Monday, 21 January 2008
Will you be my priest, and build a fane in some untrodden region of my mind? There where branched thoughts, new grown with pleasant pain, shall murmur in the wind. Far, far around shall those dark-cluster’d thoughts fledge the wild-ridged mountains steep by steep. And there by zephyrs, streams, and birds and bees, and by the moss-lain Dryads I shall be lull’d to sleep; and in the midst of this wide quietness will you dress my mind with the wreath’d trellis of wonders from a working brain? Will you weave around with the buds and bells and stars of mystery all without a name and using all that the gardener Fancy e’er could feign, who breeding flowers, will never breed the same. And there shall be for thee all soft delight that shadowy thought can win, a mirror to reflect the light from your bright torch, a window ope to let the warm love in!
With thanks to John Keats 1795 - 1812
… What we must revive, in these mechanical days, is the soul’s power of detaching itself from everything, and enjoying life in spite of everything. Circumstances we can seldom change. Money-worries, love-worries, ambition-worries, health-worries, employment-worries we all have to endure. They are there; and we – we are there! To suffer physical suffering, to lose our days in meaningless drudgery, to have decisions to make, people to cajole, people to threaten, people to cheat and to be cheated by, fruitless hateful encounters with people who are more alien to us than archangels or water-flies – these things are simply life. Only an infinitesimal number of creatures ever, by the divine favour of the gods, escape these things. To suffer something other, to have to face something or other, this is simply to live. This is what life is…
In Defence of Sensuality
John Cowper Powys
Victor Gollancz Ltd 1930
…Can anyone deny that there is an organic link, potent, magnetic, psychic-chemical, binding together all existence, “animate” as well as what they falsely call “inanimate”? It is by means of this organic link that I can speak of the psychic-sensuous feelings of plant and reptiles and birds and fishes and beasts, and for all that long series of sub-human lives which emerges from earth and water to breathe the invisible air. It is by means of this organic stream of innumerable lives, now stretching out their irresistible antennae in premonitory awareness of a dimension of Being beyond man, that I can speak for the sensual feelings in our nature that touch the super-human.
…The lonely soul must face the full basic implication of being alive. To be alive means to be as “good” as you can, and as little cruel as you can, in a System organised upon a mad substratum of monstrous duality… From the mud we spring. And the “soul” of the “body” of mud must be immortal, if there be any immortality anywhere. The “soul” of the “body” of that mud is as important as anything else. Good is it and evil is it, even as the soul of its creator.
…The reason why so many human beings give themselves up today to the modern malady of “futility,” is that the false, artificial, human idealism that has fed them with lies has been found out, and they are left with nothing else. Let them fall back on the lovely delights of a simple sacramental sensuousness. These delights never pall or fail; and, if we are not unemployed or mad or in the hands of the police, they never can fail. What, in fact, produces the futility-malady” among us is a refusal to concentrate upon the simple psychic-sensuous delights that everybody can enjoy, and the refusal to make of these little things a ladder to the ultimate.
… The happier the lonely soul grows to be, the more freely does it fling away itself and its possessions for the benefit of all who pass by. When the well-to-do person ceases to experience a craving to feed the hungry and to create some sort of pleasure in the nerves of the miserable, one may draw, as an absolutely certain conclusion, that his own inner life is sterile, abortive, pulverised. It is , as everyone knows, a psychic peculiarity of certain perfect spring days, that plants, birds, reptiles, animals, and even insects, seem to pour forth upon the air a surplusage of vibrant well-being, as though every tiniest organism there, every infinitesimalest cell inside every organism, were consciously lavishing its own psychic magnetism as a free gift to all the rest.
…The old immemorial “goodness” that Rousseau and Goethe believed in, natural to all entities, animate or inanimate – the ancient “goodness” that prevents even the most predatory of creatures from practicing cruelty for cruelty’s sake – is enough to save us from the adder’s-tooth of remorse. We need feel no remorse when we give up every “conviction” we possess, every “principle” we possess, every vestige of every “creed.” So long as you refrain from cruelty and from all cruel thought, you are completely and absolutely fulfilling the deepest purpose of life by being simply happy. The only real sin is not to be happy; and except for your oven extreme pain, or the extreme pain of anyone you love, it is in your own power whether to be happy or not. The Universe owes you no happiness. Life owes you no happiness.
…One of the silliest and meanest of human attitudes to life – an attitude taken only by beings of an extraordinary opacity of perception – it is the attitude which assumes that there is “One Great Law” running through everything, an implacable moral Law, full of Rationality and Righteousness, and that it is the wilful deviations from this Law, among the various living creatures, that cause the unhappiness in the world. There is no such Law! Down in the heart of every minutest nucleus of electric and psychic life, there is irrationality, arbitrariness, free choice, and an element of the undetermined. The mechanistic philosophers and logic-mongering pseudo-scientists who talk of “fate” and “determinism” must be singularly devoid of any kind of honest introspection.
What do all living things feel and see when they turn their minds inward? They feel and see two facts: first that not Fate but Chance is the dominant power in the world; second, that the secret of all movement, of all change, is a mingling of the creative energy of the First Cause with their own creative energy. Both of these two energies are unfathomably arbitrary, wilful, and irrational. When these dull-witted rationalists tell u, as they are always doing today, that no magical, no mythological view of the universe is any longer possible, let them be answered by a very brief retort. There is no view of the universe, there has never been any view of the universe, brought into real contact with the ways of Nature, that is not saturated through and through with magic and mythology! So far from magic being absent from the processes of life, there is nothing in these processes that is not magic.
…So many of us are compelled to live in hideously modern towns and cities; and the very prick and quick of our harassed lives depends upon the way we take our destiny. The great secret is to assume an attitude of ironical detachment from the whole spectacle of modern life. Not to take such life “for granted” – that is the trick. The mind can easily work this miracle. The mind within us is not merely the mind of a foolishly-sophisticated city-dweller, fussing about amidst shops, offices, studios, theatres, concert halls. It is the mind of a starfish, a bird, a polar bear, a viper, a sea-anemone, a sycamore-tree, a half-born planetary god! The best way to live in such places is to concentrate on all the sacramental symbols of “real reality” that we can disentangle from this machinery and from these prodding iron spikes. These house, these pavements, these noisy street can be treated as if they were so much primeval mud and sand and scoriac rock, across which we draw (ourselves), enjoying the aboriginal “feel of matter” - the feel of warm sunshine, of the cool wind, of the tossing rain.
When we first wake up, the best thing to do is to gather together those particular impressions of cumulated memories of our sense-life that have thrilled us most, and with the whole dreamy weight of our nature to taste them once again in a sort of stoical desperation. That is where memory is so wonderful a goddess; for nothing can take our memories from us. With the power of memory at our disposal, we can enjoy life to the bitter end. We must have the wit to copy the cattle. We must chew the cud of delicious memory and defy Providence to take it from us.
