Thursday, April 3, 2014


A few posts ago, I offered this bit of wisdom from Joseph Conrad:  "When once the truth is grasped that one's own personality is only a ridiculous and aimless masquerade of something hopelessly unknown the attainment of serenity is not very far off."  Joseph Conrad, Letter to Edward Garnett (March 23, 1896), in Edward Garnett, Letters from Joseph Conrad, 1895-1924 (1928), page 46.  I remarked in the post that it was nice that Conrad used the word "serenity" rather than "happiness."

Happiness is overpromoted and overrated.  I cannot presume to speak for the universal order of things, but I venture to say that we are not put on Earth to be happy.  A quick look at popular culture (wherever you hail from) will convince you that "the pursuit of happiness" is a hollow business indeed.  "Distracted from distraction by distraction."

Serenity is another matter entirely.  As are peace of mind, tranquillity, and repose.  One can be sad but serene, unhappy but tranquil.  Peace of mind and repose can be maintained amid cacophony and chaos (the normal state of the world).

James Bateman (1893-1959), "Haytime in the Cotswolds"

Which is not to say that the attainment of serenity is easy, or, once attained, permanent.


When will you ever, Peace, wild wooddove, shy wings shut,
Your round me roaming end, and under be my boughs?
When, when, Peace, will you, Peace?  I'll not play hypocrite

To own my heart:  I yield you do come sometimes; but
That piecemeal peace is poor peace.  What pure peace allows
Alarms of wars, the daunting wars, the death of it?

O surely, reaving Peace, my Lord should leave in lieu
Some good!  And so he does leave Patience exquisite,
That plumes to Peace thereafter.  And when Peace here does house
He comes with work to do, he does not come to coo,
                                         He comes to brood and sit.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, in W. H. Gardner and N. H. MacKenzie (editors), The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins (Oxford University Press, Fourth Edition, 1967).  In a letter to Robert Bridges, Hopkins stated that "reave [line 7] is for rob, plunder, carry off."  Ibid, page 278.

"Your round me roaming end" is very nice.  As is:  "And so he does leave Patience exquisite,/That plumes to Peace thereafter."  Yes, the pursuit of happiness tends to breed impatience.

Thomas Henslow Barnard, "Landscape with Ludlow Castle" (1952)

Charles Stuart Calverley wrote light verse and comic verse.  Thus, as I have noted in a previous post, we are perhaps supposed to view the subject of the following poem as a figure of fun.  However, I've never thought so.  I greatly admire him, and I would be pleased to follow in his footsteps.

                     A Study

He stood, a worn-out City clerk --
     Who'd toiled, and seen no holiday,
For forty years from dawn to dark --
     Alone beside Caermarthen Bay.

He felt the salt spray on his lips;
     Heard children's voices on the sands;
Up the sun's path he saw the ships
     Sail on and on to other lands;

And laughed aloud.  Each sight and sound
     To him was joy too deep for tears;
He sat him on the beach, and bound
     A blue bandana round his ears:

And thought how, posted near his door,
     His own green door on Camden Hill,
Two bands at least, most likely more,
     Were mingling at their own sweet will

Verdi with Vance.  And at the thought
     He laughed again, and softly drew
That Morning Herald that he'd bought
     Forth from his breast, and read it through.

C. S. Calverley, Fly Leaves (1872).

Adrian Paul Allinson (1890-1959), "The Cornish April"


John Ashton said...

Mr Pentz, your first three paragraphs say so succinctly precisely what I would say myself.I concur entirely. I remember reading somewhere, and sadly I cannot recall where that one should have time in life for tranquility and fine discrimination. Serenity and contentment, even if they are not permanent, can hopefully permit time and space for both.
The Hopkins is lovely. Coincidentally as I was reading these same lines struck me as beautiful too " "And so he does leave Patience exquisite,/That plumes to Peace thereafter."
Thank you.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr Ashton: thank you for those thoughts. I have been visiting Hopkins's poetry after a commenter mentioned him here recently. In doing so, I realized that there is much that I have overlooked, including "Peace," which I agree is lovely. He can be hard to puzzle through at times, but it is worth the effort.

Thank you very much for stopping by again.

Julie Whitmore Pottery said...

Stephen I like Hopkin's referring to peace as a wild wood dove; just seems perfectly fitting.
And your musings on happiness vs. serenity. Serenity and tranquility being a lifelong goal I will be happy to achieve. Said with a wink of course.
Enjoyed very much as well the work by Caverley.

Stephen Pentz said...

Julie: yes, the wood dove is nice, isn't it? And I should have made clear that I don't claim to have attained either serenity or tranquility -- except in fleeting moments! As you say, they are best seen as goals.

Thank you very much for visiting again.