Tuesday, January 31, 2017


On the subject of beauty, this is as good a place as any to begin:

"A thing is beautiful to the extent that it does not let itself be caught."

Philippe Jaccottet (translated by John Taylor), from "Blazon in Green and White" ("Blason Vert et Blanc"), in Philippe Jaccottet, And, Nonetheless: Selected Prose and Poetry 1990-2009 (Chelsea Editions 2011), page 53.

On a late afternoon this past week I walked between two meadows.  The meadow on my left, the parade ground of a former army post, was open and expansive.  It has been mown recently, and the winter rains have turned it deep green.  On my right, a broad field of brown and gray wild grasses sloped down to the bluffs above Puget Sound.

The afternoon was windless and quiet.  The declining sun was hidden behind a flat layer of motionless grey clouds out over the Sound, stretching away to the Olympic Mountains in the west.  Throughout my walk, my eyes kept returning to a glowing patch of pale yellow in the center of the cloud blanket, above, and dimly reflected in, the dark water below.

As I gazed at the patch yet again, I suddenly heard behind and above me a tiny creaking of wings.  A dozen or so sparrows soon flew over me with the sound of a soft rush of wind.  And those lovely creaking wings.  I lost sight of the sparrows as they disappeared into the woods up ahead.


What does it mean?  Tired, angry, and ill at ease,
No man, woman, or child alive could please
Me now.  And yet I almost dare to laugh
Because I sit and frame an epitaph --
'Here lies all that no one loved of him
And that loved no one.'  Then in a trice that whim
Has wearied.  But, though I am like a river
At fall of evening while it seems that never
Has the sun lighted it or warmed it, while
Cross breezes cut the surface to a file,
This heart, some fraction of me, happily
Floats through the window even now to a tree
Down in the misting, dim-lit, quiet vale,
Not like a pewit that returns to wail
For something it has lost, but like a dove
That slants unswerving to its home and love.
There I find my rest, and through the dusk air
Flies what yet lives in me.  Beauty is there.

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

Eric Hesketh Hubbard (1892-1957), "The Cuckmere Valley, East Sussex"

A sparrow flying overhead is entirely and exactly what it is:  a sparrow flying overhead.  And yet . . .

"It is possible that beauty is born when the finite and the infinite become visible at the same time, that is to say, when we see forms but recognize that they do not express everything, that they do not stand only for themselves, that they leave room for the intangible."

Philippe Jaccottet (translated by Tess Lewis), in Philippe Jaccottet, Seedtime: Notebooks, 1954-1979 (Seagull Books 2013), page 38.

One needn't be a mystic or an eremite in order to sense that we live in a World of immanence:  that, although each of the particulars of the World is wholly sufficient in and of itself, each of those particulars contains a hint of something that lies behind it and beyond it.  Something "intangible," to use Jaccottet's word.  Those who have been thoroughly modernized are wont to grow nervous at talk of a World of immanence.  This is perfectly fine.  I am not out to convert anyone to my sense of the World.  We each feel what we feel, and there is no accounting for it.

                            The One

Green, blue, yellow and red --
God is down in the swamps and marshes,
Sensational as April and almost incred-
        ible the flowering of our catharsis.
A humble scene in a backward place
Where no one important ever looked;
The raving flowers looked up in the face
Of the One and the Endless, the Mind that has baulked
The profoundest of mortals.  A primrose, a violet,
A violent wild iris -- but mostly anonymous performers,
Yet an important occasion as the Muse at her toilet
Prepared to inform the local farmers
That beautiful, beautiful, beautiful God
Was breathing His love by a cut-away bog.

Patrick Kavanagh, Come Dance with Kitty Stobling and Other Poems (Longmans 1960).

Malcolm Midwood Milne, "Barrow Hill" (1939)

Patrick Kavanagh tells us that "God is down in the swamps and marshes." Any talk of immanence tends to provoke our human tendency to put a name to things.  Speaking solely for myself, I do not find this necessary. However, I have no objection whatsoever to Kavanagh (or anybody else) finding God in "a cut-away bog."  I think it is a beautiful thought, and it is entirely plausible.

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
     As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
     Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
     Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
     Selves -- goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me:  for that I came.

I say more: the just man justices;
     Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is --
     Christ.  For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
     To the Father through the features of men's faces.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, in W. H. Gardner and N. H. MacKenzie (editors), The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins (Oxford University Press 1967). The poem is untitled.

