The lessons of autumn
Happy Thanksgiving

Dark Beauty

Andrea KowchThe Watch by Andrea Kowch

Having grown up amidst violence and ugliness, I have long dedicated my life to kindness, compassion and beauty: three old-fashioned ideals that I truly believe keep the globe spinning in its right orbit. William Morris, artist and socialist, considered beauty to be as essential as bread in everyone's life, rich and poor alike. It is one of the truths that I live by. Beauty in this context, of course, is not the shallow glamor peddled by Madison Avenue; it's a quality of harmony, balance and interrelationship: physical, emotional, and spiritual all at once. The Diné (Navajo) called this quality hózhǫ́, embodied in this simple, powerful prayer: With beauty before me may I walk. With beauty behind me may I walk. With beauty below me may I walk. With beauty above me may I walk. With beauty all around me may I walk.

We are living through a time when dark, violent forces have been released, encouraged, and applified, on both sides of the Atlantic: by Trump in America, the Brexiteers here, Le Pen in France and too many others eager to extend its reach. I contend that in the face of such ugliness we need the beacon of light that is beauty more than ever -- and I hold this belief as someone who has not lead a sheltered life, nor is unaware of the true cost of violence on body and soul. It is because of the scars that I carry that I know that beauty, and art, and story, are not luxuries. They are bread. They are water. They sustain us.

Andrea Kowch

And yet, like many of the writers and artists I know, I too have been struggling with how to move forward: not because I question the value of the work that we're doing here in the Mythic Arts/Fantasy Literature field (addressed in this previous post), but because public discussion, on Left and Right alike, has become so dogmatic, so scolding and contentious, and so mired in black-and-white thinking. In such an atmosphere, nuance and complexity sink like stones; and the idea that there are things that still matter in addition to our political crisis is damned in some quarters as trivial, escapist, or the realm of the privileged: labels which I do not accept.

47037752238356cced089bb59f5d9ae5Here on Myth & Moor, I advocate for the creation of lives rich in beauty, nature, art, and reflection -- but this is by no means a rejection of engagement, action, and fighting like hell against facism. Myth speaks in a language of paradox, and so all of us who work with myth are capable of holding seemingly opposite truths in balance: We'll fight and retreat. We'll cry loudly for justice (in our various ways) and we'll have times of soul-healing silence. We'll look ugliness directly in the face, unflinching, and we will walk in beauty.

"Beauty is not all brightness," wrote the late Irish poet/philosopher John O'Donohue. "In the shadowlands of pain and despair we find slow, dark beauty. The primeval conversation between darkness and beauty is not audible to the human ear and the threshold where they engage each other is not visible to the eye. Yet at the deepest core they seem to be at work with each other. The guiding intuition of our exploration suggests that beauty is never one-dimensional or one-sided. This is why even in awful circumstances we can still meet beauty. A simple instance of this is fire. Though it may be causing huge destruction, in itself, as dance and color of flame, fire can be beautiful. In human confusion and brokeness there is often a slow beauty present and at work.


The Travelers by Andrea Kowch

"The beauty that emerges from woundedness," O'Donohue noted, "is a beauty infused with feeling: a beauty different from the beauty of landscape and the cold beauty of perfect form. This is a beauty that has suffered its way through the ache of desolation until the words or music emerged to equal the hunger and desperation at its heart....The luminous beauty of great art so often issues from the deepest, darkest wounding. We always seem to visualize a wound as a sore, a tear on the skin's surface.  The protective outer layer is broken and the sensitive interior is invaded and torn. Perhaps there is another way to imagine a wound. It is the place where the sealed surface that keeps the interior hidden is broken. A wound is also, therefore, a breakage that lets in light and a sore place where much of the hidden pain of a body surfaces."

Light Keepers by Andrea Kowch

"Where woundedness can be refined into beauty," he adds, "a wonderful transfiguration takes place. For instance, compassion is one of the most beautiful presences a person can bring to the world and most compassion is born from one's own woundedness. When you have felt deep emotional pain and hurt, you are able to imagine what the pain of another is like; their suffering touches you. This is the most decisive and vital threshold in human experience and behavior. The greatest evil and destruction arises when people are unable to feel compassion. The beauty of compassion continues to shelter and save our world. If that beauty were quenched, there would be nothing between us and the end-darkness which would pour in torrents over us."

