Tunes for a Monday Morning
Daydreams and spells

The art of hope

Flora McLachlan

Flora McLachlan

I'm still immersed in Conversations with Barry Lopez by William E. Tydeman, allowing myself only a few pages during my coffee break in the woods each day, drawing the book out and taking the time to really think about what I'm reading. Today, I'm struck by following passage on hope -- for "hope" and "goodness," it seems to me, are too often portrayed as banal, Pollyanna-ish qualities, when in fact it takes great courage and clarity of mind to reject despair, reach for the light and make something beautiful and whole out of lives and times so dark and fractured.

Flora McLachlanThe passage begins with Lopez noting his desire to explore the relationship between emotion and landscape in the context of nature writing (a publishing label, I should acknowledge, that he personally dislikes) -- and the single emotion that he's most interested in exploring this way is hope. I find that interest significant for Lopez can hardly be accused of naivity, having spent a lifetime on the frontlines of activism for social justice and our ailing planet, and having faced true evil in his early years.* Those who thoroughly understand despair have my attention when they speak of hope.

"I think you can evoke aspects of the land in prose in a way that makes people hopeful about their lives, " he says. "I think you can also describe landscapes that are not just physically but metaphysically dreary, and that those descriptions can make a readers lose a sense of hope about the subtle possibilities of their own lives. For me -- and maybe there is some mode of critical thinking about this -- the creation of story is a social act. It's driven by individual vision, of course, but in the end I think story is social, and part of what makes it social is this impact it can have on the psyche of the reader.

"My sense is that story developed in parrallel with the capacity to remember in Homo sapiens. I don't mean 'Where did we cache the food last spring?' but memory operating at a more esoteric level, recalling, say, the circumstances that induced loving behavior. Story, it seems to me, begins as a mnemonic device. It carries memory outside the brain and employs it in a social context. So you could say a person hears a story and feels better; a person hears the story and remembers who they are, or who they want to become, or what it is that they mean. I think story is rooted in the same little piece of historical ground out of which the capacity to remember and the penchant to forget come."

Flora McLachlan

The First Leaves by Flora McLachlan

After reading these words, I flip back to the book's introduction by William Tydeman and find this passage I'd marked last week:

"Most times when Lopez speaks of hope, I am reminded of the simple-minded approach so many critics and intellectuals take toward place-based writing and its expression of hope. Lopez and I agree with an analysis made by Christopher Lasch, who conveys a nuanced view of the multilayered meaning of hope. He argues that 'Hope asserts the goodness of life in the face of its limits.' Hope does not require a belief in progress or prevent us from expecting the worst but, rather, hope 'trusts life without denying its tragic character. Progressive optimism, often confused with hope, is based on a denial of the natural limits of human power and freedom -- a blind faith that things will somehow work out for the best. It is not an affective anecdote to despair.' Those who challenge the status quo and support the popular uprising  for social justice 'require hope, a tragic understanding of life, the disposition to see things through.' Hope is what we need."

It is indeed.

Flora McLachlan

Thistledown by Flora McLachlan

The art today is by Flora McLachlan, a printmaker born in Sussex and now based in Pembrokeshire, West Wales. "My pictures are records of things seen and imagined by twilight or moonglow," she writes. "I take inspiration from my studies of English literature, myth and legend. I try to express a sense of the enchantment I feel is embedded in our ancient landscape. I try to imagine the secret face of the land, when the light fades and the creatures come out to roam. I’m feeling for a lost or hidden magic, a glimpse through trees of the white hart.

"My preferred technique is etching. I love its atmosphere, the deep mysterious blacks and the glowing whites. During the long etching process, my original idea changes, and grows, with the working of the metal. The act of creation continues with the printing of the image; many of my etchings are underprinted with a painterly mono-collagraph plate, and most are complex and demand a concentrated and meditative approach to the inking and printing."

To see more of McLachlan's beautiful work visit the artist's website; and Foxnest, her Etsy shop.

Crossing the Water by Flora McLachlan

The White Hart by Flora McLachlan

Flora McLachlan

* I recommend Lopez' s  beautifully-crafted & wrenching autobiographical essay "Sliver of Sky,"  published in Harper's in 2013, with a trigger warning for abuse issues.

The passages quoted above are from Conversations with Barry Lopez: Walking the Path of Imagination by William E. Tydeman (University of Oklahoma Press, 2013). All rights to the words & images in this post reserved by the authors & artist. A related post from February: Alison Hawthorne Deming on art, culture, and radical hope.

Comments

Old Hope

So there goes old Hope,
limping along the road
humming to herself,
that familiar hymn
that no one but she
likes to hear.
It is so last year.


Pity is in, Anger,
their buzz-saw voices,
corrosive demands.
The audience listens
to the abrasions.
But Hope's soft affirmation
persuades no one.

