Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Walking the Five Valleys at Night

Walking the Five Valleys at Night
With the longest day fast approaching, perhaps we might motivate ourselves for some crepuscular wandering by buying/borrowing/reading Matthew Beaumont’s A Nocturnal History of London NightWalking.
Here’s a summary to whet your appetite:
You will know the difference between the bohemian NOCTAMBULANT
And the indigent NOCTIVAGANT as well as the meaning of CHRONOTOPE;
You will see that the poor of Merrie England could not afford torches or lanterns
To lighten their way;
You will think of bellmen, curfews and watchmen,
Of the Christian conjoining of darkness and the devil,
Of the class, gender and racially based criminalization of nightwalkers,
Of how the Reformation also criminalized poverty,
Of how Enclosure also created vagrancy and its consequent criminalization;
You will study the developing practice and theory of NIGHTWALKING,
You will read of counter- enlightenment literary peregrinations,
Of how ‘The act of walking for the Romantics, inscribed a coded rebellion against the culture of agrarian and industrial capitalism onto both the material surfaces of city and countryside – the streets, the roads, the footpaths – and their social relations.’
Of how John Clare ‘was a militant pedestrian ... From his youth, he defied enclosure with his feet, asserting the politics of pedestrianism … In addition to his commitment to walking as a political act, Clare was … apart from Wordsworth … most attuned to the night’s subtle promise of a life that cannot be lived in the common day.’
And, of course, William Blake:
I wandered through each chartered street,
Near where the chartered Thames does flow,
A mark in every face I meet,
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every man,
In every infant's cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forged manacles I hear:

How the chimney-sweeper's cry
Every blackening church appals,
And the hapless soldier's sigh
Runs in blood down palace-walls.

But most, through midnight streets I hear
How the youthful harlot's curse
Blasts the new-born infant's tear,
And blights with plagues the marriage-hearse.

Come now, darkness falls,
It is time to pick up the baton and walk through Stroud’s streets and so into the fields …

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