My dream, wrote the designer William Morris, is a dreamof what has never been… and therefore, since, the world is alive, and moving yet, my hope is the greater that it one day will be… dreams have before now come about of things so good… we scarcely think of them more than the daylight, though once people had to live without them, without even the hope of them.
Among all things most romantic to me is a high place.
I go to high places for calmness and peace.
There are a number of high places I love to visit, from where I live in Warwickshire.
And just such a place, 35 minutes drive from my home, is Broadway Tower in the heart of the Cotswolds, which I have visited many times, most recently the day before writing this post.
From the top of the tower one may see, on a fine day, thirteen counties.
No wonder idealists and romantics went there in the nineteenth century after their friend took a lease on the Tower, following the death of the Tower’s creator and original owner, the Earl of Coventry. For the Tower, a picturesque folly on the summit of Broadway Hill, emerged from the romantic movement. So, too, flambuoyant, theatrical and sensual, did Painswick Rococo Garden emerge from this tradition, as I wrote in a recent review on Trip Adviser.
William Morris was just one of the many idealists and romantics who came here. His rich, complex and exquisite designs now adorn soft furnishings, and a selection of them may be seen on the second floor of the Tower.
He is a beacon of romantic idealism, combining a love of medieval craftsmanship and Gothic design elements.
And his association with Broadway Tower – together with that of his contemporaries of like mind – is appropriate.
It’s certainly true that I, too, feel an affinity with the Romantics, the Pre-Raphaelites, the members of the Arts & Craft movement, and their dreams and visions.
For where would we be in this life if none among us aspired to, or dreamed of impossible ideals?
Read the full text of The Dream of William Morris here.
The most profound emotions, the deepest experiences of the human spirit may be evoked by the sound of a heavenly choir.
There has often been debate about which is the greatest musical instrument. And of course each of us will have different favourites. It has been said, for instance, that the grand pipe organ is “the King of Instruments”.
But I believe the greatest musical instrument is the human voice.
The other day I listened to a heavenly choir – the Armonico Consort – sing some of the most sublime choral music ever composed in St Mark’s Church, New Milverton, Leamington Spa.
As I listened to Barber’s Agnus Dei, and Allegri’s Miserere Mei float through the church, I heard with new ears, and saw with new eyes. I’ve been going to this church for 14 years and had not previously realised quite how beautiful it is. The power of the music had opened up not only the sense of hearing.
Why do we respond so instinctively to the sound of those voices? Because, I suggest, they give us a glimpse of eternity.
Whenever a film director wishes to evoke in the audience pity, grief and sorrow, or joy, bliss, peace and gladness, the best choice of background music is that provided by a heavenly choir.
In the first part of The Lord of the Rings film trilogy directed by Peter Jackson, we find this used to good effect on several occasions.
When the Fellowship of the Ring meet Haldir of Lorien, we hear the first long sustained notes of those ethereal voices. The Lady of the Wood is waiting. The Lady Galadriel appears, and the voices of the heavenly choir crescendo.
In Lothlorien, again the massed voices are heard in the background, an aural tapestry evoking mystical power, visions, prophecy, wisdom, insight.
And at the end of the film, they are heard once more, immediately after Frodo has turned to his faithful companion and said, “Sam, I’m glad you’re with me.”
Here, the heavenly choir evokes values like love, loyalty, courage, determination, self-sacrifice.
In the bible we find these words: “God has written eternity on our hearts”.
I can affirm this by personal experience, again and again throughout my life.
Please share your thoughts on this. Have you too experienced the sublime through music? And do you too have a strong sense that God has written eternity on your heart?
Does an experience of joy and spiritual upliftment only count as a mystical experience if it changes your life?
I believe these experiences gather significance cumulatively, over the course of a lifetime, through the repetition of events grouped around a similar theme – just as in a recurring dream.
And for me the recurring theme is mountains.
When I was about seven years old our family went on holiday to Wales. Early one morning, a few of us got up and set out from our guesthouse for a walk before breakfast. To me, the world was fresh and new, everything was full of potential and wonder, the air held a miraculous clarity, the sky was a pure translucent blue… and at the end of the road was a mountain.
All I could think was “At the end of the road there’s a mountain – and we’re going to climb it.”
And that “start of the holidays” experience of mine was to inform all subsequent “glimpses of eternity” throughout my life.
Several years later I joined the Yoga for Health Foundation which was then led by Howard Kent (1919-2005). I wouldn’t describe Howard Kent as charismatic – probably one of the things I appreciated about him – but I liked and respected his character – wisdom, spirituality & a dry sense of humour.
I went on a Yoga Tour of North India and Nepal with Howard Kent and a group of yoga enthusiasts.
We flew to Delhi and our trip included Agra (the Taj Mahal), Varanasi (the Burning Ghats by the Ganges), the erotic temple carvings of Khajuraho, as well as the Red City of Jaipur, and finally Khathmandu in Nepal.
