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"


Wurmbrand said...

I'm not sure the final three lines of the Drinkwater poem should have been included, but I was glad to read it, and them.

Bruce Floyd said...

Emily Dickinson, who thought "New Englandly," found the return of spring, after the brutal New England winter, a miracle, one that proclaims itself with irrefutable and grandiose signs, some of which she lists (see the poem below). The reference to Nicodemus pertains to his trying to understand what Jesus meant by saying "one must be born again," taking the statement literally. Of course our world, the phenomenon outside my window on the lovely May morning, is born again in spring, and most of us always see this transformation as a great mystery, a welcomed miracle. It seems that it was only mere days, a few evanescent weeks ago, I commented on the naked and stark limbs of the river birch outside my window. Now I look at the tree and see it donning a sea of barely quivering green leaves, the gentle little fingers of the wind stroking them. Whence this efflorescence? Ah, the mystery, eh? Need I mention the perfumed air when I walk at twilight, coming later now than during the winter, on placid and tender feet, creeping in softly so as not to startle a man walking alone?

An altered look about the hills—
A Tyrian light the village fills—
A wider sunrise in the morn—
A deeper twilight on the lawn—
A print of a vermillion foot—
A purple finger on the slope—
A flippant fly upon the pane—
A spider at his trade again—
An added strut in Chanticleer—
A flower expected everywhere—
An axe shrill singing in the woods—
Fern odors on untravelled roads—
All this and more I cannot tell—
A furtive look you know as well—
And Nicodemus' Mystery
Receives its annual reply!

Stephen Pentz said...

Wurmbrand: I'm pleased you like the poem. As for the last three lines: I, too, wondered about them when I first encountered the poem. But over the years I have become fond of them, and particularly of "Beating along my undiscovered mind," which has a wonderful sound and rhythm to it (in addition to being thought-provoking). And I like the suggestiveness of "a theme." I think of the lines as a coda to the experience presented in the first eleven lines. Also, as I'm sure you have noticed, it is arguably a blank verse sonnet (via Spenser?).

It's good to hear from you again. I hope that all is well. Thank you very much for visiting, and for sharing your thoughts.

Stephen Pentz said...

Bruce: Thank you very much for your lovely meditation on spring, and for sharing another wonderful poem by Dickinson, which, as always, perfectly fits the matter at hand. Your knowledge of her poetry is a great gift to us all. I remember your previous reference to the birch tree you have been watching -- it is nice to watch how each tree renews itself in its own way, in its own time, isn't it?

Dickinson's list of the beauties of the season is marvelous. I especially like "A Tyrian light" and "Fern odors on untravelled roads." Yes, born again. Coincidentally, that phrase also appears in Larkin's "The Trees," which I recently referred to here. "Is it that they are born again/And we grow old? No, they die too." But, as you know, Larkin is not as gloomy as some people mistakenly (and simplistically) make him out to be: "Yet still the unresting castles thresh/In fullgrown thickness every May./Last year is dead, they seem to say,/Begin afresh, afresh, afresh." Dickinson's poem perfectly complements, and echoes, this view of things.

As ever, thank you very much for stopping by. I hope that all remains well with you and your loved ones.