A Year in Books 2018 – January to March

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A new year means a new selection of books.

Thanks to Laura at Circle of Pine Trees for creating the challenge.

I started the new year finishing off a book from 2017.

A Parliament of Rooks – Karen Perkins

I did a short review of this book in my Sunday Sevens #40. Though the narrative brings clear visions of a modern day Howarth, the actual characters and tale fell rather flat. The modern day characters were rather annoying and two dimensional but if you like anything relating to the Brontë’s then you will enjoy this book.

The Raven – Edgar Allan Poe

I’ve read this poem a couple of times now. The first time I read it I was on a bus on a dark, cold January morning. I thought, ‘what on earth was all that about!’

Then on the second reading, I think I have understood a little more. The narrator is a man who mourns his lost love, Lenore. A raven visits him and in answer to the man’s questions the raven only says ‘nevermore.’ This perplexes the narrator who gets more and more exasperated. Others’ interpretations of the poem is that of the man slipping into madness.

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore!

What do you think? Have you read this poem? What was your interpretation?

The Witchfinder’s Sister – Beth Underdown

Debut novel and one of Richard and Judy’s Book Club for spring 2018. The Witchfinder’s Sister is about Alice Hopkins who returns from London, widowed, to be reconciled with her brother Matthew (the self-proclaimed Witchfinder General) in the midst of the witch hunts of 1645-47. The English Civil War is waging, a time of religious, political upheaval, which the printing presses are at cost to publish. Reading what few facts on Matthew Hopkins there is online. I read that he and his accomplices were responsible for the deaths of up to 300 women in just three years. Legitimised serial killers is what I thought of them. Though men were not immune to being called ‘witch’ it was mainly females that were blamed for unnatural deaths of babies, droughts, famines and disease. When science and understanding was hundreds of years away, those without a voice (midwives, bewitching young women) were victimised. The author dips into that paranoia. Alice is at first an innocent bystander but is soon forced to be complicit in the torture and deaths of a number of women as she and Matthew travel through Anglia. Though a piece of fiction, it made me angry that this reign of terror was allowed to happened (an encouraged) in not just Britain but in Europe and the USA too.

The Crucible – Arthur Miller

After reading Beth Underdown’s novel, I just had to read Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. I found my old copy and re-read the play written at the height of the Korean War (1950-53). The play, written when Communism was seen as a threat to the western world, can also be read as criticism of the ‘witch-hunt’ McCarthy Trials. Miller cleverly links this contemporary fear to the paranoia of the witch trials in Salem (1692-3).

Unlike Beth Underdown’s novel, who writes from the viewpoint of a witness, The Crucible quickly draws you into the drama where accusations and blame are voiced by Abigail Williams and friends. A sense of heightened fear is present straight from the start where Betty Parris, one of Abigail’s friends is lying prone, mute, for no apparent reason. The girls have been accused themselves of dancing with the devil but Abigail turns the tables on the adults and begins to accuse members of the cast. They believe her, due to her ‘purity.’ One of the main characters John Proctor who has had a fling with Abigail and afterwards rejected her, tries to show Abigail as a telltale but the cast, some of high office, seem bewitched by the girls’ accusations that devilry is rife in Puritan Salem.

The play in some ways is a tragedy. The final act is seen as redemption for John Proctor who finally denounces Abigail, however this does not stop the executions. In little over a year, due to the hysteria created by girls who tapped into the bleaker side of human nature, of fear and jealousy, 20 people were tried and executed in Salem.

The Ice Queen – Alice Hoffman

This book wasn’t what I had expected. ‘A fairy tale for grownups’, it was advertised. The story however is so sad. I was choked with emotion reading the final chapters. Perhaps it was the butterfly migration that set me off? The whole story is well written, you meet many strange characters along the way. The tale is of loss, love and acceptance. The best message I got from this book was that to conquer death you have to live. Something I have been trying to achieve these past few years. Is this a book you would enjoy? Let me know!

