Monday, 13 August 2018

On the Ways to the Old Literary Roads around Okehampton



       
Okehampton Castle
Photo Julie Sampson


Writing Women on the Devon Land
A-Z of Devon Women Writers & Places

On the Ways to the Old Literary Roads around Okehampton

        I could have chosen Offwell, Ogwell, Okeford, Otterton, or Ottery St Mary. But for this Alphabet of Devon Women Writers (up to about 1960), I settled on Okehampton. It's partly nostalgia, the town being a favourite place of my childhood, where I (albeit fairly briefly) and before me, both my parents attended school. I don't know of any individual woman author whose home was in the parish up to circa 1960 - but I do know several who included the place in their writings. Rosalind Northcote, Mary Ward and Sophie Dixon all set down in text their personal responses to the scenic, and/or historical characteristic of the Okehampton locality ...

     ... It is not just the romantic lines of Okehampton castle ruin that call, either when you spot Okehampton castle from the dual carriageway of the A30, or as you negotiate the upward swirls of the road curling up and away from the old town deep in the valley beneath, or through light reflected leaves on the left of the road. It is also the intricate lineage of the genealogical patterning of the past, which suggests that this near empty shell must once have harboured both men and women closely connected to the topmost ruling class, who were likely to be of the then literate fraternity. By the time you see the ruin you have entered the hallowed receptacle of the moor. Before you, are a multitude of enticements.

       For me, the northern doorway to Dartmoor's charm has always been the historical marker of this well-known Devon castle. Rosalind Northcote's travelogue/guide-book/historical survey, Devon; its Moorlands, Streams & Coasts (See on Project Gutenberg) outlined the ruin and its vicinity as it appeared in the rustic environment of the early C20.

   The castle of Okehampton stands about half a mile from the town and looks on one side over fertile hills and valleys, woods, and rich meadows, and the gleaming waters of the West Okement, on the other towards the bold, changeless outlines of the outer barriers of Dartmoor. The castle was once surrounded by its park ... The Okement rippling over a rocky bed – the name ‘uig maenic’ means the ‘stony water’ – hurries past the foot of a knoll on which the castle rises out of a cloud of green leaves that shelter and half hide the walls. Protected by the river and a steeply scarped bank on the south, a natural ravine on the north and a deep notch cut on the western side, the mass of slate rock that it stands on was a point of vantage.[i]
By West Okement, from where you can see glimpses
of ruins of Okehampton Castle glinting through the trees.



Old Town Park
Local Nature Reserve
Okehampton

          There are copies of Northcote's Devon book available from various sites, including Abe Books. I tend to agree with the fairly recent review of the book on the jsbookreader blogThe best feature of Devon; its Moorlands, Streams & Coasts is its inclusion of colour plates of Devon scenes, by acclaimed painter Frederick John Widgery. I feel rather mean saying this about this, but tend to agree with jsbookreader's assessment: Devon; its Moorlands, Streams &Coasts is 'largely built around scraps of learned but much-recycled material'.
Colour Plate of Okehampton Castle, painting by FJ Widgery.
taken from Devon: its Moorlands, Streams & Coasts.

         Devon; its Moorlands, Streams & Coasts is a book which anyone who likes to collect Devon history, or landscape books collectors, would love, and ought to have in their library. Of nostalgic value, the text is in the tradition of and influenced by such canonic male-authored Devon books as Crossing's Guide to Dartmoor; but once you get into the mind-set of the time in which it was written,
Devon; its Moorlands, Streams & Coasts does have a certain time-less appeal and Rosalind Northcote's passion for her home county is evident. There are individual touches which the author most likely obtained from personal visits to many of the places she describes. 
        Daughter of Walter Stafford Northcote, Second Earl of IddesleighLady Rosalind Northcote wasn't the only author in her family. I'm not sure whether she had any literary female relations, but both her father and her brother Stafford Harry Northcote, Viscount St Cyres  also wrote and published books, whilst her grandfather, Stafford Northcote First Earl of Iddesleigh, also had literary interests. For centuries, the Northcote family seat was at Pynes House near Exeter, which, though nowadays known as Devon's Downton Abbey and popular as a local wedding venue, is also known locally for its apparent close association with Jane Austin:
'The second Earl, Walter Stafford Northcote, was a huge admirer of the literary talent of Jane Austen and believed most fervently that his house was indeed the inspiration for Barton Park in Austen’s iconic work, Sense and Sensibility. This tale is still told in the local area and remains as popular as ever' (Pynes House Website) 
       
