the m john harrison blog

Tag: the course of the heart

lit up from within

A Christmas farrago from The Course of the Heart, soon to be in print again–

“In that part of Warwickshire the winter copses seem to hang forever in the moment of darkening against a pale blue sky–as if it will take forever for night to fall–in a gesture so perfect there will never need to be another day. Medieval strip-fields, Tudor gateposts; narrow lanes and banks choked with ivy awash in horizontal light; yew berries, waxy and tubular, somehow lit up from within so that they look like fairy lights in the gathering dusk: even without snow this is a landscape continually composing itself as a Christmas card. Even now, a chance configuration of cottages and bare elm trees will remind me how I trudged home across the cold ploughed fields at the close of an afternoon in late December: a boy thirteen or fourteen, composed only of the things he wanted at that moment–the warmth of a front room with its Christmas lights and strings of tinsel, the smell of toast.

“I loved the holly that grew by my grandmother’s door. Every Spring, among its new leaves, you found clusters of small flowers as complicated as cyphers, four petals and four white stamens arranged to make up a sort of eight-pointed star. The petals had an almost hallucinatory touch of purple near the tips. Male and female holly flowers grow on separate trees; only the females bear berries. In winter, my grandmother’s holly bore ‘a berry as bright as any wound’.

“The holly and the ivy! Every time you hear that carol, whatever its provenance, you take the full weight of the medieval experience, which was itself just like a childhood. To them, words seemed mysterious and valuable in their own right; the berries so bright against the dark foliage of the tree! But rowan and yew berries are just as bright. So are hawthorn berries, especially when they are new. Hips and haws are as bright. All are instrumental and have their magical and symbolic associations, but none as dark and childlike as this myth of conscious sacrifice, organised, performed, expressed, as the matrix of a culture!”


the roses

This from The Course of the Heart, soon to be available again from Gollancz in paperback & eBook. The roses are in my garden & I can’t stop looking at them.

Outside it was heavy snow. The air was flurried with it, and there was a thin, milky skim upon the setts. Whenever the wind catches falling snow, you seem for a moment to be rushing forward, as if your life had accelerated. Trying to find the bus stop, Lucas had become disoriented and was walking across the old square. Halfway across, though, he stopped as if puzzled, a gloomy, stooped figure in the poor light. I could see him moving his head from side to side. He gazed up into the whirling snow. He put his hand out to gather some of it, suddenly dropped what he had caught as if it had scorched him. I stood in the shelter of the cafe doorway and called–


He didn’t seem to hear me.


When I stepped out into the square, I found that it wasn’t snowing at all. White rose petals were falling out of the sky. Their thick, Byzantine perfume filled the air.


We were folded into the heart of a rose. The heart of a rose! The whole square beat with it. Lucas Medlar stood distraught and lonely, lapped in attar. He shouted my name: and then, “Someone’s here!” Attar! We were in the heart of the rose, and it was already occupied. People say of someone, “She filled the place with her personality,” without a clue of what they might mean. Perfume was like a sea around us. If we could not learn to swim in it we would drown. I was gripped by the panic of irreversible events. “Hello ?” I whispered. No one answered, but Lucas called again, more urgently, “Someone’s here! Someone’s here!” Now she walked out of the great soft storm of rose petals, the goddess herself, the green–the grown–woman, the woman made of flowers. Her outline was perfectly sharp, it seemed to have no surfaces, and flowers came and went within it as she turned her head deliberately this way and that. She was like a window opened on to a mass of leafage after rain, branches of blackthorn, aglet and elder interwoven, plaits of grass and fern, all held together with rose briars, over and between which went a constant trickle of water. Her eyes were a pitiless chalky blue, without white or pupil. They were flowers, too. She knew we were there. She stretched her arms, standing with one leg bent and the other stiffened to take her weight. “You are never simply yourselves,” she whispered.


This time she had brought for us a glimpse of her own place, the envelope of her eternal fall, which is perhaps of the Pleroma but not yet the Pleroma itself (thirtieth Aeon beloved of God, she cast herself out and fell into mirrors in Alexandria, Rome, Manchester, Birkenau): roses blooming in a garden. Between the lawns were broad formal beds of Old China Blush– “China’s in the heart, Jack. China’s in the heart!” –with lilies planted between them. Burnet and guelder spilled faint pink and thick cream over old brick walls and paths velvety with bright green moss. White climbing centifolias weighed down the apple trees. Two or three willows streamed, like yellow hair in strong winter sunshine. Beyond this garden spread an intimately folded arrangement of orchards and lanes, of sandy eminences and broad heathland stretching off to hills. There, late afternoon light enamelled the leaves of the ilex, briars hung over the grassy banks, clematis put forth great suffocating masses of flowers. Everything was possible in that country beyond. A white leopard couched among the hawthorn; other animals paced cagily along its lanes– baboons, huge birds, a snake turning slowly on itself. But the green woman! She stared down at Lucas Medlar in his loneliness and offered him the whole garden.