Uncommon Type – Tom Hanks

I have to admit, I found it hard to get into Hanks’ writing. The choice of first short story to open this collection wasn’t the strongest. I found the unending list of commercial brands exhausting to read. Does it really matter what name of footwear a character wears or what brand of fridge freezer a man gets his chilled beer from? There are better ways of creating a time in history than listing company names. I found Hanks’ writing very like Dan Brown’s, perhaps it’s a style American’s default to? I did persevere and his style grew on me. There were a few stories I enjoyed, These are the Meditations of my Heart, Stay with Us (screenplay) and The Past is Important to Us. Have you read this collection? What were your thoughts?

The Waste Land – T.S. Eliot

Regarded as one of the most influential poems of the 20th Century. The Waste Land was written a few years after the devastation of WW1. The poem loosely follows the legend of the Grail, and is set in five parts which lack any cohesion. The fragmentation of structure and voice is a reflection of a post war world. I enjoyed the lyricism of the poem and the images it created. I wouldn’t say the poem was easily understandable. The many vignettes of peoples’ daily lives is intersected with lines taken from world mythologies, literature and languages. I think the poem needs further in-depth study. Have you read this poem? What was your interpretation?

Autumn – Ali Smith

I downloaded this book onto my Kindle before I decided to read 1 star ratings on Amazon. What I read worried me a little but once I started reading the stream of conscious type narrative, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Though the story doesn’t really go anywhere, it is a study of time, and poking fun at British life and society. I liked Smith’s style of writing. I look forward to seeing what her next novel Winter is about.

1st quarter books

A Gathering Light, The Secret Life of Bees, The Pier Falls and Pax

A Gathering Light – Jennifer Donnelly

I don’t remember who recommended this novel to me but I didn’t really enjoy it. I found the narrative very tedious. The secondary tale about a real life crime rarely featured. The writer could have done so much more with this idea but the result was a novel I would not recommend to anyone! How about you? If you have read this book and felt differently, then do let me know!

The Secret Life of Bees – Sue Monk Kidd

Set among the backdrop of racial tensions in 1960’s South Carolina, this coming of age tale is both entertaining and emotive. The protagonist, Lily goes on a journey that takes her away from her abusive father, to the protection of three bee keeping sisters, where she learns about her mother and herself. The novel has a strong cast of female characters. From the tormented May to the resilience of Rosaleen and the wisdom of August. It is a feel good book, one that I would recommend. Have you read this book? What were your thoughts?

The Pier Falls – Mark Haddon

Sadly Haddon’s collection of short stories left me feeling sad and morbid. Most of the tales centre around death which was rather difficult to read one after another. There were a few standout stories. I enjoyed the tale of the Wodwo or ‘wild man,’ it made me think of Ted Hughes’s book of the same title. Another was the claustrophobic atmosphere of the Woodpecker and the Wolf. The title does not bring to mind astronauts stranded on an desolate, unforgiving planet. However I enjoyed the characters and there is a happier ending!

Pax – Sara Pennypacker

I decided to get this book as other bloggers have read it and been enchanted with it. The illustrations by Jon Klassen are beautiful but I have to admit I struggled to get into the narrative. As the story progressed, however I soon warmed to the characters. I enjoyed the Pax chapters more so than the human story. The underlying sadness to the writing is that animals suffer during war, and there is a lot of animal suffering in the novel which was painful to read. I had expected the ending to be emotive but I just felt numb, it wasn’t very satisfying. It made the whole novel seem a bit of a waste of time to me. Have you read this novel? Did you enjoy it?

A Cold Case in Amsterdam Central – Anja de Jager

This copy was kindly gifted to me by a lady who I chat to whilst waiting for the bus to work. Anja de Jager draws inspiration from cases her father worked on as a policeman in the Netherlands. To date she has written three crime novels in the Lotte Meerman series. This was the second book. It was easy to read and could be read as a stand alone novel. I enjoyed the read and will probably look up the other novels in the series in future.

The Famished Road – Ben Okri

I’ll probably still be reading this book come April. It is such a word dense book, separated into eight books. I’ve read book one and the language and imagery is beautiful, almost psychedelic. The tale is of spirit-child Azaro, who turns his back on the land of spirits to experience the life and death of the living. Okri blends human hardships with fantastical beasts from the spirit realm and beyond. I am enjoying the telling so far. I will let you know how it goes.