         I'm not saying the information isn't out there in the archives, but in the limited time I've been able to devote to researching Rosalind Northcote I've not found much about her life; maybe someone out there does know about her, or has come across documentation about her in a record office somewhere. The Pynes archives  at A2A certainly seems promising. There are a couple of tantalising snippets dotted round the web. One concerns Lady Rosalind's next youngest sister, Lady Elizabeth Northcote, who in 1914 married Sir Randolph Bruce in a celebrated wedding held at Pynes. According to one source, there had initially been plans for Bruce to marry author Rosalind, eldest daughter, but she was found 'prickly' and 'unapproachable' (see Lady Windemere) Elizabeth was 38 at the time of her marriage, quite old for her generation. There are various easily accessible online accounts about this couple;  a year after their marriage they travelled to Paris with Rosalind, which suggests the two sisters were probably close. The same description notes that unlike her sister (!) Elizabeth had a 'sweet disposition' and 'was very thoughtful of others' (Lady Windemere). Sadly, Elizabeth died within a year of her marriage, probably of appendicitis.

        Lady Rosalind survived her other siblings and died at Pynes in 1950. A visitor to Pynes during her last years is said to have commented: 'She was a law unto herself quite a formidable woman. She used to spend most of her day in a large sitting room with the windows open, chain smoking.' (Lady Windemere).

      The National Portrait Gallery has a portrait of Lady Rosalind here.www.columbiavalleypioneer.com/news/the-lady-of-lake-windermere/ ....


         But, at this point, though it is tempting to stray further I must not wander away too far from Okehampton, the subject of this blog piece. One hundred years before Northcote's Devon book another local Devon author wrote about Okehampton castle and its surroundings.  Sophie Dixon's C19 journals provide us with another detailed panning shot of the castle and its vicinity in an even more pastoral, pre-technologically dominated landscape than that about which Northcote wrote.




Pages from Sophie Dixon's Journal
which mention Okehampton,
1830
        I get the feeling that unlike Rosalind Northcote, Sophie Dixon had more first hand acquaintance with the places she wrote about. You'll find Dixon's name pops up readily in Google searches, especially linked to various descriptions and accounts of Dartmoor. For instance:

 For sometime Dartmoor was the home of Miss Sophie Dixon, the charming writer, and her acquaintance with it was extensive. She was in the habit of taking long rambles, setting forth at an early hour, and covering as much ground in a day as many would do in three. Sometimes when on a pedestrian tour she would rise at midnight, and start on her journey soon after, in order to avoid walking under a burning summer sun (Quoted in William Crossing's One Hundred Years on Dartmoor). 
          Contemporary writers often refer to Dixon, probably because her writing is striking in its detail and immediacy. In his Garden History of Devon Todd Gray notes that she was 'decisive in her writing'. Along, with Anna Eliza Bray and Rachel Evans, two other contemporary female author/travellers whose homes were in the vicinity of Tavistock, Dixon contributed to the C19 discourse of Dartmoor discovery.
     
      In her book Ten days excursion on the western and northern borders of Dartmoor, you can still sense the immediacy of the rapturous, pseudo-pioneering mode of discovery experienced and then voiced by Dixon after she crosses the C19 wild Dartmoor reaches, in 1830:

… we passed near the source of the Lyd, and then altering the direction of our steps the Sourton Tors rose before us, until again diverging to the right we came in view of the West Okement, winding amid a rocky channel, below a descent almost precipitous ... The valley inclining almost to a ravine, the river enters by a winding channel at the foot of Black Tor, which closes the view in a southerly direction. An extensive range of hill, dark with heath, occupies the opposite side of the valley, while a third mountain meets it below.’

