Saturday, 20 December 2008

Looking for Metaphors

A stream runs past the end of our drive. It's an interesting stream. For a start, it's a strong candidate for the stream that inspired the river in Wind in the Willows, but that's another story. If I walk down to the stream and turn right, I come, in a few yards, to the end of the village. An unmetalled track crosses the stream at this point, and winds away uphill between drystone walls. The crossing point -a flat, concrete bridge- is surrounded by trees. I often walk down to it, and every time I do, I wonder why it has a magical feel to it.
There are many places like this, and I remember reading years ago about possible reasons for it, the kind of geographical features most likely to command our attention and evoke a state of wonderment. The writer pointed out that many stone circles were constructed on hilltops that were spurs, subsidiary summits to larger hills. Interestingly, hill walkers often say that the best views are to be seen from minor summits.
There must be more to it than this, though. For a start, the bridge over our local stream is in a dip. It may simply be the fact that this is the edge of the village and all of a sudden one's surroundings are mostly natural instead of mostly man-made. But this doesn't quite hold up: there are walls on all sides and several huge concrete pipes have been dumped there. Also, when you live in the country it very much comes home to you that farmland is a man-made environment!
The factor I found myself considering this morning as I walked up the road from the bridge is this: one reason we may feel this sense of wonderment in a particular landscape is that we “feel a metaphor coming on”. We may not put it into words, but we know intuitively that there's something latent there, something to be worked out. It's not (in this case, anyway) that we sense wonder and then look for a metaphor. The presence of the "latent metaphor" may possibly give rise to the sense of wonder. We sense that there is something interesting about the mental map we impose on our surroundings. In this case, a road crosses a stream. They are together for a moment, before and after which they diverge. The surrounding trees focus one's attention on this, and add a certain architectural grandeur to the moment. There's a poem -possibly a very bad poem- in it somewhere. As soon as I thought of this, it occurred to me, that people often imbue crossroads with significance of one kind or another and the use of the word “crossroads” as a metaphor is commonplace. (This is a slightly weak argument, I know, as people often erected gibbets at crossroads). Another almost-too-obvious example would be mountain summits. There must be loads more, some less obvious...


Totalfeckineejit said...

Hey Dominic, interesting musings! Could that bridge be on a lay line, could the magnetism be in the flow of water, is it surrounded by hawthorn ,is the feeling specific to you? As usual I have plenty of questions and no answers, but then questions are often more interesting than answers. Wind in the willows? That's some provenance.Work on that poem and check out the reults of TFE's cartoon caption competition.Mwerry Christmas to you and yours,TFE.
Ps. Winter solstice tomorrow-newgrange.

Totalfeckineejit said...

That should be ley line ,not lay line.Apologies Saturday night, drink taken.TFE.

Dominic Rivron said...

TFE: I have no idea where any ley lines would be round here - it would be interesting to know, although I do tend to be sceptical about them. Hawthorn? Don't think so - it's mainly drystone walls round there. Is the feeling specific to me? I don't know. I'll have to keep working on this one.
The Wind in the Willows connection came about -I think- because Kenneth Grahame used to stay at, and wander the grounds of, the nearby Constable Burton Hall. This stream runs through the grounds there.
Your caption competition is great fun. Thinking of Easter Island ideas :)
Thanks for the Newgrange reminder.

Merry Christmas!

Dave King said...

Interesting, the way the thought that there was a metaphor there crossed the thought that there might be a poem in it. There could be a metaphor in that conjunction, too!

Raph G. Neckmann said...

Maybe it's some animal sense, like the wonderful passage in the Wind in the Willows where Mole 'smells' his home. In the Dulce Domum chapter, where it says 'We others, who have long lost the more subtle of the physical sense, have not even proper terms to express an animal's inter-communications with his surroundings ......'

(Coincidentally - I just went looking for that passage the other day to re-read it, because of a place that has the same effect on me.)

Dominic Rivron said...

DK: Hm. I'll have to think about that. Bridges...
I've always been interested in what I can only describe as the grey area between metaphor and surrealism.

RGN: A fascinating quote! WITW is full of interesting things - The Piper at the Gates of Dawn springs to mind. If you only know the book from the TV or the theatre you tend to see only the slapstick.

A brief summary of what I'm trying to say has occurred to me: when something in the landscape grabs our attention in the way described it may be the case that it contains a "latent metaphor" which we may be only dimly aware of. If we fail to put it into words, we are left with a feeling of wonderment.

Poet in Residence said...

Interesting to share your musings, Dominic. Sometimes I have the feeling that the whole universe is a metaphor. But a metaphor for what? Perhaps that's unanswerable question the troubling the poet.

Fiendish said...

I like the idea of a "latent metaphor" - that the poet is an accurate and verbal observer of symbolism, rather than an inventor of symbols.

Nice post.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely with you on the 'metaphor coming on' moment. Nicely put.

Happy days to you and yours, Dominic!

The Solitary Walker said...

I've been trying to think of an intelligent and interesting response to this thoughtful and fascinating post about metaphor and the 'genius loci' - but it's evaded me so far!

I think you touch on a huge and rewarding subject here - an area I touched on myself recently and tangentially in my post on 'Cairns'.

Arija said...

I just dropped in from your Mother's blog.
Old,old river crossings often have that magical quality. Often when the single plank or punt has long gone, peolpe are still draws to stand on the concrete with traffic roaring past and, lost in musing, stare down into the flowing water unconcious of the view. There are cross-roads that give me the willies where the gibbet has long gone long ago, yet other places in old forest glades that lift your spirits until you almost hear the ephemeral piping and feel the faeries dancing all around.
A very Happy Christmas to you!

Dominic Rivron said...

Thanks for these comments everybody. You leave me with a lot to think about.

PiR: Universe as metaphor? I know the feeling. (An interesting take on "In the beginning there was the Word...") Perhaps it's the great unanswered question. Or perhaps we're merely being anthropocentric when we ask it?

fiendish: Yes, I think that's right. "Symbols" often crop up in the course of ordinary life, don't they? They don't need to be invented.

Dick: Thanks for this. I suppose I'm saying that some moments of "heightened awareness" are poems we can't find the words for.

SW: As you say, it is a huge and rewarding subject. "Cairns" (on your blog) is an interesting post.

Arija: thanks for this. I'm not sure how old this crossing is, but I'd guess it's been there a long time.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Poet in Residence says he has haiku moments; you say you have metaphor moments; I too have such mnoments only when I am out in the countryside I love. I think maybe it is to do with ones senses being in a heightened state when one is in ones favourite environment. I wonder if "townies" have the same moments - I suppose they do - there are some very beautiful parts of London for example, or beautiful buildings in some towns - so maybe after all it is beauty that brings on such feelings. The more I write on this theme the more I think that I am getting myself into a corner, because I have just thought that intense sadness can also bring on such thoughts - so it is obviously all to do with ones emotions, full stop!