Saturday, October 25, 2014

Walking Poets, Wordsworth and Basho at Grasmere September 2014

Stationary in this car park with rain falling like curtains of gossamer on this autumn Cumbrian Sunday. The bell of Grasmere Church where pilgrims come to venerate the graves of William and Dorothy chimes across the fields of bright grass intersected by jigsaws of stone walls with their mantle of lichen. The rain beats against the window as we step over puddles towards the grey buildings with their grey slate roofs, the home of the Wordsworth Trust and Dove Cottage in England's Lake District.  Above the door a sign for the exhibition, 'Walking Poets, Wordsworth and Basho.

I have been here before, but never like this. At the age of 17 my imagination was ignited by Wordsworth's 'Prelude' and it's descriptions of this sense of the Presence of great mystery, something that I too was experiencing discovered in nature and in daily life, this great luminosity, this sense of being in the Divine Love.

Sitting in zazen Kyoto
Then Basho discovered three years later as a University Student then as now drawn by Zen Buddhism. I was drawn by this 17century prose and hokku poetry account 'The Narrow Road to the Deep North'. I note that this is also the  title of Richard Flanagan's Man Booker novel which I look forward to discovering. Matsuo Basho like Wordworth is an extraordinary walking poet holds for Japanese people the stature of a Shakespeare or Chaucer as well as being a strong influence on Modernist poetry.  There are times just for myself when I compose haiku poems to capture and express an experience.

I have been here before, we have been to this place visiting Dove Cottage, the home of Dorothy and William where they welcomed Coleridge and others and have sat in meditation in Kyoto temples visited by Basho but we have never been here before in the sense of two visionaries brought into dialogue.

Walking around the galleries we contemplated letters and texts by Wordsworth and his friends and manuscripts and drawings by Basho together with many contemporary art works, interpretations, installations and music inspired by a literary dialogue between the two poets separated by a century, by culture, by geographical distance. Soon the exhibition was filled by many Japanese visitors and others and we flowed around each other making our own discoveries at this encounter, this imaginary dialogue, worlds brought together a sense of universality.

There is a sense of loneliness and exile here in these walking poets a homesickness and a longing. Basho calling himself a weather exposed skeleton  with the sore wind blowing through his heart. His poetry does not resile from the ugliness of life or of the bloodshed and death in the uneasy peace of  17 th century Japan already experiencing visitors from the west. Wordsworth and Coleridge moved by injustice and wanting to awake citizens not to a narrow world denying religion, not to sentimentalism but to a generous affirming spirituality, promoting not pessimism, but courage and hope,  all of which we need to live fully today.

Stepping step back into the English rain our mind on coffee and the hope that if the rain clears we might pull on our boots to walk a Cumbrian fell or two.

I feel as if I have been to a good church service, discovering, contemplating, conversing and re imagining. I'm seeing afresh beyond the superficial which is where faith and spirituality begin and return to be refreshed at the well so that as I walk my week insights translate into action and into question.

I must cultivate wonder, seeing the burning bush in daily life, the great mountain that questions my hubris with its immense brooding presence. I must dialogue with my inner apathy, my inner fear, that feeding on opinion, that participating in our national conversation of meanness and resentment.  My spirituality must be nourished so that I can speak not from a book but from an inner experience of the presence of the great Love as a walking poet.

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