Hopkins's vision of immanence is an ecstatic vision, and this is reflected in the extravagance of his language.  So unique is his vision that he felt compelled to invent the terms "inscape" and "instress" to articulate his sense of immanence.  "Inscape" may be described as "the 'individually-distinctive' inner essence or 'pattern' of a thing (an object, whether a tree, a flower, or a sonnet; a person; a scene)."  Lesley Higgins (editor), The Collected Works of Gerard Manley Hopkins, Volume III: Diaries, Journals, and Notebooks (Oxford University Press 2015), page 1, footnote 1 (quoting Hopkins).  "Instress" is "the force emanating from or expressed by the object, which the sensitive viewer can apprehend."  Ibid.  (For an introduction to the concepts of "inscape" and "instress," please see W. H. Gardner, "Gerard Manley Hopkins and the Poetry of Inscape," Theoria: A Journal of Social and Political Theory, Number 33 (October 1969), pages 1-16.)

With "inscape" and "instress" in mind, lines such as "Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:/Deals out that being indoors each one dwells," "Selves -- goes itself; myself it speaks and spells," and "Crying What I do is me:  for that I came" become less obscure.  But Hopkins's vision of immanence is perhaps best expressed in "Keeps grace:  that keeps all his goings graces" and "Christ plays in ten thousand places."  With respect to the phrase "ten thousand places," it is worth noting that the formulation "the ten thousand things" is used in Buddhism and Taoism to describe the variousness of the World, and is often found in Chinese and Japanese poetry.  Hopkins's Christ of "ten thousand places" is, of course, Catholic (Jesuitical, and seasoned with the thoughts of Duns Scotus and of the Greek philosophers).  Yet, as I suggested above, a World of immanence transcends both the names we place on things and our human systems of thought.

George Mackley (1900-1983), "Brackie's Burn, Northumberland"

Any hint of immanence is a matter of the passing moment:  evanescent, and vanishing even as we sense it.

"All I have been able to do is to walk and go on walking, remember, glimpse, forget, try again, rediscover, become absorbed.  I have not bent down to inspect the ground like an entomologist or a geologist; I've merely passed by, open to impressions.  I have seen those things which also pass  -- more quickly or, conversely, more slowly than human life. Occasionally, as if our movements had crossed -- like the encounter of two glances that can create a flash of illumination and open up another world -- I've thought I had glimpsed what I should have to call the still centre of the moving world.  Too much said?  Better to walk on . . ."

Philippe Jaccottet (translated by Mark Treharne), Landscapes with Absent Figures (Paysages avec Figures Absentes) (Delos Press/Menard Press 1997), page 4.  The ellipses appear in the original text.

How could it be otherwise?  Why would we want it otherwise?  This is how we receive our gifts.

       First Known When Lost

I never had noticed it until
'Twas gone, -- the narrow copse
Where now the woodman lops
The last of the willows with his bill.

It was not more than a hedge overgrown.
One meadow's breadth away
I passed it day by day.
Now the soil is bare as a bone,

And black betwixt two meadows green,
Though fresh-cut faggot ends
Of hazel make some amends
With a gleam as if flowers they had been.

Strange it could have hidden so near!
And now I see as I look
That the small winding brook,
A tributary's tributary, rises there.

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

 James Torrington Bell, "Braes of Downie" (1938)

Thursday, January 19, 2017


Given the mystery of our own souls, we ought to be respectful of the souls of the strangers who share our time on earth.  Hence, a poet takes a risk when he or she presents us with a portrait of one of those strangers.  The dangers of presumption, condescension, oversimplification, and caricature are obvious.  Yet, if done with sensitivity and empathy, such portraits can tell us something about our own soul and the souls of our fellows, all wandering and unknowable, all with much in common.

               Tinker's Wife

I saw her amid the dunghill debris
Looking for things
Such as an old pair of shoes or gaiters.
She was a young woman,
A tinker's wife.
Her face had streaks of care
Like wires across it,
But she was supple
As a young goat
On a windy hill.

She searched on the dunghill debris,
Tripping gingerly
Over tin canisters
And sharp-broken
Dinner plates.

Patrick Kavanagh, Ploughman and Other Poems (Macmillan 1936).

