Tuesday, April 21, 2020


What most human beings want is a little peace and quiet, don't you think?  Although we may be caught up in unwonted Events at the present time, the cultivation of "A Quiet Normal Life" goes on. Marcus Aurelius is correct: "The things themselves reach not to the soul, but stand without, still and motionless.  All your perturbation comes from inward opinions about them."  Meditations, Book IV, Section 3 (translated by Francis Hutcheson and James Moor, 1742). This is a roundabout way of telling you, dear readers, that it is once again time (begging your forbearance) to revisit my "April poem" (companion to my May, August, and November poems):

                    Wet Evening in April

The birds sang in the wet trees
And as I listened to them it was a hundred years from now
And I was dead and someone else was listening to them.
But I was glad I had recorded for him the melancholy.

Patrick Kavanagh, Collected Poems (edited by Antoinette Quinn) (Penguin 2004).

Most Aprils when I return to "Wet Evening in April" the weather in this part of the world is in harmony with the setting and the mood of the poem.  Thus, on more than one occasion I have read the poem on a rainy evening as birds converse in the trees before they settle down for the night.  But this April has been gratuitously brilliant, and on my walk this afternoon I passed through a "bee-loud glade," and the trees in all directions whispered: "Begin afresh, afresh, afresh."  I'm afraid I cannot muster any melancholy.  Yet the poem is as beautiful as ever.  We never know who we will be, or where we will find ourselves, when we revisit a poem, do we?

Robert Fowler (1853-1926), "Knaresborough"

The Events come and go, and take us or leave us.  But Patrick Kavanagh and Marcus Aurelius intimate that there is more to each of us than meets the eye.  The Events are not us.  Philippe Jaccottet brings this to our attention as well: "The imperceptible movement of an invisible soul and the enormous sun."  Philippe Jaccottet, notebook entry (October, 1967), in Seedtime: Notebooks, 1954-79 (translated by Tess Lewis) (Seagull Books 2013), page 159.  And this:

"Attachment to the self renders life more opaque.  One moment of complete forgetting and all the screens, one behind the other, become transparent so that you can perceive clarity to its very depths, as far as the eye can see; and at the same time everything becomes weightless.  Thus does the soul truly become a bird."

Philippe Jaccottet, notebook entry (May, 1954), Ibid, page 1.

In each moment, the Events are absent, meaningless.  There is more afoot in the World.

     The spring rain:
Between the trees is seen
     A path to the sea.

Otsuji (1881-1920) (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 2: Spring (Hokuseido Press 1950), page 104.

William Mouncey (1852-1901), "Kirkcudbright Harbour"


Bruce Floyd said...

Would you say, sir, that Montaigne's words (posted below) are consonant with those in your most recent posting? I'd say, though I'm hardly an expert at this baffling thing called life, that both you and Montaigne give good advice in these trying times. The plague may be out there beyond my study window, but right now I watch the sunlight spill on the river birch donning a panoply of green, the window glass between us, but that's all right. As Emily Dickinson recommends, I walk this world with the precarious gait of experience. Outside I wear my mask and I wash my hands often. I'd like to think the river birch and I know the importance of patience.

“The soul in which philosophy dwells should by its health make even the body healthy. It should make its tranquillity and gladness shine out from within; should form in its own mold the outward demeanor, and consequently arm it with a graceful pride, an active and joyous bearing, and a contented and good-natured countenance. The surest sign of wisdom is constant cheerfulness.”
― Michel de Montaigne,

Stephen Pentz said...

Bruce: You are far too kind: I'm not worthy to be mentioned in the same breath as Montaigne. But I do thank you for the thought. I certainly agree with what he says in the passage you quote. What he describes is something I presume we all aspire to. But I can assure you that, for instance, neither "wisdom" nor "constant cheerfulness" are among my qualities!

I am like you: doing the equivalent of watching "the sunlight spill on the river birch" in this corner of the country. As you say: "that's all right." I think that's why I've been spending even more time than usual with haiku as the Events unfold: the haiku poets simply (but deeply) report what is, which is more than enough. The rest of it takes care of itself, no matter what we think or do. I agree completely: "I'd like to think the river birch and I know the importance of patience." But, if I may say so, not only patience: gratitude for living in a miraculous World. That never changes.

Again, thank you for the kind words, which I do appreciate. I hope that all is well with you and your loved ones. Take care.