Sunday, May 31, 2015

"The Further One Travels The Less One Knows"

I'm not cut out to be a hermit.  There are certain insuperable practical obstacles.  To cite just one:  the lack of pizza delivery services.

But I am sympathetic to the idea of a such an existence.  Mind you, I am not a misanthrope.  I just prefer peace and quiet.  I won't willingly submit myself to unnecessary noise and annoyance.  For instance, the prospect of enduring our American presidential election campaign for the next 17 (!) months is enough to convert me into an anchorite or a stylite until after Tuesday, November 8, 2016.

Fortunately, we each have the power to create a hermitary wherever we happen to be at this moment.  Not a solipsistic, narcissistic alternative reality, but a vale of refuge.

The gnomic pronouncements of the Tao Te Ching often leave me confounded.  But I've always felt there is a fundamental core of truth (and basic common sense) at the heart of Lao Tzu's oftentimes circular and self-contradictory observations about how the Universe works.

No need to leave your door to know the whole world;
No need to peer through your windows to know the Way of Heaven.
The farther you go, the less you know.

Therefore the Sage knows without going,
Names without seeing,
And completes without doing a thing.

Lao Tzu (translated by Robert Henricks), Tao Te Ching, Chapter 47.

Here is an alternative translation of the same passage:

Without leaving his door
He knows everything under heaven.
Without looking out of his window
He knows all the ways of heaven.
For the further one travels
The less one knows.
Therefore the Sage arrives without going,
Sees all without looking,
Does nothing, yet achieves everything.

Lao Tzu (translated by Arthur Waley).

Ethereal and down-to-earth.  Evanescent and hard-headed.

Alexander Sillars Burns (1911-1987), "Afternoon, Wester Ross"

The advice of Lao Tzu can only take you so far.  There is still the matter of getting through an ordinary Wednesday afternoon.  "The farther you go, the less you know."  Yes.  A fine sentiment.  But the truth of it only emerges in the details, in the "small trifles."

                              The Hermit

What moves that lonely man is not the boom
     Of waves that break against the cliff so strong;
Nor roar of thunder, when that travelling voice
     Is caught by rocks that carry far along.

'Tis not the groan of oak tree in its prime,
     When lightning strikes its solid heart to dust;
Nor frozen pond when, melted by the sun,
     It suddenly doth break its sparkling crust.

What moves that man is when the blind bat taps
     His window when he sits alone at night;
Or when the small bird sounds like some great beast
     Among the dead, dry leaves so frail and light;

Or when the moths on his night-pillow beat
     Such heavy blows he fears they'll break his bones;
Or when a mouse inside the papered walls,
     Comes like a tiger crunching through the stones.

W. H. Davies, The Bird of Paradise and Other Poems (1914).

James Maclauchlan Milne, "Loch Tulla" (1933)

Davies's poem gives one pause.  It is one thing to indulge in reveries about a life of solitude, it is quite another to actually live that life.  Here is another way of looking at this hermetic world-in-a-room business.

"All this, however, does not mean that I am an avid lover of solitude who wishes to hide in the mountains once and for all.  I am more like a sickly person who has retired from society after becoming a little weary of mixing with people.  As I look back over the many years of my frivolous life, I remember at one time I coveted an official post with a tenure of land and at another time I was anxious to confine myself within the walls of a monastery.  Yet I kept aimlessly wandering on like a cloud in the wind, all the while laboring to capture the beauty of flowers and birds.  In fact, that finally became the source of my livelihood; with no other talent or ability to resort to, I merely clung to that thin line.  It was for the sake of poetry that Po Chu-i tired himself out and Tu Fu grew lean.  I am saying this not because I regard myself as an equal of those two Chinese masters in wisdom and in poetic genius.  It is because I believe there is no place in this world that is not an unreal dwelling.  I abandoned the line of thinking at this point and went to sleep.

My temporary shelter --
A pasania tree is here, too,
In the summer grove."

Basho (translated by Makoto Ueda), "An Essay on the Unreal Dwelling," in Makoto Ueda, Matsuo Basho (Kodansha International 1982), pages 120-121.  This is the final paragraph of a haibun, which may be described as "haiku prose, or prose written in the spirit of haiku."  Ibid, page 112.  "A haibun usually (though not necessarily) ends with a haiku.  The implication is that a haibun is a perfect prose complement to the haiku." Ibid, page 121.

