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)


John Maruskin said...

Chap, my dog,and I walk a meadow every morning. We've been walking it every morning for 11 years now, no matter the weather or the height of the grasses. Over the years I've anecdotally learned the names of most of the plants we see, but I haven't made a study of them. Many of them I just call by friendly names. We are neighbors and friends. Wonderful post. It's too bad people abstract themselves from Nature because they don't know the nomenclature. Thanks for the Stanley Spencer pictures, too. Excellent concomitants. I never analyze a Spencer painting, I just stroll in. Can your small pink flower in the grass be a Deptford Pink? This is their season.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Maruskin: It's good to hear from you again. I hope that all is well.

Meadows are wonderful, aren't they? Something new every day. As for the names of things, I should clarify: I am always pleased to, as you say, "anecdotally learn" the names of things. Thus, I appreciate your suggestion that the flower may be a Deptford Pink. I have now looked that up on the Internet, but, alas, it does not match. My unknown flower is, I think, more along the lines of a wild orchid, based upon the look of its small petals (only two of them, a larger one above, with two smaller petals at its base). But nothing as fancy as, for instance, a lady's slipper.

I like your thought about Spencer's paintings: "I just stroll in." As I have mentioned in responses to a few comments about the paintings that have appeared here over the years, all of the paintings I choose are ones that I have daydreamed about walking into. I'm afraid my aesthetic criteria begin and end there.

As always, thank you very much for visiting, and for sharing your thoughts.