How can they be so certain? Part of me (a very small part) on occasion envies them: such certainty makes things seem simpler. It appears to provide an explanation for what confounds us. (Seem and appears are the operative words.) The World is beyond peradventure a confounding place, so I understand certainty's attraction.
Alas, my sole certainty is this: the World shall for ever remain a mystery to me. Take a look out the window. Everything before you is a beautiful enigma.
From My Window
Now when the University students have abandoned
their game of bowls in the garden, with their cries of "Two" or "Six"
and the evening sky goes soured milk,
There are left the brightening windows of the rich owners of flats;
their meaningless finny gestures, dumb departures and entries;
a deaf man's theatre twenty times.
And quite indifferent towards the students or the rich
there are left the children of the poor, playing tag on a sandy waste,
and miles off southward ring the trams.
Alone on a building site a watchdog stalks by the fire,
wooed and repulsed by the jump-away flames, or raises its head
at a barking that chips a hole in distance.
Bernard Spencer, With Luck Lasting (Hodder and Stoughton 1963).
Carlo Pedreschi, "View from Duncan of Jordanstone College" (1976)
The quotidian (I use "quotidian" in an entirely affirmative, non-pejorative sense) is suffused with ineffable mystery. Each of us, for instance: quotidian souls, each with infinite value.
From My Window
An old man leaning on a gate
Over a London mews -- to contemplate --
Is it the sky above -- the stones below?
Is it remembrance of the years gone by,
Or thinking forward to futurity
That holds him so?
Day after day he stands,
Quietly folded are the quiet hands,
Rarely he speaks.
Hath he so near the hour when Time shall end,
So much to spend?
What is it he seeks?
Whate'er he be,
He is become to me
A form of rest.
I think his heart is tranquil, from it springs
A dreamy watchfulness of tranquil things,
And not unblest.
Mary Coleridge, in Theresa Whistler (editor), The Collected Poems of Mary Coleridge (Rupert Hart-Davis 1954).
I admire Coleridge's deference and discretion. She speculates, but she does not attempt to caricature or pigeon-hole the man. And her speculations are gentle and lovely: "I think his heart is tranquil, from it springs/A dreamy watchfulness of tranquil things,/And not unblest."
Cedric Morris, "From a Window at 45 Brook Street, London" (1926)
Do we ever truly know ourselves? How, then, can we presume to know others? The worst sort of certainty is that certainty which makes assumptions about the soul of another.
From the bay windows
Of the mouldering hotel across the road from us
Mysterious, one-night itinerants emerge
On to their balconies
To breathe the cool night air.
We let them stare
In at our quiet lives.
They let us wonder what's become of them.
Ian Hamilton, Fifty Poems (Faber and Faber 1988).
James McIntosh Patrick, "The Tay Bridge from My Studio Window" (1948)
"A single grain of rice falling -- into the Great Barn." So writes Po Chu-i. Such a realization is a source of freedom, not a sentence of doom.
At the Window
But then I drew up the curtain and looked out of the window. Yes, there it still was, the old External World, still apparently quite unaware of its own non-existence. I felt helpless, small-boyish before it: I couldn't pooh-pooh it away.
Logan Pearsall Smith, All Trivia (1934).
There it is. Out into the World you go.
Looking through a narrow window day by day
They behold the world go by on holiday;
Maid to man repeating "Love me while you may,"
All go by them, none returns to them: they stay.
They behold love pass, and life passing away,
And each day puts on the face of yesterday,
And their hearts are sighing "Love me while you may,
Love is lovely, life is passing: 'tis to-day."
All shall be to-morrow, still the elders say;
Many lenten morrows come and pass away,
And the world goes by, and as of old time they
Looking through a narrow window watch the way.
Arthur Symons, Love's Cruelty (1923).
Anthony Eyton, "Open Window, Spitalfields" (1981)