Round and about, over and beneath these precious sense-memories, hover the undertones and overtones whose heavenly essences are the purpose of our existence. It is to accumulate these that we live – not to acquire fame or wealth or honour. Any monotonous labour is a valuable aid to this secret ecstasy, to this furtive, hidden worship of the life-stream. But the advantage is lost if such work exacts too close an attention! It is sheer madness to waste our brief life in vulgar gregarious excitement, when a rapture so much more intense is awaiting every solitary moment of mental liberty. The insect-like human beings who hurry to join every buzzing swarm they can find, resemble sticky , silly flies going up and down a hot, shut window, while all the while, a yard or so away, is the wide-open door.
…the philosophy of the Missing Lind – does not need any unusual “orgies” in order to get its deep, profane thrill. It needs nothing but the taste of bread, of butter, of honey, of milk, of tea, of coffee, of wine. It needs nothing but the look of a lighted fire or a lighted candle. It needs nothing but the touch of its mate, of its offspring, of a patch of earth-mould, of a gust of wet, westerly wind, of a streak of sunlight between the wretchedest curtains.
…Figuratively speaking, we ought to take off our shoes in the presence of every living organism we encounter. The saint’s power of “loving” every organism he meets may indeed excite our astonishment; but it is well within our “animal-vegetable” scope to bend with scrupulous fetish-worship before the presence of a dead tree, a cut worm, a withered plant, a mangy cat, a faded doll, a broken idol, a murderer, any poor scrofulous devil, any God-forsaken whore!
Oh, the moment has come when we must break the prison-bars of our narrow human state and enter the life-religion of those great time-aeons and space-immensities that include all the cosmic children of Chance and the First Cause!
Higher and higher, every new day of our secret life, mounts up the intoxicating wave of sense-memories. Lilac-bushes in back-yards, smoke-blackened trees by murky pools, village-commons with broken railings where the small grey rain seems to fall for ever from the north-west, wet ditches full of yellow flowers by the wayside, faded stucco-houses with rusty ironwork on their roofs and red geraniums in their window-boxes, clearings in swampy moss-grown withy-beds, newly ploughed fields forged by querulous crows, gleaming sands with thin black windrows of sea-scum over which the foam-bubbles drift rainbow-tinted from the breaking surf, noon-drowsy road-banks where little blue butterflies hover above the hot dusty dandelions, lonely tollpike houses on wind-swept hills where groups of stunted Scotch-firs creak and murmur like exhausted sentries in armour – such are a few of the impressions that rise up upon us and flow through us when we sink into that inner world of real reality, which daily, monthly, yearly grows richer and richer – that sub-human, super-human world which the deep essence of Life itself gives to its children. Such things as I have named are drawn from country memories; but even city life has its own intermittent magic for such as have eyes and ears.
… Society is the most insidious fungus growth, into which all the most corrupt poisons of the human peril distil their plague-pus… This book is written to reveal the fact that it is possible, by invading the social humanity in us from both ends at once, to squeeze it out almost completely! The sub-human invades this human element from below, thrilling us with the lovely receptivity of the vegetable world, while the super-human invades it from above, thrilling us with strange intimations of a god-like state as yet unrealised.
Is it not a mysterious thing how some deep taboo in our inmost nature makes us dodge the issue and feel as if we dare not follow our natural instincts? What these natural instincts encourage us to do is to turn the whole orientation of personal life inside out, and make of what hitherto has been regarded as unimportant and unessential the only important and the only essential thing. In fact, we must make of what hitherto has been casually taken for granted as mere accidental feelings coming to us en route the whole essence of the grand matter of our days. We must take the fluctuating, undulating margin of our simplest sensuous impressions- that margin which has so many mysterious avenues and vistas, and which hitherto has floated round us unconsidered, disregarded, neglected – and our of it, as we hoard and store up its visions like miser’s farthings, we must consciously weave the inmost cocoon of our spiritual identity.
Oh, we must break loose from our human prison and thrust the tendrils and antennae of our being into both the non-human worlds. When we have done so, when we have squeezed our human sensibility into a very small space – squeezed it between our sub-human nature and our supper-human nature - why, then it will be seen what free, happy, profane spaciousness there is for our soul! There is, indeed, an incredible feeling of liberation when one realises one’s lonely identity in the midst of rocks and stones and trees and the great silent motions of the constellations; not to speak of planetary spirits and all the invisible organisms that fill the gulfs of space! How can anyone, thinking of the difference between emotions of this sort and the gregarious mob-emotions of any Megalopolis, but realise that the moment has come for the birth of what Spengler would call a New Culture?
In Defense of Sensuality
John Cowper Powys
Victor Gollancz Ltd 1930
...I often watch children in the early teens and wonder if the world to them is as exquisite as it was to me, and if, in the amazing secrecy in which the mind unfolds itself, they can claim as many lovely dreams as those which once belonged to me.
A faint echo of this old magic meets me now and then round the bend of a road, the scent of fennel always awakens it, or the sight of a bee in a snapdragon or a nest full of young birds with their bare necks stretched out, the grey down on their heads. Just as some notes can be pitched high enough to break a glass, so these associations vibrating in the mind shatter cynicism and re-create for a fraction of a second a shining, sensuous world, a million times more lovely than the world has ever been, but, in less time than a shadow flies across the grass, the second passes and a man is left where he was before with realities around him.
In Scotland Again
Tucked in a cluster of trees,
The cottage hides from the walking lane,
Flint-bricked on a wheatened hill,
Crowned by an English rood.
An ancient fort moated by knurled oak,
Where once centurions stood, clenched against the wind,
Plumed in the shade to greet the dawn with fear.
On the south,
Nymphs and a scaled garden,
Foliation's and stems and tarragon and tyme,
Its own Byzantium,
Hedged in the patient simplicity of sun.
Within the cottage,
Musick and an oil-lit fantasy of suites,
Plucked wingless among the old bricks,
A tracery of eaves, and shuttered windows,
All veiled in a brush of trees,
Where the fire and the rose are one.
Sunday, 20 January 2008
……“There is a place in front of the Royal Exchange where the wide pavement reaches out like a promontory. It is in the shape of a triangle with a rounded apex. A stream of traffic runs on either side, and other streets send their currents down into the open space before it. Like the spokes of a wheel converging streams of human life flow into this agitated pool. Horses and carriages, carts, vans, omnibuses, cabs, every kind of conveyance cross each other’s course in every possible direction. Twisting in and out by the wheels and under the horses’ heads, working a devious way, men and women of all conditions wind a path over. They fill the interstices between the carriages and blacken the surface, till the vans almost float on human beings. Now the streams slacken, and now they rush again, but never cease; dark waves are always rolling down the incline opposite, waves swell out from the side rivers, all London converges into this focus. There is an indistinguishable noise - it is clatter, hum, or roar, it is not resolvable; made up of a thousand footsteps, from a thousand hoofs, a thousand wheels - of haste, and shuffle, and quick movements, and ponderous loads; no attention can resolve it into a fixed sound.
