Welcome to day 13 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 topic was a new moon leads me. Today’s is woods of dreams and I follow.
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.
Yesterday, we looked at “the new moon leads me” and I noted that the new moon can’t lead by shining light on a path; a night with a new moon is a dark night, with only stars for illumination. So, as I said, this means that new moon nights are when we can inhabit darkness, walk in darkness and dream deep, which is where today’s bit of lyric takes us: the (dark) new moon leads to, without shining a light on, “woods of dreams and I follow.”
There are a few ways to look at this. One is to think about the experience of actually walking in ill-lit or nighttime woods. Another is to consider the “woods” that we encounter in our dreams, either literal woods or metaphorical, archetypal forested places.
A “woods of dreams” on a dark (new moon) night conjures spooky nightmares more than whimsical dreams: dark looming trees and unsettling nighttime cries, hazardous roots and stumps rising from earth, grabby, snagging branches, lurking predators, a labyrinth of confusion and danger. But perhaps these woods (also) provide protection and sanctuary, offer wisdom and guidance, awaken our senses to keep us alert and aware, release passion and magic. I’ll follow this last idea after a short discussion of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
“The light from his torch painted the barren forest in shades of his own reflection, black-haired, gray-eyed and pale for want of a touch. He pulled his cloak close, unable to determine which made him more uncomfortable: the dreary woods or the new moon settling onto his heart like a cloud of moths.” ― F.T. McKinstry, Water Dark
The Shakespeare play A Midsummer Night’s Dream begins with talk of the forthcoming new moon:
“THESEUS: Now, fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour
Draws on apace; four happy days bring in
Another moon: but, O, methinks, how slow
This old moon wanes! she lingers my desires,
Like to a step-dame or a dowager
Long withering out a young man revenue.
HIPPOLYTA: Four days will quickly steep themselves in night;
Four nights will quickly dream away the time;
And then the moon, like to a silver bow
New-bent in heaven, shall behold the night
Of our solemnities.”
The new moon hangs, barely visible, in the sky when the characters assemble in and near the forest, afoot with both danger and desire, offering humans protection and privacy but also at times disorienting and be-wild-ering them.
It’s midsummer, of course, with warm long days and short nights replete with outdoor feasting and merriment. This forest, “a place where dreams, passions, and magic rule things, and where we lose our established sense of what is possible,” is depicted at times as magical and heavenly – Titania sleeps on “a bank where the wild thyme blows, / Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows, / Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine, / With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine” and Hermia reminds Lysander “in the wood, where often you and I / Upon faint primrose-beds were wont to lie.” But it’s also painted as frightening: Demetrius threatens to assault (“do mischief to”) Helena, the pairs of lovers get lost and bewitched, the fairies sing a song of protection from forest creature for their fairy queen (“You spotted snakes with double tongue, / Thorny hedgehogs, be not seen; / Newts and blind-worms, do no wrong, / Come not near our fairy queen”), there’s disorder and a sense of entrapment as well as protection. (Source)
Woods in fact often represent the subconscious or unconscious mind, and to enter the woods is to step across a threshold into a heterotopia of possible transformation (source, source, source, source, etc.); dreams, too, seem to arise from below the level of consciousness and represent a heterotopic disjunction with ordinary life.
So to follow the moon into a “woods of dreams” is to enter into a multiply irrational, subliminal (“below the threshold of consciousness”) experience.
Woods serve as heterotopias, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and otherwise, when they are unstructured communities away from ordered lawful society where “asocial desires” can be accommodated and contained; psychotherapist Florence Falk, in “Dream and Ritual Process in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (1980), specifically identified this sort of unstructured community “with the woods, with the unconscious, with the dream space” (Wikipedia)
In the play, the four bewitched lovers all fall asleep in a glade and when they awaken the next morning they all believe they’ve dreamt the events of the previous night, which they can’t quite recall. They have, following the new moon, been led into a true “woods of dreams.”
As I commented earlier, “woods of dreams” on a dark night can seem nightmarish, in line with some archetypal spooky forest symbolism in literature. But, I also suggested, dark woods may also provide protection, wisdom, practice in being alert.
Peter Engelmann, in “The Forest Dark As Archetype” at The Forest Dark, offers some thoughts along these lines:
“It’s not necessary to reinterpret the idea of the forest as a symbol of the unconscious, but remember one thing: if you are deep in a Forest Dark and you can’t see much because it’s a moonless night your reaction is usually not a journey to the inner self. Instead your senses get sharpened. Survival instinct awakes. You want to know who else is there when you hear the many noises between the trees. You calculate how far you away from civilization, and you ask when you have taken the wrong path.
“That’s maybe the important aspect here: the forest is also a symbol or an archetype with both positive aspects since you find beauty (and sometimes something to eat) but also troubling aspects as a zone where we don’t know what’s really going on. Maybe this is the important aspect of the archetype – the forest is the place where we can get lost, but not only in the depths of [our] own psyche but in a sense that we become aware that we don’t know a lot, that our very idea of reality could be shattered any time. … [T]he Forest Dark as archetype makes us active in a way of becoming alert, and in the end we learn that we need to explore if we want to survive.”
“If you are bored, strained, lacerated, enervated by the way we live now, I suggest a night walk as far as you can get from a trace of civilization. This form of walking is a dance, and the ghost that follows you, your moon-cast shadow, is your true, androgynous parent, bearing within its distinct outline the child who has always directed your every move.” — James Harrison, from “Night Walking,” Just Before Dark: Collected Nonfiction (1991)
So, circling back to the lyrics of “China Roses,” perhaps “A new moon leads me to / Woods of dreams and I follow. / A new world waits for me” alludes to the psychological work we do in dreams, in woods, on dark moonless nights: the work, which can be play (fairies and all), that takes us into disorienting and dangerous places, places that at the same time offer freedom from expectations, as well as nourishment and resources; the liminal space that allows us to wander aimlessly or misguidedly, to sleep long, to wake confused, dreamy, unsure of who we are or where we’ve been, yawning and stretching, mind faintly recalling disquieting enchantment, awake now in the “new world” that’s been waiting. (Heaven?)
TOMORROW: Rain and river
Featured image: image of dark woods (from Pinterest, with broken link to source)
If night ever feels alone,
too vast for an embrace,
it makes it known
by the long woe of its
Invisible and fast asleep
through the black
of a moonless vista.
World and song weary.
What music goes
along with such a small
task? – let silence call itself
by the only name we’ve
never learned to pronounce.
When I was a child
I would lose myself
in the folds of the countryside,
and I used to whisper to
the walnut and the cherry trees.
I said how strange are
your leaves, and your wild branches,
and the colors of your fruit
I’m still learning to love
with eyes closed.
Too strange back then
to be called beautiful,
but they were,
as many things are
in spite of our shortcomings.
At night I forgot about the trees.
At night I became even
less than a child,
less than bird.
At night there was only night
and that’s where
all sadness came from.
Birdsong gets tangled
in thicket and sky.
Birdsong flutters and wings
through the air.
It caresses the skin of fruit and flower,
the windows of this house.
And when it ends
the birds are still out there
as are the trees and the calm
silver of light over the land–
Where everyone is alone,
in the tunnel of their own sorrows,
in the nest of a savage silence,
intimate and assuring–
which, I think,
is what a heaven for the birds
must sound like–
sound without body,
song without blood or feather
Only memory, life notes.
Which, I want to imagine,
is what fruit
must taste like
from the branches
too far to reach,