If this blog was a car it would be sitting rusting on a pile of bricks in an overgrown garden.
It’s been languishing here for a year while I’ve suffered the absence of the slow time I need for reading, thinking and writing.
But since January The Reader has had a Chief Operating Officer in Sarah Fletcher, and in March, Jemma Guerrier, joined us as Head of Development: it’s not over yet, but their presence means a hard-pressed time is coming to an end, and like Wordsworth at the beginning of The Prelude, as the pressure goes off, I feel something stirring;
Oh, there is blessing in this gentle breeze,
That blows from the green fields and from the clouds
And from the sky; it beats against my cheek,
And seems half conscious of the joy it gives.
O welcome messenger! O welcome friend!
There have been one or two days lately, as spring breathes lightly on Calderstones Park, when I’ve arrived at Reader Head Office to find a rosy dawn setting off the rackety cawing of crows in the huge trees outside The Storybarn, and felt a possible space opening in me called: time to think. That feels a relief. I am a practical person and I like action, which I get in buckets at The Reader, but I also need meditative time, which for me is achieved through reading, walking, writing. My hero in this field is William Wordsworth.
At the age of twenty-five, Wordsworth inherited £900 from a friend: this was enough money for him not need to work. He set about walking the Lake District, looking inside himself for what he might do: he wanted to write something as big and as powerful as Paradise Lost. This project became The Prelude, his poem ‘on the growth of the poet’s mind’, which begins with that wonderful feeling of freedom, him sitting there on a hillside, feel the wind on his face. Reading it now, I’m struck by how much form matters. (I started The Reader as a literary magazine, the development of shared reading groups has been another form, and the International Centre for Shared Reading at Calderstones is yet another…) Wordsworth put all his intellectual and spiritual energy into a poem, but it could have been a scientific treatise on the lived experience of mind, and as such might be treated very differently – its thinking would have fed into brain/mind science, but as a poem, The Prelude is read by the tiny minority of people who study Wordsworth for a living, or are undertaking a formal course on The English Romantic poets.
This is a waste. Like Wordsworth, most readers of this blog are ‘free, enfranchised and at large.’ And like Wordsworth we face the question of what we are going to do with ourselves in that free state.
The wind in his face seems a messenger to him, and he responds to the message with the joy of man who has escaped the nine-to-five of a corporate career:
A captive greets thee, coming from a house
Of bondage, from yon city’s walls set free,
A prison where he hath been long immured.
Now I am free, enfranchised and at large,
May fix my habitation where I will.
What dwelling shall receive me, in what vale
Shall be my harbour, underneath what grove
Shall I take up my home, and what sweet stream
Shall with its murmurs lull me to my rest?
Everything is possible now, and yet with the whole earth before him, Wordsworth doesn’t falter – he is certain that something will guide him in the right direction;
The earth is all before me—with a heart
Joyous, nor scared at its own liberty,
I look about, and should the guide I choose
Be nothing better than a wandering cloud
I cannot miss my way.
I am so envious of this secure sense of purpose – that there is a ‘way’ for him and that he cannot miss it .
I breathe again—
Trances of thought and mountings of the mind
Come fast upon me. It is shaken off,
As by miraculous gift ’tis shaken off,
That burthen of my own unnatural self,
The heavy weight of many a weary day
Not mine, and such as were not made for me.
I’m remembering The Prelude because something in me is beginning to breathe again after a non-stop year which seemed a culmination of many non-stop years of building The Reader. I don’t yet have ‘trances of thought and mountings of the mind’ – in my experience that feeling of building thought only comes after quite a lot of free reading, walking time, attempts to get thought into words by concentrating on writing, giving my mind time and space to wander.
But I’m taking a deep breath and imagining being able to start up my blog again. I am imagining myself putting the wheels back on.
Thank you for this. It has prompted me to get The Prelude off my bookshelf.
I am looking forward to you getting the wheels back on your car!