SEARCHING FOR THE CITY
You may remember me talking about Mordant, the often deluded composer, who vanished from the haunts of men, to travel, it is said, the old green roads in a Romany vardo. He heard music in the world. Every day’s journey was a symphony, which he would transcribe at his clavichord as twilight fell. So the story goes. Did he travel in reality (whatever that is) or did he travel only in his music? There are pages of incoherent pencil sketches which record his travels, or the music of the earth. If we could hear clearly, with our listening minds properly attuned, we could share the journey.
I always assumed his wanderings were at random. There is a story that he threw away maps and disregarded finger posts and used a deck of cards as a guide, in some way which I do not pretend to understand.
But I see now that, though his journeys might have been guided by chance, they did have an object. He was searching for The City – The Heavenly City on Earth. That labyrinth of green ways would lead him deeper and deeper into border countries, and, at that unexpected moment, he would find himself entering a place which was both here, on Earth, in this multi-layered terrestrial geography, and was also the City where all music sounded together, day and night, as one harmonious and unified song of praise!
“Isn’t that a bit over the top?” I asked.
“Not at all. I am adopting a poetic mode to convey a story which belongs to the realm of poetry, rather than sterile fact.”
“OK. I don’t mind a bit of romantic excess. But I haven’t come across this idea before, this searching for The City. I thought it was all random wandering. Isn’t there a touch of madness…”
“As if it wasn’t all quite mad already!”
“…in this pursuit of a delusion. An idee fixe?”
“Not at all. Isn’t this City something which we might all be seeking? Our true home, which is not of this World? The Celestial City?”
“Yes, it’s a conventional myth – but you say he was searching for this City on Earth, however well hidden it might be in the labyrinth of “old green tracks” – though when I say that I’m not thinking of leylines, with their unpleasant and rather inhuman straightness. I’m sure Mordant wouldn’t go for them. Mora a man for the celtic-revival swirl or arabesque.”
“No, his ways were never straight, though they were frequently narrow.”
It’s an interesting idea, to which I feel strangely drawn. I like to look for mystery in the landscape. Where did you hear this?!
“From the man himself!”
“Really? I’m astonished. I know he is said to be still wandering like the Scholar Gypsy. Did you pass him on sunny day at Bablock Hythe?”
“No, not a personal encounter. I’ve his own account. It’s just a scribble, but I think it makes sense of the whole idea. I don’t think he was deluded – not, at least, when he wrote this down. Perhaps he had emerged from a time of delusion.”
“You actually have this writing?”
“I can show it to you. Let’s go to my rooms. You can read it while I smoke one of my final cigars. My only weakness – but a weakness I aim to abandon. Though abstinence, to me, might be as much an ignis fatuis as Mordant’s City.”
This document, a few pages of scrawl, had been found in a drawer, I was told, in a small hotel on the Welsh Border. It was unsigned, but, by a remarkable coincidence, the proprietor of the hotel, who had found it while Spring cleaning, had mentioned it to my acquaintance when a conversation had been struck up about one of those Victorian prints which show the journey of Bunyan’s Pilgrim from the City of Destruction to the Heavenly City.
Here is my transcription – which is partly based on my hurriedly made notes and partly from my not particularly reliable memory.
MODES OF PLACE
I have an obsession with the Music of the Spheres – the ancient image of the cosmos as a series of spheres, on which the planets turn, surrounding the Earth. The whole is tuned to sound a musical scale, rather like Benjamin Franklin’s glass harmonica, of bowls within bowls, spinning in water and singing when touched. A cause of madness for the young lady musician, due to the poisonous lead in the glass. Perhaps the spheres are the source of my madness.
But there is a truth in this image. For the Earth, think of the entire material universe. The spheres show that musical harmony rules everything in Nature. The planets pass on the influence of the source of all being, the Unity, or God, to the world below. The same harmonies which sound in the cosmos are present in everything in the sublunary world, Earth.
Each sphere is a heaven. Dante leaves the Earth and ascends towards the Empyrean, beyond the stars, in his Paradiso. Each planet has a particular quality – with which we are familiar today, the martial, lunar, venereal… These qualities are also present in the musical modes which are founded on the various tones each planet sounds.
