“Stone” by Charles Simic

“Go inside a stone
That would be my way.
Let somebody else become a dove
Or gnash with a tiger’s tooth.
I am happy to be a stone.

From the outside the stone is a riddle:
No one knows how to answer it.
Yet within, it must be cool and quiet
Even though a cow steps on it full weight,
Even though a child throws it in a river,
The stone sinks, slow, unperturbed
To the river bottom
Where the fishes come to knock on it
And listen.

I have seen sparks fly out
When two stones are rubbed.
So perhaps it is not dark inside after all;
Perhaps there is a moon shining
From somewhere, as though behind a hill—
Just enough light to make out
The strange writings, the star charts
On the inner walls. “

Stone Circle in Węsiory, Poland; photo by Elwira Kruszelnicka (more magnificent photos of the place here: http://elwirak.com/blog/2015/02/19/stone-mystery-in-wesiory/)

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Jung on Alchemy (8): the Coniunctio – part 2 – the White Stone

“When God, disgusted with man,

Turned towards heaven.

And man, disgusted with God,

Turned towards Eve,

Things looked like falling apart.


But Crow        Crow

Crow nailed them together,

Nailing Heaven and earth together—


So man cried, but with God’s voice.

And God bled, but with man’s blood.

Then Heaven and earth creaked at the joint

Which became gangrenous and stank

A horror beyond redemption.


The agony did not diminish.


Man could not be man nor God God.


The agony





Crying: ‘This is my Creation,’

Flying the black flag of himself.”

Ted Hughes, “Crow Blacker than Ever” (from “Crow: the Life and Songs of the Crow”)

It is hard to find a better literary portrait of the inner disiunctio – the disintegrated, wounded personality at war with itself – than Ted Hughes’s collection of poems written some time after the death of Sylvia Plath. It is well known that she chose to end her life by means of a gas oven after finding out about his affair with Assia Wevill. What is much less known, though, is that six years later Wevill also committed suicide gassing herself together with their little daughter. Sylvia Plath is an icon of a feminist movement. Many believe that Ted Hughes “suppressed her genius, then broke her fragile spirit when he ran off with another woman” (quoted after The New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2002/02/03/books/in-sylvia-s-shadow.html). In a poignantly prophetic poem called “On Looking into the Eyes of a Demon Lover” she wrote:

“Here are two pupils
whose moons of black
transform to cripples
all who look:

each lovely lady
who peers inside
take on the body
of a toad.

Within these mirrors
the world inverts:
the fond admirer’s
burning darts

turn back to injure
the thrusting hand
and inflame to danger
the scarlet wound.

I sought my image
in the scorching glass,
for what fire could damage
a witch’s face?

So I stared in that furnace
where beauties char
but found radiant Venus
reflected there.”

The poem strikes me with her typical  combination of power and vulnerability, which render Plath’s writing so mesmerizing, emotionally raw and feminine.

The archetypal drama of love, death and rebirth lies at the heart of the alchemical coniunctio. In the previous post (https://symbolreader.net/2017/11/26/jung-on-alchemy-7-the-coniunctio-part-1-the-mercurial-fountain/), I focused on the first image in the series of twenty woodcuts comprising the sixteenth-century alchemical treatise Rosarium Philosophorum. In the next nine images the solar and lunar aspects of the soul depicted in the first image are personified as the King and the Queen. Their union leads to the emergence of the hermaphrodite, who is “the parent of the lapis,” i.e. the philosopher’s stone.

Regarding the second image, Jung points out in The Psychology of Transference:

“The two give each other their left hands, and this can hardly be unintentional since it is contrary to custom. The gesture points to a closely guarded secret, to the ‘left-hand path,’ as the Indian Tantrists call their Shiva and Shakti worship.”

