Tuesday, September 26, 2023


Once again, September.  The past few weeks, the afternoons have sometimes been as warm as midsummer.  But the leaves -- ah, the leaves: green going to gold, and to brown, amber, orange, and red. Fallen, falling, ready to fall.  Before long, they will "Scratch like birds at the windows/Or tick on the road."  (Derek Mahon, "Leaves.")  Not quite yet.  And where have the swallows gone?

Speaking of Derek Mahon, I recently realized that I have been remiss: it has been a few years since we last visited my favorite September poem.

     September in Great Yarmouth

The woodwind whistles down the shore
Piping the stragglers home; the gulls
Snaffle and bolt their final mouthfuls.
Only the youngsters call for more.

Chimneys breathe and beaches empty,
Everyone queues for the inland cold --
Middle-aged parents growing old
And teenage kids becoming twenty.

Now the first few spots of rain 
Spatter the sports page in the gutter.
Council workmen stab the litter.
You have sown and reaped; now sow again.

The band packs in, the banners drop,
The ice-cream stiffens in its cone.
The boatman lifts his megaphone:
'Come in, fifteen, your time is up.'

Derek Mahon, Poems, 1962-1978 (Oxford University Press 1979).

Reginald Brundrit (1883-1960), "The River" (c. 1924)

Late September, and the green leaves still outnumber those that have turned.  As the boughs sway in a breeze, one hears a susurration, a sea-sound, not a rattling.  On a clear day, leaf-shadows and patches of sunlight continue to revolve on the ground, kaleidoscopic, unceasing.

But yesterday afternoon I noticed dry yellow leaves gathering in the gutters as I walked through what was otherwise a green tunnel of trees.  A group of three maples I have come to know as the earliest heralds of autumn began their transformation at the beginning of the month: the highest boughs and the leaves out at the tips of the lower branches are scarlet; only a dwindling inner core of summer green remains.  "Now it is September and the web is woven./The web is woven and you have to wear it."  (Wallace Stevens, "The Dwarf.")

                         The Crossing

September, and the butterflies are drifting
Across the sky again, the monarchs in
Their myriads, delicate lenses for the light
To fall through and be mandarin-transformed.

I guess they are flying southward, or anyhow
That seems to be the average of their drift,
Though what you mostly see is a random light
Meandering, a Brownian movement to the wind,

Which is one of Nature's ways of getting it done,
Whatever it may be, the rise of hills
And settling of seas, the fall of leaf
Across the shoulder of the northern world,

The snowflakes one by one that silt the field . . .
All that's preparing now behind the scene,
As the ecliptic and equator cross,
Through which the light butterflies are flying.

Howard Nemerov, Gnomes & Occasions (University of Chicago Press 1973).

John Lawson (1868-1909), "An Ayrshire Stream" (1893)

I have a vague notion of what occurs when "the ecliptic and equator cross."  Something to do with the movement of spheres, I suspect. But I'm reminded of my oft-repeated first principle of poetry: Explanation and explication are the death of poetry.  Here is a wider principle I have adopted at this moment: Explanation and explication are the death of enchantment.  The enchantment of the World, of course.  Mind you, I accept the existence of the ecliptic and the equator.  This is not an anti-scientific manifesto.  I simply prefer, for instance, a single butterfly or a single leaf, with no explanations attached.

In a headnote to a haiku, Bashō (1644-1694) writes: "As we look calmly, we see everything is content with itself."  (Bashō (translated by Makoto Ueda), in Makoto Ueda, Bashō and His Interpreters: Selected Hokku with Commentary (Stanford University Press 1991), page 153.)  The haiku is: "Playing in the blossoms/a horsefly . . . don't eat it,/friendly sparrows!"  (Bashō (translated by Makoto Ueda), Ibid, page 153.)  Ueda provides this annotation: "The headnote is a sentence that often appears in Taoist classics, although Bashō probably took it from a poem by the Confucian philosopher Ch'eng Ming-tao."  (Ibid, p. 153.)

Bashō's headnote brings to mind a notebook entry written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge: "September 1 -- the beards of Thistle & dandelions flying above the lonely mountains like life, & I saw them thro' the Trees skimming the lake like Swallows --."  (Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in Kathleen Coburn (editor), The Notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Volume 1: 1794-1804 (Pantheon 1957), Notebook Entry 799 (September 1, 1800).  The text is as it appears in the notebook.)

All of which leads us to a single leaf:


When in still air and still in summertime
A leaf has had enough of this, it seems
To make up its mind to go; fine as a sage
Its drifting in detachment down the road.

Howard Nemerov, Gnomes & Occasions.

A single leaf.  Or a single butterfly.  No explanations required, or necessary.

A butterfly flits
All alone -- and on the field,
A shadow in the sunlight.

Bashō (translated by Makoto Ueda), in Makoto Ueda, Matsuo Bashō (Twayne 1970), page 50.

Henry Justice Ford (1860-1941)
"A View of Church Hill from the Mill Pond, Old Swanage" (1931)

[A coda. "The boatman" calling in someone out on the water whose "time is up" in Derek Mahon's "September in Great Yarmouth" makes an appearance in another poem:

               Yorkshiremen in Pub Gardens

     As they sit there, happily drinking,
their strokes, cancers, and so forth are not in their minds.
     Indeed, what earthly good would thinking
about the future (which is Death) do?  Each summer finds
     beer in their hands in big pint glasses.
     And so their leisure passes.

     Perhaps the older ones allow some inkling
into their thoughts.  Being hauled, as a kid, upstairs to bed
     screaming for a teddy or a tinkling
musical box, against their will.  Each Joe or Fred
     wants longer with the life and lasses.
     And so their time passes.

     Second childhood; and 'Come in, number 80!'
shouts inexorably the man in charge of the boating pool.
     When you're called you must go, matey,
so don't complain, keep it all calm and cool,
     there's masses of time yet, masses, masses . . .
     And so their life passes.

Gavin Ewart, in Philip Larkin (editor), Poetry Supplement Compiled by Philip Larkin for the Poetry Book Society (Poetry Book Society 1974).  Ewart and Larkin were friends.  The poem has a Larkinesque feel to it, doesn't it?  It's not surprising that Larkin chose to include it in the Poetry Book Society's annual Christmas anthology.

