One Sprinkling Day
The room darkens, the swollen sky has over-brimmed again. In Pendinas, rain will be running down the glazed brick and granite of Pensarn Villa, varnishing the iron thistles on the Salem railings, streaking the lead-barred, wired-glass canopy of the arcade in Paradise Road. “If only it would clear up,” he says aloud, gazing down the vivid garden, “perhaps we might go out?”
Not since those Brockhurst days had Lou pressed a flower or a fern, it was even longer since she had made patterns in plaster of Paris with winkles and cowries, small scallops and tellins, gathered as her father turned over the wrack on Pendinas beach after a storm. And her childish feeling for nature, awakened by him, was far removed from the anxious preoccupation of her adolescence. Yet she would soon know that it was strong in her still.
- A Guest in Glangyffin
“You can find wisdom in the East, also false gurus”, the holy man brings out, “I myself have had the opportunity to encounter with some, who are guaranteeing to open your third eye but are nothing but fakes, exploiting the ig nor rance of the masses.” (This, as opposed to a ‘higher understanding’, was the subject of his address.) “Now many young peoples like you are going to this sai babas , seeking the spirituality, who should be solving their problems at home. Of course,” (still more severely) “many young Indians are going gaga about the materialistic Vest—they are just lapping it up!”
- A Sadhu in the Suburbs
Paul gets home after dark—having ordered on the way Stern’s Mystics and Sceptics , just out—to hear from the hall a warm husky voice and to find their friend in the sitting-room, his long legs wrapped in a travelling-rug, peeling a tangerine. Mr Traube has caught a slight chill: he has gone round some of his old haunts again, and after saluting the ducks has had a plunge in the Serpentine. To this evening’s musicking, none the less, he contributes with brio, tackling accompaniments most enterprisingly; and when he joins in favourite songs by Gounod and Cornelius, Mrs Crouch is persuaded that he feels the appeal of the Christmas story, though she shrinks from speaking of it, suspecting he mightn’t wish to.
- Mr Traube’s Return
“I may just foray into Abergyffin and have words with Myrddin—I need copies of some transactions in Archæologia Cambrensis (excellent publication!). Trouble is, that could bring on the old Heuschnupfen ” (grimly). “I’ve avoided it so far this summer, and the weather’s just tolerable now, but after its recent freaks… Books were warping all over Cambridge, the Faculty and College libraries suffered disastrously. And my own—well, take my Beowulf , Klaeber’s edition, never before had I been moved to praise a set book, as I was by that handsome tome, and now it’ll have to be rebound at a cost of thirty-five shillings—no mean sum! But a truce to these woes. If you are venturing abroad you’d best head south—fewer cars, trippers, children and such Landplagen . Of course you won’t get far today, unless you’re biking it. Which was the other thing I had to mention. Come!”
- Leo’s Little Difficulties
Already on fastening the mountain-gate behind you, at the top of Mountain Lane, so steep and stony, where the flies were such a trial to Mrs Crouch, or on springing over the wall from a toehold, as her son had preferred to do, you were free of that craggy wilderness which, thinking to praise it, a Victorian traveller quoted by Mr Gryffin (librarian in Abergyffin, chronicler of Venedos, and author of a monograph on Venedos which Leo had lent Paul for bedtime reading) had called a little Switzerland. And you had cause to share the traveller’s enthusiasm. Only no Alpine pass Paul would view in later life would please his eye like that ‘Dry Valley’ through which the old post-road wound between Pendinas and Abergyffin, with its echo half way up, which in other years had rendered across the scree the rattle of their bren-gun to Mr Crouch and his comrades, and often since the friendliest greetings to him and his son. Nor for Paul would any Alp stand comparison with bald Bilberry Hill, which had seen his first serious scrambles, and where, with the grape-blue Carnedds behind him, as he fortified himself with cold tea and raisins (like a true alpinist, Mr Crouch had said, though there too once or twice, in a cavelet out of the wind, they had shared a hunch of bread and camembert, as Paul was to remember this evening), he had had such a prospect as no Alp would offer him—a prospect of the sea from the Giant’s Head to Mona.
