Wednesday, March 18, 2020

A Thought In Passing

The neighborhood dogs are quite pleased with the current state of affairs.  People are working at home.  The schools are closed.  The weather has been lovely.  What better thing for a family to do than take a walk, or frolic in the park?  I have been doing so nearly every afternoon for many years, and I always return home in a state of contentment.

Look at the dogs walking with their families, or chasing a ball in the park:  they seem a bit perplexed by this sudden turn of events; but, dwellers in the moment that they are, they couldn't be happier -- more time with the people they love!  We humans are alone with our thoughts, as ever.  Well, thinking about the plague isn't going to change anything.  Why not go for a walk?  You never know what you may come across as you fare through the World.

               The Mayo Tao

I have abandoned the dream kitchens for a low fire
     and a prescriptive
          literature of the spirit.
A storm snores on the desolate sea.

The nearest shop is four miles away.
     When I walk there
          through the shambles of the morning
for tea and firelighters,
     the mountain paces me
          in a snow-lit silence.

My days are spent in conversation
     with stags and blackbirds;
          at night fox and badger
               gather at my door.

I have stood for hours watching
     a salmon doze
          in the tea-gold dark,
for weeks watching a spider weave
     in a pale light, for months
listening to the sob-story
     of a stone on the road --
          the best, most monotonous
sob-story I have ever heard.

I am an expert on frost crystals
     and the silence of crickets,
a confidant of the stinking shore,
     the stars in the mud.

(There is an immanence in these things
     which drives me, despite
          my scepticism, almost
     to the point of speech --
          like sunlight cleaving
     the lake mist at morning
or when tepid water runs cold at last from the tap.)

I have been working for years
     on a four-line poem
          about the life of a leaf.
I think it may come out right this winter.

Derek Mahon, Poems 1962-1978 (Oxford University Press 1979).

James McIntosh Patrick (1907-1998), "Springtime in Eskdale" (1935)


Deb said...

What a perfect poem! Thank you

Jane the Booklady said...

Good morning Stephen,
Thank you, as always for your beautiful posts, they never fail to lift my spirits and so often inspire me.
I am borrowing this poem to put on my celebrant's page- I hope it will cheer people in isolation.
I hope you keep well in these troubles times
best wishes Jane

hart said...

I love that poem, perfect for now. I've sent it to a couple of friends.

John Maruskin said...

That's a Wonderful poem. It's essentially a description of my life over the past 20 years (good luck that frequently flabbergasts me), so I'll keep it as a credo. It cracks me up when I hear scientific speculation about closing in on animal, vegetable and mineral intelligence and feelings. That every being on this planet is sentient is obvious. To know that just watch, listen, engage, and reply. Like Derek Mahon. (I am NOT a science denier. I'm just amused by its prejudices.)

Last night I read "The Barrel-Organ" a story by Eleanor Farjeon in her book, The Little Book-Room. Farjeon was a superb writer. I highly recommend her story, "Elsie Piddock Skips in Her Sleep."

"The Barrel-Organ" is about traveler who loses his way at night in a wood and is surprised to see a barrel-organ grinder. The grinder says he used to perform in the city and everyone would dance to his music; but then he got sick and while he couldn't play he was replaced by another grinder and the gramophone

When the traveler wonders who will dance in a wood, the grinder answers: "There's no want of dancers in a wood." And then the narrator explains:

"As soon as the tune started, the Traveller felt the grass and the leaves flutter as before, and in a moment the air was full of moths and fireflies, and the sky was full of stars, come out to dance like children in a back street. And it seemed to the Traveller, by the light of the dancing stars, that flowers came up in the wood where a moment before there had been none, pushing their way in haste through the moss to sway to the tune on their stalks, and that two or three little streams began to run where a moment before they had been still...The wood was quite full of dancing from top to toe."

It's the Vernal Equinox. Spring. Right outside my window the red-winged blackbirds are back, jubilantly gleeing in the rain, making quite a celebration.

