Tunes for a Monday Morning
Hound foolery

Hiraeth

Footpath signpost

Footpath gate

Here's another interesting passage for our on-going discussion of 'writers and place" -- from an essay by Susan Cooper, the British-born author of The Dark Is Rising series:

"When I was twenty-six years old," she writes, "I left every aspect of home: place, friends, occupation, nation -- the lot, and I married an American and came to live in the USA. If put back in the same situation, I should probably do the same again, but I wouldn't say it was a reasoned choice. When you are uprooted in this way, and leave home completely and suddenly, what you leave is not a place only, but the whole fabric of life. You leave the sights and sounds and smells of your native environment, familiar and reassuring; the particular patterns of day and night, climate and weather, roads and rivers, and above all, people, all the different layers of relationships. You lose things you had never realized you possessed: a way of thinking, an ingrained pattern of assumptions and prejudices, and of delights felt never so acutely as when they are no longer there. Of course, you gain things too, but they don't fill these particular holes, because they are a different shape."

Bluebells 1

A little later in the essay, Cooper adds:

"I can tell you a lot about homesickness; I am an expert on the matter of living and loving across a divide, on the kind of ache that is bearable only because its absence would signify emptiness, the loss of all feeling. The Welsh call this ache hiraeth, and by that word they mean something more than homesickness: they mean a kind of deep longing of the soul. They guard the value of the word, and are contemptuous of those who use it lightly....My Dark is Rising books were written out of hiraeth, the longing; it infuses every image and description in them.

Bluebells 4

"Like many authors published for children, I've often said I don't write for children, but for myself, and in the case of these books it's especially true. It's true, that is, of the last four of the five books in the sequence, which were written after I'd lived for more than ten years in the United States. These four are quite different from the first book, Over Sea, Under Stone, which was written when I still lived in London. (For one thing, they're better books, and I should hope so after ten years of practice. The worst thing you can ever say to an author is, 'Oh, my favorite of all your books is the first' -- it's like telling him that his whole life has been a downhill slide.) Those last four Dark is Rising books are layered with Englishness and Welshness, the two sides of my mongrel British nature; they're full of the history and geography of the British Isles, their time and place, their people and weather and skies and spells, all echoing to and fro. I couldn't live there in reality, so I lived there in my books. Perhaps the sequence put hiraeth to rest, in its most painful and acute form, because I seem not to have written anything about Britain since, except for three small retellings of folktales.

Bluebells 2

"Everyone leaves the first home. Time passes, nothing stays the same. We all leave childhood behind, even though that process may take decades, and not really be completed until our parents die. It's not an easy process; perhaps there's no such thing as easy growth, unless you're a dandelion. It isn't easy because you have to fight all the way against the pull of home.

Bluebells 3

"Not all the aspects of that world are warm and cozy," Cooper cautions; "there are many that are sinister. There's home as octopus, home as snare; home as Venus Flytrap, home as black hole. Home can be the place you can't escape from, or haven't the courage to leave or replace; the womb you have never really left. This is the dark side of home, and we should never lose sight of it, in a romantic haze of nostalgia.

"If one is to grow, home has to be replaced, over and over again, in a progression through life."

Pathway

Woodland Gate

Credits: The passages above are from "Moving On," published in Dreams and Wishes: Essays on Writing for Children by Susan Cooper (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 1996). The exquisite poem in the picture captions is from Selected Poems by Gillian Clarke, who is currently the National Poet of Wales (Picador, 2016). All rights reserved by the authors. Related posts: Kith and Kin and On Loss & Transfiguration. (For more on the subject of stories, place, and home, click on the "home &  homelessness" link below.)

Comments

Having been raised at the broken edge of the world, listening to sea winds sing perpetual longing, hiraeth is a ground state of being for me and the impetus for all creativity. So in my case it's not about separation from a particular place, unless the nameless mapless "elsewhere" can be considered a place. I can sense the hiraeth in Cooper's books - it's apparent in her love-woven words.

Hugs to you all there in the UK on this dark, sad day ❤

Leaving the First Home

"Everyone leaves the first home."
--Susan Cooper

It was, of course, the womb,
a small apartment in the city,
California ranch house,
Chesapeake brick and stone.
I kept leaving, or being taken,
missing trees and water and sky.
wondering what had happened
to summer, then winter.

Longing became a companion,
small, mousy, dark,
though I did not know it
until I found you.
And then where I lived
was where you lived.

And when you went away,
into ash and dust,
I stayed, moored,
for the first time.
Probably for the last.

