Friday, April 8, 2016

Staying Put

I suppose that most of us played this game as children:  close your eyes, spin the globe, and choose with a finger the exotic place to which you will travel in your future life.  As an inveterate daydreamer, I still play the game in my mind.  Thus, for instance, nearly every painting that I have ever posted here is one that I have walked into in my imagination.  I suppose there are worse habits and vices.

With these dubious credentials, I am not well-qualified to extol the virtues of staying put.  Nonetheless, that is what I intend to do.  Albeit with a fair amount of hemming and hawing.

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

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

Dane Maw (1909-1989), "Scottish Landscape, Air Dubh"

Mind you, I do not wish to be thought of as a stick-in-the-mud or a curmudgeon.  I am as subject to wanderlust as the next person.  I concur with the old saw that "travel broadens the mind."  But Pascal's well-known pronouncement also comes to mind:  "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, Pensées (translated by Joseph Walker) (1688).

                          Against Travel

These days are best when one goes nowhere,
The house a reservoir of quiet change,
The creak of furniture, the window panes
Brushed by the half-rhymes of activities
That do not quite declare what thing it was
Gave rise to them outside.  The colours, even,
Accord with the tenor of the day -- yes, 'grey'
You will hear reported of the weather,
But what a grey, in which the tinges hover,
About to catch, although they still hold back
The blaze that's in them should the sun appear,
And yet it does not.  Then the window pane
With a tremor of glass acknowledges
The distant boom of a departing plane.

Charles Tomlinson, Jubilation (Oxford University Press 1995).

The title "Against Travel" should be taken with a grain of salt:  Tomlinson travelled extensively during his life, and he wrote dozens of fine poems about the places that he visited (which included Italy, Greece, Portugal, Japan, Mexico, and various locations in the United States).  Yet, the poems of his which seem the most heartfelt and evocative are those in which he writes about his native England.  (Of course, other admirers of Tomlinson's poetry may disagree with this assessment.)

Eric Bray, "Allington, Dorset, from Victoria Grove" (1975)

Perhaps what I am circling around is the distinction between the living of an "extensive" or an "intensive" life that Hilaire Belloc makes in his essay "On Ely":

"Everybody knows that one can increase what one has of knowledge or of any other possession by going outwards and outwards; but what is also true, and what people know less, is that one can increase it by going inwards and inwards."

Hilaire Belloc, "On Ely," Hills and the Sea (1906), page 44.

In connection with travel, Belloc suggests that, either way, you will likely end up in much the same place:

"You may travel for the sake of great horizons, and travel all your life, and fill your memory with nothing but views from mountain-tops, and yet not have seen a tenth of the world.  Or you may spend your life upon the religious history of East Rutland, and plan the most enormous book upon it, and yet find that you have continually to excise and select from the growing mass of your material."

Hilaire Belloc, Ibid, page 45.

I have no answers.  On certain days, I feel that I ought to spend the remainder of my life immersed in, say, the four volumes of R. H. Blyth's Haiku or Thomas Hardy's Collected Poems.  There is more than enough in those books to fill a lifetime.  On the other hand, if someone I trust knocked on my door tonight and asked me to travel with them tomorrow to a village in the Carpathian Mountains or to one of the former cities of the Hanseatic League, I would be sorely tempted.

                         Angle of Vision

But, John, have you seen the world, said he,
Trains and tramcars and sixty-seaters,
Cities in lands across the sea --
Giotto's tower and the dome of St. Peter's?

No, but I've seen the arc of the earth,
From the Birsay shore, like the edge of a planet,
And the lifeboat plunge through the Pentland Firth
To a cosmic tide with the men that man it.

Robert Rendall, Shore Poems (Kirkwall Press 1957).

Myrtle Broome (1888-1978), "A Cornish Village"

The Siren song of an escape to paradise is nothing new.  The choice between views from mountain-tops and the religious history of East Rutland seems obvious.  But we mustn't be too hasty.

"More than half a century of existence has taught me that most of the wrong and folly which darken earth is due to those who cannot possess their souls in quiet; that most of the good which saves mankind from destruction comes of life that is led in thoughtful stillness.  Every day the world grows noisier; I, for one, will have no part in that increasing clamour, and, were it only by my silence, I confer a boon on all."

