Sunday, July 28, 2019

Three Thoughts

One evening this past week, after sundown, I sat beside an open window that looks on to the back garden, reading Wordsworth's "Louisa: After Accompanying Her on a Mountain Excursion."  I soon heard, from a few blocks away, a live band begin to play.  A birthday party?  A wedding reception?  Simply a summer soirée?

I read and I listened.  I discovered that the band was playing mostly Top 40 songs from the 1970s:  my high school and college years.  I was compelled to pay closer attention, for part of my life was being played back to me.  I bid farewell to Louisa.  The sound came and went on the breeze:  it took me 30 seconds or so to recognize each song after it began.  "Take It Easy."  Of course.  "Blue Bayou" (via Linda Ronstadt, I presume, not Roy Orbison).  Steve Miller's "Jungle Love."  And so on.

Later in the evening came a moment of inspiration from whoever was selecting the songs for the band's playlist:  "Amie" by Pure Prairie League.  What a wonderful surprise.  I always loved that song, but I hadn't thought of it for years.  The World is forever bestowing unbidden gifts upon us.

Earlier in the week, while browsing in F. L. Lucas's Greek Poetry for Everyman, I came upon this:

Of the Gods and these other matters none knows the verity --
No man that lived before us, no man that yet shall be.
However full-perfected the system he hath made,
Its maker knoweth nothing.  With fancy all's o'erlaid.

Xenophanes (c. 570 - c. 478 B.C.) (translated by F. L. Lucas), in F. L. Lucas, Greek Poetry for Everyman (J. M. Dent 1951), p. 257.

A fine thought.  Beware of the architects, and the bearers, of systems. We are all ignorant.  The sooner we acknowledge our ignorance, the better.

Bertram Priestman (1868-1951), "Wooded Hillside" (1910)

I have spent most of this month with ancient Greek poets, Walter Pater, and William Wordsworth.  This was not a plan, just a happy accident.  I am finding they go well together.  A day or so after reading the four lines by Xenophanes, I read this:

"He was always a seeker after something in the world that is there in no satisfying measure, or not at all."

Walter Pater, from "A Prince of Court Painters," Imaginary Portraits (Macmillan 1890), page 48.

Another fine thought.  A lovely thought.  Or so it seems to me.  A thought that some may feel the force of.  Others, not.  That's how these things go.

Bertram Priestman, "Suffolk Water Meadows" (1906)

Awaiting me at the end of the week was this:

Treat well the living.  Dead men are but dust
And shadow:  our nothingness to nothing goes.

Euripides (translator unknown), in T. F. Higham and C. M. Bowra (editors), The Oxford Book of Greek Verse in Translation (Oxford University Press 1938), page 460.  The lines are from Meleager, a play of which only fragments exist.

A third fine thought.  The lines brought Philip Larkin to mind:

. . . we should be careful

Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.

Philip Larkin, "The Mower," in Philip Larkin, Collected Poems (Faber and Faber/The Marvell Press 1988).

Those are the three thoughts that came my way this week.  I feel fortunate they found me.

One more thought:  the hydrangeas in this part of the world seem unusually brilliant this year.  The blue takes your breath away.  I wonder:  has this always been the case?  Have I been asleep all these years?

Bertram Priestman, "Wareham Channel, Dorset" (1910)


Tim Guirl said...

Thank you for another good post, Mr. Pentz. "Treat well the living. Dead men are but dust And shadow: our nothingness to nothing goes." These words, and the poet, are new to me, but sound like they could have been plucked from the books of Proverbs or Ecclesiastes.

You have posted the lines from Philip Larkin before. They are something to ponder well and live out. Your posts over the years have given me much to think about.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Guirl: Thank you -- that's very nice of you to say. For my part, I'm grateful for your long-term presence here.

That's a wonderful observation you make about those lines: they do have an Old Testament (King James Version) feeling and sound to them, don't they? The thread of our mortality runs consistently through many ancient texts, doesn't it? But usually not in a self-pitying or despairing fashion; rather, it is simply a fact to be recognized. (I think, for instance, of the many poems in The Greek Anthology about seafarers who perish at sea, far from home, and are buried on the strand.) It is good to return to that view of the World: a reminder of the continuity of human experience over the centuries.

