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 (1861-1907), in Theresa Whistler (editor), The Collected Poems of Mary Coleridge (Rupert Hart-Davis 1954).
What led me back to the poem? I suspect that I needed relief from the overwrought reaction (in some quarters) to the presidential election. There are those who believe the End of the World is at hand. Of course, if the other candidate had been elected, there would have been an overwrought reaction (in some quarters) from those on the other side, some of whom would have believed the End of the World was at hand.
I can see why the elderly gentleman in Coleridge's poem beckoned to me.
Alexander Sillars Burns (1911-1987), "Afternoon, Wester Ross"
Alternatively, I may have been subconsciously called back to the poem by this, which I had come across a day or so earlier:
"Leisure is a form of silence, of that silence which is the prerequisite of the apprehension of reality: only the silent hear and those who do not remain silent do not hear. Silence, as it is used in this context, does not mean 'dumbness' or 'noiselessness'; it means more nearly that the soul's power to 'answer' to the reality of the world is left undisturbed. For leisure is a receptive attitude of mind, a contemplative attitude, and it is not only the occasion but also the capacity for steeping oneself in the whole of creation."
Josef Pieper, Leisure the Basis of Culture (translated by Alexander Dru) (Ignatius Press 2009), pages 46-47. The text of the book is based upon a lecture delivered by Pieper in Bonn in 1947.
Can one maintain "a receptive attitude of mind" if one's life is bound up with politics? I have my doubts. The reprehensible stereotyping engaged in, and the bigotry and sense of superiority displayed by, those on the losing end of the Brexit referendum and the American presidential election demonstrate how a preoccupation with politics can destroy one's sense of fellow feeling and humanity. But I will leave that topic alone, having visited it in my previous post.
As for silence: the culture of politics is nothing if not noisy, isn't it? "Those who do not remain silent do not hear." Yes, exactly.
How Sordid Is This Crowded Life
How sordid is this crowded life, its spite
And envy, the unkindness brought to light:
It makes me think of those great modest hearts
That spend their quiet lives in lonely parts,
In deserts, hills and woods; and pass away
Judged by a few, or none, from day to day.
And O that I were free enough to dwell
In their great spaces for a while; until
The dream-like life of such a solitude
Has forced my tongue to cry 'Hallo!' aloud --
To make an echo from the silence give
My voice back with the knowledge that I live.
W. H. Davies, The Collected Poems of W. H. Davies (Jonathan Cape 1942).
Ian MacInnes (1922-2003), "Harvest, Innertoon" (1959)
Yesterday evening I was walking south beside a meadow as the sun neared the ridgeline of the Olympic Mountains. In a few minutes it would vanish. The sky overhead and to the west was clear, but grey-purple clouds, shot through with orange and pink, lay along the horizons to the south, east, and north. The deep-blue waters of Puget Sound were darkening.
I noticed a wordless calling sound -- a bleat of sorts -- coming from behind me, up in the sky. It grew louder. I soon realized that the sound was the honking of a flock of geese. I stopped and waited for them. They passed directly overhead -- three or four dozen Canadian geese in a ragged, shifting V-formation, all of them honking.
I have been hearing that sound for more than half a century. Autumn is not autumn without it. Continuity and certainty within ceaseless change.
Thoughts on T'ien-chin Bridge
The countless great lords and statesmen of past regimes --
later ages know them merely as a list of names.
Only the water under T'ien-chin Bridge
goes on year after year, making the same sound.
Shao Yung (1011-1077) (translated by Burton Watson), in Burton Watson, The Columbia Book of Chinese Poetry: From Early Times to the Thirteenth Century (Columbia University Press 1984), page 336.
David Macbeth Sutherland (1883-1973), "Drambuie, Wester Ross"
I will always prefer wild geese to politicians ("a list of names"). But I shan't attempt to impose this preference on others. For me, politics is the destroyer of repose, reflection, and tranquility. I understand that others may feel differently. So it goes in this "vale of Soul-making."
"[T]here is also a certain serenity in leisure. That serenity springs precisely from our inability to understand, from our recognition of the mysterious nature of the universe; it springs from the courage of deep confidence, so that we are content to let things take their course."
Josef Pieper, Leisure the Basis of Culture (translated by Alexander Dru), page 47.
I am not fond of the assumption of certainty that accompanies political discourse. So many utopian master plans! All of them based upon classes, categories, and caricatures. All of them chimerical. All of them leaving individual human beings and individual human souls out of account.
Here lies (where all at peace may be)
A lover of mere privacy.
Graces and gifts were his; now none
Will keep him from oblivion;
How well they served his hidden ends
Ask those who knew him best, his friends.
He is dead; but even among the quick
This world was never his candlestick.
He envied none; he was content
With self-inflicted banishment.
'Let your light shine!' was never his way:
What then remains but, Welladay!
And yet his very silence proved
How much he valued what he loved.
There peered from his hazed, hazel eyes
A self in solitude made wise;
As if within the heart may be
All the soul needs for company:
And, having that in safety there,
Finds its reflection everywhere.
Life's tempests must have waxed and waned:
The deep beneath at peace remained.
Full tides that silent well may be
Mark of no less profound a sea.
Age proved his blessing. It had given
The all that earth implies of heaven;
And found an old man reconciled
To die, as he had lived, a child.
Walter de la Mare, The Burning-Glass and Other Poems (Faber and Faber 1945).
With respect to the final two lines of the poem, it is important to remember that de la Mare considered childhood to be a charmed and magical time, the loss of which is to be regretted.
Adam Bruce Thomson (1885-1976), "Harvesting in Galloway"