George Gissing, The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (1903), pages 13-14.

Don't get me wrong:  we need to get out.  I'm not suggesting that we should hole up in a roomful of books.  But, in a world that encourages short attention spans and ephemeral desires, there is something to be said for staying in place.

     The Man from the Advertising Department

There's more to see
In the next field.
Not much here
But grass and daisies
And a gulley that lazes
Its way to the weir --
Oh there's much more to see
In the next field.

There are better folk
In the next street.
Nobody here
But much-of-a-muchness people:
The butcher, the blacksmith,
The auctioneer,
The man who mends the weathercock
When the lightning strikes the steeple --
But they're altogether a better class
In the next street.

There'll be more to do
In the next world.
Nothing here
But breathing fresh air,
Loving, shoving, moving around a bit,
Counting birthdays, forgetting them, giving
Your own little push to the spin of the earth;
It all amounts to
No more than living --
But by all accounts
There'll be more to do
And more to see
And VIP neighbours
In the next world.

Norman Nicholson, Collected Poems (Faber and Faber 1994).

William Peters Vannet, "Arbroath Harbour" (1940)

There is a restlessness that comes with being human.  There is also a natural tendency to think that something is missing in our life.  Hence the allure of movement, of travelling in search of paradise.

Is this an argument for staying put?  I don't know.  But perhaps this is where poetry, and art in general, come in.  They are not a substitute for life. Nor are they aesthetic trifles.  For all of their beautiful variety, their message is actually quite simple.  In one of our ears they whisper:  Pay attention.  In the other ear they gently remind us:  Time is short.

                          In the Same Space

The setting of houses, cafés, the neighborhood
that I've seen and walked through years on end:

I created you while I was happy, while I was sad,
with so many incidents, so many details.

And, for me, the whole of you has been transformed into feeling.

C. P. Cavafy (translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard), in C. P Cavafy, Collected Poems (Princeton University Press 1975).

Bernard Ninnes (1899-1971), "Nancledra"


RT said...

But eventually, life being prologue to something else, we must all give up "staying put" and say, "So long." This leads me to Walt Whitman's poem:
Novels, stories, and poems (and more), BTW, are our passports to places we can never otherwise visit and to people we can never otherwise meet. Only humans tell stories. There is I suppose, a God-given reason.

Fred said...


Go or stay? Perhaps the answer is the old Greek cliche--the Golden Mean, which would be some going and some staying.

"Angle of vision" the choice doesn't seem that obvious to me, especially since the comparison is so loaded in one direction. No mention of the Grand Canyon or the mountains of Colorado or the Four Corners area out West or numerous other places around the world that most would have to travel to experience.

Good post--stirs up some long forgotten moments.

tristan said...

just happened upon your blog whilst google searching images by tristram hillier ... you have remorselessly packed every page with treasures ... looks as if i'm gonna be stuck here awhile ...

Andrew said...

I'm thinning out my books after a lifetime of reading and I realise that I don't know well enough what I've read before - the only way to do this is re-reading. I'm no longer going outwards though I do come to this site. As I've not commented before, I thank you for everything so far. You might almost be an Honorary Englishman, but you'd have to have a bit of Kipling for that - he hasn't made it to your sidebar yet. I think you're sometimes sceptical about modernity: how about The Gods of the Copybook Headings? But he's a bit loud, isn't he?

Stephen Pentz said...

Tim: Thank you very much for your thoughts, and for the link to Whitman's poem. I've been dipping into his poems myself recently, and have found him stimulating. Yes, "so long" is where we are headed. As I said in the post: "Time is short." As you know, Whitman was preoccupied with these considerations in the wonderful poems he wrote near the end of his life, particularly those that are contained in the two "Annexes" to the final 1891-1892 edition of Leaves of Grass: Sands at Seventy and Good-bye My Fancy. Moving and inspiring.

As always, thank you for visiting. But please don't dwell too much on "So long"!

Stephen Pentz said...

Fred: Excellent points. This is perhaps why I included the sentence about "hemming and hawing" at the beginning of the post. I go back and forth on this. I agree with you about places that one has to see in person in order to truly experience, and the examples that you give are perfect: I have never been able to satisfactorily explain to anybody the unique beauty of the Four Corners area. How can you describe Arches National Park, for instance?

