From the archives: Going outward and beyond
Myth & Moor update

Tunes for a Monday Morning: Songs for the Peregrini

Ynys Enlli, viewed from Mynydd Mawr - photograph by Alan Fryer (Creative Commons)

In his book The Wild Places, Robert Macfarlane writes about his journey to Yns Enlli (Bardsey Island), off the coast of the Llŷn Peninsula in Wales:

"Yns Enlli was among the many remote places of the west and north-west coasts of Britain and Ireland to be settled between around AD 500 and 1000," he tells us. "During those centuries, an extraordinary migration occurred. Monks, anchorites, solitaries and other devoted itinerants began to travel in their thousands to the bays, forests, promontories, mountain-tops and islands of the Atlantic littoral. In frail craft and with little experience of seamanship, they sailed out across dangerous seas, in search of something we might now call wilderness. Where they stopped, they build monasteries, cells and oratories, dug cemetaries for their dead and raised stone crosses to their God. These travelers were known as peregrini: the name derives from the Latin peregrinus and carries the idea of wandering over a distance, giving us our word 'pilgrim.' "

Enlii, The Blessed Isle - photograph by Eric Jones (Creative Commons)

"We can know very little for certain about the peregrini. We know few of their names. Yet, reading the accounts of their journeys and of their experiences on places like Enlli, I had encountered a dignity of motive and attitude that I found salutary. These men were in search not of material gain, but of a hallowed landscape: one that would sharpen their faith to its utmost point. They were, in the phrasing of their own theology, exiles looking for the Terra Repromissionis Sanctorum -- the Promised Land of Saints.

"A long Christian tradition exists that considers all individuals as peregrini, in that all human life is seen as exile. This idea was perpetuated in the Salve Regina, the chant often recited as a last night prayer. Post hoc exilium, the prayer declares: all will be resolved after this exile. The chant, when sung, sounds ancient and disquieting. It is unmistakably music about wilderness, an ancient vision of wildness, and it still has the capacity to move us.

"Antiphona: Salve Regina," medieval chant

"Much of what we know of the life of the monks of Enlli, and places like it, is inferred from the rich literature they left behind. Their poems speak eloquently of a passionate and precise relationship with nature, and the blend of receptivity and detachment which characterized their interactions with it. Some of the poems read like jotted lists, or field notes: 'Swarms of bees, beetles, soft music of the world, a gentle humming; brent geese, barnacle geese, shortly before All Hallows, music of the wild dark torrent.' Others record single charmed instants: a blackbird calling from a gorse branch near Belfast Loch, foxes at play in a glade. Marban, a ninth-century hermit who lived in a hut in a fir-grove near Druim Rolach, wrote of the 'wind's voice against a branchy wood on a day of grey cloud.' A nameless monk, responsible for drywalling on the island of North Rona in the ninth century, stopped his work to write a poem that spoke of the delight he felt  at standing on a 'clear headland,' looking over the 'smooth strand' to the 'calm sea,' and hearing the calls of 'the wondrous birds.' A tenth-century copyist, working in an island monastery, paused long enough to scribble a note in Gaelic beside his Latin text. 'Pleasant to me is the glittering of the sun today upon these margins.'

"Gleanings such as these give us glimpses of the nature of faith of the peregrini. They are recorded instants which carry purely over the long distances of history, as certain sounds carry with unusual clarity within water or across frozen land. For these writers, attention was a form of devotion and noticing continuous with worship. The art they left behind is among the earliest testimonies to human love of the wild."

"Salve Regina in C Minor" by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi

The music:

In the first video above, "Antiphona: Salve Regina" is performed by the Ensemble Organum at the Abbey of Fontevraud in Anjou, France in 2006. (The video was filmed by David Wilkes at Canterbury Cathedral, Holy Trinity Church in Coventry, Winchester Castle, and Windsor Castle.)

In the second video, "Salve Regina in C Minor," by the 18th century Italian composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, is performed by L'Arco Magico Chamber Orchestra at the Cathedral of Orvieto in Umbria, Italy in 2013. The director is Antonio Puccio, and the soprano is Silvia Frigato.

Below, an exquisitely beautiful "Salve Regina," by the great Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, is performed by the Coral Reyes Bartlet, the Coro de Cámara Mateo Guerra, the Coro Juvenil David Goldsmith, and the Orquesta del Encuentro de Música Religiosa de Canarias in Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife in 2014.

"Salve Regina" by Arvo Pärt

Credits: The quote by Robert Macfarlane above is from The Wild Places (Granta, 2008), which I highly recommend reading in full. All rights reserved by the author. The photographs above are Creative Commons images, identified in the picture captions.


Call and Response

On a day of grey cloud,
The doos perch on the green bush
calling their worries,
and the garden responds.