     ... Following a trip to the locality of Fatherford I scribbled a short piece reflecting simultaneously on my own visit and what I re-imagined of Sophie Dixon's ...

         If you're lucky ... on moor's northen slopes, at the, just, still, tranquil site of Fatherford, just east of Okehampton and on the edgelands of the multiplying, mushrooming new housing estates, you can reflect and muse beside west Okement’s mirror river, where the wooden bridge crosses over into the glade the other side, where water’s lyrics, a ‘voice of waves’, will lull you to the beguiling wild haunts that writer Sophie Dixon intuited a hundred or so years ago ... Royal ferns flutter at our feet, taking us, slowly, surely, into their green and empty world, beyond glittering light.
        Sophie knew she felt, she heard, here, where road and river dissect, where dual worlds seem to briefly meet and part, here, where one looks (and moves us to loop unhurriedly, like snails snaking the undergrowth at our feet), back to the past and the other hurtles us onto the future, which can’t wait; this conveyor belt of concrete we cannot get escape.
      As you leave the glade,  spin around to catch a glimpse of your past, and hers, before a covey of orange monbretias in the hedge by the stream flare a signal, we are still here, still here, here, here, find us. Us ...

         Sophie Dixon also wrote poetry. Her Castalian Hours is made up of a sequence of poems; its title poem Stanzas Written on Dartmoor revels in the wildness and solitude of Longaford, and the surrounding moorland. It's with pseudo-Wordsworthian delight that she captures the scenic grandeur of moor's romantic enticements

And these are yours oh Mountains, these around
Your time-bleached summits, mingle in the air
A potent voice, a passion stirring sound ...
        William Crossing praised Dixon’s poems in his Dartmoor travelogue 'Amidst Devonia's Alps' but nowadays, like Rachel Evans and Anna Eliza Bray, although versions of her books are still obtainable, unlike that of their male equivalents, Crossing and Carrington, these women’s published writings are not generally recognised or acclaimed as being significant Dartmoor texts. This is a shame, for between them the trio of C19 Tavistock women fully documented a kaleidoscope of Dartmoor’s richly diverse data. There are, I believe, as yet unexplored interconnections between the three women, Bray, Dixon and Evans, linking both their lives and their texts. All three left a rich legacy of documents, which are testaments to the moor’s unique contribution to Devon’s landscape and heritage and are also encyclopedic in their value to the researcher. If a researcher wants to know something about someone or somewhere concerning Dartmoor’s history, then the likelihood is that they will eventually find the answer in one of the texts of Bray, Dixon or Evans ...

     ... I'm asking myself,  am I straying again from the ostensible main theme of this blog-piece? I hope not. I don't think so. Okehampton is very much enclosed within, or in the dip of the wrap-around protective landscape cloak, so the Dartmoor-linked comments about the women authors I've so far discussed are relevant ...

        ... Some fifty years or so before Dixon's journal was published, in 1807, in her collection Original Poems, a Devon poet called Mary Ward evoked the ruin in a poem titled 'Oakhampton Castle'. Albeit rather laboured in tone, Ward's poem's darkly laboured iambic lines project an appropriate mood of Gothic splendour:
stupendous pile whose mouldering towers/declare the wide uncultured day/when thou couldst boast terrific powers/that sought to make the world obey.      
         Ironically, the considerable historical significance of such an ancient skeletal and now ruined building as Okehampton Castle is emphasised because of the poet's use of overly ornate language. The style may be ornate, as well as foreign to contemporary ears, but the underlying message is authentic and eternal. Such an edifice, sunk into the foundations of solid earth within our land was – and is – forever replete with the stories of those who lived before. Nevertheless, Ward’s poem about the once striking and significant castle makes its own original contribution to the maintenance of the site’s importance in public memory. 'Oakhampton Castle's' flourish of romantic ornamentation can help to preserve reflecting fragments of history as they are wrapped within the sparse shell of a ruined building in the landscape. The poem aims to mirror the reality of what was.

