The Marginalian
The Marginalian

In Praise of Walking: A Poetic Manifesto for Our Simplest Instrument of Discovery, Transformation, and Transcendence

“That something exists outside ourselves and our preoccupations, so near, so readily available, is our greatest blessing.”

When you walk, you move more than the body — you move the mind, the spirit, the entire system of being. As you traverse spatial distance, you gain vital spiritual distance with which to see afresh the problems that haunt your day, your work, your life. Ideas collide and connect in ways they never would have on the static plane. Pains are left behind in the forward motion. Doubts fall away by the footfall. I do my best writing on foot — the rest, what happens at the desk, is mere transcription. Nietzsche saw the link between walking and creativity. “There is nothing more revealing than to see a thinking person walking,” wrote Thomas Bernhard, “just as there is nothing more revealing than to see a walking person thinking.” A passionate walker herself, Rebecca Solnit has defined the act as “a state in which the mind, the body, and the world are aligned.”

But no writer has composed a more succinct and symphonic manifesto for walking than the Scottish poet Thomas A. Clark in his 1988 chapbook In Praise of Walking (public library).

One of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s original watercolors for The Little Prince.

Clark writes:

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.

But while walking is a hallmark of our creaturely inheritance — we are, after all, “the small bipeds with the giant dreams” — it is something more than our primary means of getting about. We bring a different quality of being to the different ways in which we change our position in spacetime by our own propulsion. Clark makes a vital distinction:

A journey implies a destination, so many miles to be consumed,
while a walk is its own measure, complete at every point along
the way.

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.

Art by Paloma Valdivia for Pablo Neruda: Book of Questions

In a fragment that calls to mind the great Scottish mountaineer and poet Nan Shepherd’s life-tested wisdom on the ideal walking companion, Clark observes:

In the course of a walk, we usually find out something about our
companion, and this is true even when we travel alone.

Hinting at Kahlil Gibran’s admonition that “in much of your talking, thinking is half murdered [for] thought is a bird of space,” Clark captures something the introverted among us can attest to in the marrow of our being:

When I spend a day talking I feel exhausted, when I spend it
walking I am pleasantly tired.

Echoing Thoreau — that eternal patron saint walking, even in the harshest weather — Clark considers walking as a kind of sacrament to the self irrespective of any outside circumstance or condition:

Daily walking, in all weathers, in every season, becomes a sort of
ground or continuum upon which the least emphatic occurrences
are registered clearly.

Spring Moon at Ninomiya Beach, 1931 — one of Hasui Kawase’s vintage Japanese woodblocks. (Available as a print.)

In a verse that calls to mind the ancient art of walking meditation, Clark offers a qualitative calibration to preserve the purity of walking:

We lose the flavour of walking if it becomes too rare or too
extraordinary, if it turns into an expedition; rather it should be
quite ordinary, unexceptional, just what we do.

In consonance with Rebecca Solnit’s insistence that “never to get lost is not to live,” he adds:

To be completely lost is a good thing on a walk.

[…]

Wrong turnings, doubling back, pauses and digressions, all contribute
to the dislocation of a persistent self-interest.

[…]

There are walks on which I lose myself, walks which return me to
myself again.

Couple with Lauren Elkins’s splendid manifesto for why we walk, then let Thoreau awaken you to the brute rewards of winter walks.


Published December 18, 2022

https://www.themarginalian.org/2022/12/18/in-praise-of-walking-thomas-a-clark/

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