Random writing inspired by pre-Raphaelite paintings

Other bloggers I’ve noticed do this thing of getting random photos off Pinintrest  and writing about them. I love the  idea but have two reasons for not being able to do exactly that – one is that I have no idea how to use Pinintrest  – two, that it is illegal to use other people’s photos. But I have always loved paintings, and felt inspired by them, and I have   e decided to do the same as them but using paintings instead of photographs. I may start to do this all the time and use all sorts of paintings – but this first day I am using pre-raphaelites – there are so many of them and they have inspired me since I was very young. You will find a lot of these ones are John William Waterhouse – and I know the real story behind almost all of them. 

 

Listening

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She laid her head against the crack in the plaster, and listened. Her dark, sleek hair, tied into a silken bunch, was pushed to one side – the lines about her mouth spoke hatred – her brows were drawn together in a slow frown, a realisation, half an acceptance and half a resistance, of sorrow – and all was contorted with regret, bitterness. She averted those eyes, full of a dark flame, which hitherto had been fixed upon the crack – and glanced with coldness, with disbelief, with incredulous bitterness, at a necklace, all freshwater pearls, with little silver balls and pieces of lapis-lazuli between, hanging upon the door. Something in her gaze, her posture, shrunk away. From love? From a knowledge of what she did not want to have a knowledge of? She was intent – unable to draw herself away from the crack. There was determination in her face – in her chin that was slightly put forward – and yet there was hopelessness.

 

A Blue Glass Bowl

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She looked at him, as she raised the bowl to her lips – her gaze pointed and serious – Really? Should I do this? Remember this moment – are you sure we want to go through with this? He nodded slowly. Once more she raised the glass dish – once more she gazed into his face, questioning. Do your realise what we are doing? 

‘I realise,’ he replied – out-loud, unlike her – she had spoken with looks. She glanced at the sea out of the large, rounded window beside her – as though asking the waves what to do. They rolled on, steady, the first like the next. She glanced at the wood of the window pane – it was steady also, and still – of course, it was wood. She glanced down at the liquid in the bowl – it was clear as crystal – from it, unlike from the waves, unlike from the wood, came an opinion. There is was, so clear, so tempting, calling her. She sipped.

 

Wilted

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It was twilight. The last rays of the sun fell dim and golden about – the shadows in the trees were growing darker. Light and shadow made the scene.

In a clearing in the forest, one birch tree shot up, silvery, from a ground scattered with the bright faces of flowers. Beside the birch was a girl. She was dressed in robes as white as the moon, which rose now, thin and fragile looking, for as yet day remained and it had not yet earned full shimmering power over the forest. Her feet were bare upon the flowery turf – a trail of ragged brown hair once soft, hung down her back, and her head was wreathed with a wilted crown of leaves. Her hands were tied tightly to the lower half of the tree, forcing her to bend uncomfortably low. Her eyes were shut – it was as if she wanted to shun the last rays of sunlight, and the brightness of the flowers below – because for her they held no pleasure – for her, a dim veil seemed to hang over all, and to see them there, glinting faintly from behind the darkness, bright and smiling for others to see, but offering no comfort for her, made them seem mocking – and she shut them out. There was suffering in her face – not suffering from the hurting tightness of the chains, nor from the un-comfort of bending low, but from inside. And yet, she seemed resigned to that suffering, as the sun was resigned to its fate of drawing back every night to shadow – and she trusted, not to hope, for hope, like white figures in the distance, had left her – but to sorrow, and put herself in his hands.

Regal Haughtiness

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All turned to the lady. She was standing, richly dressed, in the darkest corner of the room – she stepped forward now. A light smile – more like a mere hint that she was smiling in the inside, than a real smile on the outside, hung about her faintly pouted lips, red as pomegranate jewels. Her eyebrows, light gold as the hair that hung, wispy as faint strips of cloud at sunset, were raised above her pale, smooth eyelids, hiding eyes regally and haughtily cast down. The opal fixed on her high forehead by a black silken string glinted tauntingly. Her expression seemed to say – now, finally, I am looked at – what will they say now? I have not been consulted so far, though all of what they have said depends on me. It is now that my turn to have some power comes. But I will not speak – they may be in suspense a moment longer – t’will do them good. 

‘My Lady -‘ she turned toward him, revealing blue eyes savoured at this moment with a sharpness.

‘Yes,’

‘What do you say?’

The hinting of enjoyment about the corners of her mouth widened. ‘Yes, you are wanting to know that, aren’t you. And I will tell you, by and by.’

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A small voice called – she looked round. In a little brick alcove, sparsely grown with ivy, stood a little girl. She was dressed in a frilled frock covered with tiny rosebuds, and she had curls as bright as the sun and blue eyes. She was wearing a necklace of pale green stones; round her face and her frizzy gold curls was an overly large dairymaid’s bonnet. She held a letter in her hand.

‘Please m’am, here is a letter for you.’ Her blue eyes were trusting and expectant.

The tall girl took the letter out of her hand, and looked it over.

‘For you,’ said the girl ‘read it.’

‘Who sent it? My mother.’

‘I see. Have you anything sharp about you?’

