“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.”
In less than two weeks I will go on a trip to Europe with my partner, the first time we have travelled overseas (as we say in the great island of Australia) alone after nearly thirty years together. A couple of years ago we travelled to Vietnam and Cambodia with our children, and over 15 years ago I travelled alone (in an organised group tour) to China, Mongolia and Russia on the Trans-Siberian/Mongolian railway. It will be perhaps the greatest exploratory adventure of my life. I never had the money or the freedom from cares and illness to travel as a young man or student, and before I knew it children, money worries and responsibilities pegged me down.
And perhaps also a belief that it was not for me – a strange belief this one, mixed from fear and anxiety and social humiliation. The abiding image that has haunted me: the outcast; who stands in the rain and looks through the glass windows into the restaurants where the young, beautiful and connected are celebrating their lives.
Now I will know the joy of exploring, of walking into foreign cities, with all their built beauty that yet persists through the necessary ugliness of modern life, and finding my way through their streets and culture, at once strange and familiar. Each day will be free of the usual routine of responsibility, and will be created through the encounter of my mind and the world.
Still, I feel I am going into exile. There is no assurance that I know where I will return to in my job. All I know is I am unwanted from the courtiers who rule today.
But on this trip, I will bring a small soft notebook and write each day a poem about my travels. I will post these poems together with an image from my phone, and seek above all to touch the face of the world.
In a fine and old anthology of poems, A book of luminous things: an international anthology of poetry, edited by Czelaw Milosz, I found this morning this poem by Po Chu-I or Bai Juyi that spoke to how I want to respond to both my exile and my odyssey.
Madly Singing in the Mountains
There is no one among men that has not a special failing;
And my failing consists in writing verses.
I have broken away from the thousand ties of life;
But this infirmity still remains behind.
Each time that I look at a fine landscape,
Each time that I meet a loved friend,
I raise my voice and recite a stanza of poetry
And marvel as though a God had crossed my path.
Ever since the day I was banished to Hsu-yang
Half my time I have lived among the hills.
And often, when I have finished a new poem,
Alone I climb the road to the Eastern Rock.
I lean my body on the banks of white Stone;
I pull down with my hands a green cassia branch.
My mad singing startles the valleys and hills;
The apes and birds all come to peep.
Fearing to become a laughing-stock to the world,
I choose a place that is unfrequented by men.