‘Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse’

The Royal Academy of Arts, in London, was first founded by George the III, on 10 December 1768. Its first president was Joshua Reynolds, a painter of that time. Its aim was to encourage others to do art as well as display art, and a school of arts was established in it. The people who run it are always artists.

I went there to see the exhibition ‘Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse’.

I had been in the National Gallery all day, and as we went to see the exhibition in the evening, my eyes were tired and I was beginning to feel as though I was in a dream and not really there. So when we saw the many paintings all depicting different worlds, dreamlike and sunny, I began to feel I was in them – on an endless journey through a golden realm of dreams. They brought back memories for me – moments and feelings hanging in time, and made me feel strange. One of my favourite paintings in the exhibition was Woman in Garden by Monet. There is something about the crisp, white attire of the lady that contrasts wonderfully with the warmer colours of the flowers. It is remarkable how that one figure enhanced the whole painting. The contrast of light and shade, and the fluffy look of the trees also ads airy feeling to the painting, and the green has a beautifully cleansing, fresh affect on the eyes. I have copied in the painting below, but it does not capture the feeling as seeing it in real life does.

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We saw a painting of nasturtiums by Gustave Caillebotte, and it was interestingly patternlike.

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Another remarkable painting included in the exhibition is Glorieta de cipreses, Jardines de Aranjuez, by Satinge Rusinõl. Like Woman in a Garden, far more so than that painting in fact, it is extremely hard to capture the feeling of the painting in a photograph. So you will have to trust what I say about the remarkableness of the painting, even if it does not seem like that with you.

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It was an odd shock to the eyes when I saw it – so much so that I could not at first tell what it was of. That is the special quality of the painting – somehow the colour hits your eyes before the details hit your mind – and you are dazzled as though you looked at the sun. That room of the exhibition was called ‘Silent Gardens’ and I remember thinking that that painting was not silent at all – it seemed to be shouting at you. The foreground could be called silent – it captured well the stillness of evening – but behind it that powerful burst of colour is calling loudly, breaking the silence. It is that, perhaps, that creates the startling affect. The painting reminds me, in some vague way, of a sacred altar, but I don’t know why. It harks back, like the nasturtiums, to our old theme of patterns and art – there is a lot of symmetry; gardens are art because they have, like flowers in vases, been arranged, and also, that line of arches with creepers growing round them reminds me of the border to a cloth, or the frame of a picture.

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I found this painting very heart-warming – it reminded me of when I was younger, and Mummy taught me the names of all the plants. It also captures well the washed out, hazy affect of a mid-summer meadow.

And so, I think I had a very satisfactory trip to The Royal Academy of Arts.

 

Art Award

As I have already said, I am doing an art course (Art Award by name) for which I wrote the essay about flowers in art – and I thought you all might be interested in seeing my final art work and some of my other art. Also, I hoped some of those present when I displayed my work might be good enough to comment below about what they though of my art, and the way I presented it, so I can show the award body that I really did it.

In the previous essay I talked about nature as a pattern, and in the last sentence in particular I mentioned, while talking about the works of Charles Mackintosh, that in order to make linocuts (which is what my finished work is) of flowers, you need to do detailed sketches and study the plant,  and then use your knowledge of the way it grows, the average number of petals, ect, to simplify, and make what you are cutting into a pattern.(It is not only plants, though, that you must study and simplify, but anything).

I wanted a spring-themed woodcut, and went out to the garden to sketch and take photos.

Here are some of my sketches:

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I am quite proud of my snowdrops – the ones near the middle – I think they are the best of my sketches. You can see the patterniness in them. I like the open crocus with one petal nearly dropping off in the first page, too.

Taking photos is another good way of framing nature and beginning to turn it into art:

My daffodil sketches are below. The more rough sketch in the bottom left corner was me trying to work out how to stylise best.

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Now you can see some of my pages of stylising, after I had finished the detailed sketching.

