Friday, September 18, 2015


A few days ago, when I got into my car, I noticed a tiny, barely visible brown spider hanging by a thread from my rear-view mirror.  As I watched, the thread lengthened and the spider swung downward towards the dashboard.  It landed, and crawled into an air vent.

"Continually regard the World as one living thing, composed of one substance and one soul.  And reflect how all things have relation to its one perception; how it does all things by one impulse; how all things are the joint causes of all that come into being; and how closely they are interwoven and knit together."

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book IV, Section 40 (translated by Hastings Crossley), in Hastings Crossley, The Fourth Book of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (1882), page 35.

     A lantern
Entered a house
     On the withered moor.

Masaoka Shiki (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 4: Autumn-Winter (Hokuseido Press 1952), page 283.

Norman Garstin, "Moulin de la Ville, Quimperlé" (1901)

We live in a politicized world.  Those who participate in that world talk and talk and talk.  The underlying premise of all this talk is:  I am right; you are wrong.  It is a world of nursed grievances and perceived injustices. Nursing these grievances and perceiving these injustices enables the politicized to feel better about themselves:  Look at me.  I am enlightened and concerned.  I care.

The politicized world has nothing whatsoever to do with the individual human soul.


Swifts turn in the heights of the air;
higher still turn the invisible stars.
When day withdraws to the ends of the earth
their fires shine on a dark expanse of sand.

We live in a world of motion and distance.
The heart flies from tree to bird,
from bird to distant star,
from star to love; and love grows
in the quiet house, turning and working,
servant of thought, a lamp held in one hand.

Philippe Jaccottet (translated by Derek Mahon), in Derek Mahon, Words in the Air: A Selection of Poems by Phillipe Jaccottet (The Gallery Press 1998).

     The long night;
A light passes along
     Outside the shōji.

 Masaoka Shiki (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 3: Summer-Autumn (Hokuseido Press  1952), page 356.

Harriet Backer, "By Lamplight" (1890)

A meadow that I pass through on my afternoon walk is dotted with clumps of flowering weeds:  purple, yellow, and white.  Their names are unknown to me.  I am content to remain ignorant.  I needn't know their names to think of them as companions.

     The names unknown,
But to every weed its flower,
     And loveliness.

Sampū (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 4: Autumn-Winter, page 123.

As I looked at the flowers this week, it occurred to me that these random galaxies of purple, yellow, and white will remain, returning each year in late summer and early autumn, long after I have turned into dust.  This was not an occasion for alarm.  Instead, the thought was a restful and comforting one.

"That which remembers and that which is remembered are alike creatures of a day."

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book IV, Section 35 (translated by Hastings Crossley), in Hastings Crossley, The Fourth Book of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, page 31.

     The light in the next room also
Goes out;
     The night is chill.

Masaoka Shiki (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 3: Summer-Autumn, page 328.

Terrick Williams, "Quiet Twilight, Honfleur" (c. 1922)

We are surrounded by, and headed towards, darkness.  To me, this darkness has an intimate feel to it.  It is not a political or a historical darkness.  It cannot be explained by Science.  Filling one's life with distractions will not cause the darkness to vanish.

                       House Fear

Always -- I tell you this they learned --
Always at night when they returned
To the lonely house from far away
To lamps unlighted and fire gone gray,
They learned to rattle the lock and key
To give whatever might chance to be
Warning and time to be off in flight:
And preferring the out- to the in-door night,
They learned to leave the house-door wide
Until they had lit the lamp inside.

Robert Frost, from "The Hill Wife," Mountain Interval (1916).

The darkness is not tragic, nor is it romantic.  It is not a cause for despair, nor is it a cause for celebration.  But it cannot be dispelled.

Because this darkness is intimate, each of us must find our own way of becoming acquainted with it.  But we are not companionless.  We are all in this together.

                                 Anchored at Night in a Creek

I climbed upon the river embankment, and stood there in the darkness;
The river breeze and frosty air chilled me.
When I turned and looked where the boat lay deep in the creek,
Among the flowers of reed and lespedeza was one point of light.

Po Chu-i (translated by R. H. Blyth), Ibid, page 334.  "Lespedeza" is commonly known as "bush clover."  It blooms at this time of year.

After the fireworks,
     A falling star.

Masaoka Shiki (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 4: Autumn-Winter, page 24.

Algernon Newton, "The Surrey Canal, Camberwell" (1935)


More Fire, More Ice said...

