An Appreciation of the Natural World

“A walk is only a step away from a story, and every path tells.”
~ Robert Macfarlane

I hope you are having a good summer!  Yesterday, here in the UK, we had the hottest day of the year, and the second hottest day ever of recorded temperatures in the UK – a scorching 38.1 degrees. Heaven knows how people in Paris coped with 42 degrees!

For my part, I was helping to lug timbers for my garden cabin from the driveway to the back garden, with my son and the builders. I was feeling like a wilted flower after that…

It’s a short one from me today, as we are travelling in a few hours, but I’ll be back (hopefully rejuvenated and invigorated), after my holiday.

I make it a habit (most days), to take a short walk in and around the mini-meadow and woods near our home after I drop my daughter at school.  It gets my blood flowing, ideas streaming and just sets me up for the day. That quiet time spent in the natural world revitalises my mind, body and spirit, connects me to nature and fills me with gratitude for the beauty on my doorstep.

A recent report has cited the importance of getting at least 2 hours per week in nature to promote health and well-being. It’s important for our microbiome too, being in contact with mud, bark, leaves and all the bacteria that live outdoors that we need for inner diversity.

I’m looking forward to exploring parts of different landscapes with my family in Iceland, the USA and Canada over the next two weeks.

I’m aware I need to practice poetry, it’s not easy for me, but I still enjoy the discipline of expressing my thoughts in that medium when the mood takes me.

The Mini-meadow

Body wanders where spirit directs me,

A mini meadow beckons; green show-stopper,

Crisscrossed by perambulating bees,

Drawn to hypnotic strumming of grasshoppers,

Accompanied by pigeons, softly cooing,

As wild flowers sway in the breeze,

A small, but vibrant oasis blooming,

Butterflies flit from flowers to trees.

Here, in the long grass, energy abounds,

Nature’s summer symphony astounds…

Blackberry buds are preparing to ripen,

Berries cluster, fulsome and shiny,

Mossy stumps are covered in lichen,

Early morn, here, in this magical prairie,

A weary soul escapes to soar,

Up beyond the wood’s silent sentinels,

Their boughs whispering to reassure:

Cherish the canopied path; Earth’s angels.

Insects mate on a pure bed of petals,

Avoiding the prickly purple thistles.

Striding beneath the dappled sunlight,

Soles cushioned on withered acorns,

Roaming like Artemis: a goddesses’ delight

Fills my veins; unbridled freedom born,

Relishing the sensory arousal of wilderness,

The twitching of tails and fleeting glimpses,

Of squirrels darting – spritely grey litheness,

Birds warbling and singing, sonic spritzes.

The woods and mini meadow are my sanctuary,

Urban antidote – a place to linger and tarry.

By Virginia Burges

Walks in the Austrian countryside inspired Beethoven’s evocative and beautifully bucolic 6th symphony. We certainly had a storm like his musical one two nights ago!

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a true poet of the natural world, Robert Macfarlane, talking about the landscape and the human heart:

“There is no mystery in this association of woods and otherworlds, for as anyone who has walked the woods knows, they are places of correspondence, of call and answer. Visual affinities of colour, relief and texture abound. A fallen branch echoes the deltoid form of a streambed into which it has come to rest. Chrome yellow autumn elm leaves find their colour rhyme in the eye-ring of the blackbird. Different aspects of the forest link unexpectedly with each other, and so it is that within the stories, different times and worlds can be joined.”
~ Robert Macfarlane, The Wild Places

O Shakespeare, Shakespeare, wherefore art thou Shakespeare?

“After God, Shakespeare has created most.” ~ Alexandre Dumas

As February is famed for the commemoration of Saint Valentine, as well as being heart health month in the USA and UK, I thought it would be good to celebrate with a love-in devoted to William Shakespeare. Plus, I never need an excuse for a spot of Bardolatry, especially on a #ShakespeareSunday.

No-one in the canon of the English language has written more about love and its many faces, forms and facets than our Will.

Shakespeare’s insight into the foibles of human nature still resonate over 400 years since he quilled his immortal sonnets and plays. Observations from his frequently performed works often can provide a parallel to our personal lives as well as current events.

Take one of Shakespeare’s most vile villains – Richard III. His ruthless ambition for the crown of England and all the foul deeds he undertook in his quest for power were relinquished in a heartbeat in the face of death at the Battle of Bosworth Field. The last words Shakespeare puts into king Richard’s screaming mouth as, sans steed, he is about to be butchered are: “A horse! A Horse! My kingdom for a horse!”

David Garrick as Richard III by William Hogarth

The small things we take for granted are often the things we miss the most when they’re gone, and our need is great. Robust health is one that springs to mind.

Love is surely the state of being that is taken for granted the most. Those thoughtful acts of kindness and love that are performed daily and thought nothing of are sorely missed by the receiver when the doer is no longer willing or able to perform them.

But unconditional love is a divine blessing, it’s the only emotion that provides an infinite supply. The more you give away the more flows to you and through you.

Shakespeare’s sonnets, poems, comedies, histories and tragedies embody eternal human qualities and struggles, captured with such eloquent expression that the mysteries surrounding his life and his status as a god of literature – one of the greatest writers and dramatists that ever lived – shows no sign of slowing or abating. He is everywhere – almost, dare I say – ubiquitous.

Shakespeare is so often reduced to soundbites, but that’s because he wrote so many fantastic pithy phrases and unforgettable one-liners. Not to mention the plethora of new words he introduced into the English language that we frequently use today, without realising their origin.

When it came to phrase-making, he was second to none! (Also one of his).

“The best known and least known of figures.” ~ Bill Bryson

But the Bard is so much more than the sum of his genius parts. For my part I found Shakespeare heavy going at school, but I have come to love and appreciate his way with words as I have matured.

How like a winter hath my absence been
From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!
What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen!
~ William Shakespeare from Sonnet 97

Shakespeare was, and still is, a man of the people. London’s burgeoning East End was his stomping ground, along with his fellow players of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, which became the King’s Men during the reign of James I.

The Opiate of the People

In Shakespeare’s time eighty percent of the population were illiterate. His plays were meant primarily to be seen rather than read.

But you can’t please everyone, and even though he was loved by ordinary people and royalty alike, Shakespeare still had his detractors. He was envied by the playwright Robert Greene, who ungraciously labelled him an ‘upstart crowe’ in his 1592 autobiography. It is poetic justice that no one remembers the critics…

Romeo and Juliet

Probably the first play to be staged that had romantic love as its central theme, with an onstage kiss for good measure! It is based on Arthur Brooke’s 1562 poem, The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet.

Anthony, Viscount Montagu (his patron, Henry Wriothesley’s grandfather), may have inspired Shakespeare’s choice of name for the family foes of the Capulets.

Romeo and Juliet by Sir Frank Dicksee c. 1884

O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.

I always used to think that Juliet was asking, albeit in poetic fashion, the location of her paramour, but in fact, ‘wherefore’ means ‘why’.  She is pondering on the existential crisis of why she had the misfortune to fall in love with a Montague, a sworn enemy of her family.

Blaise Pascale summed it up perfectly: “The heart has its reasons which reason knows not.”

It seems forbidden love (or any kind for that matter), is something humans still fall into in the 21st century, as those in the grasp of its all-consuming intensity will know. There are many wonderful adaptations of Romeo and Juliet, I particularly enjoyed the most recent film (screenplay by Julian Fellowes):

As you may have gathered, the question my title poses is, why Shakespeare, and I’ll leave it to the centuries of brilliant writers and artists to answer that one!

