Winter lockdown: the hermit's hut and the significance of lamplight in forced isolation
Updated: Mar 28
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'When we are lost in darkness and see a distant glimmer of light, who does not dream of a thatched cottage, or to go more deeply still into legend, of a hermit’s hut?' asks French philosopher, Gaston Bachelard in 'The Poetics of Space'.
Winter encourages us to be creaturely: to retreat from the elements and inhabit interior space. In darkness there are reasons to create light. To be cosy we burn candles, invest in lamps, make a hearthside, slow-cook hearty stews and enjoy the refuge of evenings. Now we are compelled to lockdown, any inclination for cosiness, is complicated by feelings of being trapped in our homes as coronavirus continues to spread across the land. Fear and a sense of being 'lost in darkness' are able to flourish in the shadow of Covid-19.
The end of Christmas felt too soon. Walking past rows of lit rooms where windows and trees were garlanded with fairy lights, I found more acutely cheering than in other years. Those behind the decorations may have been struggling to cope with the restrictions and implications of the pandemic, yet their lights were heartwarming.
Even if you welcome the season, this winter is particularly dark and challenging. In testing times, we can dream of the comfort of a thatched cottage, but it is the the ascetic’s hut that is more significant as we baton down against coronavirus. We are living more hermit-like than is customary. We are not in self-imposed exile, searching for enlightenment, but we are physically distanced from those we cherish, waiting for a new beginning. In The Poetics of Space, Bachelard is interested in how metaphors shape the way we think about our interior, domestic lives. The ‘hermit’s hut’ is an interesting trope in his work and worth considering in the situation we find ourselves.
Although it illuminates the hut's interior, the hermit's lamp also throws light outwards across a remote, hostile landscape. In a similar manner, the act of lighting a lamp in our own home, especially if it is in the window, catches the eye of anyone outside. Bachelard considers why it is that we believe in the friendship of ‘the hermit’s world lighted.’ The hermit knows that the hut filled with light, is a beacon of humanity to anyone lost in the
wilderness. Perhaps it is this that translates in the current pandemic: when we acknowledge the lamplight of others in this dark, unmapped territory, we know that we are not alone. It is a symbol of connection.
When we are not in lockdown, it could be counter- argued that a lit room is a sign of division to those outside in the dark: that the lamp highlights the barrier of a glazed window that separates those inside. Today, in the United Kingdom, every home is a site of isolation. Therefore, to light our individual interior worlds, especially with the glow of a lamp, signifies our presence, and our forbearance as side-by-side we encounter the wilderness that is the Covid-19 pandemic. In our isolation, we connect. Our lamps are not burning solely for us to function indoors. As daylight falls and they start to glimmer for neighbours, strangers and those in the distance, we signal friendship, unity and solace in the darkness.
Reference: Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space (1964) Penguin Books. Translated by Maria Jolas.
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Margaret Adkins started writing when her nursing and midwifery career came to an end in 2015. She become a full-time student at the University of Worcester. She gained a BA (Hons) in Creative Writing & English Literature and an MRes in Theatre & Performance. Winner of the inaugural University of Worcester V. Press Prize, her debut poetry pamphlet Mingled Space is published by V. Press (2019).