- A Walk in the Past
“Sometimes, taking stock of my own life, I find it so far short of the fulfilment I dream of, I think of ending it, though I’ve never actually pondered how. Miserable mortal! to think of such a thing, with all your kind, unconventional friends, a comfortable home, a garden for your creativity that way—Kavanagh, how can you? Only that leaves out my never-sated sensuality. Oh to be old and rid of it! Not that it’s only sensual gratifications that make my life bearable, and occasionally joyous, but I can’t do without them yet. And it’s little enough I ask, God knows. But there, I don’t want to spread depression, it’s poor fun for you, my feeling my emotional pulse, as it were, while revealing the muddle which is my mind. I won’t talk like this any more—unless you particularly want me to? If only the right partner would appear, perhaps I’d lead a different life, more reflective, and my conversation wouldn’t be so lacking in ideas. I did tackle Mystics and Sceptics , but it’s so much easier to begin books than to finish ’em—especially Stern’s! We have a super little bookshop now, owned by a handsome actor, with just the stuff for me, all ‘fringe’ subjects and ‘cult’ authors. I haven’t seen any Mancy, but I shall ask Ralph to get some. He’s roister-doistering in London at present.”
- ‘Life is an Art’
“Up to now I know a few British authors,” he continues, “like Dickinson, Shakespeare, Stern… However, I bring more books than clothes—I just don’t believe the clothes been sold for ever-warm weather of Taiwan can suitable for freezing winter of England. It is said the English mostly dress for comfort and not for beauty, it is true? But what to bring for living? From London travel publication I learned that many bargains can be bought, but I don’t know these places.”
The connexions of heat with light, with electricity, with work, weren’t unfamiliar to him, who had wimbled leaves in her sunny garden with his grandmother’s reading-glass, lifted the leaves of a book with an amber bead, and in nervous delight, amid splutters of hot oil, watched with Henry Wright his small brass stationary steam-engine, drunk on wood-alcohol, whirring on the kitchen table. And if Henry had seen in the engine a source of power for his balsa-wood Great Eastern —a supplier of energy for the work of propulsion—, even Paul had seen that the engine’s output of work was related to its consumption of the sickly-smelling spirit.
- A Taoist in Bloomsbury
Without Paul’s ceasing to listen to him as, on his front doorstep, at the end of the first stone terrace under the mountain, that other August afternoon, Mr Roberts had explained how the granite was brought down from the rock-face to the sea (in wagon-loads from quarry-floor to crushing-mill, by chute and conveyor to the great storage-hoppers, by wagon again and steep inclines to the loading-quay, from which the small service-hopper supplied road, railway and pier), it was the stone-age quarry that Paul had seemed to see above them then, with its chipping-floors where Mr Roberts’s forebears (men from the high hut-circles whose cooking-mounds—crescents of fire-cracked stones—were still visible a stone’s throw from the modern workings) had fashioned picks and axes, querns and spindles, from rough blocks among the scree.
- Kay and the Dragon
Of course Paul no longer supposed that ‘reality’ meant the same in science as in religion, or in either as in everyday life. And since asking Song-Tao what was meant by ‘curved space’ he no longer thought of asking him what he had meant by saying that electrons were real, any more than of asking Dr Sprange his meaning in speaking of God as love. If in thunder and lightning he could perceive one event in two ways, need he wonder to have slumbered at two benches—the scorched and stained but solid one his senses knew, and that other, of vast spaces between whirling electrical charges, which alone was real according to Mr Wrinch? According to Song-Tao both were real, but as Paul now saw, the meaning of that word depended on the language in which it was used.
- Paul Crouch’s Problemizing
A truth then?—one account among many? Mr Wrinch must have found his own stool all too solid, since he had never sat on it without a cushion. In the human world an idea quite contrary to science might yet have its meaning. In Mr Wrinch’s form-room Paul had learnt that his heart was a pump, in Mrs Jenkins’s parlour he had asked for a heart that was pure. And at the highest level, by those who could reach that, electromagnetic radiation could meaningfully be called holy—
ofspring of Heav’n first-born,
Or of th’Eternal Coeternal beam.
- Mr Wrinch’s Last Lesson
“And what if I’d been in one of my hideously shy moods? You know the shrink’s theory on them?” He sits in the rank grass. She then, looking about her: “Our cemeteries are horrible, all those rows of headstones, big elaborate ones striving for personality, just make the loss of it sadder. I’d rather people didn’t notice my grave,” (spreading her old fawn trenchcoat near him) “sat on it even,” (then sitting on it) “if they found the graveyard a beautiful place, like this.” Sadie shivers. “Whenever I think about dying I get very upset, the feeling runs all round my body and freezes my brain. Paul, I don’t wanna get old. I said my Aunt Rhoda was over just before I left? She’s getting an apartment in our building. She is really getting old! I hadn’t looked at her for a while, and I felt so badly I went into my room and smoked. Things got cheerier then.” She considers. “With Sherrod we’re reading all sorts of things about life. Supposedly. They’re mostly about death, or the miseries of life and the futility of being born. Uplifting it isn’t. Anyway, Sherrod was talking about the Romantics and he said—and I guess he meant it for everyone—, he said love isn’t enough. Well, maybe I am a romantic, but I think it should be. Being in love should provide everything for you. But it’s Ruth I said was a romantic, basically.”