So please, fellow artists and art lovers, keep seeking out, spreading, and making beauty. Don't stop. We all need you. I need you.

Andrea Kowch

The art today is by Andrea Kowch, an award-winning American painter based in Michigan. Kowch finds inspiration in the emotions and experiences of daily life in the rural Midwest -- resulting, she says, in "narrative, allegorical imagery that illustrates the parallels between human experience and the mysteries of the natural world. The lonely, desolate American landscape encompassing the paintings’ subjects serves as an exploration of nature’s sacredness and a reflection of the human soul, symbolizing all things powerful, fragile, and eternal. Real yet dreamlike scenarios transform personal ideas into universal metaphors for the human condition, all retaining a sense of vagueness to encourage dialogue between art and viewer.”

Andrea Kowch

Andrea KowchThe passage above is from Beauty: The Invisible Embrace by John O'Donohue (HarperCollins, 2004), all rights reserved by the author's estate. All rights to the art reserved by Andrea Kowch. A related post from 2014: "The Beauty of Brokeness."


Little Points of Light: A Septacet

Under my bedroom window
a silent white smile
from moon's sliver,

In the meadow
fireflies advertising
dah-dah-dit for a mate.

Canopy of stars,
a chuppa of blessings
threatening to fall.

Headlights on the road
illuminating icons,
doe and fawn crossing.

Last house light
on the busy street,
goes to sleep.

A single tv screen
shudders, shutters,
winks out.

Birds turn on morning sun
with a full-throated
fify-part chorale.

©2016 Jane Yolen al rights reserved



The love (beauty) you take is equal to the love (beauty) you make

I have found that living with the dark pockets of life, no matter who we are or where we have walked, brings beauty. Perhaps because of the dark in the beauty, in it I have found vast places of imagination that I would not have otherwise journeyed to. John O'Donohue's "Beauty", is one I frequently listen to and each moment is always awakening to a new threshold.Thank you for this beautiful post today...both images and words...flying on the wings.

One word: LoVe.

I love this! Thank you for introducing me to the septercet.

those surprising moments of beauty in the deepest dark are "the diamonds in the mine" Leonard Cohen 1971 from Songs of Love and Hate

And I just discovered through a little research that you created the form yourself. Even better. Thanksgiving Break will be for writing septercets, I believe. And deepening my relationship with Beauty.

"Where woundedness can be refined into beauty," he adds, "a wonderful transfiguration takes place. For instance, compassion is one of the most beautiful presences a person can bring to the world and most compassion is born from one's own woundedness. When you have felt deep emotional pain and hurt, you are able to imagine what the pain of another is like; their suffering touches you."

This. Yes.


Thank you for this post today, Terri. I am particularly thankful for these beautiful paintings. I know that for myself, in the wake of this US election, I am too prone to write the Midwest off right now. To see this soulful work from an artist based in Michigan, who obviously loves the landscape that inspires her, reminds me that there is more to the Midwest than just electoral votes. It brings me out of my anger and self-righteousness. May she continue to create such beauty! And may you continue to offer your vision to inspire us.

Dear Terri,that is a very beautiful post and I aggree so much with you.I am struggling with the ugliness of the various horrible and dangerous ideas that have almost become acceptable through ignoranc,fear and hatred.I am trying to oppose it in every way I can but at the same time hang on the the love and beauty I have in my life for which I am so grateful.You have a special soul.

Thank you for this, it touched me very deeply in all kinds of ways this morning.

It's a new form I invented.

Three line verses, seven lines in all.


Beautiful paintings, beautiful thoughts. Thank you for the beauty you bestow with each and every post.

A few days ago I heard the words "the wound is where the light enters you" attributed to Rumi..... I wrote them down so I would remember them and then today the same thought is echoed in your post and you have expressed what I was feeling so beautifully and so succinctly.
I understand why I was moved. Thank you again for words which touch my soul.

