I didn’t carry a book of poems with me on the Camino. I thought about it. But I wanted all my responses to be my own, and not guided by the insights of others. Now I’m back, and I’m reading, and writing.
Antonio Machado has a reminder of another way of walking:
I have walked many roads, / I have found many paths; / I have sailed a hundred seas, / and landed on a hundred shores…
And in all places I have seen/ people who dance and play, / when they can, and work / their four spans of land.
Never when they come to a place / do they ask where to go. / When they make their way, they ride / on the back of an old mule / and do not know to hurry /not even on the days of the fiesta…
We’re privileged to walk the Camino. Countless others have travelled before us, and they’ve travelled wisely, and slowly. (Walking slowly is something I’m not always too good at, as my Camino friends will testify!)
Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken reminds us of chance and serendipity:
…Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – / I took the road less travelled by, / And that has made all the difference.
There is of course only one route westward (and a few diversions) on the Camino. But is there? Depending on when you start, the month, the season, the weather, the clouds, the shadows – there are a thousand routes.
Rudyard Kipling’s The Way through the Woods catches the sense of those who’ve travelled a path before us:
…Yet, if you enter the woods / Of a summer evening late… / You will hear the beat of a horse’s feet, / and the swish of a skirt in the dew / Steadily cantering through / The misty solitudes
This is a corner of England, not Spain, and it’s woodland, and the path is no more… but the resonance is still there. And that sense of impermanence: the Camino hasn’t always been there, and won’t always be there. We are our own moment in time.
I was always conscious on the Camino of those who’d walked before me, maybe a thousand years ago. St James never walked the way, but as Santiago Matamoros he led the Spanish army against the Moors, so legend would have it. He could also be my companion, and to see what I mean by that check out another post, with two poems of my own, under the heading ‘Shadow – four poems’.
On another tack, there’s Pablo Neruda:
And that’s why I have to go back / to so many places in the future / there to find myself… / with no task but to live / with no family but the road
I love Neruda but there’s a Rilke poem I can’t find that captures the idea of the future, of a light ahead we never reach, even better.
[Rilke poem, The Walk, now found, thanks to my friend, Sarah, my companion for three days on the Camino.
Already my eyes touch the sunlit hill/Far ahead of the road I have just begun/ So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;/We see its light even from a distance –
And it changes us, even if we do not reach it,/Into something else, which, hardly sensing it, we already are;/A gesture seems to wave us on, answering our own wave,/But what we feel is the wind in our faces.]
Finally, another, and famous, Machado:
Walker, your footsteps / are the road, and nothing more.
Walker, there is no road, / the road is made by walking.
Walking you make the road, / and turning to look behind / you see the path you never / again will step upon.
Walker there is no road, / only foam trails on the seas.
We experience highs and the lows, joys and sorrows, we walk in company and alone, we laugh and we keep silence. There’s a poem somewhere which captures every mood.
Or almost does, which is why we keep writing our own poems. No-one quite captures a moment or a mood as we do ourselves. We only need the pen, and the silence.