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.
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"