The little girl took off her green glass bead necklace, and handed it to the taller girl.

‘It fastens with a hook,’. The girl stripped the envelope open, and took out the contents. The little one stood on tiptoe in her brown boots to read it. The taller girl nodded, and then took her hand.

‘Come along then.’

 

Cold Glass      72ee88ed72111e3d319f4df0f0fda231

The marble floors were cool beneath her bare feet as she walked down, and the pattern of black and white made her head spin slightly. She moved along softly and noiselessly, through the half light of the hall, and dropped down before the great shiny mirror that stood there, her soft white silks spreading on the floor, showing up snowy against the white check parts of the tiling – and she had thought a moment ago nothing could be whiter than that. Throwing back her head, she ran her fingers through the sweep of ebony black hair that hung down her back, glinting even in that dimness. The air was perfectly still; the only sounds or breaths of breeze were caused by her skirts – but they was icy sounds, icy movements, like the floor, like the cold smooth glass of the mirror. She looked at her reflection; a face of fair skin, with dark eyes beautiful behind half-closed lids, and she sighed, remembering one day. A tear glistened on her cheek – she made no attempt to brush it away, and it fell warm and wet upon her skirts, and she felt glad of its melting warmness. She looked harder at the reflection – one seeing it without knowledge of what it had seen – and endured – would have thought it fair – thought, like her one day, that the owner of it would live to have a true love, one who, perhaps, when lured by her beauty, would notice elegancies of mind also, and for this reason their love would be true. But that reflection would be deceiving them – as it had deceived her so many times.

 

Sea Spray

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She stood, and the wind whirled her dusk blue skirts, shaggy as the waves ahead of her, sending them whipping, wet with spray, against her – her hair red as timber twirled round her head and blew over her face, and she peeped out from between the strands and watched the green-blue waves smash themselves against the sharp cliffs of rock, bringing a great ship with them. She half feared for a moment that the wetness on her face was tears – she could not, would not weep for him – but it was sea spray only, and she gathered her skirts about her and stood shivering against the gail, watching the ship break to pieces in the ragged torrent of waves and sea. ‘Yes, break it,’ she whispered, and felt calm – calm and ready to watch – calmer than the waves, though her heart broke inside her even as they broke against the beach and the rocks – even as the ship splintered in the water. The sea came up and drenched her leather slippers – she pulled them off and stood barefoot on the stones, some rounded, others deadly sharp. ‘I will not shed a tear for him,’ she told herself. A piece of timber washed up on the beach beside her – she grabbed it, and breaking off a piece, enclosed it in the leather purse at her waist. Then, she began to walk out – out into the lashing, thrashing water, boiling with spray and foam, and her skirts were drenched with the straggly slashes of rain and sea. She walked on till she was near the sinking ship, and she called through the noise of the gale. A man steering looked down at her through the spray – and she looked at him, a meaning glance, as the waves crashed down over her. Then the tears fell – and fast.

 

The Taste of Primroses

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He thought back to the days when she had been a young, flower-decked girl, coming with the others to laugh and sing and worship the gods in the forest clearings. He remembered the day he met her – on just one of those rampages with the other girls – he had come with  them being new to the town and wishing to get to know some of the girls.

She turned her fair, blooming face toward him, putting her hands to her head almost protectively, and fingering her soft, thick dark hair adorned with poppies, and the eyes green as the shaded olive leaves of the forest looked seriously and questioningly – a little nervously – into his. She was wearing a loose purple garment that enhanced the faint, delicate pinkness of her cheeks – the expression of her mouth was frail, graceful, quavering; sweet – like the taste of the primroses that grew by the stream. Her voice was like that too. So faint and delicate and sweet.

And now? Where was she now – who was she now? What now were her feelings toward him? He knew the answer to that question – but he would speak it, not even in his own mind – it was too painful a knowledge to be acknowledged as a knowledge – he could not bear to think it. How soft a young creature she had been then – incapable of any hard feelings. And so she might have been still – had not – he slammed his hand onto the table and sighed.

 

Empty

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One by one they came – one by one the golden vases were emptied. Each time, the bearer felt as though her soul was emptied. There were girls in muslins the colour of sea depths – others wore garments of the colour of the olive leaves – others wore mulberry red – some were red haired, other dark haired or gold haired – but yet, all felt the same as the clear water felt into the pot. Then they walked away, carrying the vases upon their heads or shoulders, or in their hands – silent, excepting what must come, and would come.

Till the last approached. She had auburn hair tied loosely up behind her head, and she wore a cloth the colour of woody shadows, hanging gracefully in loose waves about her. She came to the edge of the pot, holding the golden jar ready for pouring – and then, something in her face changed – and she lowered the pot and set it, steadily, upon the floor. The other girls gazed at her, astounded.

‘Desdemona – aren’t you going to put in your share?’

‘No,’ the girl replied, simply. ‘And you are not going to put in yours either,’ seizing the other girl’s water container and pouring the content onto the floor.

‘Desdemona!’

‘Yes.’

‘Why? You know we all have to,’.

‘Why do we have to? Look at that fearful face – those gaping jaws, and through them the water flows, down, down. And likewise will flow your courage, your self-respect. Will you let it happen?’

