"To those who value it, the one thing certain is that poetry, like wisdom, is a singularly rare thing, that the price of it is above rubies, and that it cannot be gotten for gold. Once given potential life in words, it need never die; an ardent delight in it, and of this, too, there are many degrees, may be not only the joy of childhood, but a supreme and inexhaustible solace to the aged. So long as we ourselves remain faithful, it will never prove false."
Walter de la Mare, Poetry in Prose: Warton Lecture on English Poetry, British Academy, 1935 (Oxford University Press 1935), page 42.
Stanhope Alexander Forbes (1857-1947)
"The Inner Harbour, Abbey Slip" (1921)
Thus, one evening last week I suddenly and unaccountably felt the urge to return to this:
A star looks down at me,
And says: "Here I and you
Stand, each in our degree:
What do you mean to do, --
Mean to do?"
I say: "For all I know,
Wait, and let Time go by,
Till my change come." -- "Just so,"
The star says: "So mean I: --
So mean I."
Thomas Hardy, Human Shows, Far Phantasies, Songs, and Trifles (Macmillan 1925).
"Waiting Both" is the opening poem in a collection that was published in Hardy's 85th year. I suppose that some (for instance, modern ironists) may find it to be of no interest, or, at best, quaint. Not I. I may not think of this poem every day, but I know it is constantly with me, and has been since the day I first read it. This is how poetry works.
"What [poets] say is not chosen to represent what they feel or think, but is itself the very substance of what had before lain dark and unapparent, is itself all that survives of feeling and thought, and cannot be expanded or reduced without dulling or falsification. If this is not so, and if we do not believe it to be so, then poetry is of no greater importance than wallpaper, or a wayside drink to one who is not thirsty. But if it is so, then we are on the way to understand why poetry is mighty; for if what poets say is true and not feigning, then of how little account are our ordinary assumptions, our feigned interests, our playful and our serious pastimes spread out between birth and death."
Edward Thomas, Feminine Influence on the Poets (Martin Secker 1910), page 86.
Stanhope Alexander Forbes, "On Paul Hill" (1922)
Still, one must be careful. Poetry is not life. Each of us knows this, of course. "He has read well who has learnt that there is more to read outside books than in them." Thomas Hardy, notebook entry for November 29, 1875, in The Life and Work of Thomas Hardy (edited by Michael Millgate) (Macmillan 1985), page 110.
Mind you, "Waiting Both" articulates a beautiful truth. As do all those other poems that are talismans and touchstones and breadcrumbs for us. But they are nothing without the World. "May. In an orchard at Closeworth. Cowslips under trees. A light proceeds from them, as from Chinese lanterns or glow-worms." Thomas Hardy, notebook entry for May of 1876, Ibid, page 112.
And so we wait. And so we watch. Enough to keep one busy for a lifetime.
waiting for what?
each day each day
more fallen leaves pile up
Taneda Santōka (1882-1940) (translated by Burton Watson), in Burton Watson, For All My Walking: Free-Verse Haiku of Taneda Santōka, with Excerpts from His Diaries (Columbia University Press 2003), page 102.
The World is a daily miracle of beautiful and inexhaustible particularity amidst beautiful and inexhaustible multiplicity. There is no better place to bide one's time.
On Something Observed
Torn remains of a cobweb,
one strand dangling down --
a stray petal fluttering by
has been tangled, caught in its skein,
all day to dance and turn,
never once resting --
elsewhere in my garden,
no breeze stirs.
Kokan Shiren (1278-1346) (translated by Burton Watson), in Burton Watson, Japanese Literature in Chinese, Volume 2: Poetry and Prose in Chinese by Japanese Writers of the Later Period (Columbia University Press 1976), page 27.
Stanhope Alexander Forbes
"Village Rendezvous, Copperhouse Creek, near Hayle" (1938)