Monday, May 6, 2019


As was the case around this time last year, a thousand-mile road trip has brought me to the shores of the Pacific on the Central Coast of California.  I have once again left the James Dean Memorial Junction (the fateful crossing of California 46 and California 41 out in the middle of a windy, dusty high plain) behind me.  From where I am staying, nothing but water lies between the edge of the continent and a point somewhere on the coastline of Honshu.  Small flocks of pelicans fly leisurely up and down the shoreline from morning until evening.  Inland, the slopes of the still spring-green hills -- usually dotted with live oaks (less so as one travels east) -- are covered in places with patches of purple, blue, orange, or yellow wildflower blossoms.

"As for our waking traffic with the world-at-large -- and how infinitesimal a fraction of that is solely ours -- what a medley this appears to be:  loose, chancey, piecemeal, formless.  From birthday to death-day we continue to collect and weave together the materials of our minute private universe, as a bird builds its nest, and out of a myriad heterogeneous scraps we give it a certain shape and coherence, wherein to lay our treasured brittle eggs.  But how little life itself respects the rational, adapts itself to our convenience, discloses its aim, explains the rules -- despite the fact that every thread of it that is ours is weaving itself into a gossamer fabric thinner even than dreamed-of moonshine, which we call the Past; and which, when in recollection we attempt to record and arrange it and to give it something of a pattern, we shall call autobiography. Nature, inscrutable mistress of her vast household, even although man assumes himself to be her fairy godchild, shows him a fickle favouritism, destroys him if he ignores her, and is indulgent only if he obeys to the last iota her every edict, her every whim.  She is; she perpetuates herself; as if she herself were bemused and in a dream -- with her seasons and her weather, her greenery and stars and her multitudes; creating, destroying, never at rest."

Walter de la Mare, Behold, This Dreamer! (Faber and Faber 1939), page 67.

The First of May, 2019

Ah, the conundrum of what books to bring along on a journey! Anthologies are always good choices.  Hence, I have with me Behold, This Dreamer!  But calling de la Mare's wonderful compendium an anthology does not do it justice.  The volume's full title has a classic English 17th or 18th century feel to it:  Behold, This Dreamer!  Of Reverie, Night, Sleep, Dream, Love-Dreams, Nightmare, Death, the Unconscious, the Imagination, Divination, the Artist, and Kindred Subjects.  "Kindred Subjects," indeed.  In fact, de la Mare's subjects include the whole of the World and all of Life.  Nothing lies outside the book's borders.


Even the owls are lyrical
     When the moon's right,
And we have no patience with the stars
     On a dusty night.

Love is dull with the mood wrong,
     And age may outsing youth,
For there is no measuring a song,
     Nor counting upon truth.

All's well, and then a flood of loss
     Surges upon delight,
While the rose buds upon the cross,
     And the blind have sight.

Morning wisdom vanishes,
     And dusk brings dread
That stalwart sleep banishes
     Ere primes are said.

He who is sure, has all to learn;
     Who fears, but fears in vain?
For never a day does the year turn,
     But it shall turn again.

John Drinkwater, in Walter de la Mare, Behold, This Dreamer!, page 656.  The poem was originally published in Drinkwater's Summer Harvest: Poems 1924-1933 (Sidgwick & Jackson 1933).

The First of May, 2019

A few days ago, while strolling on the Pismo Beach pier, I passed an elderly gentleman sitting on a bench in the sun, strumming a guitar and singing:  "Oh, sweet darling, you get the best of my love . . ."  I suspect this elderly gentleman and I hail from the same vanished time and place.  Having spent the years from 1967 through 1978 (aged 11 through 22) along the southern and central California coast, a song such as this has a certain evocative quality for me.  There comes a time in one's life when entire eras return in an instant, exactly as they were, with all emotions intact.  This can be a mixed blessing.  But, of course, being here to experience the blessing, mixed or not, is, in and of itself, the greatest blessing of all.

Look downward in the silent pool:
The weeds cling to the ground they love;
They live so quietly, are so cool;
They do not need to think, or move.

Look down in the unconscious mind:
There everything is quiet too
And deep and cool, and you will find
Calm growth and nothing hard to do,
And nothing that need trouble you.

