I Just Wanted To Say...

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Name:
Location: Georgia, United States

I am me. More than I was, less than I will be. This is difficult. Facts-female, southern, mother and grandmother. Abstract-a Christian, a loner, intelligent, somewhat arrogant, impatient with stupidity, an unusual sense of humor.

10/15/2005

One misses the dead

Rupert Brooke spent the years between 1913 and 1914 wandering in North America and the South Seas, and depicted the impressions in his LETTERS FROM AMERICA (published posthumously 1916).

Brooke describes the wilderness of Canada, the beauty and majesty of it. And then he goes on with an impression—

A European can find nothing to satisfy the hunger of his heart. The air is too thin to breathe. He requires haunted woods, and the friendly presence of ghosts. The immaterial soil of England is heavy and fertile with the decaying stuff of past seasons and generations. Here is the floor of a new wood, yet uncumbered by one year’s autumn fall. We Europeans find the Orient stale and too luxuriantly fetid by reason of the multitude of bygone lives and thoughts, oppressive with the crowded presence of the dead, both men and gods. So, I imagine, a Canadian would feel our woods and fields heavy with the past and the invisible, and suffer claustrophobia in an English countryside beneath the dreadful pressure of immortals. For his own forests and wild places are windswept and empty. That is their charm, and their terror. You may lie awake all night and never feel the passing of evil presences, nor hear printless feet; neither do you lapse into slumber with the comfortable consciousness of those friendly watchers who sit invisibly by a lonely sleeper under an English sky. The maple and the birch conceal no dryads, and Pan has never been heard amongst these reed beds. Look as long as you like upon a cataract of the New World, you shall not see a white arm in the foam. A godless place. And the dead do not return. That is why there is nothing lurking in the heart of the shadows, and no human mystery in the colours, and neither the same joy nor the kind of peace in dawn and sunset that older lands know. It is, indeed, a new world. How far away seem those grassy, moonlit places in England that have been Roman camps or roads, where there is always serenity, and the spirit of a purpose at rest, and the sunlight flashes upon more than flint! Here one is perpetually a first_comer. The land is virginal, the wind cleaner than elsewhere, and every lake new_born, and each day is the first day. The flowers are less conscious than English flowers, the breezes have nothing to remember, and everything to promise. There walk, as yet,no ghosts of lovers in Canadian lanes. This is the essence of the grey freshness and brisk melancholy of this land. And for all the charm of those qualities, it is also the secret of a European’s discontent. For it is possible, at a pinch, to do without gods.
But one misses the dead.

As an American, I understand his description of the physical nature of the Americas. As an American, I might not have understood his more esoteric description of what the Americas lack if I had not spent time in Europe and Asia.

While we were stationed in Turkey, we took a number of trips to different areas. Ephesus was one of my favorite places. The city has multiple layers, one city built on the last. It has been excavated down to the city of the Roman era. You can sit in the ampitheatre and marvel at the acoustics, see what’s left of the shops, the public baths. Walk down the streets.

We visited there with a group of about thirty. There were few other tourists there that day, so we had the place pretty much to our selves. It was beautiful and fascinating. I've never been much of a group follower, so I wandered around on my own once we left the ampitheatre.

I walked down a marble street, not really going anywhere in particular. The street sloped slightly downward and to the left around a small hill. When I came around the corner, the road sloped down a little more toward what had been the harbor about a half mile away. I stopped there. The harbor was a semi-circle of dark blue. The sky was a pale blue. In front of me, the road was pale white through green.

It was so quiet.
Then suddenly, I was aware of other presences and other times. Not time travel, not ghosts or spirits. Just an awareness of the reality that something remained of times and people past. Remnants and residue of layer over layer, just like the physical city. It wasn't frightening or unsettling, but rather pleasant and peaceful and comfortable. Even if no other corporeal person were around, this wasn't a place you would feel lonely in. There was a sense of the normalcy of everyday life that goes on year after year. After years, I can still feel what I felt then. What Brooke describes as "the friendly presence of ghosts".

I felt something when we were in Rome at the Coliseum. I was standing by myself looking down into the areas underneath, where men and animals were kept until the time for them to enter the arena. Again came the awareness of presences from the past, but the feelings that came with that awareness were filled with anguish and hopelessness and resignation. Feelings that even the animals kept there smelled the blood and fear and their own death. We visited Rome a number of times after that, but I never again went into the Coliseum. On an ironic note, a tour of Vatican City didn't bring on feelings of piety and peace, but a heightened sense of intrigue and lust for power and a caution that made you want to look over your shoulder.

So many places in Europe are like that, whether in a city or on a country road. Brooke was right. Once you have experienced their presence in that rather peculiar way, you do miss the dead.

1 Comments:

Blogger Cosmic Siren said...

Very deep thoughts. I hope you don't mind, but I posted a link to here on my LJ.

1:51 AM  

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