But I like to think that if Larkin had written the poem he would have softened it a bit, and made beautifully clear that we are all Yorkshiremen in pub gardens, each in our own way.  He likely would have done so in the final stanza: one long, lovely sentence hedged with one or two qualifications and perhaps containing a reversal -- but absolutely, humanly true.  He is not the misanthropic, dour caricature he is often incorrectly made out to be by the inattentive. For example: "Something is pushing them/To the side of their own lives."  (Philip Larkin, "Afternoons.")  Or: "As they wend away/A voice is heard singing/Of Kitty, or Katy,/As if the name meant once/All love, all beauty."  (Philip Larkin, "Dublinesque.")  And this: "we should be careful//Of each other, we should be kind/While there is still time."  (Philip Larkin, "The Mower.")

For some reason, I find myself reminded of a poem by Su Tung-p'o. It is a poem of spring, and thus may seem out of season.  But the final line is apt in any season, and at any time, in any place.

          Pear Blossoms by the Eastern Palisade

Pear blossoms pale white, willows deep green --
when willow fluff scatters, falling blossoms will fill the town.
Snowy boughs by the eastern palisade set me pondering --
in a lifetime how many springs do we see?

Su Tung-p'o (1036-1101) (translated by Burton Watson), in Burton Watson, Selected Poems of Su Tung-p'o (Copper Canyon Press 1994), page 68.

In a lifetime, how many Septembers do we see?]

Alexander Jamieson (1873-1937)
"Halton Lake, Wendover, Buckinghamshire"

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Life and Art. Art and Life.

One morning this week, as I walked along a shadowy but sun-dappled path through a grove of trees, I came upon a single golden pine needle hovering vertically in mid-air, at eye-level, above the path. The needle was suspended on a single gossamer thread.  Unmoving, it captured the angled morning sunlight of late August.

I walked on.  A few minutes later, I remembered this (which has appeared here in the past):

    On Something Observed

Torn remains of a cobweb,
     one strand dangling down --
a stray petal fluttering by
     has been tangled, caught in its skein,
all day to dance and turn,
     never once resting --
elsewhere in my garden,
     no breeze stirs.

Kokan Shiren (1278-1346) (translated by Burton Watson), in Burton Watson, Japanese Literature in Chinese, Volume II: Poetry and Prose in Chinese by Japanese Writers of the Later Period (Columbia University Press 1976), page 27.  Kokan Shiren was a Zen Buddhist monk.

So goes our brief stay in Paradise.

Josephine Haswell Miller (1890-1975), "Studio Window" (1934)

Monday, July 31, 2023

One Thing Leads To Another, Part One: Bells

As I am wont to do several times a year, I recently returned to the poetry of Walter de la Mare.  At the beginning of last week, I revisited an old favorite:

                     The Bells

Shadow and light both strove to be
The eight bell-ringers' company,
As with his gliding rope in hand,
Counting his changes, each did stand;
While rang and trembled every stone,
To music by the bell-mouths blown:
Till the bright clouds that towered on high
Seemed to re-echo cry with cry.
Still swang the clappers to and fro,
When, in the far-spread fields below,
I saw a ploughman with his team
Lift to the bells and fix on them
His distant eyes, as if he would
Drink in the utmost sound he could;
While near him sat his children three,
And in the green grass placidly
Played undistracted on: as if
What music earthly bells might give
Could only faintly stir their dream,
And stillness make more lovely seem.
Soon night hid horses, children, all,
In sleep deep and ambrosial.
Yet, yet, it seemed, from star to star,
Welling now near, now faint and far,
Those echoing bells rang on in dream,
And stillness made even lovelier seem.

Walter de la Mare, The Listeners and Other Poems (Constable 1912).

As is often the case in de la Mare's poetry, the poem is an evocation of Beauty, coupled with a meditation upon how each moment of Beauty we experience can continue to resonate -- and remain -- in our lives in ways we can never anticipate.  This coarse description of the poem is the sort of thing I always counsel against.  To wit: Explanation and explication are the death of poetry.  I should follow my own advice. Best to read the poem, keep silent, and rejoice in the particulars.  

For instance, consider the repetition of the "dream"/"seem" rhymes in lines 19 and 20 and in lines 25 and 26, with the accompanying repetition of line 20 ("And stillness make more lovely seem") -- with slight modifications -- in line 26 ("And stillness made even lovelier seem").  And, of course, where would we be without de la Mare's fondness for the word "lovely"?  "Look thy last on all things lovely,/Every hour."  ("Fare Well.")  "Now is the all-sufficing all/Wherein to love the lovely well,/Whate'er befall."  ("Now.")  The "modernists" of de la Mare's day and the moderns of our own day (with their own fondness for supercilious irony) have no use for a word such as "lovely."  No surprise there.

Bertram Priestman (1868-1951), "Suffolk Water Meadows" (1906)

Philippe Jaccottet died on February 24, 2021 at the age of 95.  On March 4 of that year, his two final works were published in France: an essay (although "essay" seems too prosaic a word) (La Clarté Notre-Dame) and a collection of poems (Le Dernier Livre de Madrigaux).  The two works have been translated into English by John Taylor and have been published together in a single volume.  I ordered a copy of the book, and it arrived last Friday.

That evening I started to read La Clarté Notre-Dame.  It begins:

"Note dated 19 September 2012: 'This spring, don't forget the little vesper bell of La Clarté Notre-Dame, which sounds incredibly clear in the vast, grey, silent landscape -- truly like a kind of speech, call or reminder, a pure, weightless, fragile, yet crystal-clear tinkling -- in the grey distance of the air.'

"(Indeed, this: I must keep it alive like a bird in the palm of my hand, preserved for a flight that is still possible if one is not too clumsy, or too weary, or if the distrust of words doesn't prevail over it.)" 

Philippe Jaccottet (translated by John Taylor), in Philippe Jaccottet, 'La Clarté Notre-Dame' and 'The Last Book of the Madrigals' (Seagull Books 2022), page 5.  The italics appear in the original text.

