Swaledale in good weather seemed the best place to celebrate what might be called ‘the holiness of things’. Hopkins again:
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.
I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
In the lower part of the dale, before reaching Richmond, I camped at East Applegarth farm on a platform above the valley.
East Applegarth Farm
Applegarth, with a view
Of quiet superiority above
The working valley, dove
To the pigeon. It is gently concerned
With its own life, dogs trained and fed, sheep turned
For shearing, strangers few.
The journey there lingers
In my mind. A priory, peopled, used,
No ruin, dead stones fused
By conservation and instructive text.
The tower casts a magic glow, not vexed
By the mist’s clammy fingers.
To leave is to enter
The monastic world, up the dark damp paved route
Historic path to fruits
Both chaste and forbidden, I guess. The way
Winds through the village to farms where the day
Finds a still grey centre.
Curlew calling, a sound
That creates a holy cathedral space
From the world as I pace
My laden course. Bubbling, piping, they bring
Something sacred, arresting, as they sing
Above our muddy ground.
This is the prelude. Fanfare
To the raised sanctuary on the cliff
Where I can shed my pack and rest, legs stiff
With the effort of the lone pilgrimage.
A pastoral idyll above the rage
And roar of worldly care.
Here the limestone platform
Provides a practical context for prayer.
A simple chapel where
Goodwill and security sit. To read,
Lose oneself, smile, shelter from the cold winds, feed,
Take rest from strain and storm.
Edward Thomas of course creates magic out of a similar landscape to the one I was walking through:
RUNNING along a bank, a parapet
That saves from the precipitous wood below
The level road, there is a path. It serves
Children for looking down the long smooth steep,
Between the legs of beech and yew, to where
A fallen tree checks the sight: while men and women
Content themselves with the road and what they see
Over the bank, and what the children tell.
The path, winding like silver, trickles on,
Bordered and even invaded by thinnest moss
That tries to cover roots and crumbling chalk
With gold, olive, and emerald, but in vain.
The children wear it. They have flattened the bank
On top, and silvered it between the moss
With the current of their feet, year after year.
But the road is houseless, and leads not to school.
To see a child is rare there, and the eye
Has but the road, the wood that overhangs
And underyawns it, and the path that looks
As if it led on to some legendary
Or fancied place where men have wished to go
And stay; till, sudden, it ends where the wood ends.
Richmond felt like the first real town on the walk. It is dominated by the castle. I had a rest day here and met a friend who drove me to Rievaulx Abbey in spectacular sunshine. This was my reflection on a comparison between these historic sites:
Richmond and Rievaulx
Ruins, so picturesque, decorative
Playful memorials to what passed for
Ordinary life, unnoticed, restive
Existence. Underneath the romantic roar
Of our dreams of spiritual depth and brave
Heroics, the quiet magic of pain
Survived, and boredom delayed by a shave,
A swept floor or a song in the rain;
Of distress calmed by a human touch, and rooms
Given personal colour, smell and shape,
Of life lived as if gentle smiles killed tombs
And polite conversation, friendly jape,
Shy gestures of goodwill, could snatch meaning from a life of fear and discomfort.
Oh, for sure the dreams are wonderful too
And so the space between the stones, on lawns
Before the industrial castle walls,
I stroll to breathe in deep and convalesce.
But as I recollect the stones with true
Eyes, the figure wandering alone mourns,
And must escape the wilt into which he falls
Weakly, self -absorbed, clinging to life’s mess.
Although it seems the abbey’s holy place
Offers the troubled mind a healing balm,
The raging , spitting violent past
Of military clash, the greed and lust
Are needed to expel the hurts that crease
And distort what should be open and calm.
Love without hate is gutless and can’t last;
It is bread all doughy and without crust,
Childish, transient, a withdrawal. Jewels are formed by edge, sharp and taut.
Look behind the pretty sun-painted view
Of Rievaulx’s graceful arches and plainsong
Backdrop, sold in the gift shop. Look anew.
The seductive visions of peace are wrong,
Incomplete, dead. Life is now to be found
In the place where soldiers still come to drink
And shout crudely on more secular ground
At flinching passers by, where space to think
Has to squeeze through the crush of market stalls
And the anxious salesmen’s demands and calls.
Then on across a flat rural landscape. Edward Thomas again:
TALL nettles cover up, as they have done
These many springs, the rusty harrow, the plough
Long worn out, and the roller made of stone:
Only the elm butt tops the nettles now.