Here is an alternative translation of the final two sentences:

"And yet we all in the end live, do we not, in a phantom dwelling?  But enough of that -- I'm off to bed."

Basho (translated by Burton Watson), in Robert Hass (editor), The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, and Issa (The Ecco Press 1994), page 58.

James Torrington Bell, "The Cairngorms from Aviemore" (1937)

I agree with Basho:  I do not have it in me "to hide in the mountains once and for all."  On the other hand, Pascal makes a good point:  "I have often said that all the misfortune of men proceeds from their not knowing how to keep themselves quiet in their chamber."  Blaise Pascal (translated by Joseph Walker), Pensées (1670).

This morning, I sat at the front window and watched a couple of dozen sailboats run a race out on Puget Sound.  Behind them, the Olympic Mountains, snow-capped, stood serene, as mountains tend to do.  The boats moved in and out of giant cloud shadows drifting across the blue water.

I realize that I live in an unreal dwelling, a phantom dwelling.  But it will suffice.

     In my hut this spring,
There is nothing, --
     There is everything!

Sodo (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 2: Spring (Hokuseido Press 1950), page 34.

Adam Bruce Thomson (1885-1976), "Harvesting in Galloway"

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Departing Spring

As I have noted on previous occasions, the turning of the seasons is, for me at least (and I suspect for some of you as well), a matter of emotion, not of solstices and equinoxes, or of dates on a calendar.  Thus, out walking this past week, I concluded that spring has departed and that summer has arrived.  This conclusion had something to do with the "fullgrown thickness" of the trees (to borrow from Philip Larkin), and with their deepening greens, greens which stretched in every direction.

"Departing spring" ("yuku haru" in Japanese: yuku is a form of the verb "to go"; haru is "spring") is a traditional seasonal subject of haiku.  Perhaps the best-known "departing spring" haiku appears near the beginning of Matsuo Basho's travel journal Oku no Hosomichi (The title has been variously translated as "Narrow Road to the Interior," "The Narrow Road to the Deep North," and "Narrow Road to a Far Province."  Oku means "interior," "deep," "within," or "inner"; hoso means "narrow"; michi means "road"; no is a prepositional particle.  Hence, "Narrow Road to the Interior" is probably the most accurate translation:  it is literal, but it also captures the symbolic implications of the phrase.)    

"Very early on the twenty-seventh morning of the third moon, under a predawn haze, transparent moon barely visible, Mount Fuji just a shadow, I set out under the cherry blossoms of Ueno and Yanaka.  When would I see them again?  A few old friends had gathered in the night and followed along far enough to see me off from the boat.  Getting off at Senju, I felt three thousand miles rushing through my heart, the whole world only a dream.  I saw it through farewell tears.

Spring passes
and the birds cry out -- tears
in the eyes of fishes

With these first words from my brush, I started.  Those who remain behind watch the shadow of a traveler's back disappear."

Basho (1644-1694) (translated by Sam Hamill), in Sam Hamill, The Essential Basho (Shambhala 1999), page 4.

Here is another translation of the haiku:

     Spring going --
birds weeping, tears
     in the eyes of fish.

Basho (translated by Robert Hass), in Robert Hass, The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, and Isssa (The Ecco Press 1994), page 38.

Alexander Fraser (1827-1899), "Dundarave Castle, Loch Fyne"

The haiku may perhaps be better understood -- and felt -- if one reads the first few sentences of Basho's brief introduction to Oku no Hosomichi.  The introduction appears immediately prior to the departure scene.

"The moon and sun are eternal travelers.  Even the years wander on.  A lifetime adrift in a boat, or in old age leading a tired horse into the years, every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.  From the earliest times there have always been some who perished along the road.  Still I have always been drawn by wind-blown clouds into dreams of a lifetime of wandering.  Coming home from a year's walking tour of the coast last autumn, I swept the cobwebs from my hut on the banks of the Sumida just in time for New Year, but by the time spring mists began to rise from the fields, I longed to cross the Shirakawa Barrier into the Northern Interior."

Basho (translated by Sam Hamill), in The Essential Basho, page 3.

This passage illuminates not only the haiku quoted above, but also Basho's life as a whole:  at some point he came to the realization that it was his destiny to be a constant traveler, and to record his travels.  This dovetails with the notion of life as a journey, a notion that came naturally to Basho by virtue of his immersion in Chinese and Japanese poetry, Taoism, and Buddhism.