Indeed. I believe this to be true. The image of the cosmos is true. These spheres also sound in our souls, which are an image of the cosmos. And why not? We are made of the stuff of the stars. Or something like that. Ask Plato.
When I was still young, before my travels, I sought Wisdom, and, as with all young souls, I was easily deluded. I might have encountered Wisdom at the Temple steps, but I did not listen to her words.
There is a temptation to see the order of the heavens as a map which might be projected on earth. Could there be places which reflect each of the planetary heavens on earth? Could we follow a road on earth through these stations of the stars, and ascend to heaven, or knowledge?
At one time I admit I saw the diagram of the cabalistic Tree of Life as a map, rather too much like the map of the London Underground, and I imagined I might find this map laid over the landscape I loved to explore.
Others, I know, look for the plan of the heavens, the zodiac, layed out on earth like starry wheel.
It’s a nice idea. What’s wrong with it?
If only I had listened to Wisdom.
We imagine that each planet rules things in nature which reflect that planet’s quality. Each planet has a metal. For Venus, copper, for Mars, iron, for the Sun, Gold. Gold is Gold, a thing of the simplest form. A work in itself. Gold, an element, is one thing, whatever form that Gold might take. We can imagine Gold is ruled by the Sun, solely.
We imagine the planets have lordship over simple minerals, crystals, and living things. Jupiter may rule over citrus fruit. The refreshing oranges, beneath their dark leaves, are Jupiter’s, or the gifts of the delightful muse, Euterpe. I can send my memory to orange groves and Euterpe’s delightful presence…
And so, I would say to myself, when I was young, before my travels, there can be places on this Earth which belong to one planet, or mode, or muse.
I could enumerate them. My far-off orange grove sings with Euterpe in the Lydian mode. The seawood belongs to the changing moon. Liminal border regions lie under the unpredictable governance of Mercury. How many Saturnine wastelands have I crossed, hearing in my mind Mr Holst’s plodding music?
There is a meaning in this, and a value. We are microcosms. We contain reflections of all the heavens within our souls. There are times when we long for the wasteland to balance an excess of merriment. I know I do.
We have the same music of the spheres in us. The music rarely sounds with the unified harmony os the cosmos. We suffer from imbalances. Learning to know all these different qualities within us is a hard task, the work of a lifetime. Our diseases of the soul may be cured by music. The music of a therapeutic planet may help redress the balance, reveal an undiscovered harmony in our soul, or act as a mirror to draw out an excess of melancholy. I know the efficacy of this medicine.
I have travelled across this island in search of places which have one dominating mode, as a study of the nature of Harmony – and as a way of exploring my own soul – or of refreshing the harmonies within me which I have allowed to fall into disuse. There is a truth in this. It is the same process as the healing Marsilio spoke of, and practiced with his lyre
But I should listen to Wisdom.
These are Harmonies, not Music. Though each planet may seem to have a kind of music of its own this music has a monotony, it is the expression of a single note of a scale. The music of our Souls and of this Earth, contains all these Harmonies, not as separately sounding spheres, but as Music, in which all tones are working together to make the individual symphony.
Why is this so little understood? The difference between Music and Harmony?
Harmony is a sign of the divine Unity from which all things spring. Music is the divine alive in Nature.
The heavens have Harmony. The Earth has Music. This is the work of Creation.
Can we imagine a human being who is all solar, all martial, all venereal?
Perhaps for a moment – but this is not to be human.
We can imagine a God, or a muse, who is the personification of one mode – but even they would not appear to us in any guise that we would recognise as human if they were not also of a mixed music as we are, albeit with one dominant harmony. To be human is to have the entire cosmos reflected in the soul, the microcosm. The solar human has an access of sun, but still contains all other harmonies.
There are places, yes, which have one dominant mode, but this does not make them sacred. The study, or the experience of these places, might guide us to the knowledge of the full gamut of music in ourselves, and to an awareness of the Unity of the cosmos, yes. I can imagine a world which does resemble the underground map of cabala, in which we learn the structure of the whole. I can imagine that a person of incalculable wealth could lay out a philosophic garden in which these separate qualities could be experienced through his orangeries, rosaries, temples and contemplative groves.
