One of my fond magical, almost mystical memories of living in Williamsburg, Virginia was sitting on my porch in the evenings, watching the fireflies in the cool dusk. They are magical things, and fill me calm, joy and wonder.
John Ruskin, the amazing Victorian polymath is one of my favourite writers. He abruptly ends his autobiography, Praeterita (written against all odds, against the advice of his carers, when the synapses of his brain were not working well, and he was sinking into adrenal exhaustion, nervous collapse, and indeed the dementia which clouded his last decade) with a glorious description of fireflies.
“Fonte Branda I last saw with Charles Norton, under the same arches where Dante saw it. We drank of it together, and walked together that evening in the hills above, where the fireflies among the scented thickets shone fitfully in the still undarkened air. How they shone! moving like fine-broken starlight through the purple leaves. How they shone! through the sunset that faded into thunderous night as I entered Siena three days before, the white edges of the thunderous clouds still lighted from the west, and the openly golden sky calm behind the Gate of Siena’s heart, with its still golden words, ‘Cor magis tibi Sena pandit,’ and the fireflies everywhere in sky and cloud rising and falling, mixed with the lightning, and more intense than the stars.”
The disjointed conclusion of his beautiful, intense and revelatory book reminds one of Ruskin’s mind, “fireflies everywhere, mixed with the lightning, and more intense than the stars.”
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Fireflies also remind me of a novel I read as a teenager The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy.
It has a strange sequence of an all night gambling match on Egdon Heath between the Red Man, Diggory Venn and Damon Wildeeve to regain the inheritance of Thomasina whom Diggory Venn and Wildeeve has married.
When it gets too dark, Diggory grabs fireflies, puts them in a bottle, and continues gambling by their light. It is surely among the strangest scenes in fiction, the intense gambling– love and greed at stake–on a midsummer night, by the light of captured fireflies
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See also, Quest for Joy 1–Glory be to God for Winged Things
Quest for Joy 2–A bluebird in every tree
And a short blog post on Ruskin’s mind http://thegoodbooksblog.blogspot.com/2010/11/john-ruskin-mind-as-bright-as-fireflies.html