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"On level with ordinary experience"

"One wanted, she thought, dipping her brush deliberately, to be on level with ordinary experience, to feel simply that's a chair, that's a table, and yet at the same time,

It's a miracle, it's an ecstasy."

In reflecting on the act of finding beauty, meaning, and the sacred in the ordinary: a blackberry, a bush, I am reminded of this passage from Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse (202).

Finding joy in the ordinary, the every day, is both a starting point and a wellspring of gratitude and awe. It can heighten into art an otherwise seemingly humdrum hour: this propensity to be arrested by simple things. A certain glorious cast of morning light falling just so upon a flower or lighting up a cat's ear, setting it aglow. The sun through the fuzz on a baby's head, creating a cheerful halo. The flecks of golden light in the hazel eyes of the person to whom we are speaking or the rush of freckles lining their cheeks.

To press into Woolf's suggestion that more mundane objects can inspire elation: think for a moment about a sturdy wooden table. This utilitarian and perhaps lovely, perhaps unlovely, object is made from a tree. And think what miracle is a tree! Think with what skill this useful object has been rendered from a tree: with what impossible perfect workings of the human body's systems to cut, to whittle, to shape, to mold, to hammer. How many years did that tree grow where it did? Presiding over the immature sapling, the fallen dead wood, the chipmunk, the porcupine, the mounded dunes of maple and oak leaves. And now, a table stands before you. Inviting you to eat, to sit, to discuss with family or friends, to place your book upon it, your laptop, to think. Perhaps not at first, but when we slow down and open ourselves up enough to appreciate all the glory that surrounds us, we can think "that's a chair, that's a table, and yet at the same time, It's a miracle, it's an ecstasy."

I have never forgotten my first reading of "Fulbright Scholars," a Ted Hughes poem in Birthday Letters. What sticks with me most is Hughes' description of his first tasting of a peach at Charing Cross station, his recollection of being able to "hardly believe how delicious" it was.

"At twenty-five I was dumbfounded afresh

By my ignorance of the simplest things."

It's a gift, I think, to live "dumbfounded afresh" by simple things, things we could easily be only half cognizant of much of the time. These sudden bursts, sudden jolts of recognition of the majesty before us, are moments when we are like children again: seeing unveiled, with 20/20 wonder, the blue vein on a loved one's temple, the spores lacing the back of a fern,

and feeling and tasting, with undulled sense, a peach's velvet-sweet tang upon the tongue.

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Melissa Williams
Melissa Williams
Nov 15, 2019

Lisa, I love so much that this reminded you of "Pied Beauty," one of my favorites. Thank you for this wonderful comment, and the Carlos Williams is so perfect -- juxtaposed against the Ted Hughes peach lines. Stay tuned for more on "Pied Beauty" and Manley Hopkins...


Lisa Wagner
Lisa Wagner
Nov 13, 2019

"Glory be to God for dappled things...." ~ Gerard Manley Hopkins from "Pied Beauty." Your passage reminds me of this wonderful poem. Ordinary things are wonderful to behold, but let's not forget those things "counter, original, spare, strange; Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?) With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim."

Or, "To The Poor Old Woman" by William Carlos Williams. She is munching a plum from a paper sack, sitting on the street corner. Simply put,

"They taste good to her They taste good to her. They taste good to her"

Thank you, Melissa, for starting this thread, prompting me to take time on this blustery November night to remember these favorite poems. They bring me warmth.

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