       However, other than her poems in the collection Original Poems, little seems to be known about the poet herself. Mary Ward herself is elusive and attempts to discover anything substantial about her have proved well-nigh fruitless: she is said to have come from Brixham; she dedicated her book to the Countess of Loudon (who might be this Flora Campbell)she was an acquaintance of the owner of Raithby Hall, in Leicestershire, Robert Carr Brackbenbury, who rather intriguingly, was also known as a poet. Yet, that is all I have found... If there is anyone out there who knows anything about this elusive C19 poet, please get in touch, so I can add more information about her ...


          ... Before I leave the lanes and literary losts of Okehampton I'll just mention I've included a short fragment of fiction based on an imagined scenario at Okehampton castle in Part Two of the as yet unpublished Writing Women on the Devon Land. It's based on Hawisia ... a real noblewoman of the C12, whose ancestors from Okehampton were closely connected to the Norman/Plantaganet royal court. Following a lot of detailed and genealogical research, it occurred to me that this Hawisia may well have known the mysterious C12 poet Marie de France ... 'Someone, who in the mind's interior depths, heard a whisper from that long-ago past, telling me that yes indeed, she was Marie and not to leave her (and her circle of kin including Hawisia) out, from my own reinvented (or as I now see it, reinventing) story' ...

Here's a snippet from the opening of the fictional fragment:

Okehampton Castle’s ruins lie like an abandoned fairy-tale
 in a hollow on a spur of shale between two rivers flowing beneath Dartmoor. 

There’s a deep ditch between it and the country around. 
Outside the still quite massive wall of the castle,
above the curling west Okement river,
lie the immense lands of the Chase - 
the hunting-park of the medieval Courtenay family - 
which once sprawled its green-throw beneath the splatterings of C20/21 edifices. 
There’s the army camp, 
the relatively recently constructed A30, the golf-course, 
various other houses and paraphernalia ...




Sunday, 6 May 2018

Ma(r)king the Way to Martinhoe



Old Schoolhouse Martinhoe
Photo Julie Sampson



Writing Women on the Devon Land
A-Z of Devon Women Writers & Places
Marking the Way to Martinhoe

Old Schoolhouse Martinhoe
Photo Julie Sampson
         The little parish of Martinhoe in north Devon has to represent the 'M' in this A-Z of Devon Women Writers & Places.
I began the journey toward writing a book about women many years ago, long before I researched then embarked on the written study of particular women writers. During the late eighties and early nineties, whilst researching and writing up my PhD, I ventured up to the remoter landscape north of the county to find where author/poet H.D.’s once stayed, in north Devon. She was there For several months in 196, during World War One she lived at Martinhoe then along the road at ParracombeJust as many other women writers associated with the South West, H.D. had significant connections with at least two of its counties, in her case it was with three (Devon, Cornwall and Dorset). 

      What fascinates me about writers whose lives and texts cross county boundaries is the way their experience feeds into a kind of communication with the land space on which they writers lived and wrote, the way it affected their individual and combined selves and the ways in which their textual, literary roots also branch out and extend far beyond the surface, creating and recreating an endless kaleidoscope of inter/intra personal intertextuality.

       Born in the U.S., H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), but much of her life and writing was influenced by our South Western shores and coasts. Without her presence I would not be here writing at all.  


Woodland Cottage Parracombe
Photo Julie Sampson

I've already written about H.D.'s stay in Devon during 1916 in an earlier blog Scrapblog of the South-West and also in companion pieces on the same blog. and again here. There is also an essay I wrote about H.D. in Devon on the H.D. Web. I have no intention of repeating the same material in this piece. It is more of a marker, a page to mark H.D's importance in my whole project.

