In "Sea-Marge" (which appeared in my previous post) Ivor Gurney writes of ". . . the lacy edge/of the swift sea.//Which patterns and with glorious music the/Sands and round stones -- It talks ever/Of new patterns." Gurney's images bring to mind Elizabeth Bishop's "Sandpiper."
Although I have posted "Sandpiper" here in the past, I am not averse, as I have mentioned before, to circling back from time and time. When it comes to poems, one thing always seems to lead (delightfully -- and often unexpectedly) to another, doesn't it?
Tim Kendall, in his wonderful new book The Art of Robert Frost (which I highly recommend!), directs our attention to this phenomenon in the well-chosen epigraph to his book:
"A poem is best read in the light of all the other poems ever written. We read A the better to read B (we have to start somewhere; we may get very little out of A). We read B the better to read C, C the better to read D, D the better to go back and get something more out of A. Progress is not the aim, but circulation. The thing is to get among the poems where they hold each other apart in their places as the stars do."
Tim Kendall, The Art of Robert Frost (Yale University Press 2012), page v, quoting Robert Frost, "The Prerequisites" (1954).
The entire passage is marvelous, but I particularly like this: "Progress is not the aim, but circulation." (Although "where they hold each other apart in their places as the stars do" is hard to beat.)
Frost's "circulation" in turn reminds me of a poem by Wallace Stevens: "The Pleasures of Merely Circulating." Here is the first stanza:
The garden flew round with the angel,
The angel flew round with the clouds,
And the clouds flew round and the clouds flew round
And the clouds flew round with the clouds.
Wallace Stevens, Ideas of Order (1936).
The roaring alongside he takes for granted,
and that every so often the world is bound to shake.
He runs, he runs to the south, finical, awkward,
in a state of controlled panic, a student of Blake.
The beach hisses like fat. On his left, a sheet
of interrupting water comes and goes
and glazes over his dark and brittle feet.
He runs, he runs straight through it, watching his toes.
-- Watching, rather, the spaces of sand between them,
where (no detail too small) the Atlantic drains
rapidly backwards and downwards. As he runs,
he stares at the dragging grains.
The world is a mist. And then the world is
minute and vast and clear. The tide
is higher or lower. He couldn't tell you which.
His beak is focussed; he is preoccupied,
looking for something, something, something.
Poor bird, he is obsessed!
The millions of grains are black, white, tan, and gray,
mixed with quartz grains, rose and amethyst.
Elizabeth Bishop, Questions of Travel (1965).
As I have noted previously, Bishop's description (in line 4) of the sandpiper as "a student of Blake" has its source in William Blake's line from "Auguries of Innocence": "To see a World in a Grain of Sand."