- ‘Love is Enough’
“I am pleased to have you asked me this. I had another thinking about God since our talk—when at leisure I always fall into deep thinking. You see, there are many things occur in past or present or near future, but not in infinite future. What can we explain? This is killer question, but I think” (fortunately replying to it himself, even as Paul was changing its ‘what’ to ‘how’) “there must be a force to make these things occur in finite time. Perhaps we may say that God is instructor of this force. I don’t suppose my viewpoint is correct,” he had added modestly, “the thought just only happen to my mind when in eye-glass store to get my glasses fixed. I don’t suppose it has something special, I am not mastering in these things, after all.”
- Song-Tao’s God
“And in a literal sense the expected event, which the Church still expects, fails to occur—although” (glancing at his listener sharply, as if Paul must be triumphing here, whereas only his bony forefinger, raised in a gesture as characteristic of him as clasping the Gita to his chest is of the Swami, and clapping his hands or scratching his shaven head is of the Lama,—only Dr Sprange’s lifted forefinger has checked an impulse on Paul’s part to seize his hand and thank him for his candour) “many scholars have urged that there was a real Parousia of the glorified Lord in the coming of the Spirit—I believe I state the view pretty much as noted by a learned body which re-thought many of the traditional doctrines in my youth.”
- Tea and the Kingdom
It wasn’t very pleasing, the Lama had said engagingly, to think that a person disappeared altogether. Paul didn’t know that the truth must be pleasing, but he was bound to ask why, if the individual wasn’t to survive, the great spiritual teachers had cared so much about individual salvation; why, if the suffering self was unreal, the Bodhisattvas had desired its release from suffering; or else what was to be saved or released. And with no sense of any but his familiar self (and what to him was ‘he’ else?) and his present life, with no sense then of profit or loss in lives foregone, could he be concerned if he was bound to the Wheel of Life?
- A Maze Without a Plan?
“Mrs Navsaria has put her finger on the nail. To fulfil your life’s purpose, this is not a cakewalk. You must develop your individual talent, but as offering to the God, not for own sake. And to unlock the self (true self, not ego!), to gain knowledge of real nature, the atma vidya that is Brahma vidya, —this cannot be done snappily. How long depends on our own volition.”
- The Wall of Paradise
"A pity, though, the travelling takes so long, ’tisn’t nice to wait about on draughty platforms, is it, Paul,” (hearing him cough) “let’s hope you haven’t caught a fresh cold coming down, and after such a spell of them, you must coddle up a few days, a cough can be so teasing, the chemist gave me some syrup for mine, which eased it, White Pine with Tar, and what a time you’ve had, George, the after-effects worse than the ’flu, to have been so queer from it, I blame the raw weather for most of our ails, I wonder, Lois, d’you remember poor Mr Mann, next door to Mrs Todd in Herbert Road? he passed away last week, used to walk so slow, last time I saw him going by to chapel he’d a job to get along, so thankful I can toddle myself up to Samuels’ still, though I do do some falling, Eva always cheerful and the shop nice and clean, as you say, dear, it’s sad, he was a good living man.”
- Piper’s Hill
How strange it felt, Lou’s father thinks now, the past autumn, set down at the wayside halt here for what he supposed the first time, suddenly to remember, on gazing up the weedy track, that (already long since a confirmed trespasser) he had led Lucie up it eighteen years before, with their daughter in her arms, to pick for her album a yellow poppy, seen from the carriage window as the train was stopping.
- Love and Frau Bernauer
So Paul had eyed the man beside him as they had waited to cross a busy thoroughfare on their way to the cinema once, when, excited though he was by the smell of petrol and the tumult in the streets, he’d not for a moment ceased thinking of what he had been told at lunch, and so had laid up other images besides, of flushed clouds at midnight above Ludgate Hill, leaping shadows on the dome of the Cathedral, a blizzard of sparks blowing through the City—images got only at second hand, from Mr Traube and his father, who had first evoked them on a Christmas-week morning as they stood at gaze together, still strangers to each other, amid twisted chandeliers and the fragments of a gilded ceiling.