Very nice. Today, the 19th, the Washington Post has a bit about Democrats and Republicans living in two different countries, if not worlds. Politics will do that. . .certainly has to me.

Ultra Monk said...

Wow! Awesome blog. I need every ounce of humility I can get.

Stephen Pentz said...

More Fire, More Ice: Thank you for visiting, and for your comment. I haven't read the Washington Post article, but I understand the point, as well as your own reaction.

The "us versus them" nature of the politically-inclined seems like a colossal waste of human spirit and energy to me, especially when it is accompanied by a holier-than-thou, supercilious, morally-superior attitude. Throw in the usual hypocrisy, disingenuousness, and selective outrage, and I run the other direction, whether they are left, right, or Martian. I suppose that this makes me selfish and apathetic. Oh well. Life is too short.

By the way, I don't see this as solely an American issue. It is a worldwide malady.

Thank you again for your thoughts, and for stopping by.

Stephen Pentz said...

Ultra Monk: Yes, don't we all! Speaking for myself, practicing humility (in a non-prideful manner) is a daily, lifetime task -- one that will never be finished. It's human nature to think that we are the center of the universe, that we are always right, that we are unique, etc., etc. . . . Hard to get rid of all of that.

Thank you very much for your kind words about the post. It's nice to hear from you again. As ever, thank you for visiting.

Brian said...

"We are all in this together." More's the pity, as Wilfred Owen might have said. This universal reaching to understand the condition we find ourselves in is both noble and pitiful.

Your blog and Mr. Kurp's are my only essential literary blogs. Thank-you.

Nige said...

A wise and beautiful post, Stephen.

Bruce Floyd said...

The Blue Swallows
--Howard Nemerov

Across the millstream below the bridge
Seven blue swallows divide the air
In shapes invisible and evanescent,
Kaleidoscopic beyond the mind’s
Or memory’s power to keep them there.

“History is where tensions were,”
“Form is the diagram of forces.”
Thus, helplessly, there on the bridge,
While gazing down upon those birds—
How strange, to be above the birds!—
Thus helplessly the mind in its brain
Weaves up relation’s spindrift web,
Seeing the swallows’ tails as nibs
Dipped in invisible ink, writing…

Poor mind, what would you have them write?
Some cabalistic history
Whose authorship you might ascribe
To God? to Nature? Ah, poor ghost,
You’ve capitalized your Self enough.
That villainous William of Occam
Cut out the feet from under that dream
Some seven centuries ago.
It’s taken that long for the mind
To waken, yawn and stretch, to see
With opened eyes emptied of speech
The real world where the spelling mind
Imposes with its grammar book
Unreal relations on the blue
Swallows. Perhaps when you will have
Fully awakened, I shall show you
A new thing: even the water
Flowing away beneath those birds
Will fail to reflect their flying forms,
And the eyes that see become as stones
Whence never tears shall fall again.

O swallows, swallows, poems are not
The point. Finding again the world,
That is the point, where loveliness
Adorns intelligible things
Because the mind’s eye lit the sun.


Your mention of swifts in your superb post (one of your best it seems to me) reminded me, for some reason obscure to me, of Howard Nemerov's poem "The Blue Swallows." His point, I think, is than when all is pared to the bone, we find, not analysis, not complication, but the mind's simple apprehension of the world's beauty. We need to be fully awake to see reality. If we doze we miss all, no matter our glib loquaciousness. We should be about

Finding again the world,
That is the point, where loveliness
Adorns intelligible things
Because the mind’s eye lit the sun.

Anonymous said...

I look forward to your thoughts and the poetry but also the pictures. I stumbled into the artist, Dwight W. Tryon. You seem to be a student of art so you may know of him. I find his melancholy landscapes to be sublime.

You have got your presentation perfected. I would not want to see you change anything and I especially like the respectful approach to poetry. It brings to mind a kind man supporting his neighbor.

Darrell Woolums

Stephen Pentz said...

Brian: Thank you very much for your kind words about the blog. It is an honor to be mentioned in the same breath as Patrick's Anecdotal Evidence. It, together with Michael Gilleland's Laudator Temporis Acti, inspired me to start First Known When Lost. And Patrick and Michael were both extremely supportive as I embarked.

