Thursday, April 20, 2017


Ah, spring!  Season of timelessness and transience, hope and heartbreak, arrivals and departures.  The story of our life in a few swift weeks.  Yet it is certainly not a season of grief.  Wistfulness and bittersweetness, yes, but not grief.

Spring beautifully -- and gently -- counsels us to be mindful of our mortality.  This is sound advice.  In fact, we are well-advised to consider our mortality on a daily basis, through all the seasons.  I am not suggesting that we should brood over "the strumble/Of the hungry river of death" from morn to eventide.  But an awareness of the shortness of our stay here provides a sense of perspective, and reminds us that we ought to be continually grateful for what the World bestows upon us, without our asking, each day.

Spring (like all the other seasons) teaches us gratitude, though the gratitude may at times have a wistful and bittersweet cast.

               To Blossoms

Fair pledges of a fruitful tree,
          Why do ye fall so fast?
          Your date is not so past;
But you may stay yet here a while,
          To blush and gently smile;
                         And go at last.

What, were ye born to be
          An hour or half's delight;
          And so to bid goodnight?
'Twas pity Nature brought ye forth
          Merely to show your worth,
                         And lose you quite.

But you are lovely leaves, where we
          May read how soon things have
          Their end, though ne'r so brave:
And after they have shown their pride,
          Like you a while:  They glide
                         Into the grave.

Robert Herrick, Poem 467, Hesperides (1648).

"Death is the mother of beauty."  (Wallace Stevens, "Sunday Morning.") What do blossoms do?  They "stay yet here a while,/To blush and gently smile;/And go at last."  What do "lovely leaves" do?  "They glide/Into the grave."  This is how the World works, and there is no reason to brood or to grieve.  Our response should be gratitude.  Gratitude and acceptance.

"Do not seek to have everything that happens happen as you wish, but wish for everything to happen as it actually does happen, and your life will be serene."

Epictetus, The Enchiridion, Section VIII (translated by W. A. Oldfather, 1928).

Lucien Pissarro, "The Garden Gate, Epping" (1894)

Alas, in this part of the world the daffodils and the tulips have nearly passed their prime.  Many of the daffodils (golden yellow and creamy white) have begun to droop.  Here and there, fallen tulip petals -- brightly-colored, sad things -- lie on the lawns and the sidewalks.

Still, as I have noted here in the past, the World has a way of providing us with compensations for its departures and losses.  As the tulips and the daffodils begin to vanish, the leaves have begun to uncurl and open on the trees.  From a distance, the stands of trees in the park that I walk through each day are enveloped in a light green haze of just-born leaves.

               To Daffadills

Fair daffadills, we weep to see
     You haste away so soon:
As yet the early-rising sun
     Has not attain'd his noon.
                              Stay, stay,
     Until the hasting day
                              Has run
     But to the Even-song;
And, having pray'd together, we
          Will go with you along.

We have short time to stay, as you,
     We have as short a Spring;
As quick a growth to meet decay,
     As you, or any thing.
                              We die,
     As your hours do, and dry
     Like to the Summer's rain;
Or as the pearls of morning's dew
          Ne'r to be found again.

Robert Herrick, Poem 316, Hesperides.  "Daffadill" was the spelling used in Herrick's time.

Does the World perfectly balance itself?  Do its compensations make up for its losses?  That is not our concern.  And, in any case, it is beyond our ken. Which is perfectly fine, and as it ought to be.  However, as Herrick once again reminds us, there is at least one thing of which we can be sure.

     Divination by a Daffadill

When a daffadill I see,
Hanging down his head t'wards me;
Guess I may, what I must be:
First, I shall decline my head;
Secondly, I shall be dead;
Lastly, safely buryed.

Robert Herrick, Poem 107, Ibid.

It is indeed a daffodil life that we live.  This is something to remind ourselves of, but not lose sleep over.  Gratitude, not grief.

"Trouble not yourself with wishing that things may be just as you would have them; but be well pleased that they should be just as they are, and then you will live easy."

Epictetus, The Enchiridion, Section VIII (translated by George Stanhope, 1741).

Lucien Pissarro, "Rade de Bormes" (1923)

Spring is not spring without a visit to this:  "Loveliest of trees, the cherry now/Is hung with bloom along the bough . . ."  I would only add that we mustn't forget the blossoms of the plum, pear, and apple:  all equally breathtaking in their beauty, all equally heartbreaking in their transience.

The pale, delicate blossoms of fruit trees in spring and the brilliant leaves of autumn:  it is through these gifts that I have arrived at my sense of life and of the World.  I have no idea how this happened.  Perhaps it is nothing more than an affinity for particular qualities of light and for particular colors.  But, from these blossoms and leaves, I have come to know this:  we live in a World of immanence.  There is something that lies behind them and beyond them, reticent yet articulate, untouchable yet all-embracing.
            To Cherry Blossoms

Ye may simper, blush, and smile,
And perfume the air a while:
But (sweet things) ye must be gone;
Fruit, ye know, is coming on:
Then, Ah! Then, where is your grace,
When as cherries come in place?

Robert Herrick, Poem 189, Hesperides.

Today I walked upon a white carpet of fallen petals.  Six months from today I will walk upon a red, orange, and yellow carpet of fallen leaves.  The path is the same.

"Require not things to happen as you wish; but wish them to happen as they do happen, and you will go on well."

Epictetus, The Enchiridion, Section VIII (translated by Elizabeth Carter, 1759).

Lucien Pissarro, "April, Epping" (1894)

Consider this:  we live in a World in which white and pink petals flutter around us like snow.  Where else would we wish to be?

