“[W]reathes of smoke / Sent up in silence, from among the trees.”
“Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey”
My family and I left for a much-needed holiday on the Welsh border as London exploded in riots. We decided weeks ago that we wanted to “escape” the city, but little did we know all that we would be escaping. Since that time, we have been following reports of neighbourhoods very near our own North London home erupting in looting and violence.
Meanwhile, we have been exploring the idyllic countryside of the Wye valley. Images of London engulfed in flame have interspersed with dazzling greenery, the likes of which inspired Wordsworth to compose his famous poem set above Tintern Abbey. The Abbey itself, dismantled by decree from Henry VIII, rises skeletal in the countryside, like the fire-gutted shops, double-decker buses, and police cars photographed on London streets.
In the poem, Wordsworth declares, “I have learned / To look on nature, not as in the hour / Of thoughtless youth, but hearing oftentimes / The still, sad music of humanity.” Indeed, this still, sad music has been with me on our journey through the “sylvan Wye.” I am struck by the quiet of this place, in contrast to London’s constant hustle, and the lush natural forms, as compared to the barrage of advertisements, the likes of which program all of us, including would-be looters, that if only we had an iPad, we might be happy.
Here, with space and beauty, where even the grass seems content, it is hard to imagine humans piled into housing estates, crammed into tube carriages at rush hour, struggling against each other to get by. And it seems only natural that such unnatural circumstances are kindling awaiting a spark. My heart goes out to London, and all the cities in the UK experiencing unrest.
A fire is flickering in a great stone hearth in our fourteenth-century cottage. The moon is bathing the river and meadows blue, while the trees darken almost to black. It seems to me the peace we feel in such circumstances runs deep within our nature. I wish the peace of the Wye could wash over all of Britain tonight.