Saturday, March 21, 2015


During our all-too-brief sojourn on Earth, we owe it to ourselves to cultivate a state of repose and dreamy reverie.  Repose and reverie are valuable in and of themselves.  But they also share a beneficial side-effect:  a person in repose and reverie is wont to leave other people alone.

There are far too many busybodies abroad in the world.  As I have remarked in the past, this is a product of the utopian impulse that has infected humanity in the wake of the so-called "Age of Enlightenment."  The busybodies possess a noisome stream of notions about how we ought to live our lives.

The rest of us just want to be left alone.


Repose is in simplicities.
Perhaps the mind has leaves like trees,
Luxuriant in the sensual sun
And tossed by wind's intricacies,
And finds repose is more than grief
When failing light and falling leaf
Denote that winter has begun.

James Reeves, The Natural Need (1936).

Paul Gauguin, "The Willows" (1889)

For busybodies, everything is an "issue," everything is a problem to be solved.  If you do not agree with them, you become a part of the problem. Rest assured:  within the soul of every soi-disant "progressive" and "activist" there lurks a totalitarian.

My response to busybodies and their agendas (for them, life is a never-ending series of agendas) is simple.

"Think as I think," said a man,
"Or you are abominably wicked,
You are a toad."

And after I had thought of it,
I said:  "I will, then, be a toad."

Stephen Crane, The Black Riders and Other Lines (1895).  The poem is untitled.

Paul Gauguin, "Landscape at Pont-Aven" (1886)

The only "problem" that each of us needs to attend to is the state of our own soul.  I have yet to encounter a person who has earned the right to tell anybody else how to live their life.  What, then, is that sound you hear emanating from busybodies and from their symbiotic overlords and enablers (politicians, social engineers, and media mouthpieces)? Hypocrisy.

Good-bye to all that.  I shall join Ernest Dowson in Brittany.

                                      Breton Afternoon

Here, where the breath of the scented-gorse floats through the sun-stained           air,
On a steep hill-side, on a grassy ledge, I have lain hours long and heard
Only the faint breeze pass in a whisper like a prayer,
And the river ripple by and the distant call of a bird.

On the lone hill-side, in the gold sunshine, I will hush me and repose,
And the world fades into a dream and a spell is cast on me;
And what was all the strife about, for the myrtle or the rose,
And why have I wept for a white girl's paleness passing ivory!

Out of the tumult of angry tongues, in a land alone, apart,
In a perfumed dream-land set betwixt the bounds of life and death,
Here will I lie while the clouds fly by and delve an hole where my heart
May sleep deep down with the gorse above and red, red earth beneath.

Sleep and be quiet for an afternoon, till the rose-white angelus
Softly steals my way from the village under the hill:
Mother of God, O Misericord, look down in pity on us,
The weak and blind who stand in our light and wreak ourselves such ill.

Ernest Dowson, Decorations: In Verse and Prose (1899).

Paul Gauguin, "The Wooden Gate" (1889)

In due time, of course, we shall attain our ultimate repose and reverie.  A busybody-free bourne.

                 In a Breton Cemetery

They sleep well here,
     These fisher-folk who passed their anxious days
     In fierce Atlantic ways;
And found not there,
     Beneath the long curled wave,
     So quiet a grave.

And they sleep well
     These peasant-folk, who told their lives away,
     From day to market-day,
As one should tell,
     With patient industry,
     Some sad old rosary.

And now night falls,
     Me, tempest-tost, and driven from pillar to post,
     A poor worn ghost,
This quiet pasture calls;
     And dear dead people with pale hands
     Beckon me to their lands.

Ernest Dowson, Ibid.

Paul Gauguin, "Haymaking in Brittany" (1888)


Sam Vega said...

