This week, for instance, I saw something wonderful in the southwest quarter of the evening sky. The day had been cold and clear. The sun had just set beyond the Olympic Mountains into the unseen Pacific. A waxing crescent moon had risen. Below it, at about a 45-degree angle to the left, was a brilliant point of light. At first I thought the point of light was an airplane above the horizon. But it didn't move. Was it a planet or a star? I had no idea.
The two of them together -- the crescent of white and the point of white -- were beautiful and remote and noble and cold. Of course, that's just a human perspective -- an unnecessary commentary. I later discovered (the Wonders of the Internet) that the brilliant point of light was Venus. Not that it matters, mind you. A star would have sufficed.
Harald Sohlberg, "Night" (1904)
Yesterday, I came across the following haiku. It somehow seems to relate to what I saw in the evening sky, although I'm not sure why.
The previous owner:
I know it all, --
Down to the very cold he felt.
Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828) (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 4: Autumn-Winter (Hokuseido Press 1952), page 168.
The haiku appears at the end of the following prose passage:
"Yearning for a shelter where I could enjoy a fleeting dream, I rented a house at the foot of Ueno Hill even though it was as tiny as a snail's shell. The previous resident, perhaps to relieve the boredom of life, had planted a morning glory and had it climb up the fence. The flower was now dead, and only its seeds lay scattered on the ground. The scene looked more forlorn now than in autumn; the seeds, it seemed to me, were like someone's tears. Near the entrance to the house was a tiny patch of cultivated land where some vegetable appears to have been sown. Soft green sprouts were emerging out of the ground, though snow still remained nearby. Were they to be used for rice cake on the auspicious New Year's morning?
Pasted on the wall were good luck banners to keep thieves away from the house. Hanging above the cooking stove was a sacred rope shaped like a daikon radish, believed to protect the house from fire. A pine branch offered to the kitchen god still kept the living color of green, though it had fallen sideways on the altar. All those things suggested the previous resident had planned to live here forever. Yet he was now gone without a trace, as if he had vanished in the clouds or in the mountains. Could there be such a thing as a permanent home anywhere on this earth? After a little while, someone else will be saying what I am saying now."
Kobayashi Issa (translated by Makoto Ueda), in Makoto Ueda, Dew on the Grass: The Life and Poetry of Kobayashi Issa (Brill 2004).
Harald Sohlberg, "Midsummer Night" (c. 1910)
And this seems to follow naturally, although, again, I'm not sure why.
An Old Man's Winter Night
All out-of-doors looked darkly in at him
Through the thin frost, almost in separate stars,
That gathers on the pane in empty rooms.
What kept his eyes from giving back the gaze
Was the lamp tilted near them in his hand.
What kept him from remembering what it was
That brought him to that creaking room was age.
He stood with barrels round him -- at a loss.
And having scared the cellar under him
In clomping here, he scared it once again
In clomping off; -- and scared the outer night,
Which has its sounds, familiar, like the roar
Of trees and crack of branches, common things,
But nothing so like beating on a box.
A light he was to no one but himself
Where now he sat, concerned with he knew what,
A quiet light, and then not even that.
He consigned to the moon, such as she was,
So late-arising, to the broken moon
As better than the sun in any case
For such a charge, his snow upon the roof,
His icicles along the wall to keep;
And slept. The log that shifted with a jolt
Once in the stove, disturbed him and he shifted,
And eased his heavy breathing, but still slept.
One aged man -- one man -- can't keep a house,
A farm, a countryside, or if he can,
It's thus he does it of a winter night.
Robert Frost, Mountain Interval (1916).
Among many marvelous things, this always catches me: "concerned with he knew what."
Harald Sohlberg, "A View of Vestfold" (1909)