After this two-sentence introduction, Jaccottet continues:

"On a day perhaps at the end of winter (after checking it was 4th of March, thus about a year ago), while walking with friends and barely talking in a vast landscape heading down a gentle slope to a remote valley, under a grey sky, and it's another kind of greyness that predominates in such a season in these otherwise empty fields where no one is working yet, where we're the only ones walking, with no haste and no other goal than getting some fresh air.
                                    *     *     *     *     *     *
"Up until then, nothing particularly strange, or that might have moved us.  At best, perhaps, a kind of prelude to something we didn't know. Until the little vesper bell of La Clarté Notre-Dame Convent, which we still couldn't see at the bottom of the valley, began to ring far below us, at the heart of all this almost-dull greyness.  I then said to myself, reacting in a way that was both intense and confusing (and so many times in similar moments I'd been forced to bring together the two epithets), that I'd never heard a tinkling -- prolonged, almost persistent, repeated several times -- as pure in its weightlessness, in its extreme fragility, as genuinely crystalline. . . . Yet which I couldn't listen to as if it were a kind of speech -- emerging from some mouth. . . . A tinkling so crystalline that it seemed, as it appeared, oddly, almost tender. . . . Ah, this was obviously something that resisted grasping, defied language, like so many other seeming messages from afar -- and this frail tinkling lasted, persisted, truly like an appeal, or a reminder . . ."

Ibid, pages 5-7.  The italics and ellipses appear in the original text.

Reading the passages above, I am reminded of this: "A thing is beautiful to the extent that it does not let itself be caught."  (Philippe Jaccottet (translated by John Taylor), "Blazon in Green and White," in Philippe Jaccottet, And, Nonetheless: Selected Prose and Poetry, 1990-2009 (Chelsea Editions 2011), page 53.)

Bertram Priestman, "The Sun-Veiled Hills of Wharfedale" (1917)

Having the vesper bell of the convent of La Clarté Notre-Dame arrive unexpectedly just a few days after reading "The Bells" was a nice bit of serendipity.  I know nothing about how to live, and I possess no wisdom, but age has taught me that, when it comes to Beauty, one thing leads to another.  Whether this happens by chance, or by placing oneself in the way of Beauty, or by a combination of both, I don't know.  But I do know that, when the stepping stones of Beauty appear, one ought to follow their path.

Thus, the bells of the English countryside and a vesper bell chiming from a valley in France set me to thinking about the sound of bells. Eventually, again by way of Walter de la Mare -- this time through Come Hither, his wonderful anthology of poetry -- this came to mind:

         Against Oblivion

Cities drowned in olden time
Keep, they say, a magic chime
Rolling up from far below
When the moon-led waters flow.

So within me, ocean deep,
Lies a sunken world asleep.
Lest its bells forget to ring,
Memory! set the tide a-swing!

Henry Newbolt (1862-1938), in Walter de la Mare (editor), Come Hither: A Collection of Rhymes and Poems for the Young of All Ages (Constable 1923), page 214.  In Come Hither, de la Mare gives the poem the title "Cities Drowned."  However, when the poem was originally published, Newbolt titled it "Against Oblivion."  (Henry Newbolt, Songs of Memory and Hope (John Murray 1909), page 50.) Newbolt and de la Mare were close friends, and Newbolt encouraged de la Mare when he embarked upon his literary career.  "Against Oblivion" in fact sounds like something de la Mare himself could have written.

"Against Oblivion" is the penultimate poem in the section of Come Hither titled "Dance, Music and Bells."  I proceeded to the poem which follows it:

                  The Bell-man

From noise of Scare-fires rest ye free,
From Murders -- Benedicite.
From all mischances, that may fright
Your pleasing slumbers in the night:
Mercie secure ye all, and keep
The Goblin from ye, while ye sleep.
Past one aclock, and almost two,
My Masters all, Good day to you!

Robert Herrick, in Walter de la Mare (editor), Come Hither: A Collection of Rhymes and Poems for the Young of All Ages, page 215. "Benedicite" is "an expletive of good omen, used after the mention of some evil word or thing."  (Tom Cain and Ruth Connolly (editors), The Complete Poetry of Robert Herrick, Volume II (Oxford University Press 2013), page 611 (quoting the Reverend Charles Percival Phinn).)  The Reverend Phinn (who died in 1906) was an indefatigable and thorough annotator of Herrick's poetry.  His annotations were never published, but were preserved in the margins of his copy of Herrick's poems.  (Ibid, Volume I, page 432.)  The annotations have been praised, and relied upon, by modern editors of Herrick's poetry.

Herrick's poem provided another stepping stone, leading once again to Walter de la Mare:


Twenty, forty, sixty, eighty,
     A hundred years ago,
All through the night with lantern bright
     The Watch trudged to and fro.
And little boys tucked snug abed
     Would wake from dreams to hear --
'Two o' the morning by the clock,
     And the stars a-shining clear!'
Or, when across the chimney-tops
     Screamed shrill a North-East gale,
A faint and shaken voice would shout,
     'Three! -- and a storm of hail!'

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

Bertram Priestman, "Wooded Hillside" (1910)

One thing leads to another: from the bells of sunken cities and of night watchmen my thoughts turned, for no apparent reason, to the sound of bells in Japanese poetry.  A set of two haiku written by Issa (1763-1828) provided the next stepping stones.

     The evening cool;
Not knowing the bell
     Is tolling our life away.

Issa (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume III: Summer-Autumn (Hokuseido Press 1952), page 124.

     The evening cool;
Knowing the bell
     Is tolling our life away.

Issa (translated by R. H. Blyth), Ibid, page 125.

Of the "four masters" of haiku (the other three being Bashō, Buson, and Shiki), Issa is the most down-to-earth and playful, and is by turns tragic and comic.  Commenting on the two haiku, R. H. Blyth writes: "only the enlightened man knows, as part of his hearing the bell, as part of every breath he draws, as part of the coolness, that all is fleeting and evanescent."  (Ibid, page 125; the italics appear in the original text.)  But who would presume to describe himself or herself as "enlightened"?  We know, but we don't know, isn't that the case? It depends on the moment.

I can't imagine that Walter de la Mare would have ever referred to himself as being "enlightened."  But he was well aware "that all is fleeting and evanescent."  Two days prior to his death, he "wrote to a friend of the midsummer leaf and blossom: 'One looks at it partly with amazed delight and partly with anticipatory regret at its transitoriness'."  (Theresa Whistler, Imagination of the Heart: The Life of Walter de la Mare (Duckworth 1993), page 445 and page 459 (footnote 13).)  De la Mare's comment in the letter articulates the essence of much of his poetry.
Issa's complementary and provocative haiku were not the stopping point.  At a certain stage in your life, you learn to be patient and wait for things to float up.  In time, two beloved treasures arrived.

The first treasure:

A quiet bell sounds --
and reveals a village
waiting for the moon.

