A showery day with wind & watery clouds is excellent material for a sunset. A day of unclouded majesty, heat & serenity has a sunset of extraordinary magnificence of light so unapproachable by pen or paint that the author & artist prefer for the sake of their art the more attainable forms of cloud which can be likened by an imaginative person to castles & hills & rocky towns that have their counterpart on earth.
No one –save a poet – can express in words or paint the human significance & pathos of the suns unclouded rain of light – that makes the Heavens a delight & a difficulty to look upon. This land, as I have had occasion to remark before, is a land whose chief attraction is its sky. It is as if you were slung on a flat green board in mid air; with only sky sky sky around & above & beneath you. In this way alone I think that the Fen country deserves to be called one of the most beautiful countries in England. We have this moment come in from a sunset expedition – an account of which I must at once write down, or I shall never attempt it. Nothing methinks is so impossible as to describe a real sunset in pen & ink 3 days after that sunset has faded from the sky.
To begin then. Today has been windy stormy and raining – too great an abundance of water indeed to make a really great sunset. Today at 6.30 we started along the Huntington road, & the sun was then just entering the cloud belt on the Horizon. It sank so slowly that we, who reproached George for having brought us out so early, found ourselves in a minute in the midst of the performance. So quickly did the clouds catch the glory, glow, & fade, that our eyes & mind had ample work merely to register the change. The main features were three; a red ball of a sun, first; then a low lying bank of gray cloud, whose upper edges were already feathery & fixed to receive into its arms the impetuous descent of the sun god; thirdly, a group of trees which made our horizon; casting their arms against the sky; then fourthly, a cloud shaped like an angels wing, so - [drawing] The edge of this was [two illegible words] with fire – vivid & glowing in the east like some sword of judgment or vengeance – yet the intensity of its light melted & faded as it touched the gray sky behind; so that there was no clearly defined outline. This is one observation that I have made from my observation of many sunsets – that no shape of cloud has one line in it in the least sharp or hard – nowhere can you draw a straight line with your pencil & say “This line goes so.”. Everything is done by different shades & degrees of light – melting & mixing infinitely – well may an Artist despair!
This was the central point of the sunset – but when our eyes found an instant to leave it there was another glory, reflected indeed but no less glorious & perfect of its kind than the original, all round. The afternoon now conglomerated into one vast cloud field in the east & south – others were sailing like solitary icebergs. All bore on their way the imprint: the dying kiss – of the sun. The icebergs shone glowing pale crimson; the ice fields were broken up into exquisite blocks of crimson lint – a crimson which looked all the more delicate & exquisite that it is besprinkled with soft cold gray.
This was all over in 10 minutes – when we got back home the east & west were rapidly taking on the darkness of night. No gleams of crimson lived to tell that the sun had sunk.
- A Passionate Apprentice: The Early Journals, Virginia Woolf
“But when the self speaks to the self, who is speaking? The entombed soul, the spirit driven in, in, in to the central catacomb; the self that took the veil and left the world — a coward perhaps, yet somehow beautiful, as it flits with its lantern restlessly up and down the dark corridors.”—Virginia Woolf
Supposing he went to her and said (he slackened his pace and began to speak aloud, as if he were speaking to Rachel):
"I worship you, but I loathe marriage, I hate its smugness, its safety, its compromise, and the thought of you interfering in my work, hindering me; what would you answer?"
He stopped, leant against the trunk of a tree, and gazed without seeing them at some stones scattered on the bank of the dry river-bed. He saw Rachel’s face distinctly, the grey eyes, the hair, the mouth; the face that could look so many things—plain, vacant, almost insignificant, or wild, passionate, almost beautiful, yet in his eyes was always the same because of the extraordinary freedom with which she looked at him, and spoke as she felt. What would she answer? What did she feel? Did she love him, or did she feel nothing at all for him or for any other man, being, as she had said that afternoon, free, like the wind or the sea?
"Oh, you’re free!" he exclaimed, in exultation at the thought of her, "and I’d keep you free. We’d be free together. We’d share everything together. No happiness would be like ours. No lives would compare with ours." He opened his arms wide as if to hold her and the world in one embrace.
No longer able to consider marriage, or to weigh coolly what her nature was, or how it would be if they lived together, he dropped to the ground and sat absorbed in the thought of her, and soon tormented by the desire to be in her presence again.
"…And yet. If Woolf was better acquainted with profound sorrow than most, she was also, by some mysterious manifestation of will, better than almost anyone at conveying the pure joy of being alive. The quotidian pleasure of simply being present in the world on an ordinary Tuesday in June. That’s one of the reasons we who love her, love her as ardently as we do. She knew how bad it could get. And still, she insisted on simple, imperishable beauty, albeit a beauty haunted by mortality, as beauty always is. Woolf’s adoration of the world, her optimism about it, are assertions we can trust, because they come from a writer who has seen the bottom of the bottom. In her books, life persists, grand and gaudy and marvellous; it trumps the depths and discouragements. …"
"…But I could see, even as an untutored and rather lazy child, the density and symmetry and muscularity of Woolf’s sentences. I thought, wow, she was doing with language something like what Jimi Hendrix does with a guitar. By which I meant she walked a line between chaos and order, she riffed, and just when it seemed that a sentence was veering off into randomness, she brought it back and united it with the melody. …"