Friday, 25 July 2014

'Restless longing, heavenly avarice, that never could be satisfied': Roads and Pilgrims

Since it's the feast of St James, by medieval tradition the patron of pilgrims, here's a miscellany of texts touching on pilgrimages, roads, and seeking.

St James, attired as a pilgrim (1320s, Norwich; BL Stowe 12, f.279v)
The gode pilegrim halt eaver his rihte wei forth-ward. Thah he seo other here idele gomenes ant wundres bi the weie, he ne edstont nawt as foles doth, ah halt forth his rute ant hiheth toward his giste. He ne bereth na gersum bute his speonse gnedeliche, ne clathes bute ane theo thet him to neodeth. This beoth hali men the, thah ha beon i the world, ha beoth th'rin as pilegrimes ant gath with god lif-lade toward te riche of heovene, ant seggeth with the Apostle, Non habemus hic manentem civitatem, set futuram inquirimus - thet is, "nabbe we na wununge her, ah we secheth other." Beoth bi the leaste thet ha mahen, ne ne haldeth na tale of na worltlich frovre, thah ha beon i worltlich wei - as ich seide - of pilegrim, ah habbeth hare heorte eaver toward heovene, ant ahen wel to habben. For other pilegrimes gath [i] muche swinc to sechen ane sontes banes, as Sein James other Sein Giles, ah theo pilegrimes the gath toward heovene, ha gath to beon i-sontet, ant to finden Godd seolf ant alle his hali halhen, liviende i blisse, ant schulen livien with him i wunne buten ende. Ha i-findeth i-wis Sein Julienes in, the wei-fearinde men yeornliche bisecheth.

[The good pilgrim always keeps on his direct road forward. Although he may see or hear idle games and marvels beside the way, he does not stop, as fools do, but keeps on his road and hastens towards his lodging. He does not carry any treasure except his frugal expenses, and no clothes except only those which are necessary to him. These are holy men who, though they live in the world, live in it as pilgrims, and travel in a good way of living towards the kingdom of heaven, and say with the Apostle, Non habemus hic manentem civitatem, set futuram inquirimus; that is, we do not have a dwelling here, but we seek another. They make do with the least they can, and do not set any store by earthly comfort, though they are on the earthly road, as I said, as pilgrims; but their hearts are always directed towards heaven, and well they ought to be. For other pilgrims travel with great labour to seek the bones of a single saint, such as St James or St Giles, but these pilgrims, who travel towards heaven, go to be made saints and to find God himself and all his holy saints living in glory, and will live with him in joy without end. They truly find St Julian’s house, which wayfaring men earnestly seek.]

- from Ancrene Wisse

Canterbury Cathedral

I wol ful fayn, at Cristes reverence,
Do yow plesaunce leefful, as I kan.
But trusteth wel, I am a southren man,
I kan nat geeste 'rum, ram, ruf,' by lettre,
Ne, God woot, rym holde I but litel bettre;
And therfore, if yow list - I wol nat glose -
I wol yow telle a myrie tale in prose
To knytte up al this feeste, and make an ende.
And Jhesu, for his grace, wit me sende
To shewe yow the wey, in this viage,
Of thilke parfit glorious pilgrymage
That highte Jerusalem celestial...

Oure sweete lord God of hevene, that no man wole perisse, but wole that we comen alle to the knoweleche of hym, and to the blisful lif that is perdurable, amonesteth us by the prophete Jeremie, that seith in thys wyse: "stondeth upon the weyes, and seeth and axeth of olde pathes (that is to seyn, of olde sentences) which is the goode wey. And walketh in that wey, and ye shal fynde refresshynge for youre soules, etc." Manye been the weyes espirituels that leden folk to oure lord Jhesu Crist, and to the regne of glorie. Of whiche weyes, ther is a ful noble wey and ful covenable, which may nat fayle to man ne to womman that thurgh synne hath mysgoon fro the righte wey of Jerusalem celestial; and this wey is cleped penitence.

