The first word you ever spoke was: light.
Thus time began. For long you said no more.
Man was your second, and a frightening, word …
writes R. M. Rilke on the God’s creation in his Poems From the Book of Hours.
I cannot measure up with my countryman’s spiritual prowess with words in poetry, yet his elevated consciousness touches upon my own creative soul. Rilke was Czech writing in German as most of the educated bourgeoisie in the Austro-Hungarian realm. We wrote in French too, as some emigrated (Kundera) from the socialist oppression, the rest wrote in Russian and increasingly in our own, complex tongue. Now, free to roam where we desire, most millennial and worldly Czechs like myself write in English. Time only shows if our efforts illuminate the beauty in our hearts to the awe of the wider world, yet we must remain patient. Perhaps Chinese script usurps the stage for our writing souls. Language does not matter. Back to light, as it means life or death.
The power of light: mysterious and puzzling
Light attracts me. Seducing me through its bright creative force, I wander around its shades and shapes, often wondering what does this ephemeral, minute masterpiece mean? This nature’s brush on the canvas of the Universe has fascinated humanity ever since our sensory perception magnetised us towards lucidity. Our mind actively inclines towards clarity rather than the passive dimness of sleepy darkness. Light never seems the same. That is mysterious and puzzling.
Always changing and traveling dressed in distinct blues
Light is the might of visual reality. White, green, blue – layered, filtered, diluted or highlighted.
That glare on the face of the restless Earth colours her landscapes with a wide palette of brightness.
The Alps radiate a white zing of a beam.
The whiplash of the ocean’s vastness strikes the eye from the reflection of the sun.
Do not be confused by the noise. What barks loudest has the least to show. Light is silent, the invisible vibration of potent energy.
The deserts receive warm, ripened deliciousness reflected on their sandy orange peel.
In California, the Pacific Ocean’s lash on the cracked coastal skin renders the light crisp white, while around the Hawaii islands the air whisks the ocean light into a somewhat genteel blue.
The Caribbean kitsch bores me after a couple of days of plain gazing.
Incomparable with the sharp Portugal’s coast, where the light gave the explorers an itch to sail far beyond the edges of the horizon.
The Mediterranean, its rocky coasts, feel so mellow and calm on most days. The natural contrast of harshness with the taming force of the rocking sea, elevates the beauty in the paradox. This ‘Middle Earth’ is where I dwell and where my gaze often wanders for a soothing kiss when I write. I daydream, of course.
Look, isn’t this beautiful? The various shades of light are nature’s art we set to imitate at first, but when we realised we cannot match up, we turned inwards to our impressions and abstractions. The canvas and the matter became the expressions of inner feelings, imagination and struggle.
Art cannot exist without light
Most visual art works with its effects. From photography to painting, but even poetry uses symbolic light to elevate, highlight or emotionally illuminate. That light is also the blank space on the page surrounding the poem. In the meaning, emotional strings are always attached, and light is always positive.
The Impressionists used colours, yet it was the subjective momental feeling that inspired their creation. A still life of a lotus pond in Giverny by Monet can be cast in very dark tones, often skilfully exhibited in a bright-lit room as on Naoshima island in Japan or the Musée de la Orangerie in Paris. Playing with the moods of light though, some of the lotus scenes were painted with a bright palette. Light serves as a contrast and its level changes the feeling of anything we see. Tapping on the surface of of the moment seen in changing lights, the Impressionists revealed “the vagaries of human perception” alerted Karl Ruhrberg in Taschen’s masterpiece Art of the 20th Century.
Symbolism and nature
Spiritually, light can mean doubt in the materialistic tyranny for the soul: “Only a feeble light glimmers like a tiny star in a vast gulf of darkness. This feeble light is but a presentiment, and the soul, when it sees it, trembles in doubt whether the light is not a dream, and the gulf of darkness reality”, wrote Kandinsky over a century ago in his famous essay The Spiritual in Art. It also embodies change and duration: “Our soul rings cracked … for this reason, the Primitive phase, through which we are now passing, with its temporary similarity of form, can only be of short duration”, the father of abstract art adds.
In the Dictionary of Symbolism composed by Allison Protas: “Light is one of the most universal and fundamental symbols. It is the spiritual and the divine, it is illumination and intelligence. Light is the source of goodness and the ultimate reality, and it accompanies transcendence into the Nirvana of Buddhist doctrine. It is the SUN, and it is the avenger of evil forces and DARKNESS. Light is knowledge. Purity and morality are connected terms as well. The masculine principle of evolution is symbolized through light. Cosmic energy, creative force and optimism are all related to light.” In short, everything progressive, life itself is symbolised through brightness.
From nature to artificial dysbiosis
Stars illuminate the night’s sky. The solar reach in its perfect balance with the Earth’s movement changes days into dark nights. From fire came a wick, the spark of electricity, then technology lit our lives in a never ending incandescence. Beyond nature, we have playfully and out of necessity introduced more light into our daily lives. It is not natural. Some of it is beneficial, other, like the electronic blue light that confuses melatonin production, can affect us negatively.
The emotions of light
I experienced the discomforting, stripped under the spotlight feeling of being alone on the stage. Barely catching the eyes watching me, blinded by the sharp light cast upon my silhouette, I performed to the final applause of the audience. A catwalk can give models a sense of isolation, even a humiliating unease. In the contrast of attitude, that light bordering dimmed surroundings lifts you away from the interpenetrated social scene into some confident space, a shield where you are lonely, but powerful.
Light inspired a few poems I wrote recently. One entered my bedroom upon a sunrise. The other emerged in a mountain chalet under a candlelight. Yet another glimpsed through the closed shutters of my oceanfront hotel room. The later two became Lumine in two poems.
We need the spark of light in any challenging situation and dark times. We need it now.