The day was grey and cold. I was nearly embracing a feeling of bleakness when, suddenly, a grey dove flew up out of the brown wild grass meadow to the left of me, crossed over the path in front of me, and disappeared into the depths of a pine tree off in the meadow to the right.
These surprises -- reminders, messages, gifts -- often seem to arrive when we most need them, don't they?
I do not think that skies and meadows are
Moral, or that the fixture of a star
Comes of a quiet spirit, or that trees
Have wisdom in their windless silences.
Yet these are things invested in my mood
With constancy, and peace, and fortitude,
That in my troubled season I can cry
Upon the wide composure of the sky,
And envy fields, and wish that I might be
As little daunted as a star or tree.
John Drinkwater, Tides (Sidgwick & Jackson 1917).
Joshua Anderson Hague (1850-1916), "Landscape in North Wales"
Please bear with me, dear readers: "Reciprocity" is one of my favorite poems, and it has appeared here on several occasions. After the encounter with the lone dove, I thought of it. I also thought of it a few months ago, when I read this:
Weighing the stedfastness and state
Of some mean things which here below reside,
Where birds like watchful Clocks the noiseless date
And Intercourse of times divide,
Where Bees at night get home and hive, and flowers
Early, as well as late,
Rise with the Sun, and set in the same bowers;
I would (said I) my God would give
The staidness of these things to man! for these
To his divine appointments ever cleave,
And no new business breaks their peace;
The birds nor sow, nor reap, yet sup and dine,
The flowers without clothes live,
Yet Solomon was never drest so fine.
Man hath still either toys, or Care,
He hath no root, nor to one place is ty'd,
But ever restless and Irregular
About this Earth doth run and ride,
He knows he hath a home, but scarce knows where,
He says it is so far
That he hath quite forgot how to go there.
He knocks at all doors, strays and roams,
Nay hath not so much wit as some stones have
Which in the darkest nights point to their homes,
By some hid sense their Maker gave;
Man is the shuttle, to whose winding quest
And passage through these looms
God order'd motion, but ordain'd no rest.
Henry Vaughan, Silex Scintillans (1650), in Donald Dickson, Alan Rudrum, and Robert Wilcher (editors), The Works of Henry Vaughan, Volume I: Introduction and Texts 1646-1652 (Oxford University Press 2018). "Toys" (line 15) likely means "whims." Donald Dickson, Alan Rudrum, and Robert Wilcher (editors), The Works of Henry Vaughan, Volume III: Commentaries and Bibliography (Oxford University Press 2018), p. 975 (citing The Oxford English Dictionary).
"Man" and "Reciprocity" both put me in mind of a phrase by William Wordsworth that appears near the end (lines 928 and 929) of Book I ("The Wanderer") of The Excursion: "the calm oblivious tendencies of nature."
Joshua Anderson Hague, "Late Autumn"
Each autumn, I grieve for the loss of the leaves. The ever-turning kaleidoscope of innumerable greens overhead. The flickering, swaying patterns of light and shadow on the ground. And the sound -- at all times, and in all weathers, the sound.
But this afternoon, walking beneath the spacious empty branches of a long row of trees, I wondered about my grieving. The day was windless and the trees were absolutely silent. The silence was breathtaking. As was the look of the declining yellow light on the trunks of the trees, on the thousands and thousands of twigs and branches. The World was aglow. Silent and aglow.
As I walked home, Philip Larkin's line from a poem about spring came to mind: "Begin afresh, afresh, afresh." Well, that's the way of the World, isn't it?
There is craft in this smallest insect,
with strands of web spinning out his thoughts;
in his tiny body finding rest,
and with the wind lightly turning.
Before the eaves he stakes out his broad earth;
for a moment on the hedge top lives through his life.
The ten thousand things should all be thus,
the way the Creator meant us to be.
Sugawara no Michizane (845-903) (translated by Burton Watson), in Burton Watson, Japanese Literature in Chinese, Volume I: Poetry and Prose in Chinese by Japanese Writers of the Early Period (Columbia University Press 1975), page 107.
Joshua Anderson Hague, "Haymaking"