Have you read any good books lately, any recommendations?

Thanks for dropping by,

Christine x

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Moonlit – #writephoto

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Composed in response to Sue Vincent’s #writephoto post.

The sky had turned a velvety indigo, speckled with starlight. The full moon’s white rays danced on the surface of the lake. Its beam like an arrow, pointed to where the woman stood. She had discarded her shoes and stood barefoot on the stony shore. Listening to the trance-like sound of the water as it touched the rocks, she edged slowly towards their icy grip. ‘You shouldn’t be here.’ She smiled coyly, turning towards the silhouetted shape of a man coming towards her. His footsteps crunched as he drew alongside her. She trembled excitedly as she felt his arms encircle her waist, the touch of his cold lips on hers. She pulled away shyly.

‘Neither should you.’ She heard him laugh. ‘Ed, what would your husband say, if he knew you were here with me?’ She chuckled. ‘With a straight woman too!’

‘What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.’ She started walking, gingerly at first deeper into the water. Sharp stones cut into her feet. The fabric of her long dress grew heavy.

‘Why did you come?’ She heard him sigh. ‘And don’t give me that ‘I’m confused’ line. You’re 50! You should know who you are by now!’ Ed looked shocked.

‘Lisa,’ he paused, thinking of the right words to say. ‘You know there’s always been something about you.’ Lisa stood knee deep in water. She could see Ed’s features blanched by the moonlight. He looked ethereal. She shivered. ‘It’s always been about you. 20 years ago, you were all I could see and now…’ he broke off.

‘And now?’

‘I don’t know what’s happening between us?’

‘Me neither,’ Lisa sighed. ‘Though it feels different somehow.’

‘Yes, less possessive.’

‘Have you told Lee about me?’ Lisa noticed Ed’s stance, uncomfortable, with his hands in his pockets.

‘No, what could I say?’

‘The truth,’ she scoffed.

‘He knows there’s been women in the past.’

‘And he’s fine with that?’ Ed nodded.

‘I’ve just not told him that there was one that left her mark on me.’

‘Literally,’ Lisa thought, picturing the scar Ed bore on his chest, where she had sliced him with a kitchen knife after one of their many heated arguments.

‘What are you doing?’ Ed asked, exasperated, as Lisa walked waist high into the lake.

‘Standing in stone cold water,’ she shivered.

‘You’re mad!’

‘I’d rather be mad than dead inside.’ She turned to face Ed, her dress soaking up more of the insidious cold, dragging her downwards. ‘It’s like the moon has nothing to be sad about… her blacks crackle and drag,’ she quoted Sylvia Plath.

‘You’re more sloshing around, than crackling.’ Ed grinned.

‘Join me?’ Lisa laughed nervously, before her scream pierced the night sharply. She’d felt her feet stumble, slip on mossy stones, before her whole body succumbed to the water. She exhaled loudly, raising above the surface, giggling fitfully, thankfully to still be alive. Concentric waves rippled all around her. A man swore angrily as he stormed away from the promontory with a camera and tripod under his arm. Lisa managed to find her feet and stood dripping.

‘You ok?’ Ed called.

‘Yes,’ Lisa smiled. ‘Looks like I’ve ruined his photographs.’

‘Ignore him!’

‘Seems I have a knack for ruining things for people.’

‘Don’t believe that!’ Ed sensed Lisa’s jovial mood was turning.

‘Perhaps it would be better if I wasn’t here at all.’ Lisa looked towards the vast darkness of the lake. Peaks of night covered hills glowed orange with street lights from the nearby town.

‘Never think that!’ Ed gazed at Lisa’s white skin glowing in the moonlit. Her dark hair tumbling over her pale naked shoulders. ‘You look like a nereid.’

‘Come?’ Lisa beckoned, watching as Ed reluctantly peeled the shirt off his back, unbuckled the belt from his jeans.

‘I can’t believe I’m doing this?’

