Dawn Roe

Chit Chatting with Virginia Woolf

(About some trees, empty spaces, and time’s tick-tock-tick-tock)

Edited by, Dawn Roe

Lately, I’ve been making artwork which seems to have landscape as its subject matter.  This has been peculiar to me for some time even though, I suppose, it is an obvious place to work given my preoccupation with space, time, memory, loss and longing – all that good stuff.  The natural world, for lack of a better term, seems as strange and elusive as all of those bits and pieces incessantly careening through our minds.  Still though, it’s a bit unclear to me what I’m doing out there.  I’m thinking that Virginia Woolf might have some idea….

“But how describe the world seen without a self? …How describe or say anything in articulate words again? …Blindness returns as one moves and one leaf repeats another.”

“It was odd, she thought, how if one was alone, one leant to inanimate things; trees, streams, flowers; felt they expressed one; felt they became one; felt they knew one, in a sense were one; felt an irrational tenderness (she looked at that long steady light) as for oneself.  There rose… there curled up off the floors of the mind, rose from the lake of one’s being, a mist…”

“But if there are no stories, what end can there be, or what beginning?  Life is not susceptible perhaps to the treatment we give it when we try to tell it.”

“Let us again pretend that life is a solid substance, shaped like a globe, which we turn about in our fingers.  Let us pretend that we can make out a plain and logical story, so that when one matter is dispatched…we go on, in an orderly manner, to the next.  I was saying there was a willow tree.  Its shower of falling branches, its creased and crooked bark had the effect of what remains outside our illusions yet cannot stay them, is changed by them for the moment, yet shows through stable, still, and with a sternness that our lives lack.  Hence the comments it makes; that standard it supplies, and the reason why, as we flow and change, it seems to measure.”

“But the stillness and the brightness of the day were as strange as the chaos and tumult of night, with the trees standing there, and the flowers standing there, looking before them, looking up, yet beholding nothing, eyeless, and so terrible.”

“And striking off these observations spontaneously I elaborate myself; differentiate myself and listening to the voice that says as I stroll past, ‘Look!  Take note of that!’ I conceive myself called upon to provide, some winter’s night, a meaning for all of my observations – a line that runs from one to another, a summing up that completes.”

“I cannot precisely lay fingers on this fact – it lodges loosely among my thoughts like a button, a small coin…  These are the things that forever interrupt the process upon which I am eternally engaged of finding some perfect phrase that fits this very moment exactly.”

“Often she found herself sitting and looking, sitting and looking, with her work in her hands until she became the thing she looked at – that light, for example.  And it would lift up on it some little phrase or other which had been lying in her mind like that – ‘Children don’t forget, children don’t forget’.”

“I saw the first leaf fall on his grave.  I saw us push beyond this moment, and leave it behind us forever.”

“She rammed a little hole in the sand and covered it up, by way of burying in it the perfection of the moment.  It was like a drop of silver in which one dipped and illumined the darkness of the past.”

“For one moment she felt that if they both got up, here, now on the lawn, and demanded an explanation… as two fully equipped human beings from whom nothing should be hid might speak, then, beauty would roll itself up; the space would fill; those empty flourishes would form into shape…”

“And time…let’s fall its drop.  The drop that has formed on the roof of the soul falls.  On the roof of my mind time, forming let’s fall its drop…  The drop fell.  All through the day’s work, at intervals, my mind went to an empty place, saying, “What is lost?  What is over?  And ‘Over and done with,’ I muttered, ‘over and done with,’ solacing myself with words….  This drop falling is time tapering to a point.  Time, which is a sunny pasture covered with a dancing light, time, which is widespread as a field at midday, becomes pendent.  Time tapers to a point.  As a drop falls from a glass heavy with some sediment, time falls.”

“I hate all details of the individual life.  But I am fixed here to listen.  An immense pressure is on me.  I cannot move without dislodging the weight of centuries.”

“Yet there are moments when the walls of the mind grow thin; when nothing is unabsorbed, and I could fancy that we might blow so vast a bubble that the sun might set and rise in it and we might take the blue of midday and the black of midnight and… escape from here and now.  Drop upon drop… silence falls.  It forms on the roof of the mind and falls into pools beneath.  Forever alone, alone, alone – hear silence fall and sweep its rings to the farthest edges… I, whom loneliness destroys, let silence fall, drop by drop.

“How then does light return to the world after the eclipse of the sun?  Miraculously.  Frailly.  In thin stripes.  It hangs like a glass cage.  It is a hoop to be fractured by a tiny jar… It puts on weight; rounds itself; hangs pendent; settles and swings beneath our feet.”

“It is not age; it is that a drop has fallen; another drop.  Time has given the arrangement another shake.  Out we creep from the arch of currant leaves, out into a wider world.”

“Nevertheless, life is pleasant, life is tolerable.  Tuesday follows Monday; then comes Wednesday.  The mind grows rings… Opening and shutting, shutting and opening… How fast the stream flows from January to December!  We are swept on by the torrent of things grown so familiar that they cast no shadow.  We float, we float…”

“But he kept looking back over his shoulder… and she was certain that he was thinking, we are not going to the Lighthouse tomorrow; and she thought, he will remember this all his life.”

“With her foot on the threshold she waited a moment longer in a scene which was vanishing even as she looked, and then… it had become, she knew, giving one last look at it over her shoulder, already the past.”

“The tree alone resisted our eternal flux.  For I changed and changed…”

Quotations excerpted from the following:

Woolf, Virginia.  To The Lighthouse.  Harcourt, Inc., 1927.

Woolf, Virginia.  The Waves.  Harcourt, Inc., 1931


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