Heavenlight

November 26, 2010

Heavenlight is a one-elephant book (made from one sheet of handmade paper, torn and folded to form the cycle of the pages) with a beautiful text about the Northern Lights from Wordsworth’s Prelude VI. Before lettering and tearing, the painted sheet looked like this:

I’ll show you the book page by page:

Earth crouches

The elements are potter’s clay

Space like a heaven

filled up with Northern lights

Here, nowhere, there,

and everywhere at once.

Apparently we in London have about four opportunities a year to see some manifestations of this lovely phenomenon – but I’ve only ever seen it once so far. Patrick Moore, in his book Stargazing, tells of the different names given to the Northern Lights by people who see them more often, including the Inuit, who call them ‘sky dwellers’ and the Shetland Islanders, who call them ‘the merry dancers’.

He’s sceptical about the sometimes reported accompanying crackling noise they make – though other upper-air-visual-phenomena (lightning, for example) can be pretty noisy, and there is Chaucer’s witness to the music of the spheres:

The erratik starres, herkenyng armonye

with sownes ful of hevenysh melodie.

– but he’s absolutely scornful about the rare reports of their sulphuric odour, so we won’t expect any of that. However, he isn’t too unromantic when he explains the Northern Lights as electrically-charged particles sent out by the sun which spiral towards earth’s poles, sometimes in flashes of pink, green, gold, mauve and shining light blue, sometimes in veils, drapery or swags.

I love Wordsworth’s visionary evocation of their fleeting ephemeral appearances and elemental presence, and many years ago I made a work in clay (a panel) with this text. I’m now working with it again, on a very large open shallow bowl – which I’ll show here as a work in focus when it’s done.

For more information about my one-elephant books or any of my work, please either leave me a note in the comments box below, or click on contact details for other ways to get in touch.

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