On the other hand (and as you know well), haiku, waka, and traditional Chinese poetry teach us that everything is right there in front of us. So I go back and forth. Hence, your Golden Mean suggestion is a good one. I have no concern that it may be a "cliché," as you suggest: clichés (and truisms) are, as it turns out, true. And they are perfectly acceptable to steer a course by, in my opinion.

It's good to hear from you again. Thank you very much for visiting and commenting.

Stephen Pentz said...

tristan: Thank you very much. That is very kind of you to say. I'm pleased you found your way here, and I hope you will return.

Tristram Hillier's work is wonderful (and strange), isn't it? It's nice that you came here via his paintings.

Thank you again.

Stephen Pentz said...

Andrew: Thank you very much for your thoughts. I would be honored and gratified to be deemed an "Honorary Englishman!"

I have never explored Kipling's poetry as much as I ought to have: I am only familiar with the usual anthology pieces, which is unfortunate. "The Way through the Woods" has almost made it into a post several times, but I never felt that I could satisfactorily fit it in. But it will be here at some point. I have also thought of posting "The Gods of the Copybook Headings." You are absolutely correct: I am "sceptical about modernity."

Yes, I am at the "thinning out books stage" of my life as well. At some point (and there is nothing depressing or bleak about this), you simply realize: I am never going to get around to reading (or re-reading) that book in the time that I have left. I agree with your comment about not "know[ing] well enough what I've read before." This situation lies partially behind my remark in the post about devoting myself to Blyth's Haiku or Hardy's Collected Poems. I've forgotten, or missed, a great deal.

Thank you again. And I hope you will keep returning here.

elizabeth said...

I tried to leave a comment a couple of days before Easter. The friends I would be visiting asked me to bring some English-language poems to read. I went to your site, thinking I would find something, but I chose the wrong "identity" below and was led to Google, etc., etc. So I ended up not asking your advice, although I did find a couple of nice poems on my own, one by Christina Rossetti ("Beneath Thy Cross") and one by Housman ("The Lent Lily"). Goethe's "Vom Eise befreit" was also read at lunch on Easter, but not by me. Although a Faust scholar, I was not going to read Goethe aloud to a bunch of Germans.

I have started listening (audiobooks while I cook) to a rather strange novel, "The Wake." And just a few minutes ago I went to the author's website, where I noticed that "First Known When Lost" is among the author's "Things I Like." He seems a very complicated person.

As always I get so much pleasure looking at your blog, both the pictures and the comments.

zmkc said...

Having not thought about Hilaire Belloc in years, this morning I read this article, which might interest you - - and then your post. Perhaps I am being prodded to go back to the book of Belloc verse & brush up on why I must be careful with matches

Anonymous said...

I was waiting for you to quote Emerson, especially these three lovely paragraphs from Self-Reliance:

"It is for want of self-culture that the superstition of Travelling, whose idols are Italy, England, Egypt, retains its fascination for all educated Americans. They who made England, Italy, or Greece venerable in the imagination did so by sticking fast where they were, like an axis of the earth. In manly hours, we feel that duty is our place. The soul is no traveller; the wise man stays at home, and when his necessities, his duties, on any occasion call him from his house, or into foreign lands, he is at home still, and shall make men sensible by the expression of his countenance, that he goes the missionary of wisdom and virtue, and visits cities and men like a sovereign, and not like an interloper or a valet.
I have no churlish objection to the circumnavigation of the globe, for the purposes of art, of study, and benevolence, so that the man is first domesticated, or does not go abroad with the hope of finding somewhat greater than he knows. He who travels to be amused, or to get somewhat which he does not carry, travels away from himself, and grows old even in youth among old things. In Thebes, in Palmyra, his will and mind have become old and dilapidated as they. He carries ruins to ruins.
Travelling is a fool's paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from. I seek the Vatican, and the palaces. I affect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My giant goes with me wherever I go."

Fred said...


"I have never been able to satisfactorily explain to anybody the unique beauty of the Four Corners area. How can you describe Arches National Park, for instance?"

