© 2018 All Rights Reserved

I Went Out into the Open Air.

When I Heard the Learned Astronomer

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,

When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide,

And measure them,

When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with

much applause in the lecture-room,

How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,

Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,

In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,

Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

Walt Whitman 1865

31st July. Some rain early morning. Hot fine evening. Sedge in pond.

1st August. Rain in night: some early morning; fine hot day. Burdock in flower (thistle-like). Thistles in flower in barley so thick as to give it a purple tint over two or three acres.

2nd August. Fine morning. Afternoon cloudy, N.E. wind strong and cool. Night at eleven lightning, continuous came up from N.W. Moonlight brilliant – violet lightning – hailstones, a little larger than a shilling – see roses in the garden and the water glancing in the flashes – thunder louder after storm passed as if blown back by N.E. Wind. Lightening long flashes quivering several seconds.

3rd August. Morning dull, hot. Thrushes and Blackbirds do not sing; but did up to within day or two. Willow wren singing zit-zit – yellow hammer very much – greenfinch too.

4th August. Rain early morning: hot fine day.

5th August. Cloudy: evening heavy rain. A little while since plantain flowered in wet ditch.

6th August. Fine morning; showers later. Lightning, heavy thunder. At 4 exceedingly heavy rain. Fog came on in early afternoon – rooks stopped in copse instead of going home to wood – not done it for fifty years – could not find way.

7th. Cloudy morning: afternoon light showers. Branch of sod apple in bloom . . . Rooks fond of maize, Rooks nest in tall Scotch firs: also spruce very high. Bramble still in flower very much: plane tree leaves already brown leathery in spots – wood pigeons calling? Spring and Autumn not summer: sparrows in oats, scores, on stalk below grain still green, out for grain.

8th August. Small rain morning: afterwards dry. Barley – thistles rise from roots, not seed: a spindle root. Yesterday saw a small dragonfly: either first or else rare. Swifts still here and screaming.

11th August. Cloudy misty morning: farmer market morning waiting at stile till another came along with trap, for ride. A large green dragonfly: it is their season then. Last full moon was very high in the sky: near Zenith. There is nowhere where you can put 3100 and be certain of getting it back again – no deposit (consols pay 90 and receive 94) – nothing like the Earth after all.

12th August. Fine hot N.E. wind. Grasshoppers singing in the grass.

15th August. Hot cloudy morning – fine white clouds. Drovers came in, asking for hard biscuits, and toast at the fire: then take tallow candle from table and drop grease from it on to biscuit till it would not suck up any more – and eat it as very good: as special relish after 2 days’ drinking.

Extract taken from the notebooks of Richard Jefferies.

Ascent By Night

Everything seemed so strange, as though I had never seen it before and was seeing it now for the first time in my life. I was taking a train through the mountains. It was twilight and the sun was so beautiful. The mountains seemed so big and so powerful to me, and they were too. Hills and valleys make a country rich and great, they win it space. The mountainous nature struck me as extravagant, with its towering rock formations and beautiful dark forests soaring upwards. I saw the narrow paths snaking around the mountains, so graceful, so rich in poetry. The sky was clear and high, and men and women were walking along the paths. The houses sat so still, so lovely on the hillsides. The whole thing seemed to me like a poem, a majestic old poem, past down to posterity eternally new. Then it grew darker. Soon the stars were gleaming down into the deep dark chasms and a white shining moon had stepped forth into the sky. The road that ran through the valley was as white as snow. A deep joy took hold of me. I was happy to be in the mountains and the pure, fresh, cold air. How splendid it was. I breathed it in with passion. And so the train rolled slowly on, and eventually I got off the train. I surrendered my things and continued by foot, up into the mountains. It was so bright and at the same time so black. The night was divine. Tall fir trees towered up before me and I heard springs gurgling and murmuring, it was such a precious melody, such a mysterious saying and singing. I myself sang a song into the night as I ascended ever higher on the bright road. The road came to a village, then went on through an absolutely dark forest. I bumped into roots and stones with my feet, and since I had lost the straight path I often banged my wanderers head into trees, hard. But I could only laugh about that. Oh, how magnificent it was, this first ascent by night! everything so quiet. There was something holy about everything. The sight of the black fir trees made me deeply happy. It was midnight when I reached the little dark house up in the high valley; there was light in the window. Someone was waiting for me. How beautiful that is: too reach a desolate natural spot at high altitude in a silent rustling night, on foot, like a travelling, wildly racing journeyman, and to know that you are awaited by someone dear to you. I knocked. A dog started barking, so loud that it echoed far and wide. I heard someone hurry down the stairs. The door was opened. Someone held up the lamp or lantern in front of my face. I was recognized, oh how beautiful it was, it was so beautiful--

Robert Walser 1914

photo © Jonathan Lovekin

Imagine a ride across the heath at 3 o’clock in the morning in a small open cart (I went with the man with whom I’m lodging, who had to go to Assen market), along a road, or ‘diek’ as they call it here, which had been banked up with mud instead of sand. It was even better than the barge.