This is so very true, and I hold to it with every fibre of my being. I've been reading the Cherokee Harmony Ethic and find much that is good there. Thank you for reminding us, again.

As we are approaching Winter, it's not difficult to say that the season is underscored this year with a sense of isolation and despair. On both sides of The Atlantic, our society is being overcome with western extremism as a reaction to fear and uncertainty. Those of us who perceive the madness in this trend feel vulnerable and confused. Why is this happening and what has happened to humanity's greater sense of logic and compassion.

Last Winter, when Paris was attacked so viciously by radical terrorists, I felt the same kind of desperate exposure to vulnerability tinged with hopeless. Winter became personified, A woman I could know and empathize with, someone who was utterly afraid looking for a safe space to pause and find answers. This year, I feel the same as radicalism comes from the west with racism and militant fervor rising in the name of nationalism. Yet, as John O'Donohue so wisely declares, "we can find beauty and light in our woundedness", in our season of panic and fear. There is always light , somewhere in the shadows, the rafters, and the corners -- if we seek it, if we still believe it is truly possible within ourselves and our perception of the world around us.


She comes into the city
quiet and cold, enters an old house
wearing a weave of shadows.
Her neckline and sleeves trimmed
with beads of ice. Her pale hair vaporous.

Birds rustle in the rafters
seeking asylum from the wind,
the bare chill of branch and street.
She hears the uneasiness
in their movement, remembering
how fear hovers and echoes
in the half light. Uncertainty
that crafts its own curfew
shutting everyone inside
the darkness of his or her
imagination, the deafening bell
of a heart that doesn't mute.

She looks out the window,
her contours and those of the city
outlined in gray, the shade of ash
used by providence
to define her presence, to sign
her name. Yet , her face is lit
in a glass pane by the moon.
A translucent blush
belonging more to a votive flame.


Remarkably beautiful paintings and such inspiring thoughts. I was very, very moved by today's post. It has a sense of purpose and hopefulness in it. As artists we do make a difference. It may not always seem substantial but it is an expression of the human soul in its most intimate and creative form. It shows our humanity still looms through the darkness and finds beauty amidst the ruin and the ravages of change. Thank you so, so much for this collection of thoughts and paintings. They inspire and sustain.

Take care

HI Jane

Love the idea of inventing an original form; and this one works so well. And the scenes and thoughts in this poem bring me peace and points of subtle but extraordinary beauty. I can picture these things and feel them vividly. I especially loved --

Under my bedroom window
a silent white smile
from moon's sliver

I have seen that kind of moon and felt drawn to it on some very restless nights. And that last stanza is perfect, beautifully powerful with

Birds turn on morning sun
with a full-throated
fify-part chorale.

Thank you for sharing this,
much enjoyed

Thank you Terri,

You speak to me - to my soul, at a time when I need it so greatly. Being an artist is not always an easy path, but one that I can never leave. I shall keep on seeking. Thank you for sending a warm ray to my heart.

Angie x

Ooops again--seven VERSES in all.

Oh Wendy--"wearing a weave of shadow" is such a glorious phrase. Walking in beauty here.


Thank you Terri, I need this today too. Here downunder, we watch as the UK and US slide into some horrible twilight world, and I see us following blithely down the same terrible incline into disaster, as the racist, nationalist radicals here come out of the shadows screeching their hate against any and all who are different or disagree. I see the politicians stirring the pot of self-interest, throwing the crumbs to those at the bottom of the ladder, and watching with glee as we fight each other over them. The hate, the overblown, gleeful, wilful, hate is what I cannot fathom. Who WANTS to feel hate? Who WANTS the world to be reduced to us and them, profit and loss, haves and have-nots? I simply do not understand. And lately I've found it even here, on the micro level in my own small community. I am so weary of it, of fighting it in my own small way, writing letters, perusing the fine print in dodgy contracts and government documents, using my analytical talents to tease out details that don't add up...but oh, it is so tiring, so UN-nourishing. I want to curl up and hibernate, become a recluse or a hermit. I want to create beauty, small things that bring joy and open eyes and hearts. Things that make my heart sing, not heart-sore. What times we live in. I fear for my children's future.

