Sea Dreaming 3
Why, you might wonder, would the Bureau be bothered with someone like Ess? Because he’d shown an odd kind of promise right back in year six - social services had been alerted to him even then – all because he’d come first in a history competition? Heritage he’d said, aged 11, was twofold. Not just about history but a past that belonged to you, and kept you moving forward, or, in the case of a bad inheritance, prevented it. He’d been found drunk early one morning, slumped under a desk. His father had made him partake of his own all-night binge. Not much later he’d succumbed as was his prediction to the alcoholism that ran in the family.
I who had barely seen the sea, said at the same competition that our heritage wasn’t like the sea, it was the sea, whose old waves like thoughts constantly repeated to become new ones. I came third. Much later I can ask again, how new can they become then, these constantly repeating old thoughts, and reply for the Bureau to record. As new as each new wave that builds up and runs away, or as repetitive as me stretching a theme out, not till it disappears but turns back in on itself like the Uroboros which eats its own tail? What I give the Bureau will never be enough and I say again, even if I did want the land and seascape to give me speech, it can’t. It will always be bigger, louder in articulacy than I. And I will always repeat myself, as will we ourselves, in the silence and the crash, the stillness and speed, the rolling in and out like the waves, of the eternal round of the Uroboros’ return.
Speaking loudly over paltry utterances, this scape weathers over broken hearts like the rhythmic but irregular pounding of the waves on the shore and the sparkling eddies of spritely shifting surfaces say, there are no broken hearts, the brightly blowing wind has whisked them away, so when you say I broke your heart by leaving I reply that’s nonsense. But when your heart rose to meet the challenge of my wild and windy one it entered a different place where you sought the abundance of civilisation’s scratches on nature rather than the abundance of nature itself.
On the edge of land we are still on ‘in-land’. ‘Out-land’ is the sea. Inland a blackbird in the sycamore bursts into shrill song through the heavy fog. It congeals to heavier, thicker stuff before amassing like a flock of migratory birds, a bright cloud, to recede and disperse across the outland sea. Once dispersed it amasses again letting its veil down over the geraniums planted round the fountain in the centre of the garden, so close, but now invisible, the fog’s sharp bright cloud blown to shots of hazy vapour. Even if you with your great talent for words could come down you’d not care to express this. Nor listen to how I’d like to try.
So. The geraniums planted in a circle around the fountain are pink, red and white. Geranium/Gerontius. Newman’s poem-prayer Dream of Gerontius is about a dying man and is reminiscent of Dante’s travels through the World of the Dead. I listen to Elgar’s music inspired by the prayer. Gerontius dreamt of worlds that awaited him after death and though guided by angels passed safely by demons on the way to God, had also to pass through several trials before he could look Him full in the face. I have the air off the sea Full in my face.
When the fog clears again to reveal the showy juxtaposition of pink with red geranium I’d rather not see, I walk out on to the undercliff which is covered with migrant holm oak, tamarisk, kidney vetch, wild carrot, tor and meadow grass created by a landslip in 1784. The fog having mostly slipped away here hangs still in the upper parts of dripping branches like halos over several mystic saints.
And I slipping out from under its canopy find the parts of the sea flowing into each other, not to be separate but one and the same. The black waters reel and toss away into themselves, furling and unfurling like one liquid metal collapsing soundlessly into another, each wave ploughing a furrow for the next to drop into, continually collapsing into the continual same.
The sea this morning is far from passive. Exacerbated by a strong wind the tide’s rising that picks up and sucks-in a myriad pebbles from the shore to hurl them out further down the beach is as loudly shocking as the sound of low flying aircraft. When the grey hangs low over the sea like a veil, white horses rollicking towards the shore appear to stampede out of clouds and sky, and when you turn back to the sycamores reaching up from the undercliff, see them bending, blustering and bruising in the high winds too.
Helicopters have been played with their winged seeds. Football with their acorns. The sycamore like the holm oak, also found in the Mediterranean, is an immigrant to Britain from Europe and West Asia. It can withstand these salty sea sprays, cold winters and shady conditions, flourishing wherever it grows. Under a sycamore planted in the 1680’s the Tolpuddle martyrs, precursors to trade unions, swore their oath in 1834, and still the tree survives. Resilient ‘great maple’, Acer pseudoplatanus, false plane maybe, but no weed. Mistaken for the oak in winter its grey pink-tinged bark unlike the oak’s is thickly ridged and brown and unlike the oak-tree branches that grow bushily out sideways, the sycamore’s reach for the sky.
‘Liquid metals collapsing soundlessly into each other’ as I’ve described the sea? That doesn’t sound quite right. For a start the sound can be deafening. But I like my idea till I recall, however dimly, its not – mine - I got it from somewhere else. Start again. Liquid metals collapsing soundlessly into each other doesn’t sound quite right unless we’re picturing Nash’s Winter Sea, but that looks like sheets of static metal. Or Dead Sea full of the non-movement of crashed plane and machinery parts. Still mercurial images come to mind when I look out over this movement-madness of liquid thick as melting metal. Thawed from icecaps in a metallic melt? I’m held in thrall, rapture, spellbound and mesmorized.
Mesmer was no god but a German physician with an interest in astronomy who hypnotised. Mesmerism from magnetism. The fluid he perceived flowing through a female patient’s body during a magnetic treatment, was, he noted, affected by his own will. Gosh.
But I am mesmerized by the separation and return, the break and the drag, the wax and the wane, the ebb and the flow of the waves of the sea. Once, it’s been hypothesized, not hypnotised, and not by Mesmer, we came down into an opaque, material life – not unlike the hardness of Nash’s sea. We were separated from the unity of a translucent life for which we always longed. Our longings therefore not a mark of our unhappiness, but of our eternal longing for immortality.
So, later hearing the sound of a car outside a window at the front of the house I’m mesmerized again by what I’ve seen and heard of the sea. Let’s look out I say, let go of the sound of our material lives, like the smooth tyres of a car over the gravel drive, and replace it with a sound so similar. Waves gently unfurling, gently sucking pebbles up from the shore.
Had he not had a bad time on the south coast might Blake not also have seen such possibilities in the sea? But no, the talk goes from liquid metal to liquid chaos. It was that chaos that Blake saw, standing outside the margins of the civilised world, waiting to smash its ‘rationality’ to pieces.
Nepal. Kashmir. The Himalayas. People either talk about them or are going trekking there. But these rooms and these views are the stuff of dreams. I fill them with flowers for my visitors. The same night, midsummer’s night, a huge full moon ample and abundant, lights up the sky at midnight peaking from behind some clouds and Leyland Cypress, falling as silky as magic over the sea. That night I dreamt that we – and ‘we’ are no longer my city friends but Gurkas - are walking up an impossibly steep incline in the Himalayas. What appears to be the final summit, folding upwards like in a Chinese drawing, turns into another and another, fading to weak grey curves of a pencil’s lead. The mountains are so vertical I fear I will fall and looking out across the valley see they are the same on the other side. But I do not fall. Instead I remark to my guide who’s actually called Guru, after the Hindu warrior-saint, that this scene is so abundant I need never leave it to go to the real Himalayas. They’re here already. Looking up at the gently repeating lines of hills that reveal after one final one, another, I’m always with the always repeating ripples of the sea.