I have known gardens like this, but I have not known such initiatory landscapes or paths laid out by nature.
Do you follow me so far?
Wisdom turns to me. I have been dazed by the colours of these individual jewels,
“Remember the Tree, “she says. “Remember the Garden.”
The dazzling colours recede in its shade and I can see, yes, I can see the Garden, trees, a carpet of Spring flowers, the pure glitter of the gentle river.
She turns to face me, moving one foot gracefully, as if taking the first step of a dance….
(You see the literary allusion.)
Yes, I should have remembered the Garden, and the quiet and sobre Matelda, who is so patient with me, as she was with the Florentine poet.
“This is sacred ground,” she says. “We are free from inchantment. We step on Earth. The heavens are above us.”
Yes, I see. I have travelled through the forest of error – though, I must say, I have enjoyed its mysteries and pleasures to a considerable degree. But this is a case of not seeing the wood for the trees – or, indeed the Tree for the trees.
This Earthly Paradise, which might, or might not have been, pure Eden in some lost era before time, is, as its familiar name reminds me, earthly. Of all the places of my imagination, this is the most precious, because it is both earthly and sacred. It is something like Paradise.
And, yes, it is both earthly and under the heavens.
This is the simple lesson of he glance, and it should have been obvious to me from those days before my travels.
What makes this place holy is that it lies under the heavens, the whole resounding firmament. It is holy because, while being on Earth, it reflects to the cosmos as a whole. This is her message, this quiet lady who, today, is speaking for Wisdom.
As she knows –
The CITY, the TEMPLE, and the GARDEN are all one. They are different ways of imagining the true Pattern of Creation which, in itself, can do nothing but reveal the Unity of the Source of all Being – whether you prefer to think of this in abstract terms or through a more personal image.
These Places are all ways of seeing the idea form of the Cosmos.
And, of course, we know that the cosmos imagined isn’t true. So I tell myself that these three images, and the image of the cosmos, are all images of Harmony. Which is True.
(Or so I will hold to be true for my personal convenience. All this can only be a way of thinking that works to my personal convenience. I claim no more.)
(For more on the symbolism of these see A FRUIT FOR EACH MOON)
There are earthly cities which, for a moment, touch The City. (I do not say they “become” The City, or they “reflect” The City. That’s not how it works. They touch the City and ARE The City, in their inevitably imperfect way.
This might be the case with Venice, Constantinople, London – or the cities we would like to imagine they were or are. These cities touch The City when they are cosmopolitan, full of life and variety, a meeting place or melting pot of cultures. Yes, I know this is a dream. They may never really be like that – but in spite of their failings, their governments, they may occasionally touch The City in spite of themselves.
I cannot imagine a city which its founders, the makers of so-called “civilisation”, have built to be ordered and unified, with an imposed unity, can ever be The City. Can any idea of worldly order achieve this? Such cities, surely, are dead parodies of The City,
This must be true, must it not? What can we say of The City? It is a model of the Cosmos. It must contain all things. We may associate human visions of The City with religions which like the idea of imposing unity on the world, but this can never be true. This can never work!
The material world is evolving, yes evolving, into an Image of the City, of a quite different kind. This world could only evolve into the ordered unity of a totalitarian city through death, through the pruning away of variety and difference. Freedom must be (and I am sure philosophers have argued this) an essential condition of the City. Yes, indeed. What I mean by Freedom should, I am sure, be called
This is what PEACE is. The freedom of things to be what they are in harmony with all.
And that reminds us of other worldly cities which have never achieved this moment of touching, when the city greets its cosmic pattern.
Yes, this is how it is. The Image of The City is an image of the Cosmos, which is the ideal pattern of Creation in the Mind of God (if you will pardon the expression.) This world does not evolve towards becoming a literal reflection of that pattern. That pattern is the template of inherent harmonies which allows the world to evolve as a Dance, yes as a Dance, in which each dancer (by which I mean everything that has unity in itself) can dance in PEACE, exchanging hands, avoiding treading on toes, but graciously combining or separating into new things, new works, as the music inspires.
Thus PEACE achieves DELIGHT. To find ourselves joining that Dance is a Strange Delight.