Sōgi (1421-1502) (translated by Steven Carter), in Steven Carter, The Road to Komatsubara: A Classical Reading of the Renga Hyakuin (Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard University 1987), page 96. The poem is a link in a renga hyakuin (a sequence of one hundred linked verses).  Renga consist of alternating three-line and two-line verses (links).  The three-line verses/links in renga were the precursors of what eventually became a new poetic form: free-standing haiku.

The second treasure:

To a mountain village
     at nightfall on a spring day
          I came and saw this:
blossoms scattering on echoes
     from the vespers bell.

Nōin (988-1050) (translated by Steven Carter), in Steven Carter, Traditional Japanese Poetry: An Anthology (Stanford University Press 1991), page 134.  The poem is a waka.

Both of these poems have appeared here before (the latter on several occasions).  They are two of my favorite poems.  They speak for themselves.  

The sound of bells.  Yes, when it comes to Beauty, one thing leads to another.

Bertram Priestman, "The Great Green Hills of Yorkshire" (1913)

Friday, June 30, 2023


Over the past two months I have spent much of my reading time moving back and forth within the Spring volume of R. H. Blyth's four-volume Haiku.  The set has been with me for more than 40 years.  I bought it in a used bookstore in Seattle when I was attending law school.  I had discovered Blyth's haiku translations a few years earlier, but finding copies of Haiku to purchase in those pre-internet days was difficult: the four volumes had been published in small quantities in Tokyo between 1949 and 1952, and thus were scarce.  I was surprised and delighted to finally come across a lovely full set as I idly browsed one afternoon in the Asian literature section of one of my favorite bookstores.  The back endpaper of Volume I (Eastern Culture) still bears the bookseller's pencilled notation: "$65 for 4 volumes."  In my law student days, $65 was an exorbitant sum to spend on a book purchase, but I felt I had no choice.  Now, four decades later, the volumes sit beside me as I write this.

Given the number of times I have posted haiku translated by him, I suspect that the name "R. H. Blyth" appears in First Known When Lost more often than any other name.  Blyth, who was born in England in 1898 and died in Japan in 1964, was a remarkable man, with wide-ranging interests (which included, in addition to haiku, Zen Buddhism, and English poetry, a passion for the music of Bach).  He travelled to Seoul in 1924 to teach in a Japanese-operated university, and then moved to Japan in 1940, where he taught in various schools and universities.  By the time he moved to Japan, he had learned both Japanese and Chinese, and had made his first attempts at translating Japanese and Chinese poetry.  He had also begun to study and practice Zen Buddhism.  

He was still residing in Japan when the Second World War began.  As was the case with all foreign residents who were citizens of nations at war with Japan, he was confined in an internment camp throughout the War.  After the War ended, he served as a "counselor" to the Imperial Household, and, in that role, provided advice to General Douglas MacArthur during the occupation period.  He also began to act as a private tutor to the Crown Prince (and future Emperor), Akihito.  He was well-known and respected in Japan in the pre-War period for his knowledge of, and admiration for, Japanese culture.  This respect deepened as a result of the wise and practical advice he provided to MacArthur and other occupation officials during the post-War period.  His advice was driven by his love for Japan: his goal was to help protect and preserve the Japanese cultural heritage.  [This outline of Blyth's life is based upon the excellent biographical "Introduction" in Norman Waddell's Poetry and Zen: Letters and Uncollected Writings of R. H. Blyth (Shambhala 2022), pages 1-51.  The book is an invaluable collection, and I highly recommend it.]

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

All of this is by way of introduction to Blyth's Haiku.  As you have likely deduced, dear readers, I am not in the least neutral about Haiku.  I sometimes wonder whether my judgment about it is clouded by having encountered it at a relatively young age: am I still caught up in a youthful romantic daydream?  But I have discovered over the years that others have been equally entranced by the four volumes.

For instance,  a few years ago I came across this notebook entry by Philippe Jaccottet, written in 1960 (when he was 35): "R. H. Blyth's Haiku, essential. . . . I could quote pages.  While reading these four volumes, it occurred to me more than once that they contained, of all the words I have ever managed to decipher, those closest to the truth."  (Philippe Jaccottet (notebook entry, August of 1960) (translated by Tess Lewis), in Philippe Jaccottet, Seedtime: Notebooks, 1954-1979 (Seagull Books 2013), pages 52-53.)  I was astounded and gratified to happen upon these comments by Jaccottet.  He articulates (far better than I can) exactly how I have felt when reading Haiku over the past forty or so years.

This spring I once again returned to Blyth's wondrous creation: revisiting old favorites, being reminded of haiku I had once read but had forgotten, and making new discoveries.

     A pear tree in bloom:
In the moonlight,
     A woman reading a letter.

Buson (1716-1784) (translated by R. H. Blyth), in Blyth, Haiku, Volume II: Spring (Hokuseido Press 1950), page 323.

     A night of stars;
The cherry blossoms are falling
     On the water of the rice seedlings.

Buson (translated by R. H. Blyth), Ibid,  page 170.  Please bear with me: this haiku appeared in my post of May 24, but I think it goes well with Buson's pear tree haiku, so I repeat myself.  It has long been one of my favorite haiku: three lovely images in succession, and a fourth unstated image -- the stars reflected in the water, floating on the dark surface with the cherry blossom petals, both amidst the green shoots of the rice seedlings.

     The cherry blossoms blooming,
Those I remember
     All far away.

Shiki (1867-1902) (translated by R. H. Blyth), Ibid, page 348.

     How many, many things
They call to mind,
     These cherry blossoms!

Bashō (1644-1694) (translated by R. H. Blyth), Ibid, page 347.

Further thoughts by Philippe Jaccottet on haiku:

"Japanese haiku masters, who grasp in passing a shimmer in its impermanence and consider the frailest things to have the greatest value and the most power, are not mystics.  You could not imagine calling them 'ardent,' or even that they climbed mountain peaks.  They remind me more of those servants, in André Dhôtel's The Man of the Lumber Mill, who suddenly see the pure gleam of a garden reflected in the silverware or crystal glasses that they are cleaning."

Philippe Jaccottet (translated by John Taylor), "Notes from the Ravine," in Philippe Jaccottet, And, Nonetheless: Selected Prose and Poetry, 1990-2009 (Chelsea Editions 2011), page 303.