Alexander Fraser, "Cadzow Forest and White Cattle"

When it comes to the changing of seasons, departures are accompanied by arrivals.  Losses are bittersweet, but there are always compensations.

     Cherry blossoms
Fall and float on the water
     Of the rice seedlings.

Kyoroku (1656-1715) (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 2: Spring (Hokuseido Press 1950), page 360.

We grieve over the snow showers of cherry blossoms, but -- ah! -- the blossoms fall amid the bright green rice seedlings, aligned in long rows across the water.  (An aside:  my first visit to Japan was during the rice-planting season; as we made our landing approach, we passed over a countryside dotted with rice paddies; I had never seen a green of that hue before.) 

A lovely image, but what of the sky?  Do the cherry blossoms (pink, white) fall into sky-blue water?  In the following haiku, Buson takes Kyoroku's image one beautiful step further.

     A night of stars;
The cherry blossoms are falling
     On the water of the rice seedlings.

Buson (1716-1783) (translated by R. H. Blyth), Ibid, page 170.

"The way up and the way down are one and the same," to paraphrase Heraclitus violently out of context.  Cherry blossoms departing.  Rice seedlings arriving.  High above both of them -- and floating in the dark indigo water with them -- the stars.  Ama no gawa:  River of Heaven.

Alexander Fraser, "East Coast Harbour Scene"

"Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home."  Ironic moderns have decided that this is a cliché, a risible bit of pop psychology.  They haven't read Basho.  (Or Cavafy, for that matter.)

The journey takes place in the here-and-now of today -- which may be the final day of spring, or (you never know) the final day of your life.

     Today only
Walking in the spring,
     And no more.

Buson (translated by R. H. Blyth), Ibid, page 66.

Alexander Fraser, "Barncluith"

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

"A Stranger Here Strange Things Doth Meet, Strange Glory See; Strange Treasures Lodged In This Fair World Appear"

On my afternoon walk, I often silently chide myself:  Stop thinking!  As I have remarked here on more than one occasion, thinking is highly overrated.  I thus harbor the quixotic notion that, one day, my stroll will be thought-free.  But, alas, the past, present, and future always intrude.

The mind is an unending source of distraction.  Yesterday I walked along a row of trees whose boughs were full of the hum of bees.  My first reaction was simple joy at the all-enveloping sound coming down from the green and blue spaces overhead.  But thinking soon intervened: "What kind of tree is this?"  Followed by: "the bee-loud glade."  Why couldn't I leave well enough alone?

                  A Passing Glimpse

I often see flowers from a passing car
That are gone before I can tell what they are.

I want to get out of the train and go back
To see what they were beside the track.

I name all the flowers I am sure they weren't:
Not fireweed loving where woods have burnt --

Not bluebells gracing a tunnel mouth --
Not lupine living on sand and drouth.

Was something brushed across my mind
That no one on earth will ever find?

Heaven gives its glimpses only to those
Not in position to look too close.

Robert Frost, West-Running Brook (1928).

I am reminded of Frost's "The Most of It," in which the universe suddenly and unexpectedly makes its presence known in the form of "a great buck" that emerges from a forest and swims across a lake -- "and that was all." Perhaps these glimpses are as much as we can hope for.  All the more reason to not obscure them with thought.

William MacGeorge (1861-1931), "Kirkcudbright"

The poems of Frost and Edward Thomas often seem like an ever-ongoing conversation between the two of them.  At times, the conversation consists of counterpoints.  At other times, they seem to be completing each other's thoughts.  Frost wrote "A Passing Glimpse" in 1926 or so.  Thomas had died nine years earlier.  But, if you will, imagine this as part of their conversation:


Yes.  I remember Adlestrop --
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly.  It was late June.

The steam hissed.  Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform.  What I saw
Was Adlestrop -- only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

Edward Thomas, in Edna Longley (editor), Edward Thomas: The Annotated Collected Poems (Bloodaxe Books 2008).

A train journey.  The same naming of the things of this World.  The same "passing glimpse."

I will never cease to be amazed and moved by the fact that Thomas and Frost found each other when they did.

William MacGeorge, "Water Lilies"

Attentiveness is difficult.  Which is one reason why we need poetry.  It helps us to pay attention.  Think of how many of us look more intently at the things around us by virtue of having one day come across "Adlestrop." We all know that poems and books are not life.  But they can be a finger pointing at the moon.