- Chaucer's Parson, telling the last tale of the Canterbury Pilgrimage (full text here)

The Parson in the Ellesmere Chaucer (from wikipedia)

Thanne hente Hope an horn of Deus tu conversus vivificabis nos
And blew it with Beati quorum remisse sunt iniquitate
That alle Seintes in hevene songen at ones,
Homines et iumenta salvabis, quemadmodum multiplicasti misericordiam tuam.
A thousand of men tho thrungen togideres,
Cride upward to Crist and to his clene moder
To have grace to go seke Truthe - God leve that they moten!
Ac there was wight noon so wys, the wey thider kouthe,
But blustreden forth as beestes over baches and hilles,
Til late was and longe, that thei a leode mette
Apparailled as a paynym in pilgrymes wise.
He bar a burdoun ybounde with a brood liste
In a withwynde wise ywounden aboute.
A bolle and a bagge he bar by his syde.
An hundred of ampulles on his hat seten,
Signes of Synay and shelles of Galice,
And many a crouch on his cloke, and keyes of Rome,
And the vernicle bifore, for men sholde knowe
And se bi hise signes whom he sought hadde.
This folk frayned hym first fro whennes he come.
"Fram Synay," he seide, "and fram the Sepulcre.
In Bethlem and in Babiloyne, I have ben in bothe,
In Armonye, in Alisaundre, in manye othere places.
Ye may se by my signes that sitten on myn hatte
That I have walked ful wide in weet and in drye
And sought goode seintes for my soule helthe."
"Knowestow aught a corsaint," quod thei, "that men calle Truthe?
Koudestow wissen us the wey wher that wye dwelleth?"
"Nay, so me God helpe!" seide the gome thanne.
"I seigh nevere palmere with pyk ne with scrippe
Asken after hym er now in this place."

"Peter!" quod a Plowman, and putte forth his hed,
"I knowe hym as kyndely as clerk doth hise bokes.
Conscience and Kynde Wit kenned me to his place
And diden me suren hym siththen to serven hym for evere,
Bothe to sowe and to sette the while I swynke myghte.
I have ben his folwere al this fourty wynter--
Bothe ysowen his seed and suwed hise beestes,
Withinne and withouten waited his profit,
Idyked and idolve, ido that he hoteth.
Som tyme I sowe and som tyme I thresshe,
In taillours craft and tynkeris craft, what Truthe kan devyse,
I weve and I wynde and do what Truthe hoteth.
For though I seye it myself, I serve hym to paye;
I have myn hire of hym wel and outherwhiles moore.
He is the presteste paiere that povere men knoweth:
He withhalt noon hewe his hire that he ne hath it at even.
He is as lowe as a lomb and lovelich of speche.
And if ye wilneth to wite where that he dwelleth,
I wol wisse yow wel right to his place."
"Ye, leve Piers!" quod thise pilgrimes, and profred hym huyre.
"Nay, by the peril of my soule!" quod Piers and gan to swere,
"I nolde fange a ferthyng, for Seint Thomas shryne!
Truthe wolde love me the lasse a long tyme after."

- Piers Plowman, Passus V

St James (c.1500, from Westhall)

I travell'd on, seeing the hill, where lay
My expectation.
A long it was and weary way.
The gloomy cave of Desperation
I left on th'one, and on the other side
The rock of Pride.

And so I came to Phansies medow strow'd
With many a flower:
Fair would I here have made abode,
But I was quicken'd by my houre.
So to Cares cops I came, and there got through
With much ado.

That led me to the wilde of Passion, which
Some call the wold;
A wasted place, but sometimes rich.
Here I was robb'd of all my gold,
Save one good Angell, which a friend had ti'd
Close to my side.

At length I got unto the gladsome hill,
Where lay my hope,
Where lay my heart; and climbing still,
When I had gain'd the brow and top,
A lake of brackish waters on the ground
Was all I found.

With that abash'd and struck with many a sting
Of swarming fears,
I fell, and cry'd, Alas my King;
Can both the way and end be tears?
Yet taking heart I rose, and then perceiv'd
I was deceiv'd:

My hill was further: so I flung away,
Yet heard a crie
Just as I went, None goes that way
And lives: If that be all, said I,
After so foul a journey death is fair,
And but a chair.