Let’s start with the loving act of friendship on the part of John Heminges and Henry Condell to honour their dead friend and colleague, not solely by publishing 36 of his plays in the First Folio of 1623, but also with this touching preface for the generations of fans to follow:

“To the Great Variety of Readers,
Read him, and again, and again: And if you then do not like him, surely you are in some manifest danger, not to understand him. And so we leave you to other of is friends, whom if you need, can be your guides: if you need them not, you can lead yourselves, and others, and such readers we wish him.”

Henry Crawford’s line in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, (often attributed as Austen’s own view): ‘Shakespeare… is a part of an Englishman’s constitution. His thoughts and beauties are so spread abroad that one touches them everywhere; one is intimate with him by instinct.’

Charles Dickens was obsessed with Shakespeare and carried a volume of his plays around with him at all times; he even bought a house because of its associations with Falstaff.  The influence of Shakespeare shines through his novels, including the depiction of family relationships based on Cordelia and Lear, as well as his use of theatrical-style devices borrowed from the plays.

There are echoes of Shakespeare’s Henry V in Winston Churchill’s ‘Their Finest Hour’ speech, and he used a quote from Julius Caesar in a memo to his staff in 1943, the one which begins, ‘There is a tide in the affairs of men…’

From Henry James’ 1876 review of Romeo and Juliet: ‘One never sees Shakespeare played without being reminded at some new point of his greatness’, although aside from his admiration of Shakespeare’s craft, it seemed he had a problem with the Bard being a common oik from Stratford!

Shakespeare was surely one of our greatest exports.

Abraham Lincoln would read his works aloud on many evenings to his aides (who may or may not have been as enamoured of them as their leader), and the French writer, Flaubert said: ‘When I read Shakespeare I become greater, wiser, purer.’

The Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh wrote of how Shakespeare made him feel in a letter to his brother: ‘What touches me… is that the voices of these people, which… reach us from a distance of several centuries, do not seem unfamiliar to us. It is so much alive that you think you know them and see the thing.’

The political prisoners held captive on South Africa’s Robben Island reportedly read a smuggled copy of the Complete Works, disguised as a Hindu Bible. Each of them signed their names by their favourite passages.

Walter Sisulu chose a speech of Shylock’s: Still have I borne it with a patient shrug, / For suff’rance is the badge of all our tribe. Nelson Mandela chose a passage from Julius Caesar, which begins: Cowards die many times before their deaths; / The valiant never taste of death but onceYears later Mandela said, “Shakespeare always seems to have something to say to us.”

Hamlet was one of the first characters in literature to be a fully rounded human being, plagued by doubt, inner conflicts and suicidal thoughts, which Sigmund Freud found perfect case study fodder. Hamlet helped him to explore the concept of the unconscious, and also to illustrate the Oedipus complex – maybe a step too far!

Book titles taken from Shakespeare include: Brave New World, The Sound and the Fury, The Dogs of War, Under the Greenwood tree, Infinite Jest, The fault in Our Stars, By the Pricking of My Thumbs, Remembrance of Things Past, Murder Most Foul, to mention but a few.

Such Sweet Thunder – The title of the jazz suite album and first track, are Duke Ellington’s homage to Shakespeare’s characters, with the title representing Othello:

Shakespeare has been credited with more than 1,000 films and TV shows. According to The Guinness Book of Records he is the most filmed author of all time. Hamlet has around 79 film credits with Romeo and Juliet hot on his heels with 59.

“Shakespeare – the nearest thing in incarnation to the eye of God.” ~ Laurence Olivier

William Hazlitt wasn’t taking any prisoners in the 19th century when he wrote: ‘If we wish to know the force of human genius, we should read Shakespeare. If we wish to see the insignificance of human learning, we may study his commentators.’ Hmm… better stop now!

Venus and Adonis by Titian c. 1560s

Shakespeare’s most successful published work during his lifetime was his long narrative poem, Venus and Adonis, which must have seemed rather racy and titillating to Elizabethan audiences… It was written between 1592 – 94 (when London’s theatres were closed due to the plague), as was another of his long poems, The Rape of Lucrece.

Shakespeare’s perspicacity and ability to illuminate the consequences of a mortal sin, versus the pleasure in committing it are remarkable.

Tarquin ruminates over whether to rape the virtuous Lucretia:

What win I if I gain the thing I seek?
A dream, a breath, a froth of fleeting joy.
Who buys a minute’s mirth to wail a week,
Or sells eternity to get a toy?

After he commits the terrible act, poor Lucretia is tormented with horribly realistic guilt and shame, ending ultimately in her suicide.

Tarquin and Lucretia by Luca Giordano

A poem with hard-hitting themes, which unsurprisingly was not as successful as Venus and Adonis.

Both poems were dedicated to Henry Wriothesley, one of the few occasions that Shakespeare ‘speaks’ to us in his own voice, (even if it is obsequious in tone): ‘The love I dedicate to your lordship is without end, and ‘What I have done is yours; what I have to do is yours; being part in all I have, devoted yours.’

The Sonnets and the mystery of the ‘Fair Youth’

It is debatable whether these were ever meant for public consumption and may only have been intended for the recipient, or a private audience. The subject is addressed as ‘you’ and known variously as ‘my lovely boy’, ‘lovely youth’ and ‘beauteous and lovely boy’, referred to as the Fair Youth by scholars.

Even though the long poems proved the most financially successful of his literary output during the Bard’s lifetime, his 154 sonnets were not greatly admired when first published in 1609, as this form of poetry was starting to go out of fashion. But they have stood the test of time, and are now perhaps considered the apotheosis of his literary achievements.

The first 126 of the sonnets, labelled the ‘Fair Youth’ poems, are mostly expressions of romantic love, encompassing all the associated emotions such as jealousy, anxiety, mistrust, and they progress into an affair between the youth and the narrator’s ‘Dark Lady’, (who the next 26 sonnets are about, plus a few relating to a ‘rival poet’).

Many of the sonnets are addressed to a man, and they are among the most tender, passionate and downright erotic poems ever written, causing much heated debate and consternation over the centuries.

Was Shakespeare gay? Or at least bisexual, as he was married to Anne Hathaway. Attitudes towards sexuality would surely have differed to what they are today. Either way, what really matters is his legacy of literary gold dust. It is not clear if all 126 poems are addressed to the same man, like one great outpouring, or if they are to different friends and lovers over a number of years.

It has long been argued that the Fair Youth was Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton.  He was a good-looking and debonair chap if his portraits are anything to go by.

Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton

Shakespeare scholar Jonathon Bate believes that Henry Wriothesley was indeed the fair youth, and that the sonnets were written for him in the quest for patronage.

However, there is no categorical proof that the poems are autobiographical. To over interpret them surely takes the focus away from their intrinsic beauty. This is the conclusion that James Shapiro came to by the middle of the 19th century: ‘The obsession with autobiographical titbits had all but displaced interest in the aesthetic pleasures of the poems themselves.’

Sonnet 130 is not complimentary to a particular lady, yet expresses genuine feeling in the last two couplets, in a slightly cynical, backhanded sort of way:

Another great British poet, William Wordsworth, was a firm proponent of the idea that Shakespeare revealed his true self in the sonnets.