                       The Salutation

                    These little limbs,
        These eyes and hands which here I find,
This panting heart wherewith my life begins,
        Where have ye been?  Behind
What curtain were ye from me hid so long?
Where was, in what abyss, my new-made tongue?

                    When silent I
        So many thousand thousand years
Beneath the dust did in a chaos lie,
        How could I, smiles or tears,
Or lips or hands or eyes or ears, perceive?
Welcome ye treasures which I now receive.

                    I that so long
        Was nothing from eternity,
Did little think such joys as ear and tongue
        To celebrate or see:
Such sounds to hear, such hands to feel, such feet,
Such eyes and objects, on the ground to meet.

                    New burnished joys
        Which finest gold and pearl excel!
Such sacred treasures are the limbs of boys,
        In which a soul doth dwell:
Their organized joints and azure veins
More wealth include than the dead world contains.

                    From dust I rise,
        And out of nothing now awake;
These brighter regions which salute mine eyes
        A gift from God I take:
The earth, the seas, the light, the lofty skies,
The sun and stars are mine; if these I prize.

                    A stranger here
        Strange things doth meet, strange glory see;
Strange treasures lodged in this fair world appear,
        Strange all and new to me:
But that they mine should be, who nothing was,
That strangest is of all, yet brought to pass.

Thomas Traherne (1636-1674), in H. I. Bell (editor), Traherne's Poems of Felicity (University of Oxford Press 1910).  (A side-note: Traherne's contemplation of our soul's emergence from "so many thousand thousand years/Beneath the dust" brings to mind Arthur Symons's "The Soul's Progress" (which has appeared here previously): "It enters life it knows not whence; there lies/A mist behind it and a mist before . . .")

We ought never to lose the sense of strangeness (and wonder) articulated by Traherne.  This takes us back to the subject of my previous post: humility.  We should never take anything in the World for granted.  The final stanza of "The Salutation" is particularly beautiful, and provides a corrective "snap out of it!" whenever we are beset with feelings of boredom, dissatisfaction, or malaise.  Another of those true truisms, I'm afraid: existence is a miracle.

William MacGeorge, "River Scene Through Trees"

Friday, May 15, 2015


A week or so ago, I noticed the annual sign that Spring has arrived in earnest and that Summer is near:  tiny anthills began to emerge along the seams of the sidewalks.  We love Spring for its flowers and its blossoming trees, for its wide skies and its breezes, and for its changeableness.  But, for me at least, there is something reassuring, even touching, in knowing that the ants are once again going about their business.

Yes, I know there is a vast, clamorous World out there.  But, as I have observed on more than one occasion, there is something to be said for appreciating, and cultivating, the commonplace.


I do not think that skies and meadows are
Moral, or that the fixture of a star
Comes of a quiet spirit, or that trees
Have wisdom in their windless silences.
Yet these are things invested in my mood
With constancy, and peace, and fortitude,
That in my troubled season I can cry
Upon the wide composure of the sky,
And envy fields, and wish that I might be
As little daunted as a star or tree.

John Drinkwater, Tides (1917).

We mustn't fall prey to the Pathetic Fallacy, we are told.  But I unabashedly confess that ants are "invested in my mood/With constancy, and peace, and fortitude."  I cannot help myself.  I wait for their reassurance each Spring, and I am comforted when they provide it.

Robert Lillie (1867-1949), "Flower Study, Narcissi"

I have an uneasy feeling that I am about to make a pretentious and annoying Pronouncement About Poetry.  So let me first say that I deplore Pronouncements About Poetry.  That being said, here is my Pronouncement:  one of the benefits of good poetry is that it teaches us humility.

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 (1869).  The poem is untitled.

William Blake preceded Tennyson:  "To see a World in a Grain of Sand/And a Heaven in a Wild Flower."  ("Auguries of Innocence.")  In our ironic "modern" world, this sort of thing is regarded as a cliché.  But it's all true, you know.

Robert Lillie, "Part of My Studio Mantel"

For real humility before the wonder of the World, consider this:

                              Morning Glories

By the well side, morning glories I transplanted,
wild tendrils climbing the rail, angling this way and that:
before I know it the well rope's been completely seized --
now I beg water from the house next door.

