Sunday, May 21, 2017

Present

I often feel that I have spent most of my life sleepwalking or daydreaming.  Asleep at the switch.  Nearly everything has escaped me.  But each moment offers the possibility of redemption:  a new opportunity to be awake and to be present.  "Begin afresh, afresh, afresh."

Fortunately for us, the beautiful particulars of the World are boundlessly and endlessly merciful.  Every day, without fail, they gently shake us by the shoulders and whisper in our ear:  "Wake up!  Look over here.  Listen to this."  Not in so many words, of course.  The World is wordless.  Yet it is not reticent.  Nor is it impassive.  Hence, immanence.

                            The Wood

I walked a nut-wood's gloom.  And overhead
A pigeon's wing beat on the hidden boughs,
And shrews upon shy tunnelling woke thin
Late winter leaves with trickling sound.  Across
My narrow path I saw the carrier ants
Burdened with little pieces of bright straw.
These things I heard and saw, with senses fine
For all the little traffic of the wood,
While everywhere, above me, underfoot,
And haunting every avenue of leaves,
Was mystery, unresting, taciturn.
          .          .          .          .          .
And haunting the lucidities of life
That are my daily beauty, moves a theme
Beating along my undiscovered mind.

John Drinkwater, Loyalties (Sidgwick & Jackson 1919).  The ellipses appear in the original.

George Allsopp, "Wharfdale Landscape" (1960)

My daily walk takes me past a row of a dozen or so big-leaf maples that stand along the edge of a large meadow.  Old, tall, and stately, several of them have trunks that are three- to four-feet in diameter.  I have been walking past the maples for more than twenty years.  However, it was not until earlier this spring that I noticed how beautiful their thick grey trunks are when set against the deep green of the wild grasses that cover the meadow.

I have been seeing that grey-against-green for years now.  Yet the beauty of it had eluded me.  Where had I been all that time?  Ah, but the World is patient with sleepwalkers and daydreamers.  For that I am grateful.  Those trees and that meadow will now never be the same for me.

                              Moonlit Apples

At the top of the house the apples are laid in rows,
And the skylight lets the moonlight in, and those
Apples are deep-sea apples of green.  There goes
     A cloud on the moon in the autumn night.

A mouse in the wainscot scratches, and scratches, and then
There is no sound at the top of the house of men
Or mice; and the cloud is blown, and the moon again
     Dapples the apples with deep-sea light.

They are lying in rows there, under the gloomy beams;
On the sagging floor; they gather the silver streams
Out of the moon, those moonlit apples of dreams,
     And quiet is the steep stair under.

In the corridors under there is nothing but sleep,
And stiller than ever on orchard boughs they keep
Tryst with the moon, and deep is the silence, deep
     On moon-washed apples of wonder.

John Drinkwater, Tides (Sidgwick & Jackson 1917).

As is always the case with the beauty and truth of the World, one thing leads to another.  A few days ago, I walked past another spring meadow, newly-mown and bright green, sloping upward toward a grey stone wall. Seven black crows were scattered across it.  Black-against-green, grey-against-green . . . and so it goes while we are here.

The one looking --
he also lends some color
     to the moonlight.

Shinkei (1406-1475) (translated by Steven Carter), in Steven Carter, Traditional Japanese Poetry: An Anthology (Stanford University Press 1991), page 295.

Samuel John Birch, "Nancledra: Old Cornish Village" (1931)

These revelations of beauty and truth necessarily occur within the time in which we find ourselves.  And each modern age is contrived to turn us into somnambulists, whether the "modern age" is today, a century ago, or a millennium ago.  Thus, William Wordsworth in 1802:

"For a multitude of causes, unknown to former times, are now acting with a combined force to blunt the discriminating powers of the mind and, unfitting it for all voluntary exertion, to reduce it to a state of almost savage torpor.  The most effective of these causes are the great national events which are daily taking place, and the increasing accumulation of men in cities, where the uniformity of their occupations produces a craving for extraordinary incident, which the rapid communication of intelligence hourly gratifies."

