Tuesday, August 22, 2017


"Neither the sun nor death can be looked at steadily."  La Rochefoucauld (translated by Stuart Warner and Stéphane Douard), Réflexions ou Sentences et Maximes Morales (1665).  A wise observation, particularly when an eclipse comes your way.  Alas, "the path of totality" passed two hundred miles to the south of us, but we did experience 92 percent totality here in Seattle.

I had no desire to view the event through eclipse glasses.  Instead, as the time arrived, I walked out into the back garden to see how dark it would become.  It never became dark, only slightly dim:  an unusual smoky, dusky honey-gold yellow light.  As it turned out -- and to my surprise, never having experienced a solar eclipse before -- it was the ground, not the sky, that proved to be of greatest interest.

 Seattle Partial Eclipse:
Leaf-Veiled Light (Apple And Cherry) On Garden Stones

Does beauty most often make itself known in "the half colors of quarter-things"?  In crescents of wavering light on garden stones?  Or in the bright corona of an obscured sun?

He who has lived in sunshine all day long,
                    His happy eyes
From too much light defending,
                    He cannot duly prize
One gleam of light at the day's ending.

Mary Coleridge, in Theresa Whistler (editor), The Collected Poems of Mary Coleridge (Rupert Hart-Davis 1954).  The poem is untitled.

Seattle Partial Eclipse:
Leaf-Veiled Light (Japanese Maple) On Pathway

I apologize for being too self-referential, but earlier this month I said this of the sun (not having the eclipse in mind at all):  "we come to know our star through its revelations, emanations, and creations."  My memory of the Great Eclipse of 2017 will be of lovely crescents of light strewn across the grey granite stones and pathways of the garden, set beside patches of green.

            The Brave Man

The sun, that brave man,
Comes through boughs that lie in wait,
That brave man.

Green and gloomy eyes
In dark forms of the grass
Run away.

The good stars,
Pale helms and spiky spurs,
Run away.

Fears of my bed,
Fears of life and fears of death,
Run away.

That brave man comes up
From below and walks without meditation,
That brave man.

Wallace Stevens, Ideas of Order (Alfred A. Knopf 1936).

Seattle Partial Eclipse:
Leaf-Veiled Light (Apple And Cherry) On Garden Stones

Saturday, August 19, 2017

A Life

In March of this year, I shared E. K. Chambers's lovely poem written in memory of Thomasine ("Tamsin") Trenoweth.  I was reminded of Tamsin, rest her soul, when I came across this a few days ago:

Short is my say, O stranger.  Stay and read.
Not fair this tomb, but fair was she it holds.
By her name her parents called her Claudia.
Her wedded lord she loved with all her heart.
She bare two sons, and one of them she left
On earth, the other in the earth she laid.
Her speech was pleasing and her bearing gracious.
She kept house:  span her wool.    I have said.    Farewell.

Anonymous (translated by F. L. Lucas), in Adrian Poole and Jeremy Maule (editors), The Oxford Book of Classical Verse in Translation (Oxford University Press 1995).  The translation first appeared in an essay by Lucas that was published in The New Statesman on May 10, 1924.

The lines are a Latin funerary inscription that was discovered in Rome.  It is believed to date from approximately 135 to 120 B.C.  The inscription was engraved on a tablet or pillar, which has now disappeared.  E. H. Warmington, Remains of Old Latin, Volume 4: Archaic Inscriptions (Harvard University Press 1940), page 13.

Mary Hunter (1878-1936), "Hyacinths"

After discovering the inscription in the morning, I encountered the following single-sentence notebook entry by Philippe Jaccottet in the evening:

"The imperceptible movement of an invisible soul and the enormous sun."

Philippe Jaccottet (translated by Tess Lewis), Seedtime: Notebooks 1954-1979 (Seagull Books 2013), page 159.  Jaccottet made the entry in October of 1967.

It is often best to simply place two things beside each other and leave them be.

Fred Stead (1863-1940), "River at Bingley, Yorkshire"

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Sun: A Brief Addendum

It's funny how these things work.  My most recent post, on Monday, was a paean of sorts to the sun.  On the following day, for no apparent reason, I felt the urge to return to the poetry of James Elroy Flecker, a few of whose poems have appeared here in the past.  (For instance, here, here, and here.) After visiting a couple of favorites, I discovered this, which was new to me:

               A Western Voyage

My friend the Sun -- like all my friends
     Inconstant, lovely, far away --
Is out, and bright, and condescends
     To glory in our holiday.

A furious march with him I'll go
     And race him in the Western train,
And wake the hills I used to know
     And swim the Devon sea again.

I have done foolishly to tread
     The footway of the false moonbeams,
To light my lamp and call the dead
     And read their long black printed dreams.

I have done foolishly to dwell
     With Fear upon her desert isle,
To take my shadowgraph to Hell,
     And then to hope the shades would smile.

And since the light must fail me soon
     (But faster, faster, Western train!)
Proud meadows of the afternoon,
     I have remembered you again.

And I'll go seek through moor and dale
     A flower that wastrel winds caress;
The bud is red and the leaves pale,
     The name of it Forgetfulness.

Then like the old and happy hills
     With frozen veins and fires outrun,
I'll wait the day when darkness kills
     My brother and good friend, the Sun.

