Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Two Worlds

A politicized culture (or, more properly, "culture") inevitably tends toward puritanism: the elect and the impure.  Ever-recurring, the latest iteration of the self-anointed is upon us.  O, Tychon, god of small things, god of the humble, please grant us relief.

Earlier this week, revisiting The Complete Poems of Walter de la Mare (948 wonderful pages), I discovered this:


I saw bleak Arrogance, with brows of brass,
Clad nape to sole in shimmering foil of lead,
Stark down his nose he stared; a crown of glass
Aping the rainbow, on his tilted head.

His very presence drained the vital air;
He sate erect -- stone-cold, self-crucified;
On either side of him an empty chair;
And sawdust trickled from his wounded side.

Walter de la Mare, The Burning-Glass and Other Poems (Faber and Faber 1945).

A thought from Walter Pater comes to mind:

"Experience, already reduced to a group of impressions, is ringed round for each one of us by that thick wall of personality through which no real voice has ever pierced on its way to us, or from us to that which we can only conjecture to be without.  Every one of those impressions is the impression of the individual in his isolation, each mind keeping as a solitary prisoner its own dream of a world."

Walter Pater, The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry (Macmillan 1893), page 249.

"Each mind keeping as a solitary prisoner its own dream of a world." The temptation is great to conclude that one is wise and virtuous.  A comforting delusion.


To believe you are magnificent.  And gradually to discover that you are not magnificent.  Enough labor for one human life.

Czeslaw Milosz, Road-side Dog (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 1998), page 60.

Joseph Farquharson (1846-1935)
"Harvesting, Forest of Birse, Aberdeenshire" (1900)

The trees are still mostly full, still mostly green.  Yesterday afternoon, in a gusty wind, their boughs tossed and roared.  The day was clear and brilliant, and dappled light and shadow turned and turned on the ground.  It could have been a summer day.  But, at intervals, lines of fallen leaves rushed along the sidewalks and the streets, carried away by the wind.

What has become of the two woolly bear caterpillars who appeared in my last post?  I encountered two more of the lovely, endearing creatures last week.  Like their companions, they were crossing a path, headed off toward the trees, full of intent, going about their appointed business.  As for humanity, we always have been, and always will be, a scold-ridden species, confused and grasping, forever meddling, never content.  Best to keep one's own counsel.  A woolly bear caterpillar.  "Everything Is Going To Be All Right."

         Mute Opinion

I traversed a dominion
Whose spokesmen spake out strong
Their purpose and opinion
Through pulpit, press, and song.
I scarce had means to note there
A large-eyed few, and dumb,
Who thought not as those thought there
That stirred the heat and hum.

When, grown a Shade, beholding
That land in lifetime trode,
To learn if its unfolding
Fulfilled its clamoured code,
I saw, in web unbroken,
Its history outwrought
Not as the loud had spoken,
But as the mute had thought.

Thomas Hardy, Poems of the Past and the Present (Macmillan 1901).

David MacKay (1853-1904), "Crail at Harvest Time"

"The imperceptible movement of an invisible soul and the enormous sun."  (Philippe Jaccottet (translated by Tess Lewis), Seedtime: Notebooks, 1954-79 (Seagull Books 2013), page 159.)  There is the world.  And then there is the World.  Where does one reside?

          From My Window

An old man leaning on a gate
Over a London mews -- to contemplate --
Is it the sky above -- the stones below?
     Is it remembrance of the years gone by,
     Or thinking forward to futurity
That holds him so?

Day after day he stands,
Quietly folded are the quiet hands,
Rarely he speaks.
     Hath he so near the hour when Time shall end,
     So much to spend?
What is it he seeks?

Whate'er he be,
He is become to me
A form of rest.
     I think his heart is tranquil, from it springs
     A dreamy watchfulness of tranquil things,
And not unblest

Mary Coleridge, in Theresa Whistler (editor), The Collected Poems of Mary Coleridge (Rupert Hart-Davis  1954).

Duncan Cameron (1837-1916), "Harvest Time in Lorne" (1888)


George said...

Lately I have been reading a fair bit of philosophy, most of which tends to argue against Pater's assertion. (Perhaps the most curious observation is Peirce's, that it is ignorance and error that awaken us to ourselves--but if one is determined to admit no ignorance or error, what happens?) On the other hand, their are the lines in The Waste Land, "We think of the key, each in his prison/Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison"--is the key that turned once and once only in the line above these opening or securing a door?

