Over the weekend, during the wind, sleet and hail, I climbed up to Peel Tower near Ramsbottom, with Moira Eribenne who captured the extraordinary aliveness of the place with her camera, and who took the two images above and below. The afternoon light kept altering which brought a timelessness to our walk, as well as a quiet sense of awe. We felt blessed.
Our walk was magically bleak and beautiful. The cloud formations and the extraordinary solitude of the simple Tower reminded me again of the following moment in chapter one of Hardy’s novel Two on a Tower when the fated couple meet for the first time. I have always loved Hardy perhaps because as a child I saw the film of Far from the Madding Crowd with Julie Christie, Peter Finch and Alan Bates and thought it the most gorgeously passionate story in the world!
Here, in the Hardy extract below, I love the metaphysical wonder (almost Blakean) of the ‘maelstrom of fire ‘ where humans are forever excluded and yet Hardy allows us to ‘peep’- (voyeuristic as ever-see Far From a Madding Crowd when Oak spies on Bathsheba for example or in Tess when Angel watches the innocent Tess at Talbothay’s Dairy) !
The wonder is also shared, so that the couple’s first meeting involves the exceptional; a sharing which seems immediately intimate and encourages a certain mood of ‘fatefulness’ to surround the encounter. Courtship is set in the stars!
‘What do you see?—something happening somewhere?’
‘Yes, quite a catastrophe!’ he automatically murmured, without moving round.
‘A cyclone in the sun.’
The lady paused, as if to consider the weight of that event in the scale of terrene life.
‘Will it make any difference to us here?’ she asked.
‘But would you like to see it?’ he recommenced. ‘It is an event that is witnessed only about once in two or three years, though it may occur often enough.’
She assented, and looked through the shaded eyepiece, and saw a whirling mass, in the centre of which the blazing globe seemed to be laid bare to its core. It was a peep into a maelstrom of fire, taking place where nobody had ever been or ever would be.
‘It is the strangest thing I ever beheld,’ she said. Then he looked again; till wondering who her companion could be she asked, ‘Are you often here?’
‘Every night when it is not cloudy, and often in the day.’
‘Ah, night, of course. The heavens must be beautiful from this point.’
‘They are rather more than that.’
Thomas Hardy, Two on a Tower, Chapter One.
The Woman in Black
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