Stanley Spencer, "Landscape in North Wales" (1938)

The three seasonal volumes of Haiku (Volume II: Spring; Volume III: Summer-Autumn; Volume IV: Autumn-Winter) consist of collections of haiku organized according to general seasonal categories that are used in all three volumes: "The Season," "Sky and Elements," "Fields and Mountains," "Gods and Buddhas," "Human Affairs," "Birds and Beasts," and "Trees and Flowers."  In addition, within each of the general categories, Blyth collects haiku based upon their particular seasonal word or phrase.  Thus, for example, in the "Trees and Flowers" chapter of the Spring volume there are groups of haiku relating to cherry blossoms, plum blossoms, pear blossoms, willow trees, camellias, "grasses of spring," and ten other seasonal words or phrases.  The result of Blyth's knowledge and labor is astonishing, and a gift to us all: Spring consists of 382 pages; usually, at least two to three haiku (often more) appear on each page; hence, the volume likely contains more than a thousand haiku.

The sheer volume may seem forbidding, but it is not.  Or so it seems to me.  Something that Philip Larkin wrote about Thomas Hardy's Collected Poems applies to how I feel about Blyth's Haiku: "may I trumpet the assurance that one reader at least would not wish Hardy's Collected Poems a single page shorter."  (Philip Larkin, "Wanted: Good Hardy Critic," in Larkin, Required Writing: Miscellaneous Pieces, 1955-1982 (Faber and Faber 1983), page 174.)  (An aside: I completely agree with Larkin's assessment of Hardy's Collected Poems as well.)  

To return, then, to spring:

     The soft breeze,
And in the green of a thousand hills,
     A single temple.

Shiki (translated by R. H. Blyth), in Blyth, Haiku, Volume II: Spring, page 100.

     In the midst of the plain
Sings the skylark,
     Free of all things.

Bashō (translated by R. H. Blyth), Ibid, page 198.

     The sea of spring,
Rising and falling,
     All the day long.

Buson (translated by R. H. Blyth), Ibid, page 135.

     The lights are lit
On the islands far and near:
     The spring sea.

Shiki (translated by R. H. Blyth), Ibid, page 135.

     Tilling the field;
From the temple among the trees,
     The funeral bell tolls.

Buson (translated by R. H. Blyth), Ibid, page 161.

     Tilling the field:
The man who asked the way
     Has disappeared.

Buson (translated by R. H. Blyth), Ibid, page 165.

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

To repeat Philippe Jaccottet's thoughts about Blyth's Haiku: "While reading these four volumes, it occurred to me more than once that they contained, of all the words I have ever managed to decipher, those closest to the truth."  Blyth has brought these words to us.  Something that Jaccottet wrote at another time, but not about Blyth, and not about haiku, also comes to mind:

"Attachment to the self renders life more opaque.  One moment of complete forgetting and all the screens, one behind the other, become transparent so that you can perceive clarity to its very depths, as far as the eye can see; and at the same time everything becomes weightless.  Thus does the soul truly become a bird."

Philippe Jaccottet (notebook entry, May of 1954) (translated by Tess Lewis), in Jaccottet, Seedtime: Notebooks, 1954-1979, page 1.

     Simply trust:
Do not also the petals flutter down,
     Just like that?

Issa (1763-1828) (translated by R. H. Blyth), in Blyth, Haiku, Volume II: Spring, page 363.

Stanley Spencer, "Scarecrow, Cookham" (1934)

Wednesday, May 24, 2023


It is that time of year once again: I step out the front door, walk for an hour or so, and return, all the while accompanied by birdsong (occasionally punctuated by a crow's caw-caw-caw from off in the distance, or from directly above -- out of the blue).  In the meadows, solitary birds now and then fly up out of the wild grass or hop down a path, voiceless.  But the surrounding woods are full of unseen, unceasing choristers.

                    For Their Own Sake

Come down to the woods where the buds burst
Into fragrances, where the leaves make havoc
Of cloudy skies.  Listen to birds
Obeying their instincts but also singing
For singing's sake.  By the same token
Let us be silent for silence's sake,
Watching the buds, hearing the break
Free of fledgelings, the branches swinging
The sun, and never a word need be spoken.

Elizabeth Jennings, Consequently I Rejoice (Carcanet 1977).

This comes to mind: "the calm oblivious tendencies/Of Nature."  (William Wordsworth, The Excursion, Book I ("The Wanderer"), lines 963-964 (1814).)  One of those gnomic utterances found so often in the younger Wordsworth (of whom I am fond, although I recognize that others may find him tiresome).  "Oblivious" has always given me pause.  For instance, how does one reconcile it with immanence?  One can lose one's way in trying to unravel the euphoria and contradictions of the marvelous Wordsworthian-Coleridgean pantheism that emerged in 1797, and flourished for a few charmed years.

Jennings' poem suggests a reasonable approach: "oblivious" or not, the beautiful particulars of the World are enough in themselves, "for their own sake."  Her final words are exactly right: ". . . and never a word need be spoken."  For another perspective, we can turn to a lovely poem that has appeared here on more than one occasion: a different note, but in the same neighborhood.


I do not think that skies and meadows are
Moral, or that the fixture of a star
Comes of a quiet spirit, or that trees
Have wisdom in their windless silences.
Yet these are things invested in my mood
With constancy, and peace, and fortitude,
That in my troubled season I can cry
Upon the wide composure of the sky,
And envy fields, and wish that I might be
As little daunted as a star or tree.

John Drinkwater, Tides (Sidgwick & Jackson 1917).

Winter over, the robins no longer gather in flocks.  Leaving a meadow and passing through a dark grove of pines, one hears them singing high overhead, each in its own tree.
George Mackley (1900-1983), "Brackie's Burn, Northumberland"

On a breezy day, the new deep-green grass in the meadows turns silver as it sways and flows in the morning or afternoon sunlight.  And the sound of the rising and falling and threshing silver-green waves, how does one describe that?  A rustling?  A whispering?  A sighing?  A soughing?  A susurration?  All of the above.  But words ultimately fail, don't they?  Elizabeth Jennings is correct: ". . . and never a word need be spoken."  You simply have to be there.  No words are necessary.  No words are sufficient.

My favorite poem of May is Philip Larkin's "The Trees," to which I owe "threshing" in the paragraph immediately above.  The source is the poem's final stanza: "Yet still the unresting castles thresh/In fullgrown thickness every May./Last year is dead, they seem to say,/Begin afresh, afresh, afresh."  (Philip Larkin, High Windows (Faber and Faber 1974).)  However, when it comes to the grass of the meadows in May, I return each year to this:

          Consider the Grass Growing

Consider the grass growing
As it grew last year and the year before,
Cool about the ankles like summer rivers,
When we walked on a May evening through the meadows
To watch the mare that was going to foal.