John Maruskin said...

"Everything is going to be all right." Exactly. From the description of your walks, it sounds like things are all right. That's the beauty of walks in Nature. We get to see everything is all right. A very wise library director I worked for years ago kept a quote from Dogen on her office door: "Everything is perfect. But there's lots of room for improvement.

Your mention of De La Mare's Collected poems reminded me of his poetry anthology called Come Hither. published in 1923. I was lucky enough to find a "well-loved" copy(bookseller's description) of it about twenty years ago. It is one of my two favorite anthologies, along with Edward Thomas' The Pocket Book of Poems and Songs for the Open Air.

On the front paper, the previous owner (Beatrice E. Eckberg says her bookplate) inscribed this, which I think speaks directly about the consolations of poetry in "cultural" times:

Such songs have power to quiet
The restless pulse of care,
And some like the benediction
That follows after prayer.

Then read from the treasured volume
The poem of thy choice,
And lend to the rhymes of the poet
The beauty of thy voice.

And the night shall be filled with music
And the cares that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away.


Your mention of Tychon reminded me of Evelyn Underhill's fabulous poem, "Immanence."

Thanks. Always a pleasure. Have a beautiful week.

Anthony Hill said...

Wonderful, thanks.

Hardy is a great poet, I think, and that is a superb poem which I have never read. I had not heard of Mary Coleridge and that is also a lovely piece.

Great stuff from Milosz, how very true.

Stephen Pentz said...

George: Thank you for those thoughts. My ignorance of Pierce is complete, so I have no competency (or context) to opine on his observation, although I do find it intriguing, and I like the gist of it. Again, not knowing the context, to me it has a sense of Taoism and/or Buddhism about it (which is always a good thing, in my opinion).

The lines from Eliot are interesting (and lovely), and they sent me back to The Waste Land. (Once, in another lifetime, a constant companion. I need to return to it in earnest again.) In doing so, I found that Eliot's notes to the lines (those infamous notes!) refer to, first, two lines from Dante, and second -- and most delightfully -- a passage from F. H. Bradley's Appearance and Reality: "My external sensations are no less private to myself than are my thoughts or my feelings. In either case my experience falls within my own circle, a circle closed on the outside; and, with all its elements alike, every sphere is opaque to the others which surround it. . . . In brief, regarded as an existence which appears in a soul, the whole world for each is peculiar and private to that soul." (T. S. Eliot, Note to line 411 of The Waste Land, citing Bradley, Appearance and Reality, p. 346.)

A wonderful passage, which sounds like a restatement of the passage I quoted from Pater. I find this fascinating, given that Pater and Bradley were at Oxford at the same time. Pater was seven years older than Bradley; he entered Oxford in 1858, and in 1864 he was given a fellowship at Brasenose, which he maintained for the rest of his life (purportedly, his expertise in German philosophy was one of the reasons he received the fellowship). Bradley entered Oxford in 1865; in 1870 he was given a fellowship at Merton, which he maintained for the rest of his life.

The passage that I quoted from Pater appeared in the 1873 edition of The Renaissance; Bradley's Appearance and Reality was published in 1893. I am not suggesting that Bradley's passage derived directly from Pater. However, I find the similarity of thought striking. Two fine minds arriving at similar places. But perhaps I am just being thick, and am reading Bradley's passage incorrectly. My ignorance of Bradley is as complete as my ignorance of Pierce, so I have no context in which to place Bradley's passage. (I seem to recall that, earlier this year, you had a few posts on your blog about reading Appearance and Reality. Perhaps this passage rings a bell.)

I apologize for the lengthy digression. Thank you very much for sharing the lines from Eliot, which led to the Bradley passage. As always, thank you for stopping by, and for sharing your thoughts.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Maruskin: It's good to hear from you again. Thank you very much for the kind words about the post.

Yes, a daily walk does provide assurance that "everything is going to be all right" (actually, as you say, it provides assurance that everything IS all right).

Come Hither is wonderful, isn't it? It is my favorite anthology of poems, with de la Mare's enchanting notes at the end adding to the joy of the book. The notes are a hint of what was to come in his series of one-of-a-kind anthologies of poems and prose, with his connecting observations tying things together, which I'm sure your are familiar with (and which I have mentioned here before): Behold, This Dreamer!; Early One Morning in the Spring; Love. (I would also add Desert Islands, which is ostensibly a long essay about Defoe and Robinson Crusoe, but opens out into a series of wide-ranging footnotes at the back of the book that are longer than the text of the essay.) How nice to find that "well-loved" copy of Come Hither with Longfellow's verses inscribed in it: it makes the book even more endearing.

