Monday, December 25, 2023


At Christmas, I turn to Thomas Hardy.  (As well as to George Mackay Brown (for instance, "Christmas Poem": "We are folded all/In a green fable . .  .") and R. S. Thomas (a bit astringent, as one might expect, but lovely; for instance, "Blind Noel": "Yet there is always room/on the heart for another/snowflake to reveal a pattern").)  When it comes to Hardy, I invariably visit this:

                      The Oxen

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
     "Now they are all on their knees,"
An elder said as we sat in a flock
     By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
     They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
     To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
     In these years!  Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
     "Come; see the oxen kneel

"In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
     Our childhood used to know,"
I should go with him in the gloom,
     Hoping it might be so.

Thomas Hardy, Moments of Vision and Miscellaneous Verses (Macmillan 1917).  A "barton" is a farmyard.  The poem was first published in The Times on December 24, 1915.  (J. O. Bailey, The Poetry of Thomas Hardy: A Handbook and Commentary (University of North Carolina Press 1970), page 370.)

At some point in his life, Hardy lost his faith.  But he wrote "The Oxen" without irony.  This may be difficult for most irony-afflicted moderns to believe (in the unlikely event they should ever come across the poem).  But I take Hardy at his word.  And I would do as he says he would do.

Edmund Blunden writes this of "The Oxen":

"Like so many of his poems, this one sprang from lonely musing on scenes of the past and their application to the present. . . . The picture is one to delight us still in troubled times.  A quiet Christmas Eve almost a hundred years ago, in a Dorset cottage, by firelight, and an old man, unaware of anything remarkable in his talk, says that the cattle in the shed are on their knees now.  Everyone agrees silently.  A boy looks especially attentive.  The years run by, and there is the attentive boy Hardy himself grown an old man, realizing the universal appeal in that local superstition, the reviving life in it."

Edmund Blunden, Thomas Hardy (Macmillan 1941), page 153.

Blunden was a friend of Hardy's, and was quite fond of him.  One senses respect, but also a bit of skepticism, in his discussion of "The Oxen."  Given Blunden's experiences in the trenches during the First World War, and the date on which the poem was published, this is understandable.  But, again, I take Hardy on his word.

"Reason is great, but it is not everything.  There are in the world things not of reason, but both below and above it; causes of emotion, which we cannot express, which we tend to worship, which we feel, perhaps, to be the precious elements in life."  (Gilbert Murray, A History of Ancient Greek Literature (Heinemann 1897), page 272.)

Ben Nicholson (1894-1982), "1930 (Christmas Night)" (1930)

In writing of his admiration for Hardy's poetry, Thom Gunn notes that, in reading the poetry, he has a "feeling of contact with an honest man who will never lie to me."  (Thom Gunn, "Hardy and the Ballads," in The Occasions of Poetry: Essays in Criticism and Autobiography (North Point Press 1985), page 105.)  Kingsley Amis says something uncannily similar about Edward Thomas: "How a poet convinces you he will not tell you anything he does not think or feel, since you have only his word for it, is hard to discover, but Edward Thomas is one of those who do it."  (Kingsley Amis, The Amis Anthology (Arena 1989), page 339.)  I completely agree with what Amis says of Edward Thomas, and I believe it is true of Thomas Hardy as well.  

These comments about poetic honesty are complemented quite well by this fine observation about Hardy and his poetry by F. L. Lucas: "He deliberately took for his subjects the commonest and most natural feelings; but by an unfamiliar side, and with that insight which only sensitiveness and sympathy can possess.  This sympathy is important; for, as I have said, if truthfulness is one main feature of Hardy's work, its compassion is another."  (F. L. Lucas, Ten Victorian Poets (Cambridge University Press 1940), page 192.)

All of this leads us in a roundabout way back to Hardy's Christmas poetry, which is where we ought to be: 


The rain-shafts splintered on me
     As despondently I strode;
The twilight gloomed upon me
     And bleared the blank high-road.
Each bush gave forth, when blown on
     By gusts in shower and shower,
A sigh, as it were sown on
     In handfuls by a sower.

A cheerful voice called, nigh me,
     "A merry Christmas, friend!" --
There rose a figure by me,
     Walking with townward trend,
A sodden tramp's, who, breaking
     Into thin song, bore straight
Ahead, direction taking 
     Toward the Casuals' gate.