I hadn't heard of Dowson before now, so thank you for the introduction. He seems to have been an "interesting" character who lived unhappily and not all that skilfully. Breton Afternoon has an unpromising start with some rather clunky Victorian hyphens, but opens out into a very fine religious sense. This man has self-awareness. In his case, I think the "busybodies" that plagued him were internal rather than external, and were very serious opponents indeed. All the more moving therefore that repose and tranquility should meet his needs as well.

Thank you, Mr. Pentz, and I hope the Spring is going well for you.

Fred said...


"Breton Afternoon" is great. Of course, out here in the desert, it's dangerous to lie down, but I have a folding chair in the back of the pickup, and finding a quiet place I can just sit and let the mind go free.

Wordsworth's "The World is too much with us" is the first poem I can remember that celebrates getting away. There may be others, but that's the one I best remember and pops up at appropriate moments.

Anonymous said...

I doubt that unless one knows who wrote the poem below few woluld attribute it to a James Joyce. The languorous repose in the poem, its serene ttone, summons a magical world, one empty, if just for a moment, of vexing paradox, beyond the corroding touch of death and suffering.

For some reason, the heart at its work the mind unaware of, Joyce's words remind me of a few lines from Keats's "Hyperion." I quoted these lines also.They repose 'neath Joyce's.
At that hour when all things have repose,
O lonely watcher of the skies,
Do you hear the night wind and the sighs
Of harps playing unto Love to unclose
The pale gates of sunrise?

When all things repose, do you alone
Awake to hear the sweet harps play
To Love before him on his way,
And the night wind answering in antiphon
Till night is overgone?

Play on, invisible harps, unto Love,
Whose way in heaven is aglow
At that hour when soft lights come and go,
Soft sweet music in the air above
And in the earth below.
...................... .....................
As when, upon a tranced summer-night,
Those green-rob'd senators of mighty woods,
Tall oaks, branch-charmed by the earnest stars,
Dream, and so dream all night without a stir,
Save from one gradual solitary gust
Which comes upon the silence, and dies off,
As if the ebbing air had but one wave;

Stephen Pentz said...

Sam Vega: It's very nice to hear from you again. I'm pleased to have brought Dowson to your attention. "Interesting" is a good way to describe his life. The quintessential Decadent/fin de siecle/1890s poet, some would say.

As I have noted here before, I have a soft spot for him. I keep returning to him for lines like: "Sleep and be quiet for an afternoon, till the rose-white angelus/Softly steals my way from the village under the hill." Nobody does this sort of thing better. And I agree with you: his life may have been mixed up, but he never lacked self-awareness (as his ruefulness attests).

The Spring is lovely here, thank you. As always, thank you very much for visiting. I hope that things are well with you, and that Spring has at last arrived over there.

Stephen Pentz said...

Fred: I'm glad that you like "Breton Afternoon." As I mentioned in my response to Sam Vega's comment, nobody does this sort of thing better than Dowson.

I know what you mean about lying around in the desert -- you never know what may crawl or scurry by (or over) you. But the possibilities for peace and quiet are wonderful. Few places can be as still.

Thank you for reminding me of "The world is too much with us," which is indeed apt in this connection.

Thank you very much for visiting again, and for your thoughts.

Stephen Pentz said...

Anonymous: Thank you for sharing Joyce's poem, which is new to me. Although he was only in his teens in the 1890s, the poem certainly has a Nineties feel to it. I did a bit of research, and found that it appeared in 1907; hence, not too far off. As you say, I would never have guessed that it was by Joyce. It indeed sounds like something that Dowson or Arthur Symons could have written.

And the juxtaposition with the lines from "Hyperion" is a lovely one. "Branch-charmed by the earnest stars" is wonderful.

Thank you again.

Anonymous said...

