The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes. MARCEL PROUST

Friday, 25 April 2014

The Pilgrim's Way (4): Ain't Talkin', Just Walkin'

How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
Yes, ’n’ how many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?

BOB DYLAN Blowin’ in the Wind

Let me drink from the waters where the mountain streams flood
Let the smell of wildflowers flow free through my blood
Let me sleep in your meadows with the green grassy leaves
Let me walk down the highway with my brother in peace
Let me die in my footsteps
Before I go down under the ground.

BOB DYLAN Let Me Die in My Footsteps

I was burned out from exhaustion, buried in the hail
Poisoned in the bushes an’ blown out on the trail . . .

Well, I’m livin’ in a foreign country but I’m bound to cross the line
Beauty walks a razor’s edge, someday I’ll make it mine.

BOB DYLAN Shelter from the Storm

The tempest may howl and the loud thunder roar,
And gathering storms may arise,
But calm is my feeling, at rest is my soul,
The tears are all wiped from my eyes . . .

Go tell my companion and children most dear

To weep not for me, now I'm gone

The same hand that led me through seas most severe

Has kindly assisted me home.

BF WHITE and ADGER M PACE Lone Pilgrim (Sung by BOB DYLAN on World Gone Wrong)

For Mr. Dylan there’s no difference now between an itinerant bluesman and a haggard pilgrim. 'I practice a faith that’s been long abandoned,' he sings. 'Ain’t no altars on this long and lonesome road.' THE NEW YORK TIMES 20 Aug 2006 The Pilgrim’s Progress of Bob Dylan 

Ain’t talkin’, just walkin’ . . .

BOB DYLAN Ain’t Talkin’

You have to realise you are constantly in a state of becoming. BOB DYLAN

Bob Dylan exhibition at the Halcyon Gallery, New Bond Street, London, 2013-14.

Thanks to Am at Talking 37th Dream (Rumors of Peace) for inspiring this post.

To be continued . . .

Thursday, 24 April 2014

The Pilgrim's Way (3): The Journey Itself Is Home

Arrival, like origin, is a mythical place. REBECCA SOLNIT

Symbols, metaphors and allegories aside, pilgrim ways are actual physical routes which take you through and to spiritually resonant and numinous places — or 'thin places' as the ancient Celts called them, places where the distance between heaven and earth dissolve and you may, if you're lucky, catch a glimpse of the divine. Some are carefully waymarked — such as the Caminos to Santiago de Compostela (due to the vested interest of the Catholic Church), some are only sparsely signed, and others are not indicated on the ground at all. The latter require a little map reading and a lot of imagination and speculation. The famous and much-frequented pilgrim paths are well provided with guidebooks and places to eat and stay. On the less-publicised paths you are on your own, and you have to rely a great deal on supposition, and your interpretation of history and the natural and man-made features of the landscape. (Graham Robb has written eruditely and fascinatingly, if conjecturally, about the lost pathways of a pre-Roman Celtic Europe, travelled by Druidic scholar-priests, in his 2013 book The Ancient Paths: Discovering the Lost Map of Celtic Europe.)

The Stones of Callenish and the Abbey of Iona in Scotland, Glastonbury Tor and Canterbury Cathedral in England, the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadeloupe in Mexico City, Mecca in Saudi Arabia, Mount Kailas in Tibet, Uluru in Australia, Mount Parnassus in Greece — wherever you go in the world, you can find ancient and not-so-ancient foci of sacred significance. Some are popular destinations ruined by tourism and commercial exploitation; some are little-known sites, hard to trace; others are personally talismanic, meaningful only to the individual — such as the poet Kathleen Raine's rowan tree above the waterfall at Sandaig on the west coast of Scotland, once home to Gavin Maxwell and his otters. Interestingly, such personal places may later be sought out by literary pilgrims — which attaches a whole new layer of 'holiness' to them.

Yet despite the importance of these spiritual destinations, and the personal satisfaction in having reached them, often arduously, there is the idea that the journey itself is what matters and is the process where the real answers are to be found. The Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber, observed that all journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware; and the Spanish poet, Antonio Machado, wrote that the wanderer follows no road — the road is made by walking. In other words, we alone create the path, and that path is the only really important path, because it's our path, even though its purpose and direction often remain unclear. JRR Tolkien wrote that not all those who wander are lost, for, even if we meander and stray, it rarely means we are completely without hope; indeed, we may find the true meaning of the path, and ourselves, in those very deviations, blind alleys and 'wrong' turnings.

A great thing about pilgrim routes is that they are not tourist routes, and pilgrims are not tourists. The routes can take you through quite ordinary countryside and less-than-pretty towns just as easily as through stunning and beautiful landscapes. Although pilgrims are not averse to a spot of sightseeing when time allows, their main concerns are the simple day-to-day desires for movement, food, drink,  shelter and rest. And perhaps a little companionship along the way. Scenery is there, and sometimes it's stunning, but there's something else, something more, something elusive, something to do with the thread of the whole journey, and how it connects up, and what it reveals. As I wrote in my poem, A Prayer: . . . I am desperate to find meaning / In something more than landscape.

