It was a sultry summer day, not very hot, but humid. There was a decadent end of summer feel even though it was only towards the end of July. I decided that August would be a herald of autumn rather than a glorious finish to the season, and so it was necessary to make the best of it, dress light and step out with determination along the languid maze of lanes that thread the countryside to the west of the great spine of the Malverns. Beyond that tawny ridge to the east I knew there are motorways, cities and the hundred million distractions of modern life. But here, west of that sheltering spine, just silence apart from what Heaney so memorably called ‘the distant gargling of tractors’. On the verges the thresh of bleached grasses is soaked in dew, there is a sense of rot about to happen, but for now the air is damp but cool and the lanes are empty and inviting. The sky is a mix of clouds and clarity. Sometimes for half an hour it appears to be going to cloud up completely and looks ominous, but the next moment the vapours dissolve and the sky goddess is back in her glory…
The Castle Hill area of Cambridge is almost certainly the oldest continuously inhabited part of the city – it is here that the Roman fort was established in the first century CE. Perhaps this is why the whole area, which is still a tangle of streets and alleyways, once you leave the wide ring road that snakes through it, has a sense of strangeness and dislocation. You are very close to the hyper-busy tourist areas of the colleges and shops, but there is a sense of being threaded into the density of the past, the whole area has a slightly eerie quietly brooding atmosphere that clogs the arteries of one’s immediate concerns…. Continue reading “Castle Hill at dusk”
A walk in Cambridge on a razor bright February afternoon. The market square below is in shadow with warm slumberous lights beginning to glow from the various stalls. Long furtive shadows from bicycles and pedestrians on the streets. Even manhole covers seem scalded with an otherworldly radiance. Up above old bricks are etched with light as if they were made of some strange kind of opaque crystal. The sun melts mediaeval pinnacles into molten gold – everything is changed…. Continue reading “Cambridge on a winter afternoon”
A morning walk on the borders of Cambridgeshire and Essex, shimmering fine rain, heavy cloud and bursts of sun. A sultry, thickened end of summer day. The village of Great Chishill is marked on the OS map as being 479 feet above sea level, giving its fortunate residents expansive views over a land of sprawling cornfields and caucuses of dark woods clumped on the hill tops. To the north the land drops sharply away to the plains of central Cambridgeshire, to the south the more wooded, gently bounding lands of north Essex.
Next to the church the road drops away down to the plains, with cottages on each side, a little bit like Gold Hill, Shaftesbury:
Francesco Petrarca (July 20, 1304 – July 19, 1374), commonly written in English as Petrarch, was one of the earliest humanists. Petrarch’s rediscovery of Cicero‘s letters is often credited with initiating the 14th-century Renaissance. His love sonnets were admired and imitated throughout Europe during the Renaissance and became a model for lyrical poetry. They were all written to express his love for a mysterious highborn lady called Laura, who certainly never returned his affection and may not even have existed. Nevertheless his anguished sonnets to her set the standard for lyrical love poetry up until the present day. Not so well known and celebrated as Dante in the English-speaking lands, his story is fascinating and his emotions are as fresh now as they were hundreds of years ago. Here is my attempt to translate his first sonnet to Laura, in its original rhyming scheme.
All you who’ve heard in wandering scraps of rhyme
The sighs on which I fed my foolish heart
When in youth’s confusion I felt the dart
Of love – I was not then what I’ve become –
Who mark the reasoned sorrows that are found
Throughout my songs, of hope and fear bred,
I pray, if ever for love your heart has bled,
Then may your pity be with pardon crowned.
But now too well I see how my good name
Has been embroiled in long lived public scorn.
Myself I must convict of foolish schemes,
And the fruit of all my foolishness is shame
With deep repentance of the knowledge born
That life’s sweet joys are merely fleeting dreams.
Edward Thomas has been much celebrated in recent years for the short lived but vital output of his poetry before he headed for the Western front and into memory. The influence of his prose writing – nature writing and literary reviews has been downplayed. This is regrettable. Continue reading “Edward Thomas – master of prose”
I have this alchemical symbol on my wall so I can see it when I meditate. I must admit this is more inspiring to me than most Buddha images would be. I have no idea what it means but that is part of the attraction. I am reminded of that old romantic idea that landscapes are more meaningful when half hidden by mist, something about giving space for the imagination to play in the gap of the unknown.
Of course poetry is often like this. When reading Geoffrey Hill, for example, rarely do I fully apprehend a definite meaning, but each of his lines is wonderfully evocative and pregnant with possible meanings….
“To mourn is to mourn; the ancient words suffice, / Latin or English, worn channels for the rain / charged and electric….”
This poem, from Without Title, is called – ‘To John Constable: In Absentia’, but who knows what relationship it has with Constable’s life…. and who care – wonderful, weighted words about grief and the need for rituals of mourning…. the doctrines of, presumably, the Latin Mass, or the Anglican Book of Common Prayer are not the point, it is the way the sound of the words falls charged into the soul….