William Wordsworth, Preface to Lyrical Ballads (1802).

Or John Drinkwater in 1921:

"The breaking down of all barriers of space has opened up imposing vistas of imperial activity, of which the benefits are well known to Ministers of State; it has also, we learn, shown us the way to a brotherhood of man, on the principle, it may be supposed, that the domestic virtue of brotherly affection is best fostered by not staying at home.  Of these rhetorical blessings I do not feel that I am qualified to speak; I see them in misty prospect, and am unmoved.  From the manner and character of their prophets they are, at least, suspect in my mind.

"But as to one result of this merely mechanical extending of an horizon I am clear, and clear that it is spiritually injurious to man.  The growing tendency of a world where means of instantaneous communication and rapid transit and the ever-widening ramifications of commercial interests more and more make everybody's business everybody's business, is to breed a shallow and aimless cosmopolitanism in all of us at the expense of an exact and intimate growth in our knowledge of ourselves and our neighbours and the land of our birth."

John Drinkwater, "The World and the Artist," The Bookman's Journal and Print Collector, Volume V, No. 1 (October 1921), page 8.

As for us?  Long-time readers of this blog know my feelings about the false gods of our own time:  Progress, Science, and disingenuous, malevolent, and dehumanizing utopian political schemes.  I will not rehearse my objections again.

Nothing ever changes, does it?  But, withal, the beauty and truth of the World abide within the chimerical emptiness of each successive "modern age."  The choice is ours.

                                   History

Sometimes, when walls and occupation seem
A prison merely, a dark barrier
Between me everywhere
And life, or the larger province of the mind,
As dreams confined,
As the trouble of a dream,
I seek to make again a life long gone,
To be
My mind's approach and consolation,
To give it form's lucidity,
Resilient form, as porcelain pieces thrown
In buried China by a wrist unknown,
Or mirrored brigs upon Fowey sea.

Then to my memory comes nothing great
Of purpose, or debate,
Or perfect end,
Pomp, nor love's rapture, nor heroic hours to spend --
But most, and strangely, for long and so much have I seen,
Comes back an afternoon
Of a June
Sunday at Elsfield, that is up on a green
Hill, and there,
Through a little farm parlour door,
A floor
Of red tiles and blue,
And the air
Sweet with the hot June sun cascading through
The vine-leaves under the glass, and a scarlet fume
Of geranium flower, and soft and yellow bloom
Of musk, and stains of scarlet and yellow glass.

Such are the things remain
Quietly, and for ever, in the brain,
And the things that they choose for history-making pass.

John Drinkwater, Loyalties.

Hubert Wellington, "Overhanging Branch, Frampton Mansell" (1915)

At this time of year, at the tip of each pine tree twig, bright yellow-green tufts of new needles emerge.  The needles are delicate, and soft to the touch. After the spectacular spring show of the fruit tree blossoms, with all of its bittersweet beauty, all of its passing and vanishing, there is something endearing and reassuring about the simple loveliness of these unfolding tufts.

What are we to make of these wordless communions?

                         Reciprocity

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.

William Birch (1895-1968), "Morning in June, the Vale of Dedham"

22 comments:

erin said...

i wonder if you know of the poet Tom Hennen. (i also wonder if i didn't just mention him to you. my memory is punched full of holes.)

i search Tom's book "Darkness Sticks to Everything" for a poem to bring to you but as it is with the best poets, it is not a phrase which might be hung like a banner, but a sense of being accrued by his entire dialectic that matters. he laments the loss of the old landscape,

Home Place

The old house went down the basement stairs
And didn't come back up.

The people
The cows
The sheep
The pigs and the chickens
Have disappeared through a great hole
In the landscape.

And yet the possibility of a dense and rich beinghood is possible with attention and proximity to the natural world,

Independent Existence

A small pond comes out of the hillside.
On its surface
Hangs a frog imitating moss.
A willow leaf
Drops on the water
And is immediately still.
Autumn air penetrates the ground.
Wind hums endlessly
To the tangled grass.
When things happen here
There is no urge to put them on TV.