Looong comment. Time to stop. But that is a wonderful poem. And I'm an old librarian and book clerk who loves to recommend stories, and some situations just elicit congeniality.

Great poem. Bravo! Happy Spring.

Spottydog said...

I love that my dog lives in the moment with such joy.
I love 'The Mayo Tao'.
I love that you write these posts (thank you).There is much to love in this crazy world.

Bruce Floyd said...

In this time of the virus, when we are asked, or ordered, to remain in place, I hear some chaffing (even some whining) from those immured from the world outside, that world with its many glittering distractions. One acquaintance of mine, a widower, complained to me that his life, lonely enough as it was, is tenfold more lonely now since he is restricted from leaving his cottage in a retirement community. "I am so lonely," he laments to me. It seems, or so I read in various places, that loneliness is, like this new disease, epidemic in our culture. Sepulchered from the world, I submit, can have its virtues to one hidden away. Have we forgotten to be by ourselves? Why this addiction to distraction, this propensity to action, to be always doing something? Do we not like the thoughts that come in solitude?

Long after Emily Dickinson died and her remarkable poems became available, readers of her poems, when they examined what they thought was a rigorously circumscribed life--Miss Emily's never leaving the house, her flitting about inside, always wearing a white dress--speculated, "Oh, how lonely her life must have been," a statement which implies Dickinson suffered from some form of mental illness. "She was deeply agoraphobic," a friend once said to me about Dickinson, "just a notch or two above being crazy." Dickinson, thanks to her brilliant poetry barely escapes being referred to as just another "mad woman in the attic."

Dickinson's sister, Lavinia, when asked about Emily's loneliness, said quickly, with no equivocation, "Emily was never lonely." We don't have to take Emily's sister's word; we have the word of Miss Emily herself:

Alone, I cannot be—
For Hosts—do visit me—
Recordless Company—
Who baffle Key—

They have no Robes, nor Names—
No Almanacs—nor Climes—
But general Homes
Like Gnomes—

Their Coming, may be known
By Couriers within—
Their going—is not—
For they've never gone—

Bruce Post said...

Stephen, I have not posted a comment for quite some time, but current affairs have prompted me to think of the title of your blog and, of course, Edward Thomas' poem by that name. I wonder how many people, mired in this international pandemic, will come to know the sentiment expressed by Thomas in that poem? How many will end up missing or mourning that which they have seen or experienced almost daily, but overlooked because of their lack of mindfulness.

I am following your advice by going for walks along a well-worn path through the Vermont woods behind my home. As I walk, I now have begun to hear the wild geese "heading home again" and I am "among the trees" that "give off such hints of gladness." It is good to recall Mary Oliver's poems in these encounters. And, I also have Edward Thomas as a companion so that I begin notice the things that "have hidden so near" along my ramble. Then, when I return home, it is always spirit-lifting to turn to your writings and observations.

Thank you.

Mary F.Ahearn said...

I love this poem so much - thank you for posting it. This surely is a time for deep reflection, for looking at the natural world ever so much more closely than ever. It's beauty is solace. It always has been a big part of the great scheme for me, a place that quiets me, heals me. I hope it does so for so many more these very anxious days. Perhaps some of the children will learn the value, the peace, of losing themselves in the natural world, away from our screen life.
Thanks again. I will be adding this poem to my little book of words I love.

Stephen Pentz said...

Deb: I'm pleased you like it. As I'm sure you know, one of the wonderful things about reading poems is that they often resurface on their own accord at the right time. Clever and beneficent creations they are, waiting there inside us. I'm always thankful for their arrival. And thankful, of course, for Mr. Mahon.

I hope that all is well with you. Thank you very much for stopping by again.

Stephen Pentz said...

Jane: Thank you very much for your kind words. I'm happy that you will be sharing the poem with others. I do hope that it will be helpful to those who come across it. Returning to it brought some serenity, and perspective, to me.