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You can see the how the crocuses have been stylised – their petals are diamond shaped. They came to be like that because straight lines work best when you are carving – I thought they would because most of the other linocut artists use straight lines.

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The daffodils are really very much like the sketches, if you study them, except that the petals do not point backwards, but I think the graceful shape of the petals is well captured in the linocut.

After I had decided how to do the flowers, the next thing was to fit them into one design. Mum had the idea of making lots of little paper rectangles the same size as the woodcut, and then I tried fitting them into each one, and starting again when it didn’t look nice. Here is one of them.

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Then it was time to draw on the lino and cut it out:

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And here is the print itself. I’m pleased with it!

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Here are some more of my other bits of art:

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This was a cut-out made of wallpaper, photos, and different sorts of fabric, inspired by Matisse’s  Harmony in Red (the two are compared below) and some other of his works. I said about the flowers on the table cloth in the essay, that ‘the flowers on the table and walls in Harmony in Red – they are art in three different ways – in a way four. They are art because all flowers are art already, they are art because they are in a painting, they are art because they are a pattern in the painting – and they are art because they are arranged in pots and vases in the pattern.’. A similar thing is true of the flowers in the vase in my picture – they are art because they are in a picture, because they are arranged in a vase in the picture, because they are cut out of photos and other artworks to be put into the picture, and because flowers are already art.

Here are two more cutouts also inspired by Matisse

 

Some water colour crocuses – I was getting to know the flowers for the linocut with all different sorts of materials.

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I also did some water colour daffodils.

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Art Essay – Part Two – Impressionists and after

Here is the long promised second part of my essay.

Famous for his paintings of water lilies, Monet was an impressionist painter born on 14 November 1840, who said once “I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers” and he too made nature into a pattern, and explored the theme of the contrast between, and (though this is in some ways a contradiction) the similarity between, nature and art.

Impressionists were interested in painting things the way they appear, rather than how they ‘really are’. They use green and red and every colour for shading, as well as just brown and black – they think that there is no ‘real colour’ – it all depends on the lighting. A tree is not green to them – it might be white, if the sun shined brightly off the leaves – it might be red, if painted at sunset. It would be depicted in dull shades if the day were dark, or in bright shades if the day were light. The picture used for featured image is an example of this.‘Water is not pink!’ you might say. ‘It is not purple or yellow!’ Yet, the picture captures so well how the colours and reflections blur on the surface of the water. Colours also contribute not a little to the atmosphere of the painting – compare the picture below to the colourful featured image just mentioned – one mellow and soothing, the other a riot of colour.

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But even the brightly coloured paintings of waterlilies seem to suggest a slightly pensive mood, though not so much as the mellow coloured ones  – or so I think. But to continue with the original theme, notice how evenly the chrysanthemums below are spaced – also, they are not shown growing upon stems in a bed – they are painted from above, and no leaves or stem show, only a greenish, bluish background – they seem almost to be floating in the air. In one of the other paintings shown – one with a bed of blue and pink flowers with a path running through them – traces of a pattern can also be found. The leaves hanging down look like lines, and the two trunks of the trees and placed fairly evenly. Also, it is a garden, and gardens are art, if we think about it, for they have been arranged to look pretty by humans. Gardens can have patterns, too – a knot-garden, for instance, is geometrical.

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And the last painting – Coquelicots, La promenade – notice the neat row of trees along the horizon.  Aside from illustrating the theory which introduced this picture into the essay – is not it a lovely painting? Does not it capture beautifully the feeling of the sun shining down on the waving poppies and corn?

Born February 25, 1841, Renoir does lovely still life paintings of flowers, and very pretty trees likewise. Among what I think the most beautiful of his still life flowers are those below.

It is interesting, and relevant to our theme that the flowers in the last painting are in a vase with is decorated with flowers – but the flowers on the vase are made into a pattern. Camille Pissarro also has an example of this.

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Another painter who likes mixing real-life flowers and flowers in patterns, decorating tables, walls, vases etc., is Henri Matisse.