Blue carts and yellow omnibuses, varnished carriages and brown vans, green omnibuses and red cabs, pale loads of yellow straw, rusty-red iron clanking on paintless carts, high white wool-packs, grey horses, bay horses, black teams; sunlight sparkling on brass harness, gleaming from carriage panels; jingle, jingle, jingle! An intermixed and intertangled, ceaselessly changing jingle, too, of colour; flecks of colour champed, as it were, like bits in the horses’ teeth, frothed and strewn about, and a surface always of dark-dressed people winding like the curves on fast-flowing water. This is the vortex and whirlpool, the centre of human life to-day on the earth. Now the tide rises and now it sinks, but the flow of these rivers always continues. Here it seethes and whirls, not for an hour only, but for all present time, hour by hour, day by day, year by year.
Here it rushes and pushes, the atoms triturate and grind, and eagerly thrusting by, pursue their separate ends. Here it appears in its unconcealed personality, indifferent to all else but itself, absorbed and rapt in eager self, devoid and stripped of conventional gloss and politeness, yielding only to get its own way; driving, pushing, carried on in a stress of feverish force like a bullet, dynamic force apart from reason or will, like the force that lifts the tides and sends the clouds onward. The friction of a thousand interests evolves a condition of electricity in which men are moved to and fro without considering their steps. Yet the agitated pool of life is stonily indifferent, the thought is absent or preoccupied, for it is evident that the mass are unconscious of the scene in which they act.
But it is more sternly real than the very stones, for all these men and women that pass through are driven on by the push of accumulated circumstances; they cannot stay, they must go, their necks are in the slave’s ring, they are beaten like seaweed against the solid walls of fact. In ancient times, Xerxes, the king of kings, looking down upon his myriads, wept to think that in a hundred years not one of them would be left. Where will be these millions of to-day in a hundred years? But, further than that, let us ask, where then will be the sum and outcome of their labour? If they wither away like summer grass, will not at least a result be left which those of a hundred years hence may be the better for? No, not one jot! There will not be any sum or outcome or result of this ceaseless labour and movement; it vanishes in the moment that it is done, and in a hundred years nothing will be there, for nothing is there now. There will be no more sum or result that accumulates from the motion of a revolving cowl on a housetop. Nor do they receive any more sunshine during their lives, for they are unconscious of the sun.
I used to come and stand near the apex of the promontory of pavement which just out towards the pool of life; I still go there to ponder. Burning in the sky, the sun shone on me as when I rested in the narrow valley carved in prehistoric time. Burning in the sky, I can never forget the sun. The heat of summer is dry there as if the light carried an impalpable dust; dry, breathless heat that will not let the skin respire, but swathes up the dry fire in the blood. But beyond the heat and light, I felt the presence of the sun as I felt it in the solitary valley, the presence of the resistless forces of the universe; the sun burned in the sky as I stood and pondered. Is there any theory, philosophy, or creed, is there any system or culture, any formulated method able to meet and satisfy each separate item of this agitated pool of human life? By which they may be guided, by which hope, by which look forward? Not a mere illusion of the craving heart - something real, as real as the solid walls of fact against which, like drifted seaweed they are dashed; something to give each separate personality sunshine and a flower in its own existence now; something to shape this million-handed labour to an end and outcome that will leave more sunshine and more flowers to those who must succeed? Something real now, as I stand and the sun burns. Can any creed, philosophy, system, or culture endure the test and remain unmolten in this fierce focus of human life……..
Richard Jeffries, The Story of My Heart (Duckworth & Co., London, 1883)
A Dictionary of Fabulous Beasts
Among the oldest of mythological creatures, dragons appear in the traditions of virtually all peoples back to the beginning of time. Because of this widespread adoption the dragon appears in numerous forms, and local traditions have been created around any of them, crediting this tribe of monsters with many attributes. In their earliest form dragons were associated with the Great Mother, the water god and the warrior sun god; in these capacities they had the power to be both beneficent and destructive and were all-powerful creatures in the universe. Because of these qualities dragons assumed the roles take by Osiris and Set in Egyptian mythology.
The dragon’s form arose from this particular power of control over the waters of the earth and gave rise to many of the attributes singled out by different peoples as the whole myth developed. They were believed to live at the bottom of the sea, where they guarded vast treasure hoards, very frequently of pearls; rain clouds and thunder and lightning were believed to be the dragon’s breath, hence the fire-breathing monster. The significance of the dragon was its control over the destiny of mankind. As the myth developed in the western world dragons came to represent the chaos of original matter with the result that with man’s awakening conscience a struggle arose, and the created order constantly challenged the dragon’s power. This type of dragon was considered by many to be the intermediate stage between a demon and the Devil and as such came into Christian belief. However, in the Eastern world the dragon adopted a rather different significance; he was essentially benevolent, a son of heaven, and controlled the watery elements of the universe. These dragons were companions of kings, and particularly guarded royal treasures...
The dragon is the enemy of the sun and the moon both in Eastern and Western mythology, and is believed to be responsible for eclipses. These occur when the dragon is attempting to swallow either of the heavenly bodies; which accounts for the dragon’s appearance in primitive astronomy. In Armenian traditions, however, the fire and lightning god had powers to stay the dragon’s control of the heavens... A quite general belief was the dragon’s association with death. A dead man was thought to become a dragon, while dragons were believed to be the guardians of treasures in burial chambers (In Norse myth, one of the sons of Hreidmar, Fafnir, who with his brother slew his father out of greed for his golden treasure, turned himself into a dragon and lay on the gold, only to be slain by the hero Sigurd (Wagner’s Siegfried). Anglo-Saxon burial mounds which held treasure became known as the ‘Hills of the Dragon’. Dragon’s teeth planted, would grow into an army of men, a strange association with reincarnation; In the Greek legend of Cadmus his army was decimated by a serpent; he slew the monster and on Athene’s orders planted the teeth, whereupon a host of armed men, the Sparti, sprang up...
Because the dragon was the natural enemy of man, his death became the ultimate goal; consequently there are innumerable battles between gods and dragons, saints and dragons, and , in the medieval world, knights and dragons. The dragon eventually became associated with chivalry and romance, and tales of knights’ feats in emulating St George and gaining a fair lady abound. It became a great honour to slay a dragon, and until this feat was achieved a knight could not be considered of the first rank: indeed, dragons almost seem to exist simply so that a hero can kill them…
In Egyption mythology there is the conflict between Horus and Typhon, in Babylonia the Chaldean Tiamat was overcome by Marduk, in Greek legends the dragon fought on the side of the Titans and attacked Athene, who flung him into the heavens, where he became a constellation around the Pole Star; Hercules encountered and killed the dragon Ladon while fulfilling his eleventh labour. In Scandinavian literature Beowulf was slain by a dragon.
The number of saints who encountered dragons is endless, St George being the most famous. St George reputedly had three marks on his body, one being a dragon on his chest. After successful battles against the Saracens he went to Lybia where a dragon was living in a lake near the town of Sylene. This dragon demanded to be fed daily with a virgin. When St George arrived the king’s daughter Sabra was to be sacrificed; he gallantly offered to fight the dragon, wounded it, and attached it to the maiden’s girdle who led it to the city to receive its dues from citizens. The exact reason for St George being adopted as the patron saint of England is obscure. Other saints who encountered dragons include St Keyne, St Guthlas and St Martha. This act in Christian terms symbolised the triumph of Christ over evil. The symbolism associated with the dragon appealed particularly to the medieval world... In medieval alchemy the dragon was the symbol of mercury and subsequently came to be used as the alchemist’s sign...