On a day of gray cloud,
a dog fox, barkless,
brusques across the lawn,
and the garden responds.

On a day of grey cloud,
the little hedgehog under
the blushing astilby coughs
and the garden responds.

On a day of grey cloud,
I sit on the old bench
breathing in lavender,
and the garden responds.

©2015 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

Jane, this is a truly beautiful call and response to Marban, echoing down twelve centuries of chronological distance. Thank you.

Ah.....on such a day or any day this 'call' is one I would respond to without hesitation!

I thought the last performance was like a voice calling from beyond and the piem of Jane Yole as echos of tranquility and contentment.

....."all individuals as peregrini, in that all human life is seen as exile." I would say journeying a long distance. Sacred chant is a favorite of mine...and these are lovely. Terri, you do manage to just keep on coming with one wonderful illumination upon another. You sometimes astound me. I send heartfelt appreciation to start the week, and an example of the sort of call and response I've often participated in over here

I love the ancient beehive cells of the hermits of Iona. Dry-stone built and standing against gravity, held up it seems by nothing but the endless wind. As you know, I’m no Christian, but you have to admire the faith of those ascetes who devoted their lives in pursuit of their God


Beyond this wall
where stone locks
with stone,
and is sustained in its building
only by the mortar of faith,
I listen for the voice
of the One
and hear it
in the call of the gull,
in the cry of the seal,
in the high, hunting yelp
of the hawk.

But most of all
I hear it in the wind,
roaring my name
in the gales
that rage from the sea.

And sometimes,
most rarely of all,
I hear it whispered too
in the sun-warmed breeze,
mingled with the humming
of this summer’s crop of bees.

"...and the garden responds." Yes, I am outside in my garden, listening to your gifts. Chickadees, wrens, titmuce, and cardinal parents with their young stop by to take advantage of the feeders around 10am EST. They leave, on to their agenda after around 10 minutes, and I am left with the sound of cicadas and Angus at my side to enjoy what is left. I'm off of work today, a pilgrimage of sorts away from the daily routine. I will have my eyes and heart open for whatever finds me today.

I am inspired to dig out my photos of Bardsey and remember--such a dream on the horizon. Thank you for this exquisite music, Terri!

I'm off to a silent retreat in the woods in a month--just a week, but I so look forward to it every year.

Read this just after I listened to the medieval chant, and felt myself in the fold of a great and sweeping thing, like being swept up on something light, something so old. a connection to what the other, the mysteries. A day of grey cloud...

Long Ago In A Cathedral

Long ago in a cathedral
Chants and incense,
A child I looked up
To the round golden
Ceiling and saw a dove.

I never told anybody

Long ago on some acres
Of dry weeds, a ditch
Some strong stemmed flowers
I heard a cow speak and
Noticed a fairy sliding away

I never told anybody

I have now told many
About my forest, high pines,
Silence ending. an endless
Parade chanting, dressed in
Ancient garb, on and on...

How many of us? Many, I think.

Hi Terri

I love, love this post on the extraordinary journey, lore, song and
presence of these monks/these Peregrini. The music I divine in every sense of the word and so is the literature on these remarkable people.

Morning To the Solitary

The tall monk stands
on the cliff pausing
from the patch of garden that needs
his toil. His hand a perch

for cold air clawing
at the veins - but not with
arthritic ache, solely
affirmation --

and to his love, he whispers
a poem of praise.

Grey gulls skim the grey water
as if to pull strands
of your incandescent hair
from the sea.

White flowers trail the wind;
how beautifully the hem
of your gown trembles
in these hours before the first
meal of black bread and cheese.

The moon is nothing now
in your presence but sealing wax
for parchment -- on which I'd pen
these words if there were spare
calfskin and ink

but they're reserved
for writing holy text.
So here I stand among
the old stones;
and besides the old stones,
the weavers, the potters, the bellfounders
have known you longer than I --

but they do not cease
from their daily craft
to watch you rise, arching over the round
Cragg of Alisa

and loosening your long light
into the salted wave. The splendor of it
stirring fish and sunken gleam
of treasure floating wild
or tangled still in prayer's netting,
that of boyhood dreams.

thank you so much!

Hi Jane

The garden is its own natural chapel and how beautifully you have demonstrated this within the lines of your haunting poem. I love the sounds, sights and imagery in this piece and title is perfect. I have also personally experienced how the garden responds when I call out in need or loneliness. Such a fine piece of writing, loved every stanza and the end brilliant --

On a day of grey cloud,
I sit on the old bench
breathing in lavender,
and the garden responds.

Thank you

Hi Stuart

What a marvelous job you have done in constructing this poem of the "Old Beehive Cell in Iona. I love the rhythm and voice in this piece, the affirmation of faith through natural phenomena

I listen for the voice
of the One
and hear it
in the call of the gull,
in the cry of the seal,
in the high, hunting yelp
of the hawk.

and most of all, how the speaker feels called in both the
rage of the gales and the heat of a breeze, through both the loud and the calm, the strong and the sweet.

