Looking for Ludchurch VI

 

Saturday was a massive and beautiful challenge, academically, physically, emotionally. I set aside the joys of Thursday, and the stuff of Friday where engaging colleagues with Ludchurch played to my strengths, and I was on firmer ground: Saturday was hard work and no less rewarding because of it. If spiritual experience engages the whole person this was the deepest day of retreat and this side line entry is about that point for me. I wrote in the main blog that being outside may mean the “confronting of an individual’s own discomfort.”

I love this poem by John Fuller, and have quoted it before – this is the link, although I used it in a different context. It is full of a sense of disappointment and abandonment, as the freed Ariel and the still-imprisoned Caliban debate the losses they sustain in The Tempest. Here are the final stanzas of Caliban’s complaint:

Think of my rage then, Ariel, as I stood,
(A picture in my head I could not draw,
A language learnt but nothing understood),

Weeping into the sea, hoping She would
Turn back to lead me through that little door,
Lost like my name within the magic wood.

Our Master calls: I think it is not good
To be unhappy with your freedom or
My language (learnt, but nothing understood),
Lost like my name within the magic wood.

Lost , like my name – and in linking literature and landscape I am conscious not only of Garner and the Gawain poet, and Tolkein, but of other woods, from Sarah Maitland’s Gossip from the Forest through forest-as-metaphor in Francis Spufford’s The Child that Books Built to Rob Macfarlane, to Alan Garner in Arboreal, to Lewis’s Wood between Worlds… They seem to me to have in common the tangled myths and histories Simon Schama’s Landscape and Memory does so well to explore. It really is a Selva Oscura, as Dante begins his Inferno.

We spend a long time writing, drafting, planing, discussing. The evening will be about more detailed prep for the Wild Spaces Wild Magic project.

Creative writing sort of done (see previous page – but I did manage the poem that appears in Looking for Ludchurch 1, and really appreciated the feedback I  got),  I went out into the dusk, the woods at the Green Chapel already dim. After much of the hard work – a final session to come in the evening – I went out looking on my own for the Green Knight. Down the path, across the beck, up past the big beech tree and on up into the wood, singing “When a Knight Won His Spurs” quietly to myself. The darkening wood, the selva oscura, the path nearly lost – and then there I was at the entrance. I no longer felt brave, no longer welcome. The path down was tricky, and I found myself calculating how long I would be left before people came to find me if I fell. Across the mud, the sure stones no longer visible. And then there he was.

Half in shade as always but now in a deeper shadow, it felt as if the still gaze of the Green Knight had withdrawn to a long way away. The drips from the top of the chasm sounded like footsteps. It was a real challenge for me to stay: the day was full of things that knocked my self-image for six, and I was no longer the leader, no longer a psychopomp to a great mystery, no longer someone at home in solitude and the open air – just a bloke with a stick, slightly out of breath and spooked in a place he had thought to feel at home.

I am my own Gawain. The cocky youth who spends his time learning the behaviours of Being Great and failing, who meets not his death but his own self-knowledge in the dark face that stares him down and shames him. And it is self knowledge rather than public image for Gawain – as it was for me, hastening through the too-silent wood, trying not to listen for footsteps behind me in some silly M R James-like way.