Trees, care taking and a Happy New Year
Vexilla Regis, 1948, Graphite and Watercolour on paper by David Jones
Since I find myself living anew in Switzerland at the edge of a forest, I should end the year with a picture of trees with a twist.
There are two great English language poets. one English, one Welsh, both Londoners, who wrote imaginatively out of the 'matter of Britain', rooted in a metaphysical vision, and who were great painters: the one is William Blake, the other is David Jones. Both visions were rooted in traditions of knowledge. In Blake's case, these were 'esoteric', a hidden tradition. In Jones' case, these were, at first sight, exoteric, known - Roman Catholicism, Welsh myth and folk lore and the Island's history. They intersect at a recognition that the world is brought fully to life in our conscious acts of it being actually loved and known. We have a responsibility to the world to bring it to its redeemed fullness that is ours alone yet which reveals everything as it is in itself, a sacrament, an 'outward and visible sign of grace', gift, not 'our own' but God's owning, giving.
This 'care taking of the cosmos' was the theme of my favourite book of 2013: Gary Lachman's 'The Caretakers of the Cosmos: Living Responsibly in an Unfinished World'. This beautifully charted a number of those Western esoteric traditions such as Hermeticism and the Kabbalah that have this sense of something incomplete that is awaiting our care at their heart.
It is the artist's task to show what the actualities of the fulfilment of that care might look like as here with Jones' 'Vexilla Regis'. Here you step into a wood that is never simply trees, a tree is never simply so, but a place saturated in story, stories that confer abundant life and that have both 'presence' and 'history'. It is a place in which unfold worlds, in and out of time, and in which layers of being are lived 'at once'. Horses play, angels sport, and Stonehenge holds its mysteries on a distant yet proximate hill.
At heart, the painting says, every place is waiting to be listened to and heard, and we can only act intelligently if we have learned the wisdom of where we are. This requires a patience, and a cleansing of the 'doors of perception' that we are reluctant to undertake, and to which our current cultural mores are ill disposed, but which are essential to our seeing and being human.
The wish for the New Year can only be that we take time to stand in places that gift us the actuality of such seeing that Jones (and Blake) invite us too and from this seeing allow the real world to come into being, the completed, compassion drenched, wise world of the divinely human visioning.