This sort of statement befuddles moderns, for they have been taught to believe that everything is ultimately subject to explanation. This belief (and it is a belief, not a fact) accounts for most of the noise around us: a never-ending, purportedly "rational" discourse about the causes and effects of the World's minute particulars, which are often perceived as "problems" or "crises" that need to be solved. Words and yet more words.
Confronted with this barren and tedious state of affairs, my response is to keep my mouth shut. Why add to the clamor?
But perhaps there is another path available. Not utter silence, but a type of communication that takes inspiration from the World around us -- the real World.
All the long day --
Yet not long enough for the skylark,
Bashō (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 2: Spring (Hokuseido Press 1950), page 195.
The World around us never stops singing. But it does so in a reserved and seemly fashion. Without grievance. With no agenda to pursue. I would rather attend to the World's music than to the human welter of words, words, words. With one exception, of course: the words of poets.
Alfred Sisley (1839-1899), "The Small Meadows in Spring" (1880)
As one might expect, our mortality enters into this. Time is short. The final two lines of L. A. G. Strong's poem "Garramor Bay," which appeared in my previous post, come to mind: "O visitor, fugitive creature, thing of a tide,/Make music, my heart, before the long silence."
Imagine the life of a cicada. All those years biding your time in the dark earth. Then one day, suddenly, there you are: out in the bright blue and green. What else would you wish to do but sing?
Knowing what we know -- that they will live but a few short weeks above ground -- their singing takes on a sad and wistful aspect. How much do they know? "Nor dread nor hope attend/A dying animal." (W. B. Yeats, "Death.") Is this true? I'm not in a position to say.
In the voice of the cicada,
How soon it will die.
Bashō (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 3: Summer-Autumn (Hokuseido Press 1952), page 234.
I once lived in Japan for a year, and I was astonished when I first heard the sound of the cicadas in summer: a shrill, piercing vibration, a chorus consisting of a thousand dentist's drills, magnified and echoing. The Japanese word for cicada is semi (pronounced "se-mee"). One of Bashō's poems captures perfectly the intensity of the sound of the semi in summer and early autumn:
The voice of the cicadas
Penetrates the rocks.
Bashō (translated by R. H. Blyth), Ibid, page 229.
That's it exactly: a fantastic and breathtaking drilling-down. But here's the wonderful thing: my initial astonishment at the screeching chorus soon turned to fondness. From the outside, the semi is an unlovely creature, but, as singers, they are soothing and endearing. What's more, we and the semi share the same destiny: a short time spent above ground. "Make music, my heart, before the long silence."
Alfred Sisley, "A Turn of the River Loing, Summer" (1896)
The songs that emanate from the World come in many forms, and from unexpected quarters. A fragment of blank verse by William Wordsworth, which appeared in my post of July 31, seems apt in this context:
Why is it we feel
So little for each other, but for this,
That we with nature have no sympathy,
Or with such things as have no power to hold
And never for each other shall we feel
As we may feel, till we have sympathy
With nature in her forms inanimate,
With objects such as have no power to hold
Articulate language. In all forms of things
There is a mind.
William Wordsworth, fragment from the Alfoxden Notebook, in Ernest de Selincourt and Helen Darbishire (editors), The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth, Volume 5 (Oxford University Press 1949), page 340.
Wordsworth expressed his concern about our having "no sympathy" with nature, or with "such things as have no power to hold/Articulate language," in 1798. What can we say of the state of that "sympathy" now, more than two centuries later?
In Japan, in the late 17th century, a poet could write this:
With what voice,
And what song would you sing, spider,
In this autumn breeze?
Bashō (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 4: Autumn-Winter (Hokuseido Press 1952), page 85.
A vast, empty space of "reason" and "enlightenment" lies between us and the World as Bashō and Wordsworth experienced it. But, fortunately, that World has not vanished. It is a World in which one can still imagine a spider singing.
Alfred Sisley, "The Path to the Old Ferry at By" (1880)
As I have noted here in the past, the choice is ours to make: we can live in an enchanted World or in a disenchanted World. Although, come to think of it, I'm not sure that this is a matter of choice. One feels that there is something immanent within, beneath, and behind the beautiful surface of the World or one does not. I do not say this in a judgmental fashion. Our emotional sense of how we fit into the World is a wholly mysterious thing, and I am only qualified to speak of how the World feels to me.
It will come as no surprise that I opt for an enchanted, singing World. Skylarks and cicadas and spiders. And a hototogisu beneath the moon.
What! Was it the moon
Baishitsu (1768-1852) (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 3: Summer-Autumn, page 167. The hototogisu is the Japanese cuckoo. The word is pronounced thus: hō-tō-tō-gē (with a hard g) -sū.
The following passage appears in a discussion by Gilbert Murray of the Greek dramatist Euripides. It eloquently articulates one way of seeing the World.
"Reason is great, but it is not everything. There are in the world things not of reason, but both below and above it; causes of emotion, which we cannot express, which we tend to worship, which we feel, perhaps, to be the precious elements in life."
Gilbert Murray, A History of Ancient Greek Literature (Heinemann 1897), page 272.
I know next to nothing. But it seems to me that we ought not to limit our potential sources of illumination and revelation. Here is yet another voice from the World:
All was grey dust save a little fire
and the oriole said: Who are you? What are you doing?
Nothing was moving yet to its end.
Philippe Jaccottet (translated by Michael Hamburger), in Philippe Jaccottet, Seedtime: Extracts from the Notebooks 1954-1967 (New Directions 1977), page 24. The poem is untitled.
Alfred Sisley, "Flood at Moret" (1879)