Sacred Ground: Part II
Tunes for a Monday Morning

Threads and stories

The Stag by Helen Stratton

In her beautiful memoir The Farawy Nearby, Rebecca Solnit examines a crisis-filled period of her life during which she was sent a hundred pounds of apricots from a tree at her childhood home:

A drawing by Helen Stratton"The mountain of apricots that briefly occupied my bedroom floor was so many things besides food," she remembers. "... A gift from my mother, or her tree, they were a catalyst that made the chaos of that era come together as a story of sorts and an invitation to examine the business of making and changing stories and locate the silence in between. 'It is only by putting it into words that I make it whole,' Virginia Woolfe once wrote.

"She contined, 'This wholeness means that it has lost its power to hurt me; it gives me, perhaps because by doing so I take away the pain, a great delight to put the severed parts together. Perhaps this is the strongest pleasure known to me. It is the rapture I get when in writing I seem to be discovering what belongs to what....From this I reach what might be called a philosophy; at any rate it is a constant idea of mine, that behind the cotton wool is a hidden pattern; that we -- I mean all human beings -- are connected with this; that the whole world is a work of art; that we are parts of the work of art.' "

The Little Mermaid by Helen Stratton

"The sudden appearance of the patterns of the world brings a sense of coherence and above all connection. In the old way of saying it, tales were spun; they were threads that tied threads together and from them the fabric of the world was woven. In the strongest stories we see ourselves, connected to each other, woven into the pattern, see that we ourselves are stories, telling and being told. Stories like yours and worse than yours are all around, and your suffering won't mark you out as special, though your response to it might."

Illustrations by Helen Stratton

She Led the Prince Into her Palace by Helen Stratton

"The protagonists of fairy tales and fables embody questions about who we are, what we desire, how to live," Solnit notes a few pages later in the book, "and Drawing by Helen Strattonthe endings are not the real answers. During the quest and crises of a fairy tale the protagonist is nobody, possessed only of the powers of determination, resourcefulness, and alliance, an unconventional estimation of what matters. Then at the end, the story breaks with its own principles and unleashes an avalanche of conventional stuff: palaces, riches, and revenge.

"Part of the charm of Andersen's 'Snow Queen' is that Gerda rescues Kai from a queen and brings him back to friendship in attics, and that's enough. Many Native American stories don't quite end, because the people who go on into the animal world don't come back; they become the ancestors, progenitors, benefactors, forces still at work. Siddhartha is rich, thriving, loved, privileged, and protected, and walks out on all of it, as though the story were running backwards. He's born an answer and abandons that safe port to go out into a sea of questions and tasks that are neverending."

Little Mermaid by Helen Stratton

"What if we only wanted openings, the immortality of the unfinished, the uncut thread, the incomplete, the open door, and the open sea? What if we liked the brothers to be swans and the nettles not yet woven into shirts, the straw better than the gold, the quest more than the holy grail? The quest is the holy grail, the ocean itself is the mysterious elixir, and if you're lucky you realize it before you dock at the cup in the chapel."

The Beautiful Couple by Helen Stratton

Wild Swans by Helen Stratton

From The Children's King Arthur illustrated by Helen Stratton

The Fairy Tales of HC Andersen illustrated by Helen Stratton

The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald illustrated by Helen StrattonThe paintings and drawings today are by Helen Stratton, a prolific artist who published many popular books during England's "Golden Age of Illustration" at the dawn of the 20th century. Stratton was born in India in 1867 (where her father was a surgeon with the Indian medical service), spent her childhood in Bath, studied art in London in the 1890s (where she fell under the spell of Pre-Raphaelitism and Art Nouveau), and then settled in Kensington with her mother and siblings after her father's death. She received her first illustration commission (for Songs for Little People) in 1896 and then worked steadily for the next three decades, producing illustrated editions of Hans Christian Andersen and Grimms fairy tales, The Book of Myths, The Children's King Arthur, Charles Lamb's Shakespeare for Young People, two classic children's novels by George MacDonald: The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie, and numerous other works, as well as collaborating with William Heath Robinson on a lavish edition of The Arabian Nights. Stratton returned to Bath in the 1930s, where she lived until she died, at 94, in 1961.

The Sick Prince by Helen Stratton

The Tombs by Helen Stratton

The Woodcutters by Helen Stratton

The Wild Swans cover art by Helen StrattonThe passage above is from The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit (Viking, 2013), which is highly recommended. All rights reserved by the author.



"He's born an answer and abandons that safe
port to go out into a sea of questions..."
--Rebecca Solnit

But aren't we all born
into the grammar of our lives,
that punctuation which we can let
define us, refine us, control
the commas and colons
without any need of free will,
until we are turned into semi-
actors on our own page.

Rather embrace the question marks.
Don't live only in the parenthesis.
We all come soon enough
to that final period,
that full stop. Why need
to rush towards it.
It's a long life of learning,
not a sentence to be endured.