It is apparent that there is an emotional and instinctual aspect to the encounter, though the pair are still fully clad. The four flowers, as was the case in the previous image, stand for the four elements while the fifth is the quintessence brought down from above by the White Dove – the Holy Ghost or the celestial aspect of Mercurius. McClean expands on this in his excellent analysis on the alchemy website:

“However, from above, from the higher spiritual realm indicated by the Star, a bird descends bearing a further two-blossomed flower and brings a stronger unity into the picture. Thus even at the beginning of the work, the alchemist will have help from the spiritual world. As he tentatively begins the task of uniting the inner polarities, spiritual help will descend to him as a gift, a spiritual grace. For the individual alchemist this will possibly take the form of perceptions, perhaps inspirational dreams, and positive realizations that give him an inner security, a sureness that he is on the right path.”

via http://www.levity.com/alchemy/roscom.html

In illustration 3, “man and woman confront each other in unabashed naturalness,” says Jung in The Psychology of Transference. There is a uniting symbol between the couple, which they are both touching with their hands. The white dove appears as the mediating spirit signaling an impending union. “The two archetypal facets of the soul are here proffering to each other, in the form of flowers, an aspect of their forces,” comments McClean.

Image 3

Next, the royal couple descend into a bath. They immerse themselves in the unconscious psyche because “our stone is to be extracted from the nature of the two bodies.”  Jung comments:

“…the earth-spirit Mercurius in his watery form now begins to attack the royal pair from below, just as he had previously descended from above in the shape of the dove. The contact of left hands in Figure 2 has evidently roused the spirit of the deep and called up a rush of water.”

Image 5

In illustration 5 the male and the female merge together in sexual intercourse, with the male being an active transformative force exerting influence on the passive female. The fruit of the union is a hermaphrodite being. The opposites have united and what follows is a cessation of all energy. But out of this deathly darkness, in McClean’s commentary “a masculine soul element …rises upwards … towards the realm of the Spirit.” And further on:

“Through this active penetration of the inner feminine by the masculine polarity of the soul, this aspect of the inner life has achieved a certain ability to ascend within the inner world to the realm of the Spirit.”

Image 8

Image 9

Shakti, the feminine aspect, chooses the way downward towards darkness, death, the earth and gross matter. She rests in inaction, experiencing “the primal darkness of the unconscious” (McClean). Shiva has ascended. In illustration 8 the motionless hermaphrodite is revivified by raindrops from “the spiritual clouds” (McClean). The feminine aspect of the soul is purified from above. Next, the male aspect reunites with the feminine. According to McClean, this phase of the coniunctio enables the soul to gain “a mastery over the lunar element within its being.” Illustration 10 presents the naked hermaphrodite with wings indicating spiritual development, standing on the lunar crescent. The Moon Tree is featured on the left, the raven on the right. The colours of the three snakes united in the chalice take us back to the first illustration of the mercurial fountain.

Image 10

Image 10

In his book Kinds of Power, James Hillman talks about deepening as a necessary aspect of growth, as “the downward direction refers to the deepening of feelings and relational insights.” In order to grow, the soul needs to descend and deepen into the lunar sphere of feelings. This is the essence of the alchemical White Stone.


Link to all the images:


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Land Art by Andy Goldsworthy


“I believe in the practice and philosophy of what we have agreed to call magic, in what I must call the evocation of spirits, though I do not know what they are, in the power of creating magical illusions, in the visions of truth in the depths of the mind when the eyes are closed; and I believe in three doctrines, which have, as I think, been handed down from early times, and been the foundations of nearly all magical practices. These doctrines are—

(1) That the borders of our minds are ever shifting, and that many minds can flow into one another, as it were, and create or reveal a single mind, a single energy.

(2) That the borders of our memories are as shifting, and that our memories are a part of one great memory, the memory of Nature herself.

(3) That this great mind and great memory can be evoked by symbols.”

W.B. Yeats, “Ideas of Good and Evil”

I am looking forward to seeing a new documentary by Thomas Riedelsheimer about the work of Andy Goldsworthy, a Scottish land artist. As he works, “getting under the skin of the earth,” engaging deeply with the elements, he taps into the memory of nature, evoking it by means of symbols. The Hebrew/Greek word ‘archetype’ understood as the original pattern is also linguistically related to “mark of a seal,” while the adjective “archetypos” can be translated as “stamped first.” In a way, Goldsworthy “stamps” the earth with his archetypal creations, and by so doing he makes us see the symbolism that nature hides in plain sight. In one of his works, he even imprints the earth with his own body.