       However I will pop in some extracts from a chronology, which details some of the events of the writer's Devon stay. If you want to read more it is taken from Louis Silverstein's H.D. Chronology Part Two 1915-March 1919:
1916 February 22. HD. at The Schoolhouse, Martinhoe, Parracombe, North Devon

writes to Amy Lowell, her book [SEA GARDEN] has been accepted by Constable but will not come out in three months as she had hoped because of paper shortage; tells Lowell that she IS m Devon; discusses poems [Fnedman notes: not seen by LHS (H D. to Amy Lowell, [unpuL letter],

1916 February 24. HD. writes to George Plank; gives new address on envelope: "New address / c/o Mrs Dellbridge / Martinhoe / Parracombe / N. Devon"; says "some of us, no doubt all will turn up Isola Bella on Friday"; sets tune for 7:30; continues "we must be back early as we take mornmg tram' We are movmg our furniture to 44 Mecklenburg Square Fnday PM. Indicates that dinner will include herself, Aldington and John Cournos and perhaps F.S. Flint as they had asked 111m to dme With them that evenmg--they had planned a tea on Monday [for Plank and the wnutalls?] but it has all gone mentions confusion [LHS note: from this letter It seems as If the decrston to move to 44 Mecklenburg Square was a hurrted one]; mststs that dinner must be Dutch—says " we can't ask Flint otherwise & we can't impose on you forever and ever" (HD. to GP, [unpubl. letter]).
1916 March 6. HD. at Woodland Cottage. Martmhoe. Parracombe. North Devon writes to Harriet Monroe (Zllboorg notes).
1916 March 22 (?). HD. in Devonshire: writes to F.S. Flint: describes wanting actX1ttes and domestic life: says they are on their own trout stream (called the Heddon): the place is charming but there is only enough room for them and John Cournos (If he comes): speculates that Pound had expected to get Aldmgton's post on THE EGOIST had writtten a "charmmg Macheavelhan [SIC] note" to them which they had not answered: refers to widening gulf with Amy Lowell (HD. to F.S. Flmt.

1916 March 27. HD. at Woodland Cottage, Martinhoe. Parracombe. North Devon: Richard Aldmgton writes to F S. Flint and comments on her erotic attraction and his desire to sleep with her (Zilboorg introd. [draft)). Richard Aldington writes to Amy Lowell giving above address (Zilboorg notes: Houghton)

      And here is a few extracts taken from a piece written about the journey I took with a friend some years ago down to the far west of  Cornwall, on a follow-up quest to Martinhoe, to find the location of the poet's stay there, a couple of years after her trip to Devon ...

         
    .... This has to be near Lyonesse’, I remind myself, echoing H.D.’s own description some (clock-time) 70 years ago. Sun-slant time is low behind this haze of mist, which envelops us, just as it does twenty clock years later, up on the wild north Devon coast reaches, when I am try to locate H.D.’s temporary home, near Martinhoe. 

       Today we’ve been driving along the snake-like, zigzagging B3306, between Zennor and Cape Cornwall. My friend finds this place creepy and would, I suspect, be content to turn around and make tracks homewards. I decide not to tell her about Alistair Crowley, about witches and other slightly sinister past inhabitants and goings-on in the area. All she knows, after I told her during the journey down from Devon, is that for a while during, World War One, D.H Lawrence lived not far away from here, up at Zennor, and that in 1918, H.D., the poet, (who was a friend of Lawrence) also spent some time (clock) somewhere round here; that she came away from the war turbulence of London to ‘accompany’ the composer Cecil Gray at the house he had rented (with Lawrence’s guidance) near, or at Bosigran; that she first met her lifelong lover/companion Bryher here, when H.D. invited her for tea; that she became pregnant here; that the pregnancy had had a negative impact on her already threatened marriage to Richard Aldington; that whilst here she worked on several significant texts, including the roman-a-clef Bid Me To Live; A Madrigal.[1]

        My friend knows that, for both personal and academic reasons I wish to find the place where H.D. stayed. I want to feel the impact of this moor and sea-scape that forms the west Penwith peninsula, to let it inhabit me, as it had then possessed H.D. 

