GOTHIC JOURNEY


* * *

Several years ago, I was finally planning my first trip to England, having wanting to go since I was 18.  I researched castles on the internet and was struck by one in Tintagel, on the Cornwall coast, and that is where I booked myself.  I chose it because at the time I was on a Medieval kind of King Arthur quest because my favorite music artist had harkened back to it on his latest album and drawn me back into the long chain of art which reaches back to that time and contains some of my favorite art of all time. 

I was, in fact, seeing the band in a couple of towns on tour and sort of planned the trip around that.  My favorite paintings are Preraphaelite, and I planned a visit to Old Tate in London as well as the museum in Birmingham, Burne-Jones’ hometown.  I had a Jungian experience at Old Tate.  Upon entering the massive museum, I inquired at the desk where I might find the Preraphaelites, and was told they were in three galleries.  I headed for one of the galleries, walking in my heels on the marble floors, the sound droning off the gallery walls, passing from one gallery to the next, and as I approached the one I was first visiting, I realized I was hearing a loud booming orchestral — it can only be described as heralding — in my head.  It was using the echo of my heels on the marble as its spine.  I have never experienced anything like it.

As I entered the enormous room, my eyes were drawn to what are surely my two favorite paintings:  Millais’ “Ophelia” and Waterhouse’s “Lady of Shallot.”  I was startled and completely choked with emotion to realize that the two enormous paintings were arranged one directly over the other in the massive high-ceilinged gallery, just as their much smaller reproductions were arranged in my own living room. It was one of those strange coincidences that seem to point to some order in the universe.   

Leaving London, I visited Jane Austen’s Bath and went to concert in neighboring Bristow.  I had not planned to stop in Glastonbury but found it very near my route to Cornwall.  Glastonbury is where the legendary (and some say fictional) King Arthur and Guinavere were interred.  It is one of the most beautiful pieces of architectural decay on earth, a massive masterpiece of gothic arches.  On this unplanned stop, I saw the knoll outside town where some believe to be where Arthur was taken by boat to die, Avalon.

One would have to be souless not to be awestruck by this place and its history.  I fairly felt spirits were accompanying me through the entrance, and some strange rays of light appeared on about the third photo into the roll when I set the timer and was taking photos, this being the first one of myself, as I was rushing to kneel as the timer went off. 

As I drove the Volvo down the, for all practical purposes, one-lane roads of Cornwall, moving off into the field to allow what few cars there were to pass, it was through a stone wall I caught my first glimpse of sharp cliffs and brilliant blue water.  It was a sliver of beauty that took my breath away. 

The castle was just past a quaint village and on a precipice with cliffs on two sides. 

I had partly chosen this place because across the precipice to one side of the castle, which was 16th Century, were the ruins of an even older castle from 12th Century that is believed to be the birthplace of King Arthur.  I believe it is the most beautiful place I have ever been.  Just to one side was a sharp precipice, past which were the old castle ruins.  The precipice dropped down sharply to the wild blue water far below.  I would go to the village and buy bread and cheese and sit on the farthest point overlooking the sea and picnic there, taking it all in.  The walk up and down the cliffs to reach the other castle had a commemorate historical marker on it and when I thought of those who had come before me there, I was just overcome. 

At nighttime, in the room, I discovered that one of my favorite poets, Tennyson, had written “Idylls of the King” in that very castle!  “Idylls of the King” was, of course, a collection of tales about King Arthur and that time. I had somehow never even read the actual “Knights of the Round Table” in my lifetime, but I was quite familiar with Tennyson’s rendering of the era. 

The day before my departure, I made a lone trek, longer than any I remember in my lifetime, through the Black Forest to the cave by the waterfall where the Knights are said to have consulted the monk before setting out on their journey for the Holy Grail.  It was like something out of a fairy tale, this forest, the moss covered stones in the sparkling stream, the glistening green and shadowed woods.  It was lost in time.  I was lost in time.  I was exhausted once I finally reached the falls and the caretaker told me a (relatively) short cut home through a farmer’s pasture, which I gladly hazarded to cut a couple of miles off my trek.

An interesting thing happened upon my return home.  The movie  “Dracula,” the ’75 version with Frank Langella, was one of my favorites for many years.  I hadn’t seen it for some years and rented it not too long after my return home.  At the point in the movie when they first show the sanitorium, I was astounded to realized that it was, in fact, the castle I’d stayed in!  I rewound and caught a quick camera shot off to the side where the old ruin was, so I knew I wasn’t mistaken.  I wondered then and wonder now if having that in my subconscious had any part in me choosing that particular castle of all the ones I looked at. 

I really do believe I had spirits around me on that trip.  I don’t know if they were accompanying me or meeting me there, but especially on that path to the old ruin, I felt some sort of deep kinship, something like a homecoming.

Not to be outdone by Tennyson (kidding), I wrote this poem.

TINTAGEL

This is my land
It folds me in its arms then sets me free
It gives me breath and takes nothing from me
It washes me with beauty
My sharp edges jut in sharp relief against its horizon
It gently washes my feet in cool foam
Its fragrance lingers in my hair
floating like a jellyfish about my head
the sun twinkling off the ripples
as I stare into the sky

This is my land
When my soul is bent with pain, it gently unfolds me
Stronger men than I have walked here
and carved a safe enclave in time for me to rest
protected from the battles of the day

A dark rich forest entwines me
supports me, nourishes me
comforts me with moss and damp leaves beneath my cheek
The way a father lays a future for his son,
this land has built itself into my haven,
centuries of care to bring me here

It is what life is too rarely
It is what love strives to be but must finally relinquish to defeat
It is both the resonance of gods and the cool misty whisper of goddesses
It is both creator and created
It pulls like a deep current and cries for me on the wind
It beseeches my dreams calling me home again
This is my land

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