©2015 Jane Yolen all rights reserved


"He's born an answer and abandons that safe port
to go out into a sea of questions..."--Rebecca Solnit

So we are all born into that grammar,
the punctuation of our lives
that defines us, refines us
until we are limited and live
only in the parenthesis.

Better to ask questions.
Embrace the curled marker.
We are all heading toward
the final period, full stop,
so why rush without question?

Life is already full of answers.
Our parents place them
in our baby hands
like rattles to shake.
We suck them from the teat.

We all serve a long sentence.
Be careful how you endure it.

©2015 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

Which one do you like better????


So very hard to choose! I think I like the second one better, though, after rereading them several times.

Terri, are you familiar with the Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe? It is directed by Joan Halifax, a personal heroine of mine. Rebecca Solnit has traveled with Joan, and her stories are occasionally linked from the Upaya newsletter. There is a link from this week's newsletter to an article of Solnit's in the New Yorker called Medical Mountaineers about disaster relief in Nepal. Every time I read of some of Solnit's adventures with Joan I think of you, as you introduced me to her writing.

Winter Prayer
By Edith Hope Bishop

What’s been done
and said before is
within bounds.
There is plenty without.
The fish know-
the birds have seen-
what is beyond
our knowing and seeing.
In our ambition-
we keep trying.

On rainy days,
I consider the choice
to stay small.
Inside a small home,
on a small street,
in a small human place.
To left unknown
and unsaid what is

Let the Wild Animals roam.
Let the Great Trees stretch and reach.
I’m for curling, for nestling.
No shutting down or out, I hope,
but a gentle relinquishing
of what I don’t need.

Here there is fire, here a blanket,
here medicine, here a hand to hold.
Here are stories.
This. You see? This is enough.
Oh, let the quest for better cease.
We might give the rest back.
We might still make peace.

They're both lovely, but I like the second one best. The first and second stanza gripped me and I had to reread the last stanza couplet because it made me smile. I also like how you've made the phrase "full stop" hang in the middle of a thought. A lovely contrast.
My best,

Thanks, Edith. I wrote the first one, and then thought I;d lost it so immediately tried to set down what of it I could recall. I, too, think the second one is better. The bits I remembered were the good parts of the first which was a very early draft. Normally I write these off-site so I DON'T lose things, but hadn't this time. Didn't realize that I'd, indeed sent it until I checked in again and found there were two of them.


"On rainy days,
I consider the choice
to stay small."

Just what I've been doing today. I think the smart folks do that!!!



"The sudden appearance of the patterns of the world brings a sense of coherence and above all connection"

This quote resonated with me, especially, in relation to an article I recently read about Syrian Refugees being resettled in a coastal town in Scotland. The experience, for them, was startling and made them feel estranged in unfamiliar territory. And yes, they were grateful; but as they tried to find some familiar cuisine in the shops and could not, they began to feel adrift and far apart from those around them and those who welcomed them. Still, I imagined there were patterns of experience, of family, of journey and dreams that could connect them in same way to their new homeland. Sometimes in opposite styles, weather, thoughts and other things, an individual ( or group)finds common threads or associations that allow them to match or correlate their story/situation with another one from a different climate and culture. Such thoughts inspired this poem.


From war-torn Syria to a windswept island off the west coast of Scotland, newly-arrived refugee families are struggling to adjust to new lives in a very unfamiliar world.
from NDTV online

the shops sell cups and saucers
for tea,

but no Arabica beans
for coffee,

no roasted pumpkin seeds,
no dried leaves for Mate --

but there is rain
pulling her veil over the coast
hiding the sun' s head

like we hide most of ours
from the street and strangers.

The wind always seems
to accompany her

the way fathers or husbands
accompany us
when outside the home.

Yet, beneath baran
there are stories from the sea;
and beneath hijab or burka

we have ours -- hair, heart, womb,
and lungs that can raise
the storm of a voice,

all its feelings carried ashore.
The shipwrecked wanting
to be heard,

regain their footing
( and matter more) on foreign ground.
Baran is the Persian word for rain.

Mate --(which I just recently learned from the article) is a sweet drink ( very popular in Syrian cafes and with meals, made from crushed leaves of the Yerba Mate Shrub and served with hot water, much like tea.

strange place, climate and

those last words. "strange, place climate and" should be ignored, they carried over in the copy/paste process and should not have.


Hi Edith

Love, love this Winter prayer and the sense of grace, humility and contentment it conveys. Indeed, the birds and fish have that natural sense of what is there, what matters and what lies beyond. And yet as human we tend to always strive and in our striving complicate matters that often thwart our efforts. The ease and acceptance in this poem is just beautiful. I love every strophe but that ending touches me very deeply!

Here there is fire, here a blanket,
here medicine, here a hand to hold.
Here are stories.
This. You see? This is enough.
Oh, let the quest for better cease.
We might give the rest back.
We might still make peace.