- George Herbert, 'The Pilgrimage'

Pilgrims' crosses, Stodmarsh

Friends and loves we have none, nor wealth nor blessed abode,
But the hope of the City of God at the other end of the road.

Not for us are content, and quiet, and peace of mind,
For we go seeking a city that we shall never find.

There is no solace on earth for us - for such as we -
Who search for a hidden city that we shall never see.

Only the road and the dawn, the sun, the wind, and the rain,
And the watch fire under stars, and sleep, and the road again.

We seek the City of God, and the haunt where beauty dwells,
And we find the noisy mart and the sound of burial bells.

Never the golden city, where radiant people meet,
But the dolorous town where mourners are going about the street.

We travel the dusty road till the light of the day is dim,
And sunset shows us spires away on the world's rim.

We travel from dawn to dusk, till the day is past and by,
Seeking the Holy City beyond the rim of the sky.

Friends and loves we have none, nor wealth nor blest abode,
But the hope of the City of God at the other end of the road.

- John Masefield, 'The Seekers'

South Elmham St James, Suffolk

Bearwas blostmum nimað, byrig fægriað,
wongas wlitigað, woruld onetteð;
ealle þa gemoniað modes fusne
sefan to siþe, þam þe swa þenceð
on flodwegas feor gewitan.
Swylce geac monað geomran reorde,
singeð sumeres weard, sorge beodeð
bitter in breosthord. þæt se beorn ne wat,
esteadig secg, hwæt þa sume dreogað
þe þa wræclastas widost lecgað.
Forþon nu min hyge hweorfeð ofer hreþerlocan,
min modsefa mid mereflode
ofer hwæles eþel hweorfeð wide,
eorþan sceatas, cymeð eft to me
gifre ond grædig, gielleð anfloga,
hweteð on hwælweg hreþer unwearnum
ofer holma gelagu. Forþon me hatran sind
dryhtnes dreamas þonne þis deade lif,
læne on londe.

The woods take on blossoms, towns become fair,
fields grow beautiful, the world hastens on;
all these things urge on the eager mind,
the spirit to the journey, in one who thinks to travel
far on the paths of the sea.
The cuckoo too gives warning with mournful voice,
summer's watchman sings, foretells sorrow,
bitter in the heart. Of this that man knows nothing,
the warrior blessed with wealth, what some endure
who furthest tread the paths of exile.
And so now my spirit roams beyond the confines of the heart,
my spirit over the sea-flood;
it wanders wide over the whale's home,
the expanse of the earth, and comes back to me
eager and greedy; the lone flier cries,
incites the heart to the whale's way, irresistible,
across the ocean's floods. And so to me
the joys of the Lord are warmer than this dead life,
lent on land.

- 'The Seafarer'


(Halted around the fire by night, after moon-set, they sing this beneath the trees)

What light of unremembered skies
Hast thou relumed within our eyes,
Thou whom we seek, whom we shall find? . . .
A certain odour on the wind,
Thy hidden face beyond the west,
These things have called us; on a quest
Older than any road we trod,
More endless than desire. . . .

Far God,
Sigh with thy cruel voice, that fills
The soul with longing for dim hills
And faint horizons! For there come
Grey moments of the antient dumb
Sickness of travel, when no song
Can cheer us; but the way seems long;
And one remembers. . . .

Ah! the beat
Of weary unreturning feet,
And songs of pilgrims unreturning! . . .
The fires we left are always burning
On the old shrines of home. Our kin
Have built them temples, and therein
Pray to the Gods we know; and dwell
In little houses lovable,
Being happy (we remember how!)
And peaceful even to death. . . .

O Thou,
God of all long desirous roaming,
Our hearts are sick of fruitless homing,
And crying after lost desire.
Hearten us onward! as with fire
Consuming dreams of other bliss.
The best Thou givest, giving this
Sufficient thing - to travel still
Over the plain, beyond the hill,
Unhesitating through the shade,
Amid the silence unafraid,
Till, at some sudden turn, one sees
Against the black and muttering trees
Thine altar, wonderfully white,
Among the Forests of the Night.