Rokunyo (1734-1801) (translated by Burton Watson), in Burton Watson, Kanshi: The Poetry of Ishikawa Jozan and Other Edo-Period Poets (North Point Press 1990), page 48.

Rokunyo's poem was likely inspired by the following well-known haiku:

By morning glories
my well bucket's been seized --
borrowing water.

Chiyo-ni (also known as Kaga no Chiyo) (1703-1775) (translated by Burton Watson), Ibid.

Thus, perhaps Chiyo-ni and Rokunyo would not have plucked the flower in the crannied wall.  This is not intended to be a criticism of Tennyson, by the way.  I've plucked a flower or two in my day.  As it turns out, Japanese poets are themselves of two minds about whether flowers ought to be plucked.

     To pluck it is a pity,
To leave it is a pity,
     Ah, this violet!

Naojo (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 2: Spring (Hokuseido Press 1950), page 380.

     The violet:
Held in the hand,
     Yet more lovely.

Koshu (translated by R. H. Blyth), Ibid, page 381.

Whether the flower is plucked or not plucked, the underlying lesson is one of humility.

Robert Lillie, "Japanese Anemones"

I know nothing about how to live.  I have no wisdom to impart.  But I have come to learn that truisms are, well, true.  The commonplace World -- the World right there in front of us at this moment -- is all that we need.  Its wonders are inexhaustible.  We owe it our humility.

                 Life Hurries By

Life hurries by, and who can stay
One winged Hour upon her way?
The broken trellis then restore
And train the woodbine round the door.

Walter Savage Landor, Dry Sticks (1858).

Robert Lillie, "The Paisley Shawl"

Sunday, May 10, 2015

"Begin Afresh, Afresh, Afresh"

It is time, dear reader, for me to beg your indulgence as we pay our annual visit to my "May poem."  To wit:

                  The Trees

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old?  No, they die too.
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

Philip Larkin, High Windows (Faber and Faber 1974).

My daily walk takes me through a former army post (now turned into a park) on the bluffs above Puget Sound.  At one point, I pass beneath a long row of tall bigleaf maples that border the former parade ground, which is now an expanse of green that is mowed throughout the year.

Yesterday, a breeze came up as I walked beneath the canopy of boughs.  I looked up into the swaying branches against the blue spring sky, listening all the while to the rush of the wind through the fluttering leaves.  Larkin is correct:  "Begin afresh, afresh, afresh" is exactly what the leaves say.

Christopher Sanders, "Sunlight through a Willow Tree at Kew" (1958)

We each have our own versions of Eternal Paradise.  A fit subject for reverie, I think.  I suspect that some of us would be content to spend eternity stretched out on the grass beneath a full-leaved tree, blue sky overhead, wind soughing through the boughs.  Sun and shadow would move back-and-forth across our face as we lay looking upward at the restless green and blue and yellow patterns.  For ever.

      Kayenta, Arizona, May 1977

I fall asleep to the sound of rain,
But there is no rain in the desert.
The leaves of the trader's little cottonwoods
Turn, turn in the wind.

Janet Lewis, Poems Old and New: 1918-1978 (Swallow Press 1981).

In Eternity, there will be no seasons.  Only the ever-moving colors of the sun and the leaves and the sky and the sound of the wind in the leaves -- a rustling, a sighing, at times a roaring.

The riverbed, dried-up, half-full of leaves.
Us, listening to a river in the trees.

Seamus Heaney, The Haw Lantern (Faber and Faber 1987).

Patrick Symons, "Oak Arch Grey (Wimbledon Common)" (1981)

Perhaps you think that I have gone too far with these daydreams of Eternity.  Crossed the line into purple prose.  But every time I walk beneath a tunnel of whispering trees I cannot help but wish that the tunnel will never end.  I slow down as the exit approaches.  I glance backward.  My spirit droops as I emerge.

I suppose this is what Wallace Stevens is getting at in "This Solitude of Cataracts":  "He wanted to feel the same way over and over.//He wanted the river to go on flowing the same way,/To keep on flowing."  Alas, we are all up against Heraclitus's dictum:  You cannot step into the same river twice.

But, in a World of popular culture ("entertainment" and politics) that consists entirely of chimeras and fantasies, is it madness to want to walk for ever down an avenue of trees?  And what if, as you walk, the leaves above you, and all around you, say this:  "Begin afresh, afresh, afresh"?

Who has seen the wind?
     Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling
     The wind is passing thro'.