©2017 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

The Dark is Rising sequence left a great impression on me when I first read them decades ago, as a college student writing my thesis on medieval Arthurian literature and at the same time reading books for student-teaching in middle and high school English. What a beautiful word hiraeth is. I must look up the pronunciation. I wonder if you can connect it to a homesickness not just for a physical place, but for a place within one's self.

"If one is to grow, home has to be replaced, over and over again, in a progression through life." This reminds me of T.S. Eliot in "Little Gidding," one of my all-time favorite quotes that has resonated so much in my life: "We shall not cease from exploration/ And the end of all our exploring/ Will be to arrive where we started/ And know the place for the first time." Even if you go back to the same place, your life experience changes your perceptions.

My heart breaks for the children and families in Manchester. All I can say is a quote from the season finale of one of my favorite shows, Once Upon A Time: "Darkness never wins. It just fools you into thinking it does." Will and Merriman would agree, I think.

Much love and light from across the pond to you all.

Thank you Jane. This is one of my favorites that you've written.

Memory

More than longing
more than ache
is the sun’s warmth on my back
the salt sea at my feet
as we bend
and search our rocks
for small and bright
abandoned shells.
The ones we might keep.

By Edie Bishop

I had no idea you were born in California. A long shadow full of heat and gold...I have thought of you the the North-East, suave and among all the heights of the early pilgrims and the beginnings of New York and the Atlantic shores.

Your sorrow touches my now one child lost and how we must live . What is worse, to lose the love of your life, or a marriage cracked by despair; a husband never finding the right wife or new girlfriend. T cut him loose, and fold up the music and friendliness and double live. To walk single and be friends with the next family he was in and the next divorce?

Oh beautiful. The ones we might keep.........

Western Twines

Like my ancestors, we went hither,
And thither. Born in St. Joseph Hospital,
Lewiston, Idaho, on to Walla Walla.
Washington, many unknown towns,
Just Daddy and Mother, in cars,
And then, Dad a bus driver, and
being five, francisco! I vowed to return.

A circle of new cars, villages, towns.
First Grade in Madras, Oregon, my
First time with friends my age, All
Wonderful! The Warm Springs and
Town blondes. I loved them all.
Where are they now? War began.
We moved, Bend, Oregon.......

I can put all this like a jigsaw with
Each thing and places, scary, sorry,
Losses I filled with words so they
Would not be lost. Music, Poetry,
Books, books, good friends and
Those to stay away from, many,
The ones I called steps, and my
Private joke. Cinderella is real.

I am always except West except New York,
Three times now, due to seeing the movie.
All About Eve at 15, in dry hills in Washington.
Living now for fifty years, of course, visits
To all up and down my West, with all it's
Differences, dry, wet, cold, hot, mountains,
All those I knew and can keep near my heart,
From Saint Josapeth, to San Francisco;
Near Chinatown, Theaters, Shops, all mine.

Thanks, sometimes poems veer away from where they started-as this one did,

Jane

My first home with a small apartment in New York City. The we moved to California for two years fo my dad's job, three years in Hampton Va. during the war when my dad was in London running the secret radio, then back to NY till I was thirteen and we moved to Connecticut.

So you were right, just misunderstanding the first two lines.

Thanks for reading it, though,

Jane

Collecting memories. . . .

Thanks,

Jane

We children hostage to the peripitetic adults. (However that's spelled.) Yes!

Jane

Oooo... hiraeth... I needed that word. I often wonder about the deep longing of the soul for places. I seem to have that in spades for the places of my ancestors, especially the British Isles. I often wonder if the places our ancestors lived, where their DNA is buried in the land has a special energetic pull for those who share that DNA. Its a story I keep coming back to.

Your father was in London running the secret radio? That's like an untold story, but then, maybe he didn't
share. But thanks for your zig-zagging on the map. A lot of my Idaho family never left except they went to Portland, Oregon to work for the war. My nineteen year old aunt Zadiie was really cute in her iron cap and what she wore, while scraping rust on big ships. Then after the war they went back to Idaho and stayed forever.

I must apologize: I don't know why this cranky and personal feeling spurted out. I think it is some right arm uselessness and pain. It isn't even truthful. We did have love and support for years. I cherish them. It was
sad but it just happened. My Husband was deeply in depression and that sent him to try changes, but in the end, his death at 62, was celebrated where we will go to the charming park overlooking the Sea. It was one of our early places we loved.

I am not myself sometimes.......sort of thinking a large rock is swinging over my head. Well, not reaaay.


