Monday, 15 February 2016

Who wrote this?

Who wrote this, and to whom?

Your bodysnatch story is ghastly, but so are all bodysnatch stories. My grandfather was a surgeon, a fellow student of Keats', and once conveyed a body through Plymouth at the risk of his own.

You'll have to scroll down to reveal the (surprising) author of this passage (and the picture below is a clue):

This eerie paragraph comes at the end of a letter dated May 13th 1878 from the poet Gerard Manly Hopkins to his fellow poet Robert Bridges.

Hopkins was one among many eminent (and many more non-eminent) Victorians who visited the town of Barmouth on the beautiful Mawddach estuary in what is now called Gwynedd, in Wales; Darwin and Ruskin were among other visitors, attracted by the sublime scenery. I've been there several times for holidays and love the place for its vast empty beaches, mountain walks, the wonderful sunbleached wooden railway bridge that spans the estuary and is open to walkers. It's a place with a Post Office where you can buy paper flags to decorate short-lived sand castles, a place where you can go netting for crabs and shrimps or ride a donkey wearing a straw hat (the donkey, I mean); a place where you can gaze contentedly for hours at the waves and the clouds. Barmouth has some interesting buidlings (a colossally out-of-scale church, and a tiny cottage rented by Ruskin). It's also a bit run down, with (the last time I was there) a fascinatingly dingy amusement park and some decommissioned chapels selling cheap garden furniture. The railway station is a passing point on the Cambrian Coast line, which snakes through the town via a series of tunnels and bridges before emerging onto the great bridge that crosses the mouth of the estuary to the village of Fairbourne, a place of bungalows and prefabs built on a sand spit in constant danger of inundation from the sea. It was founded as a seaside resort by Arthur McDougall (of self-raising flour fame.) and is home to a  delightful miniature railway.

This is Wales so there's little chance of a decent meal but otherwise it's a good place to spend a few days. It's no longer possible to take a ferry boat up the Afon Mawddach to Penamenpool, a place Hopkins visited and commemorated in a lovely piece of occasional verse. I blogged about the place and the poem here some years ago, and a ghastly disaster that has now been all but forgotten

I've been reading Hopkins again, prompted by the disturbing news that Fairbourne is to be 'decommissioned' by cash-strapped Gwynedd council, who have no plans to invest in coastal defences but will allow the place to be taken over by the sea, probably within the next fifty years. This the council describe as 'a managed retreat'. One of Hopkins' greatest poems 'The Wreck of the Deutschland'  is about death by drowning. What would he make of a village under the waves? 

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