Friday, February 24, 2012

"Dwell In Some Decent Corner Of Your Being"

Pascal's best-known observation on the human condition is perhaps this: "I have often said, that all the Misfortune of Men proceeds from their not knowing how to keep themselves quiet in their Chamber."  The translation is by Joseph Walker, who published the first English translation of Pascal's Pensees in 1688.  In an edition published in 1908, W. F. Trotter translated the same passage as follows:  "I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber."

As one's youthful infatuation with utopian thought-projects dissipates (sooner rather than later for some; never for others -- e.g., politicians and other busybodies), one begins to see the wisdom of Pascal's view of things. Of course, staying in one's chamber is easier said than done, especially in our youth, when our physical and mental capacities seem limitless.  But, as we enter our middle and late years, it begins to make more sense:  one has seen enough to know that the World would be a much better place if some people just stayed put in their room.

                                                       Charles Ginner
                                       "Spring Day at Boscastle" (1943)

I offer the following poems by James Reeves and C. H. Sisson as possible corollaries to Pascal's thought.  I think of them from time-to-time, especially when the World seems madder than is usually the case.

                         Precept

Dwell in some decent corner of your being,
Where plates are orderly set and talk is quiet,
Not in its devious crooked corridors
Nor in its halls of riot.

James Reeves, The Questioning Tiger (1964).

                                       Charles Ginner, "The Greenhouse"

               The Commonplace

A commonplace is good for nothing now,
Yet that is how the world goes, all the same:
Nothing is what you had when you set out,
And nothing you will have when you go home.

C. H. Sisson, Exactions (1980).

                               Charles Ginner, "The Winged Faun" (1926)

4 comments:

William A. Sigler said...

This painter, Charles Ginner, what lovely composition, strikingly realistic, kind of a bridge between the fauves and Edward Hopper. My complete unfamiliarity with him has hopefully as much to do with his misfortune of being a British painter as it does my less than complete knowledge of 20th century art history. A great addition to the First Known When Lost collection!

Stephen Pentz said...

I'm pleased that you like the paintings, Mr. Sigler. I discovered Ginner's work within the past year or so. Although he was English, he was born in France (where his father was working) and his early artistic training took place there. He later was part of the Camden Town group, which tended to use these sorts of bright colors.

Thanks for stopping by.

Julie Whitmore Pottery said...

Stephen, I wouldn't mind staying in my own chamber a bit more if it looked as this one does. Imagine those hills in all kinds of seasons and all sorts of weather?
Julie

Stephen Pentz said...

Julie: I know what you mean -- I like to think that I could "keep quiet" and avoid "Misfortune" for quite some time by looking out over the fields and hills of Boscastle (at least in the world that Ginner has created).

As always, thank you for visiting, and for your thoughts.