Thomas Hardy, Winter Words in Various Moods and Metres (Macmillan 1928).  "The Casuals' gate" refers to a gate at the Union House, a workhouse in Dorchester, Dorset.  (J. O. Bailey, The Poetry of Thomas Hardy: A Handbook and Commentary, page 581.)  "In Hardy's time any 'casual' (pauper or tramp) could apply to the police for a ticket, with which he would be admitted for supper, a bed, and breakfast."  (Ibid.)

With that (and with a grateful thank you to Thomas Hardy): "A merry Christmas, friend!"

Robin Tanner (1904-1988) "Christmas" (1929)

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

No Grieving

Most of the leaves have fallen.  One day last week -- a proverbial "brilliant autumn day" -- I walked past a grove of big-leaf maples bordering a small glade.  The ground beneath the maples was covered with red, russet, and yellow leaves.  There was no wind.  Now and then, a few of the remaining leaves drifted down.  Each one made a soft tick as it landed on the dry, deep leaf-carpet.

     People are few;
A leaf falls here,
     Falls there.

Issa (1763-1828) (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 4: Autumn-Winter (Hokuseido Press 1952), page 364.

A single leaf falls in a sunlight-pierced, shadowed grove, joining its predecessors.  I cannot help but return to the lines from Yeats which appeared in my most recent post: ". . . and the yellow leaves/Fell like faint meteors in the gloom."  (W. B. Yeats, "Ephemera.")  There is something to be said for waning autumn.

     Leaves falling,
Lie one on another;
     The rain beats on the rain.

Gyōdai (1732-1793) (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 4: Autumn-Winter, page 365.

The haiku by Issa and Gyōdai are statements of fact.  Lovely statements of fact.  Records of two evanescent moments made by two evanescent human beings.  But there is much more afoot.  "The real nature of each thing, and more so, of all things, is a poetical one. . . . Haiku shows us what we knew all the time, but did not know we knew; it shows us that we are poets in so far as we live at all."  (R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 1: Eastern Culture (Hokuseido Press 1949), page x.)  

And this:

"In old-fashioned novels, we often have the situation of a man or a woman who realizes only at the end of the book, and usually when it is too late, who it was that he or she had loved for many years without knowing it.  So a great many haiku tell us something that we have seen but not seen.  They do not give us a satori, an enlightenment; they show us that we have had an enlightenment, had it often, -- and not recognized it."

R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 3: Summer-Autumn (Hokuseido Press 1952), page 322 (the italics are in the original text).

In noting that Issa's and Gyōdai's haiku are "statements of fact," I am not suggesting that the poems are emotionless observations, devoid of feeling.  Any fine haiku is an embodiment of kokoro, a Japanese word (based on the Chinese character for the Chinese word xin) which can mean "heart," "mind," or "spirit" or, in certain contexts, all three of them at once: heart-mind-spirit.  Thus, the distinctive melancholy of autumn inhabits both of the two haiku: that combination of heartbreaking beauty and resigned acceptance each of us knows so well.  

Alexander Jamieson (1873-1937)
"The Old Mill, Weston Turville" (1927)

Autumn's particular form of melancholy is, not surprisingly, present in my favorite autumnal poem by Thomas Hardy.  As is so often the case (at least for me) when reading Hardy's poetry, the poem contains a line which, once encountered, stays with you for a lifetime.

   Autumn in King's Hintock Park

Here by the baring bough
     Raking up leaves,
Often I ponder how
     Springtime deceives, --
I, an old woman now,
     Raking up leaves.

Here in the avenue
     Raking up leaves,
Lords' ladies pass in view,
     Until one heaves
Sighs at life's russet hue,
     Raking up leaves!

Just as my shape you see
     Raking up leaves,
I saw, when fresh and free,
     Those memory weaves
Into grey ghosts by me,
     Raking up leaves.

Yet, Dear, though one may sigh,
     Raking up leaves,
New leaves will dance on high --
     Earth never grieves! --
Will not, when missed am I
     Raking up leaves.