Patrick Kavanagh, Collected Poems (edited by Antoinette Quinn) (Penguin 2005).  The poem was first published in The Irish Press on May 21, 1943.  Ibid, page 271.

May is an effulgent yet wistful month.  It does not have the wistful bittersweetness, or the bittersweet wistfulness, of, say, September or October: Spring continues to burgeon.  But the fallen cherry, plum, and magnolia petals lay scattered on the sidewalks, strewn across the grass.  On the other hand, along the paths and in the glades five-petaled pink wild roses (called the "Nootka rose" in this part of the world) and purple lupines are in bloom.  The "unresting castles" soon will be in their "fullgrown thickness" of green.  Ah, yes: "The paradise of Flowers' and Butterflies' Spirits."  (Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in Kathleen Coburn (editor), The Notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Volume 1: 1794-1804 (Pantheon 1957), Notebook Entry 1736 (December 1803).)

                       The One

Green, blue, yellow and red --
God is down in the swamps and marshes,
Sensational as April and almost incred-
     ible the flowering of our catharsis.
A humble scene in a backward place
Where no one important ever looked;
The raving flowers looked up in the face
Of the One and the Endless, the Mind that has baulked
The profoundest of mortals.  A primrose, a violet,
A violent wild iris -- but mostly anonymous performers,
Yet an important occasion as the Muse at her toilet
Prepared to inform the local farmers
That beautiful, beautiful, beautiful God
Was breathing His love by a cut-away bog.

Patrick Kavanagh, Collected Poems.  By splitting "incredible" in lines three and four, Kavanagh is able to contrive a sonnet.  (And the rhyming of "marshes" and "catharsis" in lines two and four is no mean feat either.)  "The One" was written during Kavanagh's ecstatic "Canal Bank period" of 1955 through 1958, which was prompted by his survival after a brush with lung cancer (with accompanying surgery) in March and April of 1955.  Ibid, page 284.  The poem was first published in the journal Nonplus in October of 1959.  Ibid, page 286.

Anne Isabella Brooke (1916-2002)
"Wharfedale From Above Bolton Abbey" (c. 1954)

"All things around us are asking for our apprehension, working for our enlightenment.  But our thoughts are of folly.  What is worse, every day, and many times in the day, we are enlightened, we are Buddha, a poet, -- but do not know it, and remain an ordinary man.  For our sake haiku isolate, as far as it is possible, significance from the mere brute fact or circumstance.  It is a single finger pointing to the moon.  If you say it is only a finger, and often not a very beautiful one at that, this is so.  If the hand is beautiful and bejeweled, we may forget what it is pointing at.  Recording a conversation with Blake, [Henry] Crabb Robinson gives us an example of the indifference, or rather the cowardice, of average human nature, in its failure to recognize truth, poetry, when confronted with it in its unornamented form; the lines he quotes from Wordsworth are a "haiku."  'I had been in the habit, when reading this marvellous Ode to friends, to omit one or two passages, especially that beginning,
          But there's a Tree, of many, one,
     A single field
          That I have looked upon
lest I should be rendered ridiculous, being unable to explain precisely what I admired.  Not that I acknowledged this to be a fair test.  But with Blake I could fear nothing of the kind.  And it was this very stanza which threw him almost into a hysterical rapture'."

R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume III: Summer-Autumn (Hokuseido Press 1952), pages i-ii.  The passage quoted by Blyth from Henry Crabb Robinson's papers may be found in Arthur Symons, William Blake (Archibald Constable and Company 1907), pages 296-297 ("Extracts from the Diary, Letters, and Reminiscences of Henry Crabb Robinson").  The "Ode" referred to by Crabb Robinson is "Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood."

Of course, Blyth's intention is to make a case for the unique beauty and power of haiku.  This was, in fact, his mission in life.  In my humble opinion, Blyth is entirely correct in his assessment of the Beauty and Truth that may be found in the best haiku, and of the ability of haiku to provide enlightenment (regardless of whether or not such enlightenment occurs within the context of Buddhism).  However, as Blyth suggests in this passage (and as he makes clear throughout his writings), the best poetry, in all places and at all times, "is a single finger pointing to the moon."  Thus, his observations on haiku are intertwined with references to, and comparisons with, English poetry and Chinese poetry in particular, and world literature and philosophy in general.  This catholic approach is one of the features which (again, in my humble opinion) makes his works so interesting, provocative, and, yes, wise, and gives them such charm.

All of which leads me (lengthily) to this:


The longed-for summer goes;
Dwindles away
To its last rose,
Its narrowest day.

No heaven-sweet air but must die;
Softlier float,
Breathe lingeringly
Its final note.

Oh, what dull truths to tell!
Now is the all-sufficing all
Wherein to love the lovely well,
Whate'er befall.

Walter de la Mare, O Lovely England and Other Poems (Faber and Faber 1953).

"Now" perfectly complements the observations made by Blyth in the passage quoted above.  "Now is the all-sufficing all/Wherein to love the lovely well,/Whate'er befall."  Consider this from Blyth: "All things around us are asking for our apprehension, working for our enlightenment."  Or this: "every day, and many times in the day, we are enlightened, we are Buddha, a poet, -- but do not know it, and remain an ordinary man."  As I noted above, although Blyth is making a case for the beauty and power of haiku, his observations are arguably applicable to all of the best poetry (although I certainly agree that haiku does have a special beauty and power that is the product of a unique and wonderful culture and language).

Leonard Pike (1887-1959), "The Chasing Shadows"

Who knows why we are here in this "paradise of Flowers' and Butterflies' Spirits."  During the short time we have, we should pay attention, and -- above all -- be grateful.  Speaking for myself, I fail each day.  But the poets daily remind me to attend to the World.


That shining moon -- watched by that one faint star:
Sure now am I, beyond the fear of change,
The lovely in life is the familiar,
And only the lovelier for continuing strange.

Walter de la Mare, Memory and Other Poems (Constable 1938).

One sometimes feels at a loss.  But then you happen upon something like this:

     A night of stars;
The cherry blossoms are falling
     On the water of the rice seedlings.

Buson (1716-1784) (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume II: Spring (Hokuseido Press 1950), page 170.

And the reflections of the stars float with the fallen cherry petals on the water, among the rice seedlings.

