The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.
Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made
is star-stuff too?
– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –
dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.
Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.
Monday, 15 June 2015
plus ça change
I've been silent here because there are so many significant things happening in my life at the moment for which I seem to have no words. I've barely sat down to write creatively, either, in months now – a somewhat frightening state of affairs, but next month that will be challenged. I hope.
TM and I have been walking in my favourite forest in Brittany, dense as it is with history, legend and story. This place has been a major node, let's say, on my inner map for maybe thirty years, and is twinned with my family's home town, just to anchor me further.
One of the things I love about this forest is that it reminds me of the magical Wistman's Wood (possibly from Wisht Maen, or Wise/Sacred Stone) on Dartmoor, except that this forest is about 2000 times bigger, and the rocks and trees themselves Goliaths to Wistman's Lilliputians (to mix my metaphors).
And I have a new project there, of which more anon.
It's a long and snaking path we all live; one that does not succumb to reason or planning (thank goodness), and proceeds in great loops and spirals, bringing us back to the same or similar places, literally but also metaphorically, where we meet ourselves again in deeper ways.
Brittany has been part of my consciousness, my psychic reality, all my life. I come from a minority culture with its own language, as have my family from forever: in our case a little tribe from the very far West of the British Isles, in Cornwall. We share with Wales, the Isle of Man and Brittany a Brythonic tongue (the Scots and Irish share variants on the Goidelic branch of the Celtic language).
My father was very immersed in Brythonic Celtic culture. My own later passion for its myths, legends, pre/history, megaliths and language informed my switch, on arrival at Cambridge University, from English to Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, where I specialised in the latter, plus mediaeval French (and the Picts). (As it happens, I also feared that to study English at a time when my creativity wasn't yet properly formed would prove an inhibiting factor on creative expression ever after – a theory that's been borne out by friends' experiences.)
So, although I don't speak Cornish at all fluently except in the sense of picking out words and place-names, I did learn Middle Welsh. When I am in Brittany, cousin-culture, not only am I also home, in a way, but I can also understand many of the words and place-names.
One of the loops took me to the high Pyrenees in my very early 20s. This period, echoed later in the same place, brought me what I can only describe as three 'out of body' experiences which have undoubtedly shaped my life and my consciousness since. Also out of these experiences grew my first novel, Imago, a novel about the persecution of the Cathars in the 13th century.
But that's not where I'm going here. One of the periods in the Pyrenees was a winter spent in a big old mas, or farm, become commune, right on the French border with Spain. Three miles from the nearest road, we also had to walk a half mile to fetch water from the spring, and we grew or milked our own livelihood.
During that winter, which in some ways was hard, my back inexplicably gave out (I say inexplicably, but in fact I had fractured three vertebrae as a child, with temporary paralysis of one leg. However, I'd not had any trouble since it healed.) For a few weeks I was completely bedridden, in pain, cold, and with nothing to do. One day, a couple of the communards carried me down the mountain on a kind of stretcher thing made of coats and ash branches (this also figures in Imago).
A little lower down there lived an old man amongst a small farm of cherry trees and bees (I know this sounds like a fairy tale, and in some ways it was). He turned me over, laid his hands on my lower back, and after ten minutes I got up and walked back up the hill.
Things happen. I've never forgotten.
Nor have I forgotten that one communard, a Breton guy called Jean-Yves, during the time I was bedridden came every afternoon with Breton books, some of them cartoon books, to teach me Breton. Afternoon by afternoon my grasp of the language and my affection for the Breton who was kind enough to give me an hour every day, and by extension the Breton people as a whole, grew.
So, loop on loop, my life has brought me back to a place where France in general and Brittany in particular is claiming a significant part of my life again, thirty years after – I haven't talked of this – it first loomed on my horizon as being my own personal Isle of Ys (not just the Isle of Ys that is also connected with Brittany in the collective and mythological consciousness of the Bretons), before it then sank without trace.
If all that's enigmatic, so be it. It's worth tracing the way our lives loop back on themselves though – we can learn a lot from the similarities of aspects of our inner lives, no matter how much the outer expression and times are divergent. Repeating patterns have something to say of the soul and its purposes, I think.
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