The longest night

December 21, 2021

And O for the joys of a long winter’s night

Winter night, words by Robert Burns, artist’s book by Liz Mathews, painted and lettered on a single sheet of handmade paper.

For Robert Burns, the winter solstice has its compensations, and it’s obviously a good plan to make the most of what you’ve got. For others, including John Donne and Maureen Duffy, the year’s midnight marks the turn of the year towards spring.

I made this artist’s book, Steel Solstice, on the winter solstice in 2015, inspired by Maureen Duffy’s poem A Christmas Concert (Pictures from an Exhibition Enitharmon 2016). We catch the sounds of a steel band swirling round a chilly shopping arcade with a snow flurry:

all the old rubbed seasonal songs

ricocheting between the twin steel skins

until feet begin to tap, smiles flit, coins skim

as…

… we watch snow falling against the grey

city sky, shepherds astounded, magi

on their way, hear sleighbells jingle

while their small hammers tap in the tune

and only their music sings

… in a moment

redeeming winter’s, Lucy’s, shortest day

and longest night

with promise of returning spring.

(Thanks to Maureen Duffy for permission to set and quote her poem.)

Steel Solstice (like Winter night) was made from a single sheet of handmade paper, painted, folded and torn into a sequence of pages, so that the book can be read page by page, or restored to the single image of the steel drum, painted in steely greys and silvers against a swirl of seasonal snow and the early dusk.

Inspired by all three poets, I’d like to wish for us all good cheer for the festive season, and happier times to come with the returning spring.

Liz Mathews, London 21.12.2021

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