- Rupert Brooke, 'The Song of the Pilgrims'

'Christ and the pilgrims' on the road to Emmaus (BL Yates Thompson 13, f.127v)
There are primal things which move us. Fire has the character of a free companion that has traveled with us from the first exile; only to see a fire, whether he need it or no, comforts every man. Again, to hear two voices outside at night after a silence, even in crowded cities, transforms the mind. A Roof also, large and mothering, satisfies us here in the north much more than modern necessity can explain; so we built in the beginning: the only way to carry off our rains and to bear the weight of our winter snows. A Tower far off arrests a man’s eye always: it is more than a break in the sky-line; it is an enemy’s watch or the rallying of a defence to whose aid we are summoned. Nor are these emotions a memory or a reversion only as one crude theory might pretend; we craved these things - the camp, the refuge, the sentinels in the dark, the hearth - before we made them; they are part of our human manner, and when this civilisation has perished they will reappear.

Of these primal things the least obvious but the most important is The Road. It does not strike the sense as do those others I have mentioned; we are slow to feel its influence. We take it so much for granted that its original meaning escapes us. Men, indeed, whose pleasure it is perpetually to explore even their own country on foot, and to whom its every phase of climate is delightful, receive, somewhat tardily, the spirit of The Road. They feel a meaning in it; it grows to suggest the towns upon it, it explains its own vagaries, and it gives a unity to all that has arisen along its way. But for the mass The Road is silent; it is the humblest and the most subtle, but, as I have said, the greatest and the most original of the spells which we inherit from the earliest pioneers of our race. It was the most imperative and the first of our necessities. It is older than building and than wells; before we were quite men we knew it, for the animals still have it to-day; they seek their food and their drinking-places, and, as I believe, their assemblies, by known tracks which they have made.

It is easy to re-create in oneself to-day a sense of what the Road means to living things on land: it is easy to do it even in this crowded country. Walk, for instance, on the neglected Pennines along the watershed of England, from Malham Tarn, say, to Ribblehead, or from Kirkby Stephen up along the crest to Crossfell and so to Alston, and you will learn at once what follows on an untouched soil from the absence of a track of a guide. One ravine out of the many radiating from a summit will lead to the one valley you seek; take another stream and you are condemned at last to traverse mountains to repair the error. In a fog or at night, if one has not such a path, there is nothing to help one but the lay of the snow or the trend of the vegetation under the last gale. In climbing, the summit is nearly always hidden, and nothing but a track will save you from false journeys. In descent it alone will save you a precipice or an unfordable stream. It knows upon which side an obstacle can be passed, where there is firm land in a morass, and where there is the best going; sand or rock - dry soil. It will find what nothing but long experiment can find for an individual traveller, the precise point in a saddle or neck where approach is easiest from either side, and everywhere the Road, especially the very early Road, is wiser than it seems to be...

To study something of great age until one grows familiar with it and almost to live in its time, is not merely to satisfy a curiosity or to establish aimless truths: it is rather to fulfil a function whose appetite has always rendered History a necessity. By the recovery of the Past, stuff and being are added to us; our lives which, lived in the present only, are a film or surface, take on body - are lifted into one dimension more. The soul is fed. Reverence and knowledge and security and the love of a good land - all these are increased or given by the pursuit of this kind of learning. Visions or intimations are confirmed. It is excellent to see perpetual agony and failure perpetually breeding the only enduring things; it is excellent to see the crimes we know ground under the slow wheels whose ponderous advance we can hardly note during the flash of one human life. One may say that historical learning grants men glimpses of life completed and a whole; and such a vision should be the chief solace of whatever is mortal and cut off imperfectly from fulfilment...

