Lazy and indifferent, shaking space easily from his wings, knowing his way, the heron passes over the church beneath the sky.
This is the opening of the lead story from Woolf’s Monday or Tuesday collection. I’ve been slow reading this as I’m so intrigued by the stories and, furthermore, by their order. I found myself wondering who decides on the order of these collections – author or publisher? For it is indeed strange for this abstract story to follow the feminist bent of A Society.
Strangely, the thing that struck me most about this story was its similarity to Gwen Harwood’s poetry and before I even had a chance to properly digest Woolf I was picking up Harwood and trying to trace some thread of connection … I didn’t find anything concrete but it was enough to intrigue me for Harwood’s “What is truth, cries the heart” is too similar to Woolf’s notion of truth’s assembly to be coincidental. Furthermore, there is a likeness in language too which echoes in an uncanny way … this is something that I will be pondering for a long time yet!
But, back to this story. It is all of two and a half pages long, filled with austere descriptions of the heron wheeling and turning in a Yeatsian fashion and the magic of the sky cloaking the stars and then revealing them. It seems that Woolf’s concern here is with the nature of reality and therefore her idea of truth – if something is simply hidden by clouds does it still exist, is it still true? And, what is truth?
The sense of movement in this story is simply inspiring: the bird “shaking space”, the sky endlessly “covers and uncovers, moves and remains” and there is a sense that everything is “drifting at corners” and “blown across the wheels”, as Woolf writes: “gathered, scattered, squandered in separate scales, swept up, down, torn, sunk, assembled”. For the reader, it is difficult to pinpoint what exactly Woolf is writing about, is there actually a story in the sense that we expect or is she musing about the nature of her writing in its essence, the process of recollection that is language and its evolution?
There are so many questions and the reader is left wondering if it is the heron who holds all the answers. “Lazy and indifferent the heron returns; the sky veils her stars; then bares them.”
I need to think about this further, to read it again and again, to immerse myself in its lyricism. There is no doubt that it is beautiful but there is something in this story that evades my grasp and leaves me somehow in darkness. It is a darkness I am happy to inhabit with such a writer beside me.