In September 2022, we were delighted to welcome Dawid Mobolaji to National Centre for Writing at Dragon Hall. While he was with us, he wrote about his experience at St. Julian’s Church.
Part of our Walking Norwich series.
It was an unusual experience to travel from London to Norwich on an otherwise inert, deserted day of the state funeral. Walking from the train station to Dragon Hall, past the closed shops and restaurants and over River Wensum, seemed to be in breach of some unspoken law, one dusted off and reinstated from the times of the pandemic. I saw Norwich spring back to life the following day. But still, as I was about to start a residency to translate Low Resolution (Polish: Niska rozdzielczość), a poetry collection by Klara Nowakowska, from Polish to English – a contemplation on stillness, frozen images and introspection – arriving in town on that odd, motionless day felt fitting.
An idea for my first excursion in Norwich came very quickly. I learnt that not far from Dragon Hall, through the tight passageway of St Julian’s Alley and up the incline towards Kilderkin Way, there is St Julian’s Church: an austere, eleventh-century, Norman-style building. There, a medieval mystic visited by divine visions – or ‘shewings’ as she described them – had locked herself away in an antechamber, permanently, to more intimately feel the boundless, all-fulfilling nature of God’s love to which she’d been enlightened. There was coincidence in this. I had recently been working on translating an extract from a historical novel, The Blue Cat (Polish: Kot niebieski) by Martyna Bunda, introducing the character of Alma: a controversial 14th century nun who challenges the dogmatic status quo with her introspective, mystical writings, rooted in her own personal experiences, visions and dreams. Irrational as it sounds, this moment of synchronicity imbued me with a sense that I was supposed to come to Norwich and that, although I was straying from my original professional path, pursuing a life in literary translation in tandem with it was also right.
Julian’s room is on the southern side of the small church. As you enter, there is the altar on the left, decorated with fresh roses and candles. There remains a small gap in the wall through which the townspeople could interact with the anchoress as she was keen to share the wisdoms revealed to her with her contemporaries. She even wrote an account of her visions known as Revelations of Divine Love which may be the first ever, surviving book written in English by a woman. Then, there is the stained glass window, its frame decorated with a soothing declaration: ‘All shall be well.’ On leaving, I noticed a bowl of hazelnuts in the corner, their meaning only apparent in Julian’s own words:
‘And in this he showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, ‘What may this be?’ And it was answered generally thus, ‘It is all that is made.’ I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it. And so have all things their beginning by the love of God.’
As a non-religious person, a trip to Julian’s church-turned-hermitage left me thinking of broader things: steadfastness, perseverance, perhaps even zen.
Residencies are, in a way, an exercise in partial seclusion for the sake of focus and productivity. Sure, the cozy, comfortable cottage at Dragon Hall is far from a medieval cell, two weeks are far from a lifetime, and I was far from isolated in meeting the lovely staff at the NCW and other writers and translators. But hearing the story of Julian felt parallel, added some weight.
Dawid Mobolaji is a Polish-Nigerian writer, translator and junior doctor based in London. Born and raised by the seaside in West Pomerania, he works between English and his native Polish. He was the translator-in-residence at Dragon Hall in September 2022, translating Klara Nowakowska, a contemporary Polish poet. He is currently taking part in the National Centre for Writing Emerging Translator Mentorship, mentored by translator Sean Gasper Bye. Previously, he has written reviews and short fiction for Era (formerly known as Savage) at University College London as well as poems printed in small college pamphlets. Outside translation work, he has been working on a literary suspense campus novel.
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