For my part I desired to step exactly in the footprints of such ancestors. I believed that, as I followed their hesitations at the river crossings, as I climbed where they had climbed to a shrine whence they also had seen a wide plain, as I suffered the fatigue they suffered, and laboriously chose, as they had chosen, the proper soils for going, something of their much keener life would wake again in the blood I drew from them, and that in a sort I should forget the vileness of my own time, and renew for some few days the better freedom of that vigorous morning when men were already erect, articulate, and worshipping God, but not yet broken by complexity and the long accumulation of evil. It was perhaps a year ago that I determined to follow and piously to recover the whole of that doubtful trail whereby they painfully made their way from one centre of their common life to the sea, which was at once their chief mystery and their only passage to the rest of their race - from Hampshire to the Straits of Dover.
- Hilaire Belloc, following the Pilgrims' Way from Winchester to Canterbury in 'The Old Road'


From my current favourite pilgrims, A Walk Around Britain

There are more ways than one of getting close to your ancestors. Follow the old road, and as you walk, think of them and of the old England. They climbed Chillingbourne Hill just as you did. They sweated and paused for breath just as you did today. And when you see the bluebells in the spring and the wild thyme and the broom and the heather, you're only seeing what their eyes saw. You ford the same rivers. The same birds are singing. When you lie flat on your back and rest, and watch the clouds sailing, as I often do, you're so close to those other people that you can hear the thrumming of the hoofs of their horses, and the sound of the wheels on the road, and their laughter and talk, and the music of the instruments they carried. And when I turn the bend in the road, where they too saw the towers of Canterbury, I feel I've only to turn my head to see them on the road behind me.

- A Canterbury Tale (1944)


For giving me desire,
An eager thirst, a burning ardent fire,
A virgin infant flame,
A love with which into the world I came,
An inward hidden heavenly love,
Which in my soul did work and move,
And ever, ever me inflame
With restless longing, heavenly avarice,
That never could be satisfied,
That did incessantly a paradise
Unknown suggest, and something undescribed
Discern, and bear me to it; be
Thy name forever praised by me.

My parched and withered bones
Burnt up did seem; my soul was full of groans;
My thoughts extensions were:
Like paces, reaches, steps they did appear;
They somewhat hotly did pursue,
Knew that they had not all their due,
Nor ever quiet were.
But made my flesh like hungry, thirsty ground,
My heart a deep profound abyss,
And every joy and pleasure a wound,
So long as I my blessedness did miss.
Oh happiness! A famine burns,
And all my life to anguish turns!

Where are the silent streams,
The living waters and the glorious beams,
The sweet reviving bowers,
The shady groves, the sweet and curious flowers,
The springs and trees, the heavenly days,
The flow'ry meads, and glorious rays,
The gold and silver towers?
Alas! all these are poor and empty things!
Trees, waters, days, and shining beams,
Fruits, flowers, bowers, shady groves, and springs,
No joy will yield, no more than silent streams;
Those are but dead material toys,
And cannot make my heavenly joys.

O love! Ye amities,
And friendships that appear above the skies!
Ye feasts and living pleasures!
Ye senses, honors, and imperial treasures!
That satisfy all appetites!
Ye sweet affections, and
Ye high respects! Whatever joys there be
In triumphs, whatsoever stand
In amicable sweet society,
Whatever pleasures are at His right hand,
Ye must before I am divine
In full propriety be mine.

This soaring, sacred thirst,
Ambassador of bliss, approached first,
Making a place in me
That made me apt to prize, and taste, and see.
For not the objects but the sense
Of things doth bliss to our souls dispense,
And make it, Lord, like Thee.
Sense, feeling, taste, complacency, and sight,
These are the true and real joys,
The living, flowing, inward, melting, bright,
And heavenly pleasures; all the rest are toys;
All which are founded in desire,
As light in flame and heat in fire.

- Thomas Traherne

2 comments:

Nigel PJ said...

An inspiring collection, thank you.
I see St Julian, presumably the eponymous saint whom the Norwich anchoress is named after, is mentioned in the section from Ancrene Wisse.
I started a blog recently (I've linked to your site) and record there a recent visit to Julian of Norwich's church/shrine:
http://inborgeslibrary.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/julian-of-norwich-simplicity-and.html

Clerk of Oxford said...

Interesting - thanks for the link!