     Simply trust:
Do not also the petals flutter down,
     Just like that?

Issa (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 2: Spring (Hokuseido Press 1950), page 363.

On a blue-sky and white-cloud afternoon last week, as I came to the end of my walk, I heard a lone bird singing.  It suddenly occurred to me:  while I had been walking, wherever I had been, birds had been singing and chattering all around me the entire time.  I was once again reminded:  we live in Paradise.

"Don't seek that all that comes about should come about as you wish, but wish that everything that comes about should come about just as it does, and then you'll have a calm and happy life."

Epictetus, The Enchiridion, Section VIII (translated by Robin Hard, 2014).

Lucien Pissarro, "Mimosa, Lavandou" (1923)


Acornmoon said...

You are so right:- "But an awareness of the shortness of our stay here provides a sense of perspective, and reminds us that we ought to be continually grateful for what the World bestows upon us, without our asking, each day. " You say it so much better than I. What oft was thought, but ne'er so well express'd.

Anonymous said...

April has come and fat robins, bibs of orange, strut about my yard. What a multitude of signs signify to us that spring, and all it conjures in the human heart, has once again come, but the chubby robins sing the sweetest reminder.

Says Emily Dickinson:

The Robin is the One
That interrupt the Morn
With hurried—few—express Reports
When March is scarcely on—

The Robin is the One
That overflow the Noon
With her cherubic quantity—
An April but begun—

The Robin is the One
That speechless from her Nest
Submit that Home—and Certainty
And Sanctity, are best

Stephen Pentz said...

Acornmoon: Thank you for your kind words. But I would also suggest this: you are saying the same thing about the World in your beautiful works of art, each of which wonderfully reminds us of the Paradise in which we live. (Much more than my words ever can!)

It's always good to hear from you. Thank you for visiting again.

Stephen Pentz said...

Anonymous: Thank you very much for your thoughts on robins and April, and for the lovely poem by Dickinson, which is new to me. Robins are always a welcome and endearing sight, aren't they? When I was growing up in Minnesota, each year we looked for "the first robin of spring." Dickinson's "with hurried -- few -- express Reports" reminds me of those spring expectations. These lines are particularly lovely: "Home -- and Certainty/And Sanctity, are best"

Thank you again.

John Ashton said...

Stephen, I'm staying in north Norfolk with my wife at the moment on a week's holiday. The signs of Spring are all around. The narrow, high-banked lanes close to the cottage we are renting are thronged with the lush growth of the season. Outside out window a male blackbird is finding worms to feed his youngster hidden in a corner away from harm. The blossom on the apple trees in the orchard is gorgeous It too will soon be gone as are the daffodils, as will the bluebells which carpet the nearby woods. But at this moment there is beauty and joy to be savoured in their beauty.

These words of yours are perfect, "enveloped in a light green haze of just-born
leaves" That precisely describes the trees at the edge of the fields I pass by each morning, and yes I think there is something more than accidental patterns of light and colour, scents and sounds. I sense it, and know it. I can only articulate inside my own mind what I feel there is to be said, and perhaps it is best left there, better to be said those who can say it better. The poets, such as those in this wonderful post.

Stephen Pentz said...

John: I'm delighted to hear that you were able to take a holiday at this time of year. Thank you for your lovely description of your location in Norfolk -- it sounds wonderful. Your mentioning of the blackbird brought to mind Derek Mahon's "The Blackbird," which concludes: "When from the bramble bush a hidden/Blackbird suddenly gave tongue,/Its diffident, resilient song/Breaking the silence of the seas."

Thank you very much for your kind words about the post. Yes, these things are a matter of sensing and knowing, aren't they? And I completely agree that one should probably leave it at that: trying to articulate it, or "explain" it, tends to destroy the essence of what one feels and senses.

As ever, it is a pleasure to hear from you. Thank you for visiting again.

John Ashton said...

Stephen, Your mention of Derek Mahon's " The Blackbird is perfect. I spent a long time this afternoon watching the busyness of two parent blackbird's busily searching for food to feed their seemingly never satisfied offspring.

I have been reading a book about a writer walking through England during the Spring of last year, not one of the best books I have read on the subject, but it does have some lovely quotes from other writers and I thought you might like this one from John Moore, a writer on the English countryside and conservation matters now largely forgotten. His words seem to fit very well with the subject of your post;
" The wise man, I think, whether he looks at a little moth, or a Spring orchard, always feels he is looking at it both for the first and the last time. His joy and wonder are always mixed with a sense of the briefness and the frailty."

Stephen Pentz said...

John: Thank you for the follow-up thoughts, and for the reference to John Moore, who I was not aware of. The passage you quote is lovely, and resonates a great deal with me. I did a little research, and Moore's work sounds very interesting. I notice that he edited The Life and Letters of Edward Thomas (published in 1939), which I hadn't heard of before. I'll try to track down something by him -- he was quite prolific.

Thanks again. I hope you had a wonderful holiday.

Half-heard in the Stillness said...


Todays post reminded me of a Haiku I've liked since I was young.

'The cherry blossom flowers and falls and is scattered by the wind - and
the wind cares nothing. But the blossoms of the heart no wind can touch.'

Unfortunately I don't know who it is by.
Once again thank you for your writing, I find it so interesting.

Stephen Pentz said...

Half-heard in the Stillness: Thank you very much for your kind words. And thank you as well for sharing the haiku, which is new to me -- it is lovely.

It is good to hear from you again. I appreciate your stopping by.