Thomas Hardy, Time's Laughingstocks and Other Verses (Macmillan 1909).  Hardy added the subscript "1901" at the bottom of the poem. The date may be put into context by Hardy's comment on the poem in a letter he wrote to a friend in December of 1906: "I happened to be walking, or cycling, through [the park] years ago, when the incident occurred on which the verses are based."  (J. O. Bailey, The Poetry of Thomas Hardy: A Handbook and Commentary (University of North Carolina Press 1970), page 207.) 

"Earth never grieves!"  This is the line that has stayed with me for several decades.  Years after having first come across it, I was delighted to discover this passage in a letter written by Philip Larkin to Monica Jones, his long-time companion: "Earth never grieves, I thought, walking across the park, watching seagulls cruising greedily above the ground looking for heaven knows what.  Don't you think it's a good line?  A very good line."  (Philip Larkin, letter to Monica Jones (January 29, 1958), in Philip Larkin, Letters to Monica (edited by Anthony Thwaite) (Faber and Faber 2010), page 235.)  I also heartily agree with another comment made by Larkin relating to Hardy (which has appeared here on more than one occasion): "[M]ay I trumpet the assurance that one reader at least would not wish Hardy's Collected Poems a single page shorter, and regards it as many times over the best body of poetic work this century so far has to show?"  (Philip Larkin, "Wanted: Good Hardy Critic" (1966), in Philip Larkin, Required Writing: Miscellaneous Pieces 1955-1982 (Faber and Faber 1983), page 174.)  Larkin's comment was correct at the time he wrote it in 1966.  It remains correct.

[A side-note.  Hardy's comment on the source of "Autumn in King's Hintock Park" brings to mind a statement attributed to him in The Life and Work of Thomas Hardy (a biography which was ascribed to his wife, Florence Hardy, when it was first published, but which was actually written mostly by Hardy): "I believe it would be said by people who knew me well that I have a faculty (possibly not uncommon) for burying an emotion in my heart or brain for forty years, and exhuming it at the end of that time as fresh as when interred."  (Thomas Hardy and Florence Hardy, The Life and Work of Thomas Hardy (edited by Michael Millgate) (Macmillan 1985), page 408.)  These lines from one of Hardy's poems come to mind: "O the regrettings infinite/When the night-processions flit/Through the mind!"  (Thomas Hardy, "The Peace-Offering.")  We each have our own "regrettings infinite" and flitting "night-processions," don't we?

A poem about Hardy by Siegfried Sassoon, who often visited Hardy at his home in Dorset, provides an evocative glimpse of Hardy and his haunting, ever-present past.

                     At Max Gate

Old Mr. Hardy, upright in his chair,
Courteous to visiting acquaintance chatted
With unaloof alertness while he patted
The sheep dog whose society he preferred.
He wore an air of never having heard
That there was much that needed putting right.
Hardy, the Wessex wizard, wasn't there.
Good care was taken to keep him out of sight.

Head propped on hand, he sat with me alone,
Silent, the log fire flickering on his face.
Here was the seer whose words the world had known.
Someone had taken Mr. Hardy's place.

Siegfried Sassoon, Collected Poems: 1908-1956 (Faber and Faber 1961).  "Max Gate" was the name of Hardy's home in Dorchester.  The younger poets of Hardy's time often tended to make their way to Hardy in his later years.  For instance, in addition to Sassoon, Walter de la Mare and Edmund Blunden became his friends, and were invited for visits.  Like Sassoon, both of them wrote poems about Hardy.]

James McIntosh Patrick (1907-1998), "A City Garden" (1940)

"Earth never grieves!"  As for us, there is no escape from grief and grieving, is there?  This is neither a complaint nor a lament.  Grief and grieving are part and parcel of the beauty of the World.  What can one do?  Continue to pay attention to the beautiful particulars of the World.  Above all else, remain grateful.

When I was young, not knowing the taste of grief,
I loved to climb the storied tower,
loved to climb the storied tower,
and in my new songs I'd make it a point to speak of grief.

But now I know all about the taste of grief.
About to speak of it, I stop;
about to speak of it, I stop
and say instead, "Days so cool -- what a lovely autumn!"

Hsin Ch'i-chi (1140-1207) (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 371. The poem is untitled.

