Friday, April 17, 2009

Arthur's stone

Yesterday we drove up on to the common land behind Oxwich Bay and walked the length of Cefn Bryn, the high rocky outcrop that crosses South Gower. There's a megalithic tomb on the north edge of the common, overlooking the estuary, as old as the pyramids of Egypt. a single rock weighing several tonnes is perched on haf a dozen stones protruding from rocky ground. You have to wonder at how it was put there. When you walk around it, the edifice looks different from every angle, as it is so irregular, and at every viewpoint there is a different landscape backdrop - a small marvel of its own. Why it's named after Arthur is anyone's guess. He's figured big in everyone's imagination at some time or another over a dozen centuries.

Funnily enough we watched a modern film about Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, set in the time of the withdrawal of the Roman Empire from Britain in the fifth century. It was an altogether odd concoction of ideas and bad acting thrown together into an action packed costume drama spectacle, lacking in depth - a bit like a comic strip version of the past, realistically drawn, good to look at, but not adding up to much in the final analysis. I suppose film, unless it's truly great film is rarely equal to the power of story telling, which gives so much more room for the listener's imagination to work. Film attempts to represent things with degrees of authenticity or not, depending on what the producer sets out to achieve, but in the end it's the director's choice of what's to be divided between his imagination shown on film, and yours, that can constrain the spirit.

I can see that occasionally selected film extracts might be a useful resource to add into an act or worship or meditation, but they would be so much harder to choose than a passage of poetry or prose, because of their ability to constrain imagination rather than release it. I can view a score of images of the crucifixion, realistically depicted from costume drama, theatre or church ritual, and end up bemused, feeling I am poised on the verge of the ludicrous, (like in the final execrable scene of the 'Life of Brian') rather than moved by Christ's agony.

Yet one painting, or a statue can unlock deep inner feelings, even if it is quite abstract, because it creates room for imagination to work. Likewise a photograph of a real life tragedy capturing the archetypal sorrow and suffering of the passion. What we don't say can be more powerful a trigger than what we state obviously. Which is perhaps why a few bare stones on a mountain top today still have power to conjure up connections with millennia long past.

Today, it's back home to Cardiff in the rain, no more walking possible, the weekend to prepare for and then for me, another outing to Spain for a few days with my sister June. Monday night in Bilbao, if all goes according to plan.

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