The Shepherdess – A Copy

The Shepherdess Copy by DMD

I remember

 the silence

the solitude

the softness of lambs

looking for their mothers

the world

somewhere else

the youth

of my dreams

the peace in my heart.

 

I was not original

copying another’s vision

how was it wrong

to be so serene

as I learned

the technique

and satisfaction

of being an artist

long ago

and faraway

still within sight

every day.

I wanted to post something for Easter to go along with this painting that I did many many years ago. You may recognize it as a likeness of The Shepherdess (1866) by Johann Baptist Hofner. I used to copy a lot in the ‘old’ days – a great way to develop, I think, like a lamb learning from its mother, all innocence and belief .

The Shepherdess by Johann Baptist Hofner

The Shepherdess by Johann Baptist Hofner

Blessings for Easter and Spring!


donatellasmallest©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

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Journeying to Ireland – Repost

Copyright 2012 by DM Denton

Copyright 2012 by DM Denton

♣ A spring Sunday in Dublin, Christ’s little brides happy to celebrate with a meal at McDonalds
♣ From coast to coast, covered in cowslips and folksongs
♣ Not a limerick heard, not even in its place where we stayed entertained by a harp’s angel
♣ Bumping along in coaches with windows steamed and destinations , like the weather, constantly changing
♣ The mystery of alpine flowers on the Burren’s stony paradise
♣ Orchids not for picking
♣ Layers of streets, a lunch of mussels and beer, and buying old postcards in Galway
♣ Thoughts swept away by the cliffs of Moher
♣ Secluded coves with sandy beaches
♣ The mile long dream of Dingle, being Ryan’s daughter, tea with Peggy and tales of Gregory Peck
♣ Shrine at Slea head, the edge of the world
♣ A ring in Kerry that never broke its promise
♣ Starlings descending on Killarney
♣ Muckross magic in mossy woods, botanical gardens, mist shrouded mountains and mirror-clear lakes
♣ Rhododendrons and fuchsias wilder than anywhere else would allow
♣ The meeting of the waters and differing reasons for being there
♣ Miles and miles of freedom on a bicycle
♣ Airy woods of oak and ash and silver birch, feathery fern, lichen dripping and moss imagining a smaller world
♣ Fields of gorse and heather blending yellow and purple
♣ Sunshine and rain breezing in and out, taking turns to create the artist’s view
♣ Water, water everywhere, all around and in-between
♣ Sudden cascades and corners of serenity
♣ Train station benches turned for looking the other way
♣ A cottage for a week, stray cats at the door, peat burning slowly and sweetly, wild mushrooms and blackberries for breakfast, lunch and dinner

Copyright 2012 by DM Denton

Copyright 2012 by DM Denton

♣ A thousand welcomes from new friends who would never be old
♣ Not a day or night without a smile and a song
♣ So much more to remember than forget

And so I return, again and again.

I traveled there a woman
and came back a child
with my eyes full of the clouds
coming over the mountains
so I could never tell
how high they were;
the rivers going on
forever,
the irises
floating down to the sea,
the fuchsias so wild,
but not really.
All along the way
cowslips lived
where meadows survived
and milkmaids didn’t mind
the rain
so sudden
as suddenly gone.
The fields were greener than any
in France
through the glass of our visit
going down to the sea,
everywhere surrounding,
only my heart brave enough
to go on
into the waves,
a lonesome boatman calling me
to come live with him
forever.
DM Denton 1983

Diane on Dingle Beach 1983

Diane on Dingle Beach 1983

©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

Perseverance, Purpose, and Mathematics

From a letter Charlotte Brontë wrote to Hartley Coleridge, June 16, 1847:

Bronte_poems2

Sir,

My relatives Ellis and Acton Bell and myself, heedless of the repeated warnings of various respectable publishers, have committed the rash act of printing a volume of poems.

The consequences predicted have, of course, overtaken us; our book is found to be a drug; no man needs it or heeds it. In the space of a year our publisher has disposed but of two copies and by what painful efforts, he succeeded in getting rid of those two himself only knows.

Before transferring the edition to the Trunk-makers, we have decided on distributing as presents, a few copies of what we cannot sell.

Besides demonstrating Charlotte’s wry humor, which, I have no doubt, masked her disappointment and frustration, her letter also reveals an important choice she made in order to move past this discouraging experience of presenting the Brontë sisters’ writing to the public. I might add that the poetry collection, which they paid to have published, did inspire a few positive reviews from newspaper critics.

I feel very grateful that Charlotte wrote that letter. Of course, she had no idea it would be preserved to reach out and beyond its original purpose and, for all those writers who would come after her, set a sagacious example of how to deal with setbacks, even failures, by acknowledging them, feeling the irony in them, confronting their implications without relinquishing future progress and possibilities to them.