I can't. I try and then stop. What I wish is that I had a transporter and could simply beam us there and point.

Stephen Pentz said...

Elizabeth: I'm happy to hear from you again. Thank you very much for your kind words about the blog. I greatly value your long-term presence here.

Rossetti's "Beneath Thy Cross" is new to me; I have now found it on the internet: lovely. As you know, a great deal of her verse is devotional in nature, but it always reflects her particular genius, as is the case with the poem you chose. Her comparison of herself to a rock is wonderful, especially the closing lines. The Goethe is also new to me, and is also wonderful. (Assuming that I have found the correct passage (and translation) on the internet!) "From the ice they are freed, the stream and brook . . ." (The translation I found is from Edgar Alfred Bowring in 1853, so it may be a bit Victorian.)

Yes, I noticed a few years ago that Mr. Kingsnorth had included First Known When Lost in his blogroll, which I was gratified to discover. I haven't had a chance to read The Wake yet, but it does look very intriguing. It certainly has received a great deal of praise.

As ever, thank you very much for stopping by, and for sharing your thoughts.

Stephen Pentz said...

zmkc: Thank you very much for visiting again. It's always a pleasure to hear from you.

Thank you for the link to the Belloc/Chesterton piece, which I hadn't seen. I confess that my knowledge of Chesterton's work is limited to some of the poetry, and, with respect to Belloc, I am familiar only with his poetry and his non-religious and non-political writings. But, subject to those disabilities, the distinction that Mr. Charlton makes between the two of them feels right. For instance, I agree with his observation that Belloc "has a hardness and a darkness about him." Hence, as you suggest, his Cautionary Verses and Cautionary Tales, and a great deal more. Much of which is delightful! And he did write (as I'm sure you know) the best poem ever written about politics and government:

On a General Election

The accursed power which stands on Privilege
(And goes with Women, and Champagne and Bridge)
Broke -- and Democracy resumed her reign:
(Which goes with Bridge, and Women and Champagne).

Of course, this was restated by Pete Townshend during our generation: "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

As always, thank you for visiting.

Stephen Pentz said...

Anonymous: Thank you very much for the passage from Emerson, which is new to me. (My knowledge of Emerson is shamefully scant.) Yes, it's the old problem of "wherever you go, there you are," which I have visited in several posts in the past. Of course, Plato, Montaigne, and Samuel Johnson (among others) preceded Emerson in noting this fact. I do like Emerson's "the sad self, unrelenting, identical" and "My giant goes with me wherever I go."

Thank you again for this, which goes well here.

Stephen Pentz said...

Fred: Yes, a transporter would do the trick. And, of course, there are scores of other places that are beyond description. Hence, as you say, this is where some sort of "Golden Mean" comes in. Thank you for the follow-up thoughts.

Deb said...

Synchronicity fascinates me. I was so taken with your quote by Hilaire Belloc, about the never ending complexity of things, because that's what I've often thought myself, that I went looking for 'Hills And The Sea' on-line, and found it at Project Gutenberg. Upon reading the said essay about Ely, I then had a stray question answered, one that had been floating about in my head for a few days. Nothing at all important, but I loved having the answer presented in such an unexpected manner.

And I sent the essay about Delft on to my sister, who was born there, and we then proceeded to have an interesting conversation about her reaction to Delft when visiting it again a few years ago, after leaving when she was a toddler. She said that much as she loved the rest of Holland, she felt the most at home in Delft, that being there was as close to spiritual experience as she'd ever encountered, and that if she'd been able to she would have stayed.

The synchronicity was more complex than this, more complex than I can find suitable words for - but then that's only to be expected!!

Just my usual rambling, ie, not fit to be published :-) I do so enjoy your blog...

Stephen Pentz said...

Deb: That is a wonderful chain of events.

I have never been to Delft, but I have daydreamed of it often, since I am fond of the paintings of Vermeer and Pieter de Hooch. I particularly like de Hooch's paintings of interiors and courtyards -- nearly always with an open door through which you can see a peaceful street or square.

Belloc's essay "Delft" is also quite a daydream-inducer. I love his discussion of the bells. And this: "I say that in this excellent city, though it is outside Eden, you may, when the wind is in the right quarter, receive in distant and rare appeals the scent and air of Paradise; the soul is filled." Your sister is extremely fortunate.