‘It has to happen.’

Wildflowers

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She was the daughter of the meadow and the countryside. Her hair was the sunlight that streams through the trees, and the darker patches were of the shadows in the forest, and of that substance also were her eyes – dark and flashing as the river waters. Her skin was of the wild roses that tangled her skirts. Her lips were the rose hips that come afterward upon the prickling briar. She was born of nature and she lived by nature. She cared for nobody but the wild animal and the rambling plants. To others she was heartless – she had no heart but what she found in the wild grass of the plains and the soil of the forest. But she was honey sweet as those wild roses – and she had an edge as sharp as the thorns growing upon them.

Guarding her Own

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There she will sit ’till time and time are done’ and there the waves will lap, softly, drawing back to leave the pebbles glistening and shining like unearthly jewels. There ever will she sit, looking out with sea blue eyes tinged with a faint longing, through the smoothed archways in the rock, toward the horizon. The she will sit, guarding what is her own. There she will sit, a’coming of her long, sea-smooth red hair, and singing, with a sound like the whispering waves, and the pebbles, drawn back, and flung, with a sound of thousands, of millions, of eternities. And she wraps it about her – that of the many changing colours of the sea, that that shimmers like the pebbles, and like what is in the silver bowl that she guards for her own – down there, she sits.

Sympathy

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She sits there, upon the harsh rock, because it is what They always expected her to do. She plucks the harpstrings because it is what They always wanted her to do. And ever since she was pearl and coral, lying at the bottom of the ocean, Their wish has been her command. She is one of Them now – and cannot escape, has never wanted to escape. She is a Siren – must be a Siren – alway has been a Siren. She cannot escape now.

She saw the ship smash against the rocks and sink, slowly – what was left of it. And she saw him fall, splashing and tossing into the waves, and come toward her. Still she plucked, and she had always been taught to do – until he grasped the rock, and looked up, hollow eyed, pleading and desperate into her face. He did not know who she was – but he saw her, and knew it was she who had wrecked his companion and the only thing that bore him on and gave him life. And he knew, too, that she could save him, by only reaching out one slender hand, white as sea froth, and pulling him up – and he asked her with his eyes, pleaded with her. She looked down at him, and tasted, as she did so, something she had never tasted before – and she felt as though her heartstrings – something she had never known she had before, would be plucked if she plucked the instrument any more – so she set it to rest on the rock, and gazed down, bewildered, sympathetic. Sympathy did not belong to a Siren, and she could not bear it. She shook her head – she could not. They did not want her to.

(Note: 

The background with the arch in the rock is the same in this picture as in the one before. That is interesting – perhaps it was a real spot which the artist was fond of painting.)

 

Tell me whether you think posts like this should become a regular thing!

 

 

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The Land Of Evening

Land of Evening

=                                        When skies are pearly 

You can see it in Spring and early Summer, just a little before twilight, when the rich forget-me-not blue of the sky has paled to pearliness, tinted with a faded silver-blue like Athene’s eyes. Then the tops of the trees are dyed rich golden by the departing sun; then the horizon is a faint, tender peach colour, and the full moon comes out, a pale, fragile disk, half covered by whisps of pink cloud. Beyond that peach horizon, lies the Evening Land. It is a land of mist and dreams; a land you can neither see nor touch, only feel inside yourself – a land open to all who really want to go there. A land where there is no day, no night, only imagination and slow dreaminess – every moment is like a cloud floating by. It is part of a larger land – a larger experience, and everybody has their own way of getting there. For me, I  reach it by lying upon the grass, watching the Copper Beech branches wave above me, or I stand at the foot of the great tree, and my soul climbes it like a staircase – yes, the beech  is my bridge across – across whahat is for some an abyss – for others, nothing.

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Magic Times Page/My Birthday Morning

I just wanted to say that I added a new part of writing to my ‘magic times I will never forget’ page – which I just recently added to the blog. If none of you have noticed it there, I would love it if you would have a look – though most of it is taken from other posts so you may have read what is in it already. I have copied in the new writing I added – about my birthday morning last year – or the year before that? – below.

Path Through The Snowy Trees

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She turned the door handle slowly – glancing with eyes full of exited expectation at the smiling face of her mother, who stood beside her – and peeked in with a beating heart. She could see nothing from where she then stood – she tiptoed in, shuddering with excitement, seeming almost afraid of the happiness she was sure was coming. She then glanced toward the corner – her hands, clenched into fists, flew to her face – a motion that seemed to suggest the attempted containment of unbearable excitement – and she gasped joyously.

Smoothed onto the wall were static sheets depicting a snowy path, edged with the black trunks of trees, fading into the distance. She felt as she looked at it that she was really there, walking down that forest path. But placed in from of it was the wonder – a small, elegant little table she had seen often about the house – but it was loaded with a high pile of prettily wrapped presents, and draped with different sorts of strings of fairy lights, some decorated with dragonflies, others with roses and others with leaf skeletons. And as well as the lights, strings of fresh greenery trailed over the presents. Both lights and leaves were hanging down from another string of lights, fastened in some way from above – and the whole pile glowed in the dim room as her heart glowed with grateful joy. All together it formed a magical, otherworldly spectacle – and she felt as if, in the middle of that cold snow wood, she had suddenly stumbled upon it.

