Friday, March 29, 2013

The mender, the maker, the glad undertaker

The dust of the rivers does murmur and weep
Hard and sharp laughter that cuts to the bone
Ah, but every face within your face does show
Going gladly now to give himself his own

And twelve yellow willows shall fellow the shallows
Small waves and thunder be my pillow
Upon the gleaming water two swans that swim
And every place shall be my native home

I drove slowly up to St Briavels, the village that hangs 800ft above sea levels on the English side of the Wye river, listening to the Incredible String Band with my son nodding in the back of the car.

Large puffs of snow floated towards my windscreen from the slate sky, the air so dry and cold I didn't need my wipers on. I looked down and saw a farmer carrying something across a field in the bitter wind, the metal dome of an old pigsty behind him.

The Norman Castle at St Briavels that is now a hostel. A few years ago I played at a lovely wedding here. The bride had long purple hair and it was alcohol-free event, the long years of alcoholism explained by a tearful groom in his speech.

The east gate like a fortress dissolve it away
The west gate like a prison O come break it down
Island I remember living here
Wandering beneath the empty skies

In time her hair grew long and swept the ground
And seven blackbirds carried it out behind
It bore the holy imprint of her mind
As green-foot slow she moved among the seasons


Living in this part of the world makes you feel connected to history in a way that living in cities and suburbs don't. Ancient farms still stand while their barns collapse gently into the dark soil - the marks of a thousand years of community, pastures and land use are everywhere. Damp wells stand in squares, blacksmith barn conversions dot the road sides, one tiny church squats within sight of the next and village shops are still housed in buildings that have held commerce for hundreds of years.

The great man, the great man, historians his memory
Artists his senses, thinkers his brain
Labourers his growth
Explorers his limbs
And soldiers his death each second
And mystics his rebirth each second
Businessmen his nervous system
No-hustle men his stomach
Astrologers his balance
Lovers his loins
His skin it is all patchy
But soon will reach one glowing hue
God is his soul
Infinity his goal
The mystery his source
And civilization he leaves behind
Opinions are his fingernails


It sounds crazy but every time I drive around the countryside here I feel so entrenched by the past, I cannot occupy my mind with anything but chilblains, blacksmith forges, wooden buckets, vegetable patches, telegrams, woodcutters, water bubbling on smoky open fires, laundry days, Roman occupation and wild Silures. No plastic, no internet, no phones - just cold, hard life with no option but to work to the bone to survive.

I am consciously trying to allow this feeling to infiltrate my own life, cut out the dross, live more sustainably, do whatever I can to make money. We are all struggling in the same way our ancestors struggled on this same ground. It helps to feel connected to the past and I now realise I had forgotten what it felt like.

The cobbler, the maiden
The mender and the maker
The sickener and the twitcher
And the glad undertaker
The shepherd of willows
The harper and the archer
All sat down in one boat together
Troubled voyage in calm weather. (excerpts from Maya)

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