Daily Archives: February 28, 2015

First Steps, Brancaster

Here is today’s commentary and poem from my book The Word in the Wilderness, whose readers  may like to click the play button or the title below and hear me read the poem.

First Steps

This is the day to leave the dark behind you
Take the adventure, step beyond the hearth,
Shake off at last the shackles that confined you,
And find the courage for the forward path.
You yearned for freedom through the long night watches,
The day has come and you are free to choose,
Now is your time and season.
Companioned still by your familiar crutches,
And leaning on the props you hope to lose,
You step outside and widen your horizon.

After the dimly burning wick of winter
That seemed to dull and darken everything
The April sun shines clear beyond your shelter
And clean as sight itself. The reed-birds sing,
As heaven reaches down to touch the earth
And circle her, revealing everywhere
A lovely, longed-for blue.
Breathe deep and be renewed by every breath,
Kinned to the keen east wind and cleansing air,
As though the blue itself were blowing through you.

You keep the coastal path where edge meets edge,
The sea and salt marsh touching in North Norfolk,
Reed cutters cuttings, patterned in the sedge,
Open and ease the way that you will walk,
Unbroken reeds still wave their feathered fronds
Through which you glimpse the long line of the sea
And hear its healing voice.
Tentative steps begin to break your bonds,
You push on through the pain that sets you free,
Towards the day when broken bones rejoice

And here is my commentary from the Word in the Wilderness:

It’s good that this call to journey and pilgrimage in Lent usually comes in spring and the turn of the year. For many of us winter is dark and difficult. It was particularly so for me in the winter of last year as I coped with a broken leg. This poem, written to celebrate my first walk outdoors after the accident, alludes to Psalm 51, the great Lenten penitential psalm with its prayer to ‘make me to hear of joy and gladness that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice’.

The poem is set on the North Norfolk Coastal Path near the village of Brancaster and I hope it gives some sense of that wide, wild, bracing countryside. It is customary to speak of ‘the pathetic fallacy’; the habit whereby we project our inner feelings, our distinctively human ‘pathos’, onto the surrounding environment, so that the outward becomes expressive of the inward. But I don’t think this is quite as fallacious as some people assume. The very fact that we find a constant and seemingly natural correspondence between the outer and inner may itself be a clue to the nature of the universe and our role in it. It may not be simply that we project, but that we, ourselves a part of nature are finely attuned to and can give a conscious ‘inward’ expression to its outer meanings. Indeed Coleridge went so far as to suggest that we are able to read the ‘eternal language’ which is already patterned into the appearances of nature. In his beautiful conversational poem frost at midnight he imagines how his son in opening himself fully to the experience and meaning of landscape will


see and hear
The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible
Of that eternal language, which thy God
Utters, who from eternity doth teach
Himself in all, and all things in himself.
Great universal Teacher! he shall mould
Thy spirit, and by giving make it ask.

‘Frost at Midnight’


This is not the pantheism of which Coleridge is sometimes falsely accused. On the contrary God transcends nature, which is not God himself, but is his language. Certainly one sometimes has the experience of an outer scene entering deeply into ones soul as an expression both of consciousness and healing. This was my experience walking in Norfolk on the day commemorated in this poem. The lines that came first:


Kinned to the keen east wind and cleansing air,
As though the blue itself were blowing through you.


came spontaneously as an expression of how that deep blue, keen air and wide horizon, after months of confinement, seemed somehow to change and expand my inward self. The walk itself was brief and painful, pushing myself with each step and leaning still on my crutches, but somehow also transformative. I include the poem here because the experience it seems to me corresponds with a real experience on most people’s spiritual journey, a moment when vision is renewed, new possibilities become apparent even though we are still hobbled by our brokenness. That renewal is what gives us the courage to ‘push on through the pain’ in a strange and paradoxical combination of effort, grace and freedom.

If English readers would like to buy my books from a proper bookshop Sarum College Bookshop here in the UK always have it in stock.

I am happy to announce to North American readers that Copies of The Word in the Wilderness are readily available from Steve Bell Here




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