 

 

 

A Moonlight Swim


Silver Surfaced

Sea below – a great, wide mirror, surface glazed with shimmering silver – still – crisp – silent. Sky above – a great, wide veil – soft – dark – blank. Magic drifted over those silver-surfaced waters – savouring the atmosphere – filling our souls. I came to the edge of the pale sands and stood in the crystal water – shivers of icy coldness rushing through me. Then I shut my eyes and sunk effortlessly into the still silver coldness of the sea. There was another splash as my mother and brother joined me – the mirror broke – shining silver ripples spreading around us. The water was clearer and more colourless, save for the surface of moonlight, than I have ever seen it before – the many coloured pebbles shone through, glinting in the wet like precious stones. I grasped my mother’s hand and we swam together – the feeling of swimming through that mesh of moonlight and crystal was indescribably calming – and yet it was bracing too – and energising – and when I arose at last out of the chilling beauty of the water I felt fresh, and ready for something – I knew not what.

And I made sure that those special moments of magic should never leave my memory.

This really happened – it was when we were on our holiday in Spain – I will maybe be posting a few more things about days on that holiday – it was lovely.

Penelope

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Black Sea Rocks

And behind them all, with the great bow in her hand, stood Penelope. She was clothed in loose silks the colour of the far down deeps and hollows in the dark blue sea, and her dark hair that was black as the rocks round the sea shore was tied up with silver twine behind her head. She stood; serene, majestic, imposing; beautiful despite the lines of age and sorrow that marked her face. Her dark hair was streaked with white as the black sea rocks are streaked with barnacles, or like the rolling waves streaked with the white lace of sea foam. Pale also as that sea foam was her face; white as ashes. She stood in all her majesty, and though her form was a woman’s, slender and feeble as a young rowan tree that sways in fierce winds, her heart was stronger than the bronze of a man’s sword, else, it should have broken and fallen from the injury of many wounds as a tree falls to the blow of that sword. Twenty years since Odysseus had left his wife, a weak young mother, standing alone on the shores of Ithaca, sobbing her heart out, letting her tears splash into the blue waves. Now he returned to find a changed woman. The years of suffering had hardened Penelope and the weak heart and passionate tempers were gone. Here stood a woman who had suffered so much that nothing could wrench the tears from her dark eyes.

Ide Crawford

Ripples

Ripples

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It is morning. The golden sunshine that creeps through the shadowy realms of forest to fall upon the slow-moving waters of the river is beginning to gain warmth – but as yet the air retains the cold-crispness of the early day. Down the clear-water swims a swan, with white plumage smoothed down sleekly, and neck arched gracefully over the water. A serenity, a grace, a strange sadness is in its movements – and the way the dark eyes look at you seems as if the swan has been interrupted in some sad reflection, and is reproachful. But it breaks reflections itself – it breaks the reflection in the water – and causes ripples to split in pieces the sweet picture of the elms, standing straight and tall, and the green-grey willows, dipping their leaves in the water. So we can break the sweet pictures in each other’s heads.

For there are two kinds of reflections – those in the water, and those in our imagination – but in many ways they are similar to each other.

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Strong Women Who I Like

I am dreadfully sorry I have not posted for so long – I forgot to do the promised Easter post and didn’t post anything else either. This is an especially long one to make amends – and there is another (about my trip to Lud’s Church), on it’s way. This one contains retellings of the dramatic moments in the lives of my favourite brave females. They are mostly stories from legends with doubtful history behind them. 

Bramble Torn: The story of Ethelfleda’s victory against the Danes 

 ‘Go, Ethelfleda – run to safety – I will fend them off.’

‘No – I will stand by you to the last, even if the consequences should be that we both are to be slaughtered.’

‘You must go Ethelfleda, you must, love.’

‘I must not!’ cried she with a spirit.

‘Go – in the name of our wedding, go, and take your maidens with you!’

She turned her black stallion round, her hair that showed red glinting through the dark as a fire glows from behind a black veil, streaming in the wind behind her as she rode away, her heart swelling with a mixture of pride, anger, love, and sort of anguished terror. A she rode deeper into the dark shadows of the forest, she could hear cries from behind her – the cries of her beloved husband. Her wedding dress of rich purple satin snagged on a briar as she rode past – she tore it angrily away – leaving a long, jagged rip in the fine material. Her heart was beating faster than she had ever known it to before – as fast as the hooves of her stallion beat upon the ground as it ran. Then, a shaft of sunlight fell upon her, bathing her in a golden light. She was out of the forest. She had now only to gallop on, and she was sure of safety. Safety? What would safety be if Ethelred did not share it with her? She looked down at that long rip in the dress were she had torn it away from a painful, clinging bramble. And she though of what the rip in her heart would be if she tore it away from love, also a painful and a clinging thing, but bearing sweetest blooms and fruits, just like the bramble.