Thank you for sharing the poem by Underhill, which is new to me: it goes well here. "I come in the little things." Exactly.

I hope that all is well with you, and that you are enjoying the season. As ever, thank you very much for visiting, and for sharing your thoughts.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Hill: Thank you very much for your kind words about the post. I'm pleased you liked the poems.

Hardy is one of my favorite poets, and, as you know, he wrote so many poems that one is continually coming across new discoveries, or being reminded of poems once read, but hidden in memory. Thus, it is always a delight to return to his poetry. Mary Coleridge's poetry is well worth seeking out, in my opinion. Yes, Milosz's short statement (a prose poem of sorts) is wonderful, isn't it? As you say, "how very true." When I first came across it years ago, I knew I would never forget it. Living up to it is another matter, of course.

Thank you for visiting again.

Anonymous said...

Whenever one encounters a wooly bear caterpillar, it is always on its way somewhere -- full of intent indeed.
I too am lucky enough to have a copy of "Come Hither". For the last few weeks I've been reading all the poems in "Summer: Greenwood: Solitude". They have been a balm to my spirit, as the last few weeks have not been easy. I am lucky enough to live in walking distance of two fine parks, Central Park & Riverside Park, but even so, I think it may be somewhat harder, in the city, to feel that Everything is All Right.

Jeff said...

This was a lovely collection of poems (some of which are appearing on FKWL for the first time, yes?), but the paintings particularly caught my eye. Out here in Maryland farm country, the autumn haying is taking place, although instead of handmade haystacks, we have tight, cylindrical bundles that make for a beautiful sight in freshly mowed fields, and the machines that make them possess their own sort of beauty that I don't often find of machines. In a time of troubles, the rhythms of the agricultural year are reassuring, even if they sometimes including getting stuck behind giant harvesters that drive 10 miles an hour for long stretches of road...

Stephen Pentz said...

Susan: As always, it's good to hear from you. I'm sorry to hear that things have been difficult the past few weeks. But I'm happy to hear that you have found at least some solace in returning to Come Hither, and spending time in the parks. De la Mare's arrangement of the poems into separate sections based upon the seasons, the time of day, and other topics is marvelous, isn't it? (Between your comment and Mr. Maruskin's comment, I am now returning to Come Hither as well.)

As "a balm to my spirit" (to use your words) in this trying year, I have often thought of this poem by de la Mare (I'm sure you know it well).

Oh, Why?

Oh, why make such ado --
This fretful care and trouble?
The sun in noonday's blue
Pours radiance on earth's bubble.
What though the heart-strings crack,
And sorrow bid thee languish,
Dew falls; the night comes back;
Sleep, and forget thine anguish.
Oh, why in shadow haunt?
Shines not the evening flower?
Hark, how the sweet birds chaunt,
The lovely light their bower.
Water her music makes,
Lulling even these to slumber;
And only dead of darkness wakes
Stars without number.

I hope that things take a turn for the better for you, and I wish you all the best. Take care.

Nikki said...

As always, thank you for being here.

Stephen Pentz said...

Jeff: It's good to hear from you. I'm pleased you liked the poems. Yes, I believe that "Arrogance" and "Mute Opinion" are making their first appearance here, but "From My Window" and "Learning" have appeared before -- two favorites that often come to mind for me.

I'm also pleased you liked the corn stook paintings. Painters in England, Scotland, and Wales have been quite fond of corn stooks over the years, and paintings of them always catch my eye. Another lost world. But, as you say, the modern-day rolls of hay have their own beauty as well. Your description of your part of the world brought two things to mind. First, your mention of the slow harvesters on the road immediately made me think of Neil Young's wonderful "Thrasher": "When I saw those thrashers rolling by, looking more than two lanes wide." Second, I thought of visits I have made to the Antietam battlefield around this time of year: lovely.

I was happy to see your announcement a few months ago that you are keeping Quid Plura? alive and accessible, together with making an occasional post.

Thank you very much for visiting again. I greatly appreciate your long-term presence here. I hope that all is well with you and your loved ones. Take care.

Stephen Pentz said...

Nikki: That's very nice of you to say. Thank you so much for your kind words, and for your presence here. Take care.