On Solitude

Canticle 6

Alone one is never lonely: the spirit adventures, waking
In a quiet garden, in a cool house, abiding single there;
The spirit adventures in sleep, the sweet thirst-slaking
When only the moon’s reflection touches the wild hair.
There is no place more intimate than the spirit alone:
It finds a lovely certainty in the evening and the morning.
It is only where two have come together bone against bone
That those alonenesses take place, when, without warning
The sky opens over their heads to an infinite hole in space;
It is only turning at night to a lover that one learns
He is set apart like a star forever and that sleeping face
(For whom the heart has cried, for whom the frail hand burns)
Is swung out in the night alone, so luminous and still,
The waking spirit attends, the loving spirit gazes
Without communion, without touch, and comes to know at last
Out of a silence only and never when the body blazes
That love is present, that always burns alone, however steadfast.

 

May Sarton wrote this poem when she was just twenty six years old, decades before she wrote Journal of a Solitude, her remarkable prose work  documenting the twelve months she spent alone at the age of 60.  ‘Canticle 6’ was originally titled ‘Considerations’.  It explores the fine line between solitude and loneliness.

 

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Original photograph by the author

Green Buddha

I woke to snow this morning and a strong sense of silence and isolation. The snow muffled the sounds of traffic from the village and I felt like I was on another planet.  Looking out into the pristine garden I recalled my childhood excitement at each snowfall.  I opened the bedroom window and gathered a hand full of white from the sill.  The cold made me feel more alive.  Years ago I had a collie-cross dog called Floss who loved the snow, ploughing through it with his head down snuffling and snorting, rolling around in a frenzy.  He would return home eventually with tiny snow balls dangling from his long hair, thawing out all over the house and leaving puddles in his wake.  Cats are far more sensible.  Nadia went out warily, making staccato steps as the snow stung her soft pads.  She left a delicate solo track across the decking where my green Buddha looked on serenely.

 

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“I do not dispute with the world; rather it is the world that disputes with me.”

The Buddha

 

Dark Days

The end of the year can be a difficult time for those of us who are alone, either through circumstance or choice.  In the northern hemisphere temperatures drop, the nights grow longer and Christian communities begin their Christmas celebrations.  More than any other time of year there is an emphasis on family values and sharing which can leave single people feeling alienated.  There is a stigma attached to being alone at Christmas.  Turkey for one?  So in this post I wish to share some inspiring quotes reminding us that solitude can be a positive and healthy choice.  Being alone does not necessarily mean feeling lonely and company is often overrated.  The beaming, perfect families of television commercials rarely exist in reality.  If you find yourself alone this Festive Period use the time wisely to recharge and regenerate your energy levels, treat yourself kindly and cherish your freedom.  I’m planning to lock myself indoors with a fridge full of party food, a bottle of the local whisky liquor and a pile of wonderful books.

Ten quotes to celebrate the gift of solitude:-

1. “… the highest and most decisive experience of all, … is to be alone with his own self, or whatever else one chooses to call the objectivity of the psyche. The patient must be alone if he is to find out what it is that supports him when he can no longer support himself. Only this experience can give him an indestructible foundation.”

Carl Jung (1943)

2.  “In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.”

Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays

3.  “The only antidote to fear is to go through it. Only by embracing loneliness may its tyranny be broken.”

James Hollis (1996)

4.  “I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.”

Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

5.  “My imagination functions much better when I don’t have to speak to people.”

Patricia Highsmith

6.  “Therefore, dear Sir, love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you. For those who are near you are far away… and this shows that the space around you is beginning to grow vast…. be happy about your growth, in which of course you can’t take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind; be confident and calm in front of them and don’t torment them with your doubts and don’t frighten them with your faith or joy, which they wouldn’t be able to comprehend. Seek out some simple and true feeling of what you have in common with them, which doesn’t necessarily have to alter when you yourself change again and again; when you see them, love life in a form that is not your own and be indulgent toward those who are growing old, who are afraid of the aloneness that you trust…. and don’t expect any understanding; but believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.”

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

7.  “There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more”

George Gordon Byron

8.  “The more powerful and original a mind, the more it will incline towards the religion of solitude.”

