Ah, there is no abiding!
Signs from heaven are sent,
Over the grass the wind went gliding,
And the green grass grew silver as he went.
Ah, there is no remaining!
Ever the tide of ocean ebbs and flows,
Over the blue sea goes the wind complaining,
And the blue sea turns emerald as he goes.
Mary Coleridge, in Theresa Whistler (editor), The Collected Poems of Mary Coleridge (Rupert Hart-Davis 1954).
The ants, in their antic and endearing fashion, remind me that there is constancy within change. But I harbor no illusions: this constancy is a qualified constancy. Each year I am greeting a new generation of ants, not old acquaintances. As for me, I am simply on a different schedule. We are all walking in a straight line towards eventual dust. This is not cause for alarm or sadness or brooding. It is just something that we need to get used to, and accept.
"Reflect frequently upon the instability of things, and how very fast the scenes of nature are shifted. Matter is in a perpetual flux; change is always, and everywhere, at work, it strikes through causes, and effects, and leaves nothing fixed, and permanent. And then how very near the two vast gulphs of time, the past, and the future, stand together! Now upon the whole, is not that man a blockhead that thinks these momentary things big enough either to make him proud, or uneasy?
Remember what an atom your person stands for in respect of the universe, what a minute of unmeasurable time comes to your share, and what a small concern you are in the Empire of Fate!"
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book V, Sections 23 and 24, in Jeremy Collier (translator), The Emperor Marcus Antoninus, His Conversation with Himself (1702).
Bertram Priestman, "The Sun-Veiled Hills of Wharfedale" (1917)
"What a small concern you are in the Empire of Fate!" Yes, most of our life is a matter of getting over ourselves, isn't it? Of course, we never truly get over ourselves. (Perhaps mystics and saints do. But I'm not sure about that.) The best we can hope for is to gain perspective, bit by bit: to recognize the contingency and the fragility of every breath we take.
Now the long wave unfolded falls from the West,
The sandbirds run upon twittering, twinkling feet:
Life is perilous, poised on the lip of a wave,
And the weed that lay yesterday here is clean gone.
O visitor, fugitive creature, thing of a tide,
Make music, my heart, before the long silence.
L. A. G. Strong, Northern Light (Gollancz 1930).
Bertram Priestman, "Wareham Channel, Dorset" (1910)
I am very lucky. When I go out for my afternoon walk, I can, on the one hand, watch the wonderful progress of rising anthills in the seams of sidewalks. On the other hand, I can turn a corner and see, to the west, the snow-covered Olympic Mountains towering beyond the blue and glittering expanse of Puget Sound. We live our lives between these anthills and peaks.
Yesterday, I watched a single white sail move across the waters of the Sound from south to north, now in the sunlight, now in the shadow of a passing cloud.
Times Go By Turns
The loppèd tree in time may grow again,
Most naked plants renew both fruit and flower;
The sorriest wight may find release of pain,
The driest soil suck in some moistening shower;
Times go by turns, and chances change by course,
From foul to fair, from better hap to worse.
The sea of fortune doth not ever flow,
She draws her favours to the lowest ebb;
Her tides hath equal times to come and go,
Her loom doth weave the fine and coarsest web;
No joy so great but runneth to an end,
No hap so hard but may in fine amend.
Not always fall of leaf, nor ever spring,
No endless night, yet not eternal day;
The saddest birds a season find to sing,
The roughest storm a calm may soon allay:
Thus, with succeeding turns, God tempereth all,
That man may hope to rise, yet fear to fall.
A chance may win that by mischance was lost;
The net that holds no great, takes little fish;
In some things all, in all things none are crossed;
Few all they need, but none have all they wish.
Unmeddled joys here to no man befall;
Who least, hath some; who most, hath never all.
Robert Southwell (1561-1595), in Norman Ault (editor), Elizabethan Lyrics (Sloane 1949).
Bertram Priestman, "The Great Green Hills of Yorkshire" (1913)
These things the poets and the ancient philosophers tell us about "change and chancefulness" (Thomas Hardy, "The Temporary the All") are regarded by many moderns as mere "truisms." As if the modern world had advanced beyond them in all of its supposed knowingness and sophistication. As for me, I am quite content to live by truisms. They are, after all, true.
Tilling the field:
The man who asked the way
Buson (1716-1784) (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 2: Spring (Hokuseido Press 1950), page 165.
Life is not a matter of metaphysical speculation or of theory. Science, politics, economics, and other modern (and utopian) preoccupations are of no relevance whatsoever in our soul's contingent world. It is all beautifully simple. "Out of a misty dream/Our path emerges for a while, then closes/Within a dream."
When I looked back,
The man who passed
Was lost in the mist.
Shiki (1867-1902) (translated by R. H. Blyth), Ibid, page 85.
Bertram Priestman, "Kilnsey Crag, Wharfedale, Yorkshire" (1929)