         I feel a stranger, an impostor. Traditionally, Cornwall, not Devon, is known as the Celtic land. And yet, the spiritual atmospherics of this part of Cornwall correspond with and complement that elemental landscape in north Devon, further east along the coast, which is also associated with writer H.D. For me, this landscape also resonates with that of  Devon’s central mid-Devon region set between the two moorland plateaux, with its subliminal sacred-roots. I can imagine how extended and underground labyrinthine root systems which some call ley-lines, might travel through and along the line of the counties, beneath the palimpsest layers of their mutual prehistory, under the ancient field systems, the archaeological strata, the high moorlands. I understand my home county as a distinct entity, but also view it as part of a more extensive tract of land, which is defined by its common geological, historical, anthropological and social histories.

        I shall absorb the mystic, mysterious aura of the peninsula's territory so as to bind me back into the atmosphere of her book, which, in turn will open perceptions toward re-membering the writer's time/thyme here, in 1918. For, it was H.D.’s affinity with this west Cornwall landscape that prompted my own preoccupation with landscape and text. After serendipitously coming across her writings one day, I began to understand the magical sacred appeal of my child-landscape with fresh eyes and to see why the location of my roots had such an emotional pull. In turn, that enabled me to explore the implications, both for self-identity and for my own writing. 

      That’s why I’m here; I want to breathe in this Penwith air, absorb the intoxicating essence blend of place and poem, the mix of panorama and prose; read the elaborate script set in the exquisite scene:


      ‘The jagged line of cliff, the minute indentations, the blue water that moved far below, soundless from the height, were part of her.[2}


       ....We stop in this car-space beside the old mine-shaft by the road, and after a sip of coffee begin to make our way along the tinners' tracks, which define this strip of coast land reaching out onto the cliffs. Walking along the edge of exhilarating South Western coasts, we should soon be able to see beyond these cliff-paths. But, though seemingly guided by unseen presences, we can not see far A fog-horn's booming in the seaward direction and disembodied voices whisper to us, stealthily as the mist. We do not know the language, yet can follow the trail of hieroglyphs seaward/sea/w/ree/a/ds.


Though mystified, we know which track-fork to take when it splits, as it seems to, every few yards. Hiss-hiss. Here-here. Hiss-hiss. Mist here must represent the spirit/s of the place, I think. And, we have been travelling along the snake-road, genius-loci of Cornwall’s most sacred space. I do not feel threatened by stories of this area as an oppressive ‘spiritual black country’. On the contrary, the mist wraps itself comfortably around us and as we saunter across the grassy sward tracks, begins to trail into ribbons and then to lift, to disperse, so that by the time we reach what is left of the fortifications of Bosigran Castle, the sun is hovering over the Atlantic spread below us. Other than the springy, tangy and lightly scrubby heath at our feet, which is stippled with tiny violets, we are cocooned in a blue shroud. A heaven of Cornish seas; the bliss of springtime South Western skies.

My friend, sun-worshipper, wants immediately to bathe in one of the ‘room’ enclosures that are formed between the castle’s esoteric relics. I wonder if H.D. had occasion to do the same, to remove her garments and lie out in the sun when she visited the ruins. But then, I also wonder if, when she was here, the stone walls of this place were, at least to some degree, still intact. A lot can change in clock-time over seventy years. In its hey-day Bosigran must have been a massive and magnificent castle; it ran across the neck of the headland and may have been a ceremonial site. I remind myself to look out my copy of Bid Me to Live when I get home, so that I can re-visit the place as though from H.D.’s eyes, follow the footsteps of the poet as she trailed around the paths of this coastline.

It is whilst we are doing a recce of the castle that we hear the knockings. They are loud and are echoing over from the next hill of this broken line of headlands that culminates at Cape Cornwall. Instantly, I remember that Cecil Gray – and possibly H.D. herself - spoke of experiencing these phenomena and that the knockings were rumoured to be the ghostly after-echoes of tin miners quarrying in the locality. My friend shrugs, grimaces. I do not know what to think. Although this region is known for its mystical goings-on, both historically, and now, I am not really a believer in ghosts; just interested in the enigmatic possibilities of mysterious cryptic occurrences, which could as easily be interpreted in psychological as in psychic terms. But those knockings are for real; we both hear them. I allow them to melt and merge as soundscape to accompany the inner map of H.D. in Cornwall beginning to form in my mind.

