Incidentally I love the cleverness of the cover of this book. That well-known painting by Eric Ravilious of the view from The Belle Tout Lighthouse with its six 'facets' clear to see.
Armed with her notebooks and sketchbooks Ann Wroe sets off to tramp (as they would say in New Zealand, it's a term I like) around the South Downs and coastline of East Sussex, meditating not only on her own thoughts and revelations on the subject of light but drawing in a bevvy of writers, painters and scientists to offer theirs, and I have been transfixed by my reading of this book so far. It's not been a book to dip into, or to pick up if I only have snatched moments. I have found it needs peace and quiet and prolonged concentration and have been happy to give it that without rushing to turn the page, or finish a chapter.
Anyway, so deeply impressed have I been that I set off on a drizzly spring morning to go and see what light-like things I could see.
This can't be that difficult surely...
I'd take a notebook (waterproof) and pencil in my walking bag and who knows I might even do the odd sketch.
Back in the day 'eager eyes found potential messages everywhere in nature.' My old friend Gerard Manley Hopkins was always at it. So were John Clare, Thomas Traherne, Richard Jefferies. Thoreau, Herbert just a few of the names illuminating the path for Ann Wroe as she meanders her way to an understanding of light.
Six Facets of Light is a book that is making me look and think more closely, and closer again. In its own way this feels like a hymn of praise, a thanksgiving and a celebration of something replete with mystery. And it is those days of mystery that Ann Wroe revives and makes accessible once more. The days when everything still lay waiting to be explained and understood, the right words to be found to describe the discoveries. Slowly the shackles of modern scientific thought and progress and theory slip away and I find myself observing light as if I have only just realised it existed.
How clever a book has to be to achieve that, and especially welcome for someone who flunked Physics because it was too much like Chemistry... and English Literature was much more interesting.
Peeking our heads into a nearby barn a few weeks ago, whilst on the Cat Hunt, the Kayaker and I were stopped in our tracks by this...
Like the tomb at Maes Howe on Orkney, there can be very few days in the year and times in the day when the sun is at the right height in the sky to shine in through this tiny west-facing aperture. It was light but not as we knew it, and as we scuffed up the straw and dust into the beams of light (alright, we'd done a bit more than peek heads in door by now) the beams took on a strange three-dimensional box-like perspective, like wooden beams, nigh on impossible to describe let alone capture on camera.
'Bright effluence of bright essence increate,' suggests Milton...
'The extreme brightness of everything,' says Eric Ravilious..
Lumen de lumine...
There was a sense that the box of light could readily have contained anything I had wanted to put in it...it really was the strangest moment and one I have thought about a great deal whilst reading this book.
Perhaps our modern day equivalents of those 17th century mysteries are the genome, or maybe whatever it is the Hadron Collider is trying to discover... and did you read about the weasel who had chewed through the Hadron cables.
Good old nature.
So I had set off on this walk In Search of Light, camera in hand too, for who knows what phenomena I might miss if I didn't have it with me... and that was probably the reason I came home with over a hundred photos but no notes and no sketches. No prosaic notes on the very nature of light, its purest essence, its divine source etc because, as I should have realised from that moment of barnlight a few weeks earlier, this whole light thing is indeed very elusive, almost impossible to pin down. The sort of thing seen by chance and never forgotten, the pinning down on the page I suspect best left in the expert hands of Ann Wroe, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Goethe et al.
Nor am I sure Ann Wroe had dogs with her, she doesn't say so, but they do require some attention. Off in a reverie I suddenly wonder where they are, well where Rusty is. Nell stays close by but Rusty loves a good outrun after a pheasant or three and my reverie is broken with some hard work on the whistle.
And then there was the distraction of the bluebells.
Gerard Manley Hopkins says..
'I do not think I have ever seen anything more beautiful than the bluebell I have been looking at...'
And I think Gerald might have added 'and that lovely spring-sprung-sprocker sitting in their midst' had he been with me and seen Nell. Sorry, I love this picture so much it's going on here twice in less than three hours...
Though it wasn't fashionable to admit it in the Class of '72, I did have an affinity with the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. I still have my school edition and still read it.
Gerald features large in Six Facets of Light, where he also has something to say about bluebells, as Ann Wroe elaborates...
'He also discovered in 1873, in Hodder Wood near Stonyhurst, that bluebells seemed to lend their colours to light; that light 'beating up from so many glassy heads', became an emanation of their blue,' [floating] their deeper instress upon the mind' until it flowed above as Mary's veil. sanctifying the woods.' ...it was only in unpicked multitudes that bluebells made their holy light.'
Well it didn't happen quite that way for me I must admit, but we had a lovely two hour wander, I think John Clare would have said we 'saunered' and I did look closely, and then closer again even though my notebook remained untouched.
'An Empty Book is like an Infant's Soul. It is capable of All Things but containeth Nothing,' said Thomas Traherne of his new notebook, 'I Have a Mind to fill this with Profitable Wonders.'
Isn't that just wonderful, as is Six Facets of Light and I am looking forward to Ann Wroe's next three essays very much indeed.
And whilst my notebook may be empty of Profitable Wonders on this occasion, I did at least come home and write this to share it with all of you.
If you have read this I would love to know your thoughts...
And any memorable moments of light-noticing that come to mind... those lumen de lumine experiences..