Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Noted In Passing

The Saturday before last was a changeable day.  Lines of dark rain squalls moved from the southwest to the northeast across Puget Sound, followed by intervals of open skies and sunlight.  Lovely.  Not unusual in this part of the world at this time of year.  Ah, but then came the denouement.

At around 4:50 (I looked at my watch), the sun emerged from beneath the last line of white (no longer grey-hearted) clouds over the waters of the Sound.  I happened to be out on my walk, so I stopped beneath a tall, leafless maple to watch the sunset.  However, it was the sky, not the sun, that caught my eye.  Pale blue-yellow at the horizon (just above the Olympic Mountains), it proceeded upward through changing shades of blue.  I followed the deepening progression: powder blue, cornflower blue, azure.  But, at the zenith  -- my head tilted back, the tangled lattice of empty branches overhead set against the depth of the sky -- the names of colors no longer held any meaning.  The eloquent blueness of that patch of sky was beyond the reach of words.  At such times, the only appropriate response is to pay attention, to not turn away.  There is nothing to be said.

A thought by Philippe Jaccottet which appeared in my last post comes to mind: "A thing is beautiful to the extent that it does not let itself be caught."  (Philippe Jaccottet (translated by John Taylor), from "Blazon in Green and White," in Philippe Jaccottet, And, Nonetheless: Selected Prose and Poetry 1990-2009 (Chelsea Editions 2011), page 53.)  A thought by Ludwig Wittgenstein which has appeared here on numerous occasions comes to mind as well: "What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence."  (Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Proposition 7 (1921) (translated by David Pears and Brian McGuinness).)  An alternative translation: "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent." (Translated by C. K. Ogden.)  Yet, here I am, dear readers, providing you with a ten-day old, useless weather report, ending with an inadequate paean to the blue sky.  

Perhaps it is best to approach the beautiful particulars of the World aslant, lest we betray them.

                      The Nest

Four blue stones in this thrush's nest
I leave, content to make the best
Of turquoise, lapis lazuli
Or for that matter of the whole blue sky.

Andrew Young, Collected Poems (Jonathan Cape 1936).

James Craig (1877-1944), "The Kerry Coast" (c. 1928)

"There is a glass bowl with ten goldfish in it on my desk.  I am gazing at it from my bed, as the pain assaults me.  I feel the pain and see the beauty."  Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902) wrote this journal entry on April 15, 1901.  It appears in A Drop of Ink, a journal he wrote from January 24 through May 21, 1901.  His entries over this period were published in the Tokyo daily newspaper Nihon as he wrote them. (Janine Beichman-Yamamoto, "Masaoka Shiki's A Drop of Ink," Monumenta Nipponica, Volume 30, Number 3 (1975), pages 291-315.)  Shiki had been suffering from tuberculosis since 1889, and had been essentially bedridden since 1897.  He died on September 19, 1902, at the age of 34 -- one year and five months after writing this entry.

The poets remind us again and again: Pay attention.  Do not turn away.

               A Dead Mole

Strong-shouldered mole,
That so much lived below the ground,
Dug, fought and loved, hunted and fed,
For you to raise a mound
Was as for us to make a hole;
What wonder now that being dead
Your body lies here stout and square
Buried within the blue vault of the air?

Andrew Young, Collected Poems.

Where would we be without the blue sky, come what may?

"A certain hermit once said, 'There is one thing that even I, who have no worldly entanglements, would be sorry to give up, the beauty of the sky.'  I can understand why he should have felt that way."

Kenkō (1283-1350), Tsurezuregusa, Chapter 20, in Donald Keene (translator), Essays in Idleness: The Tsurezuregusa of Kenkō (Columbia University Press 1967), page 22.

John William Inchbold (1830-1888)
"A Study, in March" (c. 1855)

Between Thursday evening and Saturday afternoon eight or so inches of snow fell.  A warming spell began on Sunday, and on Monday the back garden was alive with birds.  Robins and sparrows, of course. But I also saw a dove beside a bare rose bush, pecking the snowy ground, and a woodpecker atop a post, watching the activity.  They may have been surprised into shelter and silence by the snow, but now -- darting back and forth in brief flight, chattering -- they had no air of winter about them.

