Monday, 12 April 2010

On thy stupendous summit, rock sublime !

Due to whatever happened during the last Ice Age, Beachy Head is celebrated for having the highest chalk cliffs in Britain, rising to a whopping 162metres above sea level. It’s a really dramatic place, which is fully run by the elemental forces. Man has no place here really.
If all the world's a stage, man is most  definitely the spectator here. 

The permanent wind, which hails from all corners and seems to carry the whispering of ancestral voices in its howl, can be challenging to handle, but also very good for emptying your head of thoughts, like a good spring clean.

Of course, like everyone, I have always associated Beachy Head as being THE most notorious suicide spot in Britain. It is also the world’s third most notorious self-sabotage spot, something the locals are not proud off. On average, 20 souls a year throw themselves off these vertiginous cliffs. Blessed be.

So when I reluctantly found myself there yesterday, with a group of friends following a weekend in the country, I tried recalling Charlotte Turner Smith’s 1807 Beachy Head sonnet, whilst walking along the undulating, coast and holding onto my bonnet.

Only Charlotte, who is credited by Coleridge and others as having helped to revitalise the English sonnet, could give the place a bit of gothic romance, and also help process this otherworldly landscape into words with her disctinctive contemplative blank-verse poetic style.

William Wordsworth  said of Smith in the 1830s that she was "a lady to whom English verse is under greater obligations than are likely to be either acknowledged or remembered".

And he was right, as by the second half of the nineteenth century, Smith was largely forgotten and it was only in 2008 that her entire prose collection became available to the public. A must,  for all those who love a good old English sonnet.

Here are some exerts from her epic Beachy Head sonnet, coupled with the pictures I took yesterday (apart from the first one):
ON thy stupendous summit, rock sublime !
That o'er the channel rear'd, half way at sea
The mariner at early morning hails,
I would recline; while Fancy should go forth,
And represent the strange and awful hour
Of vast concussion; when the Omnipotent
Stretch'd forth his arm, and rent the solid hills,
Bidding the impetuous main flood rush between
 The rifted shores, and from the continent
Eternally divided this green isle.
Imperial lord of the high southern coast !
From thy projecting head-land I would mark
Far in the east the shades of night disperse,
Melting and thinned, as from the dark blue wave
Emerging, brilliant rays of arrowy light
Dart from the horizon; when the glorious sun
Just lifts above it his resplendent orb.
  Contemplation here,
High on her throne of rock, aloof may sit,
And bid recording Memory unfold
Her scroll voluminous--bid her retrace

From the rough sea-rock, deep beneath the waves.
These are the toys of Nature; and her sport
Of little estimate in Reason's eye:
And they who reason, with abhorrence see
Man, for such gaudes and baubles, violate
The sacred freedom of his fellow man--
Erroneous estimate ! As Heaven's pure air,
Fresh as it blows on this aƫrial height,
Or sound of seas upon the stony strand,
Or inland, the gay harmony of birds,
And winds that wander in the leafy woods;
Are to the unadulterate taste more worth
Than the elaborate harmony, brought out
From fretted stop, or modulated airs

  Or trembling in the high born beauty's ear,
Are poor and paltry, to the lovely light
Of the fair star, that as the day declines,
Attendant on her queen, the crescent moon,
Bathes her bright tresses in the eastern wave.
For now the sun is verging to the sea,
And as he westward sinks, the floating clouds
Suspended, move upon the evening gale,
And gathering round his orb, as if to shade
The insufferable brightness, they resign
Their gauzy whiteness; and more warm'd, assume
All hues of purple.  There, transparent gold
Mingles with ruby tints, and sapphire gleams,
And colours, such as Nature through her works
Shews only in the ethereal canopy.
Thither aspiring Fancy fondly soars,


1 comment:

  1. Gorgeous photos my dear. L. x


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