Friday, July 15, 2016

The Dark Country

Things in the world  have been growing darker and darker for a while now. But last night, upon hearing news of the Nice attack, something shifted inside of me. A new layer of horror, of sorrow, of fear—this is no longer becoming a reality. It is a reality. This unbounded, rampant hate. We opened Pandora's box a long time ago, and then forgot what it might mean. Now, I fear, we are remembering, and it is terrible. The level of uncontrollable hatred is reaching a mythic pitch, and I am taking solace, sips of hope and prayer, from the grounds of story. Today I came across a passage I'd read before in a wonderful 1983 essay by Ursula Le Guin ("A Left-Handed Commencement Address," given at Mills College, printed in her collection Dancing at the Edge of the World). It struck a new chord. This morning in bed I was thinking about how we will get nowhere fighting hate with hate. We never have. We will be stuck in a cycle of blood feuds and vengeance and sorrow forever. And yet no western power is going to turn now to the Middle East with any measure of compassion, or the question— what is it we have done to create such poison? What can we do to heal this terrible, terrible wound without more loss of life? 

The only way out of any of it, of all of it, seems to me to be the way we will not go as a society, the way of gentleness, of compassion, of the dark and nourishing earth... As Ursula writes: 

In our society, women have lived, and have been despised for living, the whole side of life that includes and takes responsibility for helplessness, weakness, and illness, for the irrational and the irreparable, for all that is obscure, passive, uncontrolled, animal, unclean—the valley of the shadow, the deep, the depths of life. All that the Warrior denies and refuses is left to us and the men who share it with us and therefore, like us, can't play doctor, only nurse, can't be warriors, only civilians, can't be chiefs, only indians. Well, so that is our country. The night side of our country. If there is a day side to it, high sierras, prairies of bright grass, we only know pioneer's tales about it, we haven't got there yet. We're never going to get there by imitating Machoman. We are only going to get there by going our own way, by living there, by living through the night in our own country. 

So what I hope for you is that you live there not as prisoners, ashamed of being women, consenting captives of a psychopathic social system, but as natives. That you will be at home there, keep house there, be your own mistress, with a room of your own. That you will do your work there, whatever you are good at, art or science or tech or running a company or sweeping under the beds, and when they tell you its's second-class work because a woman is doing it, I hope you tell them to go to hell and while they're going to give you equal pay for equal time. I hope you live without the need to dominate, and without the need to be dominated. I hope you are never victims, but I hope you have no power over other people. And when you fail, and are defeated, and in pain, and in the dark, then I hope you will remember that darkness is your country, where you live, where no wars are fought and no wars are won, but where the future is. Our roots are in the dark; the earth is our country. Why did we look up for blessing—instead of around and down? What hope we have lies there. Not in the sky full of orbiting spy-eyes and weaponry, but in the earth we have looked down upon. Not from above, but from below, Not in the light that blinds, but in the dark that nourishes, where human beings grow human souls.

For at least the last five thousand years, the western world has been wracked and wracked again by war, led by a patriarchy that settles conflicts and takes what it wants by force. This isn't going to work any more. Already we can see it isn't working. The question is, how can we walk, all of us, into the hope that lies in the roots in the earth and keep our torches aloft? Really, I have hardly a clue. All I can say is — may we find the wisdom of the dark and feminine country, of the earth that grows human souls, of the land where there is no war, before it is too late.


  1. 'May we find the wisdom of the dark and feminine country' … I think this is at the core of all of the problems of the world, the fact that the feminine has been suppressed and downtrodden for so long. We desperately need that wisdom and gentleness back. Like you, I often have no clue how this is going to be achieved, if it will be achieved at all. But I do see people taking steps in the right direction, and am trying to take my own steps back to the embrace of the earth. Perhaps that is all we can do, in the end, just do our little bit and encourage others with our example—as you are, Sylvia, and as Ursula Le Guin has, and so many others. Though it would have been preferable that you hadn't felt the need to write this post, thank you for writing it. x

  2. I so agree wholeheartedly with you and with Ursula. I tried to write my own post on the subject this morning but failed utterly to find words. Nice was especially hard. I think what will prove hardest may be the idea that seems to be increasingly suggested that this wasn't organised terrorism, this was one crazed, disaffected man inspired to hate. There are so many of them now. The system is toxic, and it had maddened so many people, hurt so many people. And not just the system, but the disconnection we create amongst ourselves, seeing other people as "them", as competition for resources, as the enemy. I believe the only hope we have, and indeed the earth itself have, is love and kindness - and I have no hope for it.

    And yet yesterday I came across someone despairing, and that frightened me more than anything. If good people despair, then the work of healing will not be done. Thank you for doing some of the work by being a light, with this post, and with your other writing.

  3. Le Guin, so wise, as always. thank you for posting her words, and for speaking clearly what so many of us feel---that the way forward must be very different from the status quo of violence begetting violence (for bigotry and disenfranchisement are violence too)...i woke this morning from a dream of the fisher king from medieval story. in my dream he lay bleeding on a couch; his eyes were so sad, but he clutched his sword to his side so tightly that his knuckles had gone white. out of the blue i thought of the grail, which was not quite visible in the dream, but somehow hovering in between reality and imagination; and i thought that the grail is, quite simply, the abundant nourishment of nature (when we haven't made it a wasteland) and also the state of grace known as compassion. and the answer to "whom does it serve?" is ALL LIFE. then i woke up, feeling both utter helplessness and yet with a vague certainty...

    1. This is such a potent dream, and very uncanny too-- the day before you posted this comment, I wrote a poem which ended with the same question, and a similar realization about the myth of the grail and the wasteland... It must be drifting through the collective unconscious right now... reading your words here gave me a beautiful glimmer of magic and hope, so thank you. x

  4. Lovely post, Sylvia. These are difficult times and it's all too easy to lose hope. Your words and Le Guin's, these photos of a wonderful, wild nature help to stir the spirit. Thank you.
    (ps. I have subscribed to your A Green Language, but haven't yet received the email confirmation from livejournal. Is there something I've not done, or missed? Many thanks. I'm looking forward to reading more of your poetry. We all need more of that kind of beauty these days.)

  5. Thank you for sharing this. So good, so true. X

  6. I must read more Ursula.
    "Our roots are in the dark; the earth is our country. Why did we look up for blessing—instead of around and down? What hope we have lies there. Not in the sky full of orbiting spy-eyes and weaponry, but in the earth we have looked down upon. "
    This just totally got to me. I am so frustrated and feel so much despair. I can only take The News in short minutes these days now. Community, interdependence is the way forward and yet all I can think is 'we must work for right and just and peace in our own lives and step away from this large picture'. Somewhat opposing thoughts and yet not at the same time. I feel embarrassed that I cannot step onto the larger stage, the larger discussion, and yet I feel so strongly that I must look to my own roots and dark and care for them/it and wish for others to do the same.
    Thank you for writing.

  7. I too have been thinking much about this, and of the need to embrace feminine energy. And yet along with the hatred, the violence, the anger has come too a renewed despising of the feminine. We only have to listen to the rhetoric of Donald J Trump, to read of the inhumane treatment of women by ISIS, to know that. Never in my lifetime did I expect to witness a return to the dark days of the 1930s and WW2. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.