Welcome to day 7 of 28 Days of Have Heaven, a short month of posts about heaven, paradise, perfection and desire, perfect places, art, theology, gardens, and more, using the Enya song “China Roses” as a jumping off point. Each post will look at these elements in itself, which may not obviously connect with the others, and which may only peripherally be related. I won’t attempt to tie the posts together. They’ll all be listed here, as they are posted
We’re in the midst of a dozen days or so playing with some of the lyrics and elements in the song “China Roses.” It’s packed with interesting plants and allusions, and since I don’t know what was in lyricist Roma Ryan’s head when she concocted this magic, I feel I can construe the lines as I wish (“who can say the way it should be?,” after all).
Yesterday, the topics were the break of morning and the new aurora. Today, they’re cloud in crimson and one love carved in acajou.
As I mentioned at the start, taken as a whole, the lyrics span time from dawn through day to evening, night, and moon rise, evoking an exotic Eden, mythic and romantic, scented with heady fragrances, planted with unusual specimens made lush by rain and river, under a swirl of celestial motion. Explicit in the words and implicit in the connotations, histories, and mythologies are repetitions and reverberations of these conjurings, a journey through time in a day, time in an eon, eternity in the cosmos.
Here again are the lyrics:
Who can tell me if we have heaven,
Who can say the way it should be;
Moonlight holly, the Sappho Comet,
Angel’s tears below a tree.
You talk of the break of morning
As you view the new aurora,
Cloud in crimson, the key of heaven,
One love carved in acajou.
One told me of China Roses,
One a thousand nights and one night,
Earth’s last picture, the end of evening:
Hue of indigo and blue.
A new moon leads me to
Woods of dreams and I follow.
A new world waits for me;
My dream, my way.
I know that if I have heaven
There is nothing to desire.
Rain and river, a world of wonder
May be paradise to me.
cloud in crimson: There is a “Crimson Cloud” hawthorn tree (Crataegus laevigata ‘Crimson Cloud‘) but that feels a stretch, though the hawthorn is important to Celtic mythology, related to the fairies, associated with bad luck particularly if cut down or if its branches are brought indoors, but also part of happy May Day celebrations, associated with the “certain end of the dark days of winter and the return of the procreative forces of nature,” and thus with “the wonders of lovemaking, conception, and childbirth” (Jane Gifford). There is a legend of Merlin (mentioned here) that ends with him confined forever within the hawthorn’s bark.
Or perhaps it’s an allusion to Edward Arlington Robinson’s Arthurian poem, “Merlin” (1917), in section V, when he writes of Lady Vivian, “in a fragile sheath of crimson,” seducing Merlin for the first time:
“He stared a long time at the cup of gold
Before him but he drank no more. There came
Between him and the world a crumbling sky
Of black and crimson, with a crimson cloud
That held a far off town of many towers.
All swayed and shaken, till at last they fell,
And there was nothing but a crimson cloud
That crumbled into nothing, like the sky
That vanished with it, carrying away
The world, the woman, and all memory of them,
Until a slow light of another sky
Made gray an open casement, showing him
Faint shapes of an exotic furniture
That glimmered with a dim magnificence,
And letting in the sound of many birds
That were, as he lay there remembering,
The only occupation of his ears
Until it seemed they shared a fainter sound,
As if a sleeping child with a black head
Beside him drew the breath of innocence.”
Or maybe it’s simply a cloud, crimson-coloured, as clouds sometimes look, especially at dawn (“the break of morning”) and dusk (just before “the end of evening”).
one love carved in acajou: Acajou can be either a cashew tree (or a cashew), or the wood from a mahogany tree (used by cabinet makers in France, if you want to be specific), or the colour called “laurel oak” that’s slightly yellower and stronger than the colour called mahogany.
I’m going with mahogany, since it’s the kind of hardwood tree that someone might carve initials in (“one love carved”). The mahogany trees Swietenia mahagoni (sometimes called Cuban mahogany) — native to Florida, and Caribbean Islands, used for making furniture and musical instruments and used in Spain and England for shipbuilding in the 18th century — and S. macrophylla — native to South America and Mexico, naturalized in the Philippines, Singapore, and Hawaii — are both valued for their hard, reddish-brown wood.
Swietenia mahagoni was over-harvested for lumber and depleted: “In 1946, Cuba banned all exporting of the wood due to over-harvesting and high demand; it has also been in scarce supply from other sources in the Caribbean as well. Today, the lumber has become so obscure that the term ‘genuine mahogany’ now applies almost exclusively to its close relative, Honduran Mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla). Small boards and pieces are intermittently available: these are usually from storm-damaged trees grown locally (i.e., within the United States). … [N]owadays a fair amount of this wood is grown on plantations. … It’s every bit a true mahogany as the original Cuban species that became commercially exhausted in the mid-20th century” (source: “Mahogany Mixups: The Lowdown,” by Eric Meier, on The Wood Database)
Here’s a short video of a mahogany tree in Florida, probably Swietenia mahagoni:
Can you imagine carving initials in this $14,500 circa 1790 piece of mahogany?
“One Love” could also be a reference to the iconic Bob Marley song of that name.
“There is one question I’d really love to ask (One heart)
Is there a place for the hopeless sinner
Who has hurt all mankind just to save his own? …
As it was in the beginning (One love)
So shall it be in the end (One heart) …
Let’s get together to fight this Holy Armageddon (One love)
So when the Man comes there will be no, no doom (One song)
Have pity on those whose chances grow thinner
There ain’t no hiding place from the Father of Creation …
Give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right.”
This short story by Lynette Mejía at Nature: The International Journal of Science, titled “The Memory of Trees” (July 2015) is chilling in its cavernous sense of loss:
“The old man stared blankly at the wall in front of him. “I need to go outside,” he said finally, turning. Around them the walls suddenly danced with colour and shadow, the images resolving themselves into a lush green landscape full of trees and flowers. Overhead the sun shone in a cloudless blue sky. Flowers nodded in a phantom breeze, while bees buzzed lazily between nodding blossoms. The guard clapped. “There you go! That’s perfect! Now just paint that!” The old man looked up at him, his face sad and tired. “I need to go outside,” he repeated. “This isn’t the same, don’t you see? I can’t paint the memory of trees.””
Read it all. “A new world waits for me,” indeed.
Tomorrow: the key of heaven
by Peter Cooley
I’d like to see the tree as it once stood
before me, childhood, the branch and leaf
a single form of transport, ecstasy
shaking my body I give to the leaves,
the leaves return, my stare all interchange.
But that was when I had a sky to name
since I had a belief in constancy
like everyone. The sky was my background,
the drama of the tree and me, one act,
then three, then five, a Shakespearean play script.
some tragic flaw in hero, heroine,
yet to be discovered.
But now the sky
clouds even dawn with a black mist that falls
from all things and all imaginings.
The tree in my backyard is caught in this.
When I look for the sky it is still there
but now a matter of my memory
Where is the root, bough, stem
set clearly against a morning, clearing?
Featured image: Celtic knotted love heart carved from mahogany (originally for sale here)