Sunday, November 24, 2019

Our Place

A few days ago, I walked down an alley of trees that, in spring and summer, is my favorite tunnel of leaves.  I had been away for nearly a week.  I noticed that, in my absence, nearly all the leaves had fallen, save for a few lonely, rattling survivors here and there, hanging on, fluttering back and forth in the wind.

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?

                       The Spider

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"


Jane the Booklady said...

Dear Stephen,
It is a while since I have left a comment but I have still been enjoying every one of your inspiring posts.
I am sure you already know the poem but when I find myself grieving for the loss of leaves from the trees, I remember this first verse:

Autumn Roy Campbell

I love to see when leaves depart,
The clear anatomy arrive,
Winter, the paragon of art,
That kills all forms of life and feeling
Save what is pure and will survive.

I love the clear beauty of branches and twigs, especially against the skyline of the West Country's smooth hills.

It is a little early but here's to a Happy Christmas and New Year,
with all best wishes, Jane

Deborah Vass said...

You speak of gifts that arrive unexpectedly, and this was one, perfectly timed in my inbox. I was so moved by it. All all of these are new to me and will be treasured.

Stephen Pentz said...

Jane: It's good to hear from you again. Thank you very much for your kind words.

Thank you for sharing the lovely lines from Roy Campbell, which are new to me. (I have only encountered a few of his poems in anthologies. I have often told myself that I need to explore his poetry further.) I found the poem on the Internet in order to read the rest of it -- I was pleased to find the line about the geese "harnessed to the moon": autumn is not autumn without geese overhead.

Thank you for the holiday wishes. They don't seem early: tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day over here, when the holiday season begins in earnest -- a few of the houses in my neighborhood are already decorated with Christmas lights! Merry Christmas and Happy new year to you as well.

Stephen Pentz said...

Ms. Vass: Thank you very much. I'm happy you liked the post, and the poems. I'm fond of them, particularly "Reciprocity," so I'm pleased they resonate with you as well. As always, thank you for visiting.

Nikki said...

Thank you for this blog.

George said...

The last two days we raked a fair number of leaves to the curb, and today it rained--a cold rain. I found myself thinking of the end of John Crowe Ransom's poem Conrad in Twilight.

Embracing a feeling of bleakness seems reasonable to me. Welcoming it may be a luxury for those of us assured of a sound roof and a warm house. Still, a lot of us do welcome this weather.

Stephen Pentz said...

Nikki: You're welcome. I'm pleased you liked it. As always, thank you for stopping by.

Stephen Pentz said...

George: Thank you very much for those thoughts. I agree: a feeling of bleakness is not necessarily a thing to avoid (nor is it avoidable, despite our efforts).

Your reference to Ransom's poem sent me to his Selected Poems (the 1969 "Third Edition, Revised and Enlarged"). As you know, he was wont to revisit and recast his poems, and the poem you mention received this treatment: from "Conrad in Twilight" to "Conrad Sits in Twilight" to "Master's in the Garden Again." I'm surmising that your reference is to the passage containing these two lines (which survive intact from the first version to the last): "Autumn days in our section/Are the most used-up thing on earth." It is indeed a fine passage, and those are lovely lines. Very apt.

It's nice to hear from you again. Thank you for visiting.