He was born in the north of France on December 31, 1869, and is constantly mixing flowers in patterns with flowers in real life. This can be seen in his famous Harmony in Red, which depicts a room with a red table and walls, and a window open looking out on a garden. But what is interesting is that the table and walls are both patterned with flowers – but real life flowers stand in a vase in the fruit bowl, and can also be seen through the window in the garden. The pattern on the table even depicts pots of flowers – and the view, being without perspective, looks in many ways like another piece of wallpaper, so that at first sight it is hard to distinguish the real flowers from the patterns, for they are all in a jumble together. The lack of perspective makes patterns and real life flowers especially mixed up together. The modern paintings often concentrate less on perspective – this may be because photographs were invented around that time – and so there was no need to paint realistically any more. A few more Matisse paintings in which flowers and patterns of flowers are mixed (like flowers in vases) are shown below.

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As you may see,  the sofa below is covered with cloths with different flowery prints on it – as is the table on which the flowers are standing. Again, the real flowers seem jumbled in with the flowery cloths.

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Another interesting thing about the still life pictures of flowers, is that the flowers in the vases are art already, by the same principle as makes gardens art (mentioned earlier on) – they have been arranged in the vase by humans. This adds a new interest to the flowers on the table and walls in Harmony in Red – they are art in three different ways – in a way four. They are art because all flowers are art already, they are art because they are in a painting, they are art because they are a pattern in the painting – and they are art because they are arranged in pots and vases in the pattern. And by the same concept, the flowers on the vase in the Renoir picture are art in three different ways – though they are without the advantage of being arranged in a vase – and indeed, we can see why this is, for it would be pretty mind boggling to have flowers arranged in a vase on a vase. It is interesting too to note that the flowers on the vase on paintings are often similar to those in the vase – the first Matisse, for instance. The pattern on that vase is grassy like the plants in it. And also the shaggy red roses in the Pissarro match the more miniature ones upon their vase, and the white flowers on the vase in the Renoir can be compared with the flowers of the same colour near the bottom.

Van Gough’s most famous flower paintings are of sunflowers and irises. His irises have far more the atmosphere of a wild forest than a neat bed – like many of his works, they seem distorted, twisted, and swirling.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh also was interested in flowers as art – and in the problem of the immortality of art/flowers – but he seemed to take a different view of both from the other artists whom we have looked at – according to him ‘art is the flower – life is the green leaf. Let every artist strive to make his flower a beautiful thing – something that will convince the world that there may be – there are – things more precious – more beautiful – more lasting than life’.

 More lasting than life – it is interesting to try and conceive what he meant by this. Is it – in contrast to the idea that seemed to be suggested by Botticelli and other artists we have looked at here – the flower itself that is one of ‘things more precious – more beautiful – more lasting than life’ or is it, as in Shakespeare’s sonnet, the flower made into art that is lasting? Does he mean to show them that the picture is a ‘thing more precious …………… more lasting than life’, or will he use the picture to show them that the flower is ‘more lasting than life’?

Mackintosh was an architect and designer as well as an artist, and he often did detailed sketches of flowers which he studied until he saw a pattern in them. This can be seen in many of his paintings – especially in the two below.

The roses strongly form a pattern – and the flowers in the other painting have been stylized and simplified. This same thing has to be done when making a linocut or woodcut.

I have to think about Mackintosh a bit – final thoughts on flowers in art coming soon…

Amongst the Leaves

This is some writing describing what happened yesterday – Mum and Dad made a rope bridge from one tree to the next on the large earthy place with a wide gravel path running round it which we call ‘the island’. What I will write is perfectly accurate, excepting that the sunset described was actually seen later as I was eating tea, not on the rope bridge. But I did see it start up there, and have blended the two parts of sunset together to help along the story. Also, the tree is not quite as leafy as it appears to be in the first few sentence.

