Saturday, August 11, 2018


As I am wont to do, one recent sunny afternoon I stood beneath a tree (a big-leaf maple), looking upward, marveling at the infinite, ever-changing, ever-revolving greenness of it all.  Fortunately, I am both simple-minded and easily pleased.  Thus, this sort of activity is more than enough to keep me occupied during my remaining time above ground.

               A Short Ode

All things then stood before us
        as they were,
Not in comparison,
But each most rare;
The 'tree, of many, one,'
The lock of hair,
The weir in the morning sun,
The hill in the darkening air,
Each in its soleness, then and there,
Created one; that one, creation's care.

Edmund Blunden, A Hong Kong House: Poems 1951-1961 (Collins 1962).

The quotation in line 5 ("tree, of many, one") comes from William Wordsworth's "Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood":

          But there's a Tree, of many, one,
A single Field which I have looked upon,
Both of them speak of something that is gone:
          The Pansy at my feet
          Doth the same tale repeat:
Whither is fled the visionary gleam?
Where is it now, the glory and the dream?

Does Blunden intend "A Short Ode" to be a response to Wordsworth's "Ode"?  Perhaps, if we attend closely to the beautiful particulars of the World, we shall discover that "the visionary gleam" has not fled, never flees.

Hubert Lindsay Wellington (1879-1967)
"Overhanging Tree, Frampton Mansell" (1915)

One way to enter the greenness of the overarching canopy is to begin at the outer edge, focusing upon a single leaf, then moving your way slowly inward and upward.  Leaf by leaf, spray by spray, bough by bough, until you reach the sky.  "Each in its soleness, then and there,/Created one; that one, creation's care."

On the other hand, there is something to be said for simply losing oneself (or one's Self) in the trembling green constellations overhead. The key to this approach is to avoid all thinking.  As I have said here on more than one occasion:  thinking is highly overrated.  The more thinking, the less feeling.  The more thinking, the less beauty and truth.


Till darkness lays a hand on these gray eyes
And out of man my ghost is sent alone,
It is my chance to know that force and size
Are nothing but by answered undertone.
No beauty even of absolute perfection
Dominates here -- the glance, the pause, the guess
Must be my amulets of resurrection;
Raindrops may murder, lightnings may caress.

There I was tortured, but I cannot grieve;
There crowned and palaced -- visibles deceive.
That storm of belfried cities in my mind
Leaves me my vespers cool and eglantined.
From love's wide-flowering mountain-side I chose
This sprig of green, in which an angel shows.

Edmund Blunden, Near and Far (Cobden-Sanderson 1929).

William Ranken (1881-1941), "Beech Trees, Carmichael"

In the meantime, as you gaze upward, one or more of the following events may occur.  Two sparrows may circle the tree trunk, hopping through the dry summer grass as they peck at the ground, twittering. A crow may caw from one of the tall pine trees swaying on the other side of the field.  A single brown leaf, perfectly symmetrical, may drift down and land at your feet.  (Not a portent.  Merely a leaf that falls through the sunlight of an August afternoon.)

"Each most rare."

                Lark Descending

A singing firework; the sun's darling;
     Hark how creation pleads!
Then silence:  see, a small gray bird
     That runs among the weeds.

Edmund Blunden, Choice or Chance (Cobden-Sanderson 1934).

George Allsopp (b. 1911), "Wharfdale Landscape"


Mudpuddle said...

wonderful verse; wonderful pictures... you're so right about thought: most times it seems thinking is responsible for most of the woe around us... sometimes the motionless instances when we are startled by a particular beauty are the most memorable... i'll never forget walking around a bend in a forest path and finding a baby owl standing on the ground and staring at me with incorporeal intent...
hope you're feeling better...

Stephen Pentz said...

Mudpuddle: It's good to hear from you again. Thank you very much for your kind words about the post.

Yes, thinking: what are we to do about it? As you've heard me say here before, when I head out the door for my daily walk, I often remind myself: "No thinking!" But I always fail. Still, as you suggest, all can be unexpectedly redeemed by "the motionless instances" you refer to. Your anecdote about the baby owl is wonderful. I can understand why that moment has never left you.

As ever, thank you for visiting. Thank you for your thoughts about my health: everything seems to be under control now. The tests to rule things out are remarkable and interesting. For instance, during the echocardiogram, I could hear my blood making a squeaking, whooshing sound as it was pumped through my heart. That will give you a new perspective on the nature of our existence! At least it did for me.

Mudpuddle said...

i'm supposed to get an echocardiogram as well, but they either forgot about it or deemed it worth postponing; meanwhile, things internal seem to be behaving themselves... re thinking: i've been tempted by past realizations to label it a non-existent illusion, but i'm not entirely convinced... still, the thin film of life, so-called, on this minor planet in a universe stuffed with billions of suns and planets appears inconsequential at best... final decisions probably don't have much point: better, imo, to live in whatever-it-is in whatever peace we can summon up...

Stephen Pentz said...

Mudpuddle: Thank you for your follow-up observations. Your final thought is well put, and what it all boils down to, I think: "to live . . . in whatever peace we can summon up." There are countless ways of doing this (as countless as souls), but I often think that the haiku masters (Bashō springs immediately to mind), for all the vicissitudes of their lives, may have hit upon the right course: they are always bringing themselves back to the present moment (with an awareness of others, and without hedonism). Easier said than done, of course. But there are as many paths as there are souls.

Thanks again.

Martin Caseley said...

Thank you for 'Lark Descending', which was new to me. A couple of weeks ago, I was standing in Church Street, Malvern, Worcestershire, beneath a placque commemorating Marie Hall, the violinist for whom 'Lark Descending' was composed. I always find it very moving to read of how she busked for pennies early in her career in this steep street, in the shadow of the Malvern Hills.

Good to see your bog posts reappearing again after a few silences (entirely understandable) - best wishes.

Mary said...

Thank you for this lovely post. (I especially appreciated "trembling green constellations"; I love both stars and trees.)

These lines from the poem Return by Robinson Jeffers came to mind when I read what you said about thinking:

I will touch things and things and no more thoughts,
That breed like mouthless May-flies darkening the sky ...

It was good to be reminded in your post that thinking is overrated. Thanks again; I'm glad I found your blog.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Caseley: It's good to hear from you again. I'm pleased you liked "Lark Descending."

It's a lovely coincidence that you recently saw the blue plaque for Marie Hall in Malvern. I was able to find an image of it on the internet. (It's interesting to discover that she was a pupil of Elgar's.) Thank you for providing the information about her: although I have long been fond of "The Lark Ascending," I wasn't aware of her, or of her connection to the work and to Vaughan Williams. Time to revisit it.

Please accept my apologies for the delay in posting, and responding to, your comment. Thank you very much for visiting again. And thank you as well for your kind thoughts.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mary: Thank you very much for your kind words about the post, and about the blog. And thank you as well for sharing the lines from Jeffers, which are new to me: the image of thoughts as May-flies is wonderful. Thoughts can indeed be like a swarm of insects, can't they? Gnats also come to mind.

I'm pleased that you found your way here. I hope you will return.