Singing your way along the Camino

Many of the songs I’ve sung to myself on the Camino have travel in there somewhere. And, curiously, a sense of losing someone, and looking back. They aren’t songs of triumph – look I’ve made it! But they do tell stories.

What, I wonder, do other peregrinos sing on the Camino? To keep themselves company, for sheer joy and pleasure, or just because they match the rhythm of their step…. A few have headphones and listen to music from downloads, not from memory, and that puzzles me. Singing may be a performance of one, but you’re pro-active, as surely you want to be on the Camino, and not re-active. (Wear headphones and you also miss birdsong, the rush and babble of streams and brooks, the sound of the wind in the grass and trees.)

There’s a sense of re-engaging when you recall an old favourite. And you may be taken by surprise, by something old and long-forgotten. The rhythms of the Camino can take you surprising places.

For me, Kris Kristofferson for starters: ‘Me and Bobby McGee’: From the coalmines of Kentucky to the California sun,/Bobby shared the secrets of my soul….

Leonard Cohen has travelled with Suzanne for fifty years, as I have too (almost!) – I’ve been singing this legendary song since I was 19! On the Camino it was like meeting up with an old friend.  Susanne takes you down to a place by the river/you can see the boats go by,  you can spend the night beside her…

As for the Rolling Stones’ Ruby Tuesday, ‘she would never say where she came from/… ‘There’s no time to lose I heard her say…’

Not sentiments you’d expect from a peregrino. Though how many of us are getting over, or moving beyond, an event that’s troubling us, that’s turned our life on its head? And we peregrinos – we do tell each other where we’ve come from – and hopefully, we have time to lose. We can go slow.

I’ve sung the blues along the way. But not travelling blues. Or Woody Guthrie’s ‘Hard Travellin’: I’ve been doin’ some hard travellin I thought you knowed…’  And I’ve not been riding the blinds – leaping and hanging on to passing trains!

One moment I remember (somewhere between Ponte de Lima and Rubiaes on the Camino Portugues), singing Howlin Wolf’s ‘Spoonful’. (Give me a spoonful of coffee…) After each of three repetitions of ‘that spoonful ‘ a cock crowed. He and I struck up a rhythm together. I tried a fourth time – but he’d lost interest. I carried on of course.

One other song, with no travelling connection at all, but when you sing it you bounce along, and that’s ‘Light my fire’. I love the original Doors version, but try singing it like Jose Feliciano, with a Latin, syncopated rhythm, and, well, not surprisingly, you’re almost dancing. So maybe don’t walk that way with too many other people around.

Shadow – four poems

See the links below for four poems inspired by the Camino.

The setting for three poems is the landscape between Puente La Reina and Estella. Bright mid-morning sunshine, with a shimmer already on the path, but shadows still sharp.

For he fourth, Doom Bar, the setting is across the the river Camel from Padstow, near the beginning of the Saints’s Way across Cornwall.

Shadow   Fuente   Shell   Doom Bar

All entirely imagined I should add!!



The Camino and the poem

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.


With Dante on the Camino

Back in June, my first week on the Camino, I met up with Daniel and Gabriel, 18 and 17-years-old, both strong walkers, one Czech, the other Italian. Daniel told me that his friend loved to talk about Dante, and they’d renamed him ‘Dante’.  I remember well a conversation with Dante in the main plaza in Pamplona when he explained as best he could, in English, the poet’s terza rima rhyme scheme – aba, bcb, cdc.  He the 17-year-old, me in my 60s. I resolved to read the Divine Comedy over the summer and before I resumed on the Camino in October – and I did.

A quote from Osip Mandelstam, sent to me by Graham Fawcett, has sent me back to the poet.

“Both the Inferno and, in particular, the Purgatorio, glorify the human gait, the measure and rhythm of walking, the footstep and its form. The step, linked with breathing and saturated with thought, Dante understood as the beginning of prosody. To indicate walking, he utilizes a multitude of varied and charming turns of phrase. In Dante, philosophy and poetry are constantly on the go, perpetually on their feet. Even a stop is but a variety of accumulated movement: a platform for conversations is created by Alpine conditions. The metrical foot is the inhalation and exhalation of the step”. (Osip Mandelstam, Conversation about Dante)

To which my first response was ‘wow!’ I read Graham’s note two days out from Santiago, too late for me to practise ‘the step, linked with breathing and saturated with thought’. Maybe just as well.

You do think about walking and all it entails when you’re walking over 500 miles.

I walked the Camino with mind empty, with mind and senses open to the landscape, sounds and smells, with mind and feet in meditative step with each other – and with mind ‘saturated’ with thought. I found rhythm in songs and hymns, and had I a better memory for poetry I’d have been speaking out loud more of my favourite verse, to the occasional consternation of fellow-walkers.

But I have yet to master linking my step with thought!

Frederic Gros in his book A Philosophy of Walking points out that for thinkers such as Nietzsche and Thoreau walking was key to their work. And in earlier times, when walking was the normal mode for getting from A to B, thinking your best thoughts while walking would have been normal practice.

What levels of thought and imagination were achieved by pilgrims to Santiago in the 11th,12th, 13th centuries? In an age when most couldn’t read or write. Our obsession with conveying our thoughts in written form, fed by this computer age of ours – and by blogs! – has downgraded walking as prime time for thinking. We are now overwhelmed with the thoughts of others.

In our city lives, too often when we walk we rush, and when we rush we don’t think. Gros has a better understanding: walking “is the best way to go more slowly than any other method that has ever been found”.

Time for a walk.