From amongst the dark foliage, a red hardcover book, clearly old, and with thin pages, drops down and lands with a thud and a little flurry of soil upon the springy turf. It is quickly followed by a foot, clothed in a high brown boot in the style which was worn in the victorian period, and laced all the way up, which sets itself upon a rough nub in the bark. Another foot and the bottom of a pink cotton skirt, patterned with lily-of-the-valley, red daises and other flowers, soon emerge.

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Then, the whole figure jumps lightly down with the help of a rope-ladder and the rough bark which has in it many footholds. She is clothed in a dress the bottom of which has been already described, and also an olive green cord jacket with a modest frill along the line of buttons, and a little motif that matched her skirts upon the right arm. Her hair is chin-length, glossy and dark, and somewhat wild after her long repose in the tree. She picks up the red book, and skips merrily away toward the house that stands nearby. 

She is gone; let us approach and view the spot that she had left. Around eight feet from the ground – nine in some places – a bridge of ropes hung across two forking evergreens. It was simply constructed, with two ropes for hand rails, and two more below, lashed together with another rope which also made some large triangles along the sides, forming sort of walls.  

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On one side of the first tree hung a rope ladder – on the other a knotted rope, and some little wooden steps which had clearly also played a part in the accent were lying about, half fallen over, at the foot of the tree.

It had been Mother’s idea – and once thought of it was soon carried out – as soon, that is, as was possible in a house inhabited by two young boys. The convenient forks in the trees made it an easy task to preform, and soon, the little girl whom we just saw, had ascended up by means of the knotted rope. 

It was lovely – truly lovely – to sit upon the swaying ropes, feeling the at some moments awful, but in all incredible, feeling of being there, actually in the air so far above the heads of the adults who waited, looking up, at the bottom of the trees. After looking her fill at the ground and the faces below, she glanced upward then, and there was a certain shock in doing so. A moment ago she had been triumphantly looking down, thinking how wonderful it was she that was up there, where only birds had been destined to go; now, she was reminded by the dizzying stretch of branches above, of how small and insignificant she yet remained compared with these great things of nature – that however wonderful a thing you might think you had done, Gia had endless wonders and great things still left to humble you with. 

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The many trunks shooting upwards made the same mighty and serene impression  upon you as the great pillars of temple might, and the layers of branches all fanned out from the trunk like a peacock’s tail. The evening sun shone upon the bark of the trees, which was painted green with lichen, and made patterns with shade and light upon the ground far below.

As she rocked there, upon the ropes, the evening drew on, closer, and softly, night dropped a grey veil over the sunny garden. In the west, streaks of soft Tiepolo pink floated across the soft blue sky like veils, till the whole sky was streaked with pink, blue, and in some places even a little yellowish green. The ‘blue isles of heaven’ were a burst of gentle colour, and in what, had the sky been a dome, would have been the highest point, was a graceful, fragile moon, looking down with a serene grace upon the world, and upon that little girl, perched there among the trees. No doubt it favoured her – for the moon’s personification was Artemis – and she favours all climbers, all who value nature, especially trees. 

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It Is the First Mild Day of March

Yesterday, was ‘the first mild day of March’ i.e, the first warm day of that season, which we always celebrate by reading aloud Wordsworth’s poem, which goes

‘It is the first mild day of March, 

Each moment sweeter than before, 

The redbreast sings from the tall larch

That stands beside our door. 

There is a blessing in the air, 

That seems a sense of joy to yield, 

The the bare trees and mountains bare, 

And the grass in the green field.

