‘The Walk’ describes a dream journey across Dartmoor culminating in a vision of a more sustainable future. This poem (by Mark Beeson) was described by Ted Hughes as ‘powerful… so different from anything else, in good ways, and.. full of unique and marvellous things.’ The project aimed to inspire all ages with The Walk’s vision of a more sustainable future, and its impact on the artists, young people and children who interpreted the scenario through shadow puppetry, drama, dance, music and object-collecting walks. The project was supported by a Grants for the Arts Award from Arts Council England.
I woke one night to a storm outside.
Suddenly I was in the same storm
Being hurried away over hedges
And telegraph poles through the darkness.
I passed moorland and tors till I knew
I stood in another world. The murk
Of a gnarled wood sank before my eyes
Down the valley. I heard the strong wind
Howling and whining among the trunks.
Fear’d have kept me back, had not a voice
Cried from that turmoil, ‘Come,’ again, ‘come!’
And I was forced it seemed, half-willing,
To make my way down a steep pathway.
Rocks strewed the wood’s floor, wet with rain,
Unwelcome hulks which I tripped against.
Darkly I went. Then to me walking
A kind of shadow appeared, not man
I thought, nor woman either yet still
A human shape. A slow light crept up
Between the trees like a winter dawn.
‘Hush,’ the shadow spoke;
‘I am one you met in life,’ it said,
But still it was a stranger to me.
It beckoned. ‘I will be your guide now,
I was human once and know your fears.’
Soon the trees passed, opening onto
A dull, brownish landscape. More figures
Came and went, each featureless, but each
Rendingly human, disturbing me
As if I had seen a friend far off,
Then drawing near had found it was not.
‘And who are these?’ I asked.
‘You met them,’
My guide said, ‘in another circle.
But no delays. Time will not wait long.’
‘If I knew these,’ I cried, ‘why can’t they
Recall me? I am no different now.’
‘They do,’ it said, ‘but are oblivious.’
The Walk used two different performance formats to interpret the poem – a shadow puppet play and a dance drama. The Walk poem features shadows and dancing figures extensively, and interpreting the poem through different formats, in conjunction with the collecting walks of the outreach programme, made it more accessible to a wider public. One of the main aims of the project was to develop and provide a platform for young emerging artists on Dartmoor, and a residential held at the Dartmoor Training Centre at Pixies Holt and sensory dance workshops held at Lustleigh and Leusdon enabled intensive fieldwork on the background to the narrative poem.
Extract from The Walk Shadow Play performance at St Lawrence Chapel, Ashburton
Extract fromThe Walk Dance Drama outside at Fingle Bridge, in partnership with the National Trust at Castle Drogo
We passed along thin evening lanes
Under a stretch of fruitless orchard,
Its blossom starring in grey lichens
On the trunks. Here old shapes strove upwards
By a devious means; some had cankers,
Some bore the lipped wounds of wire bulging,
Some had suffered amputations.
They held onto the sky with toothless
Black gums, their limbs waving as blunt as
A tarantula’s in the dusk wind.
Entering by a gate, we went on
Beneath low branches, ducking downwards
To a stream; this a clapper stone bridged
Here, and near it rose a giant apple.
By the faint moonlight which bathed its trunk
I saw my hand sink in where I leant.
I fell backwards, half-landing in the
Water. As I looked up, bewildered,
A face I had seen elsewhere bent down
And blocked out the moon.
‘Who are you then?’
It quizzed, like a reflection and an
Echo; ‘where have you met me? tell me.’
‘Who am I?’ I reiterated
In my dazedness, ‘where have I met you?’
And the face, repeating me likewise,
Asked of itself those very questions
‘At a children’s marriage
I was wedding guest. The bright sun burst
On the naked winter fruit trees and
Forced out their shadows. Later we walked –
Quickly the sun lowered, quickly fell,
Reddened and grew large, briskly the wind
Rose, bringing the coolness of the sea
To wipe the sweating trees, rocking them,
Blowing light out like a spinnaker.
A dog barked, contrasting three thin aerials
With a sound; a churchyard rose in our minds
Where grasses leant on their shadows, and the claw
Stood still in legend. We have no shadow,
We are limbs out of the trees, and aware
Of the evening only in the knife of wind
At our backs, that we laugh sometimes,
That we bend sometimes, stretching
Over into night grafted on the near hillside.’
The mouth within the face moved no more,
And in a moment the moon again
Shivered on the mercurial stream.
I climbed from the bank and crossed the bridge
To where my guide waited with sad eyes
Lamenting the waste: ‘Time will not wait,’
Was the look sent to make me hasten.