Aldous Huxley

9.  “I have to be alone very often. I’d be quite happy if I spent from Saturday night until Monday morning alone in my apartment. That’s how I refuel.”

Audrey Hepburn: Many-Sided Charmer, LIFE Magazine, December 7, 1953

10.  “Orlando naturally loved solitary places, vast views, and to feel himself for ever and ever and ever alone.”

Virginia Woolf, Orlando

 

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Fire and Water

I love…

the smell

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…of candle wax

in the evening.

 

Constant rain crashing from black skies has kept me indoors for the last two days.  The stream adjacent to my garden burst its banks yesterday and flooded the field.  I’ve watched anxiously as water levels rose higher and higher getting dangerously close.  My home has been flooded twice in the past so I know the full horror and helplessness  of that experience.  My stress levels have been rising along with the water.

Tonight it was a comfort to light candles in a home that has survived another day.  And to be grateful that I am still warm and dry in my sanctuary.

Some Like It Cold

In John o’Groats Marilyn is ready
for the fray, fresh lipstick, folded pink
napkins, polished counters.
And her namesake pouts from on high.

One scoop or two? She’s ample
with vanilla, frivolous with fudge
frosting when the Orkney ferry men
drop by for cones and the latest crack.

The easterly ripples the canopy stripes,
keening like the piper from the pier,
The Pentland Strait froths whirlpools
of café au lait on the rocks.

End to Enders celebrate, guzzling
champagne, taking turns taking
photographs under the signpost.
By lunchtime Marilyn’s low

on peaches and cream, high on rum
and raisin.  She pops out for a fag,
sits on her bench in the car park reading
War And Peace as Stroma disappears into haar.

Herring gulls scout for wafers at her feet.
A bus full of Germans reverses past
the Edinburgh Woollen Mill, clockwork heads
turning her way.  Mizzled tourists queue

but Marilyn is oblivious. The wind surges
and her skirts swirl like a snow flurry.
A sudden gust and she rises, bench and book
and all, up, up high into meandering skies.

 

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Note 1:- John o’Groats is a small village on the far north eastern tip of Scotland with spectacular views out to the Orkney Islands.  It’s a landmark destination for tourists, many of whom wrongly assume it’s the most northerly point of mainland Britain.  In fact, a remote spot named Dunnet Head is the most northerly point and is located about 15 miles west of John o’Groats.  ‘End to Enders’ is the phrase used to describe the many determined folk who journey like pilgrims, sometimes on foot or by bizarre means, from Land’s End (Britain’s most southerly point) to John o’Groats, a distance of 874 miles.

Note 2:- ‘Crack’ or ‘Craic’ is a northern term meaning gossip, news or chatter.

Note 3:- Stroma is a small abandoned island, part of the Orkney group.

Apologies for the Turtle

I

If I write about you, will you go away?
Your reptilian stare, leathery grin, chilling
skin follow me everywhere.  It’s disconcerting.
You keep popping up without warning,
that alarming sneer, so hoity toity!
Why don’t you piss off back
down deep? No-one will miss
you here.  You don’t fit in.

Dump the rubber shell suit, try navy blue
anorak, polyester trousers from Tesco.  Stop eating
strange fish. What’s wrong with mince and tatties?
Your body odour is hard to ignore, try
Impulse Sweet Smile.  Join the SWRI,
take up baking…I’m quite partial to a Gypsy
Cream.  And I’ve been meaning to ask, why
are there jelly fish on your lawn?

II

I’m old as the sea and twice as deep.
I was born in the land where memories sleep.
History will keep repeating the subsonic beep
of your fears. Like surf drawing the beach
I will return, to be hanged by the neck
till almost dead but never
quiet.

III

Being entirely ocean going, leatherbacks never encounter barriers in the sea that they cannot swim around.

‘They’re not used to any kind of restraint, they’ve never seen a wall,’ Jenny McCloud, the aquarium’s rescue director said to The Shetland Post.

‘They’ll continue to struggle, they’ll continue to swim forward.’

 

Memoirs of a Sea Pebble, Part 2