The Unwinding: An Uncommonly Enchanting Painted Poem Celebrating the Wilderness of the Imagination and Our Capacity for Love, Trust, and Hope

As I leaf bewitched through The Unwinding (public library) by the English artist and writer Jackie Morris, this quiet work of art dawns on me as the pictorial counterpart to Smiths– a little, miraculous book that belongs, and beckons you to discover your own belonging, in the “Library of Lost Dreams and Half-Imagined Things.”

“Some dreams arent dreams at all, just another angle of physical reality,” Patti Smith composed in Year of the Monkey– her elegant dreamlike book-length prose poem about repairing the broken truths of life, a meditation drawn from dreams that are “far more than dreams, as if stemming from the dawn of mind.”

What emerges is a love story, a hope story, a story out of time, out of stricture, out of the narrow artificial bounds by which we attempt to include the wild wonderland of reality since we are too frightened to live wonder-stricken.

Its consummately painted pages sing echoes of Virginia Woolf– “Life is a dream.– and whisper an invitation to relax the tensions of waking life, to follow a mysterious female and excellent white all-knowing bear– two creatures bound in outright trust and absolute love– as they hunt for wild dreams, “dreams that hold the scent of deep green moss, lichen, the location where the roots of a tree enter the earth, old stone, the dust of a moths wings.”

Morris– whose art conjures forth Robert Macfarlanes poetic spells versus the impoverishment of language in their collective masterpiece The Lost Words– starts The Unwinding with a captivating apothecary label of how this potent tonic for the creativity is to be taken:

While a spare, poetic story accompanies each pictorial sequence, partway in between fairy tale and magical realism, the text is just a shape around among myriad possible shapes and shadings each watercolor dreamscape welcomes– each years in the painting, each a skilled Rorschach test for the poetic creativity that gives upon our waking hours the rainbowlike shimmer that makes life worth living.

Inside, there are hares that speak in koans, foxes with mandolins and parasols, nighttime cloudscapes of enormous blue fish.

In the twelfth dreamscape, titled “Truth: The Dreams of Bears,” the charming female whispers into the soft warm ear of the sleeping bear:

Complement The Unwinding with poet Mark Strands spectacular ode to dreams and Nathaniel Hawthorne on the liminal space between wakefulness and sleep, then supplement the poetics of the mind with the poetics of the body in the remarkable science of dreaming, depression, and how REM sleep assists mediate our unfavorable feelings.

If I said that my love for you waslike the areas in between the notes of a wrens tune, would you understand?Would you perceive my love to be, therefore, hardly present, nearly absolutely nothing?
Or would you feel how my love is wrappedaround by the wealthiest, the wildest song?And, if I said my love for you is likethe time when the nightingale is absentfrom our twilight world, would you hear it as a silence? Nothing?No love?Or as anticipationof that abundant current of music, which fills heart, soul, body, mind?
And, if I said my love foryou resembles the hares breath, would you feel it to be transient?So slight a thing?
Or would you see it as life-giving?
Wild?
A thing that fills the blood, andsets the hare running?

Illustrations courtesy of Jackie Morris; book photos by Maria Popova

Its consummately painted pages sing echoes of Virginia Woolf– “Life is a dream. T is waking that kills us.– and whisper an invitation to relax the stress of waking life, to follow a mysterious female and fantastic white all-knowing bear– 2 animals bound in outright trust and outright love– as they hunt for wild dreams, “dreams that hold the fragrance of deep green moss, lichen, the place where the roots of a tree get in the earth, old stone, the dust of a moths wings.”