I didn’t post at all while I was in London. In his preface to Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth says, “poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.” I think that’s true of all sorts of writing, even perhaps of blog posts. I know that while I was in London, I couldn’t write about it. I was experiencing too much every day. It’s only afterward that I can write about intense experiences, and London was an intense experience.
I’m going to write about it over the next week or so, and even post pictures, but my posts will likely be broken, fragmentary. I’m still thinking about London, still trying to put the pieces of it together. One thing being there made me realize is that my true country is the English language. That country is made up of all the books that were ever written in English, so I have Hobbiton and Wuthering Heights and the Hundred Acre Wood all in my country. And of course London.
There was so much to see there, and I knew of course that I could never see it all, so I focused on the time period in which my novel is set. I was primarily there for research, after all. I wanted to find the London of 1860-1900, and I found it everywhere. I’m going to include some pictures in these posts. The first set of pictures I will include are from Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, where I went the first day.
The first thing I noticed about London was how easy it is to get around. I went almost everywhere by tube or on foot, although I did take the bus twice. The city felt easy, familiar, and I think that’s more than language. I think it’s because London is the city that the cities I’m most familiar with (Boston and New York) were modeled after.
I was very lucky. While I was in London, it was sunny almost every day, so I got to see the parks, which are my favorite parts of the city. I honestly don’t think anyone gardens like the English. And of course the English climate is perfect for all those flowers I would like to plant myself, such as roses and foxgloves.
I took many pictures simply of the flowers, because they were so beautiful. I will only include a few here. On my first day there, I got off the tube at Piccadilly Circus and walked down Piccadilly to Hyde Park. (You can see Hyde Park Corner in the first picture above, and then two pictures of the garden that is located right there, by the corner.) I basically just walked through Hyde Park, along the Serpentine and to Kensington Gardens.
In this post, I’ll just include pictures from Hyde Park. I’ll save Kensington Gardens for tomorrow. Of course, you know that Hyde Park is where the ladies and gentlemen would walk and ride. As I was walking along the park, I took a picture of Rotten Row (whose name is evidently a corruption of Route de Roi, the king’s way). At one point, I saw three girls, very properly equipped and on lovely Thoroughbreds, riding along that dirt track. (You can see that dirt track below, by the way. I think Dorian may have been seen riding there in The Picture of Dorian Gray? But I’d have to check.)
This is a non sequitur, but as I was walking along Piccadilly, I came upon Fortnum & Mason. Of course I had to go in. The strange thing was, as I was standing there looking around, I had one of those moments I sometimes have in which I realize that I’ve already dreamed what I am doing. I had dreamed of being in Fortnum & Mason several years before. It had looked very much the same. I don’t know, was that my brain playing tricks on me? I tend to think that time is a much stranger thing than we think it is, and that sometimes we get echoes and indications from the future. But anyway, that was the odd moment I had. Below is a picture of the Serpentine. It’s a sort of long pond, with geese and duck and swans, and if you follow it, you will end up in Kensington Gardens. Where Peter Pan used to play.
One of the realizations I had in London is that once this trip is over, I will need to retreat into myself, to close myself off from external influences to a certain extent. In order to contemplate, to gather myself together, to write. I think you can live or write, and if you’re living as intensely as I did last week, wandering everywhere, it’s very difficult to write. So that’s what I’m going to be doing over the next year. This is my summer of living intensely, a summer that’s teaching me so much. And then, I will withdraw into myself and see what I can create.