Thank you very much for your kind words about the blog. As always, thank you for sharing your thoughts, and for visiting. (By the way, when I receive comments to be published, I am not always able to see the entire text of the comment. Hence, I was not able to see your "not fit to be published" before I pressed "Publish." Sorry!)

Tim Guirl said...

Mr. Pentz--I seldom comment on your delightful blog, but from time to time feel the need to say something rather than remain silent. The way you weave your thoughts together with poems and paintings is a splendid gift to your readers. I owe you all my good words of thanks.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Guirl: It's a pleasure to hear from you again. I greatly appreciate your kind words about the blog -- that's very nice of you to say. The main purpose of the blog is to share the poems and the paintings in the hope that they may resonate with others as well. As for my own thoughts: they are just me trying to figure things out -- like everyone else. If it turns out that they resonate with you and other readers now and then, I am gratified, flattered, and humbled.

Thank you again. I greatly value your long-term presence here.

Graham Guest said...

Tim puts it perfectly, Stephen, when he says, "The way you weave your thoughts together with poems and paintings is a splendid gift to your readers." My thanks too for that gift.

Let me just add this from Robert Louis Stevenson: "The best things in life are nearest: Breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of right just before you. Then do not grasp at the stars, but do life’s plain, common work as it comes, certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things in life."

Anonymous said...

To go back to the remarks about Kipling in the comments: "The Land" is a perfectly wonderful poem, which in its way deals with "Staying Put" -- an ultra-English staying put which is unimaginable in America. But I see why it would not be a good fit with the style of your blog (which I love). It has dialect, of which Kipling was the all-time master, & it tells a story. But do try to find a way to work "The Way Through the Woods" in. It is one of my favorite poems.

Stephen Pentz said...

Graham: Thank you so much. That's very thoughtful of you.

And thank you as well for the passage from Stevenson, with which I completely agree. As I have noted before (and as we all know), life is not as complicated as we make it out to be.

Here is one of those nice coincidences that happen now and then. This morning, before I had logged into the blog and read your comment, I read this haiku by Shiki (as translated by R. H. Blyth):

Looking carefully, --
The buds of a cucumber flower
In the grass.

I think it complements perfectly your quote from Stevenson.

Thank you again.

Stephen Pentz said...

Susan: I'm happy to hear from you again. Thank you for the reference to "The Land," which was new to me. However, through the wonders of the internet, I have now read it: the story of "the aged Hobden's" successive incarnations is both entertaining and moving. Yes, "The Way Through the Woods" will appear here in time. I think it will fit well with some poems by Frost and Edward Thomas that I have in mind.

I hope that you are having a nice spring, and have been able to take in the blossoms. As ever, thank you very much for sharing your thoughts, and for stopping by.

Graham Guest said...

I'm with Susan. The Way through the Woods always gives me the shivers, especially:

You will hear the beat of a horse's feet,
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,

billoo said...

I love the first painting..reminds me of S. Wales (where I grew up).

And some lovely thoughts here as well.

Stephen Pentz said...

Graham: Yes, it is a wonderful, and evocative, poem. In the meantime, this talk of Kipling has encouraged me to revisit his poetry, which I have not done in a long time. I suspect that I will find much that I should have noticed before.

Thank you for the follow-up thoughts.

Stephen Pentz said...

billoo: It is a lovely painting, isn't it? As I say, it is one of those that makes you want to walk into it.

Thank you very much for visiting again. It is good to hear from you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Stephen. We now have clear weather & perfect spring blossom. We had two cold weeks that served to keep the early daffodils fresh until the fruit tree bloom started.
Speaking of trees, I look forward to reading your next post. Another Kipling poem you would enjoy (again, sort of a ballad, as his poems often are) is "Oak and Ash and Thorn".

Stephen Pentz said...

Susan: I'm happy to hear you have had a nice spring. It sounds lovely. Thank you for the reference to another Kipling poem which is new to me. I have found it on the internet. I see that it has also been set to music, for which it is well-suited.

Thank you very much for your follow-up thoughts. I hope you enjoy the rest of your spring!