James Elroy Flecker, in John Squire (editor), The Collected Poems of James Elroy Flecker (Secker and Warburg 1946).

The poem was first published in 1910 in Flecker's Thirty-Six Poems.  In August of that year, he had become ill, and he soon learned that he had contracted tuberculosis.  In September he was admitted to a sanatorium in the Cotswolds.  He died on January 3, 1915, at the age of 30.  In view of these circumstances, the poem perhaps takes on a different aspect, particularly the final stanza and this line:  "And since the light must fail me soon."

Stanley Roy Badmin (1906-1989), "Bolton Abbey, Wharfedale"

But serendipity was not finished with me yet.  The past month I have been reading poems in The Greek Anthology and in other collections of Greek lyric poetry.  Last night, I came upon this:

I love delicate ease and softness;
     Born desire is mine
To behold things fair and lovely
     And the bright sun-shine.

Sappho (translated by Walter Headlam), in Walter Headlam, A Book of Greek Verse (Cambridge 1907).

Yes, "there's nothing like the sun till we are dead."

James McIntosh Patrick, "A City Garden" (1940)

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Sun

Dear readers, you have heard me say this before (and you will no doubt hear me say it in the future):  Life is far simpler than we make it out to be.  It is nothing more (and nothing less) than an all-too-brief gambol in the sun. Edward Thomas is exactly right:

No day of any month but I have said --
Or, if I could live long enough, should say --
"There's nothing like the sun that shines today."
There's nothing like the sun till we are dead.

These lines bring to an end a twenty-line poem, and, as is so often the case with Thomas, his conclusion contains a qualification:  "Or, if I could live long enough, should say . . ."  ("The poetry of almost infinitely-qualified states of mind," as Philip Larkin so perfectly puts it.  The influence of Robert Frost's equivocal, self-reversing poetic conclusions on Thomas cannot be discounted either.  Or did Thomas influence Frost?  Kindred spirits, in any case.)  The qualification is wholly understandable:  Thomas wrote the poem in November of 1915 at Hare Hall Camp, Essex, where he was serving as a map-reading instructor.  Still, the overall tone is one of joy and celebration, as it should be when one speaks of the sun.

          De Sole
      after Ficino

If once a year
the house of the dead
stood open
and those dwelling
under its roof
were shown the world's
great wonders, all
would marvel beyond every other thing at
the sun

Charles Tomlinson, The Shaft (Oxford University Press 1978).

I presume that the poem is Tomlinson's version of a prose passage from Liber de Sole ("The Book of the Sun") (1493) by Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499).

William David Birch (1895-1968)
"Morning in June, the Vale of Dedham, Essex"

"The colossal sun,/Surrounded by its choral rings":  it is not a thing to be stared at.  Instead, we come to know our star through its revelations, emanations, and creations.  I am not speaking of scientific knowledge.

One recent warm afternoon, an afternoon on which, as we are wont to say, "there was not a cloud in the sky," I heard bird conversations coming from high overhead as I walked beside a large meadow.  There were no trees nearby.  The chirping and chattering and twittering came from out of the empty air of the blue-interwoven-with-gold sky.  But, of course, the air was not empty.  The swallows were going about their afternoon feeding, curving and sweeping and diving just above the dry grass and the pink-purple sweet peas of the meadow, then disappearing into the overarching brightness.

                       Solar Creation

The sun, of whose terrain we creatures are,
Is the director of all human love,
Unit of time, and circle round the earth

And we are the commotion born of love
And slanted rays of that illustrious star
Peregrine of the crowded fields of birth,

The crowded lanes, the market and the tower
Like sight in pictures, real at remove,
Such is our motion on dimensional earth.

Down by the river, where the ragged are,
Continuous the cries and noise of birth,
While to the muddy edge dark fishes move

And over all, like death, or sloping hill,
Is nature, which is larger and more still.

Charles Madge, The Disappearing Castle (Faber and Faber 1937).

Bertram Priestman, "The Sun-Veiled Hills of Wharfedale" (1917)

The manner in which unsolicited and unwanted human-created images insinuate themselves into our mind, heart, and soul can be alarming.  At this point in my short remaining time above ground, I have decided that poems, paintings, and other works of art are welcome, subject to my arbitrary standards of admission (Beauty and Truth), which are applied in an unsystematic and idiosyncratic fashion.  On the other hand, images and messages from the political, entertainment, and media worlds are not welcome, and are avoided as much as possible.  "News" is forbidden.

But, of course, it is the real World that matters, not merely images of that World, however beautiful and true they may be.  What I have in mind, for instance, is the large, blooming lavender bush that I recently passed while walking through the neighborhood on a hot, sunny afternoon.  The bush was covered with dozens of bumblebees, hovering at the constellated flowers, abuzz.  "Makings of the sun."  The beginning and the end.


Suspended lion face
Spilling at the centre
Of an unfurnished sky
How still you stand,
And how unaided
Single stalkless flower
You pour unrecompensed.

The eye sees you
Simplified by distance
Into an origin,
Your petalled head of flames
Continuously exploding.
Heat is the echo of your

Coined there among
Lonely horizontals
You exist openly.
Our needs hourly
Climb and return like angels.
Unclosing like a hand,
You give for ever.

Philip Larkin, High Windows (Faber and Faber 1974).

Stanley Roy Badmin (1906-1989), "Stormy Evening, Glencoe"