Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Walking and Talking and William Hazlitt

Where do you stand on walking and talking?
On rambling and ranting?
On orating and hiking?
I’m more of a Hazlitt strider myself:
‘One of the pleasantest things in the world is going on a journey; but I like to go by myself. I can enjoy society in a room, but out of doors, Nature is company enough for me. I am then never less alone than when alone … I cannot see the wit of walking and talking at the same time … “Let me have a companion of my way, “ says Sterne, “ were it but to remark how the shadows lengthen as the sun declines.” It is beautifully said: but, in my opinion, this continual comparing of notes interferes with the involuntary impression of things upon the mind, and hurts the sentiment … ‘
I know what Hazlitt means:
Wordsworthian pantheism,
Or William Blake flights of fancy,
Or psycho-geographical musing,
Or Zen-style footfall mindfulness,
Are often inhibited by the clang of voices,
And the din of conversation;
But on other occasions, it’s true
That the knowledge of a companion
Can act as a stimulus to a new understanding,
Or a novel re-creation of a landscape;
And, sometimes, of course, we need to catch up
On ‘news’ with friends or family –
It is all, I suppose, a matter of balance:
A dynamic harmony of opposites
Helps make for an enriching walk in company -
Sometimes alone, and sometimes alive
To conviviality and congeniality,
And sometimes finding empathy,
Shared meanings and understanding
When exploring the land in shared silence -
Followed by a post-ramble sharing
Of individual and collective experience
In mutual discourse on how we read our walk,
A deconstruction and re-creation
Of how we made sense of it all;
For as William Hazlitt put it:
‘I am for the synthetical method on a journey in preference to the analytical. I am content to lay in a stock of ideas then, and to examine and anatomise them afterwards. I want to see my vague notions float like the down of the thistle before the breeze, and not to have them entangled in the briars and thorns …’

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