And so on. I know there are some people who would claim that Spring does not begin until near the end of March, but every novel, piece of poetry, or garden, for that matter, is against these people – and I am too. At least –  I am against them in the sense that I do not believe early March is never Spring, nor do I believe it is always so. I believe that when green bulbs are shooting up from the ground – when the sky is blue without a cloud, when the bare trees are budding and primroses grow round our feet, it is Spring. It is this which defines when that lovely season comes – not any number on the calendar. The poem which brought us onto this topic itself argues this, and clearly with the disputed right March has to be often called the first month of Spring in mind –

‘No joyless forms shall regulate

Our living calendar:

We from to-day, my friend, will date

The opening of the year’

Let me continue – we had a lovely day. Mum and Granny brought out some little plastic cases for plants with parcels of compost that puff up when you put warm water on them inside, and we put planted some vegetable seeds in in them. I made some labels to stick on the top of the plastic lids so we knew which plants were which. It is so exiting to think it will soon be Summer again, with the garden as lush and green as Paradise, or the Elysian Fields.

I will take this opportunity of copying in a part of A Macclesfield Maiden (a semi-autobiography I am writing) that describes the garden in the months of May and June, for I think it is necessary for the readers of my blog to get some idea of what it looks like.

It was apring, and the garden was leafy, green and blooming. The white paint of the old Georgian house was radiant amid its leafy trimming, and the large bay-windows glinted in the morning sun. The rose shrubs were dotted over with blooms of every shade of pink, and glossy leaves shone in harmony with the polished windows. The mossy lawn was all sprinkled with daises and speedwell, and little clover. The buttercups looked like tiny golden cups of radiant sunlight. Above the lawn was a patch of grass which would later in the year blossom into a wild meadow, white with oxeye daisies and dotted with the pink of ragged robin and red champion. Then the whole thing would be a tangle of bright, loose, flowing flowers and grasses. Now, before the stage of flowery glory, it had a softer beauty; one could see the deferent shapes of the leaves; ferny vetch, bitter salad burnet, common clover, and the tiny, delicate little leaves of the honey-golden birds foot trefoil. And here and there among the delicate leaves you might find a little treasure; a small flower, burning with brightest colours. The meadow in its early days looked very much like a detail of grass around the feet of the three graces in the Primavera. The painting shows with so much detail the grace of the ferny leaves and long-stemmed tiny flowers that grow amongst them. 

At the top of this flowery patch of ground was a wide cobbled place. If you turned off this area to the left, you were in a parterre hedged with box and rosemary, with gravel paths, and a monument edged with time and topped with a grecian stone vase. If you continued straight a head, you entered into another garden, walled by somewhat crumbling yorkshire stone, and slightly shaded by the overhanging branches of the elm trees. The sun shone through the green elm leaves so that they looked like pale stained glass in a church window. Two beds edged this garden, both full of rich soil, and full of many plants. At the top of the garden was a small stone area with fruit trees growing along the wall at the back of it. But now we must travel back down the garden, and turn our faces once more to the green lawn, for it is there that we will find our heroine. Do you see the bright lawn once more, with its rose bushes and herbs, and the great white house behind it?

On a little grassy hill, with her head just under a branch of one of the taller rose bushes, a little girl sat, quietly reading. She had crisply curling shoulder-length hair of deep brown, the colour of fresh, rich garden soil, and the sun was shining upon it so brightly that it gave it a bright sheen like polished copper. Her eyes were of a clear sky blue; they looked just like the sky. She lowered her book, and looked around her and bright, shining garden.

Now, can you all picture the garden round my house?

Hear are some photos of yesterday

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That low wall in front of the grassy hill is where the girl in the story (me) was sitting. Notice the rose bushes.

Is not that crocus exquisitely lovely? Look at the delicate stripes up the petals – a bit like leaf skeletons, or like the topmost branches of the copper beech when they seem to net together.  That crocus, and another one which is shown in the ‘featured image’, are actually as old as the copper beech. I mean, of course they haven’t had flowers on them all through those many winters, but their bulbs are as old as the copper beech. There used to be lots and then someone dumped a load of earth on top to make the ground flatter, and only these have managed to grow through. It is astonishing how much people these days seem to like covering up beautiful things. I didn’t mention it in the post, but Steve and Julie told us that the beautiful old oak door which I described in ‘Bronte Country’ used to be covered in chip-board, and they had to scrape it all off. Can you believe that! And when we first came to our house, people had put tarmac all over the old cobbles, and gravel over the paving stones. I do not think it is fair to the people who lived long ago to cover up all their work – or to nature to cover up her work.