Thank you for this
it reads aloud beatufully!


Hi Phyllis

There is mystery and beautiful reverence in this poem. I have known that cathedral of trees, that place of silence and divine magic. You bring me back there and capture the environs and feeling so well with your words and imagery --
have now told many
About my forest, high pines,
Silence ending. an endless
Parade chanting, dressed in
Ancient garb, on and on...

How many of us? Many, I think.

Thank you for this!

This is powerful. 'wind roaring my name,'Call of the gull, the cry of the seal. and yes, the voice of the One. Can visualize ll of it, storm turned to whispers and bees. Grand!

Thank you. I never knew I would share all this with kindred spirits, years later. It's like holding my breath secretly and then, letting it out.

I loved that unknown monk, too. You have taken his presence to a kind of communion,
beyond human rules, a part of nature, and also, his our our dreams as children...

Thanks all--I just heard the music and THIS popped out because it was a gorgeous day here in Scotland and I was going out to sit in the garden. You should just SEE my lavender bush. Just walking by makes everything smell wonderful. A kind of blue blush prayer.



where stone locks
with stone,
and is sustained in its building
only by the mortar of faith,

Simply WOW

I so envy you.


Wendy: Your images always grab me in the heart and make me bend to them, both an obesiance and a dance.


That's pretty strong, Jane. I wish I was as centered as you are. All you have done for so many readers and writers (thought perhaps no mathematicians) while I have scattered out somewhat. It is strange something I had to hide has become something I can share. Like my 87 year old poet friend who is having marvelous good luck, you just have to get old.

Phyllis, I've long suspected now that you are a witch in the proper sense of the word: a Wise Woman with arcane knowledge and with an insight on worlds that some of us can only guess at. This is a beautiful piece about beautiful happenings.

Wendy, this is almost poetry as archaeology; the reconstruction of the past from the bare bones that remain to us. Beautifully done.

Thank you Jane Phyllis and Wendy! I once had a beautiful book of poetry gleaned from the few fragments that survive of personal writings by monks (some were literally scribbled in the margins of larger more ecclesiastical works) and many of them wrote of the natural world that surrounded them. They were so beautiful and so vivid you could almost smell the perfume of the wet earth and feel the cold wind on your skin. The book's long gone now and I can't even remember the title so I'll probably never get another copy...Perhaps I should try and reconstruct it couched in modern terms and language. It might be an interesting project. Or there again, perhaps not.

I love "found things," like that. You open a book and another secret book there, too. Such treasures are all around us.

Great idea for a project.

Thank you so much, Stuart. I have always thought I was weird, but didn't want any trouble about it. Perhaps it was the early Catholic in me, when I had 'visions.' Being open to beautiful happenings might not have been normal, but I just kept it to myself, and wrote a lot of fantasy early on. Since then, witches are coming out along with Tarot card readers,
and so on. It's not an alarm to send for the man in the little white suits about such things.
One of my favorite signs about this was back in the 1970's when I lived near the Pacific Ocean and like to walk in a tanglewood park above it. I ran into a coven of witches,
male and female, mostly in hoods, singing, "Give Me That Old Time Religion..." I thought that was a good sign.

Bless you all for this conversation on sacred music, words, and wilderness.

Hi Phyllis

Your Kind words are so deeply appreciated!!

Thank you!!!

Hi Jane

Your kind and wonderful words touch me deeply and I am so glad you enjoyed the poem!!

Many thanks!

Hi Stuart

I love your perspective here and like thinking of my poem in that light. Thank you so much for this wonderful phrasing and idea. I deeply appreciate it!

My Best

"A blue bush prayer." That phrase is a poem in itself. This is lovely, Jane, and responds to the music and the day so well. Sending love to you from Dartmoor to Scotland.

Sacred music comes in so many diffferent forms, doesn't it? Thank you for the sweet words and the music link, Michelle. Much love to you.

I'm not a Christian either, but this poem is a perfect distillation of my faith, which is in the wind and waves, the sun and the bees. I love this.

Music like this reminds us that all of life is a sacred journey. I hope yours is wonderful today.

That sounds lovely. I've still never been on a silent retreat -- which is odd, considering how much I love silence. Someday....

There is true Mystery in your poem. And that's a rare thing.

Oh gracious, this is luminous. I love the way you've anchored the transcendent spirituality of your monk with humble, earthly images: the arthritic ache of his hands, the black bread and cheese, the calfskin and ink.

And the phrase "tangled still in prayer's netting" is simply gorgeous.

Thanks so much Terri

I deeply appreciate your kind words and am so glad you enjoyed the poem!!

Take care
My Best

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