With the young trout in the valley
A leaf of the dwarf bamboo
Buson (1716-1784) (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 4: Autumn-Winter (Hokuseido Press 1952).
Then, on Friday night, this appeared:
"The Whale followed by Waves -- I would glide down the rivulet of quiet Life, a Trout!"
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in Kathleen Coburn (editor), The Notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Volume 1: 1794-1804 (Pantheon 1957), Entry 54 (1795/1796; Gutch Notebook).
Two lovely trout arriving within days of each other. The World often provides us with beneficences of this sort. In my seventh decade above ground, approaching an inevitable return to dust, I am not entirely surprised when these gifts are bestowed from out of the blue. But I never take them for granted, and I am always grateful.
Mere coincidence, some might say. Not I. We place ourselves in the way of serendipity, or serendipity finds us, or perhaps both. Ah, but where does serendipity come from? I am content to let the inquiry end with that question. I have no need for an explanation. Time will tell. Or it will not.
One thing is certain: I would be happy to "glide down the rivulet of quiet Life, a Trout," accompanied by a single fallen bamboo leaf.
Edward Waite (1854-1924)
"The Mellow Year Is Hastening To Its Close" (1896)
Here is another gift that arrived unexpectedly last week, before the trout made their appearance:
"Little Daisy -- very late Spring. March -- Quid si vivat? -- Do all things in Faith. Never pluck a flower again!"
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Ibid, Entry 15 (1794/1795; Gutch Notebook). "Quid si vivat?" may be translated as: "What if it should live?" Seamus Perry (editor), Coleridge's Notebooks: A Selection (Oxford University Press 2002), page 134.
Coleridge's notebook entry brought this to mind:
Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower -- but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.
Alfred Tennyson, The Holy Grail and Other Poems (Strahan 1870). The poem is untitled.
I am very fond of Tennyson's poem, but I have always regretted that he plucked the flower "out of the crannies." But I understand the impulse, and I don't hold his plucking against him. "Never pluck a flower again!" I wonder if Coleridge kept his resolution.
As one might expect, the plucking, pruning, or cutting of flowers is a topic that has been visited by Japanese haiku poets on more than one occasion. This is perhaps the best-known instance:
Having been taken by the morning glory,
I borrow water.
Chiyo-ni (1703-1775) (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, A History of Haiku, Volume 1 (Hokuseido Press 1963).
Yes, it is usually best to leave well enough alone. Just walk away.
James Paterson (1854-1932), "Autumn in Glencairn, Moniaive" (1887)
On Thursday, line after line of storms passed through, blown by a strong wind out of the southwest. In the intervals between rain, the sun appeared, but the wind did not let up. I took my afternoon walk during one of the blue sky openings. On the walk, I realized that autumn has indeed peaked: swaths of rattling, tumbling leaves swirled around my feet, then raced away to the north along the road, or curved off into the meadows, which have begun to turn green again with the autumn rain, and are strewn with all shades of yellow and brown and orange. A beautiful sight in the brilliant afternoon.
Here is something I discovered one morning this past week:
Man's years fall short of a hundred;
a thousand years of worry crowd his heart.
If the day is short and you hate the long night,
why not take the torch and go wandering?
Seek out happiness in season;
who can wait for the coming year?
Fools who cling too fondly to gold
earn no more than posterity's jeers.
Prince Ch'iao, that immortal man --
small hope we have of matching him!
Anonymous (translated by Burton Watson), in Burton Watson (editor), The Columbia Book of Chinese Poetry: From Early Times to the Thirteenth Century (Columbia University Press 1984).
The poem is untitled. It appears in a collection known as "The Nineteen Old Poems of the Han." "Han" refers to the Later Han Dynasty, which lasted from 25 A.D. to 220 A.D. Burton Watson provides this note regarding "Prince Ch'iao" (line 9): "Wang-tzu Ch'iao or Prince Ch'iao was believed to have become a hsien or immortal spirit." Ibid, page 102.
Arthur Waley also translated the poem:
The years of a lifetime do not reach a hundred,
Yet they contain a thousand years' sorrow.
When days are short and the dull nights long,
Why not take a lamp and wander forth?
If you want to be happy you must do it now,
There is no waiting till an after-time.
The fool who's loath to spend the wealth he's got
Becomes the laughing-stock of after ages.
It is true that Master Wang became immortal,
But how can we hope to share his lot?
Anonymous (translated by Arthur Waley), in Arthur Waley, One Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems (Constable 1918).
As autumn begins, we may say to it: "Slow, slow!" To no avail. For we always come to this: "And lo, it is ended." Next year will be no different. But we mustn't think this will go on forever. Well, at least not for us.
Edward Waite, "Autumn Colouring" (1894)
At the end of the week, a book whose publication I have been awaiting arrived in the mail: The Second Seedtime: Notebooks 1980-1994, by Philippe Jaccottet. In October of 1992, he makes this entry (a poem, a fragment of a possible poem, or prose; in Jaccottet's writing, the dividing lines often blur):
In this way we lived, wearing a coat of leaves;
then it gradually becomes tattered and ragged
but without impoverishing us . . .
Soon we will need only light.
Philippe Jaccottet (translated by Tess Lewis), The Second Seedtime: Notebooks 1980-1994 (Seagull Books 2017), page 185. The ellipses appear in the original.
At some point, words must come to an end. "Leaves already on the walk scattered --" Kathleen Coburn (editor), The Notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Volume 1: 1794-1804, Entry 60 (1795/1796; Gutch Notebook). Coleridge takes his thought no further: the notebook entry concludes with "--".
You remaining, --
Masaoka Shiki (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, A History of Haiku, Volume 2 (Hokuseido Press 1964).
James Paterson, "Moniaive" (1885)