It was the thought that settled it for her. Once more she turned about her stallion, and called to her maidens to turn theirs too – this time, her heart was full of something other than despair and anger. It was full of courage, of strength, of joy. She turned and she rode full-gallop through the forest, bursting through the thickets and the nettles, riding, riding. Then once more the beam of sunlight fell upon her, and she faced the doomed path through the forest. Before her was the scene of slaughter, and her hungry eyes glanced from man to man, searching for her husband. He was there, lying upon the floor, but alive yet, and she saw hope in his eyes as they fell upon her. He did not blame her, then, for doing what she thought to be right – did not blame her for disobeying his so firmly given commands – no, he trusted her now, he put a hope in her. As her horse rode along, there was suddenly a new sound; not the sound of metal upon earth, but of metal upon metal, as her steed’s foot struck upon the fallen blade of her husband. She dismounted, and stopped to pick it up. It shone like a flame in the sunlight, she held it high above her head, and mounting her horse once more, she rode against the Danish warriors. The ladies behind her had found weapons too; some fallen swords like herself, others mighty sticks from the forest.

They slew or frightened away the Danes, one by one, till not a man remained with courage to fight. Then she turned, and again dismounting, flung herself beside her husband. And he smiled as he lay, and she saw he would recover from his wounds, and she saw also that he would value his wife now, more than ever he would have done had she obeyed his command and flew like a coward.

 

Cold Winds: The story of Queen Boudicca’s speech

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All eyes were turned to Queen Boudicca, as, a spark of passion flashing in her eyes as the sunlight flashes upon a silver blade, or as it bursts through a steely sky, she stood like a tigress about to leap upon her victims, and began her speech.

‘Is it natural to be struck and not to strike back – natural to watch a home sacked, the innocence of  children soiled, with meek and lowered head? A lioness would spring into battle, were her young harmed – and my young,’ (gesturing towards the two girls hiding their faces from the wind and the fright against her robes) ‘my young have been injured, mocked, and deprived of their maidenhood. When a snake is trodden upon it bites with venom; when an eagle is thwarted,  it puts its sharp beak to use! Am I any exception? While all animals, and all men may fight for their own, why may not I? They have kindled me to temper – tempered my heart as a blacksmith tempers steel. I am steel – tempered steel – my spirit will not be broken as my happiness has been. Who stands by me? Who aids me? We will burn London to ashes and the Romans with it! Can it be that you do not, like I, yearn for revenge?’

She ceased speaking, and for a moment all was hushed – at least, no human noise broke the silence, but the wind roared through the trees, and blew full in Boudicca’s upturned face, causing her long hair and her robe to stream out behind her. She remained for some time in this posture, her mouth stern and set, seeming almost to gain courage from the wind, though it chilled her face bone cold and brought tears into her stinging eyes. She whispered to herself, with a strange passion, and almost a smile on her lips – no ear that was present heard it – but you and me, reader, can tell what she said. ‘Blow wind – blow for what you are worth –  I do not care! You crush me – I will crush them!’ And her gaze burned with a scalding ferocity. Then, in a musing tone, and with a sort of a moan, ‘Am I cruel? Am I heartless? It is well that I am both. Oh, I hate them – I hate them!’

 

Under the Figs: The story of Queen Cleopatra’s suicide 

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This is not really Cleopatra but it always reminds me of her, and somehow her expression is more like how I imagine Cleopatra than any of the paintings that are actually of her

At last – the great queen was captive of the Romans – there was no escape from the shame of the victory parade which was soon to take place – except, perhaps, death. Octavian had considered this, and stationed a guard to be certain that no poison or weapons found their way into the palace were she was prisoner.

But Cleopatra had always been strong-willed, and strong-minded. If she wanted something, she never failed to get it. Even death.

Pharaoh Cleopatra was sitting upon a jeweled chair in her dressing room, watching her handmaiden adjust her short, sleek, ebony black hair, and put the last touches to her green eye-paint, and all the while she was thinking……..thinking……thinking……. She would not be carried in chains through the streets of Rome – she would not be part of their accursed victory parade – not for a million chests of silver. If she could not escape her prison, she must escape her body. How? How, where everywhere she looked there were guards? She knitted her brows and thought – and then, her eyes fell upon the bowl that stood upon the dressing table – and the answer came. The great queen smiled – smiled for the first time since Mark Anthony’s death. She would yet escape the shouts and jeers of the parade; she would yet teach Romans that she was not a woman easily thrown aside from her object.

On the 10 of August, Cleopatra dressed herself in her most splendid attire; a gown of pure white linen with a waistband of gold inlaid with lapis-lazuli, and wristbands and hair-jewels of the same – green and blue eye paint and other make-up upon her face, and the royal tork round her neck. Then she banished her maidens – all but two – her favourites. Then she signaled for ink and papyrus, and wrote, in hieroglyphics, ‘May I be buried beside Mark Anthony – he whom I loved – he who, had he lived, would have been the only one for whom I would remain in this world a moment longer.’ One of the maidens, Charmion by name, glaced at the note, and was filled with horror at what the writing suggested. She glanced up with terrified and questioning eyes at her mistress – and Cleopatra looked down upon her, with a certain tenderness, slowly nodding her lovely head, and biting her lip a little – her eyes and that motion of the lips seeming to indicate ‘I am sorry for it – very sorry – but so it must be.’ And Charmion nodded also, with tears in her eyes. She understood.’Then, mistress, I will share your fate.’ ‘It is well,’ replied Cleopatra ‘it is as I have planned. And you, Eiras?’ Adressing the other maiden, who had been attending carefully to the conversation of looks and motions between the two women, and understood pretty well what was happening. And she nodded as the other had done. ‘Now, call in the guard – tell him I would speak a little with him.’ And Erias, eager to show her love for her mistress in the last hour of their being together, sped away across the hall to do her bidding. Meanwhile, Cleopatra hurriedly pulled out a piece of glass that she carried on her person, and looked herself over in it, smoothing the dark raven hair on the back of her head into place, and rubbing away a smudge of make-up from below her eye.