*

also, i am struck by another writer i am currently reading. in Dostoevsky's The Idiot i happened upon this last night, "Nihilists are sometimes informed people...but these—they have gone further, madam, because before anything else they're businessmen."

*

the word enough keeps circling around through my mind, my breath. perhaps i can offer this,

When we are little
and exceedingly foolish
our mothers stop us cold
with just one word—
Enough!

*

might we obey—what colours might be begin to notice, for truly the world (the real world, that is) is more than enough.

Fred said...

Stephen,

I had never heard of John Drinkwater. Thanks for introducing him.

Tim Davis said...

Thank you for your posting. Today I feel too much like Beckett's tramps in _Waiting for Godot_, as I guess shows too clearly in my own posting this morning, but your posting is a soothing balm, and I am motivated now to take a walk outside Thank you.

Bovey Belle said...

John Drinkwater is all but forgotten now, but not as forgotten as Fredegond Shove, the female poet who shared the pages of Georgian Poetry (1918-1919) - a book from which Edward Thomas's poetry was excluded by Edward Marsh on the grounds that this publication was for living poets, there would be no posthumous publications of work.

Your choice of Drinkwater's poems is excellent. I didn't know the first poem, but love that first line: "I walked a nut-wood's gloom". It reminds me of the way Dylan Thomas re-ordered words.

My favourite is Moonlit Apples, written at Dymock without doubt.

Anjali Krishna said...

Hi, Steve. Had been awaiting your blogpost, and it has brought delight. John Drinkwater's poetry zooms in on detail, and conveys also the mystery without and within. Your new awareness of the trunks against the grass also gladdens me. The winds of God's grace are always blowing; it is we who do not raise our sails. Trust you are well.

Stephen Pentz said...

erin: Thank you very much for your lovely meditation, particularly for your poem and your final thought. Yes, "the world . . . is more than enough" -- our mothers were indeed right!

You have indeed mentioned Tom Hennen here before: last December (I checked). I was reminded that I was happy to discover that he hails from Minnesota, where I was born. His line "the old house went down the basement stairs" brings back memories of abandoned farmhouses out in the Minnesota countryside. "Independent Existence" is wonderful: it sounds and feels like a haiku. (Perhaps it was the mentioning of the frog, which put me in mind of Bashō.)

Thank you for visiting again. It is always a pleasure to hear from you.

Stephen Pentz said...

Fred: I'm happy to have introduced John Drinkwater to you. He is one of those neglected poets who wrote some fine poems during his time. The poems in the post, and several others, have always stayed with me. I think you would enjoy "The World and the Artist" -- it is available at the Internet Archive, as well as at HathiTrust Digital Library.

It's good to hear from you again. Thank you very much for stopping by.

John Ashton said...

Stephen,

How delightful to read John Drinkwater’s poems here, another of those unfairly forgotten English poets in my opinion. Moonlit Apples, though frequently anthologised is a poem one never tires of reading, it has an indefinable magic to it that is never lessened by reading again.

The final verse of the poem, History reminded me of the quote from Cesare Pavese I shared here recently. Those seemingly unrelated glimpses that nestle deep within memory, recalled in whole or partial sequence, moments of a day with us forever.

It never ceases to astonish me how we can take our familiar walks, I have one I take at least once a week through a small area of local woodland, and suddenly see what we had not seen before, or had but not really noticed. Particularly at this time of year when the drench of green in meadow, hedgerow and woodland is so dense we can easily miss individual beauties, but as you say nature is patient to a point and the joy of seeing is there for us as long as the season lasts.

We are fortunate to have on the campus at which I work a small wooded area and a chalk meadow, and possibly because it is of a modest size I have come to know it quite well over the years, but only a few ago I found an area tunnelled out under a mound of brambles and a fairly deep scrape made by an animal, probably a badger, I know we have them living in our woods, and yet though I walk past those brambles almost every day I was surprised when I saw it. Perhaps I am daydreaming on my way into the library lulled by birdsong and the brightness of the buttercups and daisies thronging the grass underfoot

Stephen Pentz said...