Who has seen the wind?
     Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads
     The wind is passing by.

Christina Rossetti, Sing-Song: A Nursery Rhyme Book (1872).

Robert Ball, "Mrs Barclay's Pond, Harborne" (1949)

Tuesday, May 5, 2015


"Thou art a little soul bearing about a corpse, as Epictetus used to say."  So writes Marcus Aurelius in his Meditations, Book IV, Section 41 (translated by George Long).  An earlier translator (Jeremy Collier in 1702) puts it even more colorfully:  "Would you know what you are?  Epictetus will tell you that you are a Living Soul, that drags a carcass about with her."

A startling image, yes, but no cause for distress.  It simply states a fact. Integrating this fact into our daily lives creates an opportunity for freedom. It is ancient news, studiously avoided by most moderns.

Like dew that vanishes,
like a phantom that disappears,
or the light cast
     by a flash of lightning --
so should one think of oneself.

Ikkyu Sojun (1394-1481) (translated by Steven Carter), in Steven Carter, Traditional Japanese Poetry: An Anthology (Stanford University Press 1991).

The opening line of Emperor Hadrian's death-bed poem comes to mind: animula vagula blandula.

Hubert Wellington, "Overhanging Tree, Frampton Mansell" (1915)

Accurate though it may be, the image of one's soul carrying around a corpse or a carcass may be difficult to come to grips with.  Is it something to idly contemplate as you drift off to sleep, or greet the dawn?  I think not.

Still, we all inhabit "a temporary lodging."  Perhaps, then, this is more palatable:  envision your "little soul" as residing within a dwelling that will one day be abandoned.  Which begs the obvious question:  what will remain of us when the soul has flown?

               A Tale

There once the walls 
Of the ruined cottage stood.
The periwinkle crawls
With flowers in its hair into the wood.

In flowerless hours
Never will the bank fail,
With everlasting flowers
On fragments of blue plates, to tell the tale.

Edward Thomas, in Edna Longley (editor), Edward Thomas: The Annotated Collected Poems (Bloodaxe Books 2008).

Thomas later substantially revised the poem:

               A Tale

Here once flint walls,
Pump, orchard and wood pile stood.
Blue periwinkle crawls
From the lost garden down into the wood.

The flowerless hours
Of Winter cannot prevail
To blight these other flowers,
Blue china fragments scattered, that tell the tale.

Edward Thomas, Ibid.

The rhyming of "flowerless hours" is risky, isn't it?  But lovely.  I can understand why Thomas retained this phrase, while changing nearly everything else.  His revisions to the lines about the china fragments are interesting.  He abandons "everlasting flowers/On fragments of blue plates" in favor of "these other flowers,/Blue china fragments scattered." Thus, rather than painted flowers on pieces of broken china, we have blue fragments of china scattered on the ground, replicating the blue flowers of the periwinkle.

So there you have it:  another way of looking at our soul's dwelling-place. Will we leave scattered blue flowers of broken china for posterity?

Hubert Wellington, "Summer Day, Frampton Mansell" (1915)

Thomas never directly mentions the prior inhabitants of the abandoned dwelling, but their unspoken presence dominates both versions of the poem:  there is, after all, "A Tale" to be told.  But all that remains is a trail of china fragments on the ground.  And silence.

                  Meng-ch'eng Hollow

A new home at the mouth of Meng-ch'eng;
old trees -- last of a stand of dying willows:
years to come, who will be its owner,
vainly pitying the one who had it before?

Wang Wei (701-761) (translated by Burton Watson), in Burton Watson, The Columbia Book of Chinese Poetry: From Early Times to the Thirteenth Century (Columbia University Press 1984).

Wang Wei is the occupant of the "new home."  He will also, in the future, be "the one who had it before."  Vanished.  A subject of speculation and pity.  "Flesh, breath, and the Inner Self -- that is all."  Marcus Aurelius (translated by Gerald Rendall), Meditations, Book II, Section 2.

A corpse, a carcass, a dwelling.  But still the soul flits and flutters.


That man's life is but a dream --
Is what we now come to know.

Its house abandoned,
the garden has become home
     to butterflies.

Sogi (1421-1502) (translated by Steven Carter), in Steven Carter, Traditional Japanese Poetry: An Anthology (Stanford University Press 1991).

Hubert Wellington, "The Big Barn, Frampton Mansell" (1915)