Yellow Rose DM Denton 3 with text

Illustration Copyright 2016 by DM Denton

 

fritz-eichenberg-jane-eyre-cover

My mother’s Jane Eyre, 1941 Edition with woodcuts by Fritz Eichenberg

In a letter to her friend Ellen Nussey in October, 1844, Charlotte expressed a similar resilience in the face of defeat when “the enterprise of keeping a school”, which she and her sisters had devised to the point of sending out flyers/”cards of terms” and even thinking about alterations to the parsonage in order to accommodate it, didn’t materialize.

We have no present intention of breaking our hearts on the subject—still less of feeling mortified at defeat—The effort must be beneficial whatever the result may be—because it teaches us experience and an additional knowledge of the world.

 

In the autumn of 1845, Charlotte rather stealthily came upon Emily’s poems. Emily was furious at such an invasion of her privacy and insisted she didn’t write with any thought of publication—perhaps, afraid she might make an enemy of the constant companion writing was to her.

When weary with the long day’s care,
And earthly change from pain to pain,
And lost, and ready to despair,
Thy kind voice calls me back again:
Oh, my true friend! I am not lone,
While then canst speak with such a tone!

Charlotte, who managed to convince Emily to publish her poems under the pseudonym Ellis Bell, would not believe “a mind like (Emily’s) could not be without some latent spark of honorable ambition”.

sketch-of-emily-bronte-and-keeper-from-emilys-diary-image-via-the-bookman-1898

Sketch by Emily Brontë

George Eliot also had her thoughts on how to approach any endeavor, likely with the activity of writing in mind:

Failure after long perseverance is much grander than to never have a striving good enough to be called failure.

Dedication-page0001 (2)

A year ago this week, my second novel (historical fiction), To A Strange Somewhere Fled (dedication above), was published. As with my first, A House Near LuccoliI was optimistic on its release and for its subsequent reception.

“What a fool you must be,” said my head to my heart, or my sterner to my softer self.
~ Anne Brontë, Agnes Grey

I don’t think I ever have or will fool myself into thinking my writing lends itself to mainstream appeal. However, I do still believe it can and should be read by many more than have already. I’m very grateful to every buyer, reader, and reviewer. But, if I’m honest, I have to admit I’ve had moments of feeling very frustrated, defeated, even of breaking my heart because I find myself questioning my lifelong calling to write.

Looking to those who have come before also helps, although there are contradicting philosophies …

The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt. ~ Sylvia Plath
or
The writer who loses his self-doubt, who gives way as he grows old to a sudden euphoria, to prolixity, should stop writing immediately: the time has come for him to lay aside his pen. ~ Colette

My wish to survive and write more and feel “the effort must be beneficial whatever the result may be“, inclines me towards the latter advice. Sylvia Plath had hardly begun to explore her potential when she took her own life at the age of 31. In contrast and, in no way meaning to demean Plath’s ongoing struggle with depression, Colette lived out the natural span of her life to the age of 81, experiencing marital abuse and other difficulties and setbacks, taking detours on unexpected roads, often expressing philosophical optimism. “You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm.” “Hope costs nothing.” “Be happy. It’s one way of being wise.”

I believe what made Colette a survivor was her ability to create out of the dark as well as the light: “Look for a long time at what pleases you, and longer still at what pains you…”

1312496-Colette

Colette in old age with one of her cats

So now, whenever I despair, I no longer expect my end, but some bit of luck, some commonplace little miracle which, like a glittering link, will mend again the necklace of my days.
~ Colette, The Vagabond

So what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Or, to paraphrase: what doesn’t stop you writing makes you more determined to do it.

In the past year, I have contributed three short biographies to The Literary Ladies Guide to the Writing Life: Mary Webb, Christina Rossetti, and, just this week, Jean Rhys (click each name to read them). In different ways, all three overcame discouragement to continue writing. Mary Webb attained some positive critical attention and even won the Prix Femina Vie Heureuse, but her books didn’t actually become commercially successful until shortly after her death in 1927 when Britain’s Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin publicly praised her writing (you can see an actual letter he wrote her here) and called her a neglected genius (Hmm … he couldn’t have said so a little sooner?).

bluebell-collage2 with text and border

Illustration Copyright 2016 by DM Denton

Yes, writers struggle with their own doubts, but also from others’ perceptions and avoidance, especially those close to them.  They can’t help wondering if praise from those quarters is patronizing and, on the other hand, find it hard to deal with their work being dismissed or even ignored by those who “should” be the first to encourage and help to promote their work. Christina Rossetti’s own brother pronounced her too pious to care if her writing achieved any success, an unfounded assessment in view of her passion for and lifetime pursuit of poetic expression.