In 2001 Thomas Riedelsheimer made the first documentary about Goldsworthy entitled “Rivers and Tides.” You can see it here:


Goldsworthy is not a man of many words. He would much rather dialogue with us through his art. But what he says is quite powerful. Far from being just decorative, his art invites us to look deeper at nature, which he does not see as just pastoral or pretty. As he is making his ephemeral stone creations on the beach, which within minutes will be flooded by the tide, he states, “My art is trying to understand the stone.” He goes on to say that he offers his work to the sea as a gift. The sea will transform it beyond what he can imagine. He has a deep awareness of roots, what is hidden, the life processes working in darkness. He enjoys taking his work to the very edge of collapse. What accompanies him is a constant amazement that he is actually alive. The black holes he adds to the landscape are particularly striking; they are reminiscent of absence, void, death, but also of the space where life germinates.


art 140



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The Black Madonna

A striking poster advertises an exhibition dedicated to the history of 1000 years of pilgrimage to Einsiedeln Abbey, the seat of the Black Madonna. We see her red robe and the crown but the statue is not there. A veil is all there is. The energetic, blood red colour of the cape arrests and fills with awe. It dresses up the unconscious, adorns the shadow, crowning darkness and emptiness. “I am all that has been and is and shall be; and no mortal has ever lifted my veil,” – the words inscribed on the statue of Isis of Sais come to mind. All the symbolic representations of the divine are just what comes from our attempts at peering through the veil; this is why we communicate the mystery or perhaps how the mystery communicates with us. In our daily world biased towards clarity, obviousness, growth, achievement and tangible benefits, the Black Madonna is an omen of wholeness that we have lost on the way. She heals by making whole, soothes and warms the cold hearts, projecting boundless forgiveness and compassion. She is not always meek, but can be quite defiant and disruptive in relation to the stale status quo. Like the unconscious, she is the great balancing force. The weak, the sick, the disenfranchised, the disempowered, women, strangers, outsiders and foreigners, have all sought refuge under her mantle. It was believed in the earlier centuries that only the Black Madonna can show the right way to murderers and other criminals. Until the eighteenth centuries convicted criminals of Switzerland were able to atone for their guilt and go free if they made a pilgrimage to the holy statue.

The capes of the Black Madonna of Einsiedeln

There are many covert ways in which the church still try to downplay her vibrant and growing cult. Her blackness, for example, is usually explained by the prolonged exposure of the statue to candle smoke. This is quite hard to believe, since the numerous Black Madonna statues have sprung up in numerous places in the world immediately in their black glory. According to legends, the statues were often found by children, shepherds or animals close to caves or streams, often buried in the earth. The mystery surrounding their sudden emergence is symbolically very fitting. She shows herself to the humble and the weak, her source of origin being veiled in mystery. She does not seek a central or prominent role, and yet she is the centre of the mandala, the creative matrix from which all life came and to which it will return. Although her face is featured on the poster advertising the exhibition, she is just but one of the themes of it. Still, it was easily noticeable how crowds gravitated towards and concentrated in the sections dedicated to her. Disappointingly, the role of Forest Sisters, one of whom offered the statue of the Black Madonna to St Meinrad, the founder of the monastery, was not acknowledged. Nothing is said of the appalling treatment of the Sisters by the male establishment of the Monastery. Namely, they were driven out of the Dark Forest, where they lived in a peaceful community gathering herbs and healing the sick, banned from visiting the Black Madonna statue, ordered to wear black and had to lead a convent life in the nearby town (see my previous post on the subject https://symbolreader.net/2016/02/28/the-black-madonna-of-einsiedeln/).  As a consolation, the sisters received a copy of the original Black Madonna statue. What is more, the lay public were also restricted by the Benedictine monks from adoring the statue right until the beginning of the twentieth century. Older female inhabitants of Einsiedeln still remember the times when they had to sneak in to the church to pray in front of the Black Madonna.