Thank you for taking the time to visit. I wish you the best as well.

Stephen Pentz said...

hart: It is lovely, isn't it? And I agree that it is "perfect for now."

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

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Maruskin: Thank you very much for those thoughts. I agree with your observations about the sentience of the World around us, and the sometimes misguided presumptions of science. I suspect you are familiar with one of Ludwig Wittgenstein's thoughts on this subject: "We feel that even when all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life remain completely untouched. Of course there are then no questions left, and this itself is the answer." Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Proposition 6.52 (translated by David Pears and Brian McGuinness).

Thank you very much for the references to Eleanor Farjeon and her work. I have never read any of her children's stories, so I appreciate your sharing the passage from "The Barrel-Organ." It is lovely, and immediately brought to mind Edward Thomas, who, as I'm sure you know, was close to Farjeon. Due to my fondness for Thomas, I read Farjeon's Edward Thomas: The Last Four Years (which, again, I'm sure you are aware of). It is wonderful, and quite moving. I can feel him in that passage (which isn't to say that Farjeon wasn't marvelously creative in her own right - she was). I have come across several of her poems in anthologies, and I ought to read more of them. Here is a lovely one from Walter de la Mare's wonderful anthology Come Hither:

The Night Will Never Stay

The night will never stay,
The night will still go by,
Though with a million stars
You pin it to the sky;
Though you bind it with the blowing wind
And buckle it with the moon,
The night will slip away
Like sorrow or a tune.

Finally, thank you for your thoughts on the arrival of spring. I particularly enjoyed the reference to the red-winged blackbirds. They are a rare sight in Seattle, but your mentioning them brings back fond memories of seeing them all the time during my Minnesota childhood -- a memory that has never left me: red-winged blackbirds and cattails.

Thank you very much for stopping by again, and for sharing your thoughts.

Stephen Pentz said...

Spottydog: Wonderful thoughts! I completely agree: "There is much to love in this crazy world." And much to be grateful for.

Thank you very much for your kind words, and for visiting again. Best wishes.

Stephen Pentz said...

Bruce: Thank you very much for your thoughts on solitude and, as ever, for providing a Dickinsonian view on things with the gift of yet another lovely poem of hers (which is new to me). It fits well with Pascal's well-known observation: "All the misfortune of men proceeds from their not knowing how to keep themselves quiet in their chamber." (Translation by Joseph Walker.) As a supplement to your thoughts, I would add this from George Gissing (from The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft): "More than half a century of existence has taught me that most of the wrong and folly which darken earth is due to those who cannot possess their souls in quiet; that most of the good which saves mankind from destruction comes of life that is led in thoughtful stillness. Every day the world grows noisier; I, for one, will have no part in that increasing clamour, and, were it only by my silence, I confer a boon on all."

Thank you again.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Post: It's great to hear from you again. Thank you very much for those observations. I hadn't thought of "First Known When Lost" since this turn of events, so it's wonderful to have you bring it up. We should all strive to remain awake and attentive to the World, shouldn't we? As Edward Thomas tells us (and himself): "Strange it could have hidden so near!" We ought to remind ourselves of this every day. Sometimes it takes a shock to bring this truth home. There are many reasons why I go on walks, but chief among them is to remind myself to pay attention and to be grateful. It is a daily struggle.

Thank you very much for your kind words about the blog, and for taking the time to post a comment. I'm delighted to know that you are still visiting after all these years.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mary: I'm pleased you like the poem. I completely agree with your thoughts about the natural world and the peace it can bring. I have been noticing all week that the large park (Discovery Park) that is a 10-minute walk from my house has been unusually crowded with families making the best of this situation (and the unusually sunny Seattle weather). As I said in my post, everybody is home, so why not go for a walk? The park has been full of the sound of children enjoying themselves. It is heartening.

I hadn't heard from you for a while, so I was happy to see your comment arrive. I hope that all is well. Please take care.