Scorn not the Sonnet; Critic, you have frowned,

Mindless of its just honours; with this key

Shakespeare unlocked his heart; the melody

Of this small lute gave ease to Petrarch’s wound;

A thousand times this pipe did Tasso sound;

With it Camöens soothed an exile’s grief;

The Sonnet glittered a gay myrtle leaf

Amid the cypress with which Dante crowned

His visionary brow: a glow-worm lamp,

It cheered mild Spenser, called from Faery-land

To struggle through dark ways; and, when a damp

Fell round the path of Milton, in his hand

The Thing became a trumpet; whence he blew

Soul-animating strains—alas, too few!

By William Wordsworth

To me the sonnets seem too intimate and poignant to be figments of Shakespeare’s imagination, they must have risen up from a deep well… It is not wise to interpret them too literally, but through them his life experiences have left their indelible mark.

The tantalisingly cryptic dedication written on the front was signed by the publisher, Thomas Thorpe (T.T.) and further fuelled ideas that the Fair Youth, possibly Henry Wriothesley, was also the dedicatee with his initials reversed:

One does rather go down a rabbit hole investigating all of this, (I’ll save the ‘Dark Lady’ for another day). A recent hypothesis is that the publisher’s dedication is to William Holme, which seems highly plausible to me.

A detailed exploration of the sonnets’ dedication. Oscar Wilde even wrote a fictional story, The Portrait of Mr. W.H. based on Thomas Tyrwhitt’s theory that the Fair Youth was named William Hughes, based on certain lines contained in Sonnet 20: “A man in hue, all Hues in his controlling”, in which the word Hues is both italicised and capitalised in the original edition.

In her brilliant foreward to the RSC edition of sonnets Fiona Shaw writes:

Shakespeare’s sonnets give us the impetus required for a meaningful analysis of our foolish selves in love and our difficulty in really communicating with one another.

He uses ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ of all our conflicting thoughts and all in the pocketbook size of the sonnet. They are like literary entries in the diary of the human condition. We borrow his words and his rhythm, his hesitancy, his ease with conclusion, and it helps us to do more than merely navigate through the often fraught landscape of love and delight ourselves along the way.

We live in a time where being unable to utter our personal truth seems to hold more integrity. We have become suspicious of words. Shakespeare’s sonnets entice us back to a more precise rendering of emotional reality, and they do it with generous and extravagant language. In a sentence he captures the sound and the terror of feeling.

Sonnet 93 was the first of the sonnets to be subjected to biographical analysis by Edmond Malone in 1780, who proposed that the sonnet might reveal the unhappy state of Shakespeare’s marriage. Not such a big leap, when one considers the geographical distance between William and Anne for much of the time, in addition to scrutiny of the language.

Malone opened a scholar’s Pandora’s Box when he further suggested Shakespeare snubbed Anne Hathaway in his will, (to support his hypotheses), in bequeathing his wife his ‘second best bed’.

Men portraying women on stage

Women’s emancipation had a long way to go in Elizabethan England, when women were prohibited from acting on stage in public. Cue one of my favourite films, Shakespeare in Love. The heroine is Lady Viola de Lesseps, disguised as Thomas Kent for much of the movie, she is shipwrecked at the end of the film, a perfect prequel to Twelfth Night.

Twelfth Night is a tale of separation and rediscovery, set in motion by a storm at sea, a popular device used by Shakespeare, (shipwrecks also featured in varying plot degrees in The Tempest, The Comedy of Errors, Pericles and The Winter’s Tale). Maybe there was an excess of nautical props lying around…

Viola’s character dresses up as a man, Cesario, in the employ of Count Orsino; in a comic romp of gender swaps and mistaken identity on the road to love.

Nuggets of Twelfth Night performances:

Stephen Fry and Mark Rylance lend comic genius to an all male cast in a Globe Theatre production:

I can imagine how they must have howled in the 16th century, and how ludicrous and funny it seems to us today when men play female parts. Especially the scenes with Viola, in which a boy pretends to be a girl pretending to be a boy!

This plot may even have put Will’s head in a spin…

As is said in the play: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” I do believe Shakespeare to be in the second category, for he had no noble title at birth and secured his posthumous place in history through his wit, talent and hard work.

Much Ado About Nothing

The banter and brevity of Much Ado About Nothing meant it was a popular play in its day. The wrong done to Hero is technically the main plot line, but the sparring lovers, Beatrice and Benedick supply the most fun. Even King Charles II apparently wrote Benedick and Beatrice next to the play’s title in his personal copy of the Second Folio.

Sparks fly between Kenneth and Emma in Branagh’s wonderful film adaptation:

All is True

Kenneth Branagh talks about portraying Shakespeare in the twilight of his life in All is True:

I must see this film!

I think the fire scene at the end of the trailer might be depicting the unfortunate burning down of The Globe Theatre. It enjoyed much success from its opening in 1599 to its demise in 1613, after a stray spark from a stage cannon in a performance of Henry VIII ignited the thatch roof. Thankfully there were no fatalities. It was rebuilt the following year with a closed tiled roof.

The original title of Henry VIII was All is True, hence the film’s title, and it was changed for the publication of the First Folio to The Famous History of the Life of King Henry the Eighth.  

Steamy Southwark and Shoreditch were booming medieval theatre districts, home to not just The Globe, but also The Rose, The Curtain, The Swan and The Hope. What they lacked in sophisticated stage and scenery set-ups they made up for with lavish, colourful costumes and the use of animal organs and blood to lend authenticity to gruesome battle and death scenes.

Can you picture the atmosphere with 3,000 rowdy theatre goers packed tightly together?

The Puritans considered such theatres dens of iniquity and vice, (which they most probably were), and in 1642 they succeeded in closing them all down. The Globe was demolished two years later.

Today’s Globe Theatre on London’s Bankside (again in thatch but with the added benefit of modern water sprinklers), was built a mere 230 metres away from the first Globe’s location. It’s design however, was based on drawings of The Swan, made in 1596 by a Dutch tourist.

What things you make of us! For what we lack
We laugh, for what we have, are sorry; still
Are children in some kind. Let us be thankful
For that which is, and with you leave dispute
That are above our question.”
~ William Shakespeare (The Two Noble Kinsmen)

The above quote, the last words in the play (except for the epilogue), are perhaps the very last words that Shakespeare wrote.

The Tempest was previously thought to be his last play, but The Two Noble Kinsmen, based on Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale,  is now generally accepted as Shakespeare’s final play; a collaboration with John Fletcher. Scholars believe that Shakespeare’s contributions are the writing of Act 1, two scenes in Act 3, and three in Act 5.

It may not be considered such a good swansong as The Tempest, but author Andrew Dickson says of the closing lines, ‘as a conclusion to his career these halting words… are infinitely more painful than anything voiced by Prospero’.

Could this Year be the Perfect, Blissful Summer…?

“My soul is in the sky.” ~ William Shakespeare (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

It’s been a struggle to find time for my blog lately, what with end of term craziness, juggling my ‘working mum’ balls and looking after ginger tabby kittens Simba and Saffron; plus another exciting project I’m keeping under wraps for the time being.

I feel like a little poetry and an inconsequential natter about the weather might hit the spot. We need something to combat the frequent depressing news headlines about Brexit…

A recent sunset

The ongoing searing temperatures in the UK have been reminiscent of the summer of 1976.  I remember it quite clearly as a slip of a girl: splashing around in the paddling pool with my brother, who to our mum’s dismay, also took an unscheduled plunge into the murky garden pond.

Wow, it’s been a long time since us Brits have really had a decent summer! We always bemoan the drizzly, wet weather that mostly visits our shores, so I have been determined not to complain about the heat. I think we are slowly getting used to it…

Or not.