‘You can do it!’ Lisa felt herself slipping further into the icy water, until her whole body was submerged. Her rapid breathing was echoed by Ed’s, who’d waded bravely into the lake towards her.

‘Oh f**k, oh f**k!’ He cried as Lisa held her arms out. ‘Why do this?’

‘I just want to feel alive!’

‘There’s better ways to feel alive!’ Ed bounded through the water, droplets glittering like diamonds in the moonlight, flew all around. The fabric of Lisa’s dress wrapped itself around her legs, threatening to pull her down.

‘I’ve got you!’ Ed called, reaching for Lisa’s body, holding her firm. Face to face they breathed each others breath.

‘No one must know about us.’

‘Like I’m going to publicise it,’ Ed mocked.

‘I mean it.’ Lisa implored, her consciousness pricked. ‘Paul must never know. It would break him.’

‘We both have something to lose.’ Lisa closed her eyes and let Ed kiss her. It was an impassioned caress filled with years of want.

‘I still love Paul, but he will never understand what we feel for each other,’ she murmured. ‘I love you so much.’ Lisa ran her cold, wet fingers through Ed’s hair, shivered as he muzzled her neck.

‘I love you.’ She quivered in his arms.

‘How can we make this work? We both have very different lives?’

‘I don’t know.’ Ed looked towards the Great Bear and the north star, as a sailor would, looking for direction. ‘We can’t keep using unplanned conferences and meetings as an excuse or they’ll grow suspicious.’

‘Perhaps we should cut our losses, say our goodbyes.’

‘That’s not what I want, nor I believe do you.’

‘But someone’s bound to get hurt.’ Ed held Lisa close, afraid that if he let go, she would slip from his sight. As moonlight bathed their heads, a shooting star carved its way across the sparkling tapestry of the night sky.

© Christine Lucas 2016.


Lines taken from Sylvia Plath’s – Edge.

The woman is perfected.
Her dead
Body wears the smile of accomplishment,
The illusion of a Greek necessity
Flows in the scrolls of her toga,
Her bare
Feet seem to be saying:
We have come so far, it is over.
Each dead child coiled, a white serpent,
One at each little
Pitcher of milk, now empty.
She has folded
Them back into her body as petals
Of a rose close when the garden
Stiffens and odors bleed
From the sweet, deep throats of the night flower.
The moon has nothing to be sad about,
Staring from her hood of bone.
She is used to this sort of thing.
Her blacks crackle and drag.
Sylvia Plath, “Edge” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 1960, 1965, 1971, 1981 by the Estate of Sylvia Plath. Editorial matter copyright © 1981 by Ted Hughes.
Source: Collected Poems (HarperCollins Publishers Inc, 1992)

Wild October – Week One.

Huge thanks to Sharon from the wonderful, Sunshine and Celandines, for bringing this little initiative to my attention. The premise, to do something wild every day for the month of October. It’s a bit like 30 Days Wild, though this is a celebration of all things autumnal! I thought I would give it a go!

The lovely Louise on her blog is also embarking on Wild October, as are a host of others on the Facebook 30 Days Wild page! Go check them out for inspiration!

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Autumn seems to be slowly creeping into my yarden. The Japanese anemone has flowered, a shore sign of autumn and the salvia ‘mystic spires’ are as tall as me!

Sadly summer for the NW of England wasn’t quite as nice as it was in other areas of the country. This has had an effect on the vegetables I have attempted to grow in the yarden. There are three tomatoes still green on the vine and I noticed the other day that I have two peppers also growing!! Think I’ll need to bring them both inside to grow and ripen more.

Since I have become a sort of recluse these past few weeks, there isn’t really much wild going on! Mid week while washing the dishes I stood watching in awe as a garden spider reconstructed his/her web.

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I am happy to still report that the flock of 6+ sparrows are continuing to visit the feeders, as are a pair of blue tits, charms of goldfinches, hoards of starlings and pigeons! The dawn chorus has been replaced by the cackle of corvids!

This week, with the weather being settled, I have seen some lovely sunrises. So today I managed to snap a picture along with the condensation clinging to the windows! Brrrr… it’s getting colder!

