Scottish poet Thomas A. Clark’s (b. 1944) delightfully elegant prose poem In Praise of Walking is only a few pages but captures every pressing, pleasurable, and persistent aspect of this “human way of getting about.” 1
Early one morning, any morning, we can set out, with the least possible baggage, and discover the world.
It is quite possible to refuse all the coercion, violence, property, triviality, to simply walk away.
That something exists outside ourselves and our preoccupations, so near, so readily available, is our greatest blessing.
This “something” Clark mentions, is it the same “something” that brought waves across the ocean, as American poet Mary Oliver wondered? Is it the same “something” that Transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau noted was beyond all of this? The repetition of words, the similarity of language, is a particularly special feature of the human continuum. It suggests a repetition of ideas, questions, doubts, and observations.
“Something” is truly something that connects us. Even if we have no idea what it is.
Clark recognizes that walking is about harmony. Harmony of mind and body, between our bodies and the earth beneath. And that by walking, we enact choice, coax out the hidden.
There are things we will never see, unless we walk to them.
Walking is a mobile form of waiting.
What I take with me, what I leave behind, are of less importance than what I discover along the way.
The close relationship between footfall and consciousness are well-known to many. Creatives suffer from an abundance of thought and ideas (and a need to empty oneself). With that streaming of ideas comes a compulsion for movement and the two become symbiotic. Walk for hours and thoughts will be purged, summoned or ordered.2
“It is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top.” figured Virginia Woolf in her timeless study of what conditions were necessary for the creation of art.
The narrative of In Praise of Walking isn’t time-bound, it isn’t directional, yet it takes us on a journey. Through imagined forests, fields, over rocks and under varied skies.
Clark’s writing is perfect elegance. Nothing omitted is necessary; nothing present is unnecessary.3
And yet, truth abounds. I love Clark’s easy summary of nighttime walks. “To walk for hours on a clear night is the largest experience we can have.”4
To be completely lost is a good thing on a walk.
The most distant places seem accessible once one is on the road.
Convictions, directions, opinions, are of less importance than sensible shoes.
When I spend a day talking I feel exhausted, when I spend it walking I am pleasantly tired.
As we move through time and space, as we choose to go this way or that, we form a line of existence. Clark understood this delineation. So does Andy Goldsworthy, a British sculptor who builds walls to demonstrate a physical existence that mimics our own.
A bright companion to Clark’s gentle sermon In Praise of Walking is Robert Macfarlane’s study of the human need to forge paths and trails (and how they form us in return). Britain has long-cultivated hikers and walkers; I’ve gathered a few in my post The Importance of Walking About.
For a guide to the ephemeral delights you might glimpse while walking, grab this superlative miscellany on the history and meaning of flowers. It’s small enough to take along.