A black and white engraving (4 inches by 6 inches) of Archimedes being slain by a Roman soldier as he traces out a mathematical diagram on the floor with a stick (again, happened upon in an antique store). A small, rectangular, ochre-colored flower vase acquired in a pottery shop in Hirosaki, northern Japan.
And an ordinary seashell -- a white cowrie -- found on a beach beside the Andaman Sea. In light of an unexpected recent event, this last item now carries -- and will always carry -- the most emotional weight for me, in a way I had not foreseen.
All of the above are at hand as I write this. Things. You who are reading this likely have similar things nearby at this moment. Things that have taken on a life of their own.
Robert Lillie (1867-1949), "At My Studio Window"
I had a bicycle called 'Splendid',
A cricket-bat called 'The Rajah',
Eight box-kites and Scotch soldiers
With kilts and red guns.
I had an album of postmarks,
A Longfellow with pictures,
Corduroy trousers that creaked,
A pencil with three colours.
Where do old things go to?
Could a cricket-bat be thrown away?
Where do the years go to?
Arthur Waley, in Ivan Morris (editor), Madly Singing in the Mountains: An Appreciation and Anthology of Arthur Waley (1970).
Through his translations, Arthur Waley (1889-1966) played a fundamental role in introducing traditional Chinese poetry to the English-speaking world. (He and Burton Watson are the two best translators of Chinese verse into English.) He also translated numerous Chinese and Japanese prose works into English, including Lao Tzu's Tao te Ching, The Analects of Confucius, and Lady Murasaki's The Tale of Genji.
I have only been able to find five original poems written by Waley. "Song" is one of them. It has a lovely feel to it: like Po Chu-i writing in early 20th century England -- which makes perfect sense.
Robert Lillie, "The Paisley Shawl"
My cane, my pocket change, this ring of keys,
The obedient lock, the belated notes
The few days left to me will not find time
To read, the deck of cards, the tabletop,
A book and crushed in its pages the withered
Violet, monument to an afternoon
Undoubtedly unforgettable, now forgotten,
The mirror in the west where a red sunrise
Blazes its illusion. How many things,
Files, doorsills, atlases, wine glasses, nails,
Serve us like slaves who never say a word,
Blind and so mysteriously reserved.
They will endure beyond our vanishing;
And they will never know that we have gone.
Jorge Luis Borges (translated by Stephen Kessler), in Jorge Luis Borges, Selected Poems (edited by Alexander Coleman) (Viking 1999).
Robert Lillie, "Part of My Studio Mantel"