The Black Madonna of Einsiedeln

I am Black and Lovely: the Mystery of the Black Madonna by Margrit Rosa Schmid is a booklet rich in detail that accompanies the exhibition. It contains a wealth of stories about the Black Madonnas of the whole world. I was not aware of the sheer number of statues and shrines of her in Switzerland alone. At the beginning of the twentieth century in the Italian canton of Tessin, where her cult is very strong, a local pastor felt uncomfortable with what he perceived as a pagan cult of the statue of La Madonna Nera. He replaced it with a white Madonna, which sparked outrage with the locals. Eventually, the church had no choice but to give in, the Black Madonna was restored, while the white one ended up in pastor’s attic. This particular Black Madonna is a copy of the magnificent Black Madonna of Loreto in Italy. Schmid beautifully describes the symbolism of the appearance of the original Italian statue. Especially striking are the five black moon sickles adorning her gown complete with a reversed red triangle – a symbol of feminine fertility (the chalice and the womb). During the French Revolutionary Wars, Napoleon moved the Black Madonna statue from Loreto to Paris, where she was displayed in Louvre as an Egyptian goddess. He must have understood subconsciously that the Black Madonna indeed comes from a long lineage of ancient dark mother goddesses, especially but not only Isis. The Loreto Chapel of Madonna showcases statues of nine Sibyls, further strengthening the connection with the ancient cult of the goddess as well as pointing at the gift of prophecy, seeing in the dark, common to all dark female deities. Mary, not only in her role as the Black Madonna, has always fulfilled a symbolic role of a pontifex – a bridge builder between humans and divinity.

La Madonna Nera of Sonogno, Switzerlad

The Black Madonna of Loreto

A particularly moving legend is connected with the Polish Black Madonna of Czestochowa, who bears two long scars on her face. In the 15th century, the monastery was raided by the Hussites, who stole the icon. However, their horses refused to move the wagon in which they were travelling. In frustration, one of the robbers inflicted two strikes on Madonna’s face with his sword. When he tried to draw his sword upon the image for the third time, he fell to the ground and died a painful death. It is perhaps her fragility and a memento of suffering visible on her face that makes her divine form so human.

The Black Madonna of Czestochowa, Poland

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“The Message of Mr Cogito” by Zbigniew Herbert

The Fountain Tarot

“Go where those others went to the dark boundary
for the golden fleece of nothingness your last prize

go upright among those who are on their knees
among those with their backs turned and those toppled in the dust

you were saved not in order to live
you have little time you must give testimony

be courageous when the mind deceives you be courageous
in the final account only this is important

and let your helpless Anger be like the sea
whenever you hear the voice of the insulted and beaten

let your sister Scorn not leave you
for the informers executioners cowards – they will win
they will go to your funeral with relief will throw a lump of earth
the woodborer will write your smoothed-over biography

and do not forgive truly it is not in your power
to forgive in the name of those betrayed at dawn

beware however of unnecessary pride
keep looking at your clown’s face in the mirror
repeat: I was called – weren’t there better ones than I

beware of dryness of heart love the morning spring
the bird with an unknown name the winter oak
light on a wall the splendour of the sky
they don’t need your warm breath
they are there to say: no one will console you

be vigilant – when the light on the mountains gives the sign- arise and go
as long as blood turns in the breast your dark star

repeat old incantations of humanity fables and legends
because this is how you will attain the good you will not attain
repeat great words repeat them stubbornly
like those crossing the desert who perished in the sand

and they will reward you with what they have at hand
with the whip of laughter with murder on a garbage heap

go because only in this way you will be admitted to the company of cold skulls
to the company of your ancestors: Gilgamesh Hector Roland
the defenders of the kingdom without limit and the city of ashes

Be faithful Go”

translated by Czeslaw Milosz


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Winter Solstice

“We begin at the southern gate, crowned with the majesty of Christmas. There the Sun enters upon its northward journey — a journey which has been described by seers and poets in beautiful symbolism, for it brings to men, and to all that lives, the great hope of rebirth and self-renewal…. The sun lies low in the southern skies; but the miracle of winter light as it caresses the hills white with silence and with peace is hardly to be described. Only those who have lived where pale skies pour molten white gold over horizons glistening white under the robe of the snow can know the magic of a light reflected by an earth so pure that it actually seems the source of light drenching a darker sky.”

