Welcome to day 15 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 winding down a dozen days of 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 rain and river. Today is the last day on the lyric phrases, and the topic is paradise to me.
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.
The entire song is about paradise, how it may be to me, to you; it’s an invitation to imagine paradise, and not only to imagine it but to experience heaven, “a world of wonder.” The writer imagines paradise as sensual (colour, scent, sound, touch), earthly and cosmic, dreamy, mythic, tracing a day in golden hours, in blue hours, blending sensual and romantic love, storytelling, dreaming, a world of natural phenomena — not unlike the Biblical Garden of Eden perhaps, which is described as a paradise filled with animals, field grasses, and many lovely fruit-bearing trees including figs and apples. The earth was watered first by a mist, and then a river, and then four rivers. Eden was lush and it flourished.
In the final pages of Lucy Hughes-Hallett’s novel Peculiar Ground (2018) — a book about walls, enclosed communities, imprisonment, sanctuary, confinement, gardens, home — she offers a sort of fable, told by an estate forester living in 1665, the time of the plague: After Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden of Eden, Eden becomes blighted, and a mouse and beetle living there face a choice:
“They saw how the wall around Eden stretched away on either hand, with only the one opening, as though to guard those within from hungry hordes who might wish to come inside. And next to the cherubim they saw the flaming sword. … The flaming sword turned this way, to prevent any intruder entering from the east, and that way, to prevent any intruder entering from the west. But it did not ever turn in the direction of the garden. The mouse and the beetle stood together watching it for a long time. Beyond it the country stretched away, with winding rivers and low hills and stands of trees and no moving thing in sight. The beetle said, ‘These are formidable defences. No one can enter Eden. But I do not see that there is anything to prevent us leaving.”
by Nick DePascal
The pigeons ignore us gently as we
scream at one another in the parking
lot of an upscale grocer. The cicadas
are numbed by their own complaints,
so numbed I won’t even try to describe
the noise and tenor of their hum, but hum
they do like a child humming with his
fingers in his ears. Which, coincidentally,
is what our son is doing. Red shopping
carts crash together, and even the humans
walking by do so dumbly, as if to say,
no comment. As if two red-faced adults
in tears is as common as the polluted air
they breathe and keep reading about in
Time and Newsweek, but are clueless
as to what to do about it. Is this why we’re
separating our recycling by glass, by plastic,
by paper? Or why we’re buying organic
produce at a place that smells like patchouli
and port-o-potties? I ask you. Pigeons scoot,
and finches hop, and cicadas shout and shed
themselves into loose approximations of what
we might have in a different time called heaven.
“This morning I have been trying to think about heaven, but without much success. I don’t know why I should expect to have any idea of heaven. I could never have imagined this world if I hadn’t spent almost eight decades walking around in it. People often talk about how wonderful the world seems to children, and that’s true enough. But children think they will grow into it and understand it, and I know very well that I will not, and would not if I had a dozen lives. That’s clearer to me every day. Each morning I’m like Adam waking up in Eden, amazed at the cleverness of my hands and at the brilliance pouring into my mind through my eyes — old hands, old eyes, old mind, a very diminished Adam altogether, and still it is just remarkable.” — Marilynne Robinson, Gilead (2004)
“The dream of my life
is to lie down by a slow river
and stare at the light in the trees—
to learn something by being nothing
a little while but the rich
lens of attention.” — Mary Oliver, from “Entering the Kingdom” (1993)
Descriptions of Heaven and Hell
by Mark Jarman
The wave breaks
And I’m carried into it.
This is hell, I know,
Yet my father laughs,
Chest-deep, proving I’m wrong.
We’re safely rooted,
Rocked on his toes.
Nothing irked him more
Than asking, “What is there
His theory once was
That love greets you,
And the loveless
Don’t know what to say.
Featured image: New Hampshire meadow path with goldenrods, Sept. 2015
HEAVEN BY NOW
Heaven, by now, must mean something unknowable,
not wholly learned or leaned into like wind
but instead the sense only of longing and lost,
fulfilled without thought to time or finding,
without thought to lips or cost.
Heaven, by now, you’d have thought at long last,
might mean something more always than
intertwined vast, the intake of breath
at the meeting of eyes, astonished
to find so close paradise.
Heaven, by now, must mean something besides
the cast of your shadow, the eden of lush
and the lull of goodbye. You’d think heaven
might mean something more like surprise.