Thursday, 28 March 2013

The Marble Rolls

The sunshine finally broke through today, down here on the South Coast anyway.  They say it's been the coldest March in Britain since 1962, and they'll get no argument from me.  Although we have escaped the snow, it has been dull, bitterly cold, and perpetually windy.  You can sense the lift in mood as people arrive at work this morning, on the last day before the university's Easter closure.

The Motion of the Earth

A day with sky so wide,
So stripped of cloud, so scrubbed, so vacuumed free
Of dust, that you can see
The earth-line as a curve, can watch the blue
Wrap over the edge, looping round and under,
Making you wonder
Whether the dark has anywhere left to hide.
But the world is slipping away; the polished sky
Gives nothing to grip on; clicked from the knuckle
The marble rolls along the gutter of time -
Earth, star and galaxy
Shifting their place in space.
Noon, sunset, clouds, the equably varying weather,
The diffused light, the illusion of blue,
Conceal each hour a different constellation.
All things are new
Over the sun, but we,
Our eyes on our shoes, go staring
At the asphalt, the gravel, the grass at the roadside, the door-
step, the doodles of snails, the crochet of mortar and lime,
Seeking the seeming familiar, though every stride
Takes us a thousand miles from where we were before.

Norman Nicholson

Norman Nicholson is a rather forgotten poet, now, but no-one has understood or expressed the experience of Britain's upland landscapes better than him.  His poem "Wall" is an anthology classic, the kind of thing kids used to read in the schoolroom to get a sense of the work simple words can be made to do.

A wall walks slowly,
At each give of the ground,
Each creak of the rock's ribs,
It puts its foot gingerly,
Arches its hog-holes,
Lets cobble and knee-joint
Settle and grip.

You might say it's Ted Hughes without the hysteria.  There's a self-consciously Anglo-Saxon rock to his diction, rhythm and alliteration, but then he was a very self-consciously Cumbrian poet.  But he balanced this bardic rootedness with a strong sense of the place of the Earth in the universe, and the geology, physics, and astronomy that extend and amplify our understanding.  There cannot have been many poets in the 1960s writing poems about "The Expanding Universe":

And if the universe
Reversed and showed
The colour of its money;
If now unobservable light
Flowed inward, and the skies snowed
A blizzard of glaxies,
The lens of night would burn
Brighter than the focused sun,
And man turn blinded
With white-hot darkness in his eyes.

This mix of elemental specificity of place and mind-blowing universality is something that is, for me, an essential part of the experience of being at large in hills, mountains and moors.  Out there, your face is pressed up against the display-window of a greater reality.

As is required by law, we will be in mid-Wales over the break, so I have front-loaded some posts to keep things ticking over.  Weather permitting, we will ourselves be at large in hills, mountains, and moors.


Martin said...

Have a good trip, Mike.

Zouk Delors said...

As is required by law, we will be in mid-Wales over the break

These ASBOs are an awful nuisance, aren't they? And so unfair!

[For the benefit of our foreign friends, I should explain than an Anti-Social Behaviour Order is an order from a magistrate placed on any person at the behest of the prosecuting authorities or local government (in effect the police), without any requirement for sworn evidence - just hearsay, which prohibits him from doing the thing(s) specified therein, any breach of which can be punished by fine or imprisonment (whether or not such behaviour in itself constitutes an imprisonable offense or, indeed, any criminal offense at all). It's a sort of special individual imprisonable offense made up specially for its subject by a local "worthy".]

eeyorn said...

Well its been pretty damn parky here in Stevenage with frequent blasts of snow. I can only imagine how cold it may have been in the Welsh hills.

Hope you enjoyed your break nonetheless.