By Richard Barber and Anne Riches – Macmillan 1971
Tuesday, 15 January 2008
Hay Tor 2007
God’s Spirit Thrills the Conscious Stone
All material things are but the sacraments of God
This universe, this welkin now,
These myriad stars and Symbols bright
Hawker was but a seer of sacramental visions.
“God’s spirit thrills the conscious stone”.
Beliefs in spirits of leaf and stone
Abounded all around him there
The Cornish soil it fed his soul
Hawker was but a seer of sacramental visions.
“God’s spirit thrills the conscious stone”.
To those who laughed and scorned his Way
He uttered his creed and did not sway
Hes lightened our path with his spiritual song
Hawker was but a seer of sacramental visions.
“God’s spirit thrills the conscious stone”.
Through throats where many rivers meet, the curlews cry,
Under the conceiving moon, on the high chalk hill,
And there this night I walk in the white giant’s thigh
Where the barren as boulders women lie longing still
To labour and love though they lay down long ago.
Through throats where many rivers meet, the women pray,
Pleading in the waded bay for the seed to flow
Though the names on their weed grown stones are rained away,
And alone in the night’s eternal, curving act
They yearn with tongues of curlews for the unconceived
And the immemorial sons of the cudgelling, hacked
Hill. Who once in gooseskin winter loved all ice leaved
In the courters’ lanes, or twined in the ox roasting sun
In the wains tonned so high that the wisps of the hay
Clung to the pitching clouds, or gay with anyone
Young as they in the after milking moonlight lay
Under the lighted shapes of faith and their moonshade
Petticoats galed high, or shy with the rough riding boys,
Now clasp me to their grains in the gigantic glade,
Who once, green countries since, were a hedgerow of joys.
Time by, their dust was flesh the swineherd rooted sly,
Flared in the reek of the wiving sty with the rush
Light of his thighs, spreadeagle to the dunghill sky,
Or with their orchard man in the core of the sun’s bush
Rough as cows’ tongues and thrashed with brambles their buttermilk
Manes, under his quenchless summer barbed gold to the bone,
Or rippling soft in the spinney moon as the silk
And ducked and draked white lake that harps to a hail stone.
Who once were a bloom of wayside brides in the hawed house
And heard the lewd, wooed field flow to the coming frost,
The scurrying, furred small friars squeal, in the dowse
Of day, in the thistle aisles, till the white owl crossed
Their breast, the vaulting does roister, the horned bucks climb
Quick in the wood at love, where a torch of foxes foams,
All birds and beasts of the linked night uproar and chime
And the mole snout blunt under his pilgrimage of domes,
Or, butter fat goosegirls, bounced in a gambo bed,
Their breasts full of honey, under their gander king
Trounced by his wings in the hissing shippen, long dead
And gone that barley dark where their clogs danced in the spring,
And their firefly hairpins flew, and the ricks ran round –
(But nothing bore, no mouthing babe to the veined hives
Hugged, and barren and bare on Mother Goose’s ground
They with the simple Jacks were a boulder of wives) –
The dust of their kettles and clocks swings to and fro
Where the hay rides now or the bracken kitchens rust
As the arc of the billhooks that flashed the hedges low
And cut the bird’s boughs that the minstrel sap ran red.
They from houses where the harvest kneels, hold me hard,
Who heard the tall bell sail down the Sundays of the dead
And the rain wring out its tongues on the faded yard,
Teach me the love that is evergreen after the fall leaved
Grave, after Beloved on the grass gulfed cross is scrubbed
Off by the sun and Daughters no longer grieved
Save by their long desirers in the fox cubbed
Streets or hungering in the crumbled wood: to these
Hale dead and deathless do the women of the hill
Love forever meridian through the courters’ trees
And the daughters of darkness flame like Fawkes fires still.
“We live the life of plants, the life of animals, the life of men, and at last the life of spirits.” Sir Thomas Browne
On some day of late January, when the honey-coloured west is full of soft grey cloud, when one lone minstrel thrush is chanting to the dying light, what is the thrill that shakes us? It is not only that the delicate traceries of silver birches are tenderly dark on the illumined sky, that a star springs out of it like darting quicksilver, that the music of tone and tint has echoed last April’s song. It is something deeper than these. It is the sudden sense – keen and startling – of oneness with all beauty, seen and unseen. This sense is so misted over that it only comes clearly at such times. When it does come, we are in complete communion with the universal life. The winds are our playfellows; Sirius is our fellow-traveller; we are swept up into the wild heart of the wild. Then we know that we are not merely built up physically out of flower, feather and light, but are one with them in every fibre of our being. Then only do we have our full share in the passion of life that fills all nature; then only do we possess perfect vitality. Then we are caught into the primal beauty of earth, and life flows in upon us like an eagre. Life – the unknown quantity, the guarded secret – circles from an infinite ocean through all created things, and turns again to the ocean. This miracle that we eternally question and desire and adore dwells in the comet, in the heart of a bird, and the flying dust of pollen. It glows upon us from the blazing sun and from a little bush of broom, unveiled and yet mysterious, guarded only by its own light – more impenetrable than darkness.
The power of this life, if men will open their hearts to it, will heal them, will create them anew, physically and spiritually. Here is the gospel of earth, ringing with hope, like May mornings with bird song, fresh and healthy as fields of young grain. But those who would be healed must absorb it not only into their bodies in daily food and warmth but into their minds, because its spiritual power is more intense. It is not reasonable to suppose that an essence so divine and mysterious as life can be confined to material things; therefore, if our bodies need to be in touch with it so do our minds. The joy of a spring day revives a man’s spirit, reacting healthily on the bone and the blood, just as the wholesome juices of plants cleanse the body, reacting on the mind. Let us join in the abundant sacrament – for our bodies the crushed gold of harvest and ripe vine-clusters, for our souls the purple fruit of evening with its innumerable seed of stars.
We need no great gifts – the most ignorant of us can draw deep breaths of inspiration from the soil. The way is through love of beauty and reality, and through absorbed preoccupation with those signs of divinity that are like faint, miraculous footprints across the world. We need no passports in the freemasonry of earth as we do in the company of men; the only indispensable gifts are a humble mind and a receptive heart. We must go softly if we desire the butterfly’s confidence; we must walk humbly if we dare to ask for an interpretation of this dream of God.
No accident of environment or circumstance need cut us off from Nature. Her spirit stirs the flowers in a town window-box, looks up from the eyes of a dog, sounds in the chirp of grimy city sparrows. From an observation hive in a London flat the bee passes out with the same dumb and unfathomable instinct that drove her from her home on Hybla of old. We may pry into her daily life, but her innermost secrets are as inviolable and as fascinating to us as they were to Virgil, watching from the beech-tree shade.
