CXXXIII

 

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

Observation of nature concretely portrayed and mediated through metaphor in lyrical language:  If you can put all of that together you might almost verge on myth.  What I just wrote sounds pretentious, doesn’t it?  Let us then emphasize the word verge.

leafburning3

Autumn Ritual

Sonnet XLIII

A ceaseless motion, hub and rim and spoke:

The colors turn in endless cycles ‘round

From gold, to green, to yellow or red, to brown

On birch and chestnut, maple, elm, and oak.

Although the mists of time their movements cloak,

They do not rest for long upon the ground:

From earth, to roots, to branches; then back down

They dance in air , or up again in smoke.

leafburning1

So what becomes of those we pile and burn?

Trees owe the gods a tithe of what they make;

We send the offering up for them with rake

And match, ensuring that the wheel will turn

Once more from gold, to green, to red, to brown,

From earth, to roots, to branches, then back down.

Autumn3

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.

Donald T. Williams, PhD

High Trinity: Now I lay me down to sleep

“But these are all dead, and I am alive!” I objected, shuddering.

“Not much,” rejoined the sexton with a smile, “—not nearly enough! Blessed be the true life that the pauses between its throbs are not death!”

“The place is too cold to let one sleep!” I said.

“Do these find it so?” he returned. “They sleep well—or will soon. Of cold they feel not a breath: it heals their wounds.—Do not be a coward, Mr. Vane. Turn your back on fear, and your face to whatever may come. Give yourself up to the night, and you will rest indeed. Harm will not come to you, but a good you cannot foreknow.”

George MacDonald, Lilith ch. vii (1895).

The other night I fell asleep with my windows open. A refreshing chill awakened me. Summer’s days were numbered. Autumn was literally in the air.

Vigorously as I maintain that spring is the joy and crown of the seasons, I have come to appreciate the retreat of summer before the advance of autumn.  There are obvious reasons for this: crisp air, golden afternoons, brilliant leaves. Thautumn washout gqpere are, however, less obvious reasons: lengthening shadows, shortening days, death. If spring’s motif is resurrection, autumn’s motif is death. What is the succession of changing leaves but a vivid death march, with the brilliant maples in the vanguard and the subdued crimson of the stately oaks holding the rearguard? And, when the last of the oak leaves has given up the ghost, what remains on the branches? Thousands of magnificent little death monuments, the bronzed beech leaves.

For the conclusion of last year’s Trinity season, I wrote a paean to maturity under the sun.  Under the sun, though, what follows maturity? Death. In embracing the former, we cannot help but receive the latter — to lay down in the cold, not knowing when we will rise.

In the merciful providence of God we need not flee the brilliance or the cold of advancing death.  This thing, which once was our dread enemy, has been conquered by a Man. It is now His instrument for cleansing the old earth’s palate for the new earth, and our palate for the resurrection. Just as sleep has ever been His instrument for cleansing our palates for the new day, and autumn His instrument for cleansing the world’s palate for the freshness of spring.

Tough Guide to Fantasy Clichés: Rain, Rain, Go Away!

I hope that we have all taken away valuable lessons from this month of tough, but true fantasy clichés.  I think the lesson to be learned here is not necessarily to avoid things that might be considered cliché, but rather to be aware of the possibilities and to wield them appropriately.  Consider how these aspects of world building – names, colours, villains, animals – could be used to create more realism or whatever it is you are trying to go for in your particular world.  Use a cliché to misdirect a reader or to be ironic, whatever you wish.  Just don’t disregard them!

The final issue that I want to observe, through Diana Wynne Jones’ eyes, is the issue of weather.  The weather in my part of the world these past few months has been, in a word, bizarre. And having just watched a wild thunderstorm rush through only to be replaced by sunshine in a matter of an hour, it seems appropriate to conclude with some thoughts about seasons and weather and what they can do in a story.

frost road mistyFirst, let’s start with Jones:

Seasons in Fantasyland appear to be the normal Spring, Summer, Autumn (sometimes called Fall by the Management), and Winter, but few Tours get to see them all.  The Management tends to start you out in late Autumn, by tradition, and you will then experience only Winter.  Your perceptions are messed up anyway, because you will be travelling into hot climates and cold, as well as traversing many magical microclimates.  You may as well give up wondering what the Season is and think of it all as Weather.

I sometimes wonder whether seasons have fallen into that same problematic category as wild animals in which we just don’t have the time to spare to describing them.  If the season is mentioned, it is normally referenced because it is part of the plot, and in that case, probably because of fierce wintery blizzards or perhaps endless summer droughts.  When I think about seasons in most fantasy novels (including my own!), I feel inclined to disagree with Jones.  There are not four seasons in Fantasyland, but only two: Winter and That Other One.  Winter is when it’s cold, and the rest of the time, it’s That Other One.  Otherwise, I can’t be bothered to go into details about what goes on to distinguish one season from another.

red forestJones’ solution for her Tourists is to consider Weather rather than Seasons, which seems remarkably sensible, when you think about it.  So what does she say about Weather?

Weather is always wrong for what you are doing at the time.  It varies from heat/drought if you must travel quickly, to heavy rain if you need just to travel.  If you need to sleep rough, there is always a frost; invariably, if you have to cross Mountains, there will be a thunderstorm or blizzard.  Some of the reason for this is that, despite obvious drawbacks, the Management nearly always arranges for Tours to set out in late autumn or early winter (see Seasons).  The rest is natural perversity.  Weather is, too, remarkably apt to reflect the emotions of the Tour party.  It is sullen and grey if the party is quarrelling among itself, bright and springlike if everyone is happy.  It is also very susceptible to Magic, particularly at sea, where Storms can be raised in instants (see Storm Control), and in Deserts, where dust storms can be created almost as quickly.  The general advice here is to keep smiling and avoid annoying Wizards.

