Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Laurie Lee Wildlife Walk: Lit-crit on a bike

Lit-Crit on a Bike

I had no idea, when I started out for Slad in the morning,
As to what voice I would use on the Laurie Lee Wildlife Way -
I decided to be guided by the first poetry post I encountered,
And I know there are mixed views about poetry posts in a landscape
(What if there is a disjunction between text and context?),
But I have to say that all the posts on this walk work beautifully:
You don’t have to read every poem in its entirety, each time you visit,
Choose the stanza or two that most suit your mood or the season
(Which is what I have done).

Whatever. Prologue over.

Convolvulus and hollyhocks greeted me on the road to Slad,
Where I stopped at the Woolpack to read The Abandoned Shade,
A poem that is almost an exercise in synesthesia,
For the shade leads to
buried voices’, ‘the yellow-hammer beat of blood’…
‘Hearing the tin-moon rise and the sunset’s penny fall,
the creep of frost and weep of thaw
and bells of winter robins…
the talking house…the four vowels of the wind’.
It’s a poem about lost childhood
(‘The voice of the boy, the boy I seek within my mouth is dumb’),
And lost, lost, madeleine moment time;
I arrived before the pub was awake,
Last night’s half full glasses were still on the outside tables,
A quite suitable sort of A la recherce de la temps pub-do type thing –
But enough of Old Father Time, Rimbaud and Proust,
I was off to dappled, shadowed Frith’s Wood and April Rise:
You can enjoy the first sensuous stanza at any time of the year,
If ever I saw blessing in the air
I see it now this still early day
When lemon-green the vaporous morning drips
Wet sunlight on the powder of my eye’

But I had to climb up to Bulls Cross, up the turnpike road,
To the nightmare coach scene, the gallows, the murder,
And Equinox:
Now tilts the sun his monument,
now sags his raw unwritten stone
deep in October’s diamond clay.’

I tilted down dale to the spring-line source of the Slad Brook,
Past the lake, for a steep smooth beech bole ascent,
Where at the top of Longridge Woods is Landscape,
A piece of almost mother-earth worship:
The season does not leave your limbs,
like a covered field you lie,
and remember the exultant plough
Your sheltered bosom stirs
And whispers with warm rain’ -
This was almost meta-text; ur-text;
A text that became the landscape itself,
Where reader is no longer spectator,
But part of what s/he sees…
It was quite a Keatsian swooning moment and sensation,
I can tell you.

A cross-field walk followed to a woodland descent past the old shop
(What a curiosity),
And thence through bracken to Moss Rose;
When I read the poem, cumulus clouds sailed across its glass panel:
It was as though the sky itself (Laurie in the Sky with Diamonds?)
Had written diaphanous words of remembrance:
My mother would grow roses with each hand
drawing them forth from country-frothing air…
… lost mother, country gone,
groping in my grief around your moss-rose heart.’

Then it was over Dillay Brook to Home From Abroad:
‘So do I breathe the hayblown airs of home,
                         And watch the sea-green elms drip birds and shadows,                        
And as the twilight nets the plunging sun
My heart’s keel slides to rest among the meadows’.

Well, my chain did something similar shortly afterwards,
Sliding and jamming itself: I had to push my bike the rest of the way,
But The Three Winds was a delight at Catswood:
Starting with ‘The hard blue winds of March’,
Before the wind goes ‘piping the summer round’,
‘Till August sends at last its brick red breath’…

I wandered on through the August heat to meet the holloway
That once led King Charles from Berkeley to Painswick,
Then on to his abortive siege of Gloucester,
Before reaching The Wild Trees,
With the characteristic yearning for lost, past time:
‘Let me return at last
to your fertile wilderness
to sleep with the coiled fernleaves
in your heart’s live stone.’

It was then on to the Vatch, with views right across the Severn,
A delight at any time of the year,
But especially when in a Field of Autumn:
‘Like coloured smoke the day hangs fire,
taking the village without sound…
… Slow moves the hour that sucks our life,
slow drops the late wasp from the pear,
the rose tree’s thread of scent grows thin –
and  snaps upon the air.’

And so down the Vatch, pushing my bike,
To Furners Farm, a mistletoed orchard, and Apples:
‘Behold the apples’ rounded worlds:
juice-green of July rain,
the black polestar of flowers, the rind
mapped with its crimson stain’.

It was then back to the Woolpack,
Where groups of walkers sat enthusing about the walk,
I had just a quick chat and lemonade,
I had to push the bike back home to Halfords,
Who generously did the job gratis -
Only Stroud Museum and Town Owl to go now:
‘On eves of cold, when slow coal fires,
rooted in basements, burn and branch,
brushing with smoke the city air;
When quartered moons pale in the sky,
and neons glow along the dark
like deadly nightshade in a briar;
Above the muffled traffic then
I hear the owl, and at his note,
I shudder in my private chair’…

I must confess that I had shuddered in my private chair too.
Saddle-sore after so many bumps, humps and stiles;
My advice?
Don’t do this walk on a bike.
It’s too good for that…
‘I’d rather have Shanks’s Pony’:

‘Strolling, just strolling,
In the cool of the evening air,
I don't envy the rich in their automobiles,
For a motorcar is phoney.
I'd rather have Shanks's pony,
When I'm strolling, just strolling,
With the light of the moon above,
Ev'ry night I go out strolling,
And I know my luck is rolling,
When I'm strolling with the one I love.’
(Flanagan and Allen)

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