John Constable (above) Image below courtesy of Chris Ceaser
Imagine an English country lane, in an era before articulated transported, when to own a car is the privilege of a few and tractors are the size of an average 4 x 4. It doesn't matter where you are going, the venue isn't that important, but you make concessions to stepping over the threshold and smarten up before leaving the house. The bomb raids are a receding memory and the idea of an appointment with destiny now has a positive charge.
The sky is a fragile blue, the air sparkles with expectation and the idle boasting of cuckoo-song.
A little girl, no more than five years old and nicknamed Marigold by indulgent elderly folk, is walking hand in hand with her father and skipping one-leggedly to keep up with him. He wears a belted tan tweed coat and a trilby hat in the matador style. He is drawn to the flamenco, though nothing in his demeanour indicates that. He likes Moorish women and sings snatches of Carmen in the airier margins of his days. Ahead, the lane is straight, leading to a cross-roads where the newly-invented 'cat's-eyes' have been installed for safety in the dark. Even rural highways have vision!
The lane is flanked by grass verges, sprinkled with spring flowers, celandines and ladysmocks, daisies, buttercups and dandelions, violets amid clusters of heart-shaped leaves in the ditches. Marigold's father wants to know her favourite flower.
“Poppies,” says Marigold, though they are not in season.
“But bluebells are restful and they have a nice scent. Don't you like bluebells?”
“Yes,” says Marigold.
“I like poppies,” says Marigold.
“What's your favourite colour, then?”
“Red,” replies Marigold.
“Not red, surely. Blue. Blue like your eyes. The blue of the sky. Blue is peaceful. Blue's my favourite colour.”
Marigold is conscious of having grieved her parent in some minor but not insignificant way. “Well, I do like blue...and purple...but I like red best.”
The child is innocent of wars and bloodshed, of the poppies of Flanders fields. But red reminds her of Little Red Riding Hood and The Pied Piper of Hamelin, pillar boxes and Santa Claus. She remembers her crimson crayon that slicks onto an image with a satisfying sheen. It is the one she treasures most. Crimson. She loves the word, which she has heard in a book of fables. It catches the light like silk velvet; it glistens and has a compelling, resonant texture.
For Marigold knows by instinct what artists have known down the ages, that red vibrates with energy. A dash of red, a diminutive figure in a lacklustre landscape, can bring the whole picture to life, even without Monet's orgy of scarlet, or Caravaggio's sin-conscious carmine. Under stage lights, red dots painted at the corners of the eyes will help them to glow at a distance.
And to this day, Marigold likes to put on her glad-rags and cheer the universe with pepper redness and pomegranate subtleties.
John Singer Sargent (above and below)
Some literary quotes:
As soon as I turned the key I saw it hanging, the colour of fire and sunset, the colour of flamboyant flowers. ‘If you are buried under a flamboyant tree, ‘ I said, ‘your soul is lifted up when it flowers. Everyone wants that.
Jean Rhys (Wide Sargasso Sea)
But I looked at the [red] dress on the floor and it was as if the fire had spread across the room. It was beautiful and it reminded me of something I must do. I will remember I thought. I will remember quite soon now.
Jean Rhys (Wide Sargasso Sea)
I have dreamed in my life, dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas; they have gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the colour of my mind.
I've got on red shoes...
I've got on red shoes..
For ever, good bye!
Alain Fournier (Le Grand Meaulnes)
Red is the great clarifier - bright and revealing. I can't imagine becoming bored with red - it would be like becoming bored with the person you love.
For wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her.
A good book is an event in my life.
Stendhal (The Red and the Black)
Now sleeps the crimson petal, now the white;
Alfred Lord Tennyson
Fan the sinking flame of hilarity with the wing of friendship; and pass the rosy wine.
There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up.
Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Acts 2: 2-4
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