Yes, yes to the draw of our ancestors. I too loved reading this word ... hiraeth, new to me, but familiar in its soul-tug. As I write from a table and chair at a keyboard under a cool spring morning in the Salish Sea, birds sing their language of greetings. My ancestors south and across the Pacific still sleep at the foothills of Ko'olau on O'ahu would shiver at my choices. I long for their sun browned faces and the language: tones, inflections and innuendo.

My fingertips tell me, "Seek the warmth!"
Go back inside to snuggle with a warm body
Who is sensible about such things.

Thank you, Terri and Jane and everyone else.

"hiraeth" indeed, that explains so much about the differences in the Dark is Rising sequence. It also gives me a word to describe my deep longing for the Great Lakes, even as I have shifted across the continent following health and work. Now that I can contemplate return, I know it is not really returning--not to summers with family. I will find wild, untamed inner seas, where my parents chose to be buried in a tiny coastal cemetery and my sisters slip away to the cottage my father built.

By now I have learned to live with longing, knowing that nothing truly satisfies it--knowing that I now love a continent and its people, and want to walk every path even as I long for a place no one can make me leave.

I hope to find the home soon, but the longing will remain, always a step ahead.

So beautiful, Jane. I stayed.. for the first time. Still sending you love and light as the years move on. Just read your picture book "You Nest Here With Me" to my little one and was quite moved.

Thank you, Phyllis. <3

=) Thank you, Jane.

Hi Phyllis, I love the Warm Springs and Town Blondes of Oregon! I never moved that much as a child, but when we visited grandparents it felt like their places were my places too. Thanks for your poem. Sending love in this difficult time.

Elsewhere

It's the suddenness
of an impression that makes
trees a herd grazing
on the hillside.

Their soft shag of leaves
catches the wind and the wind
leads us to them.
A place to rest, longing
to reminisce in the longer day
Summer provides. Overhead, sea gulls
unseal the sky
and ghosts come to possess

their former selves. Beautiful ones
haunting the desert with the green hush
of childhood.
Its moss stained memories
waver in the glare: willow bark, stones, water --
a fallen gate. So much of us (there)

recaptured
in a terrarium of distant
earth and light. .

Hi Jane

Beautifully poignant this fine poem, one that haunts with its language and theme. Yes, we find that "longing" becomes our companion when we often move and remember what we had or when we encounter someone who becomes the significant other in our lives. How wonderfully you have stated this

"I kept leaving, or being taken,
missing trees and water and sky.
wondering what had happened
to summer, then winter.

Longing became a companion,
small, mousy, dark,
though I did not know it"

Thank you for sharing this one, I am very taken with it!!

so much enjoyed this!
Wendy

Hi Edie,

What a beautiful poem in its conciseness and lovely language --

as we bend
and search our rocks
for small and bright
abandoned shells.
The ones we might keep.

We search for tokens of place and time, things we keep to remember we have been, that enable us to witness the importance of that moment in time or the revelation exposed at such a moment.

Lovely writing,
so much enjoyed this one!

Take care
Wendy

Hi Phyllis

Love the title and the way this one reads like a spiritual map laying out the journey you have taken both geographically and emotionally. I can relate , in particular, to this lovely stanza --
I can put all this like a jigsaw with
Each thing and places, scary, sorry,
Losses I filled with words so they
Would not be lost. Music, Poetry,
Books, books, good friends and
Those to stay away from, many,
The ones I called steps, and my
Private joke. Cinderella is real.

Thank you for sharing this one -- I really enjoyed reading it!

Take care
Wendy

What a beautiful reply, Sarah. There's a whole story, or novel, woven into those words...one I'd like to read.

Oh my, this is beautiful -- both universal in capturing that sense of longing and loss we all experience at one point or another, and specific in its evocation of the loss of David. Powerful, Jane.

Author Robert Macfarlane, a collector of old words, notes that the Welsh word 'cynefin' is "one's place of true belonging, the habitat with which one feels most attuned. Distinct from 'hiraeth.' "

We had a earlier discussion of words describing homes both real and imaginery in this post, if you happened to see it: Kith & Kin, http://www.terriwindling.com/blog/2015/06/kith-and-kin.html

And I love this quote from Sarah Elwell: "Some people have a place of belonging, some people have a kind of sky. They belong in rain, or autumn breezes, or night, or long blue quiet."

You have captured so much of this discussion in a few short lines. Bravo! I love it.

I love hearing more of your story, Phyllis. What a life you have lived.

