May 8, 2015

The Elfin Artist

        Today’s fantasy poem is by Alfred Noyes of “The Highwayman” fame.  It’s not a particularly good poem, I’m afraid; it’s terribly Victorian in its overwrought descriptions and sentimental subject (despite being published in 1919).  But I wanted to share it because, twee as it is, it speaks a truth that means a lot to me.  No, not the truth about fairies with butterfly wings, but the truth about “the things that matter.”

In a glade of an elfin forest
When Sussex was Eden-new,
I came on an elvish painter
And watched as his picture grew.
A harebell nodded beside him.
He dipt his brush in the dew.

And I laughed in the sweet May weather,
Because of the themes he chose.

For he painted the things that matter,
The tints that we all pass by,
Like the little blue wreaths of incense
That the wild thyme breathes to the sky;
Or the first white bud of the hawthorn,
And the light in a blackbird’s eye;

And the shadows on soft white cloud-peaks
That carolling skylarks throw,
Dark dots on the slumbering splendours
That under the wild wings flow,
Wee shadows like violets trembling
On the unseen breasts of snow;

With petals too lovely for colour
That shake to the rapturous wings,
And grow as the bird draws near them,
And die as he mounts and sings; –
Ah, only those exquisite brushes
Could paint these marvellous things.

        I may be no elfin artist, and I may not have those exquisite brushes, but this is exactly what I hope to do in my art - to show the things that matter, the things that we all pass by.
        This is Children's Book Week, so I'll also mention two picture books with the theme of noticing the beauty around us.  Neither has a fantasy setting, although both use a certain sense of fantasy in their illustrations in which the dull everyday as noticed (or, rather, unnoticed) by busy adults is in black and white and grey, while the touches appreciated by the children are infused with color.
The Man with the Violin by Kathy Stinson and Dusan Petricic is about a boy who wants to stop and listen to the music played by a violinist in the subway.  The music swirls through his day in  waves of lovely color and even makes the boy float right off the ground in the illustrations.
Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith is wordless and laid out in comic-book style panels.  A girl takes a walk with her oblivious dad and picks the full-color weed flowers she notices growing in the city.  The lovely thing about this book is that as long as she’s simply noticing and collecting things for herself, there are only individual tiny touches of color, but when she starts giving her flowers away, the color begins to spread into the whole pictures.  It doesn’t matter whether or not the recipients are responsive; it’s the act of giving that does the trick.
        Never mind that all the adults in these books are such bad role models and it’s only the children who are free-spirited and heart-whole enough to notice and appreciate the beauty around them.  I identify myself with the children, and with the elfin artist, and I hope that every once in a while my art might help an oblivious human adult become a little more full of wonder — thus, in the visual vocabulary of the poem and books, infusing the world with color even though my art is black and white!

[Picture: Blackbird and Hawthorn, rubber block print by AEGN, 2014.]
(Read the entire poem here.)

1 comment:

  1. Hooray! Let's hear it for wonder. Thanks for this post, which I am enjoying while the scent of honey locust blossoms drifts in my open window. A pair of mourning doves was investigating my kitchen windowsill at breakfast and yesterday we saw a large turtle spinning awkwardly in the lake in what I interpreted as an exuberance of springtime joy.