I do not wish to end this entry with complaining, so I will make one more description of the loveliness of our day.

It  is truly incredible in how bright a mood a bright day can put me – the sunlight in the air seems to flow inside and light my very soul. I am truly blessed to have such a wonderful garden, however much people may have tried to ruin it with tarmac and gravel. How lovely it is to roam about it, looking at the primroses and the daffodils and snowdrops and crocuses, and to sit upon the soft, spongey moss that grows amongst the grass.

Note for those who are impatient to hear more about Bronte Country: I have not completely neglected the story of our trip to Ponden Hall – I am actually writing another entry about it. But I will not be posting much of anything for a few days, because I am trying to get the second half of the art essay done for my art course. When I do, I will publish that on here.

The Tree That Has Seen Many Times

I was out in the garden earlier – evening was falling, and I was spending some time with the copper-beech. It is a wonderful tree – in so many ways wonderful. I have written this about the experience.

She puts her arms as far as they can reach around the trunk – it is not very far. The huge trunk must be at least three times as wide as any other tree in the garden – except perhaps the yew – a great old tree, dark, spooky and scraggy, which like the beach had no doubt seen many times. Lightly, she feels along the rough bark with her small fingers. The great trunk of the tree is full of many gashes and blemishes, some of which look like long ago they might have been a name carved into the trunk when the tree was young, and have now become illegible from its growing.

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She looks upward, ever upward, following with her eyes the knotty, twisted, winding trunk as it turns and branches upward toward the sky. Looking up like this gives her a strange, dizzying feeling, like looking up a staircase of time. The dark twigs are silhouetted against the faintly darkening blue sky, and one branch has some withered leaves upon it that have stayed attached all through the winter. A few lines of Tennyson come into her head. They described an oak tree, but they were perfect for describing the beech as well – ‘And the solemn oak tree sigheth, thick leaved, ambrosial, with ancient melody of inward agony’. She thinks – and it was a thought that her mind could hardly hold – how many hands must have touched the bark which she touched now – a Georgian or Victorian lady, perhaps, in a wide crinoline and lace sleeves. Was there ever another, she wonders, who loves you, tree, as I do?  I wonder…….. She puts her foot upon a knot near the bottom of the trunk, and raises herself so she can see over the hedge and into the neighbour’s garden. I am on the edge of two gardens, she thinks, and able to see into both, as you, great tree, are on the edge of two times, and able to see into both. How odd a thought that is…

Oh, how lovely, a little robin! – as one of the red-breasted birds flew up from a bush on the other side on the hedge with a little flurry of brown wings.

She now remembered – alas –  that there was tea to be eaten, and with a word of farewell, she turned to run up the grassy path. As she ran, she took a glance behind her at the tree, and a memory came back to her  – of a day when she had been sitting by the radiator, looking out the window. It seemed to her then, that the bare rose bushes in the garden and the view behind them were stirring and and waving and rippling like a reflection in the water. Her  mother told her that this was the tapestry of time being blown around – that it might one day be thrown right back for a moment, and she might have a glimpse of the past behind it. Her father told her that it was not magic – that it was the heat-waves from the radiator that made it look odd. But she had always half believed it was the time tapestry, especially when, as she was playing in the garden, and nowhere near a heater, it seemed to her that it again happened.  

So she almost expected, despite knowing it to be impossible, that she would see the beech wave and dip as had happened before, when she  looked back. But she did not.  

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Snowy Beech and Snowy Garden

As usual, the snow has to wait for March (which, according to Wordsworth, and many other poets is supposed to be full of spring flowers) before it comes. But it is lovely when it does. It has been snowing all day here – and I’ve written a little description while watching it.