The Orchestra is The City.
And I can imagine other kinds of City. There might be Cities which, rather than being purely mercurial, are subject to mercurial change, in place and time. They would be dangerous and unpredictable places, but they would show what PEACE might be in their lack of it. Mr. Blake’s Golgonooza, is a city of creativity. I have walked through London, at a certain angle to normality, and seen Golgonooza.
But neither this, nor any earthly city of PEACE, is The City. The City can never be just a small part of the world, or a passing moment. The City is the pattern of the whole. And yet, any thing can contain this unity by being free to be what it is.
And is there a Temple within the City, or is the City also the Temple? The Apocalypse makes it clear. There is no Temple, for the City is the Temple. The Temple is the pattern of the cosmos, perhaps the diagram, a motionless key to a cosmos which is dancing. The Temple contains within itself the absolute Unity from which Harmony sounds. This is what the Temple of Jerusalem represented – or was. The pattern of Creation, and the place where Unity was reflected on Earth. This is the pattern of the City.
Every temple we build aims to be a model of the cosmos, perhaps with a different form in different places, but always reflecting the Harmony of Creation and the point of Unity. Of course we can fail in our attempts to represent the Temple, but there are times when we succeed and the Temple becomes what it represents, not a model of heaven on earth, but a drawing of earth into heaven.
And the Garden is also the Pattern of the Cosmos. Eden was Creation in perfection, the pure pattern. The Temple is also the Garden, and the Tree of Knowledge was in the Temple – and the Tree was the pattern of Harmony, the miracle in Nature which shows that everything, every colour, derives from the pure Unity of light.
It is as if The City is something which humanity creates from its nature. It only comes alive if it is the product of a dance and not the forced construction of one mind. Where would the PEACE be if the city were an imposition of order? The Temple is a human work to reflect the cosmos, which can succeed if it celebrates, praises, rather than imposes. The Garden, then, is that place where Nature, of her own accord, finds Peace and becomes a temporal expression of the eternal Garden, the pattern of the Cosmos.
These three are, shall I say, modes of the same thing, Nature becoming at one with Unity. These are places of vision, of temporal repose. I seek all these on my wanderings – and I find them – but my mind beats on. I have no repose within me. I touch the Peace but travel on.
Is not this how it is always for us?
There are those whose own souls are still and who have the Peace within them, of course there are. I do not see my restlessness as a disease. I travel, I compose, to explore, to show that there is heaven within the world. All I can hope to do is to show these things to others who may be more restless and have not noticed the wonder. All I can do is say “Lo!”
These, as I say, are the three modes in which the vision of unity is revealed to us in Nature, but the whole world is a revelation. There are those forests which, by being what they are, open into Forest of Adventure, or woods, which are The Magic Wood. There are mountains and rivers which are the mountians and rivers of scripture. The vision is always forming. A hill might demand a tower, or a valley, a story.
And, please remember, we only experience this when our eyes and imaginations are open. We do not see the forest through a veil of fantasy, we see the magic when we see the forest as it is.
And there is also another quest – to see again that Lady, who is herself the pattern of Harmony, and to apologise for ignoring her guidance.
If the GARDEN, CITY and TEMPLE are images of Harmony, then our MUSIC is, in fact, not merely as a metaphor, the MUSIC of the TEMPLE. The gifts the divine pattern passes to earth, the FRUIT and LEAVES of the TREE are, indeed, MUSIC!! If I place myself, in my imagination, in the TEMPLE, I become a musician, singer, or dancer, before God, and I am drawn to pass those LEAVES and FRUIT of MUSIC to the world, in my own, imperfect, voice.
And so, yes, The City is my true home, because I have the Music of the Spheres in my soul. I am seeking The City as itself, a distant view even from the bourne’s head to which the Pearl poet was led – but I am also seeking The City on Earth, because it can be touched by the earthly City, or the Garden touched by those rare happy places, or touched in our memory by the Temples, which are images of The Temple. And in my travels, which must be free, random, drawn by PEACE, I hope to learn Harmony, to be a performer who knows life, death, and resurrection in the heights and depths of nature. In my travels I have no choice but to join my songs to the whole world, in its most humble places, as it seeks to become a new Creation.