- A Choice of Life
‘The past is myself’
A review of Anne Forrest’s My Whole World — Penmaenmawr
The history, geography, geology and natural beauty of Penmaenmawr make it a special place. The modern quarry-town spread up from the railway-station, under the mountain they got their name from, in the nineteenth century, but the mountain had been hewn long before that, and the distinctive igneous rock, since used in making concrete, had once been used to make axeheads. In the Iron Age the mountain was topped by fortifications, whose remains were described by antiquaries of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The darkest period in British history was in Wales an age of saints, one of whom, the nearby islet’s eponymous hermit, was Penmaenmawr’s St Seiriol. To Dr Johnson the beetling cliff with the coast-road cut into it was a fearsome object; it was also a romantic object to David Cox, who painted it as such in the picture a tinted engraving of which hangs in the room where I am writing this review. The Victorian age, which saw the discovery of the source of the Nile, the greatest prize in exploration, also saw the discovery of Penmaenmawr as the most salubrious of watering-places. And in the last century a number of Londoners evacuated after the German bombs had begun falling found a refuge there.
Anyone attracted by this place will want to read an author who can call it ‘my whole world’, but this book has a value apart from the interest of the place. ‘The future is nothing, the past is myself, my own history…’ Evidently if we live only in the present we can neither know ourselves nor value truly our own lives. Every life being transient and unique—and so in itself precious even if mislived—, Lampedusa thought we should each leave some personal record, some account of things otherwise lost entirely. In quoting those words of Stevenson’s the writer of this book indicates at the outset what she is about. It is subtitled ‘an illustrated common-folk biography’ (it incorporates a photographic archive), and its comprehensiveness and also its particularity are points of difference from Alice Thomas Ellis’s memoir with the same setting, A Welsh Childhood .The (auto)biographer is a Roman Catholic, we learn (as the novelist was), still a recognition of impermanence as a mark of existence is not confined to Buddhists, and the Buddhist truth could hardly be illustrated more strikingly than it was by the ‘Head of the Great Rock’ itself—reduced, after weathering the ages, to setts, ballast and aggregate. The town too has lost what had seemed an essential feature, in losing the promenade that Elgar trod. And the other changes the author has seen there are not few. ‘La forme d’une ville /Change plus vite, hélas! que le cœur d’un mortel.’ You must feel deeply in this way to undertake the labour of putting your memories down in writing. But reading this narrative of life in those post-war years which are now history themselves, we can surely feel that even today the best medium for the preservation and transmission of the past is still a book—or at any rate a book such as this.
Tenants of the grove
Your month. Earth basking here. No sound
from the harsh world. Nothing to tear
the warm yellow air but cawing, at times.
Stillness, except where a leaf hangs high
from a spider-thread. And nearer than the mossed floor,
though more distant too than a Baghdad pavement
all over blood, that russet heath
with three picnickers under a low sun.
Even your smile then spoke a bruised mind,
still I feel you'd found there, not joy, no—
October in your heart from a boy—, but something
like calm. As I might do now, only,
the thought of you, this livid leaf, jigs on.
A footfall on the litter behind me? So light—
not the ogre Care's then, for all these thistle thoughts.
And why think, turning, to see you here? Well,
it was at this faded time of the season's fag-end,
in the calm before what must come, I found
pity rooting where fondness couldn't,
and might have asked what I'd ask you now.
A patter of mast? The day turns its page.
How to read it, light curdling, life so laconic…
Not time that parts us now?
What parted us then, even that,
had I understood then, finding
your home then couldn’t be mine?
In other summers we’d excursioned
far up that valley. From the coast
I’d followed the auxiliaries’ way
through the pass and down to those ramparts
on the adverse bank. This place
with its grass-grown halt, this crook
of the river, I hadn’t known.
And that to me was time past
and this was time lost.
Yes, but that afternoon,
pea-green before the thunder,
when you took me into the garden,
that evening, old-gold, we watched
tower over the estuary,—
if only as spectroscoped now
in memory do they reveal their nature,
if only now from the future
I was impatient for then
does that time appear as it was,
now I see too, not time.
Time, which takes since from till-then,
which takes you away, brings me after.
Not time, no, but what’s between
my now and your nowhen.
Well, and those Roman miles
between childhood and youth,
did they join or divide?
Still in the tarn the candid star,
but always now in your leafless life
last things first, and roughshod time
louder and louder,—
till a thought pungent as tears,
or as though a bird plunged through heartspace,
suddenly you step over the threshold,
hear the blue ring of the evening, the trampling
Evening in Llansantffraid
Down the lost years, yes, distance has lent it
a bloom it lacked for you then,
standing where the row of council-houses ends,
under the last lamp.
This sense, though, of your own time,
lived only once—this also lacking.
Because you were living that moment,
and living is duhkha?
Yet your senses stretched to catch again now
the sweet sharp air, the ferny gurgle,—
they caught it then, this moment to you then,
by the telephone-box, without meaning.
This moment of pure time?
If neither past nor present, if not in time,
then not of time. And not of being if,
being in time, we never are being
but always becoming. Only
it seems we can at moments, looking back in time,
get a glimpse into being and find it good.