A selection of recent tweets about #heatwaveuk

The extreme temperatures have been challenging at times, even my computer is whirring grumpily and refusing to operate at its normal speed. Oh well, school is out for summer as of lunchtime today, and my children are officially on manana time.

Summer is symbolic of life, love and abundance. The opening lyrics to Gershwin’s jazz aria ‘Summertime’ from his opera Porgy and Bess springs to mind.

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy… Well, at least it’s meant to be.

Mostly people are more relaxed and tend to be quite sociable; we spend more time enjoying nature and outdoor pursuits. And who doesn’t love alfresco dining on balmy evenings?

My brood have always loved the simple pleasure of picnics and barbecues with friends and family. It’s been so hot lately we’ve been able to take a few refreshing dips in the Wycombe Rye Lido.

I feel like celebrating with a light-hearted mix of music, art and poetry, and perhaps a sip or two of Pimms and lemonade, hic!

Dance at the Moulin de la Galette by Pierre Auguste Renoir

As a mum I also love that my never-ending laundry dries in a nanosecond at the moment!

But can we have too much of a good thing?

Not when it comes to music.

Rimsky Korsakov – Flight of the Bumblebee with the Russian National Orchestra and Mikhail Pletnev:

Mendelssohn – Scherzo from A Midsummer Night’s Dream for clarinet and piano with Alexey Gorokholinsky and Vassily Primakov:

In the summer of 1717 composer Georg Friedrich Händel was commissioned by King George I to write some suitably regal music to accompany his grand flotilla of royal boats as they set sail down the river Thames. The result was his Water Music Suite in F Major, HWV 348 performed by fifty musicians (a large number for the time period), on the banks of the river.

Canaletto – London, The Thames on Lord Mayor’s Day c. 1750

It must have been quite an occasion, one that’s easy to visualise when you listen to the English Baroque Soloists with Sir John Eliot Gardiner:

The Heatwave

Intense heat: blasting, humid, relentless, baking the land,

Verdant, manicured lawns – turning the colour of sand

Butterflies dance and flit among hazy meadows,

Pollen seeking bees casually meander in hedgerows.

Golden Summer, Eaglemont by Arthur Streeton. This was the first Australian Impressionist painting that was sent to Europe for display in London in 1891 and Paris in 1892.

English roses, wild and cultivated, open then wilt,

The cadence of nature’s eternal rhythm and lilt

Soft, sweet flesh of fruits, hastens to ripe,

Even walking makes damp brows to wipe.

The Basket of Apples by Paul Cézanne

Hear the birds, chirping in a chorus of mirth,

Eager to pluck juicy worms from parched earth

Heady scent of honeysuckle hangs in the air,

Long, lethargic days, perfect for a summer fair.

Wild Honeysuckle by Pierre Andre Brouillet

Skin craves the cooling caress of a soft breeze,

Throw off layers, constraints; wander like Uylsses

Seeking adventure across kingdoms, never to yield,

Abundance thrives, opening up a flower filled field.

Poppy field near Argenteuil by Claude Monet c. 1873

Torpid days fade away in vibrant, orangey balls,

Horizons bathed in luminous hues, as darkness falls

My thoughts drift like weightless dandelion seeds,

Scattered. Where they will land? Which will take heed?

Pont Boieldieu Rouen at sunset by Camille Pissarro c. 1896

Summer’s gifts are bountiful; but no rain drops!

Without swimming, drinking or bathing we flop;

Halted, by an unquenchable thirst, dehydrated pores,

Water, wine and crisp cider are liberally poured.

Frederick Carl Frieseke

The last summer I remember as this, was seventy-six,

A young girl was I, unburdened by politics – polemics

Carefree in the garden, to dream of woodland sprites,

Tales by Barrie and Shakespeare create magical nights.

By Virginia Burges

The Adagio from Vivaldi’s Concerto for solo baroque violin and strings in G Minor, ‘Summer’ (L’Estate, RV 315), performed by Cynthia Miller Freivogel and the early music ensemble, Voices of Music beautifully captures the languor of a hot, humid day:

Summer Sun 

Great is the sun, and wide he goes

Through empty heaven with repose;

And in the blue and glowing days

More thick than rain he showers his rays.

🌞

Though closer still the blinds we pull

To keep the shady parlour cool,

Yet he will find a chink or two

To slip his golden fingers through.

🌞

The dusty attic spider-clad

He, through the keyhole, maketh glad;

And through the broken edge of tiles

Into the laddered hay-loft smiles.

🌞

Meantime his golden face around

He bares to all the garden ground,

And sheds a warm and glittering look

Among the ivy’s inmost nook.

🌞

Above the hills, along the blue,

Round the bright air with footing true,

To please the child, to paint the rose,

The gardener of the World, he goes.

by Robert Louis Stevenson

Frederick Delius composed ‘Summer Night on the River’ after being inspired by the sights and sounds of the River Loing, which he would sit and ponder during long evenings from the back of his villa in the village of Grez. The impressionist tone poem recreates the gentle lapping of the waves and boats bobbing in the summer breeze:

Boating on the Seine by Pierre August Renoir

Staying on a nautical theme, Debussy’s En Bateau makes me want to be in and on the water, especially with Fritz Kreisler at the helm!

Anthony Hopkins reads The Lake Isle of Innisfree by W.B. Yeats:

The Poppy

Summer set lip to earth’s bosom bare;

And left the flushed print in a poppy there:

Like a yawn of fire from the grass it came,

And the fanning wind puffed it to flapping flame.

By Francis Thompson

Maurice Ravel’s iconic ballet Boléro, with its hypnotic drum beat and mesmerising flute melody, building up slowly and deliberately to a dramatic conclusion is perfect for sultry summer nights.

Ravel worked on Boléro over the Summer of 1927 at the behest of the Russian actress and dancer, Ida Rubinstein. Here is a wonderful ballet version choreographed by Maurice Bejart with Nicolas Le Riche and orchestre de Paris:

I can’t end without the bard’s immortal Sonnet No. 18 – Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Tom Hiddleston’s velvet voice was meant for Shakespeare:

Have a fabulous, sizzling summer!

Musings on the Wondrous, Indestructible Quality of Water… 🌎🌊💦

“Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless – like water.” ~ Bruce Lee

Water fascinates me…

Its shades, sounds, textures and beauty, as well as water’s many uses are truly a gift to the human race. How we manage its resources will be key to the survival of our species and the innumerable amazing creatures that live beneath its beguiling surface.

The purifying and symbolic qualities of water are why it used for baptism.

Water has inspired many an artist. Claude Monet captivated the world with gorgeous impressionist paintings of his water lily pond at Giverny, as well as his French  landscapes and seascapes.

Water Lily Pond by Claude Monet c. 1919

Pont d’Argenteuil by Claude Monet

Somehow, the watery depictions captured by Norwegian Impressionist Frits Thaulow look so real, more like a photograph than pigments on canvas.

The Watermill by Frits Thaulow c. 1892

Composers have also been drawn under the magical spell of watery environments. I can imagine myself alive in one of Monet’s dramatic paintings of Étretat or on the cliffs at Fecamp, looking out towards the dramatic coastal scenery along the Alabaster Coast when I listen to La Mer.

Sunset at Etretat by Claude Monet

If you close your eyes, what sensations or visuals are inspired by Claude Debussy’s evocative orchestral piece?