Next question is, where did she stay? Where was this large house that was called ‘Bosigran Castle’ or, in H.D.’s novel BidMe to Live, ‘Rosigran’? Was it purposely named after this ancient ruined castle?[3] We venture down other tracks looking to find the site where a once ‘sizeable’ cottage may have been, may still be. But there are no buildings here and no evidence of any. We realise that we may not be at the exact location, that the site may be a little to the north east and that the house's name may have confused us. Did H.D.'s then lover Cecil Gray and his companions want their friends to think they were living in the castle? It’s also possible that the house may have gone, some years ago.

Today we have no more time to explore. We will return. H.D’s words buzz  around my head:
            I suppose we will come back ... I will never see you again ... I will go on scribbling.’[4]
I shall return to H.D’s South Western sea lands; even if I have to cover, or cross, the same ground.
It seems as though yesterday, though in clock-time is a long time.
In clock-time it’s a long-time; it still seems as though yesterday
.[5]








There is also a sequence of my poems written in commemoration of H.D.'s time in Devon published in Shearsman Magazine 111/112: see a few extracts below.





















Shearsman 111/112

Driftwood 
        Breathless, 
at last we are here, 
at the sea-shrine, 
though few seem to venture to this abandoned plot, 
where at the time of the latest tide 
             a twist of drift left 
behind figures 
           for us, 
the gravitational curve, 
a centenary   - the sea's-time.

 'you are useless, O grave, O beautiful' (H.D. 'The Shrine') 
........

At the Fort; The Beacon, Martinhoe
We arrive from the old Roman carriageway
high 
above the sea, next the sky, 

                                    way below 
in coastal chasms, white against white 
gannets and gulls 
              beating,
                   breaking surf -
        at home 
our multimedia screens still on 
flashing in-perpetuum into our comfort-zone rooms,
every opportunity, we whip out phones from pockets or bags, 
photos flash,
burst from our finger-tips - 
we remain alive with interactive possibility, 
yet find it impossible to conjure a picture from the swiftly lit 
spark of a stated fact. 

Here    only flashes, a series of dots and dashes 
cracking along faults of the rocky screes on this north Devon coast
from long-ago beacon fires
intended for those, rudderless, 
tossed in the turbulent sea, 
                            waiting, 
                    in the Channel, 
watching for life or death landings.

'I have stood on your portal/and I know-/you are further than this, still further on another cliff' 
(H.D. 'Cliff-Temple') 

1. In which the name of the heroine, Julia Ashton, an avatar of H.D. herself, always seemed to me to be a close sound-echo of my own name. H.D’s writing sound-effect, or phonotext, is always significant, so this closeness had hooked me into the book.
2. From H.D., Bid Me to Live; A Madrigal.
3. Returning from her solitary walk along the cliff tracks, H.D./Julia in Bid Me To Live, briefly describes the house as it ‘loomed suddenly like a greyship, rising from the sea’ and someone noted it was a ‘big lonely house on the edge on the wildest part of the coast ... with seven rooms and a great view out towards the Scilly Islands out the front’ and that it was ‘near Gurnard’s Head’ (Mark Kinkead-Weekes, D.H. Lawrence Triumph to Exile, vol. 2, 1912-22; The Cambridge Biography of D.H.Lawrence (Cambridge University Press, 2011). Interestingly, H.D. did not refer to the castle itself in her book, which seems strange, given its size and historical importance.
4. Bid Me to Live. I have been down to Penwith several times since, including once with participants of the ‘H.D reading party’, in the early 1990’s, when a group of us manoeuvred the lanes and byways from Trevone Bay toward Cape Cornwall. Again, not one of us could work out where the house in which H.D. lived for several months was sited. I remember some heated discussion; but eventually we gave up our search in return for the delights of a local Cornish cream tea.
5. H.D.