To look at that sky is not to need so many words as scribbled boats or birds, but to divert the eyes away from that pure blue, the desert of the soul thirsts for the wisdom of many novels, constructions and passages of sentences.
How was it, I was asked today, that Moses' tablets were so quickly broken; after travelling the impossible, through water itself, the tablets had to be thrown at the golden idol so promptly constructed. Those sapphire tablets, meant as reminders of the sky.
It is a story of fallibility, the alacrity of the atrophying convictions, even when evidence for said convictions has been supplied in an abundance of blue. It is a story of misplacing values when externals and appearance do not meet expectations or feeble wishes.
The squire in The Caxtons recommends for such situations a pouch of saffron - his symbol of the faith and purpose behind actions; the doing, not the wondering. "Life is a drama, not a monologue. Drama is derived from a Greek verb, signifying to do. Every actor in the drama has something to do, which helps on the progress of the whole: that is the object for which the author created him."
Respected but critiqued in the book is the conscience that curbs action. Respected, indeed, for it plays beneath the surface of externals and appearance, being, "what the world would never know, despite all the vigilance of its praise and blame." And one is never to care three straws for praise or blame - leather and prunella, praise and blame are not in the externals but here - a fist is brought to the chest, in the heart.
It is possible for there to be a situation where one is doing the Right Thing, even Matthew Arnold's Needful Thing, and yet appear to be the person who is in the wrong. This can cause confusion - if one possesses not the saffron. But how hard it can be to be sure of purpose. Arnold himself wrote, "But most of us, alas! are what we must be, not what we ought to be - not even what we know we ought to be." To do right then let go with a smile.
But that "ought" is indicated by a sharp fork in the road. So many forks, as if one were being skewed for the barbie, to be Australian about being grilled. I think of the smokeless sky - it is very simple, "Do your part and let the play go on," says the squire, my fictitious friend. Except the mind may labour over the details, may question the choice of words behind the actions a thousand times, may doubt efficacy, may doubt the whole endeavour, even though it may be the only endeavour one was given. The parched question of why there is no bounty is answered by the timeless prayer for a good harvest.
These are the crags in the Chinese watercolour, all those tiny steps disappearing intermittently among the trees, journeying up to the tiny temple on the immense but spindly mountain. That is perhaps a picture of the νοῦς, the eye of the heart. Such a heart cannot be held by an external landscape paved over with human wish and ambition. Where it is the agglomeration of a thousand melted gold earrings. Such a heart craves the opening of the sea, of the sky, the sapphire sky.
"The narrow stream reflects the gnarled tree, and the pausing herd, and the village spire, and the romance of the landscape; but the sea reflects only the vast outline of the headland, and the lights of the eternal heaven." To be broad is to be badly and only partly reflected in the narrow. It is to suffer the intervals between recognition that may gape with age. Levavi Oculos!, the psalm reminds us.
To see the sky is to be answered by it. But like the damned, or perhaps the desert in the soul, one may seek more answers for one's discontent, even from those unqualified to speak. People do not always have the answers, struggling with their own deserts, possibly tempted to make a golden calf of their worries and impatience. One wouldn't always be friends with oneself, but one must; others may be kept at bay, and their wish, remain with us longer - is met by the squire with a calm response, "Books for me and men for you." The squire will not change his habits even for friendship, "especially when in labour."
The simplicity of it all may seem absurd. The necessary thing is the natural thing that one turns to, that one is and already was. One's labour. To learn when to let go to find oneself again, shimmering or shivering in une fête slave now playing on WQXR, such is the fête of truly the letting go, in the comfort of one's home, working as one wishes, not attempting to talk words. It is the Difficult Thing to be one's best when neglected by A Situation, but look at that sky, so blue and clear that the mind in observing it returns refreshed. Not to carry that blue with one like a favoured postcard from a friend is to neglect it, to under-appreciate it as one is being under-appreciated.
"Do your part and let the play go on." Forty days is not that long. Not even forty to the power of whatever it takes. The sky is a reminder to the mind; if only the soul could take it in, those who were cast away from the nets in life rejoice in the xylophone of shells in the waves and collect endurance instead of money or trophies from foreign lands.
Perhaps that is the final count, to know one's place is to know that one can never truly belong, and that such a state is truly a gift. Such is the sapphire sky, here but so far beyond.