Monday, May 14, 2018


Please accept my apologies for the silence, dear readers:  I have been on a two-week road trip, from which I have now returned.  I can report that all is well in this beautiful country:  spacious skies, purple mountain majesties, fruited plains, an ocean white with foam.  And, on top of all that, how can one not love a country that has seen fit to establish a James Dean Memorial Junction?  (Where California 46, curving away toward the live oak-dotted hills, the sea, and the sunset, meets California 41.)

Purely by happenstance, my trip included a visit to the university from which I graduated 40 years ago this year:  a campus located on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, in Santa Barbara.  I had no madeleine moment.  However, I did idly muse:  Which is better (or worse):  to say that 40 years have passed or to say that four decades have passed?  

                    Arriving in Lo-yang Again

Those years, I was a green-youthed wanderer;
today I come again, a white-haired old man.
From those years to today makes one whole lifetime,
and in between, how many things have had their day and gone!

Shao Yung (1011-1077) (translated by Burton Watson), in Burton Watson, The Columbia Book of Chinese Poetry: From Early Times to the Thirteenth Century (Columbia University Press 1984), page 335.

Robert Fowler (1853-1926), "Knaresborough"

Four decades, forty years:  six of one, half a dozen of the other.  Time is what it is.  But the mere fact of that much distance is enough to give one pause.  Yet there are no grounds for regret or lamentation. After all, I am here to see that distance:  something that ought not to be taken for granted.  Gratitude is the appropriate response.

Still, passing through that changed yet unchanged place, I did wonder about a now-vanished young wight, all melancholy and expectation.  What has become of him?

Parthenophil is lost, and I would see him;
For he is like to something I remember
A great while since, a long, long time ago.

John Ford, The Lover's Melancholy, Act IV, Scene 3 (1628), in Iris Origo, The Vagabond Path (Chatto & Windus 1972), page 239.

William MacGeorge (1861-1931), "A Summer Day on the Solway"

When I arrived home yesterday, I could smell the lilacs (white and pale purple) in the garden as I got out of the car.  On my walk this afternoon, I discovered that, while I was away, spring arrived here in earnest.  "Yet still the unresting castles thresh/In fullgrown thickness every May./Last year is dead, they seem to say,/Begin afresh, afresh, afresh."  Forty years, four decades.  Gone.  Ever-present.

             Ah! Sun-flower

Ah Sun-flower! weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the Sun:
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the traveller's journey is done.

Where the Youth pined away with desire,
And the pale Virgin shrouded in snow
Arise from their graves and aspire,
Where my Sun-flower wishes to go.

William Blake, Songs of Innocence and of Experience (1789), in David Erdman (editor), The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake (University of California Press 1982).

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


Sam Vega said...

Many thanks for another wonderful selection. The road trip sounds wonderful. We must be of an age, as I also graduated 40 years ago this year. Returning to old haunts is always a strange experience for me; never quite the powerful experience I expect, but always with something quiet and unexpected in the background.

The John Ford lines are wonderful. Such powerful rhythm, yet in no sense overdone, so that it sounds entirely natural. The poetry that comes from the everday world of observing language and emotion, rather than labouring with ideas.

The Blake poem is an old favourite of mine. So much of his work is an unconventional meditation upon the nature of time, eternity, and mankind's relationship to them. I think this reaches its most compressed form in the Proverbs of Hell:

"The hours of folly are measured by the clock; but of wisdom, no clock can measure."

Anonymous said...

You & I are ships that pass in the night (a phrase I've always liked). I'm glad, before I depart tomorrow on a great adventure for an 80-year-old, flying alone to Prague, where my younger son & his family live, to have read "Time". I have many things I'd like to write about time -- and you're right about distance, the great distance that trails behind one at 80. But no time & no power of concentration, so this is just a wave of greeting.

Stephen Pentz said...

Sam Vega: Thank you very much for those thoughts. Your experience of "returning to old haunts" is similar to mine, and you articulate perfectly the feelings that arise: "never quite the powerful experience I expect, but always with something quiet and unexpected in the background." Exactly. And the "something quiet and unexpected in the background" can continue to unfold, and lead off into unexpected places.

I'm pleased you liked the lines by Ford: they took my breath away when I came across them. Your description of why the lines are so beautiful is wonderful, and articulates something about 16th and 17th century English verse (whether in poems or in plays) which I have never been able to adequately put into words. For me, your description encompasses not only those four lines, but also what I find unique and affecting in the poems from that time that most move me. I think of, for example, "Happy were he could finish forth his fate/In some unhaunted desert . . ." or "Lay a garland on my hearse/Of the dismal yew . . ." Or one of my favorites, eight lines (a translation of Ovid) by an unknown poet, set to music by William Byrd: "Constant Penelope sends to thee, careless Ulysses./Write not again, but come, sweet mate, thyself to revive me./Troy we do much envy, we desolate lost ladies of Greece;/Not Priasmus, nor yet all Troy can us recompense make. . . ."

Finally, thank you very much for the wonderful statement by Blake: new to me, and something I will not forget. My knowledge of Blake is woefully limited, so I greatly appreciate your sharing it.

As always, it is a pleasure to hear from you. Thank you very much for visiting again.

Stephen Pentz said...

Susan: That is wonderful news! I know you must be busy, so I greatly appreciate your taking the time to write on the eve of your journey. Yes, there may be a "great distance that trails behind," but it is the present which counts, isn't it? (As Wittgenstein says: "he lives eternally who lives in the present.")

I hope you have a wonderful stay in Prague. I wish you well. Take care.