Saturday, April 4, 2020

Another April

"But it is a sort of April weather life that we lead in this world.  A little sunshine is generally the prelude to a storm."  Thus wrote William Cowper in a letter dated January 3, 1787.  And now, here we are: another April.  More of the same, don't you think?

Yesterday was the sort of April day described by Cowper.  In the evening, I drove to a neighborhood sushi restaurant to pick up dinner.  (Although restaurants are closed for dining, take out is still permitted, and it makes sense to support family-owned businesses.) Just then the sun was out, but it would soon set beyond Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains, both at my back.  The street I took runs straight down a long steep hill, levels out for a few blocks, then runs straight up another steep hill to the east.  From the top of the hill, I could see the cherry trees -- in peak white bloom -- lining both sides of the street that climbs the opposite slope.  The slope, and the houses on it, were covered in sunlight.  A rainbow suddenly appeared above the hill on the other side of the valley.  Descending, I passed blooming cherry trees, and, here and there, tall magnolia trees full of large pink-white blossoms.

Another April.  More of the same.  A paradise.

            A Short Ode

All things then stood before us
        as they were,
Not in comparison,
But each most rare;
The 'tree, of many, one,'
The lock of hair,
The weir in the morning sun,
The hill in the darkening air,
Each in its soleness, then and there,
Created one; that one, creation's care.

Edmund Blunden, A Hong Kong House: Poems 1951-1961 (Collins 1962).

The quotation in line 5 comes from William Wordsworth's "Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood": "But there's a tree, of many, one,/A single field which I have look'd upon,/Both of them speak of something that is gone."  I presume this reference accounts for Blunden's title (contrasting his ode of ten lines with Wordsworth's of over 200 lines).

Samuel Llewellyn (1858-1941), "Sailing at Blakeney" (c. 1938)

As is my usual practice, I have been doing my best to avoid "news."  I hear about things such as "lockdowns" by word-of-mouth.  But snippets inevitably seep through the interstices, despite my vigilance. For instance, I have recently been seeing and hearing the word "unprecedented" quite often.  "Unprecedented."  Is that so?

As is also my usual practice, I have been reading a poem soon after waking up each morning.  Yesterday morning I read this, a haiku of which I have long been fond:

     A night of stars;
The cherry blossoms are falling
     On the water of the rice seedlings.

Buson (1716-1783) (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 2: Spring (Hokuseido Press 1950), page 170.

I fell asleep last night thinking about stars in a dark sky and cherry blossom petals floating in dark water among rice seedlings.  Today I went out for a walk.  In puddles left by yesterday's rain, I saw blue sky, white clouds, and infinitely intricate tree branches, floating at my feet.  Another April.  Unprecedented.

Christopher Sanders (1905-1991)
"Sunlight Through a Willow Tree at Kew" (c. 1958)


George said...

The cherry blossoms have mostly fallen in the Potomac valley. The eastern redbuds and serviceberries are just past their best, and the dogwoods are out. The weather could hardly be better.

Do you know W.D. Snodgrass's "April Inventory"? It says much more about the social world than the natural, it is a bit flippant, but it is worth a look. I have the notion I may have mentioned the poem in a comment here already, one of these years.

Stephen Pentz said...

George: Yes, spring moves as it wishes, regardless of the state in which humanity finds itself. I'm giving it my full attention, in the company of haiku and Saigyō's waka.

Thank you for the recommendation of "April Inventory." I found it on the Internet after receiving your comment, and it seemed a bit familiar, so I suspect you may indeed have mentioned it in the past. The closing lines are nice: "There is a gentleness survives/That will outspeak and has its reasons./There is a loveliness exists,/Preserves us, not for specialists."

As ever, it's good to hear from you. I hope that all is well.

Tim Guirl said...

Mr Pentz--One of the joys of reading your blog is that something you write, or a poem or a painting you include, sets my mind to thinking. This post got me thinking about our human species and the individuality of each person;that single individual" as Kierkegaard has it.

