Monday, 6 May 2013

Peacocks by Lynda Waterhouse

Frugal Husband returned from a trip to Delhi, his first ever visit to India with a present for me. I had requested that he bring me back some quirky art. I wasn't expecting to receive these two Peacocks. He bought it because the seller told him it was a symbol of love. We then discovered that the peacock is the national symbol of India. My first thought was pride because I was pleased to have a received a lovely gift and proud because that is what I associate with peacocks.
I used to love ‘doing’ metaphors and similes at school and could spend hours filling in the cloze passages of similes. As proud as a peacock - as white as a sheet- as cool as a cucumber. I loved learning and collecting them. I enjoyed slipping them into my own writing. As a child I had no idea that later on they would be considered clichés. That overuse had rendered them as stale and meaningless to the imagination as a manicured lawn.
Fortunately I had good teachers who as well as teaching the textbooks similes encouraged us to have fun making up our own. To create similes that meant something to us and to experiment with words. I had been given some tools for my future trade as a writer.
All I needed to sharpen the tools was some life experience. Thirty years ago I was living in the wilds of Wales. My neighbour on the edge of the hill lived in a castle and kept peacocks in the grounds. I would creep down the hill and peep over the wall to catch a glimpse of them. Often I would just delight in hearing their loud complaining call or the creak of their feathers as they passed by.  Now I had some real experience to inform my writing!
Through my work at the Wallace Collection I encountered another peacock in a dark still life by Jan Weenix. Here this beautiful creature is pride personified.
There is also an ancient belief that the flesh of a peacock never decays and so it became a symbol of resurrection. This is why you will find peacocks depicted in nativity scenes. I had to do some research to find out different contexts, beliefs and historical background to peacocks in art.
James Hall’s Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art is a wonderful book and should be placed on the every writer’s bookshelf next to Roget’s Thesaurus (thanks to David Thorpe for reminding me of that).
In my own writing I am always struggling with the need for clarity versus the search for an original way of describing the world; of making the personal experience and imagery resonate.
And so now every morning I wake up to the sight of the two peacocks hanging on the wall opposite me. It is a daily reminder of the power of creativity and the gift of love.  And today on a visit to Hugh Walpole’s Gothic confection, Strawberry Hill House, I encountered this fine fellow.
 Happy Bank Holiday!


Joan Lennon said...

Thanks for starting Monday with such a lovely lot of images!

Penny Dolan said...

I'd gone looking for the Rogets on my shelves as well, Lynda, though I might have to look elsewhere for James Hall. Love all your peacocks.

However, a slight regret is that a love of unusual words and/or interesting symbols is quite a "literary" love.

It doesn't always match easily with trying to write simply and clearly (as well as interestingly!) for younger readers. One can get led astray - as well as using up the hours - once you start romancing with such things.