The BBC’s Blue Planet II documentary, made by our national treasure and indefatigable champion of the natural world, Sir David Attenborough (and many other dedicated marine biologists and cameramen all over the world), showed us the devastating impact of man’s plastic pollution in our planet’s oceans.  But they also showed us in ravishing detail the many beautiful and diverse underwater habitats.

Our family watched it in awe.

This scene was heartbreaking:

We have got into the habit of using longer life, heavy duty shopping bags, ditching plastic as much as possible and we recycle like most families. It’s encouraging to see an Indonesian business man doing his bit for the planet with non toxic cassava bags:

“Water is the driving force of all nature.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci

Water is such a fundamental part of life, essential to survival, to ingest, to promote physical strength, to cleanse and to create earth’s atmosphere. But it also provides us with relaxation, sporting opportunities, and memories. It is literally part of us, as around sixty percent of our bodies are made up of water.

The Adige River at Verona by Frits Thaulow

As well as its healing properties, water can be incredibly destructive; as we have witnessed at various times, the horrors of natural disasters such as tsunamis and torrential floods on the news. In a biblical sense I’m sure it probably wasn’t Noah’s favourite thing!

Concepts like flow state, and the language to describe Flow is to me, also reminiscent of enjoying time in and around water.

From Wikipedia:

In positive psychology, flow, also known colloquially as being in the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one’s sense of space and time.

The term ‘Flow’ was coined by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in 1975, which I elaborated on in my post: Shining a Spotlight on your Awesome Character Strengths.

Sometimes it’s good to let go, and stay in the flow. Wait a minute, that phrase sounds familiar…

“Water is the soul of the Earth.” ~ W.H. Auden

We can often take it for granted, but it is perhaps, one of our greatest gifts…

The Subsiding of the Nile by Frederick Goodall c. 1873

I love this eerily beautiful contemporary classical music, ‘Wreck of the Umbria’ composed by Jakub Ciupinski and played so exquisitely by Anne Akiko Meyers:

James Horner’s celtic Hymn to the Sea written for the blockbuster film Titanic, on Irish Uileann Pipes:

I’ve penned some prose in gratitude to this nourishing, life-giving (and sadly, sometimes life-taking) liquid.

The Wonders of Water

Water’s silky stroke rinses away dirt, revives the spirit,
Boiled droplets captured, to comfort shivery cells,
Cool sips to hydrate when heating we must limit,
Listening to gentle, trickling streams darkness dispels.
A primordial power, water’s subtle vigour is irrefutable,
Eroding rocks, gouging landscapes, shaping shores: illimitable.

Sunset on the Nile by Frank Dillon

Glinting sunlight, evanescent on its shimmering, undulating surface,
Free to flow as a waterfall, or be held in pretty ponds,
Mutable mass of vast oceans, an untameable temptress,
Beckoning us to unfathomable depths past waving fronds.
Floating blissfully on buoyant dreams, avoiding violent storms,
Invisible, swirling currents spewing and spraying fleeting forms.

Off the Coast of Cornwall by William Trost Richards

Liquid particles are greater merged, than a single drop,
Yet individual, like the human family, of one source,
H20 soothes my soul, but also dampens if rain won’t stop,
Frequently changing form – precious water; life giving force
Whether contained in a cup, bath, lake or sea,
Views of aquamarine awaken senses, inspire glee…

Antibes by Claude Monet c. 1888

Gliding through glistening pools, my heart’s longings,
Swimming weightless, no constriction, just water…
Sunset and moonlight cast their magic onto paintings,
A vision to behold or immerse in; the ultimate transporter,
Reflections of nature glimmer on mirrored, placid surfaces,
Tears of emotion, translucent and pure, shine flawless.

By Virginia Burges

Midnight in Boulogne by Theo van Rysselberghe

In keeping with my theme I’ll leave you with some highlights from Blue Planet II.

I don’t know about the crab, but this is hypnotising me!

Another hunting/feeding frenzy:

“Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does.”
~ Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad

Poetry and Appreciation of the Seasons: A Winter’s Walk

How like a winter hath my absence been
From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!
What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen!
 ~ William Shakespeare from Sonnet 97

We woke to thick flakes of snow falling on Sunday morning, and a white layer soon started to cover everything.

Winter Snow in Louveciennes by Camille Pissarro c. 1872

By the time I had got my act together the snow had turned to freezing rain and the dim light was fading further under a heavy blanket of cloud. Still, I felt the need to suffuse my stale blood with fresh air, clear my mind and stimulate my muscles, no matter the rather unappealing prospect the environment was making it.

It’s amazing how even on the coldest and dullest of days there is inspiration for a muse –  if she looks for it.

The Road From Versailles to Saint Germain by Camille Pissarro

Winter can be a tough time: reality sets in alongside the Christmas credit card bills, piling on worry with the extra woolly layers and the battling of virulent, seasonal germs, whilst rousing sluggish motivation.

Even Tchaikovsky agrees we should be warm and snug in January! Mind you, I’m sure Russian winters must be way more brutal than English ones. By the Fireside is the title of January from his 12 pieces of The Seasons, Opus 37. Richter reflects his sentiments on the ivories:

The days are short days and the nights, long. Everything seems to be focused inward.

It’s like we are curled up in a metaphorical fetal position, taking comfort from an enclosed, but secretly nourishing dark space, all growth shielded from view.

Garden Under Snow by Paul Gaugin c. 1879

We dig deep, perhaps drawing on inner reserves to see us through this forlorn time. Nature too, is hunkering down, despite her wintry displays. It seems to me that the stark scenery and empty trees are a sign of mother nature baring her soul to us, her naked branches giving us a sign that we too will flourish again.

Already I have noticed the days are drawing out in small increments.

All traces of snow were gone today. The sky was blue and the sun hovered like a low, bright disc, surely brightening all ragged spirits.

Effect of Snow at Argenteuil by Alfred Sisley

Winter certainly has its unique charms, when everything is stripped back and thrown into sharp relief, but they remain so because of their temporary time span. That is indeed, the magic of all the four seasons.

A Winter’s Walk  

Trees and birds are silent while relentless rain holds court,

A rhythmic, yet random patting against my hood, hypnotising,

Lazy lungs expand with chilly, desolate air, as breath is caught

Coalescing with mist, hot and swirling: my efforts rising,

Icy droplets numbing face, nerves sparking, fingertips tingling,

Under a darkening, dreary sky, life and death are mingling.

The hushed landscape wears a sparse cloak of glory,

Insulated feet stumble, eyes explore meadows, trees and bracken

To discover pockets of beauty, embellishing winter’s bleak story,

A silvery sheen coats soaked ivy leaves – refusing to blacken,

Precarious droplets of watery diamonds hang, almost suspended

From bare and spindly branches; my hibernating heart is mended.

I feel alive as winter reveals its cool, contrasting shades;

Mulchy leaves decorate slippery, muddy trails and stumpy grass,

Ghostly barks shimmer amid the muted inhabitants of glades,

Translucent pools occupy smooth hollows of holly; green glass,

Wet wings carry birds across exposed clearings; swiftly to go

Beneath nature’s cleansing tears; dimpling patches of snow.

Life holding life in abeyance; abundance in perfect stasis,

As unseen activity unfolds within death’s enveloping hands,

Humans eagerly anticipate spring’s invigorating, energetic kiss,

Warming damp, weary bones and awakening purged lands,

But subtle beauty lingers, in the wild depths of decay,

Winter’s test of faith and spirit never does betray…

I want to lose myself among elevated regal trunks,

Their rough and knotted surfaces standing proud,

Witnesses of earth’s creatures, and striding hikers, lifting funks

Their swaying whispers soothing senses; a welcome crowd,

My body feels cold, but my soul is wandering free…

Home beckons: promising shelter, and a hot cup of tea!