Hope stops to watch a warbler
flutter in the oak tree,
the red flag of fox tail,
violin curl of fern.
She is in no hurry.
Life moves from tree to tree.
There is always more to see.

The others race on
to capture the city.
They trample green shoots
along the roadsides.
But Hope notes the new growth
each small green sheath,
that which will arise singing,

always singing from beneath.

©2016 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

Hi Terri

I love this quote from today's view on the need and essence of Hope

"when in fact it takes great courage and clarity of mind to reject despair, reach for the light and make something beautiful and whole out of lives and times so dark and fractured."

I think even earlier this sense of finding hope, of keeping the soul limbered in green, slanted toward the light -- was found in the mystic writings of St Hildegarde Bingen. I am very drawn to her work and courageous perspectives. I think sometimes as humans we strive to reach that kind of greening, that spirit of hope that allows us to grow within our limits. The will to persist somehow transcends those limits in a spiritual and intellectual way if not physically. I find myself in the process of getting there but I still envy her and others like her who have achieved this. Including perhaps, the wise and insightful author of those conversations featured in your post, today.

Envying Saint Hildegarde

I want to know her kind of green -
the shade she discovered
alcoved in vine leaves, feeling
her soul make chlorophyll.

Light and rain
left on the foliage
converted to a divine sense
of verdancy

that haunted her awareness
of Life in all places.

Even the rocks jutting
over the sea Their bare shins
scraped by wind and salt,

the shriek of shorebirds
echoing through pale bones
of driftwood and split-open
ribs of the clam.

Their lament drawn
by everything lost and hollow.

And here, too, where her Rhine
is a hose trickle in dirt
the spigot grudgingly gave;

and her abbey's portico.
the stem work of hedges
half-shaven by rusty shears,

she would find spring
calling her home, cascading in bright
syllables on the desert's tongue.


We're still greening, rooted in the sun
she would say -- but I have yet
to unhood this shadow
and feel such leafing in my veins.
_________________________
Many thanks for this! The art is gorgeous and haunting, there is an eerie and poignant splendor in the shadings and subject matter.

Take care
Wendy

Hi Jane

What a beautiful and touching portrayal of "Old Hope". I love the way you personify her. I can picture her vividly and am particularly drawn to that last stanza --

They trample green shoots
along the roadsides.
But Hope notes the new growth
each small green sheath,
that which will arise singing,

always singing from beneath.

Yes, she certainly does and I listen for her singing in the garden and in the house.

Thank you for sharing this,
My Best
Wendy

So often, and today is one of those occasions, I find your blogpost so meaningful that it takes me more than a day to reflect on it. Which means I usually don't comment. Which might give a wrong impression. I've been reading about hope in dark times lately, (Margaret Wheatley So Far From Home, Joanna Macy/Chris Johnstone Active Hope f.i.) and am still digesting, drawing my own perspective. Thank you for enriching my thoughts again today.

Gosh, I haven't even read the words yet, just captivated by the pictures. I am going to have to go back and re-read if I can bypass the glorious illustrations.

thank you. Old Hope is exactly the soul I'd like to grow mine into.

It's so true that it takes tremendous courage, strength, and will to find hope in the dark places. I think of all the women who do it regularly within their families, all those everyday heroines.

Beautiful artwork.

There's the 'new' trend (not so new, it's ancient, just returns again & again in different guise) of 'serious', 'realistic' fiction -- the recent (& unfortunate) Batman vs Superman being a prime & egregious example.

But up against this is a growing trend -- hope, indeed, real hope, joyous hope, struggling hope, hope against whatever odds, hope called the most radical thing you can do, blooming hope, flowering hope.

I think...I think there's hope for the world.

Dear Terri,
My middle name is Hope, after my grandmother on my mother's side. She was a musician and a gardener and one of the kindest people I've ever known. I miss her. Lately, I've been interested in reading more Pema Chodron, and I sometimes struggle with Buddhist ideas around "abandoning hope". I understand the importance of being present, being alive and attuned to what's here and now, even what's uncomfortable, but perhaps because of my name, I've longed for a way to define hope in a new way. This post and then accompanying pictures and poems today are pointing the way . Thank you.

Edie

Meridian Park in Spring
By Edith Hope Bishop

Two Hopes
at least
we observe
wheeling round the park
in spring.

The first,
shiny red birthday bike-
chrome training wheels.
The rider sits jaunty
atop her seat-
a missing tooth in her wide smile,
cherub cheeks,
bright white helmet,
pink stripes,
handle bar tassels.
So many charms.
The world awaits
her commanding speed.
She has but a moment
left before
skinned knees.
Learning.

