Skip to main content

Strangeness and Familiarity


 


A few thoughts about strangeness and familiarity... and imagination, brought on by discovering that this was the time when a familiar but strange man, endowed with a huge imagination, met his abrupt end.

It may have been nearly five hundred years ago, but that day in early July probably felt much the same as today – so, familiar: a warm English high summer's day, probably with a few screaming swifts darting over the Thames and a blackbird alarm call or two, responding to an unusual gathering of people. 

The central character, nature lover as he was, perhaps would have noticed those familiar birds; their life and freedom – their physical freedom, as well as their freedom from imagination.

It is strange trying to imagine how it would feel, having been imprisoned, to step out into the open air, to climb a slightly rickety scaffold (he made a joke about it) and then observe a few formalities, knowing that in a moment one's neck was about to be sliced through.

The evidence suggests that More approached all this with equanimity.  It's said that he carefully tucked his beard forward to clear it from the axe, stating that as it had committed no crime, it should receive no punishment. We might consider that strange.



For my poem, I've turned the clock back and visited him in his cell in the Tower of London.

I think of him recalling his Utopia – an imagined (and definitely strange) place, on reflection, a bit like heaven itself.  I imagine this strange man making jokes – puns, fantasies, curious plays on words – even as he considers such momentous matters.

He ponders on places and people – where he is, where he's going, the act of travelling, and strangers. Particularly the stranger Raphael (an interesting name, but then More was interested in names) who plays a vital role in the book, a frame narrative, itself a strange yet familiar form of story telling,

Trying to imagine More is difficult: it's hard to know what to make of him, with his well-documented life and work allowing so many different interpretations – a strange business.

Still, perhaps we're all strange; whether or not we can all become – maybe already are – strangers, the stranger (like Raphael) can become familiar, with the familiar (those swifts) becoming strange...



Here's my poem.

 


Thomas More recalls a stranger

 

And when the stranger came to tell me

where it was, someone coughed

so I would never know.

 

Old Raphael with his sun-burnt face,

careless cloak and long white beard –

that stranger travelled on. I think

the country which he spoke about

is no more, no more than no place.

 

I rest in this place, now familiar –

real and good enough. I chose

to be enclosed for now. I am

content that I be straitened here

before my room gets narrower yet.

From here the journey takes no longer

than from the house we call our own.

 

Soon enough I shall set sail

like Raphael, to another place.

I shall be the stranger there

for a little while. I’ll speak

of other lands where all is changed,

different. I’ll become myself –

the familiar, strange. The stranger then

no longer strange, but like Raphael

known and named.




Comments

Popular posts from this blog

We were all together there in a foretime

    I find myself attracted to certain words, and here’s one.  Not a word often heard in modern speech, but perfectly proper and well-used since at least the sixteenth century. I came across it in Seamus Heaney’s Section 3 of Keeping Going in his phrase – We were all together there in a foretime. I imagined hearing in my mind’s ear his attractive rich voice rolling it out.   Foretime. Not just, or simply, the past, but a   foretime . (Interesting, that 'a'.  Not 'the', but 'a'). Fore , from before, so it is of course the past, but with a slightly different twist – an added dimension arising from the other words which use fore, as in forecast, foretell or even forehead, when it somehow also looks ahead, to the future… what lies before us? Foretime, Aftertime… be all that as it may, we’ve been here before, it affected us all then, it’s doing the same now and it’s threatening to overwhelm us in the future.   We were all together there in a for

The Three Hares

  The Three Hares We continue on our way running, running, running around held together tip to tip so I can hear what she can hear as well as her. And the other follows me in front of her – we are joined up by our ears so we follow, lead and follow running, running, running around we continue on our way. Running, running, running around – no cause for worry – what's to come has already been. The future's past – watch us here – we're going nowhere – the last is first and first is last. Our present moment sees us still although we seem to race – running, running, running around we continue. On our way running, running, running around hearing your persistent questions – why do you keep on asking? We cannot tell you any more. May you share your senses and find soft silence at your centre which is so close, while you go on running, running, running around. The turning of the year, with the various thoughts about the past and the future that c

The Signpost

Here’s a signpost – originally distinctive, being unique and handmade, and now even more so, with the evidence of ageing.   … numbers, distances, which way? While all signposts are interesting in their duty to inform, their presentation of choices and their simple declarative presence, I find this one special. It’s not just that it has much to say in terms of where you actually are, in which direction you might choose to go, how far your destination is (down to quarter mile accuracy) and even if your chosen method of transport is suitable. It’s also special in the simple elegance of its design, with the arms’ supports and the bevelled edges of the main post rising to that unexpected point. But the specialness goes further.  My friend James Ravilious took me there just at this time of year, over twenty years ago.  It was then upright and brilliant white, with crisp black letters. He certainly thought it was special, photographing it lovingly, in May 1988 ( Chawleigh Week Cross –