Friday, May 7, 2010

Shadow Talk

Wendell Berry’s “I Go Among Trees and Sit Still” has lead me to shadow talk.

Thank you, Indigo, Marion and Erin, for comments. They have inspired me to write this post.

Day and night, light and dark. A time to weep, and a time to smile. Nature makes balance. Without it, the world would tip over.

Without the sun, there would be no laughter. Without the shadow, there would be too much arrogance, overconfidence, self-assertion.

Yet I’m no romantic in the face of Shadowland. I know its place on the map, there’s no denying it. Still, the land of Shadows is not a place I enter by free will. The landscape can be fierce and wild and hilly. Many people get lost there. Some people die.

I have great respects of the dark. I am humbled by its existence. I have walked paths I had no idea existed, let alone where they would lead me. The air was dense with fog and night. I had to crawl on all four, or lean on great sticks to keep the balance. I had to tiptoe around huge rocks, run across open fields, cover myself in camouflage clothing.

I know the activity has made me strong. My legs have muscles. Though sometimes I forget, and behave as if there was not a single bone in my body.

I have seen great clouds covering people. Right now there is a huge one above the head of a loved friend. Had I the magic wand, I would have spelled SUNSHINE with giant letters. Had God asked if I meant the 12-o’clock sunshine where shadows are right beneath our feet, you might guess at my answer.


I know the good of shadows. The people I value most have been through dark nights of the soul. They have that extra glow. The extra dimension. By accepting their smallness, they have become big.


So, let me rephrase a sentence from the last posting. Had God asked me if I would like a life of sunshine without the shadows, I would have screamed from the top and the bottom of my lungs - YES, YES, YES! Then, since I’m a sensible girl, I would have said, okay, Sweet Lord. I know I’m not the creator, I know I’m only a grain of sand of the great beaches. I know that I really don’t know.

Except this, of course. that I want the fruits of the shadows.

But that, I suppose, is like saying I want to eat cream cake all day and still stay slim and healthy as a gracious tulip in May.........

Ps. This subject intrigues me. If anyone has a poem to share, please do. I welcome any insight into the mystery of the shadows.


  1. Oh Grete, I have chills at your sensibility, desire, and humor. Chills, woman. I'll think on this some more and come back. I spend a great deal of time in this, trying to grow and figure it out, as much as I will ever figure it out. (I'm ok, too, with not arriving at any definitive answers.)



    You might enjoy reading him. He always has me asking questions of myself.

  3. What a great post, Grete! I'll share a poem I posted a while back on my blog. It was an internal conversation I had with myself on a dark, rainy day and it turned into a poem. I love the alchemy of words: when you mix them all up, you never know if you'll get gold, silver or dross.

    Artificial Light
    By Marion

    The dawn creeps into my window,
    a willing thief of the night;
    I wrap my arms around myself
    and tremble at the onslaught of light.

    Is ink to paper the real thing
    or merely an illusion?
    Is the cursor on the computer screen
    reality or a wild delusion?

    Cloudy, dark, rainy day
    driving home one afternoon
    bright lights in my rearview mirror
    shone like the sun at noon.

    Which is reality,
    the headlights or the sun?
    Does it really matter in the end
    when a life has finally begun?

    Moonlight, sunlight,
    flowers in the rain,
    their heads bowed as if in prayer
    drooped, as if in pain. . .

    Beseeching the gods of morning
    to help them raise their heads. . .
    They only live one single day
    by afternoon, they’re dead.

    The question is how to live
    your one solitary life.
    By the sunlight or the shadows
    or by artificial light.


  4. Erin -

    Chills? - but please, Woman, shut the Window or put on that woolen sweater :-))))

    And Thanks! for being that mirror - your description of my motives touches me!

    And yes, perhaps this is the ultimate goal - to think things over to the degree that we are comfortable not arriving at any answers. Though we will always be the hunters, of course. Which is healthy. Around the year 1900 there was a period when scientists thought there was nothing else to be discovered. And how wrong they were....

    And thanks for directing me to the Northern Wall. I’ve been there. And will return.

    Marion -

    "Is ink to paper the real thing 

    or merely an illusion?"

    This seems reality, Marion, your questions, though words on a screen, is a reflection of that which is.

    "their heads bowed as if in prayer
drooped, as if in pain. . ."

    Ooooh, love this...... bowed or drooped, which is which?

    "The question is how to live
your one solitary life.

    Yes, the question certainly is - how to live this one, solitary life? We live, I suppose, as you say, by all means possible. By the sunlight. The artificial light. The shadows,

    Thank You So Much for sharing this poem!


  5. Thank you, Grete, for dropping by the Northern Wall. As a friend of Erin you will always be welcome.

    Your discourse on shadows reminds me very much of Carl Jung, who had quite a lot to say about the Shadow as a part of the psyche, a special part of the personal unconscious where we find the dark material that is personal to us, that has a life of its own within us, and that with a little work we can easily reach and befriend, unlike other parts of us which lie much deeper and are much less accessible and personal.

    There are specialists in psychology who struggle against the notion of the unconscious in the Jungian sense, the Freudian sense. I think of those who have constructed the psychology of object relations among them. I read your words and think as well of so many others who build on the ideas of the dark parts of the soul and I wonder why some specialists would choose the impoverishment of souls over the mystery.

    But to ask the question is to answer it. They seek power. They seek solutions. They seek a life upon which they can stand free men with pride intact. They have little value of humility in the face of mystery. They are sure of their mandate to conquer and their vision as superior. They are convinced there is in fact, One Right Answer.

  6. Christopher -

    Yes, I also wonder why “some specialists would choose the impoverishment of souls over the mystery.” I suspect that deep down they are afraid of their own shadows.

    To seek is a worthy and vital pursuit. To demand the One Right Answer is the end of curiosity. And the seeking.

    I suppose humility is the word here - “humility in the face of mystery.”

    And then patience. And humbleness. And tolerance. And modesty. And stamina. And perseverance. And reverence.

    I pray for these qualities every day :-)