Friday, 5 August 2011

The Poems that Inspired Jan Constantine

Undoubtedly, there is a connection between all forms of art and all instances of design in human endeavour – including a connection between poetry and embroidery, or even industry (which could also be considered an art).  Though she has little time for novels, Jan Constantine learned a love of poetry from her parents, and has used a number of works from the great Romantics and others to inspire some of her best-known products.  She has agreed to share with readers exactly which poems had the greatest effect on her and why – read on for a glimpse into Jan’s motivations!

1.     Upon Westminster Bridge – William Wordsworth

Sept. 3, 1802

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth like a garment wear
The beauty of the morning: silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky,
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!
            Some of you might have noticed the presence of Mr Wordsworth in Jan’s brochures, and also on her “I Love London” wall hanging.   Jan adores London, and this is the main reason for her love of the poem; she says that she often stands on Westminster Bridge and, while there, reads Wordsworth’s poem from the brass plaque placed there, enjoying the rush of the water beneath her and feeling a swelling pride – almost a sense of numinous – as she admires London’s principal landmarks.

2.     The Lady of Shalott – Alfred Lord Tennyson

“…There she weaves by night and day

A magic web with colours gay.

She has heard a whisper say,

A curse is on her if she stay

To look down to Camelot.

She knows not what the curse may be,

And so she weaveth steadily,

And little other care heat she,

The Lady of Shalott”.

(The rest of the poem can be found at )

            Jan has loved this beautiful and romantic poem for a very long time.  She first fell under its charm when she was an art student studying the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and since then has only become more attached to it – the image below is a photograph taken in Jan’s house this morning, of a mirror she painted herself with the addition of two lines from the poem (“From the lake and from the river / He flashed into the crystal mirror”). 

Below we have a musical version of Tennyson’s piece, sung by Loreen McKennit and accompanied by some beautiful Arthurian images.  We enjoyed taking time out to relax and listen to it, and hope that you will too!


3.     He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven - William Butler Yeats

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

            Again, this is a poem that Jan has been enamoured with for some time.  The presentation of the embroidered cloths as belonging to the heavens is something that has affected her work to some extent – Jan said, when I asked her about it, that this poem is almost a summary of her business in that, after all these years, the dream is finally starting to come true.  Jan also finds the word “embroidered” in itself very poetic, and believes that there is poetry in the sewing of a proficient artisan.

Below we have a lovely reading for you in which Antony Hopkins, the legendary British actor, famously recites Yeats’ poem in the 1987 film ‘84 Charing Cross Road’.  Incidentally, this is also one of Jan’s favourite films, and so is doubly as important in terms of inspiration.


4.     Like Beautiful Embroidery – Carolyn Phillips

By delicate stitching we are joined

Is it machine or handmade?
As a bow our hands are tied

Sealed by sparkling ribbon

Beautiful, but easily undone

Are we only for decoration?
An anchored flipped coin

Weighed down by the seal of a kiss

I am convinced

An inflatable beach ball

Fuelled by the fulfilment of dreams.

            A more modern poem than those of the old Romantics (this one’s from 2010 – not long ago at all!).  Jan finds Phillips’ free verse piece inspiring because, like her own creations, it is a more modern form of an archaic craft.  The poem is applicable to her and to her life and viewpoints.  Also – on a different note – she says that “Is it machine or handmade?” is one of the FAQs she often receives about her products.

Jan Constantine believes wholeheartedly in the preservation of all forms of art, especially those – like embroidery and, to some extent, poetry – which are no longer practiced or appreciated by so large a crowd.  It’s important that we recognise the potential of all the arts to change dominant views and brighten the lives of others, and it’s partially for this reason that Jan has been weaving her tapestry of dreams for the past nine years.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our brief excursion into the realm of the literati.   We’ll be updating this blog every other day from now on, so stay tuned if you don’t want to miss anything!

No comments:

Post a Comment