Dane Rudhyar, “New Mansions for New Men”


Stanislaw Wyspianski, “View of Kosciuszko Mount from a Window in the Artist’s Studio”

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Fernando Pessoa – Weaver of the Soul

Mural of Fernando Pessoa in Portugal

“Weavers of despair, let us weave only shrouds – white shrouds for the dreams we never dreamed, black shrouds for the days when we die, grey shrouds for the gestures we only dreamed of, imperial purple shrouds for our futile feelings.”

Fernando Pessoa, “The Book of Disquietude”, the complete edition translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa, Kindle edition

Fernando Pessoa, was a magnificent Portuguese writer, who spent all of his life in relative obscurity leading quite a lonely life. As was the case with other famous artists, for example Kafka or Van Gogh, the public discovered Pessoa posthumously. While alive he published a single book of poetry and was working on a book of prose, which was never finished or published.  The Book of Disquietude has been described as a fictional diary or a modern confession. “The book is a single state of soul,” he writes, “analyzed from every angle, traversed in every possible direction.” He wrote an autobiography without events; or rather a diary in which the only events are the inner workings of his being. He saw confessing, confiding, baring a soul as the basest human need. Yet, being misunderstood is just as basic, since “the words of others are errors in our hearing, shipwrecks in our understanding.” It seems that all his life he sought self-understanding mainly through writing but also pursuing other surprising avenues, for example by corresponding with Aleister Crowley or by pursuing avidly the subject of astrology. There are gems hidden on almost every page of The Book of Disquietude, which I am currently rereading.

I leave you with Pessoa’s poem “Advice,” which is reminiscent of Theresa Avila’s comparison of soul’s work to watering a garden:

“Surround who you dream you are with high walls.

Then, wherever the garden can be seen

Through the iron bars of the gate,

Plant only the most cheerful flowers,

So that you’ll be known as a cheerful sort.

Where it can’t be seen, don’t plant anything.


Lay flower beds, like other people have,

So that passing gazes can look in

At your garden as you’re going to show it.

But where you’re all your own and no one

Ever sees you, let wild flowers spring up

Spontaneously, and let the grass grow naturally.


Make yourself into a well-guarded Double self,

letting no one who looks in

See more than a garden of who you are—

A showy but private garden, behind which

The native flowers brush against grass

So straggly that not even you see it . . .”

Translated by Richard Zenith, taken from “A Little Larger than the Entire Universe” – Selected Poems by Fernando Pessoa, Kindle edition

Although as a poet he frequently used other names than his own (he called those alternative personalities heteronyms), this particular poem was signed with his name. In his affinity for adopting different artistic identities, however, the inner sanctum of his private soul garden remained untouched by this masquerade.

Arnold Böcklin, “Pan in the Reeds”





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Jung on Alchemy (7): The Coniunctio – part 1 – The Mercurial Fountain


“And just as the cosmos is not a dissolving mass of particles, but rests in the unity of God’s embrace, man must not dissolve into a whirl of warring possibilities and tendencies imposed on him by the unconscious, but must become the unity that embraces them all.”

C. G. Jung, “Psychology of Transference”

“To be great, be whole;
Exclude nothing, exaggerate nothing that is not you.
Be whole in everything. Put all you are
Into the smallest thing you do.
So, in each lake, the moon shines with splendor
Because it blooms up above.”

