The sky is not the limit (5/8)

Similar to Jamie’s post on surrealist eyes, I noticed the recurring imagery of the sky in surrealist poetry and art. In In Transition no. 2, the sky takes up space both physically in the paintings and metaphysically in the mind. The sky is hard (142), pink (129), and water-like (126). The sky is predictable, but also autonomous: “Across the world the clouds go riding, / green through the forests / flows their light” (9-11.145)  vs. “All the bridges are hewn down, the sky will pass there no more” (15.114). It’s mystifying, it grants “physical liberty” to its subjects. It is expansive, and for all we know, it contains limitless possibilities, and while we cannot reach it, we can draw it, paint it, capture it in a moment, and use it to describe the vastness of something we do not fully understand (“the sky of love”)(11.116). 

The treatment of the sky in surrealist poetry is reminiscent of the treatment of nature in pastoral poetry. Pastoral poems, plays, and literature all resisted the constraints of modern life and work and reached beyond for a more tranquil mode of existence. These types of poems could deal with all kinds of issues ranging from love to mourning, to politics, to longing, and critique society through a green world lens. I think that the surrealist poems do something similar. Beyond the fixation on the sky, the poets are fixated on constellations, seasons, the sea, trees, wind, meadows, and gardens. 

The poems are very introspective at times, like the way “From Phantasus” contemplates a past life from long ago or “Evening Song” takes its subject through the subconscious of falling asleep. All this to say is I wonder how influenced, if at all, by the pastoral movement surrealist poets were. Perhaps it has less to do with pastoralism in Renaissance or Victorian England and more to do with the grim effects of industrialism and post-war rebuilding. In surrealist poetry, the sky is a portal, the meadows are an escape, but the brokenness and the staggering juxtaposition of reality still loom large.



A famous Japanes poet once said, "When I die I wish I could take the sky with me." Of all things in nature, he found it to be the most beautiful. One of the reasons the poets are drawn to the sky is that it is ever changing, not stagnent. The sky can reflect our moods, somber, joyful and sunny, a drenching rain symbolizing a sadness or death, a hurricane or storm for anger, a sunrise bringing hope of a new day, or a sunset that looks back on life with accomplishments and regrets. The sky could be a perfect pallet for Surrealist artist to put all these emotions and more as part of any scene in their dreamscapes. The sky even has a dreamlike, mysterious quality to it, with endless colors and the moon and stars that we can never touch, but for some reason we want to reach for. The dreams of Surrealism we can not touch either, but we can't help staring and being facinating by the images we come up with, much like the clouds that often form shapes in our minds.