Today, while doing the laundry I noticed the garden spider had a fresh kill, all wrapped up in thread. It was fascinating watching the spider tuck into its meal!

Since this is a rather impromptu post I’ll sign off now and finish with a short poem.

Autumn Leaves

Autumn leaves are falling,
Falling all around,
Floating softly to the ground,
Like tear drops falling,
Without a sound.

Autumn leaves are scattered,
Scattered all around,
Tossed upon the ground,
Like dreams torn and tattered,
Lying all around.

Are you joining in Wild October? What do you enjoy most about autumn?

Christine x

‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.’

To coincide with David’s few days off work this week, I planned a nice little day out to (you guessed it,) the Lake District.

The day started all bleary eyed at 5am. We drove the two hours to Rydal’s, White Moss car park and arrived a little after 8am! Just in time for an early morning swim!

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We took the path towards Rydal Caves, which meandered past Rydal Water that looked calm and magical.
20160915_085012The sun burned through the morning mist, promising a beautiful early autumn day. Rydal Water has become one of my favourite swims of the year! At 9am, not many dog walkers/tourists were about, at one point it was just the lake, myself, David and two swans! Bliss!!

After a good hour at the lake side, David and I headed on towards Rydal Caves.

From there we walked Loughrigg Terrace with beautiful views of Grasmere.

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It took another hour of sweat and toil to ‘climb’ the steep pathway towards Loughrigg Fell. When we got to the top, sadly low lying cloud drifted over, obscuring the views, though Windermere glistened golden in the distance.

After a relaxing picnic we headed back down to Grasmere, where the clouds dispersed and the sun came out again!

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Wearing a fresh swimsuit, I waded out into the waters for my second swim of the day! Grasmere is a busier lake than Rydal Water but it didn’t dispel from the enjoyment. Also, I wasn’t the only one splashing about the waters that day! It was nice to see so many people (and dogs) enjoying the lake.

20160915_144456-2I have desired to bag two swims in one day for a while now, and to achieve it was an amazing feeling! On leaving the shores of Grasmere, I had the biggest grin on my face! We took the riverside walk to the car park, that had a car-number recognition camera, £7 for the day. The path followed the River Rothay, which was dappled in golden afternoon light. The day couldn’t have been more perfect!

I think it will be difficult to better such a day, but we’ll see!

Christine x

#PoppiesTour – Liverpool

I have previously written about the 14-18 NOW Wave and Weeping Window poppy tour. You can read my post on my joy at seeing the Wave at Yorkshire Sculpture Parkhere. Both sculptures were designed by Paul Cummins (artist) and Tom Piper (designer).

The Wave

The Wave at YSP

In November, just in time for the city’s Armistice commemorations, the poppies, first seen as part of the breathtaking Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, at the Tower of London in 2014, finally came to Liverpool. The Weeping Window at present graces the St George’s Plateau side of the Neo-Classical Grade 1 listed building. I must admit while the sculpture was being constructed I was not overtly taken by the design. After seeing pictures of the poppies at Woodhorn Colliery, it seemed somehow anticlimactic.

However the poppies have grown on me and the city has welcomed them warmly.

The poppies are open to the public from 10am to 6pm daily, with a metal barricade placed around the site after hours, but you can still see them and photograph them. The first time David and I went to see them was around 10pm on a stormy Sunday night. My pictures are not as good as the ones I took of the Wave, but I did have my camera on the wrong setting for night-time pictures (silly me!)

Poppies at night

St George’s Hall: Weeping Window at night

The second time I visited, I went with my Mum while Christmas shopping but once again I forgot to change the setting on my phone, so never got any fancy ones with just the colour of the poppies showing through. It was a dreary day light wise too which seems to be the norm of late. No sooner had the poppies arrived in Liverpool, then there seems to have been nothing but a succession of storms. There hasn’t been many days when the sun has shone! I live in hope that there will be at least one bright weekend, before they leave the city on 17th January 2016, so David and I can visit them one last time.