Fernando Pessoa

There is a desire in every soul to open up and merge, rather than stand alone. The Sufis called this the longing of every soul for the beloved, while the Orphics placed Eros at the top of the Pantheon. Jung, after Silberer, referred to the coniunctio as the central idea of alchemy. In Rosarium Philosophorum, a sixteenth-century alchemical treatise, we read:

“There is the conjunction of two bodies made, and it is necessary in our magistery, and if but one of our two bodies only should be in our Stone, it would never give tincture by any means.”

As Jung explains in The Psychology of Transference, “the coniunctio oppositorum in the guise of Sol and Luna, .., occupies such an important place in alchemy that sometimes the entire process takes the form of the hierosgamos [holy marriage] and its mystic consequences.” In the same book he guides the reader through a sequence of selected woodcuts from Rosarium Philosophorum. Adam McClean of The Alchemy Website, inspired by Jung, presents his own reflections on the full sequence of twenty images (http://www.levity.com/alchemy/roscom.html).  This and the subsequent posts will summarize Jung and McClean’s offerings concerning the images of the Rosarium. My goal is to elucidate the nature of the coniunctio as presented in the Rosarium images while simultaneously referring to the Jung’s final work Mysterium Coniunctionis.

IMAGE 1 (view all the images here: http://www.alchemywebsite.com/virtual_museum/rosarium_philosophorum_room.html)

This image showcases the Mercurial Fountain, which symbolizes the activation of the unconscious. The fountain as a symbol is “an image of the soul as the source of inner life and spiritual energy”, as was aptly summarized by Cirlot in his Dictionary of Symbols. About Illustration 1 McClean writes:

“In illustration 1, we have a picture of man’s inner soul world. In the lower part of the soul we see a triple fountain which pours forth the threefold soul-substance – the Virgin’s Milk ( the feminine receptive lunar forces in the soul), the Spring of Vinegar (the masculine sharp, penetrating solar forces in the soul) and the Aqua Vitae, the water of life (the inner source of soul energies). These three streams pour forth from the head of the fountain, at the central point of the soul, and stream down merging together in the basin at the lowest part of the soul. This vessel contains the primal substance of the soul forces, the Inner Mercury, the Mercury of the Philosophers, that is one and yet is composed of these three streams.

Thus we have here a picture of the unintegrated soul realm of man. The three streams pour down from the heart centre into the lower soul world, but are cut off from a balanced direct connection with the upper soul, the realm of the soul that can touch upon the spiritual. The only connection with this upper soul initially is through the unintegrated polarity of the lunar and solar streams within the soul.”

For alchemists, Mercury was the fluid substance symbolizing the oscillating nature of the unconscious. In Mysterium Coniunctionis Jung called Mercurius the ligament of the soul because it united the body with the spirit. To amplify McClean’s description, in image 1, there are four stars which symbolize the four elements while the fifth star stands for  the quintessence, the unity achieved at the end of the opus. Further, if we see the Mercurial Fountain as located in the centre of the universe, then the four stars may be an allusion to the Four Rivers of Paradise. The three mercurial streams point to the inherent ambivalence of Mercurius – he is both nourishing and poisonous, as indeed is the unconscious. The vinegar is the dissolving substance, which penetrates and breaks down the forms which need to be destroyed before the new structures can be built. The forces erupting from the depths of the unconscious may have a destructive aspect. The water of life cleans and purifies, healing and reviving after the shock and suffering caused by the acidic spring erupting from the unconscious. Finally, the milk nourishes and allows the soul to grow. There is also nourishment coming from the stars, which are being licked by the two mercurial dragons.

The first image already heralds the future coniunctio, while presenting all the elements of transformation. “With its quiet song and strange power” (to quote Denise Levertov) the Mercurial Fountain is rushing, moving and flowing within our innermost being.

To be continued with further images…

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“Alchemy” by Gillian Clarke

“All night the moon stares at the stream

strumming its way over stones,

stopping it dead in its dream;

gazes at the field’s ghost

where all the white night long

no mouse, fox, hare has passed.


