We all dream of escaping. If not in our waking lives, then subsumed, interred – to reappear in our dreamlives, in the whorls and ditches of landscapes where we run in the howling wind and hide. Hide. But imagine escaping as Anne Briggs did?
She was, by all accounts, a difficult creature, seemingly always already in the act of escaping: into unconsciousness, into the wreck of nature, into the sea. By 1973, leaving behind a small raft of recordings, she escaped fully – into the Hebridean blue, taking all that frail talent and running with it, into that same wind, into the far reaches of the north, deciding best to keep it buried: invisible, totemic – a Hadean lodestone for the curious, those seeking exaltation, beatitude.
Otheworldly is a horribly overused word, but in her recordings, and in this brief documentary it is how she comes across – a stranger, an eidolon, stripped bare by the gaze of the world. But the voice, the voice: that siteless, mapless expanse – there, there she is present, laughing into the void.
You can’t beat English lawns. Our final hope
Is flat despair. Each morning therefore ere
I greet the office, through the weekday air,
Holding the holy roller at the slope
(The English fetish, not the Texas Pope)
Hither and thither on my toes with care
I roll ours flatter and flatter. Long, in prayer,
I grub for daisies at whose roots I grope.
Roll not the abdominal wall; the walls of Troy
Lead, since a plumb-line ordered, could destroy.
Roll rather, where no mole dare sap, the lawn,
And ne’er his tumuli shall tomb your brawn.
World, roll yourself, and bear your roller, soul,
As martyrs gridirons, when God calls the roll.
William Empson, 1928
How you became a poet’s a mystery!
Wherever did you get your talent from?
I say: I had two uncles, Joe and Harry-
one was a stammerer, the other dumb.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.