The guard came prepared to be hard-hearted and cruel – he expected that Cleopatra would be trying to weedle him into helping her escape. But beauty is a strong weapon when wielded by a woman as cunning and as self-willed as the queen – and he broke all his resolutions when he saw Cleopatra, attired in her fine linen and her lapis lazuli and gold jewelry, with her glossy hair dark as the night, her faultlessly perfect face, her bright eyes green as a cat’s surrounded with eye-make-up. She smiled at him with her red lips, and he was dazzled. But he still tried to retain outward roughness, as he said, ‘My lady, I would have you aware that I am not here to betray my lord Octavian and abet your escape.’ And she laughed with her green eyes as she thought you will abet it, but it is not the sort of escape you are now thinking of – yet I do believe it is the best sort – for there will be no recapturing me after it.

‘Alas, no – I would not think of such a wicked thing – I bow totally to his command.’ It took some effort to smile heartwarmingly and say this, when she would rather have ground her teeth and spat in his face – and that of his emperor – but she would soon be showing him – soon.

‘I know I am soon to die, and I accept it without a struggle.’ Now she could tell the truth without giving herself away – she did know she was soon to die – not that there was any pleasure in telling the truth to one such as him, but it was interesting to try, and exited a certain triumph and self-satisfaction

‘Look at yourself – a strong man with the use of weapons, and the favor of your emperor – and then at me, a poor female captive. Will you refuse me one thing – a little thing – a small last wish – will your emperor refuse it when he knows – to poor me?’

‘What is it lady – be quick and speak.’

‘I have had a certain longing, recently, for two things – one, my royal throne to sit apron once more before I die – and the other, a bowl of fresh figs. I used to eat them a lot, and they will bring back old times. Will you allow my maid to go fetch me these figs, and yourself desire the throne from the emperor, for I know all my riches are in his power?’ The man was inevitably spellbound by her beauty and her obliging manner – he could not refuse, and the royal throne was brought before her.

She fingered the wrought gold of the old chair lovingly – and had it brought in to her chamber. ‘Now, which of you will fetch me figs?’ ‘I will, mistress,’ replied Charmion. ‘Then, come hither, and let me talk with you,’ she whispered something into her ear, and passed her also a something that looked like a bowl from under her robe. Charmion nodded, and stepped out.

Eiras then stayed behind to put still more jewels onto her mistress – and Cleopatra rinsed her face in cold water and then asked for more eye make-up. Soon, the maid had returned with the figs.

They were carried in a pottery bowl, the same as had stood on the table while Cleopatra’s handmaidens were putting on her jewels and make-up, and presumably what the queen had handed to Charmion. It was painted richly with pictures and hieroglyphics. Among these could be picked out one form more frequently illustrated than the others – a wriggling snake. Cleopatra seated herself silently upon the great throne, and took one of the figs into her hand. She bit into it – the taste was sweet, and as she savoured it as the last earthly taste she was ever to enjoy, there was a ‘hisssssssss’ from inside the bowl, and something crawled out and wound itself around the great Pharaoh’s arm. It was slender and slippery, with a pattern of black dashes upon its back. She glanced down at it, with eyes as green as the sea on a windless day – and as calm also, and the faintest hint of a sorrowful smile lifted the corners of her lips. But she spoke not a word, and watching the snake glide up her bare arm, continued to eat her figs, occasionally giving the snake little pokes and prods guarantied to make it angry. But after she had almost finished eating, she handed the remaining two to each of her maidens. ‘Eat it, and enjoy it, it is the last you will ever try.’ she said. ‘And now, I have another gift for you,’ passing them the snake from off her arm.