When it was just starting to get light, and the cocks were starting to crow everywhere round the huts scattered over the heath, everything, the few cottages we passed-surrounded by wispy poplars whose yellow leaves one could hear falling-a stumpy old tower in a little churchyard with an earth bank & a beach head, the flat scenery of heath or cornfields, everything was exactly like the most beautiful Corots. A stillness, a mystery, a peace as only he has painted it. When we arrived at Zweeloo at 6 o’clock in the morning it was still quite dark-I had seen the real Corots even earlier in the morning.

The ride into the village was so beautiful. Enormous mossy roofs of houses, stables, covered sheepfolds, barns. The very broad-fronted houses here are set among oak trees of a superb bronze. Tones in the moss of gold-green. In the ground of reddish or bluish or yellowish dark lilac-greys, tones of inexpressible purity in the green of the little cornfields, tones of black in the wet tree trunks, standing out against the golden rain of swirling, teeming autumn leaves, which hang in loose clumps-as if they had been blown there, loose and with the light filtering through them-from the poplars, the birches, the limes and the apple trees.

The sky smooth and bright, shining, not white but a barely detectable lilac, white vibrant with red, blue and yellow, reflecting everything and felt everywhere above one, hazy and merging with the thin mist below, fusing everything in a gamut of delicate greys…

…A black stretch of earth, flat, unending, a clear sky of delicate lilac-white. The earth sprouts that young corn as if growing a mould of it. That is what the good, fertile lands of Drenthe really are-and all in a misty atmosphere. Think of Brion’s Le dernier jour de la creation-well yesterday it really felt as if I understood the meaning of that painting. The poor soil of Drenthe is the same, except that the black earth is even blacker-like soot-not lilac-black like the furrows, and overgrown in a melancholy way with perpetually rotting heather and peat.

I notice it everywhere-chance effects on that infinite background: in the peat moors, the turf huts; in the fertile areas, those most primitive hulks of farmhouses and sheepfolds with low, very low little walls and enormous mossy roofs. Oaks all around, journeying through these parts for hour after hour, one feels that there really is nothing but that infinite earth, that mould of corn or heather that infinite sky. Horses and men seem as small as fleas. One is unaware of anything else, however large it may be in itself, one knows only that there is earth and sky.

Imagine then a short avenue of tall poplars with autumn leaves, imagine a wide muddy road all, black mud, with heath stretching to infinity on the right, heath stretching to infinity on the left, a couple of black triangular silhouettes of turf huts, the red glow from small fires shining through the small windows, with a few pools of dirty, yellowish water reflecting the sky, in which fallen trees lie rotting into peat. Imagine that sea of mud at dusk with a whitish sky overhead, thus everything black against white. And in that sea of mud a shaggy figure-the shepherd-and a mass of oval shapes, half wool. Half mud, jostling one another, pushing one another out of the way-the flock. You see them coming, you stand in their midst, you turn round and follow them. Laboriously and reluctantly they work their way up the muddy road. The farm beckons in the distance, a few mossy roofs and piles of straw & peat among the poplars. The sheepfold is again like a triangular silhouette, the entrance dark. The door stands wide open like a dark cave. The light of the sky glimmers once more through the chinks in the boards behind it. The whole caravan, masses of wool and mud, disappears into the cave-the shepherd and a little woman with a lantern shut the doors behind them.

Van Gogh, Drenthe, 16th November 1883

How much such a little moon can do. Days where around us all is clear, barely an outline in the luminous air and yet distinct. Even the nearest things have a distant tone, shrink back, show only from a distance, are not exposed; and all that draws on this expanse of distance - the river, the bridges, the long roads and the squares which expend themselves - hold that distance within them, and are painted there as if on silk. Who can say what a bright green motorcar on Pont Neuf might be, or this vivid red rushing forth, or even simply that poster, on the wall adjoining a cluster of pearl-grey buildings. All is simplified, restored to a few planes, sharp and clear, as a face in a portrait by Manet. Nothing is insignificant or without relevance. The bouquinistes on the quais open their stalls, and the fresh or worn yellow of the books, the violet brown of the bindings, the more sovereign green of an album, everything harmonizes, counts, takes part in the whole and converges in consummate perfection...

From The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge Rilke 1910

Adalbert Stifter. Der Königsee mit dem Watzmann. 1837

photo © Jonathan Lovekin
back to text