I think Monet and the rest of the Impressionists were on to something with the whole let’s-paint-the-clouds thing. Yes, I’m aware they painted more than just clouds – but there are an awful lot of clouds during that whole era, I think you’ll agree. And no wonder. What a terrific thing to paint. What movie was it with the scene between painter and subject where the painter asks, “What colour are the clouds?” and the other person says “white” automatically and the painter says that they aren’t white at all? Anyway, whoever wrote that script was right – clouds are wildly complicated things. Maybe that’s what makes them so fun (or is it challenging?) to paint. Surely the symbolism doesn’t hurt.
Remember when you were a kid and you had to draw clouds on your picture in school? What did it look like? I bet it looked just like mine – loops in a kind of oval sort of shape that was coloured in stark white. Well, perhaps you were a better artist than I. But I really couldn’t capture what a cloud looked like at all. On the warm summer day, lying on your back in the grass watching the clouds move across the sky was a very hard thing to reproduce with a set of broken off crayons, I found. Those clouds were the kind that looked like something, a turtle or a boat if you squinted your eyes and used some imagination. Those clouds were all possibility and dreams, just like your childhood. Like us, those clouds could be anything we wanted them to be. Lucky us.
Similarly hard to capture on construction paper were the clouds of magic. You know the sort. They are the ones in early morning or late evening hours, all lit up by the sun on a funny angle. They are the clouds of folklore and predictions, telling the fishers to watch out for inclement weather. And just in case you think this is a relatively local rhyme, it is not. In a time before wonderfully thorough weather forecasters, there wasn’t much to go on besides stars and clouds, and whatever the village elders remembered. And despite the distractions of modern toys, we are still enamoured with them. The colours in those sunset clouds are deep purples and blues, dark reds and pinks. There’s not a lick of white to be found.
Time changes everything. Nothing lasts forever. This too shall pass. Like the words of a Persian poet from way back when, the clouds are a reminder and a comfort. The storm clouds that roll in make us all run for cover and rip the clothes off the line faster than a streaker who’s lost his nerve won’t last. Those clouds are heavy and ominous. They cue the scary music in a film and let us know Something Awful is on its way. I suppose it’s no small wonder that directors make such heavy-handed use of dark clouds. It is a fairly accurate reflection of how we feel when sadness or gloom comes to call. It’s so dark and foreboding, with just the right amount of fear that this is how it will always be. Sadness hovers like a black cloud and hangs so low, it threatens to fall. Well. The sky is dark now but after the rain has fallen you know there’ll be a rainbow. And even though it seems pretty bleak, and maybe it’s been that way for sometime, don’t worry. By and by the winds will change, the heavy clouds will drift away and the sun will shine again.
You’d think with a title likeI Wandered Lonely As a Cloud, our ol’ pal Wordsworth would sound every so slightly melancholy through the rest of it. But alas, no. He got the tone just right, didn’t he? It’s full of motion and fluidity with the fields full of dancing daffodils. Even in the middle bit when he’s feeling all vacant and pensive, the flowers swaying in the breeze are never out of mind. Wordsworth, Monet, and whoever else pondered on the clouds were on to something. There are dreams to be had, and folktales to tell. There will be some dark days ahead, and then nothing but blue skies will follow. Complete with fluffy clouds, hopefully.