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.
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
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.
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)