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The 2016 leg of the poppy tour has been recently announced and there could be at least one, maybe two more occasions where David and I will see the poppies. The new sites and dates are as follows:

  • Lincoln Castle, The Wave – 28th May to 4th September
  • The Black Watch Museum, Perth, The Weeping Window – 30th June to 25th September
  • Caernarfon Castle, The Weeping Window – 12th October to 20th November

If you have not had the chance to see the poppies, maybe you will be able to see them at these stunning new locations next year?

© 2015 Christine Lucas.

#PoppiesTour

Thursday dawned bright, yet cold, there was condensation on the windows. David and I, at 9 am set off on our journey to Yorkshire Sculpture Park. The journey took us just under an hour and a half and the sat nav guided us through winding country lanes towards the park. We have been to the park before in April this year. We went then to see the outside exhibition of Henry Moore sculpture. This time we planned to go and see The Wave, part of the Tower of London Poppies.

Like everyone else I was mesmerised by photographs of the poppies that graced the Tower of London last year. I was excited when it was announced that the poppies were going on a UK tour!

The poppies were created by artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper for their installation Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, commissioned for the World War One centenary. I think their work of thousands of poppies, each one symbolising a fallen British or Colonial soldier took on a life of it’s own.

If you expect to see a sight like there was at the Tower of London, then you will be sorely disappointed. If, like me, you go to visit The Wave, and it’s counterpart The Weeping Window, presently displayed at Woodhorn Colliery, Northumberland, to see a unique art installation, then you will not be disappointed.

The Wave

The Wave at Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Once the car was parked and the £8 parking fee was paid (it’s for all day so relatively cheap), we walked the paths and followed the cardboard cut outs of poppies leading the way. It took us about 20 minutes to walk towards the poppies arching over the Cascade Bridge. From a distance you could see the red haze that the many poppy heads created and as you drew nearer, each one had a unique individuality.

Poppies

Poppies

We spent just over two hours at the park. Had our picnic lunch with The Wave resplendent before us. Even on a week day there were streams of visitors coming to look at the poppies, to photograph them or to just take in their symbolic meaning.

Christine and the Poppies

Christine and the Poppies

I wish I could make it to Woodhorn but at three hours drive there and three hours back I don’t think David will be too keen to make that journey. Luckily for us The Weeping Window is set to come to Liverpool’s St. George’s Hall in November so I will get to see the second part of this striking art installation. I can’t wait! 😀

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I’ll end this post with the poem that inspired the poppy WW1 centenary art commission.

Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red
By Anon – Unknown Soldier

The blood swept lands and seas of red,
Where angels dare to tread.
As I put my hand to reach,
As God cried a tear of pain as the angels fell,
Again and again.
As the tears of mine fell to the ground,
To sleep with the flowers of red,
As any be dead.
My children see and work through fields
of my own with corn and wheat,
Blessed by love so far from pain of my resting
Fields so far from my love.
It be time to put my hand up and end this pain
Of living hell, to see the people around me
Fall someone angel as the mist falls around,
And the rain so thick with black
thunder I hear
Over the clouds, to sleep forever and kiss
The flower of my people gone before time
To sleep and cry no more.
I put my hand up and see the land of red,
This is my time to go over,
I may not come back So sleep, kiss the boys for me.

I Am Vertical

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But I would rather be horizontal.
I am not a tree with my root in the soil
Sucking up minerals and motherly love
So that each March I may gleam into leaf,
Nor am I the beauty of a garden bed
Attracting my share of Ahs and spectacularly painted,
Unknowing I must soon unpetal.
Compared with me, a tree is immortal
And a flower-head not tall, but more startling,
And I want the one’s longevity and the other’s daring.

Tonight, in the infinitesimal light of the stars,
The trees and the flowers have been strewing their cool odors.
I walk among them, but none of them are noticing.
Sometimes I think that when I am sleeping
I must most perfectly resemble them —
Thoughts gone dim.
It is more natural to me, lying down.
Then the sky and I are in open conversation,
And I shall be useful when I lie down finally:
Then the trees may touch me for once, and the flowers have time for me.

Poem by Sylvia Plath.