Roads diverge

So this week I'm walking to raise money for the women and girls who spend their lives walking. (You can sponsor me here!) Much less depends on my walk than on theirs, but the idea is to walk in their shoes, at least some part of the way. That set me thinking, naturally, of poems about walking, and there are many. Walking has a rich literature, even more so in prose; after all, prose is a kind of walking. According to this literature, there's a mysterious affinity between walking and thinking, and a persistent allegory between walking and living. Even as I write this I'm conscious of the gulf between poor women walking for their lives, and privileged men walking for their own amusement, but if part of that privilege is having written some beautiful poetry about it, that at least can be shared. Here are some bits of Whitman, Pound and Frost: poems to travel by. 

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose. [...]

You road I enter upon and look around, I believe you are not all that is here,
I believe that much unseen is also here. [...]

All parts away for the progress of souls,
All religion, all solid things, arts, governments—all that was or is apparent upon this globe or any globe, falls into niches and corners before the procession of souls along the grand roads of the universe.

         (Walt Whitman, “Song of the Open Road”) 

At Rochecoart,
Where the hills part
                            In three ways,
And three valleys, full of winding roads,
Fork out to south and north,
There is a place of trees . . . grey with lichen.
I have walked there
                            Thinking of old days.

         (Ezra Pound, “Provincia Deserta” - March, 1915)

Out through the fields and the woods
And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
And looked at the world, and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
And lo, it is ended. 

         (Robert Frost, “Reluctance”)

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, 
And sorry I could not travel both 
And be one traveler, long I stood 
And looked down one as far as I could 
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 

Then took the other...

         (Robert Frost, “The Road not Taken”)

A late ramble

Sunday started off chilly and grey, but the morning dissolved into one of those warm blue afternoons of heart-bursting loveliness. At around 5, somewhere between the glory of day and the luxury of twilight, I went for a walk. It's a secluded place, not as well-trodden as some of Canberra's other walks, nor quite as untrodden as one would like. The path winds along beside a sheltered arc of the lake through tall autumnal trees giving way, here and there, to still pictures of water, mountains, and more distant trees.

Such a walk on such a day made me wish I had more poetry in my head. No doubt an Anne Elliot or a Fanny Price would have had no trouble summoning hundreds of apt lines, but on these occasions I always feel more like Bertie Wooster:

Something something something I
Something something something by...

I could blame my school; indeed I blame them very much for not teaching me Latin or Greek. But past a certain point, one has only oneself to blame. I could in my spare time devote myself to a program of memorisation, but on a lovely afternoon, I'd rather go for a walk. And maybe there's something meritorious in not having memorised a prescriptive catalogue, not having to sift through that database to find the best that has been thought or said, not having to think or speak at all.

Yet I find this state of sheer inarticulate being eludes me as well. Instead of nothing, my head fills with fragments and snippets of the thought and spoken, and not even the best of those. Perhaps I'll blame the internet, for outsourcing knowledge and downgrading it to information. Why should I retrieve words from my head when I can retrieve them more efficiently from my laptop? Perhaps I should take my kindle on these walks, but surely that would defeat the purpose.

Which brings me back to why I walk at all. I don't think I go looking for what the poets wrote about. It works the other way: the poets infest the landscape, in more or less known ways. Poetry nerd that I am, I seem incapable of pure experience, unmediated by verse. But then, so did the poets.