Amen to that!
Thank you so much for sharing this!

Hi Jane

A wonderful and clever use of the extended metaphor. I really like the way you develop the inquiry and perspective in this piece. And I totally agree with this premise --

Rather embrace the question marks.
Don't live only in the parenthesis.
We all come soon enough
to that final period,
that full stop

Beautifully said!
Thank you for sharing this

Hi Jane

Just came across the second version of this poem -- and think , like Edith, I prefer this one, but then they are both so well-written. I particularly love in this one --

Life is already full of answers.
Our parents place them
in our baby hands
like rattles to shake.

and also love how you say --

"We all serve a long sentence.
Be careful how you endure it."

That really has impact at the end. Powerful, intense.

Much enjoyed both!
Take care

And I meant to add, how breathtaking those illustrations are! Helen Stratton's work is exquisite, haunting and magical. It's good to see a woman in the golden age mix of

Many thanks Terri!

I think--no! I know--I couldn't have written the second one if I hadn't written (and thought I'd lost) the first because it made me remember in a faulty way what had come before and recast it better than just revising what was already on the page.

Maybe I should lose more poems!

There's a thought--revision by forced loss.


Scottish Islands are tough even for those who (presumably) speak the language and (presumably) share some of the culture. I say "presumably" in both cases because I have found many island cultures strange in ways one cannot always put a finger on. Island folk are eliptical where the rest of us are either square or round. And the Gaels see things we others don't see.


Ps Love lines such as "lungs that can raise
the storm of a voice," and "pulling her veil over the coast" and how yoou incorporate Islamic images into the poem.

Hi Jane

Thanks so much for this interesting insight! I have not had the opportunity in my travels to visit island cultures but would really like to, someday. And thank you so much for reading my poem and sharing your gracious thoughts! I deeply appreciate it and your thoughtfulness!

Take care
My Best

I loved the first poem, but yes, the second is even better. And getting to see the development between drafts is wonderful and fascinating.

I did, though, rather like the first line in the form of a question: "But aren't we all born
into the grammar of our lives,"

No, I don't know anything about the Upaya Zen Center, or Joan Halifax -- though I knew from various bits in Solnit's writing that she'd spend time in the desert southwest. I will investigate! Thank you, Cathi.

But I did see the article in the New Yorker -- my favorite magazine. :)

And THAT'S why I love you as an editor. You nailed it--and I am off to rework that opening of the second poem. Thanks, dear.


I love this, Edith; it speaks to me strongly. Like Jane, I particularly like:

"On rainy days,
I consider the choice
to stay small."

But also:

"I’m for curling, for nestling.
No shutting down or out, I hope,
but a gentle relinquishing
of what I don’t need."

I really needed to read this today. Thank you.

Oh Wendy, that's both very sad and very beautiful. And reminds me, in feeling, of the Rachel Taylor-Beales song I posted a few weeks ago relating selkie myths to displaced peoples.

As our wretched media moves on in its quest for the new Crisis of the Day, the old crisis continues, largely unseen and undiscussed, with people still crowded into make-shift camps as winter descends. It's just wrong. As we prepare to celebrate the winter holidays in our cozy little house, I can't stop thinking about all the displaced families forced from their homes and just trying to survive another day.

A young friend of ours from Chagford has been making trips to the "Jungle" (the unofficial refugee site in Calais) taking donations from our community and volunteering his carpentry skills. He writes in a report for our village newsletter:

"The general conditions of the camp have improved slightly... Medicine Sans Frontier have begun to fund the building of shelters and the waste collections which is a good thing. There is a great build team making shelters and supplying jungle residents with ‘self build kits’ (I donated nails and insulation and dpm plastic to self builders and helped a couple too.) However conditions are still appalling and many thousands of people have to endure a winter living in tents and makeshift shelters, cooking on open fires and with not enough food. Add to this regular CS gas attacks from the disgraceful and brutal CRS Police and you have a very sad and very real situation just 20 miles or so from the English coast.

"I had intended to work making shelters but adapted this plan when I got there as it was evident that so many people needed help maintaining their homes and also the build team was well staffed. It was great to arrive in the camp and have a contact who had a list of jobs and of people who needed building assistance; I felt that we were really effective all of the time we were there.

"However, the place should not exist. People should not have to live like this....I urge people to educate themselves (not through the tv) and do what they can to make our world more loving. We are all responsible for what happens."

She is too little known!

You're welcome!!!

Hi Terri

Thanks so much for sharing this poignant and eye-opening letter. It's heart-wrenching and really puts in words the face of humanity on this situation. If there is any bright spot in this tragic crisis, it is in people like him and others who shine light on the truth through their efforts and their compassion. This has moved me very deeply and I am so glad you shared it. Also thank you for the kind words on my poem. I deeply them!

Take care,


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