I think the problem that we find ourselves facing with fantasy novels, particularly of the questing sort, is that our unfortunate travelers are on the road all the time.  If you have ever taken a road trip, you know that the travel between destinations can sometimes be extremely dull.  Take away air conditioning and music and the trip becomes unimaginably dull.  So what do we do with our questing heroes for days on end?  We can simply state “Three weeks passed before they reached the town of…” or we can try to fill the days with events, either attacks, internal struggle, or Weather.

flower tree forest gardenSo what do we do with weather if we don’t want it to become cliché?  I think Jones is right to warn us in her wonderful way that weather should not always reflect the emotional well being of the heroes.  If I see one more movie in which a death or funeral is set during a rainstorm, I will probably throw something.  However, using weather as part of the action of the story can be a helpful (if mean) way to fill in empty days of travel.  Using weather well will also help give your reader a sense of time and place and add to the general scenery.

And now, are there any final thoughts on these cliché traps?  Are we all better writers for them?  It’s been fun exploring Jones’ Tough Guide this month, and I will see you all in July!

Sprintummer: How Much We Rely on The Shake of His Mane

Springtime in Virginia!
Springtime in Virginia!

Virginia has endured some incredible, bizarre, and unpredictable weather over the last couple of months.  I have dubbed it The Year of the Sprintummer.  Just as the last of the cold, wet stuff had seeped into the cool earth and the trees had begun to unfurl the first timid buds, the clouds discovered that they had previously unnoticed reservoirs of ice and snow yet to dump on us; the winds, which were becoming almost zephyrous devolved once again into arctic blasts; and the wretched flora (as well as a few unfortunate Virginians like myself) became crystallized in the onslaught.

Long-suffering, we walk shivering in snow or sleet or freezing winds and think that we cannot even remember what this magical thing called warm feels like.  And then, somewhere between a chilly sunset and a gentle sunrise, the weather has changed.  Suddenly, it is warm.  No, it is hot and we are buying ice creams and frolicking in meadows wearing sandals and listening to birds singing and frogs chirring and flowers blossoming.  Yes, you can practically hear the flowers shaking off the cold and spreading their petals once more.

And then you hear them start to wilt as the blazing heat threatens to finish what last week’s chill began.  Flowers can never catch a break.

Sprintummer: when summer and winter engage in a war for supremacy in the middle of spring.

And all we wanted was to be able to go outside without mittens.

flowers in the woodsI think the most frustrating thing about this confusing season is that we are missing the magic of spring.  There is something supremely and subtly dramatic in the casting off of winter and the coming of the new season.  It isn’t supposed to happen all at once and skip straight to summer.  Winter is not supposed to regain its hold all of a sudden.  The perfect spring is a slow progression of cold to cool to mild to warm.  It is a beautiful shift from whites and grays to greens and violets and yellows and pinks.flowering tree old building

What we really want is to see the world resurrect in slow motion, a little bit more every time we wake up, until it has become truly alive again.  The profound change from death to life has been translated into many myths.  Unfortunate Persephone’s forced marriage with Hades sends her down into “death” and back into “life” in an eternal cycle that manifests in the changing of the seasons.

But the more appropriate story, of course, is the coming of Aslan:

Wrong will be right, when Aslan shows his might,

At the sounds of his roar, sorrows will be no more

When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death

And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again. (The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe)

springtime in paris
Springtime in Paris

I suppose in Narnia, after that hundred year winter, they deserved the speedily delivered spring.  But it was spring, not summer, not Sprintummer.  It was spring.  We look at the world being renewed and we see life after death: the bare bones of “dead” trees become verdant and green and the hard, brown earth erupts with colors.  If you live somewhere with four seasons, perhaps you share this sense that spring is special.  It promises relief, beauty, and pleasure.

It also represents the end of a very great and dreadful Winter two thousand years ago;  and it promises us a final, glorious spring when the Lion will move with infinite power and shake His mane once more on the winter of this world.

So, in conclusion, there is something seriously wrong with this whole Sprintummer thing.  Aslan would not approve.

Vienna in the spring
Vienna in the spring

XLVII

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

 

The passage of time never ceases to be a wonder and a mystery.  How, for example, do so many days manage to elapse between these blog entries?  As the years lengthen and the ones remaining shrink, one begins to notice about Spring not only the rebirth of nature but just as much the stage being set for another Fall.  I noticed this rather early, as you can see.  It is an inescapable part of the human condition.  It comes home especially strongly in the upper Midwest, where Spring is so late and so fleeting a phenomenon.

IN ANTICIPATION OF AUTUMN

(ON SEEING THE NEWBORN LEAVES)

June, 1974

Luxuriant, green-growth leaves that tower tall

Above our heads to form a mighty ceiling

Are surely destined down to die and fall,

The bare, left-lifeless, lifted limbs revealing

That bore them up until the fatal voice

Of Frost should come and whisper softly, sealing

Their fate.  They choose (and yet they have no choice)

To go a wandering, homeless vagabonds,

Seeking for a reason to rejoice

More than they had when, high, in soft green fronds,

The formed a restful, rustling canopy

To filter sunlight into summer ponds.

And I wonder why men (and I am one) must be

So like the leaves they see on every tree.

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://www.createspace.com/3562314 and order Stars Through the Clouds!

Donald T. Williams, PhD