I wonder that too...though in addition to ancestral DNA, we also all have adopted ancestors: the generations of people who shape us through art and story. As far as I know, my blood ancestry is German, French, and Native American, not British, yet the pull to the British Isles has always been strong -- due, I suspect, to classic British children's stories I loved in childhood, Author Rackham illustrations, etc., as well as to being raised in culture in which the English language is common to us all.

Ellen Kushner wrote a good piece on this, excerpted in this previous post: http://www.terriwindling.com/blog/2015/05/the-cauldron-of-dreams.html

"...knowing that I now love a continent and its people, and want to walk every path even as I long for a place no one can make me leave."

What a beautiful reply, Kat.

This poem makes me sigh with sheer happiness. Your words always touch my soul, Wendy.

Thanks, Edith. I have been comforting a neighbor who's wife died suddenly and it reminds me all over again that with a good marriage the process (and product) of grieving is never quite over.

Jane

Wendy, as always, I feel you get my small poems with a poet's own perceptive depth. Thank you for that.

Jane

Thanks, Terri--you knew him and understand on your own personal level.

xxxJane

Goodness--who but you, Wensy, would put these words together in this perfect way:

"Its moss stained memories
waver in the glare: willow bark, stones, water --
a fallen gate. So much of us (there)"

."

Especially those concluding three lines which sums up memory for me

" a terrarium of distant
earth and light"

Thank you,

Jane

Yes, good point about art and story. I wonder if I am doubly drawn to the British Isles because of ancestry AND the old stories that live in our cultural imagination. Thanks for the link, heading over there!

Oh Terri, a million thanks for this reply. Cynefin -- yes, that's it exactly! That's what I feel a longing for in my soul.

Sacred landscape is something I am very familiar with through my studies and I find that it speaks to me so much that it creeps into my own works and life. Even with silly, simple things, like my mantra "I have to put my lands in order" before I get on with organizing my desk to work.

What is it about maps? Some of my favorite places are found on the pages before the story begins: Earthsea, Krynn, King Arthur's England. "Writing is incarnational." There's just something about a map that thrills a reader. Perhaps it is to see the place on paper, not just in our mind? Perhaps a map makes it even more real, or true, because we often need something tangible, something to be seen outside our own imaginations.

I got to a point in my current work-in-progress where I put my words aside, took a blank piece of paper, and drew a map of my land. I had to, not just for the logistics of it, but because of a compulsion to make my lands more real, more true. As if drawing it on paper would give it more life. As much as I love my home, I have been forever plagued by a feeling of "not belonging" since I was a child. Terri, what you said about coming to Devon brought me to tears. Sometimes I wonder if my place of true belonging is not really a physical place, but the lands of my imagination, my stories waiting to be told. And I would love to have readers feel as at home in my lands as I have in Earthsea and other story worlds.

Thanks so much Terri

for your kind words and endorsement of this poem! I deeply appreciate them. I was coming out the grocery store with my partner, Jim, into the parking lot and looked up at the surrounding terrain. There was a hillside overlooking the shopping plaza and trees were dispersed over the area with long branches, almost shaggy leaves. I didn't know what species of trees they were but thought of them grazing like a herd taking me back to green memories of New York state where I often saw sheep I the field - an played myself in the surrounding woods near hour home. And yes, the woods had a pond, willow trees, moss-stained stones, etc. It was
haunting and magical!

Again thank you!
Take care
Wendy

Hi Jane

Thank you so much for this beautiful commentary on my poem! I am glad you enjoyed it and am always grateful to know some of the lines I wondered about the most, worked for the reader. Your gracious words and insight are deeply appreciated!

Take care
Wendy

Some time now, to read our poem. It is, as all have praised you, how you bend and rise up words. Your
Word-Hoard is full of gems, ferns, little samples of life made new.

Busy days, but now I can thank you for your thanks. I really did want to save all what gave me such splendor as So many things to write. But it took long I could say them. Like learning to put honey in a cup, just so.

My mother skillfully taught me how to make stories out of music, and I just followed all that. It surprises me, though to be still learning at my age. We do so evolve....

Thanks, Terri. I do remember when I was little that I had a life kind of strange, and so I had to keep them
like what to write someday. I was a kind of weird girl but did have many friends, to my surprise.

Hi Phyllis

Your kind words and lovely commentary on this poem are very deeply appreciated!

"Your
Word-Hoard is full of gems, ferns, little samples of life made new."

Such a beautiful description of the small things I write; I am deeply touched by your insight here~

Again, many thanks
Wendy

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