Yearning for Wonderland

There is such a place as fairyland - but only children can find the way to it...until they have grown so old that they forget the way. Only a few, who remain children at heart, can ever find that fair, lost path again...The world calls them singers and poets and artists and story-tellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland. ~ L.M Montgomery

Little Cat Feet

If I had a single flower for every time I think about you, I could walk forever in my garden.  ~Attributed to Claudia Ghandi

This week I had to say goodbye to Persephone, the sweet little cat who had been part of my life for the last three months. Every day when I walked in, she would spring to greet me, jump up on my lap and start making elaborate overtures for my affections.This was new to me, as my prior cat experience had been Ramses, who is so chill he might just as well be asleep, and Pippa, who was half-wild and would snuggle only for thirty seconds before she decided she had better things to do.

Pippa ran away from my last apartment, frightened off by the gang of feral raccoons in our neighborhood. I was devastated and spent weeks wandering downtown before and after work, calling her name, “Pip-pip-pip-pippa”. I plastered her photo on all the telephone poles, in shelters, cried a lot. I finally got a response from a shelter in the north of town; they thought they’d found Pippa.\

I drove up, heart in my mouth, and almost sprinted through the door. They took me through a corridor filled with cages stacked to the ceiling, filled with cats crying. It was like the 7th circle of hell. They brought me to a cage and pulled out Pippa. She leapt into my arms and I was crying and she was crying and the shelter tech was crying.
They asked, “You’re sure it’s her?” I, holding her in my arms as she looked up at me so trustingly, said, “Yes. Yes. Yes.” I signed the papers and took her home.

My first clue that it wasn’t Pippa is that she just loved to sit in my lap. She could sit there for hours and snuggle. But she was the same age and size and the markings were identical…until the day I realized that this cat had the tiniest feather brush of white across her upper lip.

I took her to the vet, got her shots and fixed. I couldn’t just take her back to the shelter, say “Sorry, I was wrong.” I had taken her from the mouth of Hades; I wasn’t taking her back. I named her Persephone, after that other girl who spent some time there.
Persephone was my doppelganger for Pippa. She looked so similar that I had to keep reminding myself that it wasn’t her. I was reminded of stories where fae replaced children in their cradles with a being that looked identical but was not the same. However, she was a wonderful, wonderful cat, as sweet as can be.
Unfortunately, my living situation had changed since I’d had Pippa. We had moved from a charming old carriage house, surrounded by live oaks and plenty of running-wild space, to a brand-new condo townhouse. Cats were allowed, but no yard meant they had to stay indoors. My poor boyfriend has the worst cat allergies I have ever seen, so they had to be confined to our third bedroom.
Ramses was fine with this; he is my sweet lazy lump. Persephone, however, was a baby cat and ready to run and play. She had so much energy that the small space was like a prison. I would go in and play and pet as much as I could, but she knew full well that the whole world was going on outside her door. It tortured me to keep her confined there and so I tried to take her outside periodically, but she always ran back after a few minutes.
Life inside got steadily worse for Persephone. She was irritable and lonely. Where she once only snuggled, now she scratched and chewed. I knew I couldn’t keep her on like this.

Persephone (“Sephi”) hugging Ramses, her big brother

Serendipity knocked, in the form of a coworker of mine. Her dog had recently passed away and her young cat was lonely. She had heard about Persephone’s confinement and it had been bothering her. So we talked and she offered and so it was agreed: I was to take my sweet kitty to her new home, the Elysian Fields.

Well, that’s what it sounded like. My coworker lives in a rather rural area, on a large lot. She has magnificent gardens, “Here are the bromeliads and here are the orange trees and here are the azaleas.” So much room for Persephone to romp and play, with her new little friend. Her house is cool and eclectic and there are a dozen-odd places to hide, a window seat to doze…in short, Kitty Heaven.
How could I deny her? All week long, before I took her, I would go in the room and pet her and hug her and think, “This is the last time I am doing this.” The day came and I loaded her in her carrier, tearful all the way down. She was oddly calm on the way down and purred a lot. I like to think that’s because she knew her lot was about to improve dramatically, though that’s doubtless just a fanciful notion on my part.
I got to my coworker’s house and it was everything I could have hoped for the cat I loved and was leaving. I sat there for awhile with her and watched, heart full of bittersweet happiness. She already was happier, bounding here and there and exploring, sniffing everything. She found a new favorite spot, behind the bookcase. One last pet and then I left her there, much happier than when she came.

I know that the parting is not forever. I have been invited to come and see her whenever I like. And I know that Persephone is far, far happier. And, like Demeter, I know I have to let my girl go to wherever her destiny might lead her.

In no fix’d place the happy souls reside. In groves we live, and lie on mossy beds, By crystal streams, that murmur thro’ the meads: But pass yon easy hill, and thence descend; The path conducts you to your journey’s end.” This said, he led them up the mountain’s brow, And shews them all the shining fields below. They wind the hill, and thro’ the blissful meadows go.

Virgil, Aeneid (6.641)  – Elysian Fields

Lucy’s Dream

I haven’t done any film clips in awhile, so I wanted to include this. It’s my very favorite moment from The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008), featuring the best character – Lucy Pevensie. I absolutely love the drifting flower petals that coalesce into the figure. It’s a thoroughly magical moment and actually redeemed the rest of the movie for me.