It does not matter how shut in we are. Opportunity for wide experience is of small account in this as in other things; it is depth that brings understanding and life. Dawn, seen through a sick woman’s window, however narrow, pulses with the same fresh wonder as it does over the whole width of the sea. A branch of flushed wild-apple brings the same joy as the mauve trumpet-flower of the tropics. One violet is as sweet as an acre of them. And it often happens – as if by a kindly law of compensation – that those who have only one violet find the way through its narrow purple gate into the land of God, while many who walk over dewy carpets of them do not so much as know that there is a land or a way.
The primal instincts can seldom be so dead that no pleasure or kinship wakens at the thronging of these vivid colours and mysterious sounds. Here is a kingdom of wonder and of secrecy into which we can step at will, where dwell nations whose very language is forever unknown to us, whose laws are not our laws, yet with whom we have a bond, because we are another expression of the life that created them. Here we find beauty that takes away the breath, romance that tingles to the finger-tips. We think that there is some deep meaning in it all, if we could only find it; sometimes we catch an echo of it – in a plover’s cry, in the silence before a storm. So we listen, hearing a faint call from afar. It is this sense of mystery – unfading, because the veil is never lifted – that gives glory to the countryside, tenderness to atmosphere. It is this that sends one man to the wilds, another to dig a garden; that sings in a musician’s brain; that inspires the pagan to build an altar and the child to make a cowslip-ball. For in each of us is implanted the triune capacity for loving this fellow and nature and the Creator of them. These loves may be latent, but they are there; and unless they are all developed we cannot reach perfect manhood or womanhood. For the complete character is that which is in communion with most sides of life – which sees, hears, and feels most – which has for its fellows the sympathy of understanding, for nature the love that is without entire comprehension, and for the mystery beyond them the inexhaustible desire which surely prophesies fulfillment somewhere.
Earth is not only the mother of the young, the strong, the magnificent, whose tried muscles and long-limbed grace are the embodiment of her physical life, in whose eager glance burns the vitality of her spirit: she is also the pitiful mother of those who have lost all; she will sing lullabies to them instead of battle-songs; she will pour her life into them through long blue days and silver nights; she will give back the mirth and beauty that have slipped through their fingers. When participation in man’s keen life is denied, it is not strange if laughter dies. In the sirocco of pain it is not surprising if joy and faith are carried away. So many sit by the wayside begging, unconscious that the great Giver is continually passing down the highways and hedges of nature, where each weed is wonderful. So many are blind and hopeless, yet they have only to desire vision, and they will see that through His coming the thickets are quickened into leaf and touched with glory. Out in this world the spirit that was so desolate, lost in the strange atmosphere of physical inferiority, may once more feel the zest that he thought was gone forever. And this zest is health: sweeping into the mind and into those recesses of being beyond the conscious self, it overflows into the body. Very often this great rush of joy, this drinking of the freshets of the divine, brings back perfect health. Even in diseases that are at present called incurable, and that are purely physical, no one will deny the immense alleviation resulting from this new life. It is possible that, as the spiritual ties between man and nature grow stronger, all disease may vanish before the vitality that will stream into us so swiftly, so easily, because it will not be confined to one channel. A man who holds direct intercourse with the cosmic life through his heart and mind knows a glad comeradeship with cloud and tree; there dwells with him a consciousness of surrounding splendour – of swift currents, marvels underfoot and overhead; he has a purpose in waking each morning, a reason for existing – he clings to the beauty of earth as to a garment, and he feels that the wearer of the garment is God.
Beauty and Joy and Laughter are necessities of our being, and nature brims with them. There are some things that always bring joy – a ripple of song in winter, the blue flash of a kingfisher down-stream, a subtle scent that startles and waylays. The coming of spring brings it – the first crocus pricking up, dawn a moment earlier day by day, the mist of green on honeysuckle hedges in February, the early arabis, spicily warm, with the bees’ hum about it. The flawless days of May bring it – when big white clouds sail leisurely over the sky, when the ‘burning bush’ is in the height of its beauty, and white lilac is out, and purple lilac is breaking from the bud, and chestnut spires are lengthening, and the hawthorn will not be long. Out in the fresh, green world, where thrushes sing so madly, the sweets of the morning are waiting to be gathered – more than enough for all, low at our feet, higher than we can reach, wide enough even for the traveling soul. Joy rushes in with the rain-washed air, when you fling the window wide to the dawn and lean out into the clear purity before the light, listening to the early ‘chuck-chuck’ of the blackbird, watching the pulse of colour beat higher in the east. Joy is your talisman, when you slip out from the sleeping house, down wet and gleaming paths into the fields, where dense canopies of cobwebs are lightly swung from blade to blade of grass. Then the air is full of wings; birds fly in and out of the trees, scattering showers of raindrops as they dash from a leafy chestnut or disappear among the inner fastnesses of a fir. Pinions of dark and pinions of day share the sky, and over all are the brooding wings of unknown presences. The east burns; the hearts of the birds flame into music; the wild singing rises in a swelling rhythm until, as the first long line of light creeps across the meadows, the surging chorus seems to shake the treetops.
Laughter need not be lost to those that are cut off from their fellows. The little creatures of earth are the court jesters of all that dwell in the hall of sorrow. And although more insight and love are needed to enjoy their subtle humour than to enjoy our own, we have an ample reward of unfailing and spontaneous laughter. As vicarious grief is the keenest of all, so is vicarious laughter.
One flower of germander speedwell may be the magic robe that clothes us with the beauty of earth. As the maiden found her bridal garment in the fairy nut, so we may find in the folded speedwell-bud glimmering raiment to cover our homespun. It has the same strength of structure, wonder of tint and mystery of shadow as all natural things. Awakened by its minute perfection, the mind travels softly away through chequered woods, over the swinging sea, to mountains gleaming like a medieval paradise, forests of sumach, lakes of pink and blue lilies. Returning as from a trance, weary with splendour, it realizes that nature’s beauty can never be perfectly grasped. Yet, since in essence it is the same wherever a blade of grass appears or a bird’s shadow passes over; since the fact of seeing it, in whatever degree, is the precious thing – let us go out along the lovely ways that lead from our doors into the heart of enchantment. Ceasing for a time to question and strive, let us dare to be merely receptive – stepping lightly over the dewy meadows, brushing no blue dust from the butterfly’s wing. Then, if life is suddenly simplified by the removal of all that we hold most dear, we shall know the way to other things, not less precious. We shall know of long, green vistas, carpeted with speedwell, ascending to a place of comfort, and the blue butterfly will lead us into peace.
These three – Joy, Laughter, and Beauty – are the broadest river-ways down which may flow the essential life which is health and youth – beyond thought, beyond time, a sea that fills eternity – yet nearer than the air we breathe, immanent in the humblest creature, making material things transparent as a beech-leaf in the sun. And because those who most need its influx have only the least of earth’s graces to watch, this book is concerned with muted skies, minute miracles, songs of the night, and the proud humility of the germ that holds in its littleness the Lord of Immortality.
Mary Webb: The Collected Works of Mary Webb, Jonathan Cape (1929)
Is there a spiritual geography? Are there certain places upon the earth, which are more or less, attuned to certain modes of consciousness? And if so, do such qualities belong to the earth itself, to certain qualities of light, or sound, or scent, and elemental spirits who inhabit such places, or kinds of place? Or do people of a certain cast of mind import to the land their own qualities?
