The Corner

Culture

On England’s Landscapes and Imagination

I just wrote about the way my wife and I searched out Donegal for transcendence. Every Internet columnist should get their indulgent summer column, should they not?

But John Milbank has written a gorgeous essay on English landscapes and their effect on English psychology for Plough magazine.

Devon is indeed the epitome of England, with its twining dells and bosomy hills like the domes of sunken temples, dedicated to buried cults of earthiness. Edged by an exotic southern coast that intimates the Mediterranean, by a wilder coast to the north that always presages storm, smuggling, pirates, and disaster. And concealing in the middle the shorn-off mountains of the moorlands, whose lack of height only reveals their more sublime antiquity. Wraiths wander through the random stones that could be equally the work of giants, ancestors, or nature. The unidentifiable howling among them might likewise be the voice of the enraged abandoned gods, ever scouring the night skies for victims, or of canine vengeance upon Royalist squires, whose cleaving to tradition did not really excuse the swerve of their spurred jollity into unmentionable wickedness.

Yes, the dark side. Everywhere present because everywhere domesticated. On the Saxon shore, the sea beasts and the dark elves were held at bay by the warmth of the mead hall and lordly generosity. On the Celtic marches the intoxication of the high hills and the cauldrons of inspiration were viewed but warily. The fairies were miniaturized in a gesture of further pastoral concentration. At grass and dandelion level they could safely enshrine the grandeurs of Rome, while at the human level the entire Christian story was rather seen as an occasioning of further field-mirth, dotings, and gatherings, always in due season. The complications of transcendence and the anxiety of salvation were rerouted back through the processional lanes, the beaten bounds, the magical rogations, and the harvest-homings, in pagan loyalty to the religion of the Incarnation.

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