Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Tintern Abbey



Tintern Abbey
By Wordsworth

A poem of memory, longing, nostalgia
I am in a phase/place, where looking back, I am revisiting my trip
Miss it, the days where I simply woke up and pedaled, all that was required of me was to keep going, see new things, follow the map/Google lady
Survive the weather, the hills, ride, ride, ride
inexorable rhythm, breath
Wye Valley
Once again do I behold—this is certainly a question
Age, time, mortality
And connect the landscape with the quiet of the sky
Soft hum of the A(466) what has changed, absolutely quiet, uncrowded, empty parking lot

But oft, in lonely rooms, and ‘mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
And passing even into my purer mind,
With tranquil restoration:

Emptying an entire clip at the corner, a few days after returning
I go back in my mind, in memory to those ruins
That feeling

Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood,
In which the burthen of the mystery,
In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world,
Is lightened:

In the moment, more than any other time

While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.

oh! how oft—
In darkness and amid the many shapes
Of joyless daylight; when the fretful stir
Unprofitable, and the fever of the world,
Have hung upon the beatings of my heart—
How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee,
O sylvan Wye!

Moonlight on the water, slow, silty
Exiting The Anchor Inn after a hearty meal
Steak and ale pie, peas, carrots, mash
Standing in the empty parking lot, in the arc-light lit shadows of the abbey
The frames and ribs darkened,

While here I stand, not only with the sense
Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts
That in this moment there is life and food
For future years. 

Lonely, seeking, what?

The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,
Their colours and their forms, were then to me
An appetite; a feeling and a love,

That time has passed, yet is still with me

For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still, sad music of humanity,
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue. And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things. Therefore am I still
A lover of the meadows and the woods,
And mountains; and of all that we behold
From this green earth; of all the mighty world
Of eye, and ear,—both what they half create,
And what perceive; 

Time, years from now, old and decrepit, can no longer ride, a thought like death to me

Therefore let the moon
Shine on thee in thy solitary walk;
And let the misty mountain-winds be free
To blow against thee: and, in after years,
When these wild ecstasies shall be matured
Into a sober pleasure; when thy mind
Shall be a mansion for all lovely forms,
Thy memory be as a dwelling-place
For all sweet sounds and harmonies; 

Years to come
 
Nor wilt thou then forget,
That after many wanderings, many years
Of absence, these steep woods and lofty cliffs,
And this green pastoral landscape, were to me
More dear, both for themselves and for thy sake!



Since returning from my JOGLE (1,100 miles from John O’Groats to Land’s End) my life has collapsed back into the vacuum of routine. Days go by, hours and minutes filled with trivial details. The 20 days spent pedaling, waking and packing, mounting and dismounting, stopping to check directions, or curse the Google lady, hills, weather are over. They are now static memory.

And my heart breaks. Like Wordsworth, I long to return to Tintern Abbey.

Next month I will be 58, time is fleeting, fleeing. I may not ever touch my toe into that river again. (see Heraclitus)

William Wordsworth in his 159-line poem senses mortality, time—past, present, and future: it will betray us. All we have is now, the scene spread out before us, this feeling
Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood,
In which the burthen of the mystery,
In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world,
Is lightened:

On my bike trip my mind was always churning, my legs in constant motion. It was a zone of perpetual striving, but at the same time a still-point. The constraint that this is all I have to do, eliminated choice, decision-making. The day I made it to Tintern I had ridden 73 miles. When I finally turned a corner and saw the grey-stone ribs of the ruined abbey, I knew I was there. I could rest.

Tintern itself is not a town, more a hamlet (with a population of 750 claims a Tintern website), on the southeastern Welsh border, in a valley that is old, as old as civilization. Ten minutes after closing, without the tourist crowds, parking lots empty of cars, motor coaches, there was just me and a pasture beside the abbey with cows. Evening was settling, and I felt the loneliness around me. In the distance, way up on a hill, is St. Mary’s, the church where Wordsworth sat composing his lines. Lines Written (or Composed) a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798. I could barely make the structure out, overgrown with ivy, it too was now abandoned.

Ruins tend to make me melancholy.

It is a meditative poem, a poem of memory, of lingering over the past, anticipating the future, before coming back to the present, the scene of broken walls, windowless windows, roofless roof open to the sky, a sky softening into a hazy twilight. I snapped pictures while at the same time scoping out a possible hiding spot. After the few dog walkers vacated the pea-gravel path beside the river, I ducked into a clump of woods in search of level ground.

I was not the first person to use this spot. There were crushed beer cans, condom wrappers, wadded up toilet paper, a foil emergency blanket. I swept all this aside with a stick and unfurled my tent. There was just enough room for me to crawl in and out of the zippered opening. The Wye River, sluggish within its muddy banks, shimmered silver as the sun set.

As Wordsworth sat there in 1798 ruminating, he was no longer a rambling youth. He’d already suffered the loss of his mother, father, separation from his first love—and the child that affair had produced. He might have felt himself on the cusp. His first book of poems had been published, with an inheritance and funds finally recovered after his late father’s death, he could establish himself as a poet.

One part of me could imagine Wordsworth surveying the valley, the spot I occupied. Very little seemed changed. Cows and rocks, the bones of the abbey sliding into darkness, the thatched roof houses clustered at a bend in the river. Yet into this bucolic reverie was inserted the sporadic hum of vehicle traffic on the A466 which paralleled the river and the steep-wooded hills on the other side. The backdoor to the Anchor Inn, a café and pub slammed and a worker emerged, out for a smoke. A sliver of moon was beginning to sharpen.

In the two weeks preceding my trip a woman crossing the street in front of Uptown Baptist Church in my neighborhood was shot and killed. A few days later a man walking in front of my building was gunned down. Then a week before I left a good friend’s husband suddenly died. She heard a thump in the bathroom and that was it. At the same time I was dealing with the end of my marriage, thirty years of togetherness was unraveling. I wasn’t quite sure who I was anymore.

It was just me and Tintern Abbey and the ghost of Wordsworth. I wanted to soak in the sublime, breathe in the restorative power of nature, the peace that comes from surrender. If only I could live in this place forever.

I changed clothes in the claustrophobic tent and walked over to the Anchor Inn for a meal and to charge my phone. By the time I left the restaurant the thumb-nail moon was fully up, washing the abbey with pale light. Standing in the parking lot, I sensed I was already forgetting what I longed to forever remember. I wanted this evening, the JOGLE I was near completing, to remain with me always.
 
Therefore let the moon
Shine on thee in thy solitary walk;
And let the misty mountain-winds be free
To blow against thee: and, in after years,
When these wild ecstasies shall be matured
Into a sober pleasure; when thy mind
Shall be a mansion for all lovely forms,
Thy memory be as a dwelling-place
For all sweet sounds and harmonies; 

**
Now during these winter months, as my windowpane clouds up from thick, syrupy rain and wind rattles the lose screen, autumn and the Wye Valley seem far away. My body has grown lax; my knees hurt climbing a flight of stairs. Darkness comes early and I light candles to ward off depression. My mind wanders back, again and again, to that night wild-camping beside Tintern Abbey.







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