Sunday, December 2, 2012

No Escape, Part Twelve: "Every Hearth Has A Ghost, Alack"

The theme of this ongoing series is our penchant for imagining that, despite evidence to the contrary (i.e., ourselves), there is an Ideal Place where Happiness awaits us.  I hasten to add that I am not standing in judgment of this penchant, nor am I claiming immunity from it.  I am a daydreamer and an escape artist of long standing.  Hence, for example, my fondness for paintings depicting bucolic landscapes and charming villages of vanished times.

                                      H. S. Merritt, "Bowerchalke" (c. 1942)

               Starlings on the Roof

'No smoke spreads out of this chimney-pot,
The people who lived here have left the spot,
And others are coming who knew them not.

'If you listen anon, with an ear intent,
The voices, you'll find, will be different
From the well-known ones of those who went.'

'Why did they go?  Their tones so bland
Were quite familiar to our band;
The comers we shall not understand.'

'They look for a new life, rich and strange;
They do not know that, let them range
Wherever they may, they will get no change.

'They will drag their house-gear ever so far
In their search for a home no miseries mar;
They will find that as they were they are,

'That every hearth has a ghost, alack,
And can be but the scene of a bivouac
Till they move their last -- no care to pack!'

Thomas Hardy, Satires of Circumstance, Lyrics and Reveries (1914).

                                    H. S. Merritt, "Sennen Cove" (c. 1940)

"They will find that as they were they are" is Hardy's version of "wherever you go, there you are."  Of course, Hardy being Hardy, the denouement in the final line is not unexpected.

If one reads Hardy's poetry for long enough a time, one becomes accustomed to encountering birds who comment upon the humans who inhabit their world.  It now seems perfectly natural to me.  I've grown quite fond of these talking birds.  They are uncommonly wise and have a pleasing sense of humor.  We are well advised to pay attention to what they say.

                          H. S. Merritt, "Bridge in the Avon Valley" (c. 1942)


Julie Whitmore Pottery said...

Well Stephen, after threatening to invest in a book of Hardy's poetry, I came across one while sorting through my own bookcases! It fell open to a poem which began,
This is the weather the cuckoo likes
And so do I.

There is the talking bird~ having told Hardy he likes the spring or else how would he know?

By the way its the best Christmas present I'm likely to receive and it has been here all the time~

bruce floyd said...

Here's Wallace Stevens's comment (see below) on the human penchant for thinking somethin lies at the end of thought, "a foyer of the spirit." We have only the eye, he says, and the mind is the eye. There is only the world outside our window, and our imaginations to work on that world. "Sunday Morning," a greater poem, says the same thing.

Thought is false happiness: the idea
That merely by thinking one can,
Or may, penetrate, not may,
But can, that one is sure to be able—

That there lies at the end of thought
A foyer of the spirit in a landscape
Of the mind, in which we sit
And wear humanity's bleak crown;

In which we read the critique of paradise
And say it is the work
Of a comedian, this critique;
In which we sit and breathe

An innocence of an absolute,
False happiness, since we know that we use
Only the eye as faculty, that the mind
Is the eye, and that this landscape of the mind

Is a landscape only of the eyes; and that
We are ignorant men incapable
Of the least, minor, vital metaphor, content,
At last, there, when it turns out to be here.

Stephen Pentz said...

Julie: I'm pleased that you discovered the Hardy poems -- a nice surprise!

"Weathers" is a lovely poem. Here's another "talking bird" poem that comes to mind: "The Caged Thrush Freed and Home Again." It is a villanelle, and one of the recurring lines is: "Men know but little more than we." Perhaps it is included in the book that you found.

As always, it is good to hear from you again.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr Floyd: thank you for stopping by again, and for the apposite lines from Stevens.

Stevens was not one to roam in search of the Ideal Place, was he? (Although, come to think of it, Florida may have served that purpose in the early part of his life, before he pretty much settled into Hartford.) Of course, his mind and his imagination roamed everywhere.

Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

I posted a comment about John Nash's paintings in Buckinghamshire a few weeks ago. Today looking at this post I was struck by the picture of Sennen Cove, which is a bleak, exposed but beautiful spot on the coast of Cornwall about a mile north of Land's End. By coincidence only two days ago I was in almost the exact spot where the picture was painted, heading away from the village and up towards the coastal footpath -- here's a picture taken by my wife:

Stephen Pentz said...

Anonymous: thank you for visiting again, and for sharing that nice coincidence. Unfortunately, Blogger did not replicate your link in a manner that enables me to click on it to access the photograph, and when I try to reach the image by typing it, I get an "Access Denied" message. In any event, I appreciate your attempt to send it!

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, sorry about that. It's here: You can clearly see in the middle of the photo the little chapel which is to the left of the painting (it's a house now, unsurprisingly).

Stephen Pentz said...

Anonymous: I got it this time. Lovely! What a nice coincidence! It's very interesting to see the two images 70 years apart from one another. Thank you again.