Saturday, May 23, 2020


"Days are where we live."  "For the days are long -- /From the first milk van/To the last shout in the night,/An eternity."  In the end, our life is a tangled skein of days.  From this welter, what can we retrieve, what remains with us?  Not days, but a handful of isolated, charmed moments.

The moments return, unaccountably, unbidden, in brilliant clarity. The days and years drop away.  Ah, yes.  So that was my life.  You may have known this at the time.  If so, you are fortunate.  Or you may come to know it only as a heart-catching pang of recognition -- distant, long-lost, but better late than never.

                                The Ash Grove

Half of the grove stood dead, and those that yet lived made
Little more than the dead ones made of shade.
If they led to a house, long before they had seen its fall:
But they welcomed me; I was glad without cause and delayed.

Scarce a hundred paces under the trees was the interval --
Paces each sweeter than sweetest miles -- but nothing at all,
Not even the spirits of memory and fear with restless wing,
Could climb down in to molest me over the wall

That I passed through at either end without noticing.
And now an ash grove far from those hills can bring
The same tranquillity in which I wander a ghost
With a ghostly gladness, as if I heard a girl sing

The song of the Ash Grove soft as love uncrossed,
And then in a crowd or in distance it were lost,
But the moment unveiled something unwilling to die
And I had what most I desired, without search or desert or cost.

Edward Thomas, The Annotated Collected Poems (edited by Edna Longley) (Bloodaxe Books 2008).

Duncan Grant (1885-1978), "Girl at the Piano" (1940)

"The way leads on . . . The road leads on."  "Does the road wind up-hill all the way?/Yes, to the very end."  Life is a journey.  We've heard that often.  Yet it is a few brief intervals of lucent stillness that ultimately stay with us.  "Scarce a hundred paces under the trees was the interval."  Evanescent.  But enough.  An aspect of eternity.

                            On the Road

Our roof was grapes and the broad hands of the vine
as we two drank in the vine-chinky shade
of harvest France;
and wherever the white road led we could not care,
it had brought us there
to the arbour built on a valley side where time,
if time any more existed, was that river
of so profound a current, it at once
both flowed and stayed.

We two.  And nothing in the whole world was lacking.
It is later one realizes.  I forget
the exact year or what we said.  But the place
for a lifetime glows with noon.  There are the rustic
table and the benches set; beyond the river
forests as soft as fallen clouds, and in
our wine and eyes I remember other noons.
It is a lot to say, nothing was lacking;
river, sun and leaves, and I am making
words to say 'grapes' and 'her skin.'

Bernard Spencer, With Luck Lasting (Hodder and Stoughton 1963).

Duncan Grant, "The Doorway" (1929)

Wednesday, May 13, 2020


As I have mentioned here before, I often give myself this piece of advice as I begin my daily walk:  Stop thinking.  Pay attention.  I fail miserably each time, of course.  But the World always finds new and beautiful ways to gently shake us by the shoulders and whisper: "Wake up, pilgrim."  It is coy and persistent.  It demands nothing of us, but it is not going away.

Thus, on a recent afternoon, as I strolled in a daydream, I suddenly awoke to the sound of birdsong from all quarters of the earth and sky. An unrehearsed chorus of anonymous and solitary singers in a green and blue World, each of them singular and irreplaceable.

The notes they sang were "synonyms for joy," certainly.  But, coming from everywhere, in all their variations, unceasing yet uninsistent, the notes were something else as well.  Later that evening, this came to mind:  "One feels the life of that which gives life as it is."

                           The Wood

I walked a nut-wood's gloom.  And overhead
A pigeon's wing beat on the hidden boughs,
And shrews upon shy tunnelling woke thin
Late winter leaves with trickling sound.  Across
My narrow path I saw the carrier ants
Burdened with little pieces of bright straw.
These things I heard and saw, with senses fine
For all the little traffic of the wood,
While everywhere, above me, underfoot,
And haunting every avenue of leaves,
Was mystery, unresting, taciturn.
           .         .         .         .         .
And haunting the lucidities of life
That are my daily beauty, moves a theme,
Beating along my undiscovered mind.

John Drinkwater, Loyalties (Sidgwick & Jackson 1919).  The ellipses appear in the original.

Alfred Thornton (1863-1939)
"Hill Farm, Painswick, Gloucestershire"

"One feels the life of that which gives life as it is."  After I returned home from my walk, I noticed birds singing in the back garden.  They sang until the last pale light in the sky faded away.

     All the long day --
Yet not long enough for the skylark,
     Singing, singing.

Bashō (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 2: Spring (Hokuseido Press 1950), page 195.

Alfred Thornton, "The Upper Severn"