Monday, 8 December 2008

Signs along the Thames

I wrote this one before the world collapsed and wasn’t able to post it. It’s strikingly out of date now the season has truly changed, earth is hard as stone etc., but anyway here it is...

SURBITON, where I live, is boring but the river, ten minutes from the flat, compensates. Along this side a ‘promenade’ (wide asphalted path with seats bearing plaques naming dead Thames-lovers) goes down to Kingston-upon-Thames, 15 minutes away. If you cross Kingston bridge you can walk up the opposite side to Hampton Court.

This morning [a couple of weeks ago] I did this side, but it was cold, damp and uninviting. The other day, though, [even longer ago] late in the afternoon it was exhilarating. Most of the photos I took aren’t worth showing. The tall trees (poplars and horse chestnuts) the line the other bank are wonderful but I've never got a good shot of them. Against a winter sky they were magnificent, one with a single crow perched heraldically on the topmost branch.

The last good time along there was earlier in November, when autumnal mistiness reminded me of the smoky days around Plot Night (November 5th, Guy Fawkes night) when we kids were out gathering wood for the bonfire (chumping, it was called). This week it’s winter, the trees are bare and the skies and water dramatic.

My only sub-half-decent photos:

Whenever a scene in nature seems charged with significance (that crow was clearly a sign), a response learned no doubt from Romantic poetry (though what about ‘the crow makes wing to the rooky wood’…), I think of the poetry of Peter Huchel, translated by Michael Hamburger. I found it in the 1960s in, I think, a Carcanet anthology, East German Poetry in Translation, or perhaps in the journal Modern Poetry in Translation, and used it in teaching. One of my favourites (from the new Anvil Peter Huchel: The Garden of Theophrastus) is ‘Swans Rising’. I don’t read German but love reading it opposite Hamburger’s translation.

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