Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Ray McGrath


Ray McGrath’s new column as he adjusts to a life in isolation


LAST night I had the dream again. The walking dream. I went step by step. Even though the place in the dream changes – the Glazing Woods, the beautiful walk from Woodstown to Fornacht Beach, the streets of Montreal – the dream is always essentially the same – the sense of being there totally immersed in the moments of the walk. Focused in the moment. And I hear on BBC Radio 4 this morning that people are dreaming more, more vividly, and remembering their dreams longer than the usual few minutes before they begin to disintegrate like Yeats’ dream vanishing like a ‘drifting of smoke’.

And I know where this dream is coming from – all the talk about the holy hour, about the cocooners being able once more to go walking even for an hour. So, we have waited for this day – Tuesday, May 5. I know I will accept whatever decision is made but whatever that is I will continue to walk – with musicians, writers and poets and with my own memories. (My phone has just now told me that the Taoiseach is holding a press conference announcing the ‘In this Together’ programme to help people stay connected. And walking in whatever form it takes is a way of staying connected – last night I sent a video of the Dire Straits version of ‘Walk of Life’ to a friend overseas. Check it out. Check the guitar!)

But back to walking to music and poetry. So many words for walking – tramping, strolling, meandering, rambling, sauntering (did you know that ‘sauntering’ is derived from Sainte Terre, from those who were walking on pilgrimage to the Holy Land), rambling! And often music and poetry reflect the moods of different walks. Certainly, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ has brought some measure of relief and at the same time inspiration to Liverpool players and fans in their long road back from that awful day at Hillsborough. But of all songs about the long road none does as much for me as the Beatles’ ‘Long and Winding Road’. Give it a whirl and see what walk it takes you on.

For a walk of a different kind you can hardly do better than to go off with William Wordsworth for an hour. His walks were often much longer though, and Noel Coward’s infamous line would certainly not have applied – ‘I love long walks especially when taken by people I don’t like’. Going for a long walk with Wordsworth would have been unforgettable – he saw so much, was so much present in the moment, honoured the ordinary – ‘to me the meanest flower that blows can give thoughts that lie too deep for tears’. And this is the potential of the walk – wherever – to be still for a moment and see the extraordinary in the ordinary. So next time you sally out – in body or mind, be there… for the moment.


The other day after doing a bit outdoors I came in, poured a whiskey and fell upon Rainer Maria Rilke. And what a treasure of a poem, called simply, ‘A Walk’. It has so much to say about the walk that now we take in our mind’s eye, the walk that one day, soon, we will all take again, hand in hand, step by step…


My eyes already touch the sunny hill

going far beyond the road I have begun,

So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;

It has an inner light even from a distance

And changes us – even if we do not reach it –

Into something else.


From Cheekpoint, Waterford, Ray McGrath contributes regular columns to the Waterford News & Star, including his most recent series Gaultier Heritage Rambles.

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By Ray McGrath
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