Monday, 18 April 2016

Hebe's chant on perception

From time to time I like to re-post this, just because I think it's brilliant.

It's by our Hebe who also painted this picture for the original cover of The Breath of Peace. I think the picture's brilliant, too.

Anyway - here's the chant:

Seeing yourself – a chant on perception

When you see your face in the mirror,
Don’t be dissatisfied with what you see.
For your face is only one part of you.

There are parts of you that you cannot see.
There are parts of you that you will never know;
You cannot know how beautiful you are to others.

There is also a part of you
That others can never know;
The part of you that is only for you to see,
And it is beautiful in its mystery.

I believe there is a God,
And he knows all of you and me.
He knows the things that I cannot know – 
The parts that only you can see.

But he also knows what I know,
And the parts you can never see,
God can see the whole of us – 
Even that which is a mystery.

When you look at your face and your body,
Don’t be dissatisfied with what you see; 
For beauty is not only in that which is visible,
But also in parts that are not seen.

And do not think that any part of you is ugly,
Even the inside part of you:
For part of the beauty that is you
Is when every part of you is together.

A body is far more beautiful alive than when it is dead;
But, when all is said and done,
We cannot know how beautiful we are
’Til we see what God sees.

And do not be afraid when you are changing –
Your face or the inside of you; 
For that’s what it is to be alive.

If you ever feel misunderstood,
Ugly, or even invisible,
Know that, because I have seen you and known a part of you,
There is a part of you that is a part of me.

Can you see that we are a part of each other, then?
So what you see in the mirror is not all of you:
Don’t be trapped by feelings of inadequacy;
Let it be a mystery, and let it set you free.

So do not be unhappy with your body – 
Love it, for it is part of your wholeness;
And if you cannot do that,
Love it because it is part of mine.

(Words of chant © Hebe Wilcock 2006)

Monday, 11 April 2016

The sonnet in The Beautiful Thread (2)

As Brother Conradus, anticipating his mother’s visit to St Alcuin’s, says to his abbot: “You will love her, Father John. You will absolutely love her.”

And Brother Conradus turns out to be quite right.

Conradus’s mother Rose – already well-known to the community through the many nuggets of her wisdom they’ve had passed on to them by her son – arrives at the abbot’s lodge after he’s undergone a succession of awkward encounters with difficult people. He’s feeling, to put it mildly, somewhat stressed.

Opening the door to the abbey court, trying to force himself to address one of the many tasks awaiting his attention, he catches sight of Brother Conradus making his way towards the abbot’s house, bringing a visitor:
“It was then, as he stood in the doorway of his house, within the shadow of its frame, that he saw Brother Conradus crossing the court towards him with a comfortably proportioned woman who simply had to be his mother. Deep in happy conversation, Brother Conradus gesticulating and laughing, pausing to point out the checker as they passed it, the door to the refectory, the windows of the library above, they made slow progress. And then she broke off to walk across, over to the wall beneath the refectory windows where a mass of bluebells, fading now but still in bloom, gave out such a glorious fragrance. And John watched her kneel unselfconsciously and unaffectedly, putting her hands to the flowers, bending her face to them, breathing in the perfume. Brother Conradus came to stand beside her, and she turned her head, lifting her face, her smile full of delight and appreciation. That’s where he gets it from, then, thought John. I wish more of your sons had vocations, Rose. We could do with the whole tribe up here.

The abbot receives Rose into his house, and they have their first conversation. If you pick out their dialogue with one another from its setting, you’ll see that their conversation forms a sonnet:

“Will you be weary now? Shall you first rest?”
“I’ve ridden far, but I am eager, too – ”
“To hear about the wedding? Is that best?”
“Oh yes – but more, to spend some time with you.
Our lad writes home about his Abbot John
In every single letter that he sends.”
“Aye, Rose – we likewise know you through your son;
I almost feel that we’re already friends.”
“Then may I – but I don’t want to impose.
If I would be a nuisance, you must say – ”
“Ah, no! You are most truly welcome, Rose.
I’ve been so looking forward to this day.”
“It’s such a big adventure to come here!”
“You’re welcome, with wide open arms, my dear.”

This is not my idea but Shakespeare’s – it was a literary stratagem for conveying the harmony – the congruence – between two individuals.

In his play Romeo and Juliet, when Romeo first notices Juliet he soliloquises in iambic pentameter—that is, in lines ten syllables long, with accents falling on every second syllable, as in: O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
The soliloquy is in rhyming couplets – similar to, but not precisely, sonnet form (a sonnet has fourteen lines):
O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear;
Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear!
So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows,
As yonder lady o’er her fellows shows.
The measure done, I’ll watch her place of stand,
And, touching hers, make blessed my rude hand.
Did my heart love till now? forswear it, sight!
For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.

The power of this is that it expresses a lyrical moment – when Romeo’s soul is suddenly caught up into harmony, the beautiful melody of love.

Later, as Romeo and Juliet meet, the dialogue between them now forms a true sonnet:

If I profane with my unworthiest hand 
This holy shrine, the gentle sin is this: 
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand 
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss. 

Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much, 
Which mannerly devotion shows in this; 
For saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch, 
And palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss. 

Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too? 

Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer. 

O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do; 
They pray — grant thou, lest faith turn to despair. 

Saints do not move, though grant for prayers' sake. 

Then move not, while my prayer's effect I take. 

On his own, the poetry of Romeo’s soul is incomplete; put him together with Juliet, and the poetry is consummated. It speaks, as you can see, of their quality of their relationship.

Because of the sonnet’s structure – its compactness, the call-and response evoked by its rhyme scheme; the flirtation and teasing of proposition and response, the pleasing resolution of the volta at the end – enhanced by Shakespeare into a rhyming couplet. It’s a love affair in verse, and Shakespeare, arguably better than anyone, perfected the art of love’s expression in sonnet form – Had I no ear nor eyes, to hear nor see, Yet should I be in love by touching thee.

I borrowed the idea to communicate the instinctive and immediate harmony between Rose and Abbot John.

Their love – like Romeo and Juliet’s – cannot be; but its potential is nonetheless rich and beautiful; undeniable.

And sometimes, whatever our realistic possibilities, that’s how life is.

Friday, 8 April 2016

The sonnet in The Beautiful Thread

During the Middle Ages, there were so many social, political and theological constraints. To step outside convention and orthodoxy was dangerous – it could cost your life.

Maybe because it was so, artists and writers became adept at coded signals. The medieval mind loved patterns and riddles, ever seeking and inserting hidden messages – in poetic forms, in the physical attitudes and attributes and attire of the subjects of paintings, in juxtapositions and order, in shapes that called to mind other shapes. So much was said in what remained unsaid: and people became accustomed to looking for the silenced word.

In his plays, Shakespeare conveys much about relationship – harmonies and disharmonies – by the forms in which he presents dialogues and soliloquies.

The Hawk and the Dove series is written throughout in prose evocative of the medieval mindset. Some reviewers express disappointment at the modernity of some of the phraseology – but what I tried to do was express the spirit I found in medieval attitudes and writing, not recreate the forms. Though here and there I’ve enjoyed working with medieval literary conventions – for example, the frame tale form of the first two volumes and the evocation of the Fioretti in the vignettes of those first two books.

And I wonder – if you have read The Beautiful Thread, did you find the sonnet hidden in it?