Thursday, April 24, 2014

Perspective, Part Fifteen: Beetles

Yesterday was one of those expansive April days.  The slate-grey waters of Puget Sound were silver-ribboned and cloud-shadowed.  Across the fields, the young yellow-green leaves of the deciduous trees stood forth against the dark green boughs of the evergreens. The phrase "Pied Beauty" came to mind, thus:

                           Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things --
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced -- fold, fallow, and plough;
      And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                                    Praise him.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, in W. H. Gardner and N. H. MacKenzie (editors), The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins (Oxford University Press, Fourth Edition, 1967).  "Brinded" (line 2) is not a misprint: it is an "early form of 'brindled,' streaked."  Ibid, page 269.

John Inchbold, "The Moorland (Dewar-stone, Dartmoor)" (1854)

While the expansiveness of the day drew me outward and upward, I still had thought for the ground beneath my feet.  At this time of year it seems alive -- warm with life.  Lines from John Drinkwater's "The Wood," which appeared here a few months ago, are apt:

While everywhere, above me, underfoot,
And haunting every avenue of leaves,
Was mystery, unresting, taciturn.

Caught up in our own small worlds, we need to spare a thought now and then for the countless worlds above, around, and below us.

John Inchbold, "Anstey's Cove, Devon" (1854)


Through the pale green forest of tall bracken-stalks,
Whose interwoven fronds, a jade-green sky,
Above me glimmer, infinitely high,
Towards my giant hand a beetle walks
In glistening emerald mail; and as I lie
Watching his progress through huge grassy blades
And over pebble boulders, my own world fades
And shrinks to the vision of a beetle's eye.

Within that forest world of twilight green
Ambushed with unknown perils, one endless day
I travel down the beetle-trail between
Huge glossy boles through green infinity . . .
Till flashes a glimpse of blue sea through the bracken asway,
And my world is again a tumult of windy sea.

Wilfrid Gibson, Neighbours (1920).

Gibson's beetle-world brings to mind the opening stanza of Geoffrey Scott's "All Our Joy Is Enough":

All we make is enough
Barely to seem
A bee's din,
A beetle-scheme --
Sleepy stuff
For God to dream:

John Inchbold, "Bolton Abbey" (1853)


John Ashton said...

Thank you Mr Pentz for another wonderful post. Hopkins' Pied Beauty is a long time favourite of mine.
"All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
Such wonderful lines.

I was walking in some woodland local to me a few days ago, there had been early rain and now the sun was shining through the trees, picking out the buds and catching the dust spiralling up from the ankle-deep leaf litter. The whole wood was as you say " alive - warm with life" Ladybirds, butterflies, tits and finches flitting busily to and fro, and it came into my mind to wonder, as I paused beside a fallen tree, thick with moss, how many worlds there were in this small part of the wood,hiddenly going on beneath my feet, beneath the bark of this tree I leaned on, beneath this debris of leaves and twigs.
The Gibson poem is unfamiliar. I once owned his Collected Poems, but it was lost during a house move and is one of those books that has become very difficult to find.

Anonymous said...

When asked what he could infer about the Creator from his creation the great scientist JBS Haldane is supposed to have replied "God has an inordinate fondness for beetles"

Not surprising when you consider there are over 450,000 species of beetle.

bruce floyd said...

A Light exists in Spring
Not present on the Year
At any other period —
When March is scarcely here

A Color stands abroad
On Solitary Fields
That Science cannot overtake
But Human Nature feels.

It waits upon the Lawn,
It shows the furthest Tree
Upon the furthest Slope you know
It almost speaks to you.

Then as Horizons step
Or Noons report away
Without the Formula of sound
It passes and we stay —

A quality of loss
Affecting our Content
As Trade had suddenly encroached
Upon a Sacrament.

After a hard New England winter, nobody adored the coming of spring more than Emily Dickinson. She transformed it into a sacrament.

Wallace Stevens says he is a poet of weather. To a large degree so is Frost.

Dickinson says in one of her poems that she sees "New Englandly." It must be that New Englanders are more aware of the coming and going of the four seasons than the inhabitants of any other region of the country.

The particulars of each season sharply define themselves in New England, each one with its own personality, a nature that Dickinson and Stevens could readily discern.

A few days ago I talked with a man who lives in Los Angles. He said, "It's always 72 degrees there." In the deep South, winter slides into spring inconspicuously, until one day one notices, as if by accident, that the dogwoods and azaleas are blooming--and all too quickly come the scalding summers.

Spring comes to New England in a colorful clamor, the arriving birds like saxophones in the trees--and Miss Emily watching and listening carefully from her window.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr Ashton: thank you for those thoughts -- you've articulated what I was attempting to say about the feeling of the ground underfoot at this time of year.

As I mentioned in a recent post, Hopkins and Gurney remind me of each other at times, and it has been suggested that Gurney was greatly influenced by Hopkins. The lines you quote are, I think, a good example: to me, at least, they could be mistaken for Gurney. For example, a poem I know you are familiar with -- "Common Things" -- comes to mind.

I haven't explored Gibson's poetry as much as I ought to have -- I need to dig deeper.

As ever, thank you very much for visiting.

Stephen Pentz said...

Anonymous: thank you very much for the quote from Haldane: wonderful! A little Internet searching by me on the background of the quote turned up this similar passage from one of his books: "The Creator would appear as endowed with a passion for stars, on the one hand, and for beetles on the other." Stars and beetles!

Thanks again.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr Floyd: it's good to hear from you again. Thank you for the Dickinson poem: I always appreciate your sharing her poetry, since I remain woefully ignorant of it.

I understand what you say about the distinct turn of the seasons. When my family moved from Minnesota to southern California when I was young, I missed the separate seasons, all so different in that part of the country.

Thank you very much for visiting, and for your thoughts.

Acornmoon said...

Thank you for reminding me of past joys and Bolton Abbey. As a child I held my father's hand as we made our way across a river via stepping stones. Now I must see if they are still there...

Stephen Pentz said...

acornmoon: you're very welcome. I've now looked at recent photographs on the Internet -- it looks lovely. Yorkshire certainly has a number of wonderful ruined abbeys, doesn't it? I visited Rievaulx Abbey and Fountains Abbey long ago, but missed Bolton, unfortunately.

Thank you very much for stopping by again.