Think you, 'mid all this mighty sum
Of things for ever speaking,
That nothing of itself will come,
But we must still be seeking?

William Wordsworth, seventh stanza of "Expostulation and Reply," in Ernest de Selincourt and Helen Darbishire (editors), The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth, Volume Four (Oxford University Press 1947).

And so we make our way through the World.  Beneath an ever-changing sky, blue at times.

     Butterflies a-flutter,
The lullaby changes again and again
     As she walks along.

Masaoka Shiki (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, A History of Haiku, Volume Two (Hokuseido Press 1964), page 88.

David Murray (1849-1933), "The Tithe Barns" (1905)


hart said...

A Study in March just speaks to me. Thank you.

John Ahern said...

Thank you! I will read this again, often.

gretchenjoanna said...

I appreciate your efforts to convey the inadequacy we feel. It takes words to do that, after all. "There is nothing to be said." Your second paragraph is an especially helpful use of that nothing!

Emerson's description of the sky as "the daily bread of the eyes" comes to my mind often. It doesn't matter what drab or ugly landscape I might be trapped in, if I can just look up and find the smallest sliver of sky between skyscrapers, or the huge expanse in the middle of the plains, it really is the best "food," which is lovely to feast on, completely focused in silent appreciation.

Lee Hanson said...

Beautiful post. It reminded me of how I feel over and over and of Frost’s poem Fragmentary Blue.
Why make so much of fragmentary blue
In here and there a bird, or butterfly,
Or flower, or wearing-stone, or open eye,
When heaven presents in sheets the solid hue?

Since earth is earth, perhaps, not heaven (as yet)—
Though some savants make earth include the sky;
And blue so far above us comes so high,
It only gives our wish for blue a whet.

labraski said...

When artist Yves Klein developed International Klein Blue more than 500 years later, he was exploring the transcendent, extra-dimensional quality of the colour. “Blue is the invisible becoming visible”, he wrote, “Blue has no dimensions, it is beyond the dimensions of which other colours partake.”

I came across this quote yesterday while reading an article on Jackson's Art Supplies blog about a new blue paint that has been created https://www.jacksonsart.com/blog/2021/02/16/yinmn-blue-the-newest-blue-pigment/

Bruce said...

Angel Surrounded by Paysans
----- by Wallace Stevens
One of the countrymen :
There is
A welcome at the door to which no one comes?
The angel :
I am the angel of reality,
Seen for the moment standing in the door.
I have neither ashen wing nor wear of ore
And live without a tepid aureole,
Or stars that follow me, not to attend,
But, of my being and its knowing, part.
I am one of you and being one of you
Is being and knowing what I am and know.
Yet I am the necessary angel of earth,
Since, in my sight, you see the earth again,
Cleared of its stiff and stubborn, man-locked set,
And, in my hearing, you hear its tragic drone
Rise liquidly in liquid lingerings
Like watery words awash; like meanings said
By repetitions of half meanings. Am I not,
Myself, only half of a figure of a sort,
A figure half seen, or seen for a moment, a man
Of the mind, an apparition apparelled in
Apparels of such lightest look that a turn
Of my shoulder and quickly, too quickly, I am gone.

Dear Steve,

Your current post--indeed an over-riding theme in your superb blog--informs us that Beauty is not hidden in some bejeweled and forbidden land, but is, rather, all around us, just waiting for a sensibility to discern it. And when the keen sensibility stands in the presence of true beauty, its response is often one of silence. We can perhaps hint at beauty, limn it for a moment, but ultimately we understand that words, though they are all we have, are poor devices to capture precisely authentic beauty, as you found when you looked at the highest part of the sky and felt yourself mute at the sheer wonder of the indescribable blue.

You emphasize also that one must be attuned to spy beauty: practical and banal eyes fail to see, ignoring Blake's insight that we "must see not with the eye but through it." Wordsworth says the same thing many times. An acute sensibility, one like Wordsworth's half creates beauty.

But when I read your post this morning, I was instantly reminded of Wallace Stevens's poem "Angel Surrounded By Paysans." How often, Stevens suggests, we miss the "angel of reality," the "necessary angel of earth, / Since, in my sight, you see the earth again," an earth "Cleared of its stiff and stubborn, man-locked set." This angel is hard to see. Hesitate, and this angel shifts a bit and then is gone.