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

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Peace and Quiet

All I ask for in life is peace and quiet, accompanied by an occasional fugitive encounter with Beauty and Truth.  How does one go about pursuing these elusive will-o'-the-wisps?  I have no wisdom to impart on this score.  What do I know?  I go for a daily walk in the green and blue and parti-colored World.  Each day I read one or two poems.  I try to pay attention.  Above all, I try to be grateful.  But failure is an everyday occurrence.  

This course of action is no doubt simplistic and unambitious (and, some might argue, solipsistic).  But I have wise and reliable guides.  This entails looking backwards.  How presumptuous and narrow-minded it is to imagine that we inhabitants of the contemporary world know more about life than those who have preceded us.  Everything we need to know about how to live can be found in the past.  We moderns have nothing to add.

From early days I have been at odds with the world;
My instinctive love is hills and mountains.
By mischance I fell into the dusty net
And was thirteen years away from home.
The migrant bird longs for its native grove.
The fish in the pond recalls the former depths.
Now I have cleared some land to the south of town;
Simplicity intact, I have returned to farm.
The land I own amounts to a couple of acres.
The thatched-roof house has four or five rooms.
Elms and willows shade the eaves in back,
Peach and plum stretch out before the hall.
Distant villages are lost in haze,
Above the houses smoke hangs in the air.
A dog is barking somewhere in a hidden lane,
A cock crows from the top of a mulberry tree.
My home remains unsoiled by worldly dust;
Within bare rooms I have my peace of mind.
For long I was a prisoner in a cage,
And now I have my freedom back again.

T'ao Ch'ien (365-427) (translated by James Hightower), in James Hightower, The Poetry of T'ao Ch'ien (Oxford University Press 1970), page 50.  The poem (which is untitled) is the first poem in a five-poem sequence titled "Returning to the Farm to Dwell."  Ibid, page 50.

"Thirteen years away from home" refers to T'ao Ch'ien's career as a government official, a position he qualified for by passing a rigorous series of civil service examinations (which required extensive knowledge of, and the ability to skillfully write, poetry).  (I described these examinations, as well as the typical course of a governmental career in China, in a previous post.)  It is fortunate that T'ao Ch'ien escaped "the dusty net" of the world.  He is arguably the finest Chinese lyrical (shih) poet prior to the well-known poets of the T'ang Dynasty three to four centuries later (Li Po, Tu Fu, Wang Wei, Po Chü-i, and Han-shan).  But he is perhaps equally revered in China for the decision he made to abandon his bureaucratic career in order to return to the country to become a farmer.  He was not a wealthy gentleman-farmer.  He farmed to make a living, and he and his family suffered failed crops and the loss of a home to fire.  The vicissitudes and joys of this life are documented in his poems, and, although occasional misgivings and laments may be found in the poetry, he remained true to his commitment.

Of course, poets at all times and in all places have longed for what T'ao Ch'ien longed for in Fourth and Fifth Century China: to be free of "the dusty net" and of "worldly dust."

Happy were he could finish forth his fate
   In some unhaunted desert, most obscure
From all societies, from love and hate
   Of worldly folk; then might he sleep secure;
Then wake again, and give God ever praise,
   Content with hips and haws and bramble-berry;
In contemplation spending all his days,
   And change of holy thoughts to make him merry;
Where, when he dies, his tomb may be a bush,
Where harmless robin dwells with gentle thrush.

Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex (1566-1601), in Norman Ault (editor), Elizabethan Lyrics, From the Original Texts (Longmans, Green and Co. 1928), page 270.  Alas, I fear that Devereux never found his "unhaunted desert": his short and tempestuous life ended with a beheading for a plot against Queen Elizabeth I.  But perhaps he at least now lies "where harmless robin dwells with gentle thrush."

The pursuit of "content" is a recurring theme in Elizabethan poetry (together with love and death).  This makes sense: "content" seems to be more attainable, and less transitory, than the fickle, ever-changing chimera of "happiness" (whatever that is).

Were I a king, I could command content.
     Were I obscure, unknown should be my cares.
And were I dead, no thoughts should me torment,
     Nor words, nor wrongs, nor loves, nor hopes, nor fears.
A doubtful choice, of three things one to crave,
A kingdom, or a cottage, or a grave.

Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford (1550-1604), Ibid, page 110.

James Torrington Bell (1892-1970), "Hatton Farm, Inverarity"

Although T'ao Ch'ien was certainly influenced by Taoism, Confucianism, and, to a lesser extent, Buddhism, his decision to escape "the dusty net" was ultimately based upon his own sense of what was right for him, not upon philosophical or religious principles.  His reasons are articulated in the poem above, and we should take him at his word, for he was never one to equivocate or dissemble: he had always been "at odds with the world;" he wished to keep his "simplicity intact;" he sought "peace of mind" and "freedom."  Near the end of his life, he wrote his own prose "Elegy."  In it, he states: "There was little enough reward for my labor, but my mind enjoyed a constant leisure.  Content with Heaven and accepting my lot, I have lived out the years of my life. . . . Aware of my destined end, of which one cannot be ignorant, I find no cause for regret in this present transformation.  I have lived out my lifespan, and all my life I have desired quiet retirement.  Now that I am dying, an old man, what have I left to wish for?"  (Translated by James Hightower, in James Hightower, The Poetry of T'ao Ch'ien, page 6.)  He returns to these essential themes in nearly every poem he wrote.

Fall chrysanthemums have beautiful colors:
dew still on them, I pick the blossoms,
float them on this drowner of care --
it makes me feel farther than ever from the world.
Though I'm alone as I pour my wine,
when the cup's empty, somehow the jar tips itself.
The sun has set, all moving things stilled;
homing birds hurry to the woods, singing,
and I whistle jauntily by the eastern eaves --
another day I get to live this life.

T'ao Ch'ien (translated by Burton Watson), in Burton Watson, The Columbia Book of Chinese Poetry: From Early Times to the Thirteenth Century (Columbia University Press 1984), page 136.  The poem is untitled.  It is the seventh poem in a sequence of twenty poems titled "Drinking Wine."  Ibid, page 134.  Watson provides this note to the phrase "this drowner of care" in the third line: "Literally, 'the thing for forgetting care,' one of T'ao's terms for wine.  The chrysanthemum was believed to have medicinal properties."  Ibid, page 136.

