Back in January of this year, I wrote about Pico Iyer's book-essay The Art of Stillness: "This reflective and interesting book-length essay helps to remind us of the importance of reducing stress through stillness.
I had no idea what a connection to other writers this would lead me. My friend Joe Savino found for me at the Santa Monica Library A Time to Keep Silence (1957) by Patrick Leigh Fermor, with an Introduction by Karen Armstrong (A History of God). [Fermor you will recall is a favorite of mine.] I didn't know this existed. But as usual, Joe finds these treasures and leaves them for me in the quiet desolation of my room, books on every wall jittery like bats, squeaking "read me, my God, please read me."
Fermor's very short book, which I am now embarking upon, is incredibly beautiful, as is Karen Armstrong's intro. It is about his stay at a handful of particular places of contemplation:
|Abbey of St. Wandrille de Fontanelle, France|
But let me give you a sample of Fermor's own author's intro, which I read to Joe and Theresa just a couple of nights ago because I couldn't contain myself. He's writing about the ruined abbeys and monasteries he's visited aside from the two in which he stayed (the point of the book):
|St. Peter's Abbey, Solesmes, France|
We know, too, the miserable and wanton story of their destruction and their dereliction, and have only to close our eyes for a second for the imagination to rebuild the towers and the pinnacles and summon to our ears the quiet rumour of monkish activity and the sound of bells melted long ago. They emerge in the fields like peaks of a vanished Atlantis drowned four centuries deep. The gutted cloisters stand uselessly among the furrows and only broken pillars mark the former symmetry of the aisles and ambulatories. Surrounded by elder-flower, with their bases entangled in bracken and blackberry and bridged at their summits with arches and broken spandrels that fly spinning over the tree-tops in slender trajectories, the clustering pillars suspend the great empty circumference of a rose-window in the rook-haunted sky. It is as though some tremendous Gregorian chant had been interrupted hundreds of years ago to hang there petrified at its climax ever since."
|Abbey La Grande Trappe, France|
I mean, really, it took my breath away. "...rook-haunted sky" so very Yeats, and the alliteration of "bracken and blackberry and bridged at their summits" it is beautiful; he's describing the hunched over arches and half-transcepts of abbeys burned out and blown apart as petrified chants hanging in mid-air from centuries ago.
Can it get better than this except only in Proust, Dostoyevsky, Powys, and maybe Olive Schreiner or Patrick White? I don't know. It's so little to go on. I'll let you know after I've finished the book.