The second,
old blue wheelbarrow-
chock full of dirt and weeds.
The driver moves slowly
round her garden patch
careful eyes,
lined face,
skinned knees healed over
wrapped now in effort.
She stops, setting down her load.
She observes the peonies
she planted last year.
Half might survive the beetles
and the children.
What’s left, she knows,
will be glorious.

Thank you Jane. This piece reminded me intensely of my beloved grandmother, Hope. I hope you don't mind, but I riffed off your Hope to make mine. Much love, Edie

Another beautiful poem Wendy! I love the sense of longing here and the contrasting atmospheres, stark and lush. Well done. This is my favorite moment: "Even the rocks jutting/over the sea Their bare shins/ scraped by wind and salt".

I feel the same way, cath. Often I can't comment right away because there's too much to say, more time required to think, or not enough time to say something as well and carefully as I'd like.


Hope, Anger and Pity - like sisters who each are so different. Or, they could be one person at different times in her life. I was angry with a friend last week, and wanted pity. Now I an slow hope trying to make some changes while looking for the light.

Oh wonderful. From child to elder; One of those novel wrapped up in a poem....

she would find spring challenger home, cascading in right syllables on he desert's tongue -
that is a perfect way to show us high desert....and I have yet to undo the shadow and feel such leafing in my veins -brings up all the maidens or elders turning into trees.

Poor Poem

Poor poem, struck in the closet,
Waiting in the dark, listening
Like Cinderella in the kitchen
Mopping up verbs and drying
Dishes. Where is the magic.

The magic is hiding in balls
Of paper, each with bad, bad
Nothing right, might as well
Sit and fold arms while waiting.
Poem where are you?

Tap, tap. tap from somewhere.
some words sprinkle around
Like raindrops. Mild music comes.
The pen scribbles and stops
Poem dances. Ease returns.

Thanks. I am still fiddling with it, of course. Little stuff.

Jane

Am honored, Edie.

I love lines like:

"alcoved in vine leaves, feeling
her soul make chlorophyll."

and

"the shriek of shorebirds
echoing through pale bones
of driftwood and split-open
ribs of the clam."

I keep wondering how you keep doing it.

Wonder, that kinder sister of envy.

Jane

And what a riff indeed!

Jane

"Mopping up verbs and drying
Dishes."

Yep, that's me every day. Cinderella! I will remember that.

Grin,

Jane

For the poets and for Terri's wonderful wonder-filled pieces:

The Grace to Wonder

Wonder,
that kinder sister
of envy,
often consumes me.
though I am not green
to your gold,
but the color
of my passions
mellow as I
try to match
what you do.

Grace,
that smallest daughter
of entitlement,
teaches me
not to expect glory
but be grateful
when the rainbow,
however small,
curves over my head.

Glory,
that old aunt
of success
carries the carapace
of her own burdens:
humility,
and honor,
and she shuffles along
the road.

©2016 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

Thanks so much Edie

I am very touched by your kind words and so glad you enjoyed the poem!!

Again thank you!
Wendy

Hi Phyllis

Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment on this piece. I love the way you phrase your impressions and agree, if only we could become trees for awhile, all that wisdom, green and growth!

Many thanks!
Wendy

Hi Jane

Thank you so much for those gracious and generous words toward those lines!! I deeply appreciate them and always enjoy hearing your perspective. It means a lot!

Please take care
My Best
Wendy

Hi Edie

What a beautiful and well-crated poem. I love how you characterize both stages of hope. The details and the tone of this poem perfectly contrast the two ages and two perspectives but you also tie them together with the resilliency and expectancy that is part of hope as a whole!

So beautifully Done!
much enjoyed this,
Wendy

Hi Phyllis

What a magical characterization of the poet and the poem waiting to come and be recognized. I know this scene, this feeling and that sense of anticipation you so vividly capture. Love this piece and have been here or experienced this -

Tap, tap. tap from somewhere.
some words sprinkle around
Like raindrops. Mild music comes.
The pen scribbles and stops
Poem dances. Ease returns.

Thank you for sharing this!
Wendy

Hi Jane

All I can say is -- Gorgeous and beautifully defined! I love the way you characterize "Grace to Wonder. The personification is so deftly applied and a delight to read!

Thank you for sharing this,
just wonderful!
Wendy

I can see all of them; Wonder, Grace and Glory in their respective tasks, making what is so needed every day and also in dreams.

Thanks Jane. Means a lot to me that you read it.

Thank you so much Wendy. Your thoughtful and thorough responses always touch me deeply. Bless you.

Thank you, Phyllis. Your responses mean the world to me.

Ah yes!! "Mild music comes." How I long for that music too. Thank you so much for this gift, Phyllis.

Jane: I especially love Wonder. I spend a lot of time with her. Thank you for this poem.

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