John Clare Writings

The Mystery Of Then

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No doubt you are a person who thinks I live in memory. You are right, or would be if you had added the qualification that I also live very intensely in the present. Memory would not have its potency if I had not experienced it intensely when it was now not then. Ah, but was it as intense when I first experienced it as it has become in retrospect? Intense certainly or I would have forgotten it I imagine, but its quality has surely changed to some degree, given automatic amplification and additional harmonics of  flavour and thus sensation, however subtle. Yes, but there are moments of transcendental recall when we remember not only the subject of memory but the piercing exactness of the impression and the feeling it inspired then. Additional overtones count for little beside this holy light. I once walked along a path well up above the sea where I would usually these days fly past on my bike (and indeed often did so in ancient times). And there beside the concrete path was the buffalo grass and kaikuyu growing in sand. The white beach sand at the grass roots far back and well above the beach. It seemed unique to my home suburb and does so still.

Here is something remarkable. There were certain authors in my childhood who evoked what felt like specific memories of places I had never been. I think of California rising under the pens of John Steinbech and Raymond Chandler, of Wyoming at the will of Mary O’Hara, England summoned by P.G. Wodehouse, Graham Greene, Capt W.E. Johns (likewise the Sahara) and Richmal Crompton. Likewise Dublin from you know who, etc. etc. And of course San Francisco as filmed by Alfred Hitchcock, Italy via Fellini, Japan rendered by Kurasawa. Yet this grass and sand was something I had forgotten. No one had painted or filmed or photographed this earth. In the days when it was familiar I often thought I was the only one who saw it.¬†

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