On the New Year and fresh starts
The world is a proliferation

Vade mecum

Girl Holding a Book by Gwen John

Robert Macfarlane's "Word(s) of the Day" is one of the delights of Twitter (a medium that swings from soul-enriching to soul-crushing, depending on how you curate your Twitter feed). Yesterday Robert offered vade mecum: a Latin term, he explained, meaning: "literally 'go with me'; figuratively a book that one keeps by one’s side or close to hand -- so that it may be readily consulted for guidance or inspiration. A lodestone text to which one returns. What’s your vade mecum?"

Study for The Convalescent by Gwen John

Despite my fierce passion for books, his question is one I find difficult to answer. There are just so many books that I return to again and again -- from fantasy to realist fiction, from folklore studies to nature writing, from artist and writer biographies to poetry. To chose a single lodestone text is impossible for me: influence and inspiration is everywhere. As soon as I come up with single title, a dozen others crowd close behind it, and then a dozen more.

I like these words by British novelist Ali Smith, who was posed a similar question in an interview last year:

"What book has most inspired me? The question just made my brain explode into fizzing little pieces. I can't choose one. There are so many. I think I've been by everything I've ever read one way or another, and I don't mean just books, I mean things on hoardings, things on the sides of pencils, things that catch your eye on the sides of buses, the words FRAGILE BREAK GLASS on the front of a firehose cabinet in an Italian hotel. My partner Sarah just said, stop being inspired by everything. Is this piece of newspaper really inspiring to you? Yes, I said, so don't throw it away. (She threw it away anyway, but that was inspiring too, because it inspired me to write this paragraph.) Inspiration is everywhere. It's as everday as what it means, which is literally in-breath, the act of breathing in. If we think about it like that, inspiration becomes not just natural, first nature, but how we live, how we stay alive -- a matter of heart, blood, rhythm."


Tabby cat by Gwen John

What do you think, dear readers? Do you have a vade mecum (or two, or three), and if so, what? 

Or does the question make your brain go into meltdown, as it does to mine? 

Interior of the Artist's Room by Gwen John

The imagery today is by the great Welsh painter Gwen John (1876-1939), who is one of my all-time favourite artists. I wrote more about Gwen back in the autumn of 2011. You can find the post here.

Gwen John by Susan Row

Girl Holding Cat by Gwen JohnWith thanks to the good folks at #WomensArt, who reminded me today of my love for Gwen's work. And, of course, to Robert Macfarlane, author of The Wild Places, The Lost Words, etc.


Much like you my head spins at trying to pick just one book. Impossible.
Tilly looks so soft and silky in this photo. Those ears. I just want to stroke them, give them little pulls to feel that velvet run through my fingers. Sweet doggie.


The within that goes without.
A moment of brain fizz,
The surprise sending shock waves
through a poem.
Vade mecum, go with me
into the old forests of memory
before you were a book
but a living, rooted man.
There is no holding
you so tight
I cannot let you go.
I carry you
in the heart's habit,
like a DIckinson poem.
It will be the last thing I recite,
the last name I breathe.
What other choice is there
but the stars.

©2017 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

My mind is fizzing just the thought of one book to hand!!! At the moment by my bed I have Llavondyss, Corrag, Moonhart, Greenmantle and the Crow Girls collection and The Old Ways. My Winter Reads ritual. However the book that I keep diving into because it is so full of beauty is “Lost Words”. Now a tiny version of this huge book could be my vade mecum . It’s a blanket and book day here at Rose Cottage x

The Zen of Seeing by Frederick Franck

My sister's old Pocket Oxford Dictionary, issued to her in 1967 by Newarke's Girls' School where she went after passing the Eleven Plus exam (something I failed).
I use it for bibliomancy and sometimes it works. For example I've just been given the word 'scrawl' meaning to write in a hurried and untidy way...someone must have read my books!

There is never just one.

heavens, yes, utter meltdown! how could one choose?!

lovely paintings...

Can a vade mecum be a particular writer instead of a text? Because if so, mine might very well be the person who started your pondering: Robert MacFarlane. He has blown my heart open many-a-time, even when I’m reading a book the second, or fourth, or seventh time. I don’t know enough Latin to convert the term vade mecum to indicate a person...

I always pack James Stephens' Irish Fairy Tales with me when I travel. I know the stories well, even tell some, yet I find them comforting and engrossing. They have taken my mind off many an anxious flight.

Many books fit the bill. From Mother tongue, I keep The Hawaiian Dictionary and Ka Honua Ola, fiction and myth I re-read Wood Wife, Braiding Sweatgrass blends science and traditional knowledge so I remember to remember.

For me,

I would have to say it's a not any particular book, though I do find inspiration in many, but
awareness that becomes a living text of observation and reflection, continually washing up on the moments beach cluttered with stimuli.

Vade Mecum

What goes with me
always, are not words from old books
windowed in woodcuts
and stitched with linen thread,
( though sometimes they linger)

but pure awareness
as she perpetually
washes ashore,
sudden and caught off-guard
when prompted to rise
from her shell of white noise.

Thanks Terri, for today's beautiful art and wonderful, thought-provoking premise/idea.
so much enjoyed!

My best

Hi Jane

Love, love this poem-- and agree the book that inspires is the experience of inspiration that creates its own book of moments and memories. These lines I can personally and dearly relate to --

Vade mecum, go with me
into the old forests of memory
before you were a book
but a living, rooted man.
There is no holding
you so tight
I cannot let you go.
I carry you
in the heart's habit,
like a DIckinson poem

Thank you for this,
Take care

Hello Jane, your poem is truly magnificent. It is one I can take into my heart. Susan x

Hello Jane - your poem 'Inspire' is truly magnificent. I was once asked "was it better to write a great poem, or inspire one?" Your poem is at the heart of this process. Thank you for sharing it here on Terri's wonderful blog.
Here are two limes of mine from one of mine.
'Every star over the moors was a trouble,
before it was speaking in light, the way stars do.'

Always--thanks, Wendy.Swameped with guests and snow or would answer more fully.




"Windowed in woodcuts" a perfect image. I have many of those books here, treasures. Good both for reading and holding.


Thank you for these thoughtful comments and lovely poems, everyone. I'm out of the studio for much of today, but will come back and answer comments tomorrow.

Way too many that I return to again and again to pick just one! I loved the poems the thought inspired here!

Thanks so much Jane
for reading and sharing your experience/perspective! I always enjoy hearing them. And yes, I have some ,too, and absolutely love the intricate craft of book-making found in these precious works. And I do adore the woodcuts and the gilt pages, the sewn binding.

Take care,

Yes. The question always leaves me with my arms waving and a frustrated expression on my face. Do they mean in the last five minutes, year, lifetime? How do you choose? I couldn't possibly. When moving I was asked which books I might be getting rid of and I pointed to a box of duplicates. Beyond that, I said, "Not these - none of these." I'm ruthless when it comes to ridding my home of unnecessary gadgetry or twinkly items but when it comes to books the case is hopeless.

_Some Place To Be Flying_ is forever etched into my heart. I love those precious Crow Girls.

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