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The beach stands tall like a great white fountain with a net of snowy branches crossing each other – silver as the moon. The snowflakes whirl down around it – great and soft like feathers – falling, falling, falling. Gazing up into the great grey sky I see them twirling and dancing – the feeling is incredible – I am sucked into a mist of white.

The snow covers the tops of the bushes like custard – the rose hips look as red in the snow as the drop of blood from the finger of Snow-White’s mother must have done when it fell into the same substance. Far away, more silver branches net together – a cloudy mistiness seems to hide everything that’s at all in the distance. The grass is gracefully bent down under the wight of the snow; the roofs of the houses are white – every moment I expect the snow queen to come rushing out of one of those clusters of snowy trees, a silver cloak flapping behind her. 

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And now, I think I’ll copy in a bit of Arthurian Legend I tried to retell a while ago – a snowy scene about the meeting of Arthur and Guinevere.

She stopped and dismounted from the white steed, weary from long riding, and stood for a while in the cold, crisp snow, looking about her at the branches of the trees, ebony black against the cold white snow, and bare of leaves. The forest glimmered and glinted, alive with sparkle, and the air was crisp and cold and brilliant. Guinevere stood still, stunned by the icy beauty of it all. Beside her hung icicles, clear and sharp and dangerous; dripping water in little droplets from their sharp pointes onto the smooth white snow. She noted the glazed and shining sides, how the frost made rough white swirling patterns on the smooth clear glassiness of them. Then softly, very softly, the snow began to fall like large soft feathers onto the white ground. Those flakes were strange things; soft and gentle, yet dangerous, icy and able to freeze anything that Winter wished to add to Her riches. Guinevere shivered in a sudden cold.

Through the slivery trunks of a forest of birches, she saw the hart pursued by the hunt, leaping between the braches, agile, elegant, graceful, and yet pathetic, and suddenly she felt a pang of pity for the poor creature, hunted for its life. Why do they hunt it? What harm has it ever done them? Do they feel no pity, ever, when they catch the game? Do they never think, never stop to admire its courage, its bravery to run so far and so fast in terror? I were hunted, they would surely take pity on me

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Then she saw a steel-tipped arrow sail through the air between the trees and pierce the downy-smoothness of the deer’s fur, and a drop of reddest blood fell upon the crisp white snow. A tear fell from her clear blue eyes, and as it dropped noiselessly upon the white snow it melted the sparkling ice crystals. She idly broke of an icicle from the rock above her, and held it pointing towards her heart, though she did not know it was so, sharp pointed like a dagger in her small white hands. Water dripped from the sharp point and froze in the air, for it was so cold. There was something wrong today … And yet, in a strange sort of way, she felt joyful as well. It was all so beautiful; the snow fell, the crystals glinted, sunlight flashed on the icicles hanging from the trees. The day was so still, and so cold, and so magical.

Then through the trees she saw the deer, lying amongst the blood on the snow, and her tears fell again, till the icicle she was holding melted and fell – a trickle of water on her white silk gown. Snow fell softly on the trees, and on Guinevere.

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Arthur found himself separated from the hunt. The snowy trees looked almost identical, the paths twisted and wound, and the hart leaped through white trees and bushes and was hard to follow. His black charger was silhouetted against the softly falling snow as it reared and leaped. Arthur loosed another arrow blindly into the snow, not knowing whether it hit his quarry or not. He could no longer control his horse. It ran wild, as if sensing approaching danger. Somehow he too felt a sense of doom as he followed the winding paths, deeper and deeper into the wood. With every twist and bend and twirl of the path, the suspense seemed layered on his heart. He rounded one more bend and braced himself for whatever terrible thing lay ahead; for he was sure it was terrible. But it wasn’t terrible at all. 