"Days so cool -- what a lovely autumn!"  One can only hope to find the equanimity of Hsin Ch'i-chi.  Or the equanimity (and the beauty and truth) of this:

"Are we to look at cherry blossoms only in full bloom, the moon only when it is cloudless?  To long for the moon while looking on the rain, to lower the blinds and be unaware of the passing of the spring -- these are even more deeply moving.  Branches about to blossom or gardens strewn with faded flowers are worthier of our admiration. Are poems written on such themes as 'Going to view the cherry blossoms only to find they had scattered' or 'On being prevented from visiting the blossoms' inferior to those on 'Seeing the blossoms'? People commonly regret that the cherry blossoms scatter or that the moon sinks in the sky, and this is natural; but only an exceptionally insensitive man would say, 'This branch and that branch have lost their blossoms.  There is nothing worth seeing now.'

"In all things, it is the beginnings and ends that are interesting.  Does the love between men and women refer only to the moments when they are in each other's arms?  The man who grieves over a love affair broken off before it was fulfilled, who bewails empty vows, who spends long autumn nights alone, who lets his thoughts wander to distant skies, who yearns for the past in a dilapidated house -- such a man truly knows what love means."

Kenkō (1283-1350) (translated by Donald Keene), Tsurezuregusa, Chapter 137, in Donald Keene (editor), Essays in Idleness: The Tsurezuregusa of Kenkō (Columbia University Press 1967), pages 115 and 118.

James Paterson (1854-1932), "Moniaive" (1885)

After all my long-windedness, I find myself returning once again to my favorite poem of autumn.  (For which I beg the forbearance of long-time -- and much-appreciated! -- readers of this blog.)


The prisoners of infinite choice
Have built their house
In a field below the wood
And are at peace.

It is autumn, and dead leaves
On their way to the river
Scratch like birds at the windows
Or tick on the road.

Somewhere there is an afterlife
Of dead leaves,
A stadium filled with an infinite
Rustling and sighing.

Somewhere in the heaven
Of lost futures
The lives we might have led
Have found their own fulfilment

Derek Mahon, The Snow Party (Oxford University Press 1975).

Come to think of it, "Leaves" has something to say about grieving, equanimity, and beauty.

As does this:

The wind has brought
     enough fallen leaves
To make a fire.

Ryōkan (translated by John Stevens), in John Stevens, One Robe, One Bowl: The Zen Poetry of Ryōkan (Weatherhill 1977), page 67.

Gilbert Spencer (1892-1979)
"Burdens Farm, with Melbury Beacon" (1943)

Wednesday, October 18, 2023


Has any poet written as many beautiful and memorable lines as Yeats?  I confess that I am biased by circumstances.  I discovered the poetry of Yeats at an impressionable age: in my sophomore year of college, in a course titled "Yeats, Pound, and Eliot."  I was smitten from the start.  Imagine a melancholic, romantic lad, 19 years of age, reading this: "A pity beyond all telling/Is hid in the heart of love." ("The Pity of Love.")  Or this: "And bending down beside the glowing bars,/Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled/And paced upon the mountains overhead/And hid his face amid a crowd of stars." ("When You Are Old.")  Or this: "She bid me take life easy, as the grass grows on the weirs;/But I was young and foolish, and now am full of tears." ("Down by the Salley Gardens.")  Or this: "I have spread my dreams under your feet;/Tread softly because you tread on my dreams."  ("He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven.")  Prior to taking the course, I had a fitful interest in poetry.  But, when I came upon Yeats, that was it: my life changed.

As I have noted here in the past, I am fondest of the fin de siècle Yeats, the Yeats of the Celtic Twilight.  This no doubt suggests that I have failed to progress emotionally over the past five decades.  The "critical consensus" favors middle and late Yeats: the "mature" Yeats. But I don't find these sorts of critical assessments to be helpful.  (Am I to look askance at "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" because Yeats wrote it at the age of 25?)  There is great beauty to be found in all of Yeats -- early, middle, or late.  Best to just read the poems.

