Sunday, 9 May 2010

The Eye of the Beholder

Some things just look right. The formulae for perfection can be explained by mathematical geniuses like Fibonacci and DaVinci but that doesn't quite explain why the eye finds one arrangement more pleasing than another. Familiarity and culture play their part but is it the chicken or the egg? William Morris's willow bough pattern is one of the most popular designs of the 20th century but when I lie under a great crack willow watching the pattern of leaf against sky is it my knowledge of the print that makes it so especially perfect or vice versa? Held in a  pocket of my mind is that other accumulated knowledge, of the ancient medicine, and that perfect sound of wood on willow. On my friend's table: a Spanish plate, seven green pears, William Morris's willow bough print: perfect.
Danced last night to big band sounds under the spetacular roof of Chatham dockyard's number 3 slip. One of Britain’s architectural gems, when built in 1838 this immense covered slip was Europe’s largest wide span timber structure. Reminiscent of an Escher or Leonardo drawing, distressed over a century of labour, as awe inspiring as any cathedral nave it puts Kings Cross in the shade. Visit this summer to see the newly restored Shipbuilding on the Clyde series of paintings by Stanley Spencer. Too big for regular display at the Imperial War Museum this will be a rare outing and an incomparable setting. Chatham Dockyard is an industrial monument on a huge scale not to be missed and this exhibition will be the icing on the cake! 

Friday, 7 May 2010

Golden Bells

Long, long ago when I was optimistic and full of love I lounged on a battered old sofa with my feet in the lap of the man I loved. In the evenings while children slept, we turned up the fire and read poetry to one another and dreamed of long lives entwined and shores we would walk together. One peaceful night in my daughter's first year I found this poem and reading it to my fifty year old love, welled up. The following year he was gone. Years had passed when walking by the Thames a pot of these beautiful little daffodils caught my eye - Narcissus Golden Bells - and I remembered the poem. Now they flower in early May in an old salt glaze pot by my gate.

Golden Bells

When I was almost forty
I had a daughter whose name was Golden Bells.

Now it is just a year since she was born;

She is learning to sit and cannot yet talk.

Ashamed—to find that I have not a sage’s heart:

I cannot resist vulgar thoughts and feelings.

Henceforward I am tied to things outside myself:

My only reward—the pleasure I am getting now.

If I am spared the grief of her dying young,
Then I shall have the trouble of getting her married.
My plan for retiring and going back to the hills

Must now be postponed for fifteen years!

The poem is as moving twelve hundred years after it was written. A few weeks later I found a second poem and the tears streamed down my face.

Remembering Golden Bells

Ruined and ill—a man of two score;

Pretty and guileless—a girl of three.

Not a boy—but still better than nothing:

To soothe one’s feeling—from time to time a kiss!

There came a day—they suddenly took her from me;

Her soul’s shadow wandered I know not where.

And when I remember how just at the time she died

She lisped strange sounds, beginning to learn to talk,

Then I know that the ties of flesh and blood

Only bind us to a load of grief and sorrow.
 At last, by thinking of the time before she was born,

By thought and reason I drove the pain away.

Since my heart forgot her, many days have passed

And three times winter has changed to spring.

This morning, for a little, the old grief came back,
Because, in the road, I met her foster-nurse.

 Po Chu i,  translated by Arthur Waley