In "Tinker's Wife," Kavanagh tells us what he has seen.  Some of us will find the poem to be sensitive and empathetic.  I do.  Others, particularly thoroughly ironic moderns, may feel that Kavanagh has moved past empathy into pity, and past sensitivity into sentimentality.  This is of no moment to me, for I have no objection to either pity or sentimentality, if they are grounded in a feeling of kinship with the souls in whose company we are passing through life.

Duncan Grant, "Girl at the Piano" (1940)

The utopian, inhuman worlds of politics and social science are concerned with groups and categories, not with individual human beings.  Thus, many of those who are unhappy with the outcomes of the Brexit referendum and the American presidential election have reacted in a way that reveals a great deal (none of it good) about how they view their fellow human beings: they see caricatures and stereotypes, not individual souls.  What the unhappy fail to realize is that, by objectifying others, they are at the same time objectifying themselves, and have in turn transformed themselves into caricatures and stereotypes.  This is what happens when one becomes politicized.

Good poets and artists, on the other hand, are concerned with individual human souls.  Which is not to say that they are saviors or saints.  Nor are they out to edify us.  Rather, they simply ask us to look at the beautiful particulars of the World.  Those particulars may at times cause us to catch our breath in sadness and, yes, in pity.  But this is life, not theory.

                               A Stranger

Her face was like sad things: was like the lights
Of a great city, seen from far off fields,
Or seen from sea: sad things, as are the fires
Lit in a land of furnaces by night:
Sad things, as are the reaches of a stream
Flowing beneath a golden moon alone.
And her clear voice, full of remembrances,
Came like faint music down the distant air.
As though she had a spirit of dead joy
About her, looked the sorrow of her ways:
If light there be, the dark hills are to climb
First: and if calm, far over the long sea.
Fallen from all the world apart she seemed,
Into a silence and a memory.
What had the thin hands done, that now they strained
Together in such passion?  And those eyes,
What saw they long ago, that now they dreamed
Along the busy streets, blind but to dreams?
Her white lips mocked the world, and all therein:
She had known more than this; she wanted not
This, who had known the past so great a thing.
Moving about our ways, herself she moved
In things done, years remembered, places gone.
Lonely, amid the living crowds, as dead,
She walked with wonderful and sad regard:
With us, her passing image: but herself
Far over the dark hills and the long sea.

Lionel Johnson, Ireland, with Other Poems (Elkin Mathews 1897).

Gilbert Spencer
"The School on Peggy Hill, Ambleside" (1952)

I am fond of robins.  I grow even fonder of them in winter, when they gather together in flocks.  I was delighted this past week when, on a sunny afternoon, I saw a large group of them (50 or so) spread out over a newly-mown meadow.  They were a companionable lot, chirping and clucking their leisurely way across the green field in the golden light.  A few sparrows had worked their way into the strolling congregation.  The robins had no objection.

I was once again reminded:  we never know what the World will bestow upon us.  With that in mind, we should be attentive, receptive, and -- above all -- grateful for the abiding mystery of it all.


Deaf and dumb lovers in a misty dawn
On an open station platform in the Dordogne
Watched each other's hands and faces,
Making shapes with their fingers, tapping their palms
Then stopped and smiled and threw themselves
Open-mouthed into each other's arms

While the rest of us waited, standing beside our cases.
When it arrived she left him and climbed on the train
Her face like dawn because of their conversation.
She suddenly turned, grabbed his neck in the crook of her arm,
Gave him the bones of her head, the bones of her body, violently,
Then climbed on again alone.  Her face hardened
In seconds as the train moved away from her island.
Tight lipped she looked around for a seat on the sea.

P. J. Kavanagh, Edward Thomas in Heaven (Chatto & Windus 1974).

Stanhope Forbes, "The Harbour Window" (1910)

At the beginning of 1694, the final year of his life, Bashō was living in Tokyo (then known as Edo).  His health was poor.  In April of the previous year, his beloved nephew Tōin, who Bashō had taken into his home and cared for, had died of tuberculosis.  In the same year, he had "begun to look after a woman named Jutei and her three children, although, except for one of the children, they lived separately from him.  Surviving records are vague on Jutei's identity, but they suggest Bashō had had some kind of close relationship with her in his young days.  Her children, however, do not seem to have been fathered by Bashō."  Makoto Ueda, Bashō and His Interpreters: Selected Hokku with Commentary (Stanford University Press 1991), page 348.