One Snowy Night: The story of Lady Matilda’s escape from Oxford Castle

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The castle stands solemn, grave and silent, and the white snow on the ground glows through the darkness of the night. The quiet wraps the countryside round like a muffling cloak, and is broken only by an owl’s call that echoes round with melancholy sound. None are awake – even the armed guards by the gate have fallen into slumber. Softly, noiselessly, the snow is falling all round. And, unseen, another shape, white also, is without sound approaching the ground. On the cold stone walls of the castle a figure is moving, climbing stealthily along, clinging to the rough walls with slender, long-fingered white hands. She reaches the bottom, and drops, alongside the snowflakes, onto the soft white ground. There she lies a moment, and then, gently, carefully, she raises herself from the ground. She is a woman, with a tall and stately figure, and dark eyes that flash, dressed in snow white, with a cascade of dark hair flowing down her back as a river flows over grey rocks. She flees by, fast as the river her hair resembles, but silent too – silent as a river that is frozen – like the one she approaches. Yes, a great wide abyss of shining ice stretches before her – the Thames in its icy sleep. She approached it somewhat cautiously – and set a foot upon the glassy surface, patterned with frost. Her feet were bare, and the ice cold of it sent a shiver all through her, but she walked on still. It was as she was only one step away from the opposite bank, that it happened. The ice broke with sharp crack that resounded through the night. She fell through, and was at once floundering in the icy water. Horror appeared on her face as she saw the guard in glinting armour rise from his sleep against the castle wall and run towards her. She struggled onto the bank, and was about to run, but another guard, unnoticed at first, who had been patrolling on the other side of the river, started up and came towards her. He grasped her slender arm – she tore it away with surprising strength, and her dark eyes flashed fire as she looked straight at him with an odd sort of gaze. He stumbled backwards, as though it had been a real flame that had suddenly hit him, and she ran on, holding her proud head high as though she was even now a queen, her hair invisible against the ebony trunks of the trees. Her dress, dripping and torn, slapped against her legs as she ran, and ran, and ran, a white and black figure blending in with the snow.

 Artemis’s Sacrifice: The story of how Agamemnon’s brave daughter was magically lifted from the sacrificial altar     
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Iphigenia was in the forest, playing with the deer, when he found her. She was dressed in a loose sky-blue robe, and her hair, dark and soft like the shadows between the trees, was twisted into a long rope, tied at the end with silver string. Her eyes were dark and soft also – dark and soft as the sky at evening, and little sparks twinkled in them like the starts in that sky. She smiled sweetly at him as he pushed his way through the trees – the sweetness cut his heart like a silver blade. So happy now, and so loving – soon, she would be neither.

‘Iphigenia,’ he thought he had spoken, but his words did not sound aloud. He tried again.

‘Iphigenia, love’.

‘Yes, Father?’

‘I am sorry – I am very sorry for this – but – but -‘ He turned his head away.

‘You must understand – that –  that – Oh, Iphigenia my daughter! I have been cursed by Artemis – a curse likely to last the whole of my life – and the beginning of it is that I shall have no wind to sail to Troy with – and I must, Iphigenia – I must, or a vow sworn on my own blood will be broken.’

‘And is there no way Father?’

‘No way, my daughter – no way. Except -‘ again he turned his head round to gaze miserably into the trees.

‘Except – a sacrifice. In the grove where I killed the deer – that is what brought the curse upon me.’

‘What sacrifice?’

‘Neither deer, nor hart, nor goat, nor cow, nor pig, nor boar, but -‘ Iphigenia’s wide dark eyes glistened as a tear fell from them.

‘I know, Father, and I will come. When is it to be?’ He swallowed hard.

‘Tomorrow.’

‘Yes, Father.’

It was early morning – the air was fresh and cool to the skin – and the birds sung on merrily enough – but to the melancholy band below the sound was changed to a funeral hymn. Dressed in white linen and barefoot, with her silken hair let down over her shoulders, Iphigenia wore no ornament but the tears beading her cheeks like glistening diamonds. She held her head high, proud in her sorrow. She had courage – but her courage was not of the sort usually heard of – she was not brave in her fury, like Boadicea, but brave in her love for her father and her self-respect.

Artemis, goddess of the hunt, likes both sorts in women – and as she looked down from the ‘blue vaults of heaven’ (I know I have used this quote before but I love it so much) her heart warmed toward the brave girl who gave her life willingly for the sake of her father’s honour. She had thought that Iphigenia would behave like most women those days – crying and shrieking and struggling – that would have hardened her heart against them at once, and she would have been able very well to look on and see the girl slaughtered at her command (for the greek gods were often cruel) – but now, she felt far more strongly for Iphigenia than she ever had for any human girl before – and she felt it would take effort to watch her die.

The dismal train below entered through the trees into the sacred glade, (find a description of the glade by clicking on the words). Iphigenia saw the celandines turn their sunny faces towards her; she saw the ground shimmer with dew-drops like a sparkling sea – she saw the beam of clear sunlight shine down upon the old oak – but sadness drew a dark veil over all.

She  was made to kneel with her hand upon the sacred oak and pray. And she did pray. She asked Artemis why she blamed her for her father’s sin? Why, as she had always loved her, must she die, and serve her no more on earth? She would never dream of refusing, but she must and would ask why – it was incomprehensible to her. And, strange to say, this melted the goddess’s heart even more than blind faith without any questioning would have done. She did not like, as the other gods liked, to have all her worshipers trust in her so much that they never asked a question. She preferred them to have life of their own. But she did not answer Iphigenia’s questions – she watched to see the silver knife dipped in the clear crystal water – and then raised.

