Tales of the Watershed – Chinese Torch Prints


fish by Steven Szegedy Szuts

fish by Steven Szegedy Szuts

Dreams No.89   May 1975

IF YOU were Chinese …

If who was Chinese?   Me, you or history?

The dream is a scribe of “his” story.   The dream tells me with some authority, that if I was Chinese and wise like a mandarin, I would know very well that I make my own bed to sleep on. The floor on which I lie for the night to imprint “his” story in my fibre, should be roughened.   Otherwise it will have no “key”.   My pillow would then slip, and no message come to my hearing.

This seems to be an ancient Oriental tradition.   As you make your bed, so you live.   A page too smooth cannot take the ink from heaven and the underworld. The fibre holds the script.   The rationale for this insight comes to me with all the force of Chinese respect for ancestry, and with the revelation of a brush scribing pictures.

So far so good.

Am I a printing press?   And from which civilisation did Renaissance Europe take the idea?

They say to me in this dream, roughen a plank on the wooden floor with a flaming torch to char the grain.   Lay paper on the burnt patch, and your pillow on the paper.   And lo! when you raise your head from sleep the paper will be printed with the mark of your life.

old tao sage

This principle seems unfathomably relevant to living, creating and suffering. A wisdom within it glows – something to do with fire which heats, burns out old wood and hollows a primitive boat for voyaging.   In the spirit of fire are interwoven myriad patterns of incarnation.   I gaze into the embers of flame, red, yellow, blue, violet, sometimes even lucid green. In fragile castles of carbon, whole histories fall to ash.   A dreamer is a traveller on the spot with his or her ear to the ground.

Certain prints of life are stroked out into the crinkle of slow flame; they glow.   It is breaking my heart!   how some people can play with fire and create these without having to make beds to lie in, or go to sleep at all.   These people – like my sister – have wonderful ideas.   They conjure filigree landscape from random traceries of the wood’s charred grain, to the delight of all who behold.



B gave me some sheets of thick paper to experiment with.   And look, my sister and her friend Jemima at school are here in the room with me;   in their play, they made five or six colour pictures by holding the burning torch to the thick paper.   The sharp, incisive lines of their pictures have the glory of a Byzantine woodcut.   The flame crinkled or split lines or curves along the papery grain, along which they drew. I held those pictures in my hands.   I gazed at them envious, and humble, before such mastery.   B said my sister was an ordinary girl – so I never saw the power and clarity of her imagination, till now.   How does she do it?   Won’t she show me?   Then I could make a card like this, for his birthday next week.   I want him to value something from me, some taste and texture to delight in, like new brown bread, or an earthen pot with lapis lazuli glaze.   Then he couldn’t possibly tell me I’m a “spiritual desert”.

I was in his room later.   He went to get loo-paper for me to blow my nose.   We agreed to see each other less often for a while.   At least, our dialogue is not a wound.   Can we shake out the feathers, allow our own colours to grow, be less mutually invaded when we meet?   Hope broke shyly through into space.   The mood changed, and became sensitive to one another.   It could smile and laugh with our trouble.

I showed him three of those prints my clever sister made – the tension of her inner eye and the delicacy of her touch.   “Look!”   I said.   “My sister made those. What an artist she is.” Here’s a black and white one of a labyrinth, an immense industrial landscape somewhere in the North Country. To the left, a group of business magnates in top-hats and frock-coats, barter nineteenth-century expansion.   They haven’t refined the technology yet.   Smoke billows from chimneys, stove-pipes and flues, and to the right a black city opens to the foot, an intricate tangle of streets and sooty towers – a pool of life that is still a furnace.

So she too knew Liverpool!   And here’s a green one, the deft caricature of an earthy old man bent like a gnome.   The third one shows a field of long summer grass deep enough to wade in, rich with clover and wild garlic, active with the multi-level hierarchy of small creatures.   All her Tragic Stories are here, to walk with – the stories she tells to herself with chewed stems of grass for girls’ hair and bits of bent wire for boys’ legs. She is a sturdy, short-sighted child. She mumbles her song through field and farmyard, utterly absorbed in the drama at play in her hands.   I follow sometimes, and listen.


I am burning to do it too.   I want to release that vision heat-held in wood and paper.   I thirst for the water of life, that slow dew of remembering …

What is really happening is that a baby is sitting here in this room with the burnt patch on the floor, a baby with dark eyes.   And the drawing that he, she, I, am doing so carefully along the advice of the ageless sages collapsed, and broke into a wild infant scrawl.


child caught tasting pebbles - Art-Not-Doing 1987





My adventure invites fellow travellers.  I am a poet, an artist and a seer.  I welcome conversation among the PHILO SOFIA, the lovers of wisdom.

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This blog is  a vehicle to promote also my published work – The Sacred India Tarot (with Rohit Arya, Yogi Impressions Books) and The Dreamer in the Dream – a collection of short stories (0 Books). Watch this space.

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All art and creative writing in this blog is copyright © Janeadamsart 2012-2014. May not be used for commercial purposes. May be used and shared for non-commercial means with credit to Jane Adams and a link to the web address https://janeadamsart.wordpress.com/

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