Lavinia Greenlaw

Image by Caroline Forbes

Poem introduction

I don't think I've ever been as happy in a place as I was in the Arctic, midwinter. The landscape had been simplified by darkness and snow but was actually full of traces of colour and light. And the most thrilling moment was towards the end of the day when there would be a kind of twilight which is called in Finnish 'sininen hetki' which means 'the blue moment'. And what astonished me about this light was that it didn't seem to come from the sky which was already dark, but from within everything around me, even from within myself and because so much of everything around me was covered in snow the blue that the evening released was very, very pure. When I came to write about it, I didn't want to compare this blue to anything - I wanted to retain something of its purity but of course I found I couldn't describe it. I couldn't explain what this blue was like without resorting to the different kinds of blue I already knew, so I decided in the end to construct what might be called an exercise in negative analogy - so instead of saying that the blue was like this or that I would describe all the things that it wasn't like at all.

Blue Field

Blue Field

A flood as the day releases
and the whole snow world
is neither wet nor deep, but primary.
Colour so inherent, it does not fall
but rises from my skin,
the snow, the trees, the road.
This blue isn't built or grown.
It has no tissue, nothing
to touch or taste or bring to mind
a memory, no iris or artery,
no gentian, aconite or anemone,
no slate, plum, oil-spill or gun,
no titanium or turquoise,
no mercury or magnesium,
no phosphorus, sapphire or silver foil,
no duck egg or milk jug,
no chambray, denim or navy,
no indigo, octopus ink, no ink,
no element. The blue moment,
sininen hetki in a language that claims
no relation but greets in passing
picture blue, cyan. Ultraviolet
twilight, higher than the heaven
of swimming or flying - no splash.
A time without clouded objects,
in which you might become the glass
you swallowed through cold.
Light draws back
behind the rim of the eye as it closes.
I keep my distance, as things turn blue
through stillness and distance,
as everything blue is distant.

From Minsk, (Faber & Faber, 2003), copyright © Lavinia Greenlaw 2003, used by permission of the author and the publisher.

Books by Lavinia Greenlaw