Have you ever experienced an afternoon like that? The sun falls a certain way; the light’s hazy and soft-focus. A breeze lifts the hair from your face and playfully blows it back again. A sense of expectancy hangs in the air – the word for it is not “magic”. Magic is oft an illusion, so what is that breathless moment where all that is impossible seems possible and the very trees would speak your name?

Enjoy.

Thoughts on "La Belle Dame"

Who has not tried to hold onto something that slipped away? This poem speaks in a mournful throb of something precious lost forever.

“La Belle Dame Sans Merci” is commonly translated as “The beautiful lady without pity/mercy”, although “thanks” is the literal translation of “merci”. I think the idea of ingratitude is actually far more interesting than pitilessness: her procession of devotees pay single-minded homage and yet she seemingly cares not…or does she?

The narrator speaks of her eyes twice: “Her hair was long,/her foot was light,/And her eyes were wild” and then, later, “She took me to her elfin grot,/And there she gaz’d and sighed deep,/And there I shut her wild sad eyes– So kiss’d to sleep.” As described, there is a hint of regret in her eyes, of sadness for yet another lover abandoned. Is it because she feels more strongly for the narrator or that she is doomed to always lead her knights astray? This is the one moment in the poem where the coquette slips. If truly without pity, mercy or gratitude, why the lady’s sadness?

Though the poem seems straightforward, there are enigmatic layers within each stanza. He made her garlands of flowers as she sings to him faery songs, a traditional token of courtly love. She feeds him faery nourishment, “relish sweet,/And honey wild,/and manna dew“. Keats later references the “starv’d lips in the gloam” of the wraiths, an indication of lack of substance to her nourishment. It could also be read as love-starved. One common result of heartbreak in Romantic literature is wasting away from lack of love.

Keats did not originate the idea of “La Belle Dame” – it dates back to Medieval courtly love poetry. The theme of the beautiful faery creature who heedlessly breaks hearts is the mirror opposite of the lady who waits patiently at her tower window for her love or quietly pines away (see The Lady of Shalott).

Keats himself considered this poem dashed off: “I have for the most part dash’d of[f] my lines in a hurry – ” (Letter to George, Weds 21 April 1819). Nevertheless, it is considered one of the most classic English Romantic poems and was a great influence on the Pre-Raphaelites in particular (see paintings from previous post and sketch below by Dante Gabriel Rossetti).

For a far more scholarly interpretation of the sources of “La Belle Dame”:
http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/teams/sym4int.htm

 Read more Keats and other Romantic poets at: http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/66

Poem by John Keats, post by me. All material copyright.

La Belle Dame Sans Merci

  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Ah, what can ail thee, wretched wight, 
Alone and palely loitering;
The sedge is withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.

Ah, what can ail thee, wretched wight,
So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel's granary is full,
And the harvest's done.

I see a lilly on thy brow,
With anguish moist and fever dew;
And on thy cheek a fading rose
Fast withereth too.

I met a lady in the meads
Full beautiful, a faery's child;
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.

I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long;
For sideways would she lean, and sing
A faery's song.

I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She looked at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan.

She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna dew;
And sure in language strange she said,
I love thee true.
And there we slumbered on the moss, 
And there I dreamed, ah woe betide,
The latest dream I ever dreamed
On the cold hill side. 
I saw pale kings, and princes too, 
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
Who cried--"La belle Dame sans merci
Hath thee in thrall!"
I saw their starved lips in the gloam 
With horrid warning gaped wide,
And I awoke, and found me here
On the cold hill side.

And this is why I sojourn here
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is withered from the lake,
And no birds sing. 
 
Poem by John Keats. 
Paintings by Frank Dicksee, Frank Cadogan Cowper, John William Waterhouse
For a great analysis of the poem, read here: 
http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/belle.html  

Do you Believe? – The Cottingley Fairies

July of 1917 – Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright produce photographs that they claim to be irrefutable proof of the existence of fairies.

Arthur Conan Doyle, famed author, was fascinated with spiritualism and the idea of the unseen and unknown. He completely believed the authenticity of the photographs, even in the face of widespread skepticism.

The girls maintained for years that the photographs were real. Only late in life did they admit that it was a fanciful prank. Even then, Frances said she believed in the final photograph. She never stopped saying that they had seen and played with the fairies.

“The recognition of their existence will jolt the material twentieth century mind out of its heavy ruts in the mud, and will make it admit that there is a glamour and mystery to life. Having discovered this, the world will not find it so difficult to accept that spiritual message supported by physical facts which has already been put before it” – Arthur Conan Doyle

[From Wikipedia.org] Elsie maintained it was a fake, just like all the others, but Frances insisted that it was genuine. In an interview given during the early 1980s Frances said:

It was a wet Saturday afternoon and we were just mooching about with our cameras and Elsie had nothing prepared. I saw these fairies building up in the grasses and just aimed the camera and took a photograph

1st Photo – Frances and the Fairies
Elsie and the Winged Gnome
Frances and the Leaping Fairy
Fairy Offering Posy of Harebells to Elsie
Fairies and their Sun Bath – the fifth and final image

Though these fairies are paper, do you believe?

Read more about the Cottingley fairies here: Cottingley.net – The Cottingley Fairies