Saturday, May 10, 2008

an afternoon with William

It was in Edinburgh, I think, and in the autumn many years ago that my boyfriend of the time and I stumbled into a library after having a long conversation with a glowing-eyed young man who was part of the Children of God group. They were living communally, trying to trust to God and be pure. That morning, said the young man, whose brilliant blue eyes I found kind of seductive, God had provided bananas. Pounds and pounds of them, dropped off at the place the group was staying.

My boyfriend was fascinated--not because bananas in Scotland had innate interest to him, but because his area of research and expertise was peculiar cults believing that the end was nigh. He had more esoteric and acceptable terms for it, but I went with him to many an interview, many a gathering of spiritualists, many a revival, as part of the background to his research. Never mind that the group he was basing his thesis upon, and later his first book, had been active around the time of the French Revolution. He was always hoping to see sparks in the present. Or perhaps, to give him credit, he was simply interested in how minds sought the divine. I suppose we were in Edinburgh so that he could find some source material--I no longer remember. What I remember of that trip was the purple heather, the little bread and breakfast where the proprietor brought out pineapple cottage cheese for my breakfast, and strong, strong tea. And the brickwork, the Children of God, and the warm afternoon in the white library.

I hadn't thought of it much for years, but today I found in my art section at my shop a little pamphlet of watercolors by William Blake. Black and white illustrations. Earnest text.

And that brought it all back, that afternoon seated at a library table, the helpful young librarian (ah, he was pretty attractive too--what can I say, I've always had a weakness for the lovely people of the world) bringing out huge dusty folders. My friend was poring over letters and original documents in another room. I was sitting, staring at the dust motes in the air, talking with the librarian. "You are fond of poetry?" he asked, in reference to some mumbled statement of mine about my areas of love and exploration.

And he said...wait, wait just a moment.

And he brought out the watercolors, whose colors blasted open the daylight. Not under glass, not in locked cabinets, but there, put before my eyes, within reach of my hands, originals as painted by Blake in the previous century. Glowing, naked, amazing.

More than that, he left me alone with the paintings. He had something else to do.

As I say, I don't think about it much. But those moments with Blake count as some of the richest, and most privileged minutes spent in my life. I sat, and breathed, and felt...how extraordinary this was. So much innocence, so much trust.

And rainbows of light stirring from paintings of angels and heaven and hell.