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"


Ron Ireland said...

Good morning, sir. It's a rainy morning here in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and cool for August. I'm listening to Gram Parsons "A Song for You" as I write. We have some summer left, but I'm feeling November in my old bones. Your selections for today are perfect. Thank you.

RT said...

Thank you for your wonder-filled offering. And, as a coda to your suggestion, I offer three cheers for beauty, truth, and Keats! He, by the way, is the subject of my own posting today. And, yes, beauty and truth trump the news and politics in my world too.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Ireland: It's good to hear from you again. Thank you for the kind words about the post.

Coincidentally, autumn came to mind yesterday when I was out walking: I noticed leaves on the ground in places (perhaps it is only our dry spell out here?), and it seemed to me that the angle of sunlight has begun to change -- slightly, but still a betokening.

As for "A Song for You": I always hesitate to say something is my "favorite," but it is probably my favorite song by him. Emmylou Harris's harmonies are indescribably beautiful (as always). After all these years, his too early death still saddens me. So much lost. But he gave us a great deal.

As ever, thank you very much for stopping by.

Stephen Pentz said...

R. T.: You're welcome. I'm pleased you liked the post. I will head to Informal Inquiries to see what you have to say about Keats. Thank you very much for visiting again.

Maggie Emm said...

Lovely post - I enjoy your blog so much!
I agree wholeheartedly with your emphasis on beauty and truth as we get older - that is all I want now too.

Denise Hay said...

Such a wonderful post Stephen! I realise I knew not a single poem about the Sun.....until reading your post, but can name several about the moon. The Larkin is just wonderful....and the painting of Glencoe. We live not too far from there. The season is changing in Scotland in subtle and wonderful ways, most noticeably the quality of the light. Thank you.

Stephen Pentz said...

Maggie Emm: Thank you very much for your kind words. As I have said here in the past (this is no great revelation on my part: most of us experience it), one of the nice features of growing older is that you can rid yourself of many things that once seemed important, and appreciate what really matters. Thank you for visiting, and I hope you'll return soon.

Stephen Pentz said...

Denise: I appreciate your kind words. Thank you.

There is no shortage of poems about the moon, is there? Sun poems are less common, but they can be found. These are three of my favorites. I need to search my memory further, and perhaps I'll add some others in a future post. For instance, I know that George Mackay Brown and Norman MacCaig have written poems about the sun of Scotland.

I have only been to Scotland once, but I can certainly attest to the quality of light there. I will never forget the light and sky on the Isle of Skye in particular: constantly changing, and always breathtaking. Yes, Badmin's painting of Glencoe is lovely, isn't it? I passed through Glencoe on a gloomy, misty afternoon, but it was still beautiful.

As always, thank you very much for visiting, and for sharing your thoughts.

Tim Guirl said...

Growing older does have its compensations: an unfettering or perhaps a fettering of a different sort. Thank you for calling us to pay attention in ways that remind us who we are.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Guirl: It's a pleasure to hear from you again. Thank you for stopping by.

"Unfettering" is an excellent description, and your thought that there may be "a fettering [or fetterings] of a different sort" is a good point. In whatever manner the balance plays out in the long run (the end of which is not subject to negotiation), one does begin to focus one's attention, if nothing else, as the years accumulate.

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

George said...

Last night I happened to open The Future of History by John Lukacs and shortly found in a footnote

'The great historian Burkhardt: "Unsre Auge ist sonnenhaft, sonst sähe es die Sonne nicht." Our eye is sunlike: otherwise the sun it could not see.'

This reminds me of a piece that Jacques Barzun quotes from Thoreau's journals, on a phoebe:

"Such an eye was not born when the bird was, but is coeval with the sky it reflects."

It is curious that as you say, one readily thinks of more moon poems than sun poems. There is an unwearying sun in the shield of Achilles, isn't there? Perhaps it is the association of the sun with work and responsibility. I think of Donne's "Busy old fool, unruly sun" or Ovid's Elegy XIII of Book I. Or maybe the Mediterranean peoples just have too much of the sun--Virgil's first eclogue begins with his shepherd under the (dense) shade of a beech tree--and the northerners too much.

Stephen Pentz said...

George: Thank you very much for those thoughts, and for the quotes from Burckhardt and Thoreau, which are both new to me. Burckhardt's thought is particularly lovely, but both of them appeal to the pantheist in me.

Regarding the sun and poets: as I said in my reply to Ms. Hay's comment, I need to set my memory to work to recollect some additional sun poems. As you know, the sun appears often in the poetry in Wallace Stevens, or so it seems to me. I just checked the concordance to his poetry that appears on the Wallace Stevens Society website and discovered that the word "sun" appears in 233 lines in his poems. I didn't read through the list, but I do recall at least one short paean to the sun by him: "The Brave Man." I need to think about Hardy, Christina Rossetti, and Wordsworth as well.

It's always good to hear from you. Thank you very much for stopping by again.