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A maiden dressed in smooth white silk stood ankle deep in snow. Snow was piled up around her in a thousand diamond glints, and icicles hung like daggers above her head. Sunlight shone behind her as it shines from the Madonna’s   halo in Renaissance paintings, and trees stood like silver fountains around her.  The maiden herself, white-faced and white-gowned amongst the white, white snow, with an embroidered silver cloak hanging behind her, was hardly visible but for her red lips, dark hair and shining eyes. Snow fell softly around her and onto her smooth, lovely dark hair, but the flaxes simply melted into drops of dewy water beading her hair like jewels, for she was a warm; warm of body and warm hearted, despite the icy cold snow that surrounded her. He saw that tears were running down her pale face, and her eyes were glazed and shining with wonder. One hand held her white silken skirts in graceful waves above the snow, and the other was held unconsciously touching her heart. Arthur blinked in the blinding light that it seemed to him had suddenly flooded the clearing. He stared into her beautiful eyes, ever-changing from indigo to violet like the shadows on the snow, her lips as red had been the drop of blood from the deer, her face so coldly perfect.

She did not seem to see Arthur; she kept on gazing straight ahead of her as though in a trance. Then her eyes flickered for a moment, and narrowed as they fell upon the handsome youth in hunting clothes in front of her, who stood and gazed at her, one hand controlling the coal black stallion at his side. She looked at him blankly, her face sad and cold and completely bare of feeling, as if to say: ‘Why are you staring at me? Go your way and leave me to my grieving.’ Aloud she said: ‘I see you found your prey,’ and her voice was like a mix of ice and fire. Arthur did not reply. Suddenly he felt dizzy, dazzled by his own emotion. ‘The deer lies yonder; do you not see the blood on the snow?’ There was coldness in her voice that made him feel as if his heart had been pierced by one of the sharp icicles that hung beside her. Why did it hurt him so? Why did he feel so strange and wonderful?

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He stood there, staring at the dazzling white snow, and the maiden’s dazzling beauty. A single burning flame seemed suddenly to light in his heart, and his eyes blurred with strange tears so he saw nothing but the glitter of snow. Then a shaft of sunlight burst through the trees and fell upon the snowy maiden, at it was as if she was made of ice, for she seemed to melt before Arthur’s very eyes, and when he saw her again she was riding far away from him, and from the snowy wood, side-saddle upon the gilded leather of her snow white stallion. Arthur stayed for some minutes staring at where the lady had stood, staring, staring after her, watching her till she was out of sight. A drop of snow fell from the sliver-fountain-branches of the snowy trees, and settled on Arthur’s hands. A little, white, snowflake. A tiny, trivial thing that did not seem to matter; we brush away snowflakes from our clothes all winter, without a thought. Yes, a tiny trivial thing; but beautiful. Very, very beautiful, and full of meaning.

He stared at that solitary snowflake for some time, and watched it melt on the warmness of his hands, and he had watched Guinevere melt into the snowy silence of the forest. His eyes stared blankly, seeing nothing, deep in thought. Then he jerked himself suddenly back into real life; like one awaking from a dream, and, looking about  him as if he saw the world clearly for the first time, turned his horse and rode away, and for the moment thought no more of it than that he had seen a pretty girl in forest.

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As for Guinevere, strange to say, she thought of him far more than he thought of her, but her thoughts were all of contempt. Perhaps things would have been different if they first met when King Leodegrance presented her formally as his daughter in the warm, crowded hall, when he knew who she was, and what she was. But that was not the way Arthur’s fate unwound. It is almost a contradiction when you say – ‘it was fate that they should meet by accident’- but it is true. There are some who say they should never have met each other, for Arthur was made of a solid, human thing, that people could trust and understand, whereas Guinevere was hollow. Not selfish or untruthful, exactly, but hollow. There is some truth in this, but not much. Both Arthur and Guinevere were solid, and what went on between them was perfectly truthful, but not the same as understandable, and not known. People have tried to find out many times, and have never succeeded. And they will keep on trying, but I do not think they will ever succeed. Mark my words; that does not mean it is a waste to try. It is not a waste at all. And that is why I myself am going to try, because the only way to find out, it to write about it.

 

Now, here are some snowy photos I have just taken.

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