Kathleen Raine, The Lions Mouth (1908 – 2003)
I claim that human mind or human society is not divided into watertight compartments, called social, political, religious. I do not believe that the spiritual law works in a field of its own. On the contrary, it expresses itself only through the ordinary activities of life. It thus affects the economic, the social, and the political fields.
Mahatma Gandhi (1869 – 1948)
In the mustardseed sun, by full tilt river and switchback sea where the cormorants scud, in his house on stilts high among beaks and palavers of birds this sandgrain day in the bent bay’s grave he celebrates and spurns his driftwood thirty-fifth wind turned age; herons spire and spear.
Under and around him go flounders, gulls, on their cold, dying trails, doing what they are told, curlews aloud in the congered waves work at their ways to death. And the rhymer in the long tongued room, who tolls his birthday bell. Toils towards the ambush of his wounds; herons, steeple stemmed, bless.
In the thistledown fall, he sings towards anguish; finches fly in the claw tracks of hawks on a seizing sky; small fishes glide through wynds and shells of drowned ship towns to pastures of otters. He in his slant, racking house and the hewn coils of his trade perceives herons walk in their shroud.
The livelong river’s robe of minnows wreathing around their prayer; and far at sea he knows, who slaves to his crouched, eternal end under a serpent cloud, dolphins dive in their turnturtle dust, the rippled seals streak down to kill and their own tide daubing blood slides good in the sleek mouth.
In cavernous, swung wave’s silence, wept white angelus knells. Thirty-five bells sing struck on skull and scar where his loves lie wrecked, steered by the falling stars. And tomorrow weeps in a blind cage terror will rage apart before chains break to a hammer flame and love unbolts the dark
And freely he goes lost in the unknown, famous light of great and fabulous, dear God. Dark is a way and light is a place, heaven that never was nor will be ever is always true, and, in that brambled void, plenty as blackberries in the woods the dead grow for His joy.
There he might wander bare with the spirits of the horseshoe bay or the stars’ seashore dead, marrow of eagles, the roots of whales and wishbones of wild geese, with blessed, unborn God and His Ghost, and every soul His priest, gulled and chanter in young Heaven’s fold be at cloud quaking peace.
But dark is a long way. He, on the earth of the night, alone with all the living, prays, who knows the rocketing wind will blow the bones out of the hills, and the scythed boulders bleed, and the last rage shattered waters kick masts and fishes to the still quick stars, faithlessly unto Him
Who is the light of old and air shaped Heaven where souls grow wild as horses in the foam; oh, let me midlife mourn by the shrined and druid herons’ vows the voyage to ruin I must run, dawn ships clouted aground, yet, though I cry with tumbledown tongue, count my blessing aloud:
Four elements and five senses, and man a spirit in love tangling through this spun slime to his nimbus bell cool kingdom come and the lost, moonshine domes, and the sea that hides his secret selves deep in its black, base bones, lulling of spheres in the seashell flesh, and this last blessing most,
That the closer I move to death, one man through his sundered hulks, the louder the sun blooms and the tusked, ramshackling sea exults; and every wave of the way and gale I tackle, the whole world then with more triumphant faith than ever was since the world was said spins its morning of praise.
I hear the bouncing hills grow larked and greener at berry brown fall and the dew larks sing taller this thunderclap spring, and how more spanned with angels ride the mansouled fiery islands! Oh, holier then their eyes, and my shining men no more alone as I sail out to die.
“Iain Sinclair has charted the multidimensional landscape of London for the last twenty five years. He is a ‘psycho geologist’ of the ancient sites of the capital, imbued with mythology both archaic and modern. Ley lines merge with subterranean rivers, the shadows of the gothic churches mingle with the blood of murderers, phantoms and pulp fiction. The mysteries of Britain re-emerge not only in obvious sites such as Greenwich or Parliament Hill, but in such places as second-hand shops, a derelict synagogue, forgotten alley-ways, lost sites to ancient gods, glimpsed between the steel and glass walls of the City. Among the flotsam and jetsam of the River Thames, sacred artefacts are salvaged. Sinclair’s excursions into London have him encounter a diverse array of eccentric characters, some fictional, others historical, many still living. In the footsteps of William Blake and Arthur Machen he manages to excavate the mystical folklore of a bewildering city. In Lud Heat and Suicide Bridge (1975/79) he writes:
“Moving now on an eastern arc are the churches of Nicholas Hawksmoor soon invade the consciousness, the charting instinct. Eight churches give us the enclosure, the shape of fear, built for early century optimism, erected over a fen of undisclosed horrors, white stones laid upon the mud and dust. In this air certain hungers were activated that have yet to be pacified; no turning back, as Yeats claims: the stones once set up traffic with the enemy.
A triangle is formed between Christ Church, St. George in the East and St. Anne, Limehouse. These are centres of power for those territories; sentinel, sphinx-form, slack dynamos abandoned as the culture they supported goes into retreat. The power remains latent, the frustration mounts on a current of animal magnetism, and victims are still claimed.
St George, Bloomsbury, and St. Alfege, Greenwich, make up the major pentacle star.. The five card is reversed, beggars in snow pass under the lit church window; the judgment is disorder, chaos, ruin, discord, profligacy. These churches guard or mark, rest upon, two major sources of occult power: the British Museum and Greenwich Observatory. The locked cellar of words, the labyrinth of all recorded knowledge, the repository of stolen fires and symbols, excavated god-forms - and measurement, star knowledge, times of calculations, Maze Hill, the bank of light that faces the Isle of Dogs,. So many spectres operte along these fringes; Yeats in the British Museum, at the time of the Ripper murders, reseraching into Blake (Blake and Newton, polar opposites). Milton: his early-morning walks over the ground where St George was to be built. The only Hawksmoor church tht could not be properly orientated.”
As a one-time second-hand bookseller and publisher, Iain Sinclair has mined the rich terrain and substrata of literary and historical London. his writings are crammed with extraoridnary characters worthy of Conrad and de Quincey. Frm the Kray twins in the East End, to Lord Archer aloft his penthouse overlooking Millbank, to the urban shaman’s exploration of inner worlds in the Ball’s Pond Road or Buddhist bovver-boys in Bethnal Green, the spirit of London tears through the mundane appearances of everyday life. In 1997 he collaborated with artist Rachel Lichtenstein in her investigations into the mystery of the vanished David Rodinsky, who had been lodging in the attic of a a synagogue within the shadow of Hawksmoor’s Christ Church in Spitalfields.
With the advent of the Millennium, Sinclair explored the surrealist terrain of the mudflats near Greenwich where the silver dome reflects the grey skies. The building evokes Fifties science fiction comic strips, gothic horrors, marvellously sinister food for the Neo-Romantic imagination.
“As I crunch over the shingle beneath Folly Wall on the eastern shore of the Isle of Dogs at first light on an early summer morning, the Dome shines across the leaden water like a brilliant shell. This is a setting that deserves to be recognised as one of J G Ballard’s terminal beaches: the last council-operated high-rise block behind me and an unscripted future ahead, the yellow-spiked Teflon tent like a genetically modified mollusc.”