Then it happened –  did it come from the shining dewdrops, the shining blade, the shining pool, the shining tears upon Iphigenia’s cheeks, or something else altogether? None knew – but suddenly, the clearing was filled with a flash of silver radiance, bathing all who stood their like a sharper sort of moonlight – and then it was gone, and likewise Iphigenia and the blade. Then a voice spoke – sharp and silvery as the light – melodious and sweet, but with a certain cutting coldness in it. ‘Is Agamemnon hear?’ it asked, ‘But I know he is. Agamemnon, do you hear me? Your daughter is safe – but she will never be with you again.’ The words were to Agamemnon as though the moon had drifted from behind a cloud – only to be covered up again with another – that little bit lighter than the first. The voice continued ‘I am angry – oh, I am angry – do not believe me to be saving her for your sake – had she no feelings of her own I should have made her suffer again and again – but she has proved herself brave – braver than any mortal woman has ever been before. I hope you realise, and are grateful for, the great service she has done you – in future, worship your daughter as you would a goddess – put none except I higher than she.’

For it is not like Artemis to let any truly brave girl die – she will watch over strong women, even today.

 

 

 

 

 

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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Aphrodite

IMG_3660This is a fairly random post about the greek goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite. She is generally depicted with golden hair, blue eyes and red lips, and her symbol is a dove and a heart. I once wrote a description of her in one of my stories – “beautiful Aphrodite, with her golden locks, blood red lips, sea blue eyes, and white dove”. Some more things I have written about her are below.

I did a thing like this about each god and goddess at the beginning of a book of greek myths I wrote:

Aphrodite 

Goddess of: Love and beauty

Married to: Hephaestus

 Daughter of: Born from the blood of Coronus  falling in the waves, or in other versions, simply the sea.

Represented with: A dove, a heart, a rose

Appearance: very beautiful, long golden hair, pink cheeks, pale skin, and red lips.

Character: Gentle, but very jealous, and sometimes angry

 I also wrote a piece of poetry about her birth; it’s not really proper poetry because though it does rhyme and sound pretty it doesn’t pay hardly any attention to syllables. I’m not really any Tennyson!

‘When morning sun rise up above the waves,

And paint the white sea-froth pink and red-gold,

And sea-nymphs fair-of-face  sing in their caves,

Soft gentle voices rising, luring mermen bold,

Gentle blue waves unto her pearly limbs themselved did mould.

 

Round her soft white milk throat a necklace hung

Of reddest coral beaded with clear water drops

Like jewels, sparkling, shining, glistening among

The coral, red and smooth. How sweetly then she sung!

 

Her hair like a golden mantle round her floated;

And soft lapping waves gentled her white feet,

That with the frothy white sea foam blended,

And she in a shining white shell made her seat

While on the shore the maidens waited, her to greet

 

Sea-blue and rose-pink silk was in their hands,

So fine a colour, fine a silk, so intricately patterned,

Flowers, seashells, pearls embroidered, golden bands,

Sweeping, trailing on the ground in soft golden sands”

 

And now,  this is a story I wrote about her birth:

 

Who saw Aphrodite’s birth? The rocks did, and roaring tide. Who saw the golden-haired goddess rise from the waves? I did. The rocks did. The sea did. And Botticelli did, for if he had did not how could he have painted such an accurate picture? Well, whether he did or not, whether the tide saw it or not, whether the rocks saw it or not, I did. I did, and I am going to tell you about what I saw.

It was a dark, stormy night, with sea as black as the sky above, and I, Artemis, virgin goddess of the moon and hunting, was driving my silver chariot across the dark sky; for it is my duty to give the poor mortals a beam of shimmering light on a dark night as this was.

All night I drove the chariot, and those who saw me said my dark hair was lost, camouflaged in the dark of the night, my white, silvery skin shimmered in the light of my own moon, and my beautiful, strange, wild dark eyes filled with the terrors of the forest glimmered with moon light.

It was true too, especially the part about my eyes. They were my pride and joy, and before Aphrodite came along, I was the most beautiful of all the gods.

Yes, I was there all night, driving my chariot back and forth, to light the way of a poor old couple I saw on earth. But it was when I was driving it back to Olympus, to make way for the sun god to rule the sky, that I saw her. The waters had calmed now, but they were still the colour of the sky, though now both sky and water had changed to a beautiful shimmering pale blue. White foam was dotted in the water, and the waves rolled on the sand, whispering, whispering, whispering; whispering words, and if only mortals would have listened, they could have learnt much from the waves.

It was then that it happened. A drop of reddest blood from Cronus, Zeus’s murdered father fell and polluted the water, turning it an ugly purplish red. But it soon cleared again, and was back to normal – except the one spot where the blood had fallen. That, though it was a pretty colour again, had started to fizz and buzz and cough up foam, and all of a sudden the waters parted, and there rose out of the water a naked lady. A lady so divine that the gods turned to gaze at her, and love her. Her skin was as pale as the foam of the sea she had come out of, her lips as red as the drop of blood that had caused her birth, and her hair was simmering and golden, and the very end of it was blue, so that you could not tell which was her hair and which was the water, so combined were the two. Then she stepped into a beautiful pinkish shell, and twelve beautiful dark-haired maidens dressed her in a pale pink robe with a gold pattern of waves around the edges. And Hera, wife of Zeus saw her, and brought her up to mount Olympus, saying that as she was as beautiful as a goddess, and was born from Cronus’s blood, she could share Mount Olympus with them.