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Hebrides II (Revisited): Week 9 – 12 April

This week marked the 30th anniversary of the first broadcast of Twin Peaks, and so of course I’ve been thinking about owls. (One of the memorable phrases coined in the show was the enigmatic “The owls are not what they seem”. What they were was never explained, but such was the genius of David Lynch that a slow-motion shot of an owl launching from a branch felt somehow significant, and laden with doom.)

Daffodils and parish church

Owls are all over mythology like a rash. To the Greeks and Romans, they were associated with Athena/ Minerva, the goddess of wisdom—hence the “wise old owl” of folklore. But my favourite is the dark Welsh legend of Blodeuwedd. It’s your typical hackneyed boy-meets- girl-made-of-flowers story: girl’s lover tries to murder boy, boy turns into an eagle and then kills the lover, girl is turned into an owl (community service not apparently being an option at the time).

Creels at harbourside

The German philosopher Hegel famously observed, “The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of dusk”—and then wondered why no one invited him to racy cocktail parties. What he meant, of course, is that we never truly understand events until they’re over, that wisdom always comes too late. But really when it comes to wisdom, I’m with Yeats: “Wisdom is a butterfly/ And not a gloomy bird of prey…”

Well, with no pretence to wisdom I’ve spent this last week on holiday; and with nowhere to go but up, I’ve been knitting, as you do. The second sleeve is almost finished, with the pattern section completed (same number of trees as the body, which was unplanned but nice). With just the end of the sleeve and the cuff to go, this week will see the completed gansey washed and blocked.

Finally, here’s an extract from another of my favourite poems. It’s by the Scottish poet George MacBeth, and is simply called Owl. It’s well worth reading in full, but I love it especially for the ending. The owls may not be what they seem—who among us ever is?—but their seeming is enough, and more than enough. Am an owl…

                        Owl lives
by the claws of his brain. On the branch
in the sever of the hand’s
twigs owl is a backward look.
Flown wind in the skin. Fine
Rain in the bones. Owl breaks
Like the day. Am an owl, am an owl.

8 comments to Hebrides II (Revisited): Week 9 – 12 April

  • Sharon Gunason Pottinger

    Lovely sights and ideas as always.

  • Gordon

    Hello Sharon, and thank you.

    The Blodeuwedd legend forms the backdrop to Alan Garner’s remarkably unsettling novel The Owl Service; one of those classic books for young adults that’s wasted on the young…

  • Dave

    Think you are going to have to explain the George MacBeth. I always liked the Yorkshire equivalent: “The only thing I know about common sense is that it isn’t very common”

    • Gordon

      Hi Dave, ach, it’s poetry, it either works for you or it doesn’t. Follow the link and see the poem whole, it’s an attempt to capture a living creature in words, and in the end if the allusions just make you think of owls, then that’s OK.

      I always wanted an owl, just to see if I walked round it in a circle if it would fall off its perch as its head swivelled to keep me in view…

  • =Tamar

    I’m with Yeats.

    The Owl Service is one of the very few books that I consider genuinely creepy, despite the happy ending.
    The original plate decoration that spawned it is shown online occasionally. The edition I read had it on the cover.

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar, I read it at school and didn’t understand it at all. Then I read it as an adult and it creeped the heck out of me! It had the same sense of supernatural brooding menace as I later found in Twin Peaks, and it may not be a coincidence that both involved owls…

  • Jane Callaghan

    And the Owl Service contains my favorite tragic line: “I wanted to be flowers but you made me owls”. Eat your heart out, Wm Shaks.

    • Gordon

      Hi Jane, absolutely!

      “She wants to be flowers and you make her owls and she is at the hunting…”

      Which only makes the ending such an epiphany: “She’s not owls. She’s flowers. Flowers. Flowers, Ali…”

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