Sensing that his death was approaching, on June 3, 1694, Bashō set off on a journey to Ueno (his hometown), which is located approximately 350 kilometers southwest of Tokyo.  He intended to see his relatives and friends for the last time.  He arrived on June 20.  Late in July, while still in Ueno, he learned that Jutei had died suddenly in Tokyo.  Bashō never returned to Tokyo.  He died in Osaka on November 28.

At the news of the nun Jutei's death

never think of yourself
as someone who did not count --
festival of the souls

Bashō (translated by Makoto Ueda), Ibid, page 393.

The Japanese word for "festival of the souls" is tamamatsuri. "Tamamatsuri, more commonly known as urabon (the bon festival), is an annual Buddhist rite at which each family offers prayers to the souls of its ancestors.  In Bashō's time it was held for four days, beginning on the thirteenth of the lunar seventh month.  In 1694, that day was September 2." Ibid, page 393.

What a beautiful thing Bashō has given us.  I hesitate to say anything more, but these lines just came to mind:

There cannot be, confusion of our sound forgot,
A single soul that lacks a sweet crystalline cry.

W. B. Yeats, "Paudeen," Responsibilities and Other Poems (Macmillan 1916).

Stanley Spencer, "The Roundabout" (1923)

Monday, January 9, 2017

Another Time

I have spent a fair portion of the new year in the 17th century.  My sojourn began when I returned to one of my favorite anthologies:  Norman Ault's Seventeenth Century Lyrics.  Browsing through it, I came upon this:

                  The Retreat

Happy those early days! when I
Shined in my angel-infancy.
Before I understood this place
Appointed for my second race,
Or taught my soul to fancy aught
But a white, celestial thought;
When yet I had not walked above
A mile or two from my first love,
And looking back, at that short space
Could see a glimpse of his bright face;
When on some gilded cloud or flower
My gazing soul would dwell an hour,
And in those weaker glories spy
Some shadows of eternity;
Before I taught my tongue to wound
My conscience with a sinful sound,
Or had the black art to dispense
A sev'ral sin to every sense,
But felt through all this fleshly dress
Bright shoots of everlastingness.
          Oh, how I long to travel back,
And tread again that ancient track!
That I might once more reach that plain,
Where first I left my glorious train;
From whence the enlightened spirit sees
That shady city of palm trees;
But ah! my soul with too much stay
Is drunk, and staggers in the way.
Some men a forward motion love,
But I by backward steps would move;
And when this dust falls to the urn,
In that state I came, return.

Henry Vaughan (1621-1695), in Norman Ault (editor), Seventeenth Century Lyrics (William Sloane Second Edition, 1950); originally published in Silex Scintillans, Part I (1650).

"Sev'ral" (line 18) means "individual," "different," or "separate and distinct."  Robert Herrick uses the word in this sense in his lovely two-line poem "Dreams":  "Here we are all, by day; by night we're hurl'd/By dreams, each one, into a sev'ral world."  "Stay" (line 27) means "delay" in this context.

"Bright shoots of everlastingness" is wonderful, and is not likely to be forgotten once encountered.  "A white, celestial thought" is lovely.  But I am also fond of:  "Some men a forward motion love,/But I by backward steps would move."  Wise counsel, I think.

Not surprisingly, "The Retreat" puts many in mind of Wordsworth's "Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood."  For a time (particularly in the 19th century), it was believed that Wordsworth had been directly influenced by "The Retreat," as well as by other poems by Vaughan with a similar theme.  However, this conclusion is questionable. Still, even though there may not be a direct influence at work, the similarity of feeling and thought in the two poets is at times remarkable.  (For an interesting discussion of this topic, please see Helen McMaster, "Vaughan and Wordsworth," The Review of English Studies, Volume 11, Number 43 (1935), pages 313-325.)

Roland Pitchforth (1895-1982), "Bainbridge" (1928)

After reading "The Retreat," the following poem by Thomas Traherne, another 17th century poet, came to mind.  It has appeared here before, but it is always worth a revisit.

                       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 or 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 organizëd 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).

