It makes perfect sense. Consider the alternatives. Have our souls been quickened so that we may watch television news shows on a daily basis? Is the purpose of our existence to vote in elections? Having emerged from eternity, and sensing that our time here is short, should we make a beeline to the nearest shopping mall?
To walk abroad is, not with eyes,
But thoughts, the fields to see and prize;
Else may the silent feet,
Like logs of wood,
Move up and down, and see no good,
Nor joy nor glory meet.
Ev'n carts and wheels their place do change,
But cannot see, though very strange
The glory that is by:
Dead puppets may
Move in the bright and glorious day,
Yet not behold the sky.
And are not men than they more blind,
Who having eyes yet never find
The bliss in which they move?
Like statues dead
They up and down are carried,
Yet neither see nor love.
To walk is by a thought to go,
To move in spirit to and fro,
To mind the good we see,
To taste the sweet,
Observing all the things we meet
How choice and rich they be.
To note the beauty of the day,
And golden fields of corn survey,
Admire each pretty flow'r
With its sweet smell;
To praise their Maker, and to tell
The marks of his great pow'r.
To fly abroad like active bees,
Among the hedges and the trees,
To cull the dew that lies
On ev'ry blade,
From every blossom, till we lade
Our minds, as they their thighs.
Observe those rich and glorious things,
The rivers, meadows, woods, and springs,
The fructifying sun;
To note from far
The rising of each twinkling star
For us his race to run.
A little child these well perceives,
Who, tumbling in green grass and leaves,
May rich as kings be thought:
But there's a sight
Which perfect manhood may delight
To which we shall be brought.
While in those pleasant paths we talk
'Tis that towards which at last we walk;
For we may by degrees
Pleasures of love and praise to heed,
From viewing herbs and trees.
Thomas Traherne (1636-1674), in H. I. Bell (editor), Traherne's Poems of Felicity (Oxford University Press 1910). I have modernized the spelling. The italicized words are in the original.
William Dyce (1806-1864), "Sketch of a Doorway with a Water Barrel"
At the heart of A. E. Housman's poetry is an unassuageable grief. For this reason, there are those who feel that his poetry is "gloomy," or that it lacks "variety." I respectfully disagree. By the time we reach a certain age (that age differs in each of us), the themes that govern our mind, heart, and soul can be counted on the fingers of a hand (or less).
Bashō is, I think, correct:
Journeying through the world, --
To and fro, to and fro,
Harrowing the small field.
Bashō (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 4: Autumn-Winter (Hokuseido Press 1952), page 290.
Harrowing one's own small field is an excellent way to spend a life. There are too many busybodies abroad in the world, most of whom seem compelled to tell us how we ought to live our lives, while their own fields are full of brambles and tares.
Is Housman's grief attributable to unrequited love? Or does it reflect a preoccupation with our mortality? Neither? Both? It doesn't matter. Whether we want to or not, and whether we are aware of it or not, we each develop our own philosophy of life.
I find nothing wrong with Housman's view of existence. He is harrowing his field. Moreover, we must be careful not to be too reductive. If one sees only "gloom" in Housman's poetry, then one has not looked closely enough. He could enjoy a walk in spring as much as any of us.
When green buds hang in the elm like dust
And sprinkle the lime like rain,
Forth I wander, forth I must
And drink of life again.
Forth I must by hedgerow bowers
To look at the leaves uncurled
And stand in the fields where cuckoo-flowers
Are lying about the world.
A. E. Housman, Poem IX, More Poems (Jonathan Cape 1936).
Albert Rutherston, "The Pump, Nash End" (1931)
Have no fear, gentle readers, I do not intend to turn this blog into "The Diary of My Hip Replacement." But I must say that my recent foray into medical technology has given me a renewed appreciation of the simple wonder of being able to walk, without pain, among rhododendrons and azaleas on a spring afternoon. I say this as someone who has, in the past, expressed skepticism about the modern gods of Progress and Science. The technological products of Science and Progress can indeed be blessings. Blogs? Yes! Hip replacements? Yes! "Selfies"? No.
Where does one draw the line in this technology business? I don't know. I suspect that it has something to do with whether -- like poetry, like art in general -- a particular product of technology brings us a renewed gratitude for the world around us, and for the human beings who inhabit that world. One step at a time.
The Stepping Stones
I have my yellow boots on to walk
Across the shires where I hide
Away from my true people and all
I can't put easily into my life.
So you will see I am stepping on
The stones between the runnels getting
Nowhere nowhere. It is almost
Embarrassing to be alive alone.
Take my hand and pull me over from
The last stone on to the moss and
The three celandines. Now my dear
Let us go home across the shires.
W. S. Graham, Collected Poems, 1942-1977 (Faber and Faber 1979).
Harold Jones, "The Black Door" (1935)