Thursday, May 31, 2012

Today in class we spoke about landscape and the Romantics: the local, the foreign. Wordsworth in the Lake District, Burns & Scott in Scotland, Byron in Italy. I read most of Fiona Stafford’s book Local Attachments, which I’d been meaning to read for the past year. Stafford’s book proposed no new theses but was a wonderful, thoughtful survey of the Romantic writers and their understanding of place. Places which created what Heaney called ‘adequate poetry’, poetry as important to freedom and survival as weapons or politics. (An assertion which friends of mine have found very difficult to swallow.) Wordsworth was lucky, as Keats recognized, to be born in the Lake District; to be able to return. I wonder if you only ever are at home if you know the names of the landmarks, of the streets or paths, the hills, the rivers, the trees and bushes. Unlike you have the vocabulary, you cannot be a part of it. But by naming aspen, alder, wych elem (as I am learning) or Rothay or Cherwell or Swartvlei, you signal your recognition of the singularity of the place. Then you can carry it around with you. Then as you sit in the rooms of some far-away city, you can say it quietly to yourself, biding the time until you come back.

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