In contrast with Vaughan's backward-glancing soul, Traherne's blithe soul is content -- nay, delighted -- to be abroad in the World.  But then, Traherne is writing from the perspective of childhood, in the absence of experience.  Traherne's use of "strange" (as well as of "stranger" and "strangest") in the final stanza is lovely.  I am reminded of Vaughan's quotation, in one of his prose works (a translation of Johannes Nierembergius), of an unnamed "divine":  "Excellent is that advice of the divine:  To live a stranger unto life."  Henry Vaughan, Flores Solitudinis (1654).

Reading "The Salutation" and "The Retreat," I am compelled to report, dear readers, that the 17th century is a nobler, more gracious and graceful, and altogether more civilized place than the world we inhabit today.  Yes, I know:  those moderns who believe in the gods of Progress, Science, and political and social utopianism will howl in disagreement.  They will say: "For  centuries, humanity has been ridding itself of its ignorant and superstitious ways.  We in the modern world have arrived at the apex of human progress and enlightenment."  Well, no.

Roland Pitchforth, "Hebden, Yorkshire"

At this point, with the soul's wayfaring under consideration, I can hear two of my beloved poets of the fin de siècle calling to me.  Hence, please bear with me as we spend a brief idyll (a wistful and melancholic idyll, I concede) in the 1890s.

                    The Soul's Progress

It enters life it knows not whence; there lies
     A mist behind it and a mist before.
     It stands between a closed and open door.
It follows hope, yet feeds on memories.
The years are with it, and the years are wise;
     It learns the mournful lesson of their lore.
     It hears strange voices from an unknown shore,
Voices that will not answer to its cries.

Blindly it treads dim ways that wind and twist;
     It sows for knowledge, and it gathers pain;
          Stakes all on love, and loses utterly.
Then, going down into the darker mist,
     Naked, and blind, and blown with wind and rain,
          It staggers out into eternity.

Arthur Symons, Days and Nights (Macmillan 1889).

Yes, the poets of the Nineties had a different view of things than Vaughan, Traherne, and the other poets of the 17th century.  Although melancholy is not absent from 17th century poetry, the fin de siècle poets made an art of evoking and cataloguing it.  As I have stated here on more than one occasion, I am not ashamed to say that I am quite willing to surrender myself to them.

            Vitae summa brevis spem nos
                    vetat incohare longam

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
          Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
          We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
          Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
          Within a dream.

Ernest Dowson, Verses (Leonard Smithers 1896).  The title of the poem is taken from Book I, Ode 1, of Horace's Odes.  It may be translated as:  "the short span of our life forbids us to indulge in a long-term hope."  Ernest Dowson, Collected Poems (edited by  R. K. R. Thornton) (Birmingham University Press 2003), page 225.  

The correspondences between the two poems are wonderful.  Ah, the fate of the soul!  In Symons's view, "there lies/A mist behind it and a mist before," and, in time, "naked, and blind, and blown with wind and rain,/It staggers out into eternity."  ("Into the darker mist," mind you.)  Dowson takes (perhaps) a marginally more hopeful view of the soul's journey:  "Out of a misty dream/Our path emerges for a while, then closes/Within a dream."

But, for all of the differences between Symons and Vaughan, Dowson and Traherne, we mustn't forget this:  for each of them the soul is real, and we owe it our attention.

Roland Pitchforth, "Burnsall" (1925)

In our time, the word "soul" is viewed in much the same way as the word "evil":  both words make most moderns nervous.  Not me.  This is one of the reasons why the 17th century seems congenial to me, as does the fin de siècle world of Arthur Symons and Ernest Dowson.  Vaughan, Traherne, Symons, and Dowson can speak of the soul without doubt and without irony.  Why should it be otherwise?

There was a time when a person could as a matter of course address his or her own soul.  This was not necessarily a product of religious fervor, nor was it a sign of madness.  It was simply the way of the world.

For instance, the Emperor Hadrian (76-138) did so in what is purported to be his death-bed poem, which begins with the phrase animula vagula blandula.  John Donne, another poet of the 17th century, translated the opening two lines of Hadrian's poem as follows:

My little wandering sportful soul,
Guest and companion of my body.

John Donne, in E. K. Chambers (editor), The Poems of John Donne (Lawrence and Bullen 1896).

Henry Vaughan translated the entire poem:

My soul, my pleasant soul and witty,
The guest and consort of my body,
Into what place now all alone
Naked and sad wilt thou be gone?
No mirth, no wit, as heretofore,
Nor jests wilt thou afford me more.