You also provided me with a wonderful idea: to read a poem after rising. This might help balance and give perspective to the incessant drumbeat of the pandemic news during these difficult days.

Keep well.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Guirl: Thank you very much for your kind words. Your reference to Kierkegaard's "the single individual" is wonderful, and fits well with Blunden's "Created one; that one, creation's care." (And now you've got me wanting to return to Kierkegaard.) The time we are living through at the moment necessarily encourages us to focus on a large scale. But it is all about individual souls, isn't it? You know much more than I ever will about being caught up in the snare of world events, but the only way for me to make sense of these events is to focus on the individual and on the moment.

Which, coincidentally, is where reading a poem each morning is, I think, particularly helpful, since a poem encourages us to focus our attention on what is before us (and what was before the poet when he or she wrote the poem). As you say, it "help[s] balance and give perspective to" the clamor. (And there will always be clamor.) I've been doing this morning reading of a single poem for many years, and it is by now a habit -- a good habit; not one which ever feels like an obligation. Certainly better than reading, listening to, or watching "the news" every morning! I cannot imagine doing that.

As ever, it's good to hear from you. Thank you for stopping by. Best wishes to you and your loved ones.

Thomas Parker said...

The conjunctions of the outer world and the inner are often startling. Yesterday, amid alarums of looming economic catastrophe (overblown or understated? How can a peon like me know?) I opened the book of poetry I'm currently reading through, a poem or two a day, usually just before bed. It's the collected poems of John Haines, and yesterday's poem was this, from 1971:

The Autumn of Money

Now the slow shrinking of coins,
the dulling of silver, intrusions
of copper and baser metal;

the dates and the mottoes
rubbed off, the profiles smeared,
nickels out of round,
half-dollars shaved to a quarter.

And the greenbacks losing color,
shaking loose in the wind
from the bank doors closing.

Drifts of bills, windrows of checks,
heaps of cash in the gutters;
blazing in weedy lots
drums of the currency burning.

The needy folk holding their hands
to a brief charity in fire,
for the great wealth and plenty
changed to this scarcity
bleached and blowing, chased
by children with rickety rakes,
stuffing their leafbags full,

for a loaf, fir an egg, or a wing.

But now the sour smoke of savings,
wallets and purses gaping
in the panic of wrinkling faces...

It is the autumn of money.
The paper grows thin and thinner.
It is ash, it is air,
then nothing, nothing at all.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Parker: Coincidences of that sort are wonderful, aren't they? Thank you for sharing Haines' poem, which is new to me. (I am fond of his first book, Winter News.)

No one knows what will happen, do they? I have long been skeptical of our culture of "experts," and their performance in our current situation (whether it be virus modeling or economic prognostication) has only confirmed that skepticism. I have tuned out.

In any case, it is beyond my control, so why worry about it? "The things themselves reach not to the soul, but stand without, still and motionless. All your perturbation comes from inward opinions about them." Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book IV, Section 3 (translated by Francis Hutcheson and James Moor, 1742).

Thank you very much for visiting again, and for sharing Haines' poem.

Nikki said...

I'm reading this post on June 19th after a night dreaming about being forced to test myself for the virus without knowing how. I, too, usually read a poem in the morning, but It occurs to me that I should starting reading one before bed in hopes of dreaming about something beautiful like the haiku in this entry.

Stephen Pentz said...

Nikki: Well, that's a distressing dream (nightmare)! Reading a poem before you go to bed sounds like a great idea. I usually read a poem in the evening, and I often try to remember a few lines of it, or those of another poem I read during the day, as I go to sleep -- not the whole poem, just the lines that struck me the most. And, yes, reading a poem in the morning is a fine way to begin the day, isn't it?

As I just said in response to the other comment you posted recently, I apologize for the delay in responding to your comment. It's always good to hear from you, and I appreciate you taking the time to visit and to post comments. Take care.