There is always another side, always. ~ Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea

Jean Rhys’ last novel, Wide Sargasso Sea, published when she was 76, finally brought her popular success and financial reward, but she wasn’t impressed, saying it had come “too late”. Yet, like Colette, in spite of a life resembling a roller-coaster ride of experiences, relationships, and sometimes crossed-purposes, and while rebelling against how “her obsession (to write) gripped her”, she also understood that writing got rid of obsessions and produced “clarification”, that even if she didn’t want to write, she had to since “life has no shape, art is necessary, it provides some shape, at least to hold on to”.

beatprofile-1

Jean Rhys

“All of writing is a huge lake. There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky. And then there are mere trickles, like Jean Rhys. All that matters is feeding the lake. I don’t matter. The lake matters. You must keep feeding the lake.”  ~ Jean Rhys

When I was young, writing was about dreaming up and playing with stories until I grew tired of them.

Young Diane at Typewriter

Now, chosen by them, I honor them as they do me by giving them the best expression I can and persevering patiently when they are troubling because I know they will be ultimately rewarding to my sense of accomplishment and completeness—no matter the mathematical odds against them bringing me fame and fortune.

From To A Strange Somewhere Fled

No one was there, except whom she mournfully invited and didn’t hope would appear. Until something was forming and even stirring, one line then two, black marks turning into graceful strokes, almost half-a-page filled before she knew it, pouring like blood from a deep wound. If only she could keep it flowing, instead of grief drying it up and making it hard and leaving a stain with no poetry about it.

Two Cassee Book Images with Gray Background with text 1

Ill-success failed to crush us: the mere effort to succeed had given a wonderful zest to existence; it must be pursued. ~ Charlotte Brontë

©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

 

A Home Where Heart and Soul May Rest

My mom turns 87 this week. She has been widowed for 30 years, at first struggling to come to terms with this sudden circumstance, but eventually tapping into her strength, talents, and capacity for independence and growth.

We have lived together since my return from England in 1990 after we had been apart, except for a few visits one way or other, for 16 years. It’s difficult to remember when we were so estranged from the everyday of each other’s life. Perhaps, even as we acted as though this was meant to be, we knew, in our hearts, it wasn’t.  That is my emotional memory of those times. As the French Philosopher Simone Weil wrote: “When friends are far apart there is no separation.”  

Yes, we are mother and daughter, but I think, what has been more affecting in my life is our friendship: the best I have known because it has been honest and difficult and, yet, supportive and enduring, especially as it has tested our ability to remain friends, loving friends. As with any close relationship, there have been tricky moments (and still are), and it has evolved and required adjustments and a fuller appreciation that giving and receiving love is not for making us feel better but BE better.

I first posted the piece below for Mother’s Day a few years ago, when I had no idea I would return in more depth to what she wanted us to have in common, obliging then through my reading and now through my writing (a novel about Anne Brontë).

Happy Birthday, Mom …

You gave me many gifts, like the gods and goddesses gave Pandora: a sense of beauty, charm, music, curiosity and persuasion. In particular there was a book, large and beautifully bound, its writing in columns and essence carved in wood.

Wuthering Heights

You were as naïve as I was.

For it was also a box of unknowns, like Pandora’s, that unleashed more than either of us bargained for. I preferred the version of the myth that claimed good things were allowed to escape. All except for one.

We never lost hope.

You put the faraway in my hands, so how could I not want to go there? Of course, you meant for me to travel pages not miles.

You said you would never forgive me.

How many months we didn’t speak; how many years we paid dearly for conversations in such different time zones, trying to being ordinary when it was all so impossible.

We were both alone with our mistakes.

I never thought it would be that difficult to be away from you. My youth was lost, not to romantic discontent but missing what was true.  

Could you ever forgive me?

Perhaps you did a little. When you traveled as I did, because I did: over the sea, to another country, to places you had and hadn’t visited. You walked up the hill, heard your heels on the cobblestones and voices of the dead, inhaled the mist, saw the parsonage, the windswept trees and moors, and turned the pages back.

I didn’t see if you eyes sparkled, but I like to believe they did.

Bronte Parsonage, Haworth, West Yorkshire, England
Painted in the 1970’s.
Copyright 2013 by DM Denton

Though solitude, endured too long,
Bids youthful joys too soon decay,
Makes mirth a stranger to my tongue,
And overclouds my noon of day;

When kindly thoughts that would have way,
Flow back discouraged to my breast;
I know there is, though far away,
A home where heart and soul may rest.

Warm hands are there, that, clasped in mine,
The warmer heart will not belie;
While mirth, and truth, and friendship shine
In smiling lip and earnest eye.

The ice that gathers round my heart
May there be thawed; and sweetly, then,
The joys of youth, that now depart,
Will come to cheer my soul again. 
~ Anne Brontë, Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell

 


donatellasmallest©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.