Accustomed to the Dark…

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In the deep, dismal depths of the Scottish Highland winter, Algy perched in a wee bush which still held a few decorative leaves and looked out into the darkness. Daylight was severely rationed now: the nights lasted well into the mornings, and started again in the mid-afternoons. But Algy knew that the year would soon be turning, and in the meantime he was growing accustomed to the darkness. He was reminded of a poem by Emily Dickinson, which he shares – with lots of fluffy hugs – with all his friends in the northerly latitudes of the world:

We grow accustomed to the Dark –
When Light is put away –
As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp
To witness her Good bye –

A Moment – We Uncertain step
For newness of the night –
Then – fit our Vision to the Dark –
And meet the Road – erect –

And so of larger – Darknesses –
Those Evenings of the Brain –
When not a Moon disclose a sign –
Or Star – come out – within –

The Bravest – grope a little –
And sometimes hit a Tree
Directly in the Forehead –
But as they learn to see –

Either the Darkness alters –
Or something in the sight
Adjusts itself to Midnight –
And Life steps almost straight.

[Algy is quoting the poem We grow accustomed to the Dark by the 19th century American poet Emily Dickinson.]

The sunshine lasted only a few hours, and by the next day the Scotch mist had descended again and the world had vanished once more. With such a dense, wet blanket blocking out the sky, and such a pale sun as there was behind the mist barely managing to rise above the horizon, the day was dismal at best… and exceedingly damp. But when Algy wandered around his assistant’s garden, wondering what to do with himself in endlessly miserable weather, he was delighted to see that the first snowdrops of the year were starting to flower, like a few scattered lights emerging cautiously from the darkness. As he gazed at the tiny flowers in the dim, dark depths of winter, Algy was reminded of a poem written many years ago… by a Bishop…

Flower of the Snow!—we hail thy birth,
Though cold and pale may be thy shrine,
A promise from all bounteous earth
To glad our northern clime.
Thou com’st to soothe us, star-like flower!
To check our dark despair;
And in the dim and wintry hour
To whisper God is there.
Sweet gem!—how like a faithful friend
Dost cheer our lonely hearth,
And, mid the world’s unkindness, lend
Thy light around our path.

Algy dedicates this post, and his first snowdrops of the year, to his special friends who understand only too well the need to check that dark despair… 

[Algy is quoting the poem To The Snowdrop by the 19th century English writer and cleric, Edward Henry Bickersteth, Bishop of Exeter, who is mainly remembered for writing the lyrics of some famous Christian hymns, such as Lead, Kindly Light and Nearer, My God, to Thee.]

At times the world seems covered in darkness, and Algy knows that many of his friends are struggling against the darkness at this especially dark time. But light can always conquer darkness, so Algy perched on a rock by the wild ocean, gazing at a pathway of light, and sang some verses by Goethe for his friends.

Des Menschen Seele
Gleicht dem Wasser:
Vom Himmel kommt es,
Zum Himmel steigt es,
Und wieder nieder
Ewig wechselnd

The human soul
is like water:
it comes from heaven,
it rises to heaven,
and again it must descend to earth
in an eternal alternation.

Listen to this beautiful recording of Gesang der Geister über den Wassern by the Vienna Vocalists and the String Ensemble of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

[Algy is singing Gesang der Geister über den Wassern (The Song of the Spirit over the Waters) by the late 18th/early 19th century German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. You can read the full text of the poem in German and English,
but Algy feels that the English translation given there does not do
full justice to the original.]

It was nearly midwinter now, and the West Highland days were very short and heavily overcast; by early afternoon the light was already growing dim. The wind continued blowing relentlessly, and although it was not as wild as it had been, it was quite strong enough to constantly ruffle Algy’s feathers and blow sand into his eyes. He looked for a sheltered spot out of the wind, but there was none to be found. So Algy settled on a rock which was less exposed than some of the others, and sat there quietly listening to the sea ebb and flow around him as darkness fell.

Algy was relieved to find that when daylight returned, the forest no longer seemed full of strange creatures and phenomena. Everything was hushed and calm, and when he looked all around in the morning light, Algy discovered a path which led out of the mass of dense, dark tree trunks into a bright clearing. Perching on a low, spiky branch, he watched the play of light at the end of the path, and thought about making his way home.

Many of the trees were twisted and gnarled, and much battered by the ravages of the winter storms, but in the early summer calm they were all at peace, and so was Algy. He sat quietly on his rock in the filtered sunshine and listened to all the tiny, gentle sounds of the forest and its creatures.

Algy would like to dedicate this post to all those who suffer from periods of darkness, from whatever cause. He hopes you will find the sunshine filtering through the canopy and lighting up your lives, as it lights up the forest floor 🙂