Henry Vaughan, The Mount of Olives: Or, Solitary Devotions (1652).

We live in an age of technological miracles.  But a great deal of what it means to be human has gone missing.

Roland Pitchforth, "Cottage, Bainbridge" (1928)

Sunday, January 1, 2017


One sunny afternoon this past summer, as I walked beneath a big-leaf maple, I was struck by the thought that we live in a World in which everything is in motion.  The thought was prompted by the sight of the leaves of the tree moving in the breeze.  Not the swaying of the boughs, not the rustling of sprays of leaves.  What I saw -- for only an instant -- was each of the thousands of leaves fluttering in the wind.

What took me aback was a sudden recognition that each of the leaves was unique and uniquely alive.  It is easy to say:  The leaves fluttered.  But such a statement omits a great deal.

     The stars on the pond;
Again the winter shower
     Ruffles the water.

Sora (1648-1710) (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 4: Autumn-Winter (Hokuseido Press 1952), page 223.

Stars and leaves.  Ever in motion.  Uncountable.  But each one sovereign and irreplaceable.

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

One thing always leads to another in the World in which we live.  From leaves to stars to winter showers to the ruffling water of a pond to . . .


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 Philippe Jaccottet (The Gallery Press 1998).

The Chinese character for "heart" is xin.  The same character is used in the Japanese language, and is known as kokoro.  As I have noted here in the past, the character is a wonderful one:  in both Chinese and Japanese it can mean "heart," but it can also mean "mind."  It can also carry connotations of "spirit," "soul," or "core."  (For an interesting discussion of the various manifestations of xin in the Chinese language and in the culture of China, please see Jing Li, Christer Ericsson, and Mikael Quennerstedt, "The Meaning of the Chinese Cultural Keyword Xin," Journal of Languages and Culture, Volume 4, Number 5 (2013).)

In Jaccottet's poem, it is "the heart" that "flies from tree to bird,/from bird to distant star,/from star to love."  This is a lovely thought.  But it becomes even lovelier when one thinks of xin and kokoro:  it is an indivisible compound of heart, soul, spirit, and mind that flies from leaf to star to bird to . . .

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

The motion of the World is a motion of imminence, immanence, and emanation.  It is a motion of the present moment.  It has nothing to do with change or transformation.  Our human mortality does not enter into it.  In fact, human beings do not enter into it.  We are ever prone to analyze, categorize, and explain the World in terms of ourselves.  But the World can get along quite well without us, thank you.

   The Curtains in the House of the Metaphysician

It comes about that the drifting of these curtains
Is full of long motions; as the ponderous
Deflations of distance; or as clouds
Inseparable from their afternoons;
Or the changing of light, the dropping
Of the silence, wide sleep and solitude
Of night, in which all motion
Is beyond us, as the firmament,
Up-rising and down-falling, bares
The last largeness, bold to see.

Wallace Stevens, Harmonium (Alfred A. Knopf 1923).

Of course, we humans are here.  I do not deny that.  But our first duty to the World is to leave well enough alone.

The World is aquiver.  This is what I belatedly discovered on that summer afternoon when, in my usual slow-witted fashion, I at long last noticed the singularity of each leaf's movement in the wind.

     The Place of the Solitaires

Let the place of the solitaires
Be a place of perpetual undulation.

Whether it be in mid-sea
On the dark, green water-wheel,
Or on the beaches,
There must be no cessation
Of motion, or of the noise of motion,
The renewal of noise
And manifold continuation;
And, most, of the motion of thought
And its restless iteration,

In the place of the solitaires,
Which is to be a place of perpetual undulation.

Wallace Stevens, Ibid.

Stephen McKenna, "Foliage" (1983)

I do not make New Year's resolutions.  Instead, on New Year's Eve I have gotten in the habit of reading the following two haiku.

     I intended
Never to grow old, --
     But the temple bell sounds.

Jokun (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 4: Autumn-Winter, page 202.  In Japan, the bells of Buddhist temples are rung 108 times at the turning of the year as a reminder of the 108 sins and desires that we should seek to rid ourselves of.

     Journeying through the world,--
To and fro, to and fro,
     Harrowing the small field.

Bashō (translated by R. H. Blyth), Ibid, page 290.

A small field, yes, but inexhaustible.  More than enough beauty for one lifetime.

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