Dona, that is precisely why I chose Kowch's paintings! Thank you for noticing. Hillary is winning the popular vote by an astonishing amount, and many states went to Trump by a razor-thin margin. There are good people opposed to the Trump team's misogyny, racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, and disgregard of civil & Constitutional norms all across the country -- and we need to make common cause with every single one of them.

Thank you Jane

So much for this lovely comment/observation! It's good to know when images work! Please take care and have a safe and peaceful holiday!!

My Best to you
Again thank you!

Thank you, Terri. Deeply needed in these times. What we write has value to the present and the future.

Dona, do not despair. The difference in votes in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, for example, were less than 50,000. Many good, kind, worried people there are seeking a world where there is enough for all, and beauty can lead us.

We are living in one of those times where fear battles to overcome hope. Like it or not, we must face this with the skills we have. Hold hope.

Thank you for your words, Cat. I appreciate them so much! But I don't despair - I don't bother with despair. Rather I do hold hope, and I take sustenance from Vaclav Hamel's words - that hope is "the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out." Which is kind of like faith, isn't it? And faith is a guide for all of us.

Experiencing life in Kansas during this election season has left me in despair. Then going through the motions and rituals of Thanksgiving (a holiday that to me marks so much sadness for native american populations) felt like rubbing salt into a deep wound. And the anticipation of a holiday season based on materialism and greed bathed in white privilege has been almost more than I can take. Well, my heart and mind have not been taking it well. Openness? Compassion? Healing? I haven't been able to find a way in. I needed to read this whole conversation. Thank you Dona, Terri and Cat.

And, of course, I have needed to read these posts, Terri. Thank you.

Thank you, Wendy. Your poem (along with Terri's posts and so many of the comments and reflections of those here--and Jane's writing) has sparked in me a yearning that has been lost in grief. I haven't known how to return here. I thought that maybe the dark had succeeded in stamping it out for good in me. Along with the real fear of impending political actions based on racism/sexism/hate, I've discovered with growing horror the burgeoning lack of compassion in me as a result of the bitterness. And if I, as a writer and artist, lose compassion, truly for me all is lost. But these words...this magic is powerful and true. Truer than hate and fear...and bitterness. Thank you all for showing me a real way back.

Dark and beautiful poem, Wendy. A perfect companion to this post. I definitely saw her, this Winter, and felt for her.

Terri, this post is making me remember bits of a course I took in graduate school about Philosophy of Aesthetics. I'm trying to remember who we studied and why, but it was all so long ago. I think, though, that one of the lectures the professor gave was about the danger of certain forms of art that, essentially, fed a kind of sadism, a kind of glorification of death and suffering just before WWII.

Now I'm curious and want to go look it up. Hmmm. Certainly, your post didn't at all suggest anything dangerous and I'm not advocating censorship, but this is making me wonder what that class was about and how it might be relevant now. Your work is always so thought-provoking. Thank you! Off to my archives... =)

Dear Michelle,

I think turmoil and uncertainty, especially in election times like now, can affect our perspective and ability to write as poets or storytellers. It can allow the darker moods and despair to dominate. And in that situation ( nad yes I have personally been there, it's hard find inspiration or the motivation to compose. I can empathize with your feelings completely; but am glad to know that this post ( which is so incredibly uplifting and hopeful because of Terri, Jane and all the pariticipants) has encouraged you and offered you some small portion of solace. Thank so, so much for reading my work. If it has helped you, I am also thankful and wish you inner peace and inspiration. I believe art transcends angst/stasis in its own way and time; and will revive the soul when the soul is ready to receive it once again.

Please take care
My Best

Hi Edie

You beautiful words are so much appreciated! I am glad you could envision this version of Winter. Again thank you so much for taking the time to read and contemplate my work! It means a great deal to me!

Take care

I know just what you mean. Thank-you Terri.

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