Friday, 8 November 2013





Clouds don't fit easily into words. All we have is metaphors, and what we see in the sky's vapour to go on.

A fallstreak hole at Brome, near Eye, Suffolk, UK; 2007

We may talk of 'complexions' of cloud, perhaps, searching for words to evoke their subtleties. We may identify them as fragments, rags or shreds, or see them as cumulative entities like masses or mounds, or even cauliflowers.

Back-lit cumulonimbus near Hoxne, Suffolk, UK; Nov. 2013.

I first heard Stravinsky's 'Rite of Spring' when I was 18. I was thunder-struck. The record cost £0.50 from a charity shop. A new world of musical energy unfolded from its dark grooves. I particularly remember one day in my 21st year, stacking hay bales on a hill at my mother's farm in Devon. I watched cloud castles towering up in the west, beyond the upland bulk of Dartmoor and tracking towards me in the hot summer air. They trailed shadows across the rounded contours of the South Hams landscape, its hazy patchwork of woods and fields. That was when the music in my head took external form; I can still hear its shape and relive the whole atavistic ballet of that summer's rolling cloudscape.

Perhaps our daily selves never really see clouds; we just see bits of them, the bit that takes our fancy: the camel, weasel or whale that speaks to us out of the fog (as Shakepeare's Hamlet put it), or perhaps we respond to the epic in their forms. Faced with their mad diversity, we taxonomise them - however poetically in Latin - into mental categories: Stratocumulus stratiformis perlucidus, we say, or Cirrus fibratus intortus. As with every phenomenon, the essence of clouds eludes us in words - for essence is about identity and identity is about difference, and clouds are 'process' made visible.

Faced with their nebulous beauty, we name them, but perhaps the best we can ever do is to turn them into paintings or music - or philosophy.

Tracking stratocumulus castellanus near Hoxne, Suffolk, UK; Nov. 2013.
Listen to JS Bach: 
St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244); No. 47 - Aria: 'Erbarme dich, mein Gott'
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For Arthur Schopenhauer, clouds are a metaphor for understanding a truth about existence (see 'The World as Will & Representation' Book 1, chapter 35). Like river water or ice patterns on a window pane, the cloud shapes we see are representations of essential forces which take phenomenal shape in the moment: the atmosphere's passing variations in temperature, pressure and humidity made visible and 'objectified' and thus nameable. Schopenhauer invites us to look through such natural phenomena towards the invisible generative forces and energies (what he calls 'will') that they represent. He also invites us to look inwards and understand the cloudy nature of our own 'Will to Life', its forces and energies, made manifest through our selves considered as phenomena.

Stravinsky's 'Rite of Spring' taps into the cloudy realm of our own dark matter.

Cumulonimbus tracking over the North Sea, Shingle Street, Suffolk, UK; Oct. 2013