleeps under olive trees, praying for rescue.
In her dreams doves fly in circles, crying out her name.

For a hundred years she is turned into a golden bird,
hung in a cage in a witch's castle. Her brothers
are all turned to stone. She cannot save them,
no matter how many witches she burns.

She weeps tears that cannot be heard
but turn to rubies when they hit the ground.
She lifted her hand against the light
and it became a feathered wing....

- Jeannine Hall Gailey
(from "Becoming the Villainess")

Sleeping Beauty by John D. Batten

Woman Sewing by Vincent Van Gogh

The Three Fates by Oliver HunterIn classical myth, the Moirai (also known as the Three Fates) portion out the threads of our lives from birth to death. Clotho spins the thread, Lachesis determines its length, and Antropos cuts it off when life is at its end. In Norse myth, it is the Norns who this work at the foot Yggdrasil, the World Tree. Certain magics can knot or smooth our fate, but the thread's length cannot be altered.

Fire shadows on the wall,
A hand rises, falls, as steady as a heart beat,
Threading the strands of life.
This is the warp thread, this the woof
This the hero-line, this the fool.

    Needle and scissors, scissors and pins,
   Where one life ends, another begins.

- Jane Yolen (from "The Fates")

Girls Sewing by a Window by Carl Larsson

"Writing fiction," says Khaled Hosseini, "is the act of weaving a series of lies to arrive at a greater truth."

So we spin our tales, knit plots and and lives together, measuring and mending, snip, snip, snip. Stir up the fire. Open the workbox. Take up the needle and let the story begin.

Loom and Thread by Carl Larsson

Woman Sewing by  Vilhelm Hammershøi

Pictures: "Rumplestiltskin" by Paul O. Zelinksy (American); "Sleeping Beauty" by Walter Crane (English, 1845-1915); "Sleeping Beauty" by Jennie Harbour (English, 1893-1959);  a detail from "Penelope and the Suitors" by John William Waterhouse (English, 1849-1917);  "Sleeping Beauty" by Nadezhda Illarionova (Russian); another illustration from "Rumplestiltskin" by Paul O. Zelinksy (American); "The Wild Swans" by Nadezhda Illarionova (Russian); "The Wild Swans" by Mercer Mayer (American) & Eleanor V. Abbott (English, 1909-1972); "The Wild Swans" by Adrienne Segur (French/Greek, 1901-18981); "The Wild Swans" by Susan Jeffers (American); "Sleeping Beauty" by John D. Batten (English, 1860-1932); "Woman Sewing" by Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853-1890); "Three Muses" by Oliver Hunter (Australian); "Two Girls Sewing at the Window" and "Loom and Thread" by Carl Larsson (Swedish, 1853-1919), and "Woman Sewing" by Vilhelm Hammershøi (Danish, 1864-1916).

Words: The prose passages above are from The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit (Viking, 2013) and "Spinning a Tale" by Lory Widmer Hess (Cabinet des Fées, May 29, 2011). The poem extracts are from The Journal of Mythic Arts; follow the links to read them in full.  All rights to the text reserved by the authors. 

The path ahead

Path 1

In these late summer days, the hills change once again,  and the trails we travel are changing too. The bracken grows high, swallowing the paths; they are thick green jungles we push our way through...

Path 2

...while the blackberry brambles clutch at my skirts and the thorns catch in Tilly's sleek fur.

Path 3

Midsummer flowers now turn into late summer berries, first green, then red, than a plump, juicy black.

Blackberry brambles

Tilly grazes, excited, and then disappointed; her beloved berries are not ripe and ready yet. But soon every walk will yield its wild harvest, its sweetness, for the pup and me both. The hill will turn into her larder and she will feast on berries wherever we go, lipping them up from the brambles, her chin covered with tiny thorn scratches and sticky with juice.

Tilly grazing

I find a few wild rasberries, but the pup rejects this offering. It's blackberries she dreams of, blackberries she craves. Nevermind. There are only a few here, and I am quite happy to eat them myself.


The pathway mirrors my life and my art right now: lush, green, and fertile, but thorny too. There's beauty, but also brambles to push through; there's sweetness ahead, but it's not ripened yet.

Tilly on the path

I just keep on walking, my good dog beside me, trusting the land, trusting my heart, trusting my feet to find the way.