I have a vivid memory of time spent at twilight on the roof of a derelict maharajah’s palace in the jungle near Khajuraho, with Howard Kent and another member of our party, during which we talked about whether it was a good idea or not to renounce the world. (We concluded it wasn’t). Out in the jungle we heard a tiger growl. Otherwise there was an overwhelming silence and tranquility. And I even remember the cloud formation in the sky, which presented itself to me in the shape of a giant fish.
But this post is about one other aspect of that Indian tour – our journey through the Gharhwal Himalayas, (known as “the land of the gods” ), a journey which took us from Rishikesh to Badrinath, centre of Hindu pilgrimage.
And there, in Badrinath, one peak – Mount Neel Kanth – encapsulated all my recurring experiences around mountains.
I quote here from a passage in my journal, written on the night of our arrival in Badrinath.
“this town and the mountains around it have an awesome quality… an almost palpable presence filled the valley… the source of this power was Neel Kanth, a mountain of white crystal whose peak appeared between the two dark slopes of Naryan… luminous in the full moon.. it shone out like a mystical vision.” The next day, I wrote,”the spiritual intensity of the night had vanished but a deeper serenity remained.”
Is there a recurring image in your life – in your dreams, or in the real world, which means a lot to you on your journey? Whatever you believe, does this ring any bells for you? Do you identify with this journey? Share your thoughts and feelings with me about this journey of the spirit. I’d love to have your comments!
Hidden in the heart of rural Warwickshire is a Saxon Sanctuary I only recently discovered.
It’s in St Peter’s Church at Wootton Wawen, situated between Henley-in-Arden and Stratford-upon-Avon. In the Lady Chapel, an exhibition tells the story of Wagen’s woodland village in the Forest of Arden.
Wagen was a Saxon lord who owned the land (the “manor”) of Wootton before 1066. And I thought of him as I looked through the exhibition. When William the Conquerer took over, he swiped that land from Wagen and gave it, (as was the way of many English monarchs) to a pal of his. In this case the lucky recipient was Robert of Tosny, Earl of Stafford. History doesn’t record what happened to Wagen.
As I wandered around the church, I mused upon the lessons of history, and whether I can learn anything from them, in my life.
Along with the Saxon Sanctuary, three other streams of thought played into my musings – a recent TV programme on the 50 greatest treasures found by members of the public; a BBC TV drama production of Shakespeare’s “Henry V”; and our planned visit to Bosworth to see the re-enactment of the Battle of Bosworth where Richard III was killed, thus signalling the end for the Plantaganets and the rise of the Tudors.
Here are a few historical snippets that sprang into my mind, in no particular order:
A Viking with “bad attitude” buried his plunder meaning to come back later and collect it – but he never did. It lay in the earth until it was found by chance 1300 years later.
Henry V triumphed at Agincourt, then married Catherine daughter of the King of France. Their son Henry VI was a bit of a wash-out as a king, and would have preferred not to be king at all; he shrank from the role whereas his father had been famed for his valour. Following Henry V’s death when his son was 9 months old, Catherine went off and married Owen Tudor and thus started the Tudor dynasty.
When Richard III fought Henry Tudor at Bosworth, Henry was the rank outsider, and Richard would have been expecting to win. Shakespeare has him saying, “A horse! A horse! my kingdom for a horse!” He probably never said it but with those words Shakespeare exactly captures not only the poignancy and significance of that moment, but gives us a metaphor for human life many can recognise.
Mary I believed she’d restored Catholicism to England. She meant to secure a Catholic future – but whatever she achieved was only temporary. Her pregnancy turned out to be a phantom one, she died, and the throne passed into the hands of her protestant half-sister.
So I meditated on the fickle changes of fortune, and how they interface with our lives.
Consider the following:
What might have happened if:
– Richard III’s (metaphorical) horse had been available at the moment he needed him?
– Mary I had had a successful pregnancy which led to the birth of a healthy baby, thus securing a Catholic Tudor dynasty in England?
– if Harold had beat William at the Battle of Hastings in 1066?
– if James II had won the Battle of the Boyne?
– if Charlotte, the beautiful daughter of George IV and Caroline of Brunswick, (as beloved as Princess Diana was when she died in 1997) had safely given birth to a healthy child, and lived to claim the throne and reign for 60 years, before Victoria was ever thought of?
– if Edward VIII had not met Mrs Simpson?
Some of these events could be interpreted as arising from errors of judgement and human failings; others from quirky twists of fate.
Many potentially great or significant people have been swallowed up by fate and removed from the arena of the world; and thus prevented from affecting the destiny of the human race. Shakespeare was well aware of that.
So what do I deduce from this? And is this something that can apply to anyone who has a dream or vision or sets out upon a course of action with a great goal in mind – such as a creative writer who would like their words to be read by many?
Simply that success or failure is not determined by hard work and striving.
Certainly “hard work and striving” cannot just be dispensed with. But perhaps we have to live with a healthy knowledge that that they may in a moment be swept away, and rendered irrelevant, by a quirky twist of fate.
What do you think? Do you share my fatalism? Or are you a historian who disagrees with my interpretation of English history? Do consider leaving a comment!