Thursday, April 20, 2006

Eyen Greye as Glas

Medieval poets loved that phrase -- "eyes as gray as glass." They use it where we might say something like "eyes as blue as the sea."

You have to understand that glass was not the stuff of cheap trinkets and mass-produced perfect windows, then. Glass was expensive stuff, and it was thought to be beautiful. I still think it's beautiful. Not modern glass, which aims to be invisible, and succeeds in being insipid. But the sort of glass that a few of the oldest windows in my old house have -- wavy, ripply glass that catches odd glimmers and offers prismatic refractions of slanting light. It is beautiful stuff. Medieval people didn't think glass was just something to see through. It was also something to be seen.

I found myself standing in six inches of water this morning, water gray as glass. The sky was soft and luminous, the clouds drenched with light. Green grass played in the water. My car was gone. Why? I have no idea. It had broken down. Or just gone away. I walked in the pouring rain, the pouring light. Quite cold, but I didn't mind. just now. I was a little worried about how I would get out of this solitude, but not very worried. Everything was very bright, and the grass rippled and shone. I stepped from high place to high place.

I came to an edge, and there, thirty yards below, was the water again. I was bewildered. How could the water be both up here and down there? Why didn't it run down from here to there? A marsh can't sit up on a headland. Can it?
I wondered if I was dreaming. When that thought comes to me in a dream, it usually comes at the brink of waking. But I didn't wake. I kept walking and puzzling.

Finally I stopped. "I must be asleep," I thought. "There's no other explanation."

I made as if to jump into the sky, and cried "Awake!"

I thought maybe I was going to fly. Maybe this was the turning. Maybe this was the door. Buddhists have an ancient image of enlightenment, a fish jumping up into the air. In those pictures the fish blaze with a dozen colors. I thought of those rainbow fish.

My body jerked. My heart pounded. The light ran away into a sleepy darkness. My arms were wrapped loosely around a pillow. Across the room the numbers on the clock glowed green, but I couldn't read them -- my eyes wouldn't focus yet.

If I thought glass was just to see through, I would have been disappointed in that moment. But I wasn't. Not then, not now. A moment of vertigo and confusion, but that's all. I'm still marvelling at the water. Eyen greye as glas.

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