Stephen Pentz said...

hart: You're welcome. It is a wonderful painting, isn't it? One can spend a great deal of time in that world. The branches against the sky, of course. Unforgettable. But also the small details: the wildflowers in the lower right foreground; the glimpse of the lovely small green meadow on the distant hillside, beyond the sheep.

It's good to hear from you again. Thank you very much for stopping by, and for sharing your thoughts.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Ahern: You're welcome. I'm pleased you liked the post. Thank you for visiting, and for your kind words.

Stephen Pentz said...

gretchenjoanna: Thank you for sharing those observations. I agree with your thoughts about "nothing" and "silent appreciation" (and with Emerson's "daily bread of the eyes" -- which is new to me). This blog relies upon the words of poets, so it is perhaps odd of me to speak of the inadequacy of words (my own included, of course), and the need to be silent. But it is true: words are ultimately inadequate. Perhaps this is why (unconsciously) I started including paintings with each post, without having thought about doing so when I first began the blog.

As always, thank you very much for visiting.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Hanson: "Fragmentary Blue" goes perfectly here, particularly with the two poems by Andrew Young. Thank you very much for sharing it. I should have thought of it! I just read it over the holidays. Whenever I read it, I usually also read his "Blue-Butterfly Day" (which I'm sure you know): "It is blue-butterfly day here in spring,/And with these sky-flakes down in flurry on flurry . . ."

I'm happy to hear from you again, and pleased to know you are still stopping by. I hope that all is well with you and your loved ones. Take care.

Stephen Pentz said...

labraski: Thank you very much for sharing those lovely words from Yves Klein. They articulate well the magic of blue, and of the blue sky: "the invisible becoming visible" is quite apt when it comes to looking up into the blue sky, as is "blue has no dimensions." Thank you as well for the link to the Jackson's Art Supplies article on the new blue pigment: the history of blue is fascinating.

Thank you for visiting, and for sharing your thoughts.

Stephen Pentz said...

Bruce: Thank you very much for that wonderful meditation, and for sharing "Angel Surrounded by Paysans": one of those poems by Stevens that I always feel escapes me, but which I still find beautiful, even though it eludes me. But you bring out its meanings and implications wonderfully, and I now feel more at home with it. (A side-note: I appreciate being reminded of where the title of The Necessary Angel, his collection of essays, comes from.)

The lines you quote in your closing paragraph get to the heart of the matter: "the angel of reality" and "the necessary angel of earth" -- so evanescent, yet so essential to what living in the World means. I think also of the lovely and inscrutable (for me at least): "I am one of you and being one of you/Is being and knowing what I am and know." Those lines seem to me to be the heart of the poem, but I can't say that I have ever fully gotten to the bottom of them. But the relationship they posit between the angel and each of us is wonderful. On another note, it also occurs to me that the poem seems to encapsulate Stevens' key themes and preoccupations throughout his life, and inspires me to spend more time with it.

As ever, thank you very much for sharing your thoughts, which always take us deeper into things. I greatly appreciate your kind words about the blog. Thank you. Take care.

Esther said...

In her book, Colors For Your Every Mood, Leatrice Eiseman writes, "My wise color-theory professor at UCLA once advised: 'Study the blues carefully...somewhere in there is the precise shade of heaven.'"

The blue of Chagall's paintings has the same effect on me as the blue in your patch of sky. Picasso said of Chagall, "He must have an angel in his head."

I greatly enjoyed your profound musings on the color blue. As a friend of mine once said, "Is there any other color?" :D

Stephen Pentz said...

Esther: Thank you very much for sharing those lovely thoughts on blue. Ah, yes, Chagall's blues are wonderful, aren't they? Thank you for reminding me of that. Your friend's thought is a fine one, although I'm torn between green and blue myself. For instance: standing or lying beneath a tree in summer, looking up into the green boughs swaying against the blue sky: I wouldn't know how to choose. A beautiful quandary.

As always, it's good to hear from you. Thank you very much for stopping by. I hope that all is well. Take care.