As I noted above, those who have preceded us have provided us with all we need to know about how to live.  Thus, for instance, approximately two centuries prior to T'ao Ch'ien's time, a Roman emperor wrote this (in Greek, the language of his Stoic teachers):

"A man may any hour he pleases retire into himself; and nowhere will he find a place of more quiet and leisure than in his own soul: especially if he has that furniture within, the view of which immediately gives him the fullest tranquillity.  By tranquillity, I mean the most graceful order.  Allow yourself continually this retirement, and refresh and renew your self. . . . For the future, then, remember to retire into this little part of yourself.  Above all things, keep yourself from distraction, and intense desires. . . . Have these two thoughts ever the readiest in all emergencies: one, that 'the things themselves reach not to the soul, but stand without, still and motionless.  All your perturbation comes from inward opinions about them.'  The other, that 'all these things presently change, and shall be no more.'  Frequently recollect what changes thou hast observed.  The world is a continual change; life is opinion."

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book IV, Section 3, in Francis Hutcheson and James Moor (translators), The Meditations of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (1742).

Given the sad and harrowing circumstances of his life, Ivor Gurney was not able to fashion a path to peace and quiet similar to that embodied in the lives and words of T'ao Ch'ien and Marcus Aurelius (who each, it should be said, had their own struggles and doubts).  And yet Gurney's poetry comes to mind as I think about the pursuit of peace and quiet, Beauty and Truth.  He did pursue them, and he sometimes -- albeit fitfully and briefly -- found them.

Soft rain beats upon my windows
Hardly hammering.
But by the great gusts guessed further off
Up by the bare moor and brambly headland
Heaven and earth make war.

That savage toss of the pine boughs past music
And the roar of the elms. . . .
Here come, in the candle light, soft reminder
Of poetry's truth, while rain beats as softly here
As sleep, or shelter of farms.

Ivor Gurney, Selected Poems (edited by George Walter) (J. M. Dent 1996), page 97.  The poem is untitled.  It was not published during Gurney's lifetime.  George Walter provides this note to the text of the poem: "undated manuscript on loose sheet.  A typescript version notes that this was 'written at Dartford, probably about 1926 or 1927'."  Ibid, page 105.  Gurney was confined in the City of London Mental Hospital (known as "Stone House") at Dartford (in Kent) from December of 1922 until his death in December of 1937.  The ellipses in line 7 appear in the manuscript.

Knowing what Gurney went through in his life, reading a poem such as this breaks one's heart.  The phrase "shelter of farms" in the last line leads naturally to this:

                    The Shelter from the Storm

And meantime fearing snow the flocks are brought in,
They are in the barn where stone tiles and wood shelter
From the harm shield; where the rosy-faced farmer's daughter
Goes to visit them.

She pats and fondles all her most favourite first.
then after that the shivering and unhappy ones --
Spreads hay, looks up at the noble and gray roof vast
And says 'This will stop storms.'

Her mind is with her books in the low-ceilinged kitchen
Where the twigs blaze. -- and she sees not sheep alone
of the Cotswold, but in the Italian shelters songs repeating
Herdsmen kind, from the blast gone.

Ivor Gurney, Selected Poems, page 92.  George Walter notes that the poem is found in a "group of manuscripts on loose sheets," with some of the sheets "dated September 1926."  Ibid, page 105.  The punctuation is as it appears in the manuscript.  The poem was not published during Gurney's lifetime.

[A side-note: I recommend Kate Kennedy's recent biography of Gurney: Dweller in Shadows: A Life of Ivor Gurney (Princeton University Press 2021).  I also recommend Ivor Gurney: The Complete Poetical Works (Oxford University Press), the ongoing multi-volume edition of Gurney's poetry which is being wonderfully presented and edited by Philip Lancaster and Tim Kendall.  Volume I: March 1907-December 1918 was published in 2020, and four additional volumes are forthcoming.  Gurney deserves this attention.]

James Torrington Bell, "Farmhand Stacking Hay Stooks"

T'ao Ch'ien returns to his chrysanthemums beneath the eastern hedge and to homing birds at dusk in the following serene and simple poem, which captures the essence of the life he sought to live, yet reminds us that, in the end, words are -- quite rightly -- of no use.

I built my hut in a zone of human habitation,
Yet near me there sounds no noise of horse or coach.
     Would you know how that is possible?
A heart that is distant creates a wilderness round it.
I pluck chrysanthemums under the eastern hedge,
Then gaze long at the distant summer hills.
The mountain air is fresh at the dusk of day;
The flying birds two by two return.
In these things there lies a deep meaning;
Yet when we would express it, words suddenly fail us.

T'ao Ch'ien (translated by Arthur Waley), in Arthur Waley, One Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems (Constable 1918), page 76.  This is the fifth poem in the twenty-poem "Drinking Wine" sequence.

The final two lines of the poem bring to mind a statement by Ludwig Wittgenstein which has appeared here on more than one occasion: "What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence."  (Ludwig Wittgenstein (translated by David Pears and Brian McGuinness), Proposition 7, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921).)  An alternative translation (by C. K. Ogden) is: "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."

Last week, I came across these words by Petrarch: "a soul serene and tranquil in itself fears not the coming of any shadow from without and is deaf to all the thunder of the world."  (Petrarch, De Secreto Conflictu Curarum Mearum (often referred to simply as "Secretum"), in William Draper (editor and translator), Petrarch's Secret, or The Soul's Conflict with Passion (Chatto & Windus 1911), page 104.)  Secretum is structured as three imaginary dialogues between Petrarch and Saint Augustine.  The words quoted above are spoken by Saint Augustine in the second dialogue.  A few pages prior to the passage, Petrarch has Saint Augustine say this: "If, however, the tumult of your mind within should once learn to calm itself down, believe me, this din and bustle around you, though it will strike upon your senses, will not touch your soul."  Ibid, page 98.  Petrarch's words and thoughts (put by him into the mouth of Saint Augustine) are a remarkable echo of the passage from the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius which I quoted above.

       A nun takes the veil

        I have desired to go
            Where springs not fail,
To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail
        And a few lilies blow.

        And I have asked to be
            Where no storms come,
Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
        And out of the swing of the sea.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, in W. H. Gardner and N. H. MacKenzie (editors), The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins (Oxford University Press 1967), page 19.  "Blow" (line 4) is used in the now, alas, "archaic" sense of "to bloom."

The wisdom of the past is ever-present and ever-alive, a winding but continuous thread that is there for the finding and tracing, if we so choose.

James Torrington Bell, "Landscape"