This corner of the farmyard I like most:
As well as any bloom upon a flower
I like the dust on the nettles, never lost
Except to prove the sweetness of a shower
Musee des Beaux Arts
W. H. Auden
About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
The path rises to the N Yorkshire moors and follows its north edge. The North Sea comes into view and Teeside sits in the distance. Poor old Middlesbrough – I’m sure those who live there don’t see it as a ‘dreadful martyrdom running its course’, but still Auden’s great poem came to mind.
On being 50
This was the day I became 50.
This was to be done alone.
Somehow, after a slow start
And the threat of rain, the tone
Was set by a fresh wind, heart
All day, showers passed by;
Teesside drenched and on the wild moors
To the south east, flashing high
Above exposed ground, downpours
My way seemed protected, charmed,
The threat of rain refreshed me
Shoulders and sinews unharmed
It seemed by the pack’s weight. Sea
This sea was no magic spell.
More industrial, working;
Journey’s aim through dale and fell
To life’s real sphere, there lurking,
But just today I could view
What must come from higher lands,
Disturbed by only a few
Paired walkers – apart, no hands
Cocooned from Teesside’s squalor,
Trade of pound and dollar,
I pass without elation
With pain disarmed by the drive
Of onward movement; distance
Lets a new world come alive
In the womb of my lone dance
More Edward Thomas:
Over the hills
Often and often it came back again
To mind, the day I passed the horizon ridge
To a new country, the path I had to find
By half-gaps that were stiles once in the hedge,
The pack of scarlet clouds running across
The harvest evening that seemed endless then
And after, and the inn where all were kind,
All were strangers. I did not know my loss
Till one day twelve months later suddenly
I leaned upon my spade and saw it all,
Though far beyond the sky-line. It became
Almost a habit through the year for me
To lean and see it and think to do the same
Again for two days and a night. Recall
Was vain: no more could the restless brook
Ever turn back and climb the waterfall
To the lake that rests and stirs not in its nook,
As in the hollow of the collar-bone
Under the mountain’s head of rush and stone
The Unknown Bird by Edward Thomas
Three lovely notes he whistled, too soft to be heard
If others sang; but others never sang
In the great beech-wood all that May and June.
No one saw him: I alone could hear him
Though many listened. Was it but four years
Ago? or five? He never came again.
Oftenest when I heard him I was alone,
Nor could I ever make another hear.
La-la-la! he called, seeming far-off—
As if a cock crowed past the edge of the world,
As if the bird or I were in a dream.
Yet that he travelled through the trees and sometimes
Neared me, was plain, though somehow distant still
He sounded. All the proof is—I told men
What I had heard.
I never knew a voice,
Man, beast, or bird, better than this. I told
The naturalists; but neither had they heard
Anything like the notes that did so haunt me,
I had them clear by heart and have them still.
Four years, or five, have made no difference. Then
As now that La-la-la! was bodiless sweet:
Sad more than joyful it was, if I must say
That it was one or other, but if sad
‘Twas sad only with joy too, too far off
For me to taste it. But I cannot tell
If truly never anything but fair
The days were when he sang, as now they seem.
This surely I know, that I who listened then,
Happy sometimes, sometimes suffering
A heavy body and a heavy heart,
Now straightway, if I think of it, become
Light as that bird wandering beyond my shore.
So I reached Robin Hoods Bay, in more lyrical mood.
I stand by the road. The sun has set
Dusk enfolds me and I strain to hear
The next car, scan the busy red shape
Of her arrival.
The walk’s an unfinished cadence yet.
It waits hanging on a held phrase, near
To completion in the evening’s drape
Of birdsong and quietness.
The end is not quite the beginning.
I am alone indeed, as before;
Job and family await unchanged
By my abstract wander.
I have not lost the sense of sinning
A feeling of being displaced or
Adrift in a world where I had ranged
In foolish certainty.
I have floated across the north of England
Carried by a momentum; at first
I was unsure of my presence, crushed
By every passing glance.
I walked hoping to find my own hand
Marking the landscape. Or to be nursed
By the earth on which I stride, pain hushed,
Alive to each instance.
Now at least I search for what’s to come
Looking steadily at each new car,
Knowing my arrival to be shared,
Enjoyed, held and welcomed.
On the verge of completion, the sum
Of my journey waits with me; though far
From healing, I am at least less scared,
Nourished for a fresh start.
I stand by the road. The sun has set.
Dusk enfolds me and I strain to hear
The next car, scan the busy red shape
Of her arrival.