Monday Writing Motivation: O my! O my! O my!
Yes, of course literary conflict provides the driving impetus of all narrative. But from time to time every writer earns the right to indulge their desire simply to celebrate beauty or tranquillity.
We’ve just spent eight days cruising down our river, leaving Priory Marina in Bedford for the distant river port of St Ives, twenty nine miles, five and a quarter furlongs (yes, we still measure progress in furlongs!)* downstream from us.
The weather was for the most part fine. Only one shower caught us unawares – but provided welcome relief from the mid-summer heat.
At every turn of the river – and there are many of them – we were greeted by prospects of great charm and beauty. Leaving each of the nine locks we passed through, we found ourselves plunged into a green world, the foliage so thick on either side of the river and overhead, that it brings to mind Andrew Marvel’s wonderful line of “a green thought in a green shade”.**
Another turn brings a line of towering poplars into view, over-topping a copse of oaks and horse chestnuts, the last remnants of their candelabra blossoms serving as nests for a crop of conkers.
And there to the left of us, along the bank, a field of flowering white lilies with their enticing bundles of yellow stamens…
Now, sitting at the tiller on the stern deck of a narrowboat slowly puttering along through mile after mile of great natural beauty has a deep affect on me. It calms me. It erases tension and anxiety. In the parlance of the moment, it is very good for my mental health.
But great mental health is not the subject of story. Story depends on fracture. On being thrown out of your comfort zone. On being confronted by problems and conundrums, puzzles and discord. Serenity is what sometimes lies at the end of the journey. If your protagonist is lucky, resolution takes place only after he has dealt with his demons and overcome his adversaries.
So what message for you, gentle reader, could I possibly derive from eight tranquil days on the water?
And that’s when I decided not to seek discord where none exists, but to celebrate, for this moment at least, the uncomplicated natural world of the river and its environs.
Four days after we set off, I brought Patience gently up against the town quay in St Ives, slipping neatly into the last slot between a cruiser and a flight of stone steps leading up from the river. I turned off the engine, and with my companions tied up securely to the bollards above us.
And a passage occurred to me from Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows. It was drawn to my attention by a very useful website*** we use to plan our voyages. Every day they post a quotation that relates in one way or another to the endless pleasures of the waterways of the United Kingdom. Here it is:
“Leaving the main stream, they now passed into what seemed at first sight like a little land-locked lake. Green turf sloped down to either edge, brown snaky tree-roots gleamed below the surface of the quiet water, while ahead of them the silvery shoulder and foamy tumble of a weir, arm-in-arm with a restless dripping mill-wheel, that held up in its turn a grey-gabled mill-house, filled the air with a soothing murmur of sound, dull and smothery, yet with little clear voices speaking up cheerfully out of it at intervals. It was so very beautiful that the Mole could only hold up both forepaws and gasp, ‘O my! O my! O my!’”
* That’s 47 kilometres, more or less, in the decimal world. A furlong was originally defined as the distance a team of oxen could plough without resting.
** Here’s the enigmatic stanza in which that line occurs:
Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,
Withdraws into its happiness;
The mind, that ocean where each kind
Does straight its own resemblance find,
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other seas;
Annihilating all that’s made
To a green thought in a green shade.
*** For those of you interested, here’s the llink: https://canalplan.uk/index.html