 By Virginia Burges

If we want to embrace winter, both the challenges and the beauty, Vivaldi evokes the musical themes that will eternally embody such sentiments.

‘L’Inverno’, Concerto for Violin and strings in F minor, RV. 297 by Cynthia Freivogel and Voices of Music:

You may like to be reminded of a true romantic bard’s words on the subject with the poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley – Ode to the West Wind 

Yours in wintry wonderment! Ginny

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.” ~ John Steinbeck

Poetic Thoughts on the Chemistry of Life

“[T]he atoms or elementary particles themselves are not real; they form a world of potentialities or possibilities rather than one of things or facts.” ~ Werner Heisenberg

It’s been a while since I’ve attempted poetry, but every now and then the urge takes me to explore the bigger questions of life.

In order to more fully understand the universe we live out our daily lives in, genius, scientific minds delve into and develop Quantum Mechanics; which tends to fry my circuitry. I don’t think I’ll ever get my head round it!

To me it is the ultimate literary theme, how and why we are even here at all…

The Apotheosis of Homer by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres c. 1827

Looking back to the prehistoric swamps of single cell microbes on Earth a few billion years ago, to Darwinian discovery and biogenesis; studying life’s seemingly simple origins and subsequent progress, one might wonder: is creation and evolution one and the same thing?

When I mention chemistry, especially in the title, it is in the broadest sense of the word; not purely a scientific meaning. For the ‘chemistry’ within beings, between souls and all living things in nature has both a real and ethereal quality.

Noun: chemistry

  1. The branch of science concerned with the substances of which matter is composed, the investigation of their properties and reactions, and the use of such reactions to form new substances. the chemical composition and properties of a substance or body.

plural noun: chemistries

“the patient’s blood chemistry was monitored regularly”

2. the complex emotional or psychological interaction between people.

“their affair was triggered by intense sexual chemistry”

To ponder where and what ‘life’ will be in a millennia, let alone another billion years is beyond my comprehension, but maybe not for scientists and Sci-Fi writers!

“Not only is the Universe stranger than we think, it is stranger than we can think.” ~ Werner Heisenberg, (Across the Frontiers)

I hope you enjoy my attempt at contextualising random thoughts in prose to arrive at a semblance of understanding of the oftentimes violent and disturbing, but also, profoundly beautiful world we live in…

I find listening to Beethoven puts me in a harmonious state of appreciation to access gratitude, contemplation and reflection…

The Chemistry of Life

Oscillations, multiple compounds and formulas,

Make up even a single, miniscule molecule,

Oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen; chemical reactions abound,

Mingling the celestial matter of stars…

Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh

Requisite, smaller parts of a complex, greater whole,

Primordial power creates the alchemy of life;

Diffuse quantum world – coursing through flesh,

Synthesis through eons, seeding infinite heartbeats…

Isaac and Rebecca by Rembrandt van Rijn

Inflating life’s vaporous, continuous, undulating breath,

Sparking billions of neurons; birthing artistry, creativity,

Intelligent, cosmic cellular communication,

Powerful and irrevocable, like a thermonuclear reaction.

The Alpha and Omega of physicality, existence;

Omniscient, spontaneous source; force of the universe,

Spirit – true essence of miraculous transmutations,

Infused with eternity; depleted through neglect.

An Emerald Sea by Albert Bierstadt

No on or off switch, just vibrations, instructions…

Harmful messages disrupt a divine diaspora,

Emotional dams accrue, obstructing ebb and flow;

Signals: benevolent or malevolent, misinterpreted, incomplete…

Interior or The Rape by Edgar Degas

Heavy, dysfunctional intensity, warping actions,

Indelible scars, woven into strands of human DNA,

The One Energy, splintered and diluted into duality:

Light and shadow permeating mind, body and soul.

Sperm and egg unite, ignited through love or desire,

Proliferation of life’s sacred, unique diversity,

Blood, bone and beauty are vital; animated,

Exposed to Gaia’s cycles of destruction and regeneration.

The chemistry of life manifests a zeal for life,

Evolution in flow, obeying its innate laws,

Behold swelling, stormy skies; rays glinting on serene seas,

Marvel at the elemental ardour of the universe!

Electrical pulses compose human symphonies;

Biological orchestras resonating earthly frequencies,

Sounds and rhythm, dissonance and harmony,

Cadences of humanity, expressions of the chemistry of life…

By Virginia Burges

“The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you.” ~ Werner Heisenberg

When You See a Sensational Sky: Images and Poetry From Cloud Nine… 🌥⛅️🌤

“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add colour to my sunset sky.” ~ Rabindranath Tagore, (Stray Birds)

This is going to be a quintessentially English kind of post. Why? Because I’m talking about the weather, and for once, I’m not moaning about it! We Brits are not used to this kind of heat!

As I was sunbathing during Sunday’s glorious, baking hot afternoon, I watched the sun’s rays fan out spectacularly around a solitary cumulus nimbus cloud above me, and felt compelled to capture this astral scene in real time.

I took nine photographs as this huge cloud (my cloud 9), shrouded the blazing sun and then slowly broke up under the onslaught of a sweltering June heat wave. I was grateful to that cloud, without it I would have burnt to a crisp!

If I were an artist I probably would have painted it, but words came instead. My observations have been sublimated into a stream of consciousness, free-verse poem.

In that respect you could say clouds are the ushers of zen as well as the providers of shade…

“Clouds on clouds, in volumes driven, 

Curtain round the vault of heaven.” ~ Thomas Love Peacock

Contemplating Cumulus Clouds

My eyes crinkle at the contrast of silver-lining

Against foreboding, grey cotton sitting above me,

Enveloping every ounce of moisture in the air;

A luminous outline from the sun’s insistent rays,

This incandescent string of pure, bright light.

Illuminating my retina from behind the shadows,

As if nature is saying, there is good within the gloom;

I want to reach up and touch its rounded edges,

Grasp it’s elusive, fleecy form, behold for eternity,

But it is changing with every passing moment.

Life giving rays are only temporarily hidden,

Earth’s star, determined to dissolve suspended droplets

Scorching beams will once again permeate the ground,

Bathing all living things in its glowing reach,

Imperceptible breeze, to break up stifling humidity.

As I watch candy-like white wisps breaking away,

The puffy edges are swirling in constant motion,

Moving to form anther cloud, or simply evaporate,

Demonstrating the eternal flow of the universe…

How all primordial ingredients are reused, recycled.

Cumulo – these Latin piles of shaded air,

Resplendent swells of watery weather,

Floating purposefully or aimlessly, gathering or fleeing

Deliberate, or speeding; depending on the wind,

Patchwork ceiling for humans, lift for soaring birds.

We may frown and fret at an abundance of nimbus,

Bemoaning their frequent outbursts of precipitation!

Today cumulus shades me from the searing heat,

Another day they will bestow liquid on parched earth

Is God decorating the sky, with an ever-changing palette?

Meteorological material; from mysterious misty layers,

To floating pale tufts, or brooding, bulging monsters,

Swollen and violent with rain, blocking out the sun;

Ephemeral fluid shapes: never forever, and never the same…

Scarce or plentiful; permeating and patrolling the skies.

Cloud 9!

