On the beach at Cark, from Broken Images: A Journal, by John Guest


I knew … that there was a dance on in the camp, so, though I felt little inclined, I decided to go, simply because it entailed no effort. I could at least stand and watch–which is what I did. But never have I felt more cut off from any activity. It was a big dance and I stood there for an hour, just watching and realising with every shake of the floor, every laugh, every sweaty face, every beat of the music, that I was completely isolated. I had a beer or two in the crowded bar, but it was warm and tasteless. Members of my troop greeted me, smiled—-but it was an effort to answer them. Finally I could stand it no longer. I rushed out, across the deserted camp, down to the firing point, over the embankment that holds back the sea, and on to the shore.

The tide was far out. It had stopped raining, and the air was deliciously fresh and salty. Blue rifts were breaking in the clouds above, spreading a benign evening serenity and radiance. The shore here is so flat that the sea recedes almost out of sight, leaving a sheer glistening level of sand that is so immense on all sides, so featureless, as to be actually thrilling. Walking towards the sea, and looking to my right and left, I could see nothing but the level shore and, driven into the sand, miles and miles of solitary poles running, for all I knew, to infinity. Can you imagine it? Like a dream, or the background of one of Dali’s strange thoughts. There being nothing except this luminous waste, the vistas of bare poles like intervals of time, the complete silence and the soft warm light spreading down from the sky, my crisis seemed to drain from me into nothing–there was nothing to hold it or reflect it back; it just flowed away. I don’t think I even thought about anything. I walked and walked towards the sea conscious only of the release and silence one feels with the sudden cessation of pain. The only, only object, mind you, that I recall seeing on all that shore, apart from the poles, was a battered wicker basket sticking up from the sand.

When, finally, I turned towards the land again, it was growing dark-—the sand and the sky were deepening in colour–a deep golden brown and a deep heavenly blue such as lapis lazuli might look were it transparent. Inland could be seen clearly the dark mountains of the Lake District (I never see them without thinking of Wordsworth) and rising above them the moon, neatly full, very clear and creamy; and round about it, in its light, little torn clouds of dimly shining grey. I went to bed, very tired and fortunately fell asleep almost immediately. . . .

Written 18 July 1942, at an Army camp near Cark, England

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