go to them

January 31, 2019

“You can’t stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes”

A. A. Milne
Winnie the Pooh
[illustrated by E. H Shepard]

This wood is, of course, nowhere near Athens; the script is a positive maze of false leads. The wood is really located somewhere in the English midlands, possibly near Bletchley, where the great decoding machine was sited. Correction: this wood was located in the English midlands until oak, ash and thorn were chopped down to make room for a motorway a few years ago. However, since the wood existed only as a structure of the imagination, in the first place, it will remain, in the second place, as a green, decorative margin to the eternity the poet promised for himself. The English poet; his is, essentially, an English wood. It is the English wood.

The English wood is nothing like the dark, necromantic forest in which the Northern European imagination begins and ends, where its dead and the witches live, and Baba-yaga stalks about in her house with chicken’s feet looking for children in order to eat them. No. There is a qualitative, not a quantitative, difference between this wood and that forest.

The difference does not exist just because a wood contains fewer trees than a forest and covers less ground. That is just one of the causes of the difference and does not explain the effects of the difference.

For example, an English wood, however marvellous, however metamorphic, cannot, by definition, be trackless, although it might well be formidably labyrinthine. Yet there is always a way out of a maze, and, even if you cannot find it for a while, you know that it is there. A maze is a construct of the human mind, and not unlike it; lost in the wood, this analogy will always console. But to be lost in the forest is to be lost to this world, to be abandoned by the light, to lose yourself utterly with no guarantee you will either find yourself or else be found, to be committed against your will – or, worse, of your own desire – to a perpetual absence; from humanity, an existential catastrophe, for the forest is as infinitely boundless as the human heart.

But the wood is finite, a closure; you purposely mislay your way in the wood, for the sake of the pleasure of roving, the temporary confusion of direction is in the nature of a holiday from which you will come home refreshed, with your pockets full of nuts, your hands full of wildflowers and the cast feather of a bird in your cap. That forest is haunted; this wood is enchanted.[…]

The English wood offers us a glimpse of a green, unfallen world a little closer to Paradise than we are.

Such is the English wood in which we see the familiar fairies, the blundering fiancés, the rude mechanicals. This is the true Shakespearian wood – but it is not the wood of Shakespeare’s time, which did not know itself to be Shakespearian, and therefore felt no need to keep up appearances. No. The wood we have just described is that of nineteenth-century nostalgia, which disinfected the wood, cleansing it of the grave, hideous and elemental beings with which the superstition of an earlier age had filled it. Or, rather, denaturing, castrating these beings until they came to look just as they do in those photographs of fairy folk that so enraptured Conan Doyle. It is Mendelssohn’s wood.

“Enter these enchanted woods…” who could resist such a magical invitation?

However, as it turns out, the Victorians did not leave the woods in quite the state they might have wished to find them.

Angela Carter
Overture and Incidental Music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream

a vast melancholy

December 30, 2018

That long-drawn, wavering howl has, for all its fearful resonance, some inherent sadness in it, as if the beasts would love to be less beastly if only they knew how and never cease to mourn their own condition. There is a vast melancholy in the canticles of the wolves, melancholy infinite as the forest, endless as these long nights of winter and yet that ghastly sadness, that mourning for their own, irremediable appetites, can never move the heart for not one phrase in it hints at the possibility of redemption; grace could not come to the wolf from its own despair, only through some external mediator, so that, sometimes, the beast will look as if he half welcomes the knife that dispatches him.

Angela Carter
The Company of Wolves

twisted enchantments

December 19, 2018

Voices in the forest tell of dark and twisted enchantments – as dark and twisted as the roots and grasping branches of the trees themselves. Even the most gnarled tree is eloquent in the telling of its own tale.

Brian Froud
Brian Froud’s World of Faerie

Variations on the word sleep

November 29, 2018

I would like to watch you sleeping,
Which may not happen.
I would like to watch you,
Sleeping. I would like to sleep
With you, to enter
Your sleep as its smooth dark wave
Slides over my head

And walk with you through that lucent
Wavering forest of bluegreen leaves,
With its watery sun and three moons,
Towards the cave where you must descend,
Towards your worst fear.

I would like to give you the silver
Branch, the small white flower, the one
Word that will protect you
From the grief at the center
Of your dream, from the grief
At the center. I would like to follow
You up the long stairway
Again and become
The boat that would row you back
Carefully, a flame
In two cupped hands,
To where your body lies
Beside me as you enter
It as easily as breathing in.

I would like to be the air
That inhabits you for a moment
Only. I would like to be that unnoticed
And that necessary.

Margaret Atwood

the birds of desire

November 6, 2018

She was like a forest, like the dark interlacing of the oakwood, humming inaudibly with myriad unfolding buds. Meanwhile the birds of desire were asleep in the vast interlaced intricacy of her body.

D. H. Lawrence
Lady Chatterley’s Lover

There is a girl inside

October 14, 2018

There is a girl inside.
She is randy as a wolf.
She will not walk away and leave these bones
to an old woman.
She is a green tree in a forest of kindling.
She is a green girl in a used poet.
She has waited patient as a nun
for the second coming,
when she can break through gray hairs
into blossom
and her lovers will harvest
honey and thyme
and the woods will be wild
with the damn wonder of it.

Lucille Clifton

trees and sky and night

It was New Year’s Eve and a cold damp day that penetrated while the elements ran wild across the landscape. Skeins of mist hung tenuously upon the high banks and draped the bare trees. My surroundings were white and hushed and I’d lost all sense of time as I walked. In places the ground underfoot was several feet deep with compressed snow from some weeks ago.

I had turned off the main path to follow an upward track which I knew led me to the edge of the forest. Here the ground was slushy underfoot, worsened by the water streaming down from the hills. Everything was so breathlessly still and silent. It was as if the mist had erased all sound as well as every contour.

I reached the outskirts of the forest and saw the dark conifers puncturing the mist. But then something made me stop. It was music. High piping music that seemed to resonate on many levels simultaneously. It flowed through my body and spirit, as if the chords were able to penetrate hidden doorways into my soul. I was porous, living and breathing somewhere between substance and time. Gradually I became aware of a presence, a feeling that I wasn’t alone.

I saw him first, a small bearded figure, half human half goat, dancing on a small hillock playing the pipes. I immediately thought of Pan, but he was much smaller, a faun in fact. He was no more than a metre in height. And then I saw that he was surrounded by animals of all kinds, in a circle. There were shy woodland animals, squirrels and foxes, and mythological ones such as satyrs and centaurs. It was some form of animal gathering.

Stephanie Wilson
Meeting with a Faun

as if evil crept in

October 20, 2017

When he was dead I raised myself to my feet and I looked about me. Everything was still. A loneliness had come upon my soul.

There was darkness everywhere now but in the forest. And even here there were wisps of grey, as if evil crept in.

I lifted my head to the sky and I shook my fist. “Oh, I reject you. I reject your Heaven and I reject your Hell. Do as you wish with me, but know that your desires are petty and your ambitions have no meaning!”

I addressed no one. I addressed the universe. I addressed a void.

Michael Moorcock
The War Hound and the World’s Pain