“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.” ~ John Lubbock (The Use Of Life)

Revealing Reflections on Life, Survival and Soul Stamina

“In your soul there are infinitely precious things that cannot be taken from you. “ ~ Oscar Wilde

I have been pondering the meaning of life these last few weeks, or at least more than usual!  Lately I’ve found myself caught up in seemingly endless vicissitudes, and have been telling myself it’s all for a higher purpose. This thought helps me get through the chaos. We have to embrace all of it, the good, the bad, the ordinary and the extraordinary.

Writing is like a purging of my soul, it’s a cathartic comfort blanket that enables me to have perspective. I’ve written some poetry as I muse over developing soul stamina, which I hope you can relate to in some small way.

It seems to me that just one lifetime (even a long one), is too short a time for our souls to fully experience earthly life and attain nirvana. I have entertained the idea that maybe we get to come round many, many times, building on what we said, thought, did and achieved before.

This idea is nothing new. Plato believed in an immortal soul that partakes in a multitude of lives, and the concept of reincarnation is a central tenet of religions such as Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism.

The bigger picture of human existence and the universe eludes us for certain, but faith, love and hope are really all we need while we’re here.

I’ve also included some music which for me perfectly encapsulates soul stamina. The composer who I believe most embodies these qualities is Beethoven, (no surprises there!) but any music which really affects you emotionally is speaking to your heart and soul, being the universal language.

After all, Plato did say: “Music is the movement of sound to reach the soul for the education of its virtue.”

Bach’s music was the backbone of his religious convictions, it was solely to glorify God. This particular transcription for cello and organ of his Adagio in C, BWV 564 by Jacqueline du Pré and Roy Jesson could only have been composed and played by individuals with loving souls:

Mozart knew how to plumb the depths of his being. He must have been wearing his heart on his sleeve when he wrote the adagio of his Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488, in 1786:

I feel Richard Wagner captures the torment of the soul with the battle of the sacred and the profane in Tannhäuser – The immortal Overture and Venusberg:

While I’m at it, Tristan und Isolde could not have been written without a deep well of emotion. The glorious and heart wrenching Prelude and Liebestod (Georg Solti – Chicago Symphony Orchestra):

Vivaldi’s music brings joy and exalts the soul – The Gloria in D Major, RV 589 with John Eliot Gardiner, the Monteverdi Choir and The English Baroque Soloists:

Beethoven’s magnificent Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 (The Choral) was the pinnacle of his musical genius. For me, it encompasses life in all its guises and every day glory, with a finale that overcomes the suffering and struggle of humanity in unity and brotherhood – the unforgettable Ode to Joy by the Sabadell flashmob:

“The soul is placed in the body like a rough diamond, and must be polished, or the luster of it will never appear.” ~ Daniel Defoe

Soul Stamina

The mind may forget, but the soul remembers,

Explorations in humanity, countless footsteps…

The faces of yesteryear, now etheric embers,

Glowing from the heart of our eternal depths.

Do we bear these former translucent portents?

Embedded and merged, in our body of the moment?

Joan of Arc by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Soul wisdom is creative; desiring experience anew,

Looking behind your eyes, I see the real you…

The one who has always been; wore bodies through

Your radiance surrounds and shines so true.

Everything you are, is held and holding you fast,

It’s all here now; the future, present and past.

Self-portrait with a dark felt hat at the easel by Vincent van Gogh c. 1886

Do we transfer it over, the healing and the heartache?

A name, a pattern, a place, a talent, a skill,

Drawn to our soul’s connections; not fully awake,

Distant memories reflecting, through windows of Will.

Sojourns of unfinished karma, or perhaps dreamy plans?

With souls to share our journeys and time spans?

Reflection by Alfred Stevens

Meeting of souls: spiritual, chemical reactions abound

As astral beings reunite; immutable yet impermanent,

Knowing each other long before – apart then found,

Different yet the same; embalmed in the moment.

Living to enrich the soul, on its timeless fray,

Ancient selves expressing; mortal games to play.

The Storyteller by Hugues Merle

We envy souls on a seemingly smooth path,

Whilst we are buffeted on rocks for measure,

Honouring our struggle for growth, not wrath,

Physical interludes of pain, parsimony and pleasure.

En route to glory, souls are breached time and again,

With wounds that sear and scar; no two the same.

The Kiss by Carolus Duran

Whether in lofty social status, or ordinary life,

Have we chosen the routes to our Shangri-la?

Maybe comfort and warmth, or problems and strife?

In divine unfolding, we are blind to reason,

But for every learning; belongs a perfect season.

The Honeysuckle Bower (the artist and his first wife Isabella Brant) by Peter Paul Rubens c. 1609

The soul has no colour, creed, race or gender,

Myriad of vessels from life’s eclectic diversity,

Anatomical robe of being, searching for an answer…

Archetypal beneath, evincing modes of personality.

A pilgrimage of passion; rebirth will come,

Adventurous spirits, immortal inside, part of one.

Phidias Showing the Frieze of the Parthenon to his Friends by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

Wake gently from sleep, oh consciousness,

Hear and know your inner voice, your soul

The higher part which exists in opulence,

I will see through those eyes, in fleshy stroll.

Do our human journeys build soul stamina?

Mind, body, spirit: metaphysical phenomena.

By Virginia Burges

Our Corner (Anna and Laurense Alma-Tadema) by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

The soul of man alone, that particle divine,

Escapes the wreck of worlds,

When all things fail. ~ William Somerville

17 Quotes on Vulnerability that will inspire an Authentic Life

Vulnerability is the language of the soul and the voice of the heart. ~ Virginia Burges

To open up to life is to be vulnerable. To follow a dream is to be vulnerable. To be who YOU truly are is to be vulnerable. Whenever we strike up a friendship, embark on a relationship, start a new project, or pretty much any activity; we are vulnerable.

Every time we close our eyes and go to sleep we are vulnerable, and we trust that after our dreaming we will soon open them again…

Sleeping Beauty by Henry Meynell Rheam

Sleeping Beauty by Henry Meynell Rheam

I feel vulnerable every time I publish a blog post. A part of me always hopes that it will be helpful and interesting to at least one person! I’m exposing my inner self, a tiny voice in the vastness of the universe. But I’m not the only one, we’re all in this thing called ‘life’ together.

One of the biggest things in my life that forced me to be vulnerable was being pregnant and becoming a mother. You have no choice but to trust what is happening inside your body, and that you can support another life.

vulnerability-baby-hand

A new mum with a baby to care for can be vulnerable to the well meaning opinion of others, to sheer exhaustion, to not knowing what she is doing. We rely on the help and support of family, midwives, partners and other mums. But eventually we find our own way, and we realise how rewarding being a parent is, we embrace the responsibility of raising another human being; even though we are vulnerable as parents and they are vulnerable as children.

Suffering also made me accept and own my vulnerability. Being creative invites learning and growth, but also risks ridicule. When I published my novel I was terrified of what feedback might come my way.

Dr. Brené Brown really connected with me through her TED talk about the power of vulnerability.  A short summary of her wisdom and insights:

The first thing I usually feel like doing after a setback, a rejection or a failure is to retreat back into my shell. My inner voice pronounces, “You can’t do it, you’re not good enough,” triumphant in its ‘I told you so’ moment – just when I’m at my most vulnerable. I listen to it to be polite, (there’s no avoiding freedom of speech when it comes from within), and then I mentally reply, “Thank you for your opinion, but I’m doing it anyway. You can go back to your little corner now!”

