Castle Hill at dusk

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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”

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Cambridge on a winter afternoon

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”

Ascent! A walk to the highest point in Cambridgeshire

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:

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Continue reading “Ascent! A walk to the highest point in Cambridgeshire”

Petrarch, Sonnets in translation

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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.

Sonnet I

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.

 

The imaginative stimulus of ignorance….

What does it mean?
What does it mean

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….

Discipleship – an idea worth ressurecting?

The dictionary says that a disciple is ‘the follower of the doctrines of a teacher or school of thought’. But this doesn’t really convey the experiential flavour of that ancient institution. In days gone by, when you took up a trade or a course of study in guild, church or university, you were apprenticed to a master. You followed their teaching in craft, curriculum or philosophy closely. No doubt you were aware that as a human being they were far from perfect, but you knew that your future success in life depended on learning as much from the master as possible in a very broad sense. This aspect of education and human development is something we have largely lost in the modern world. In the Buddhist movement I am part of we are taking some steps to reinstate this ancient tradition, in ways that suit these times. I think we have a long way to go. Not everyone likes the idea. This may be because the second, religious, meaning of the word ‘a follower of Christ’ has been widely used by analogy in our times to apply to the often gullible devotees of eastern or new age gurus. This usage tends to imply a complete self surrender to the teacher on the part of the disciple. The result is that the more ‘secular’ meaning, of being a follower of someone’s teaching, which only implies a reasonable human respect for the teacher, has been drowned in the colourful, melodramatic history of religious and esoteric cults over the last hundred years or so. Think of the Golden Dawn, Madam Blavatsky, Rajneesh – all had their so called disciples – but how much did these followers really learn? Continue reading “Discipleship – an idea worth ressurecting?”