I recently cycled along the River Lee Navigation. For those of you who are not acquainted with one of London and Hertfordshire’s (a county just outside the British capital to the north) most picturesque routes I would strongly recommend that you keep it in mind if you ever visit the UK. The unbroken path is perfect for walking and biking. I have made this trip before but on this occasion I went much further up.
Travelling from someone near east London up to Cheshunt the journey took me through some of the most scenic open spaces ever. As it is the custom with me when I am cycling on a traffic-free route, I went into reverie mode, whilst at the same time paying close attention to the path and the people walking or cycling on it.
I do not know if poetry has the same effect on you, fellow bloggers and readers, but in my case I have always seen it as evocative. A poem like Ode to a Nightingale makes me think more of the feelings that led Keats to compose the piece and the sentiments it continues to trigger to this day. The bird in question becomes secondary or even non-existent.
This is exactly what happened that day on the towpath of the River Lee Navigation. Perhaps it was the peace around me, the calm water, the stationery boats, the slow pace, both amongst walkers and cyclists and the overpowering sense of history that triggered off a deep spiritual connection to my immediate environment. As I neared the Lee Valley White Water Centre I saw a wall (or the remains of it) on my right handside with a crack running down the middle. I stopped on one side of the path for a couple of minutes and watched the concrete entity closer.
In the context of everything I had seen so far the wall was ugly. It broke the harmony of the urban and rural mix I had cycled past up to now on my way to Hertfordshire. Yet, all the same I felt that there was a reason for that wall to be part of this bucolic landscape. All of a sudden, lines from Fleur Adcock’s poem Against Coupling came to my mind. I could not remember the whole piece (I very rarely remember entire poems by heart) but I did recall the following verses: “There is much to be said for abandoning this no longer novel exercise/for not’ participating in total experience’.
The strange thing was that whereas Fleur was writing about the need for occasional alienation in a couple (temporary “uncoupling”, if you like), I was looking at the wall in a whole different light. To me it was an object that refused to conform to the beauty standards that the canal had unwittingly imposed. It was an unremarkable wall by any definition. One that could be found anywhere else in the world: South Africa, Thailand, Cuba. However, to me it only made sense in that moment, surrounded by cormorants, herons and oak trees.
I carried on, still thinking of the odd relationship between that wall’s ordinariness and inelegance and the canal’s exuberance. And how poetry married (at least in my head) the two of them somehow.