Thinking of poems by Yeats set in autumn, this comes first to mind: "Autumn is over the long leaves that love us,/And over the mice in the barley sheaves . . ."  ("The Falling of the Leaves.")  And then this: "The woods were round them, and the yellow leaves/Fell like faint meteors in the gloom, and once/A rabbit old and lame limped down the path;/Autumn was over him . . ."  ("Ephemera.")  These two poems appear beside each other in The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems, which was published in 1889, the heart of Yeats's Celtic Twilight period.

Still, despite my fondness for the younger Yeats, I am more than willing to concede that, when it comes to his autumn poems, this (from his middle years) is the finest:

         The Wild Swans at Coole

The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.

The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount 
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All's changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.

But now they drift on the still water,
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake's edge or pool
Delight men's eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?

W. B. Yeats, The Wild Swans at Coole (Macmillan 1919).

As I asked at the outset: has any poet written as many beautiful and memorable lines as Yeats?  Each stanza of "The Wild Swans at Coole" has lines that one is unlikely to forget, having read them but once.

James McIntosh Patrick (1907-1998)
"Stobo Kirk, Peeblesshire" (1936)

The autumn mood is the autumn mood at all times and in all places. Thus, reading "The trees are in their autumn beauty,/The woodland paths are dry," I think of this, from China in the Ninth Century, during the great T'ang Dynasty period of poetry:

                           The Cranes

The western wind has blown but a few days;
Yet the first leaf already flies from the bough.
On the drying paths I walk in my thin shoes;
In the first cold I have donned my quilted coat.
Through shallow ditches the floods are clearing away;
Through sparse bamboos trickles a slanting light.
In the early dusk, down an alley of green moss,
The garden-boy is leading the cranes home.

Po Chü-i (772-846) (translated by Arthur Waley), in Arthur Waley, More Translations from the Chinese (George Allen & Unwin 1919), page 57.  The poem is written in the eight-line lü-shih ("regulated verse") form, which, in addition to having tonal and rhyming requirements, calls for verbal parallelism in the second and third couplets.  (See Burton Watson, The Columbia Book of Chinese Poetry: From Early Times to the Thirteenth Century (Columbia University Press 1984), pages 8-12, 374.)

Waley's More Translations from the Chinese and Yeats's collection The Wild Swans at Coole were both published in 1919.  It is lovely to think that the two of them may have been working on "The Cranes" and "The Wild Swans at Coole" during the same period of time.  Po Chü-i had written "The Cranes" ten centuries earlier.  Twilight. Bright leaves.  Dry paths.  Swans and cranes.  Nothing had changed. Nothing has changed.

Malcolm Midwood Milne (1887-1954), "Barrow Hill" (1939)

In February of 1694, Matsuo Bashō wrote to a friend in Ueno (the town in which Bashō had been born and raised): "I feel my end is drawing near."  (Makoto Ueda, Bashō and His Interpreters: Selected Hokku with Commentary (Stanford University Press 1991), page 370.)  In June of that year, he made the long journey from Edo (now known as Tokyo) to Ueno (which is located near Kyoto).  In November, Bashō was still in Ueno, staying in a small cottage located behind his brother's house.  On November 13, he wrote this haiku:

     Along this road
Goes no one,
     This autumn eve.

Bashō (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 3: Summer-Autumn (Hokuseido Press 1952), page 342.  Bashō included this headnote to the haiku: "Expressing how I feel."  (Makoto Ueda, Bashō and His Interpreters, page 406.)  The Japanese word which Blyth translates as "eve" is kure.  Kure can mean "sunset," "dusk," or "evening;" it can also mean "end" or "close."  Hence, the final line of the haiku has sometimes been translated as, for instance, "the end of autumn" or "autumn's close."

On the same day, Bashō wrote this:

this autumn
why am I aging so?
to the clouds, a bird

Bashō (translated by Makoto Ueda), in Makoto Ueda, Bashō and His Interpreters, page 407.  The poem is prefaced by this headnote: "A wanderer's thought."  (Ibid, page 407.)  Bashō does not identify the type of bird.

Swans and cranes.  And, finally: "to the clouds, a bird."  Autumn.

[A postscript.  Bashō died on November 25.  This is his final haiku:

on a journey, ailing --
my dreams roam about
on a withered moor

Bashō (translated by Makoto Ueda), Ibid, page 413.]

Alexander Sillars Burns (1911-1987), "Afternoon, Wester Ross"

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)