Sinclair’s fascination with London has created new psychogeographsial dimensions on the map. The A-Z seems to take on occult significance with the realignment of energies connecting the dark churches of Hawksmoor, centres of occult power, with seemingly mundane, but surprisingly esoteric street markets, no-go estates, black dogs, esoteric forces at work in an ever changing city.
In Asylum - or the Final Commission, a documentary for Channel 4, in a joint venture with film-maker Chris Petit, Sinclair is found walking along the Great Green Way. This lost track stretches from West London via Heathrow, making its way through a strange hinterland of secret dells, thick with bracken, barbed briars, bushes abundant with blackberries, poison ivy, red capped mushrooms, to the River Thames at Staines. Marina Warner warns us of the dangers of discovering fairy paths or secret routes. They can be paths of liberation or paths of ensnarement. The documentary is on the edge of disintegration, past and present fusing, memories exploding like time bombs. Science fiction writer Michael Moorcock appears disguised as a backwoods renegade in darkest Texas, the Beat poet Ed Dorn cries at the atrocities inflicted by the USA on Iran and Yugoslavia. Not easy watching, Asylum is rich with secret history. It is an accurate description of writers and artists exploring another world beyond the subscribed culture.”
Peter Woodcock, This Enchanted Isle: The Neo-Romantic Vision from William Blake to the New Visionaries (Gothic Image, Glastonbury, 2000), p.87
Looking towards Crowcombe
“Friendship goes dancing round the world proclaiming to us all to awake to the praises of a happy life.”
… At last I was on the summit and looking with corporeal eye at this prospect, which on so many different occasions, in places so far from Crowcombe, had been present to the inward vision of my mind. Under the bright cold sky of that April evening I could see the hills in all their glory, fold upon fold, combed below combe, falling ways ot the western ocean. On the farthest horizon it was possible to make out the mountains of Wales, while in the mid-distance, set in the silver sea of the Bristol Channel, was the island of Steep Holmes standing b lack against the water, black against the parrot-green nursery meadows that slope down to the very shore.
Always as children we had longed to see a red deer. In vain we had searched for one, diligently exploring each grove of stunted oak trees, pushing our way through every patch of bracken that seemed dense or secluded. We had followed the mountain streams from one rocky basin to another, but on no single occasion had we disturbed hind or stag. Now after all these years my luck had changed. For as I walked through the heather stalks blackened with fire I suddenly became aware that two of these animals had risen not fifty yards away. They were so large that almost I could imagine myself back in the highlands of Africa looking at waterbuck. For a moment they remained motionless, gazing at me with the concentrated attention characteristic of wild life suddenly disturbed by man, as though even in these latter days the appearance of our kind, erect and biped, still had something startling about it, something that demanded a more exact ocular investigation than an ordinary object in nature. Then in an instant they were away over the next ridge, their antlers clear-cut against the sky, moving with a succession of absolutely silent leaps, as animals in a dream, as beasts on a tapestry come miraculously to life.
I have often noticed that any particularly favoured sight of Nature’s more perfect disciplines is apt to remove for a certain time those limitations of perception that use and wont so quickly impose upon us. Without warning, without reason, we find ourselves suddenly able to experience emotions roaming and marginal, to see life with the eye of Merlin. This happened to me now as I rested on a heap of dry heather half-way down the lane, at the very spot where as a boy I had lost my silver birthday watch among the whortleberries.
Night was already falling. Never had I seen the panet Venus more beautiful, never had I seen her shine with a light more firm. As I looked at her in her isolated loveliness, the heels of my boots pressing into the soft mould of the familiar earth, and with my senses enmeshed in mystery, suddenly there was a sound of church bells upon the twilight air. It was at that moment as if this Christian sound coming up from the village below belonged really and truly to another world, a world without sorrow or death, a world no longer rude, a world where love was as gentle as mill-stream flowers and as eternal as light. Up through the naked beech tree branches came the sound as from a great distance, the fitful cadence of its tintinnabulation borne, now soft, now loud, upon the restless winds of the wood.
All Christmas nights were in the sound and all New Year Eves. It tolled for the passing of the souls of all men, of all women; it chimed for the wedding processions of true lovers who for centuries have slept dreamless far under the roots of the red-berried yew trees. Now it sounded dolorous as the stroke of a harbour bell giving warning of danger in the dusk of an autumn evening; now happy as a chime from the turret of a chapel, when cuckoo-flowers and kingcups are out in the water meadows, and the prince and princess at play in their garden bower.
It was as though these bell clappers were truly ancient medieval tongues telling of days out of the past; telling of antique cradles of the enchanted web of flaxen sheets grey with age; telling of churchyards still prosperous and emerald bright, but where the strife of this naughty world has been for ever cancelled, and where the knight and his lady have been lying without lust for a period without computation, and where the rook boy elbows the goose girl and the hen wife the swineherd with the ugly brown teeth. It was the music out of the past. It told of what might have been and never has been; a music of the very borderland of the wilful senses; a music of a paradise serene and glad, where impassioned phantoms wander free, their minds, their bodies, at peace at last…
Earth Memories – Llewelyn Powys
John Lane The Bodley Head Ltd 1934
Redcliffe Press Ltd 1983. Page 31.
Dedicated to Gerald Brenan
In these days, when men of science declare that the physical laws governing the universe are not as fixed as was supposed, our belief that true religion would consist in the contemplation of the poetry of existence is more than ever justified. With the utmost alacrity orthodox theologians have appropriated for their own superstitious turn these opportune gaps in the scientific summary. With this arrant reasoning in mind, we need no longer be concerned to defend traditional imaginings; for surely the tree of life in our sense-apprehended world does draw its sap form deep-set Ygdrasil roots.
In what then does our natural faith consist? In a heightened awareness of the stream of earth-life as it moves past in our moment of space-time. It is a faith that obstinately repudiates all dogmas, and believes that consciousness is its own justification. This spontaneous persuasion rests upon a sensitive sense of earth-existence as it is revealed to each generation from the day of birth to the day of death. Early man held to this simple metaphysic when he stood in speechless awe before each unexpected manifestation of the natural world, before the glittering transformation of geometric frost marks, before the thunder of the heavens. Modern man holds to it whenever with a free mind he realises the utter isolation of his soul.
In such a state the most fanciful legends have for him a significant message. Consider, for example, the ancient rumour of the unicorn. It is of no consequence to him whether the fabulous creature ever “really and truly” lived. There may never have been unicorns “milk-white all over except nose, mouth, nostrils”; o, as Sir Thomas Browne made bold to suggest, there may have been “many kinds thereof.” It does not matter. To such an earth-born one it is sufficient that so strange, so lovely a conception should ever have got into man’s head at all, should have got into it and continued to bewilder it with delight for so many succeeding centuries. His preoccupation is always with this lyrical, with this ballad quality that celebrates human history, this romance that, as it were, with the sound of flutes, attends every delusion that has ever been entertained by a human being born upon this lost earth, upon this earth washed by salt seas, adorned with grasses, ornamented with fluttering birds. It suffices for such a worshipper that our churchyards are sown thick with the skulls of men who believed in the existence of the unicorn.
