Saturday, June 20, 2020


In mid-May, the ants emerged from hibernation and immediately embarked upon their yearly castle-building.  Early in June, the first pink blossoms opened on the wild rose bushes.  As the meadow grasses grew tall, the swallows arrived, and now each afternoon they skim quickly over the fields, curving, climbing, and diving for insects. The past week or so, right on schedule, the purplish-pink sweet peas began to bloom, and, as always, they are making their way onto the paths from the edges of the meadows.

Imagine that: the World just goes on being the World.  Beautiful, mysterious, unfathomable.  Taciturn, yet eloquent with Immanence.

               Nobody Knows

Often I've heard the Wind sigh
     By the ivied orchard wall,
Over the leaves in the dark night,
     Breathe a sighing call,
And faint away in the silence,
     While I, in my bed,
Wondered, 'twixt dreaming and waking,
     What it said.

Nobody knows what the Wind is,
     Under the height of the sky,
Where the hosts of the stars keep far away house
     And its wave sweeps by --
Just a great wave of the air,
     Tossing the leaves in its sea,
And foaming under the eaves of the roof
     That covers me.

And so we live under deep water,
     All of us, beasts and men,
And our bodies are buried down under the sand,
     When we go again;
And leave, like the fishes, our shells,
     And float on the Wind and away,
To where, o'er the marvellous tides of the air,
     Burns day.

Walter de la Mare, Peacock Pie: A Book of Rhymes (Constable 1913).

Robert Ball (1918-2009), "Mrs Barclay's Pond, Harborne" (1949)

Thursday, June 11, 2020


And so, dear readers, our eventful year continues.  I tell myself that I should keep my counsel as the arsonists, statue-topplers, building-defacers, and looters articulate their deeply-held convictions about how the rest of us ought to think, feel, and live.  Their actions speak for themselves.  No gloss is necessary.  Yet I will say that two words have been in my mind over the past week or so:  "emptiness" and "vacuity."  As well as this:  "They have inquired and considered little, and do not always feel their own ignorance.  They are not much accustomed to be interrogated by others; and seem never to have thought upon interrogating themselves."  Samuel Johnson, A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1775), page 272.

The evil and lack of human decency on display are nothing new, alas. They are part of human nature -- always have been, always will be. One chooses one's path.

                                The Nightjar

We loved our Nightjar, but she would not stay with us.
We had found her lying as dead, but soft and warm,
Under the apple tree beside the old thatched wall.
Two days we kept her in a basket by the fire,
Fed her, and thought she well might live -- till suddenly
In the very moment of most confiding hope
She raised herself all tense, quivered and drooped and died.
Tears sprang into my eyes -- why not? the heart of man
Soon sets itself to love a living companion,
The more so if by chance it asks some care of him.
And this one had the kind of loveliness that goes
Far deeper than the optic nerve -- full fathom five
To the soul's ocean cave, where Wonder and Reason
Tell their alternate dreams of how the world was made.
So wonderful she was -- her wings the wings of night
But powdered here and there with tiny golden clouds
And wave-line markings like sea-ripples on the sand.
O how I wish I might never forget that bird --
                    But even now, like all beauty of earth,
She is fading from me into the dusk of Time.

Henry Newbolt (1862-1938), A Perpetual Memory and Other Poems (John Murray 1939).

Herbert Hughes-Stanton (1870-1937)
"The Mill in the Valley" (1892)

Wednesday, June 3, 2020


The wild grasses that cover the meadows are deep green and growing tall.  Scattered amidst the swaying green, close to the ground, are small pinkish-purple wildflowers.  You have to look closely, or you will miss them.  Their name is unknown to me.  But I am acquainted with them, and I look forward to their arrival each May.

     Among the grasses,
A flower blooms white,
     Its name unknown.

Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902) (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 1: Eastern Culture (Hokuseido Press 1949), page 289.

There are those who seek to know the names of each of the beautiful particulars of the World, and I admire and envy their curiosity and diligence.  I wish them well.  We are all in pursuit of beauty, and I am in no position to say one path is better than another.  But I am, and shall remain, blissfully ignorant when it comes to the names of most of those beautiful particulars.  Thus, "the small pinkish-purple wildflower that comes in May" will suffice for me.

     The names unknown,
But to every weed its flower,
     And loveliness.

Sampū (1647-1732) (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 4: Autumn-Winter (Hokuseido Press 1952), page 123.

Stanley Spencer (1891-1959)
"The Ferry Hotel Lawn, Cookham" (1936)

Despite the inevitable importunities of Events, as magnified and distorted by the clamor, bad faith, and ultimate emptiness of "news," the World -- the real World -- quietly runs its serene course, and always will.  Nameless, profound.  We can attend to it, or not.  The choice is ours.

               The Knight in the Wood

The thing itself was rough and crudely done,
Cut in coarse stone, spitefully placed aside
As merest lumber, where the light was worst
On a back staircase.  Overlooked it lay
In a great Roman palace crammed with art.
It had no number in the list of gems,
Weeded away long since, pushed out and banished,
Before insipid Guidos over-sweet
And Dolce's rose sensationalities,
And curly chirping angels spruce as birds.
And yet the motive of this thing ill-hewn
And hardly seen did touch me.  O, indeed,
The skill-less hand that carved it had belonged
To a most yearning and bewildered brain:
There was such desolation in the work;
And through its utter failure the thing spoke
With more of human message, heart to heart,
Than all these faultless, smirking, skin-deep saints,
In artificial troubles picturesque,
And martyred sweetly, not one curl awry --
Listen; a clumsy knight, who rode alone
Upon a stumbling jade in a great wood
Belated.  The poor beast with head low-bowed
Snuffing the treacherous ground.  The rider leant
Forward to sound the marish with his lance.
You saw the place was deadly; that doomed pair,
The wretched rider and the hide-bound steed,
Feared to advance, feared to return -- That's all!

John Leicester Warren, Rehearsals: A Book of Verses (Strahan & Company 1870). (A side-note: "marish" (line 25) is not a misspelling. It is a precursor of "marsh.")

Stanley Spencer, "Rock Gardens, Cookham Dene" (1947)

How the World presents itself to us is ever a source of surprise and mystery, isn't it?  We need to be attentive and receptive, for it often appears in a humble guise, without pretense, making no demands, easily missed.

                    Aboard a Boat, Listening to Insects

As though delighting, as though grieving, each with its own song --
an idler, listening, finds his ears washed completely clean.
As the boat draws away from grassy banks, they grow more distant,
till the many varied voices become one single voice.

Ōkubo Shibutsu (1767-1837) (translated by Burton Watson), in Burton Watson, Kanshi: The Poetry of Ishikawa Jōzan and Other Edo-Period Poets (North Point Press 1990), page 92).

Stanley Spencer, "Scarecrow, Cookham" (1934)