Working to Distribute the Darks and Lights
I do recall one time when I got to know him a little better, he called me in the office one day and he says to me, “Brownie,” he said, “Can you give me your idea of what imagination is?” And I said, “No I don’t have any idea.” He said, “Well, why don’t you think about it a couple of days and come back and we’ll talk about it.” But he never brought the subject up again. I’m very thankful, too.
Lynn Brown Jr., recalling a conversation with poet Wallace Stevens while working at Hartford Insurance Group.
Easter morning found me engulfed in a fifty-degree dark and rainy environment. Putting on the coffee, I sat down with an open journal and began reading selections from Anthony Storr’s Solitude that I had marked from earlier readings. As Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E Flat played in the background, my reading pointed me toward Willam Wordsworth’s “Prelude”. From earlier bouts of teaching English, I had read about “Prelude”, but with the work being of such great length, I had never gotten past the first page or two. Noting its autobiographical character, I moved to the Conclusion, then began to work backward, reading Book Fourteen. The segment paying tribute to our twin inseparable gifts of Imagination and Intellectual Love penetrated to my core the way I wish all reading would. I could hardly breathe as I read the following section, again and again:
This spiritual love acts not, nor can exist
Without imagination, which in truth
Is but another name for absolute power
And clearest insight, amplitude of mind,
And reason, in her most exalted mood.
This faculty hath been the feeding source
Of our long labor: we have traced the stream
From the blind cavern whence is faintly heard
Its natal murmur; followed it to light
And open day; accompanied its course
Among the ways of Nature; for a time
Lost sight of it, bewildered and engulphed;
Then given it greeting as it rose once more
In strength, reflecting from its placid breast
The works of man, and face of human life;
And lastly, from its progress have we drawn
Faith in life endless, the sustaining thought
Of human being, Eternity, and God.
—Imagination having been our theme,
So also hath that intellectual love,
For they are each in each, and cannot stand
Dividually.—Here must thou be, O Man!
Powers to thyself; no Helper hast thou here;
Here keepest thou in singleness thy state;
No other can divide with thee this work;
No secondary hand can intervene
To fashion this ability; ’tis thine,
In the recesses of thy nature, far
From any reach of outward fellowship,
Else is not thine at all.
William Wordsworth, “Prelude” Book Fourteen
Those precious words washed over me in the dim light of this rainy morning, and whispered comfort to my soul throughout the day. And now, at the opposite end of the day, seated next to my studio windows admitting the waning remnants of the late afternoon light, I read again this marvelous oracle. Imagination and Intellectual Love are offered to us as inseparable abilities, and no one else can work these powers for us–if they could, then the gifts would not be ours.
Throughout this day, as I continued to work on the watercolor posted above, I thought about my own personal history, revisiting and interpreting the unfolding of those years in much the same manner as Wordsworth in his own personal Prelude. I thought of my own childhood, nurtured in solitude as I was the oldest of my siblings by four years, not living in a neighborhood where children were available nearby to play. When I entered school, I did not know how to bond with the other strangers in class who already knew each other from kindergarten or church. I the stranger never sought a way to fit in with the crowd already familiar with itself. Daydreaming supplanted the teacher’s voice on a daily basis. Because I had artistic skills, I was provided encouragement and instruction to grow in that craft. Higher education showed me how to stock a toolbox with a variety of academic skills. The teaching profession in the decades following provided a daily laboratory for the construction of ideas, enabling me to build pyramids of truth and cathedrals of thought. In every stage of my life, two inseparable companions, Imagination and Intellectual Love, have affirmed me and given me the strength to explore these creative corridors. I’m grateful for this splendid Easter Day offered as a Gift to my existence. Thinking back over the years, meditating over this marvelous oracular text, and gazing at a painting under construction have worked together to build a beautiful day.
The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to aery nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Such tricks hath strong imagination,
That if it would but apprehend some joy,
It comprehends some bringer of that joy . . .
William Shakespeare, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
Thanks for reading.
I paint in order to remember.
I journal when I feel alone.
I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.