It has been suggested that the tale owed its origin, and its power over men’s imaginations, to a half-conscious, sublimated, ithyphallic association; and this assumption would seem to explain what is taught about the intimate comportment of the stately, aristocratic animal. The legend of the unicorn can be taken as an almost perfect example for illustrating the irrelevance of everyday facts, of everyday truths, to anyone whose deepest experience rests upon the spirit rather than upon the letter. It would be impossible to over-treasure this ancient hearsay as an imaginative contribution to the wild history of man.
The religion of poetry rests to-day, as it did in the time of Homer, on an impassioned appreciation of appearances. It is an austere religion that demands a certain detachment, a certain selfless dedication. When once, however, we have become initiates, how rich is our reward! Never again, not for a single moment, can we become submerged by the importunities of unillumined reality; the least favourable daily incident finding a place in our particular poetic perspective, in this inspired perspective that never loses sight of our lot upon this planet, a planet dancing in sunlit space, inhabited by animals grown wise; by a breed of dreamers malign and magnanimous, sturdily camped in their generations upon a corn-bearing tilth, and covetous of an unending spirit life.
The ancient lore that surrounds the unicorn story is redolent of the fairy-like invention of earth’s phantom populations. It is no clodhopper record. This beast “with armour on its brow” is conceived proudly enough. He is a high-spirited animal that loves solitude and frequents undisturbed waste lands. God Almighty, exulting over His handiwork, selects the unicorn, the re’em, to flout Job with. “Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib?… Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band in the furrow? Or will be harrow the valleys after thee?” Always the unicorn is represented as a mettlesome creature, a quadruped of hot humours, only to be captured, so the ancients delivered, through its “property” of sexual susceptibility. If a true virgin sat alone in a flowery mead, then this high beast would come out of the forest to lay its beautiful blanche head upon her lap, and while it remained thus, besotted by the girl’s caresses, the hunters would be able to approach it, to catch it, to kill it. It was out of this older story that the idea of the Holy Hunt arose, with Jesus symbolised by the sacrificed unicorn.
Fancies upon fancies, imaginings upon imaginings, illusions upon illusions; and yet how charged, how penetrated beyond all expectations with the wonder, the miracle of our earth’s nursery rhyme. What a high victory is here for man’s mind. Think of him arising from his brutish estate of clubs and fist-flints, hairy, muscular, mud-begotten; and presently, in no time at all, passing on from one immovable flap ear to another immovable flap ear of his rude fellows this entranced, moon-impregnated story.
It is nothing to us whether such tales be false or true in the ordinary sense of those slippery words. It does not matter whether Christ lived or did not live. The important thing is that His personality, so simple to some, so complicated to others, so pathetic, so tragic, was ever projected out of man’s abused heart. These unicorn stories are illuminated scraps torn from God’s scroll – for what is truth? Nothing more sure than an inspired momentary glimpse of eternity vouchsafed to mortals between birth and dusty death.
Earth Memories – Llewelyn Powys
John Lane The Bodley Head Ltd 1934
Redcliffe Press Ltd 1983
Dedicated to Gerald Brenan
Monday, 14 January 2008
…“ Women are more earthly than men”... “The earth and this life are nearly good enough for them; not from them has there ever been much whining about their souls and immortality.” “There are more Marthas to be found than Marys.”
Feminine Influence on the Poets – Edward Thomas
From: The Life and Letters of Edward Thomas
By John Moore, published by William Heinemann 1939
from:The Life and Letters of Edward Thomas
...The garden gave him much more pleasure …. The weeds which always flourish in virgin soil challenged him to plant friut-trees and prepare a vegetable-plot. With Helen’s help he made a wild thicket which they hoped would tempt the birds to nest there; he stole seedlings of beech and maple and birch, and planted them haphazard, with traveller’s joy and Helen’s favourite white bryony among them; and for the borders he begged cuttings of bergamot and rosemary* … and put them beside thyme and sage and lavender, all the sweet herbs in which he delighted…
*After the War cuttings from this very rosemary were taken to France and planted on his grave.
By John Moore, published by William Heinemann 1939.
Saturday, 5 January 2008
Striking down into the valley, amidst the winter silence,
Amidst high thoughts and high hopes, we speed our way
With freshened our steps, wending and bending,
To find the adventures of the day.
Sarre Penn, little stream looping through our days,
Looping through your sands and clays,
Making audible your motion with little glockenspiel notes.
You are heading towards the Swale and the bigger seas.
On we go, passed the horse field and more pools,
To Reculver; and the jays call us on, and the jays call us on.
They call us on to the oxbow where the boys crow
And where the hornbeams glisten in the sun.
Over and across the Penn to the far side
And up to the brown of the trees beyond we go.
Frigid winds and topping hills are our specialty,
Snatches of the past wile away the time whilst field edges pass us by.
On and on we go, crossing roads, swifty gliding.
Striking out across fields, other walks remembered.
Beautiful green, Lincoln Green, lovely colours, splendid holly –
We ask for a sprig or two as we go towards the pines atop the hill.
Through and through we go, passing plantations and shrines,
And gates passed passing us on to the road.
And on to the plastic wonderland house
With the plastic wonderworld grass.
Peeping over the fence we get the gist - not for us this world.
We want natural browns and blues, brilliant tendrils to amaze,
And sharp sharks' teeth on stems along with dusky trees and other hues.
The wind whistles our tune and freezes our lips as we motion on
To a sacred grove just within the wood. A grove of a single tree.
The spindle, the sweetest tree displays pink tresses to the world.
We stop to gaze in awe. Veneration to the blushing bride,
Laced by pools of periwinkle around.
In and in we go tripping along the paths.
In and out we weave making towards the dancing hornbeam trees.
We rest and when replete venture on further to another place,
Passed the birch and move on to the roads beyond.
Wealthy Hoath is next to be reached,
With its tidy inhabitants, its neat hedges,
Its clean lanes and cosy church built of pudding stone and flint.
We take the left fork then the right, we go bending to the wind.
Tracks passing geese and willows, tracks passing fruitful trees
And monstrous trees, lanes passing gilded oaks.
The trees mark the way and we mark the time till at last we espy
The Gate! open for porter and for warmth on this fresh St Basil’s day.
This is a place of pleasantries, a place to linger maybe.
We are at this place, at this time; it fills our space and it is good.
But the low sun hangs noiselessly behind us as we reach for the coast
Hurrying on before the afternoon eventide is drawn in.
A dérive of sorts and the Sunday Sport is blowing in the wind
And glitter skirts are gathered in.
Antipathy is making us wonder on our way,
Anticipation is now taking us on our way.
Quickly Reculver is reached passed barking dogs and caravan parks.
The towers of St Mary's stand tall. Her towers so white and so bold
Shimmer to passing guillemots as the light begins to fall.
Not only a maritime beacon, a beacon to the human story too.
We arrive at last at this, our chosen El Dorado and rest against its strong walls.
We take the last of our remaining vittals and watch the people pass.
The cars drone, we become blind in the falling darkness; we stumble home.
This is a grand day.