Yes, the urge to understand our condition is "both noble and pitiful," but mostly noble, I think. Although it may be more realistic to seek acceptance and serenity. Speaking solely for myself, I don't expect to find any answers or "understanding." But I think that serenity and acceptance are achievable, at least at times.

Thank you again.

Stephen Pentz said...

NIge: That's very nice of you to say. Thank you. I was preoccupied with those four haiku by Shiki, and the other things just fell into place along with them. I greatly appreciate your kind words.

It's a pleasure to hear from you again. Congratulations on your retirement! As ever, thank you very much for visiting.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Floyd: Thank you very much for your kind words about the post, and for sharing Nemerov's poem, which fits well in this context. Those last four lines are wonderful, aren't they?

Your sharing the poem also has the benefit of reminding me that it has been far too long since I have visited Nemerov's poetry. As I'm sure you know, he is a marvelous poet of autumn, and now is a perfect time to read him.

As always, thank you for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

I know from your responses to comments from your readers that you are no fan of the poet Robinson Jeffers. But when I read your recent post, I thought of a short poem of his that seems to fit in nicely with your comments (it is posted below.)Jeffers thought man should uncenter himself, love outward, not inward, and understand he is a part of a colossal whole. The greatest beauty might indeed be "organic wholeness." Jeffers thinks humanity has severed itself from the whole, in the process embracing pernicious illusions, which Jeffers thinks akin to incest. We are not the non plus ultra of creation, though fulminations from the pulpit insist we are.

As you well note: progress is an illusion. How much blood has been shed in the pursuit of universal love and happiness. It might be an exaggeration,but one might conclude that humanity has never been so deluded by dreams as it is right now.

The Answer

Then what is the answer?- Not to be deluded by dreams.
To know that great civilizations have broken down into violence,
and their tyrants come, many times before.
When open violence appears, to avoid it with honor or choose
the least ugly faction; these evils are essential.
To keep one's own integrity, be merciful and uncorrupted
and not wish for evil; and not be duped
By dreams of universal justice or happiness. These dreams will
not be fulfilled.
To know this, and know that however ugly the parts appear
the whole remains beautiful. A severed hand
Is an ugly thing and man dissevered from the earth and stars
and his history... for contemplation or in fact...
Often appears atrociously ugly. Integrity is wholeness,
the greatest beauty is
Organic wholeness, the wholeness of life and things, the divine beauty
of the universe. Love that, not man
Apart from that, or else you will share man's pitiful confusions,
or drown in despair when his days darken.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Woolums: Thank you very much for your kind comments about the blog. Your thought about "a kind man supporting his neighbor" is particularly nice, and greatly appreciated. Of course, I wouldn't go so far as to self-describe myself as "kind," but I do like to think, as I mentioned in this post, that we are all in this together. Gathering the poems and paintings together is an attempt to clear some quiet space for all of us.

And thank you as well for the recommendation of Dwight W. Tryon: I was unaware of him. I have since explored his paintings on the Internet, and I completely agree with you: his work is wonderful. Thanks to you, I think that you will see some of his paintings appear here in the future.

Thank you for visiting again, and for sharing your thoughts.

Stephen Pentz said...

Anonymous: Thank you for your thoughts, and for the poem by Jeffers, which is new to me.

Yes, I have expressed reservations about Jeffers, which, I confess, are based less on my knowledge of his poetry (which is extremely limited) than on my perception that he was something of a misanthropic crank. I may be entirely wrong about that, and perhaps I ought to give him more of a chance. After all, I have said many times here (probably ad nauseam) that it is the poem that matters, not the poet. Thus, to cite two examples, I have never liked W. B. Yeats and Ezra Pound as people, but I do love a great number of Yeats's poems, as well as Pound's Chinese translations and quite a few poems that he wrote in his early years, before he disappeared into The Cantos. Hence, perhaps I am being too judgmental about Jeffers.

In fact, I think there is a great deal of truth in "The Answer" (for instance, "not be duped/By dreams of universal justice or happiness"), but I'm not sure of it as poetry. I guess I've never been fond of these sorts of expansive, long-winded, all-encompassing Whitman-like sermons to the Universe as poetry. And, although this poem is short, I detect a lot of that manner in Jeffers's poetry as a whole. In saying this, I may be accused of hypocrisy given that I am fond of large parts of Wordsworth's expansive, long-winded declamations to the Universe in The Prelude and in his other long poems.

In any event, I do appreciate your sharing of this poem, because it goes well here. Thanks again.