One thing I'm sure of is that we are all pilgrims and our lives are pilgrimages. Pilgrimage is not the limited property of those few who are fortunate or crazy enough to tread the actual, physical pathways; after all, many of us are unable to do this, for a variety of reasons. Pilgrimage can be in the mind and an attitude of mind; pilgrimage is the path we take daily from dawn till dusk, and then in our dreams at night; pilgrimage is questioning, abandoning, discovering, accepting. Pilgrimage is life. Pilgrimage is love.

Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home. MATSUO BASHŌ

To be continued . . .

Monday, 21 April 2014

The Pilgrim's Way (2): Inner and Outer Journeys

The metaphor of life as journey, a journey of trial and tribulation, of discovery and revelation, a journey in pursuit of self-knowledge and world-knowledge, a roller-coaster ride of contrasting delights and disappointments, a continual series of births, deaths and rebirths, an uncertain pilgrimage of sorts — is long established.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the world’s literature. Everywhere you look people are shaping stories about their lives and the lives of others, trying to give sense and structure to existence in the form of fiction, allegory and myth. The grail quest book (eg Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur) or the German Bildungsroman (eg Goethe’s Wilhem Meister novels), in which the ‘hero’ undertakes a journey of self-realisation, are just two examples of this human and literary desire. Homer’s Odyssey, Dante’s Divine Comedy, CervantesDon Quixote, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Dickens’s Great Expectations, Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, Maugham’s Of Human Bondage, Hesse’s Siddhartha, Fowles’s The Magus — all these works, and countless more, take us on a journey of the human body, mind, soul and spirit, a pilgrimage into the unknown.

In the distant past we were nomadic creatures —  hunting and gathering, moving from one region to the next in search of food, fleeing deserts and glaciers and seeking more favourable climates. We were always on the move; our lives were actual journeys. Then we began to clear the forests, farm the land, domesticate animals — to settle down. We congregated together, created societies, cities, empires. Our fluid and orally-transmitted stories gradually became more fixed in manuscript, then in print, then in digital form. Culture, for better or worse, was born.

But our journeys continued — journeys into art and science and religion, journeys of exploration to exotic lands and inhospitable places. We were astonished by the Egyptian pyramids, by Greek and Roman architecture, by the Buddha and Jesus, by Galileo and Newton, by Leonardo and Michelangelo. We learnt the world was a sphere and we sailed around it. We opened up trade routes — the Silk Road, the Spice Route, the Northwest Passage. And we made dedicated trips to sacred sites and religious shrines — to Stonehenge, to Delphi, to Mecca, to Jerusalem, to Santiago de Compostela.

It seems that we humans have a need to travel, to explore, to find out — either physically or imaginatively or both. We go on journeys, on pilgrimages, both interior and exterior, both real and fictional, both spiritual and secular, because we have an urgent need to discover who we are and what the world is about.

We turn our lives into fictions and allegories, the stuff of the world into symbols — the sun, the moon, the stars, the rivers, the trees.

Our outer world reflects our inner world and vice versa. We are microcosms within a macrocosmic universe, fractals within other fractals — our small but perfectly-formed bodies vast worlds of atoms, cells and molecules, our minds potentially limitless in their imaginative powers.

To be continued . . .

Sunday, 20 April 2014

The Pilgrim's Way (1): Reflection, Penitence, Glory

It’s Easter Sunday, and it's raining, and my thoughts turn to the Camino. I haven’t consciously thought about the Camino for some time, but today my mind is full of it. In many ways pilgrimages are intense microcosmic distillations of our general macrocosmic lives, rich in the symbolism of birth, death and renewal.

In the autumn of 2007 I walked the ancient pilgrim route from le Puy-en-Velay in south-central France to Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain. This 1000-mile journey lasted 60 days. 

Almost a year later I walked my second Camino from Arles in the French Camargue to Puente la Reina in northern Spain. This time I went more slowly, and the 550-mile walk took me 46 days to complete.

In January and February 2010 I walked four-fifths of the Spanish Via de la Plata from Seville to La Gudiña, a total of 500 miles. And during the last two weeks of September 2011 I walked the Via Gebennensis from Geneva in Switzerland to Le-Puy-en-Velay in France, a distance of 225 miles.

In May the following year I retraced part of the original route I’d taken in 2007 from le Puy, finishing in Limogne; and then, last July, walked a very short stretch of the Via Francigena from Canterbury to Guînes just south of Calais. I’d like to rejoin this route, and do the full trek all the way to Rome one day.

Of course, the distances travelled and the number of days taken are the least important facts about the Camino.