Harold Monro, in Walter de la Mare, Behold, This Dreamer!, page 549.  The poem was originally published in Monro's Real Property (The Poetry Bookshop 1922) as the fifth poem in a sequence titled "The Silent Pool."

The First of May, 2019


Don Wentworth said...


First thoughts, best thoughts - one often stumbles on, falters at, the Buddha's First Noble Truth - all is suffering - and is stuck, for life, or what passes for it.

However, these (aka your) thoughts, elicit the secret of secrets, the joy of, and beyond, suffering. It is all one packet, whether one chooses to venture through to other truths, no matter the tradition, or via no traditon at all. The genius of these oft forgotten writers you evoke - de la Mare, Drinkwater and Monro - is in the clarity of their vision, in their presence in the eternal moment.

As I listen to a lovely dirge by Eric Dolphy on bass clarinet, I give thanks for this little slice of morning - reading your words, hearing these notes, living this life.


Stephen Pentz said...

Don: Thank you very much for those lovely thoughts, as well as for your kind words about the post.

That "secret of secrets" is what we all are searching for (consciously or unconsciously), isn't it? I certainly cannot claim to have found it, so I rely upon those like de la Mare, Drinkwater, and Monro (and all the others who appear here) for passing glimpses. I wholly agree with your observation that their "genius . . . is in the clarity of their vision, in their presence in the eternal moment." This is true of all the best poetry and prose, isn't it? (The Japanese haiku and waka poets (who we both admire) are the perfect exemplars of this.)

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

Nikki said...

I first read "The Listeners" when I was very a very young girl. It made a lasting, lifelong impression -- the mystery, the moonlight, the haunting loneliness -- it captures the yearning for the unknowable to me that is within all of us. Thank you again for this wonderful blog.

Stephen Pentz said...

Nikki: Yes, "The Listeners" is wonderful, isn't it? Your description of the poem -- "the mystery, the moonlight, the haunting loneliness" -- also describes, I think, the essence of de la Mare's work as a whole (both his poetry and fiction), as does your further comment: "it captures the yearning for the unknowable that is within all of us." I grow fonder and fonder of de la Mare with each passing year.

As always, thank you very much for your kind words about the blog. And thank you for visiting again.

Goethe Girl said...

Love the pictures!

Stephen Pentz said...

Goethe Girl: It's great to hear from you again. I'm pleased you liked the photos. The World can be spare, yet strikingly beautiful, if you leave the coast and travel eastward into the hills. Thank you very much for your kind words.

I hope that all is well with you. I look forward to more photos from you this coming summer on Goethe Etc. if you once again travel to B. C. Thank you for stopping by.

James said...

Always I seem touched by what I often take to be your equanimity, but I know its not exactly that but actually something beyond this world... and so then I am reminded of that Beyond... though The Listeners isn't here that undiluted moment out of time it is about, some of that is always here in your blog...

I went back to remind myself of The Listeners... it has been used more than once to symbolize our search for Other Life... like you - and I say that only suspecting - but like you I often think our gaze is in the wrong direction. Other Life is always here... has always been here... and is all around us. We successfully ignore it... too successfully at our own peril...

Even in The Listeners, reading between the lines, the Traveler has an answer... in that stillness... and there is more than one thing in that stillness...

Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,

And the sound of iron on stone,

And how the silence surged softly backward,

When the plunging hoofs were gone.

The silence surged... and the hoofs... plunged... and that sound of iron on stone and his foot in the stirrup... all those sounds, with that Stillness, fill the air... his answer was that Other Life...

And he felt in his heart their strangeness,

Their stillness answering his cry...

And I think of your blog like that stillness, a quiet pool or lake, reflecting Everything, reminded of that Other Life that keeps us company always.

Stephen Pentz said...

James: It's good to hear from you again. Thank you very much for your kind words about the blog. "The Listeners" is a strange, wonderful, and inexhaustible poem, isn't it? I do believe that (to use your words) "Other Life is always here." Although I am not capable of creating something as fine as "The Listeners," I would be pleased if my posts (through the poets and the artists, not my own inadequate words) now and then provide reminders of that "Other Life," for, as you say, it "keeps us company always."

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