Moon, witch, goddess, alchemist, old stone,

strikes trees to iron, silver, steel, stills sheep

where they stand asleep in their bones,

till dawn, the sun on the sill of the world,

when all the night-work of the moon

is hallowed, haloed, turned to gold.”

Moonlight, a Landscape with Sheep c.1831-3 Samuel Palmer 1805-1881 Purchased 1922 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N03700

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Two Symbols of the Jewish Warsaw: the Wall and the Palm Tree



 “In Rome on the Campo dei Fiori

baskets of olives and lemons,

cobbles spattered with wine

and the wreckage of flowers.

Vendors cover the trestles

with rose-pink fish;

armfuls of dark grapes

heaped on peach-down.


On this same square

they burned Giordano Bruno.

Henchmen kindled the pyre

close-pressed by the mob.

Before the flames had died

the taverns were full again,

baskets of olives and lemons

again on the vendors’ shoulders.


I thought of the Campo dei Fiori

in Warsaw by the sky-carousel

one clear spring evening

to the strains of a carnival tune.

The bright melody drowned

the salvos from the ghetto wall,

and couples were flying

high in the cloudless sky.


At times wind from the burning

would drift dark kites along

and riders on the carousel

caught petals in midair.

That same hot wind

blew open the skirts of the girls

and the crowds were laughing

on that beautiful Warsaw Sunday.”

Czeslaw Milosz, “Campo dei Fiori”

In this touching poem, the brutality of the Nazis liquidating the Warsaw Ghetto is happening behind the wall, sheltering the potential onlookers from the atrocities. In Polin, the Warsaw Museum of the History of the Polish Jews (see below for the meaning of “Polin”), these words written by Chaim A. Kaplan struck a poignant chord with me:

“We are imprisoned within double walls: a wall of brick for our bodies, and a wall of silence for our spirit.”

The Jewish story is no longer surrounded by the wall of silence. The central thought of The Story of the Jews, beautifully imagined in the opening credits to that magnificent documentary by Simon Schama, is that the people who were left with nothing started living in the house of words. Their story and their holy book, the Torah, was sustaining them. The thought is strengthened in his book The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words. Those who have found their words, have found themselves.




The 15-metre tall artificial Palm Tree at a busy roundabout in the centre of the city may seem an unlikely symbol of Jewishness. It stands at the intersection of the two most representative streets – Aleje Jerozolimskie (Jerusalem Avenue) and Nowy Swiat (New World Street). The palm tree, reminiscent of the palms of Jerusalem, marks the absence of the Jews in the city, which was previously their settlement. Wikipedia explains why the Jews chose Poland as their home:

“Some Jewish historians say the Hebrew word for ‘Poland’ is pronounced as Polania or Polin in Hebrew. As transliterated into Hebrew, these names for Poland were interpreted as “good omens” because Polania can be broken down into three Hebrew words: po (“here”), lan (“dwells”), ya (“God”), and Polin into two words of: po (“here”) lin (“[you should] dwell”). The “message” was that Poland was meant to be a good place for the Jews.”

The palm is an ancient symbol of life, victory and fertility, and the Christian symbol of resurrection. It has both masculine and feminine connotations, making it a symbol of totality. In the Dictionary of Literary Symbols, Michael Ferber wrote, “The word “palm” (Latin “palma”) is the same as that for the palm of the hand: to the ancients the tree resembled the hand, the branches or fronds looking like fingers.” In the web of symbolic meaning, another association was solar, the branches of the palm resembling the rays of the sun. Apollo was born under the palm tree. On the feminine side, both in the Odyssey and in the Song of Songs, the beauty of women is compared to the beauty of palm trees. Ferber adds, “The Hebrew word for palm, tamar, was and remains a common girl’s name.” “Phoinikos”, the Greek word for the palm, brings to mind its association with rebirth.

There is something very triumphant, exultant and joyful in this ancient symbol positioned in the middle of a busy roundabout in the part of Europe where palms do not belong. As the symbolic palm unites the opposites, so does this one bringing two worlds together.

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