As well as these long and grand European pilgrimages, I’ve walked trails in England, such as the Dales Way, the Pennine Way, the South West Coast Path and the Hadrian’s Wall Path, and local routes such as the Trent Valley Way, the Viking Way, and the towpath along the Grantham Canal.

I walk whenever and wherever I can in the UK, and particularly like the Peak District, the Lake District, Scotland and Wales.

But what does it all add up to, this walking, and what does it mean? I don’t think I’ve really come to terms with the significance of my longer pilgrimages, how they affect me in the context of my whole life, how they fit into my personal human journey. Perhaps I feel more ready to do that now, more able to see their allegorical and spiritual value.

There's a saying on the Camino Francés that the Way is divided into three parts: the Way of Reflection, the Way of Penitence and the Way of Glory. All serious walks contain something of these three aspects, I believe . . .

To be continued . . . 

Friday, 18 April 2014

Garden Diary (1)

Bee fly.

Early this morning I heard a knocking noise coming from the kitchen. I ignored it, thinking it was the central heating pipes. But when I finally went to investigate I found it was a male chaffinch flying persistently at the window pane. I'm sure it was attacking its own reflection in the glass, believing it to be a rival bird vying for territory.

Out in the garden more and more spring flowers are opening. In the semi-wild shady area at the bottom of the yew hedge honesty, forget-me-not and yellow archangel are in bloom. Bluebells, tulips and daffodils — including the stunning pheasant's eye, or poet's daffodil, which some believe was the first cultivated narcissus — border the wooden fence opposite the hedge, and clumps of wallflowers crowd the base of an ornamental cherry. The cherry's pink and white blossom faded quickly — as it always does — a few weeks ago.

The clematis growing up the fence is just beginning to reveal its delicate white flowers, and the creeping stems of the greater periwinkle create ground cover. The periwinkles' purple corollas contrast strikingly with their dark, waxy-green leaves.

Under the kitchen window stands a container of quince, its crimson flowers now past their best, and naturalised ivy-leaved toadflax creeps prolifically up the red-brick kitchen wall, happily disguising an unsightly network of downpipes and drains.

The hellebores and cyclamen have been blooming all winter, and are flowering still. But the white blooms of the camellia, so abundant this spring, turn brown and wither almost immediately. At the end of tough but flexible straight stalks the flower heads of the allium will remain tightly closed until May. They look like tiny onions.

Just over a month ago, around the time of the full moon, our pond was full of mating frogs. The frogs departed, leaving behind jellied masses of spawn. The tadpoles developed, and now there are thousands of them, wriggling in the depths like spermatozoa or sunning themselves on the bricks supporting the aquatic flower baskets. Some surface for a gulp of air, their lungs already forming.

Bees, ladybirds and other insects have been on the move for several weeks, including pond-loving whirligig beetles, water boatmen and pond skaters. I've also been delighted to spot bee flies, which have the wings of a fly but the body of a bee. They have a long proboscis for drinking nectar, and are important pollinators. I've seen early butterflies too — Brimstone, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Holly Blue.

Holly Blue.

(Thanks to Wikimedia Commons for the pictures.)

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Single And Double

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need. CICERO

One world in two, both intertwined: / A double helix of grace and love. . . THE SOLITARY WALKER Two Worlds in One

Poet's daffodils newly opened.

Narcissus poeticus (Poet's daffodil, Nargis, Pheasant's eye, Findern flower or Pinkster lily) was one of the first daffodils to be cultivated, and is frequently identified as the narcissus of ancient times — often associated with the Greek legend of Narcissus. WIKIPEDIA

The intertwined trunks of our crab apple tree.

Unlike many trees, the crab apple grows singly, and sometimes woods will only have one tree. . .

. . . Crab apples have long been associated with love and marriage. It was said that if you throw the pips into the fire while saying the name of your love, the love is true if the pips explode. Apple wood was burned by the Celts during fertility rites and festivals, and Shakespeare makes reference to crab apples in A Midsummer Night's Dream and Love's Labour Lost. THE WOODLAND TRUST

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Contemporary Garden

Zen pond.

Crab apple blossom against a rare blue sky.

Saturday, 12 April 2014


We make assumptions. 
Cary Grant: lazy and selfish
man-child or manipulative murderer?

We’re swayed this way and that
by a manipulative film director.
What do we know that we’re not made to know?

As innocent as Joan Fontaine
we judge according to confused desires,
to what we’re led to think

from clues scattered deliberately
like broken headstones,
the letters half-obliterated;

from strengths or defects in our character
and reasoning; from standpoints
as subjective as painterly perspectives.

We don’t need the corpse.
For it’s already there
rotting in our imaginations.

Suspicion is a 1941 film directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Wallflower Meditation

Inspired by English cottage gardens and cottage gardeners.

Wallflowers may be old-fashioned, and may not get asked to dance as often as they should, but they are no shrinking violets, and will put on a sexy springtime display given half a chance. They are some of my favourite garden flowers.