What poem addresses the pleasures of repose and reverie more than Tennyson's "The Lotos-Eaters"? And what poem in its diction and tone is more suited to the theme of the poem? (Regardless of one's evaluation of Tennyson, one has to admit that no poet is technically better than Tennyson.) I don't know that any of us would want to settle forever in the land of the lotos, lie in idyllic somnolence the rest of our lives, a dreamy land empty of anxiety and vexation, but as Frost says in "Birches": even though we all need to get away from the exigencies of life, its incessant demands from time to time, in the end we need to return to Earth, "the right place for love, and, besides, we don't know "where it's like to go better."

Here's the last stanza of Tennyson poem:
The Lotos blooms below the barren peak,
The Lotos blows by every winding creek;
All day the wind breathes low with mellower tone;
Thro’ every hollow cave and alley lone
Round and round the spicy downs the yellow Lotos-dust is blown.
We have had enough of action, and of motion we,
Roll’d to starboard, roll’d to larboard, when the surge was seething free,
Where the wallowing monster spouted his foam-fountains in the sea.
Let us swear an oath, and keep it with an equal mind,
In the hollow Lotos-land to live and lie reclined
On the hills like Gods together, careless of mankind.
For they lie beside their nectar, and the bolts are hurl’d
Far below them in the valleys, and the clouds are lightly curl’d
Round their golden houses, girdled with the gleaming world;
Where they smile in secret, looking over wasted lands,
Blight and famine, plague and earthquake, roaring deeps and fiery sands,
Clanging fights, and flaming towns, and sinking ships, and praying hands.
But they smile, they find a music centred in a doleful song
Steaming up, a lamentation and an ancient tale of wrong,
Like a tale of little meaning tho’ the words are strong;
Chanted from an ill-used race of men that cleave the soil,
Sow the seed, and reap the harvest with enduring toil,
Storing yearly little dues of wheat, and wine and oil;
Till they perish and they suffer—some, ’tis whisper’d—down in hell
Suffer endless anguish, others in Elysian valleys dwell,
Resting weary limbs at last on beds of asphodel.
Surely, surely, slumber is more sweet than toil, the shore
Than labor in the deep mid-ocean, wind and wave and oar;
O, rest ye, brother mariners, we will not wander more.

Stephen Pentz said...

Anonymous: Thank you very much for the passage from "The Lotos-Eaters," which fits well in this context.

To address your comments: Oh, I don't know, I wouldn't mind lying "in idyllic somnolence the rest of [my] life" in "a dreamy land empty of anxiety and vexation"! I think I'd adapt.

Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

Today's Poem of the Day from Poetry Magazine has a poem by Charlotte Mew. It fits the theme of leaving the busy world behind. We long for steps to lead us to a place of still and quiet, a sleep both sound and deep.

Not for that city of the level sun,
Its golden streets and glittering gates ablaze—
The shadeless, sleepless city of white days,
White nights, or nights and days that are as one—
We weary, when all is said , all thought, all done.
We strain our eyes beyond this dusk to see
What, from the threshold of eternity
We shall step into. No, I think we shun
The splendour of that everlasting glare,
The clamour of that never-ending song.
And if for anything we greatly long,
It is for some remote and quiet stair
Which winds to silence and a space for sleep
Too sound for waking and for dreams too deep.

Goethe Girl said...

Erich Auerbach wrote: "Some individuals ... act as if they were charged with assuring that truth will triumph rather than with understanding that our only mission is to fight for it." I love the Gauguin pictures.

Stephen Pentz said...

Anonymous: Thank you for the poem from Mew, which is indeed apt. One senses a longing for peace, calm, and quiet in her often sad poetry. And these lines are a lovely evocation of that longing. Which most of us share, I think.

Thank you again.

Stephen Pentz said...

Goethe Girl: Thank you for the quote from Auerbach, which is new to me. Yes, it is the proverbial messianic zeal, unshakeable certitude, and empty eyes that are frightening.

I'm pleased you liked the paintings by Gauguin. I'm fond of his Breton period. He and Dowson are a perfect combination for daydreaming.

It is nice to hear from you again. Thank you very much for visiting, and for your thoughts.