I have been reading this wonderful anthology While Wandering - A Walking Companion, one or two pieces every few days, and several have been about walking rhythm, the walker's tempo and where it may lead.
If you listen to the music of Erik Satie it makes complete sense to learn that he was a great walker, setting out most mornings to walk the ten kilometres into Paris from his home in Arcueil. Kilometres still mean nothing to me but it's just over six miles. Satie would visit friends and then walk around the city, to Montmartre or Montparnasse, either catching the last train home, or walking it if he was a little the worse for the drink. It was 1982 before someone ( Roger Shattuck in conversation with John Cage) advanced this idea of applying the walking rhythm to Erik Satie's music, often a constant pulse of seventy-six beats per minute, a nice walking heart rate too.
A few days on from the extract about Erik Satie (from Satie Remembered by Robert Orledge) there was another piece entitled The Walker's Tempo - One, Two, One, Two? from Walking Essays by A.H.Sidgwick published in 1912...
'At one time or another I have heard nearly every kind of tune sounding to the steps of a walker. Wagner, Purcell...symphony and opera, tone poem and folk song...and from this very large and variegated body of music one most remarkable fact emerges - namely, that nearly every rhythm can, at some time or other, be accommodated to the walking stride.'
Mr Sidgwick proceeds to expound his theory and it struck me that I often find myself counting as I walk, for no reason other than I do, especially if it is a long steady striding sort of walk, and once I notice I have to purposely stop doing it because by then I am really annoying myself.
Arthur Sidgwick also suggests that most of us lead with our left foot which I hadn't noticed either, but which makes complete sense of the Left Right Left Right marching command. Watching this year's Festival of Remembrance from the Albert Hall a few weeks ago I suffered my annual hold- the-breath moment when the drill sergeant was sorting everyone out at the top of the stairs ready to parade down in step and into the arena. He starts them Left Right Left Right-ing on the spot in the hope that they will make it down in a state of perfect evenness, and you can see the panic in people's eyes when they know they are doing Right Left Right Left. It was Bookhound who commented that I would also be the very one to ruin this, never having instantly known my left from my right.
Tell me I am not alone.
A propos of no apparent connection at all The Forward Book of Poetry 2015 arrived. I always love to see this because it offers a real flavour of what's out there and I invariably order some other collections as a result. This year I have Liz Berry's Black Country and Fiona Benson's Bright Travellers to explore, and I doubt it will be very long before I cave and order Moontide by Niall Campbell with its Hebridean connections.
Once I had recovered from glancing idly at the back cover of this 2015 Forward anthology (nice surprise)...
I settled down to browse and came across this wonderful poem by Kei Miller (author of The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion and winner of Best Collection 2014) and suddenly all those rhythms, and thoughts about rhythms and metre, and walking came together in ten lines...
Establishing the Metre
Like tailors who must know their clients' girths
two men set out to find the sprawling measure of the earth.
They walked the curve from Rodez to Barcelona,
and Barcelona to Dunkirk. Such a pilgrimage!
They did not call it inches, miles or chains -
this distance which as yet had no clear name.
Between France and Spain they dared to stretch
uncalibrated measuring tapes. And foot
by weary foot, they found a rhythm
the measure that exists in everything.
I never was one for spotting the rhythms and being able to underline the 'feet' in poetry, it all felt best left to flow, and messing about with it too much seemed to spoil the whole, so once I had studied poetry enough it was in the bin with ten syllable accented and unaccented iambics, and dactyls and trochees and on with the enjoyment. But as I read this it all jumped out at me...the lines which seem a little out of step, unsettled and halting, interspersed with those in a nice rhythm, until finally the poem gets itself back into step and settles into its stride with that final line... 'the measure that exists in everything.'
Thanks to Kei Miller I've now come to the conclusion that I mostly walk in iambic pentameters.