Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Chaucer Conference Blogging (1a)

I will blog about the content of the conference, but starting at the end first, this is an account of the practically perfect day that got me back from Swansea to London. There is no doubt that this last week of my trip away has been a thousand times more pleasant and instructive than the first.

The day began with a brisk hour-long walk around the rocky cliffs from Langland to Caswell bay, shared with a few other walkers, dogs, and joggers, and with a taste of Welsh sea water on the beach before I headed back up the cliff face. We had promised our landlady we would have a cooked breakfast on the last day — there had been unmissable sessions at 9.00 each morning — though Christine didn't think my order of egg, tomato and mushrooms was "full" until I added a piece of bacon. My companion, of course, had the sausages.

We packed up in leisurely fashion, then set off. I navigated us most of the way to Caerleon before setting us on the wrong path which sent us driving north towards Birmingham, but we cut across and made it to our second destination through luscious valleys and woods. Tintern Abbey sits on the banks of the Wye, and though the tour guide said it got oppressively busy in the middle of the day, there were only a handful of people wandering through its lovely bare ruin'd choirs. The sun was gentle; the grass was soft; the workers shoring up the fragments of the west face were having lunch; and the swallows swept and dived through the arches. We marvelled at the one room that would have been warmed; and had a debate with the guide book that said the chapter house was so named because there the monks would have had a chapter of St Benedict's Rule read to them. That can't be right, can it? Surely the chapter refers to the part of the church (i.e. the body of people), rather than the part of the book.

We lunched at the pub, on pickles, salad, bread, and three Hereford cheeses (one yellow, one pink, one green) and I was able to phone home. My phone's coverage hadn't been very good up in the hills, and during the day at the conference was often a bad time to talk to Australia, and it was great to talk to Paul. (I've just now talked to Joel, too: yay!!!.) We then abandoned the idea of nipping back to Caerleon, and hit the road.

I drove straight into London and all went well. Though we were surprised to realise Tom's hotel was on the way. We thought about dropping him off, but he thought it might be better to have a navigator, and he was right. It was when we drove past Harrods I realised we had come in a different way from the route we had taken out of London, and had to get from Knightsbridge to Bloomsbury. It was 5.15, and we had to get the car back by 6.00. Undeterred (and I am used to driving in cities), Tom navigated us across the end of Oxford St, and north and east, and we made it to Hertz with about ten minutes to spare, only narrowly missing clipping a tour bus. That was exciting. It was only when we got into the car park that I lost my nerve, and got Tom to drive this quite big car into the quite small car parking space.

We then separated and I checked into my very nice hotel over on Gower St, with sheets of crisp white Egyptian cotton. But the day was not done! I showered off the road, and then met Tom again for dinner at this gorgeous Moroccan restaurant in Kensington, that looked like a set from an Indiana Jones movie, complete with belly dancers — though here again I lost my nerve and refused the invitation to join in; oh well. But wait, there's more: we then nipped over to the Albert Hall for a 10.00 p.m. session at the BBC Proms: the Tallis scholars singing two C15 masses, one by Josquin des Prez. The Hall was only two-thirds full, but to hear these unaccompanied voices, at night, after our trip to the Abbey, was just about perfect.

Of course, all day we had been dissecting the conference, and talking about our friends, and making plans for the next phase of our book: first thing is to make some revisions to an essay for a collection. Next post, I'll try and think about the ideas the conference raised for me. But in the meantime, in lieu of the Friday garter blogging I've fallen behind on, is a bit of Wordsworth...

    And so I dare to hope,
Though changed, no doubt, from what I was when first
I came among these hills; when like a roe
I bounded o'er the mountains, by the sides
Of the deep rivers, and the lonely streams,
Wherever nature led: more like a man 70
Flying from something that he dreads, than one
Who sought the thing he loved. For nature then
(The coarser pleasures of my boyish days,
And their glad animal movements all gone by)
To me was all in all.--I cannot paint
What then I was. The sounding cataract
Haunted me like a passion: the tall rock,
The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,
Their colours and their forms, were then to me
An appetite; a feeling and a love, 80
That had no need of a remoter charm,
By thought supplied, nor any interest
Unborrowed from the eye.--That time is past,
And all its aching joys are now no more,
And all its dizzy raptures. Not for this
Faint I, nor mourn nor murmur, other gifts
Have followed; for such loss, I would believe,
Abundant recompence. For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes 90
The still, sad music of humanity,
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue. And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;
A motion and a spirit, that impels 100
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things. Therefore am I still
A lover of the meadows and the woods,
And mountains; and of all that we behold
From this green earth; of all the mighty world
Of eye, and ear,--both what they half create,
And what perceive; well pleased to recognise
In nature and the language of the sense,
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul 110
Of all my moral being.

4 comments:

sylvia said...

The joy of coming across poetry unawares - reading Wordsworth,just then, was like re-uniting with an old friend - unexpectedly, it brought a lump to my throat. Thank you, Stephanie, for providing that moment - I am suddenly reminded why I study what I do, and why time occupied in gazing at storm-tossed trees (or ruined abbeys) is time well spent.

Pavlov's Cat said...

You are doing the impossible and making me wish, if only momentarily, that I had stayed in academe. The conferences and their reunions and escap(ad)es with like-minded and convivial, congenial mates were always the highlights of that life. It's lovely to see you sounding in such very fine form again.

As for Wordsworth -- oh my lord, the grammar. The beautiful grammar.

Stephanie Trigg said...

Yes. Not for this/ Faint I, nor mourn nor murmur...

I was surprised, too, at how much I liked this when I read it again after many years. Glad it's struck a chord.

Karl Steel said...

Great posts on the conference. Thanks.

We marvelled at the one room that would have been warmed; and had a debate with the guide book that said the chapter house was so named because there the monks would have had a chapter of St Benedict's Rule read to them. That can't be right, can it? Surely the chapter refers to the part of the church (i.e. the body of people), rather than the part of the book.

I'd be thrilled to be corrected on this, but I think that's exactly it. I just checked the closest reference work,Janet Burton's Monastic and Religious Orders in Britain, 1000-1300, "Once a day the whole community of monks, canons or nuns met in the chapter house, so called because the proceedings usually began with the reading of a chapter of the Rule. The purpose of this assembly was to give opportunity for the confession of individual faults and their correction, and the discussion of business that concerned the house. Often it was a lively affair when the monks, released from their customary silence, could give vent to their opinions on matters great and small" (166).