In the spirit of vulnerability I’m going to wear my heart on my sleeve. It’s quite a worn sleeve, frayed at the edges, but the material has a certain faded toughness about it after all these years…

vulnerability-rumi

It seems to me that vulnerability is the only true path to your authentic self, the ultimate form of surrender; leading to what Brené Brown calls whole-hearted living: embracing compassion, courage and connection. But it’s a path strewn with pot holes of uncertainty, stones of insecurity and boulders of disappointments. It is the path less travelled.

I hope you enjoy these few verses; however, as promised in the title, I’ve saved the heavy hitting to the quotes that follow!

Vulnerability

Vulnerability opens up all possibility;

Tantalising outcome shrouded from view,

Emotions are unguarded, genuine,

To lower defences, let others in.

vulnerability-lone-tree

Hiding behind high walls, we are safe,

But life is not a medieval siege,

Vulnerability requires a two-way trade;

Open the gate and reception is made.

vulnerability-chateau-de-chenonceau

Over protection is airless, like a vacuum,

Do we breathe vulnerability or stifling safety?

Extreme caution leads to emptiness, numbness;

Is your life locked away inside a fortress?

vulnerability-girl-travelling-in-asia

We risk everything to show our light

And lay bare our earthly plight.

We may be misunderstood, maligned,

But also loved, appreciated and aligned.

vulnerability-elephants

The path to fulfillment and passion

Can only be navigated with the soul;

It knows the terrain, where to travel,

No light is hidden under a bushel.

vulnerability-tea-lights

A broken heart understands all hearts,

A failure procures respect for all who try;

A wounded soul does not aim verbal blows,

If it embraces the vulnerability we all know..

vulnerability-heart-rope

Introspection – arch enemy of arrogance,

Vulnerability tenderly accepts warts and all,

Blame vainly attempts to dissipate pain,

But without vulnerability it will remain.

vulnerability-bridge-hoikku-gorge

We may be rejected, insulted, ignored,

But shame and guilt win if we shield

Ourselves from joy, happiness and gratitude;

Forgive – move on, relax our attitude.

vulnerability-leopard

Flowers do not refuse to open tightly curled buds,

They do not fuss over a passing opinion,

Never ask admiration of their beauty, from seeing;

They simply blossom into a glorious statement of being.

vulnerability-wild-rose

Vulnerability keeps us humble, honest – alive.

Vulnerability embraces risk, uncertainty,

Vulnerability shows our true self, limits control;

Vulnerability is a map for the journey of the soul…

By Virginia Burges

17 inspiring quotes on vulnerability:

  1. “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” ~ Brené Brown
  2. “The strongest love is the love that can demonstrate its fragility.” ~ Paulo Coelho, (Eleven Minutes)
  3. “What happens when people open their hearts?” “They get better.” ~ Haruki Murakami, (Norwegian Wood)
  4. “To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength.” ~ Criss Jami
  5. “Being vulnerable means being open, for wounding, but also for pleasure. Being open to the wounds of life means also being open to the bounty and beauty. Don’t mask or deny your vulnerability: it is your greatest asset. Be vulnerable: quake and shake in your boots with it. The new goodness that is coming to you, in the form of people, situations, and things can only come to you when you are vulnerable, i.e. open.” ~ Stephen Russell (Barefoot Doctor’s Guide to the Tao: A Spiritual Handbook for the Urban Warrior)
  6. “We are at our most powerful the moment we no longer need to be powerful.” ~ Eric Micha’el Leventhal
  7. “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” ~ Brené Brown
  8. “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.” ~ C.S. Lewis
  9. “There can be no vulnerability without risk; there can be no community without vulnerability; there can be no peace, and ultimately no life, without community. “ ~ M. Scott Peck
  10. “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” ~ Hellen Keller
  11. “Out of your vulnerabilities will come your strengths.” ~ Sigmund Freud
  12. “Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.” ~ Brené Brown
  13. “I feel like I’m a much better person when I’m developing my imagination and my innocence and my vulnerability. I like that version of me better than the version where I’m just working on my analytical mind.” ~ Brit Marling
  14. “Heroes are higher than their vulnerability. That is why they are heroes.” ~ Amit Kalantri
  15. “And maybe that was love. Being so vulnerable and allowing someone else in so far they could hurt you, but they also give you everything.” ~ Christine Feehan, (Water Bound)
  16. “What makes you vulnerable, makes you beautiful.” ~ Brené Brown
  17. “I think one’s relationship with one’s vulnerability is a very delicate and precious relationship. Most people try to hide, disguise that vulnerability, and in doing that, you, I think, diminish a great source of power.” ~ Philip Schultz

Until the next time- stay vulnerable!

#SundayBlogShare – The Sound of Silence

Some days there’s so much noise around me I think I’m going to lose my mind. Noise from thoughts, caterwauling from the kids, traffic, horns, sirens, TV, radio and so on. Some days I long for silence; to retreat into an inner sanctum, where there’s respite from the onslaught of the world. Meditation helps, and so does playing the violin. Sometimes I long to hear the sound of your voice. But sometimes only silence will do…

THE SOUND OF SILENCE

The sound of silence, substrate of creation…

Noise of nothingness filling, expanding senses,

Priming them to detect violent vibrations,

Scales of dainty decibels, sonorous caresses.

Listen well; distinguish subtle intonations,

Auditory input on waves of turbulent air,

A tendency to love pulsing impressions,

Emanating forth, emulating, wishing to share…

silence-harp-in-concert

Silence surrounds; the base note of existence…

Without that peace, would I appreciate sound?

Lilting of inner voice, harmony not dissonance,

A palette on which to speak, sing and listen is profound.

Silence: a constant companion, blank canvas for music,

The space between notes, said Claude Debussy,

Clasping violin, I perform my favourite acoustic,

Exploring the infinite waters of a fathomless sea.

silence-panorama

Sounds can nourish – biting into crunchy apple,

Or jangle cells, like long finger nails on a blackboard,

The terrifying cacophony of war, sound of battle,

Some are sweet, like a lover’s kiss, desired, adored.

Some are jolting, startling – a sudden, strident scream,

Soft tears of God; comforting, steady rain drops,

Splashing onto Earth, in relentless, rhythmic stream,

Solace for my soul, time to ponder, until it stops.

silence-rain

Sounds carry me to exotic, far flung places,

Where turbulent waves crash over distant lands,

Creatures howl and cry, endless echoes, many faces,

Inaudible grains of sand slip through my hands.

Floating on a breeze, flowers whisper the joy of scent,

Icy, cruel winds have their own sharp language,

Thunder fulminates across quivering landscapes, spent,

Hear my heartbeat; primordial thud – free from anguish.

silence-barn-thunderstorm

Life force emanates from all that is – eternal silence,

Out of the divine shroud a rustle, a breath: quiet, loud,

Familiar sounds bond to heart, enable resilience,

Earth’s endless maelstrom, amorphous as clouds.

Energy fields to immerse in, align with…

No tone goes unheard by the universe,

Flight – the whirring of gossamer wings will give,

A soprano’s broken heart, on an audience does disperse.

silence-maria-bayo-orchestra

Silence sets the stage, from birth to old age,

In-tune with tranquil Self, absorb oscillations,

To travel down memory lane, from same page,

Exulting in emotions of pitch and modulation.

Healing human wounds, retreating back to source,

Stillness resides there, diaphanous spark of essence,

Surrender to the vibrations, relinquish force,

Return always, into the sound of silence…

By Virginia Burges

silence-stained-glass