One evening about two years ago, there was, in my part of the country, one of the most magnificent sunsets that I have ever been privileged to witness. Being a keen photographer (although not a very good one, for other peoples’ photographs always seem better than mine), I took my camera into the fields to capture the scene in colour. It all began when the grey broken clouds, the ‘left overs’ of a stormy day, drifted slowly across the horizon, taking with them the tumult of the heavens. It had been a somewhat dismal day with an atmosphere that clung like a warm damp blanket, enveloping all with an oppressive heat that made even the unconscious act of breathing an effort. The day thus sulked its way through the hours, stifling the energy of life and suffocating the songs of birds until at long last, at about three o’clock in the afternoon, the sky, no longer able to contain its pent up emotions, savaged the countryside with a violent storm. In fact three storms had tumbled into the valley that afternoon that gave rise to a continuous end-of-the-world -like thunder that reverberated about us for an hour and a half. Fearful though the storms were, the rain felt good, the soil quenched its thirst and the air became cool, and when the storm had flung its final volley of anger contemptuously at us, I saw that the wilted leaves had renewed vigour and had turned their faces once more to the sky. Suddenly, the late evening sun broke loose and shone low across the fields, igniting the treetops with a blaze of old gold and adorning the scene with the tint of an old master’s painting. Screwing tripod to camera, I raised it to my eye and squinted through the view-finder. For some moments I indulged in a danse macabre around the field with the tripodial skeleton stiff within my embrace, searching for the most artistic composition to enter the field of view. By now the sun was an enormous dull-red hemisphere reclining upon the distant hills, infusing the undersides of the remaining clouds above with a heavy mauve the deepened perceptively as I gazed. The solar chord became shorter and shorter until finally the perimeter of the disc was extinguished suddenly by the horizon as one snuffs out the flame of a candle. Then, in a most abrupt and startling manner, the populace of the heavens turned to fire. The clouds appeared to radiate from a point somewhere below the horizon in the vicinity of the sun and spread out above and behind me, plumbing the very depths of space itself. It was as if Earth had entered the tail of a super comet that had passed close by on its elliptical orbit about the sun. Hurriedly I set the tripod firmly on the ground and framed the sunset between the jet-black silhouettes of two sentinel elms.
After taking the photograph, I packed the equipment in its case, stood up and looked once more through the elms. My gaze passed by the silent trees, through the sunset and beyond into space, leaving the great orb of this planet at a tangent. The moment developed into one of those rare intervals in time when an overwhelming consciousness of the beauty about one descends and becalms the mind. Although my gaze flew past the elms at incomprehensible speed, I was aware of their crisp outlines against the sky, and as it passed on through the sky into the depths of space, I could see the fire shrinking before me like the glow of a lantern disappearing down a long, dark corridor. My eyes were now being lifted by a power exterior to my own being. Up, up they went until I was craning my neck and gazing out into the zenith of space. I had always been conscious of the great depths of space about me, but could not help regarding the heavens as anything but a dome viewed from a central point, the stars being spattered over the surface of this invisible hemisphere, all equidistant from me. But on this particular occasion, I became aware of the three dimensionality of space, each planet, star and nebula standing out in such relief from each other, that I felt I could lift my hand and pluck them from their ethereal settings. Immediately above my right shoulder the crooked W of Cassiopeia pierced the depths with startling clarity and midway between this and the great square of Pegasus, there glowed faintly the spiral nebula of Andromeda, so far flung into the void as to make the magnificent gold and blue binary system of Gamma Andromeda appear but ten steps distant.
Becoming dizzy from the depths above me I turned and cast my eyes down to the eastern horizon. The Pleiades had just shown itself above the distant trees and was discernible only by averted vision, but its presence was sufficient to tell me that within the hour Aldebaran, the red eye of Taurus, would begin its journey above the horizon to dissolve overhead in the light of tomorrow’s dawn. But even before Antares had touched the distant church spire in the darkening west, the night air became chill and with a shudder I headed for home.
Some days later when I had the film processed, I discovered much to my dismay, that I had become so involved with the scene before me that I had forgotten to remove the dust-cap from the lens, consequently I have no visual proof to offer my friends of the glory I have witnessed. Often I am accused of exaggeration when describing a scene that has made an impression on me, yet I experience difficulty in finding adjectives of sufficient depth, colour or subtlety to use in such instances. How can one convey to others the emotions that rise to greet the song of a nightingale, or to what depths the heart yearns to fly with the swift and embrace all three dimensions. How can one possibly convey through the medium of the written or spoken word the sight of an evening sky washed with the faint mauve streaks that herald a sunset, or describe the background tint of the sky that is somewhere between a shade of jade and turquoise?
My attempts at describing this beautiful sunset to a friend met with very little response. Emotion is a very personal thing and that which gives rise to emotion in one, may leave another completely cold. Even so, I was completely taken aback when my friend said, “what sunset?”
read the collected work as it is published: here
afternoon & grey & rain & red & sky wormhole: Pont Neuf, Paris, 1902
air & silence & trees wormhole: 10/30 by William Carlos Williams
beauty wormhole: The Atlantic City Convention: 1. THE WAITRESS by William Carlos Williams
being & black wormhole: in deed
breathing wormhole: there will be ovations
church & silhouette wormhole: Vue de Pontoise, 1873
clouds wormhole: Cote des Bœufs à l’Hermitage, Pontoise, 1877
dawn & storm wormhole: birth in the world
evening & life wormhole: threshold to behold
eyes wormhole: mandala offering
gold wormhole: Entry to the Village of Voisins, Yvelines, 1872
hills wormhole: Puerto del Carmen
horizon & sunset wormhole: in turgid reflection
identity wormhole: quietly in my quiet house
leaves wormhole: 10/28 ‘in this strong light …’ by William Carlos Williams
light & sun wormhole: Cours La Reine, Rouen, 1890
mauve wormhole: travelling / back
mind wormhole: so, how long is, a piece of string?
night wormhole: Boulevarde Montmartre, Evening Sun, 1879 // Boulevarde Montmartre at Night, 1879
space wormhole: the reach turned to love
stars wormhole: TREES by William Carlos Williams
valley wormhole: coterminalism – there is nothing happens by itself, / 070118