Yes, the lines from Larkin have appeared here before: several times, for they are lines that have stayed with me since I first read them. I wholly agree with your thought that "they are something to ponder well and live out."

I hope that you and your wife are enjoying your retirement. As ever, thank you very much for visiting.

George said...

I think that the color of hydrangeas depend on breed, and perhaps soil.Anyway, ours--pink to purple--are starting to be burnt by the heat. I trust yours will last longer. I was interested last year in England to see hydrangeas doing well when ours in Washington, DC, had turned brown.

George said...

And I should say that I always liked that song, though I supposed the name was "Amy".

Zeque said...

I've been reading your blog for years and enjoy it thoroughly. The poems are wonderful and the art, well being an inveterate woods walker, the art speaks directly to my soul and cheers me immensely. Sick of vicious and venal celebrity politics, I recently canceled my subscription to the New York Times. Instead, each morning I am going to read your blog. If there is no new post, I'll just dip into the archive. Like I did this morning, reading the "Anew" post from January 1, 2018. Perfectly fitting.

To wake, alive, in this world,
What happiness!
Winter rain.

That's worth knowing. Cheers, JM

Stephen Pentz said...

George: It's good to hear from you again. Thank you for both of those thoughts.

I'm ignorant when it comes to gardening, but I had heard that the pH level of the soil can determine the color of certain types of hydrangeas. Thus (as I'm sure you know), those who are savvy can contrive to control the color of the blossoms. As is the case with your part of the world, the hydrangeas here have begun to dry out as well, due to a recent run of hot days. (Although our "hot" days are not in the same league as those where you live!)

I'm happy to hear that you also are fond of "Amie." I was quite pleased to have it suddenly and unexpectedly arrive on the evening breeze -- accompanied by the past.

As always, thank you very much for stopping by.

Stephen Pentz said...

Zeque/JM: Thank you very much for your kind words. I greatly appreciate your long-term presence here.

As for cancelling your New York Times subscription: well done. I am not picking on the Times: it does what it does, as do all other purveyors of "news." I pay them no mind. As you know from reading the blog, our politicized culture greatly troubles me (as it does many others), and the consumption of "news" in any form only worsens the disease. (And please don't get me started on Twitter and other "social" media.)

But "news" has always been a blight on the daily effort to live a good life, hasn't it? Mary Coleridge's poem "No Newspapers" (more than a century old), which has appeared here on more than one occasion, addresses the subject well. As does (more caustically) Stephen Crane's untitled poem beginning "A newspaper is a collection of half-injustices . . .," which has also appeared here. Nothing has changed since the poem was published in 1899: "A newspaper is a market/Where wisdom sells its freedom/And melons are crowned by the crowd . . . A collection of loud tales/Concentrating eternal stupidities." Newspapers, and now television and the Internet.

As for replacing the morning Times with First Known When Lost blog entries: well, that's extremely nice of you to say: you are too kind. But, a caution: please disregard my text and read the poems and enjoy the paintings -- I am only the messenger. The lovely haiku you quote is a fine example. As I mentioned in a recent post, I begin each day by reading a poem. I can't imagine reading, watching, or listening to the "news" each morning.

Thank you again for your kind words. I hope you will keep returning.

Unknown said...

Thank you for the reminder of Linda Ronstadt, it led to a gentle wander through the music of the time following a twisting trail via James Taylor, Crosby, Stills and Nash, and culminating, for some serendipitous reason with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. A nostalgic trip. Thanks again

Stephen Pentz said...

Unknown: Thank you for reminding me of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band! I went through a period in my youth when I spent a great deal of time listening to the albums "Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy," "All the Good Times," and, of course, "Will the Circle Be Unbroken." Yes, "a nostalgic trip," as you say.

Thank you very much for visiting, and for your thoughts.