Saturday, June 29, 2019


I am easy to please.  Mind you, I make no claim to uniqueness of character or to philosophical attainment.  No, any easy-to-pleaseness that I may possess is, I suspect, due in large part to growing old.  I can perhaps trace it back to the day when it occurred to me that, purely as a matter of simple, incontrovertible numerical reckoning, the number of years left to me above ground was now, beyond a doubt, less than the number of years I had already lived.

A thought of this sort tends to focus your attention.  After the initial dismay and wonderment pass ("where did all those years go?"), you may develop a new sense of what is important, what is not.  There is certainly no reason to brood over what is unchangeable:  a boundary has been set.  So be it.  No need to mourn.  At the same time, a feeling of freedom arrives.  And that which is extraneous begins to drop away, day by day.  Vistas open up.  After all, why not live?

                    The Traveler's Moon

A traveler has come from south of the Yangtze;
when he set out, the moon was a mere crescent.
During the long long stages of his journey
three times he saw its clear light rounded.
At dawn he followed a setting moon,
evenings lodged with a moon newly risen.
Who says the moon has no heart?
A thousand long miles it's followed me.
This morning I set out from Wei River Bridge,
by evening had entered the streets of Ch'ang-an.
And now I wonder about the moon --
whose house will that traveler put up at tonight?

Po Chü-i (772-846) (translated by Burton Watson), in Po Chü-i, Selected Poems (Columbia University Press 2000), page 109.

Harald Sohlberg (1869-1935), "Night" (1904)

Each morning, I read a poem to start the day.  One morning this past week I read "The Traveler's Moon."  After doing so, a Japanese waka came immediately to mind.  Or at least the gist of it.  I went to one of my bookshelves, and found it where I suspected it was.

     Down from the mountain,
The moon
     Accompanied me,
And when I opened the gate,
The moon too entered.

Kotomichi (1798-1868) (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 3: Summer-Autumn (Hokuseido Press 1952), page 388.

Kotomichi's poem has stayed with me since the day I first read it. How lovely it was to now discover Po Chü-i's poem, and to have the both of them together, paired, for the rest of my life.  At around 8:30 in the morning, my day was already overflowing.  I read no more poems that day.  The two poems deserved to be left alone.  I was content to let them sit.  I am easy to please.

Harald Sohlberg, "Flower Meadow in the North" (1905)

Tuesday, June 18, 2019


Today, as I walked beneath a green-canopied tree tunnel, I remembered that the summer solstice will arrive later this week. Despite the vaulting, airy boughs above me, the late afternoon -- grey, windless, still -- felt  somehow stifled and close.  It did not seem as though summer was poised to make a grand and sweeping entrance.

Soon after I emerged from the green light of the trees, the word "susurration" floated up.  I have no idea why.  But, yes, the grey and breathless afternoon was indeed in need of a susurration.

I continued to walk.  A few minutes later, as I neared home, a brief breeze stirred the leaves of a pear tree next to the sidewalk.  Drops of water from an earlier rain shower pattered from the leaves onto my shoulders.  A susurration.


Repose is in simplicities.
Perhaps the mind has leaves like trees
Involving the luxurious sun
And tossed by wind's intricacies,
And finds repose is more than grief
When failing light and falling leaf
Denote that winter has begun.

James Reeves, The Imprisoned Sea (Poetry London 1949).

Charles Kerr (1858-1907), "Carradale"

All is well with the World.  Meanwhile, in this odd and wonderful country of mine, land that I love, there are those who are already in the thrall of next year's presidential election.  Every four years we witness a battle to the death between Absolute Good and Absolute Evil, with the Fate of the Republic at stake.  I have now lived through sixteen of these contests for the Soul and the Destiny of the nation.  I continue to wait for the sky to fall.

As I write this, the robins warble and chatter in the garden outside my window.  The sun will set before they stop for the day.  Tomorrow morning, they will begin again well before it rises.


Through the pale green forest of tall bracken-stalks,
Whose interwoven fronds, a jade-green sky,
Above me glimmer, infinitely high,
Towards my giant hand a beetle walks
In glistening emerald mail; and as I lie
Watching his progress through huge grassy blades
And over pebble boulders, my own world fades
And shrinks to the vision of a beetle's eye.

Within that forest world of twilight green
Ambushed with unknown perils, one endless day
I travel down the beetle-trail between
Huge glossy boles through green infinity . . .
Till flashes a glimpse of blue sea through the bracken asway,
And my world is again a tumult of windy sea.

Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, Neighbours (Macmillan 1920).

William Lamond (1857-1924), "A Coastal Village"

Sunday, June 2, 2019


A four-line poem written in China in the Fourth or Fifth Century A.D. Perhaps a song.  The poet is unknown.

I heard my love was going to Yang-chow
And went with him as far as Ch'u Hill.
For a moment, when you held me fast in your outstretched arms
I thought the river stood still and did not flow.

Anonymous (translated by Arthur Waley), in Arthur Waley, Chinese Poems (George Allen and Unwin 1946).

Long-time readers of this blog may recall my two essential poetic principles (i. e., truisms that no doubt try your patience by now).  The first:  It is the individual poem that matters, not the poet.  And, begging your forbearance, the second:  Explanation and explication are the death of poetry.

A poem such as this is timeless and eternal.  It comes from China and from the universe.  Of its Beauty and Truth, nothing more need be said.

Thomas Hennell (1903-1945)
"The Guest House, Cerne Abbas" (1940)

Nothing more need be said.  But, if we are lucky, those four lines may cause us to catch our breath:  Ah, yes, I know, I know, I know.  

                      While You Slept

You never knew what I saw while you slept.
We drove up a wide green stone-filled valley.
Around us were empty heather mountains.
A white river curved quickly beside us.
I thought to wake you when I saw the cairn --
A granite pillar of that country's past --
But I let you sleep without that history.
You did, however, travel through that place:
I can tell you that your eyes were at rest
As the momentous world moved beyond you,
And that you breathed in peace that quarter hour.
We seldom know what is irreplaceable.
You sang old songs for me, then fell asleep.
I worried about what you were missing.
But you missed nothing.  And I was the one who slept.

sip (Glen Coe, Scotland, c. 1986).

Thomas Hennell, "The Beech Avenue, Lasham" (1941)