On being a writer...

A celebration of the writing process, of being a writer, of all the weird things that pass through a writing brain...

Monday, 20 April 2015

Thomas Hardy - the opposite of mindfulness

Every Easter we go to Bude near Cornwall.  Primroses, lambs, seals, clifftop walks.  This year the sun shone and the surfers sailed and lunged
on brilliant white foam. 

But here's one of my favourite expeditions: a pilgrimage to The Hardy Waterfall, as it's called, on Beeny Cliff.  Here are the cliffs, and here is Thomas Hardy's sketch of Emma Gifford, the girl he fell in love with at a nearby rectory.  They went for a picnic together and she dropped her water glass into the waterfall on Beeny.

So a hopeless romantic such as I walks over the cliff tops and remembers Hardy, who was passionately in love with his Emma, a flighty wench with long blond hair and a blue dress and a taste for riding her sister's horse beside her besotted lover, and I am enchanted by the idea of  those star-crossed lovers, because through his poetry Hardy forces me to see the past through his eyes.  A few years later he married Emma, fell out of love with her but remained married to her until she died of a stomach disease, whereupon he remarried and in a turmoil of grief, regret and loss, wrote a series of heart-breaking love poems to his lost first love. 

Hardy was a rotter. But he was so much a writer - seeing himself dead centre of every scene he lived out - more conscious than anybody else I've read of his place in the landscape.  He regarded himself as a man who walked in the footsteps of countless ghosts, right back to Roman Britain.  He was the complete opposite of mindful. Every handful of soil bore resonance for him.  And so for me he epitomises the writing mind at work - always rewriting, reliving, recycling every feeling, every thought.

He met an ordinary girl, the ordinary sister of an ordinary rector's wife.  You can visit St Juliot, the church he restored and walk his walks.  And the past throbs all about you, because he writes with such conviction of how we inhabit our present as if on a tightrope which quivers with memory and what ifs, but one onto which our reluctant feet are pinned.  For all his haunting, Hardy knew that we can go back only in imagination.

Beeny Cliff by Thomas Hardy

O the opal and the sapphire of that wandering western sea,
And the woman riding high above with bright hair flapping free –
The woman whom I loved so, and who loyally loved me.
The pale mews plained below us, and the waves seemed far away
In a nether sky, engrossed in saying their ceaseless babbling say,
As we laughed light-heartedly aloft on that clear-sunned March day.
A little cloud then cloaked us, and there flew an irised rain,
And the Atlantic dyed its levels with a dull misfeatured stain,
And then the sun burst out again, and purples prinked the main.
- Still in all its chasmal beauty bulks old Beeny to the sky,
And shall she and I not go there once again now March is nigh,
And the sweet things said in that March say anew there by and by?
What if still in chasmal beauty looms that wild weird western shore,
The woman now is - elsewhere - whom the ambling pony bore,
And nor knows nor cares for Beeny, and will laugh there nevermore.

No comments:

Post a Comment