The Prophet

On Friday, in a bookshop, I picked up a book and started leafing through it. Suddenly, I was transported back more than forty years.

In the summer of 1975, before my first child was born, while her mother was doing an Open University summer school in Norwich, I took a short holiday and walked, hitch-hiked and took trains around Norfolk. I saw the stone-age flint mines at Grimes Graves, whose produce was exported along the Icknield Way to much of southern Britain. I saw the lavender mill in Fring during the few weeks of lavender harvest (and I smelt it long before I saw it). I swam in the North Sea at Cromer, having to wade a long way out to get to waist-deep water. In a marsh between land and sea, I saw a pair of swans in heraldic pose, their necks making the shape of a heart.

During my travels, I arrived in Kings Lynn. I found a cheap bed-and-breakfast where the mattress sagged horribly, the room reeked of stale smoke, and an overfull ashtray spilt its contents over the carpet. But the Kings Lynn Festival was about to start, so I stayed for a few days. I went to a concert by Jake Thackray, at which he sang two of his translations of Georges Brassens songs, the famous “Brother Gorilla” and another one I have never heard since, “Stepping Stones”. I saw an exhibition of batik pictures of fabulous monsters and mythical beasts by Thetis Blacker, and bought her book, A Pilgrimage of Dreams, expecting more such pictures but finding instead something even more striking.

The Festival was opened with a service in the enormous church. During the service, there was a reading I didn’t recognise. I was struck by it, especially the last two lines, which stuck in my mind:

Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror.
But you are eternity and you are the mirror.

I searched sporadically for these lines. (Odd it seems now but, in those pre-Google days, this was not easy.) After a while I forgot all about it.

But yesterday, there they were, in Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet.

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About Peter Cameron

I count all the things that need to be counted.
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