Tim: I'm happy to hear from you. I'm pleased you liked the post. As for walks: I've never known anything but good to come from them (even up here in the Northwest, where one is liable to get rained upon). I find that this is especially true on those days when emotionally it may feel like a chore to get up and go out: those are exactly the days when a walk is called for -- and a change of mood nearly always ensues, for the World has a way of surprising us, and moving us off in a new direction.

As ever, thank you for visiting. Now, I respectfully suggest you that get outside and go for a walk!

Stephen Pentz said...

Bovey Belle: Yes, it is unfortunate that most of the Georgian poets are now forgotten. I have picked up copies of all the volumes of Georgian Poetry over the years, and it is a pleasure to return to them. Drinkwater, Freeman, Gibson, Davies, and the rest wrote many fine poems that deserve to be remembered. "Moonlit Apples" is a prime example. I ought to look more deeply into Shove's work -- I am only familiar with a few of her poems that I have come across in anthologies.

As ever, thank you very much for visiting, and for sharing your thoughts.

Stephen Pentz said...

Anjali: It's very nice to hear from you again. Thank you very much for your kind words about the post. Your description of Drinkwater's poems as focussing on detail, while "convey[ing] also the mystery without and within" is perfect: looking at them again, I see exactly what you mean -- even the "farm parlour" has a great deal of mystery about it, doesn't it?

Thank you as well for the lovely quote, which, having done some internet research, I find being attributed to either Ramakrishna or Rabindranath Tagore. Whoever said it, or wrote it, it fits well here. We always have to be receptive and attentive to what the World sends our way, don't we? A daily struggle, I find. But the gifts are ever-present.

As always, thank you very much for visiting, and for sharing your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Blake says we "must learn to see not with the eye, but through it." I think Wordsworth says the same in the selection from his Tintern Abbey pasted below. Notice how Wordsworth insists that, if I read him correctly, that when we "see" nature for the marvel it is we must bring our imaginations to what we see. We play a part in its creation. Could we say that to see nature as "thoughtless youth" is to see it discrete, to say, for example, that's a pretty rose and over there is grand tree. An older person, or one who has, for whatever reason, developed a keen imagination, sees more than a pretty flower or a sky-yearning tree stretching in a summer wind. This "older" person hears "the still, sad music of humanity." Nature, capable of revealing so much joy and, sometimes, serenity, also can "chasten and subdue" us. It's the mystery of the human imagination confronting the mysterious sublime, a finite self-consciousness, solitary, looking into infinity, one forever expanding, even as we sit quietly and contemplate the cry of doves. We are stricken with awe.

For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still, sad music of humanity,
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue. And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things. Therefore am I still
A lover of the meadows and the woods,
And mountains; and of all that we behold
From this green earth; of all the mighty world
Of eye, and ear, -- both what they half create,
And what perceive; well pleased to recognise
In nature and the language of the sense,
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being.

Lee Hanson said...

Lovely piece Stephen. You have introduced me to the poems of John Drinkwater, a man I had read about but never really read. I wonder if you have read The Dymock Poets, a wonderful account of Drinkwater, Abercrombie, Brooke, Frost and Thomas and there time together in the England of 1912-14. It's a fine book. Thanks for the blog. Keep them coming.

Stephen Pentz said...

John: Thank you for sharing your lovely meditation. As you suggest, no matter how familiar we might be with a certain place, something new always presents itself. My daily walks consist of familiar paths, but each time I take a walk something new reveals itself. Perhaps I am learning (finally!) to pay greater attention. I hope so. Nature is patient, and we should be patient too. Your anecdote about the possible badger tunnel reminded me of seeing a great blue heron walking in a meadow a month or so ago. They are quite common along the shorelines of Puget Sound -- you see them standing in the shallow water, looking for fish -- but I had never seen one casually walking through a grassy meadow, far from water. I thought it might have been injured or ill, but a few minutes later I saw it flying towards the water. Always something new.

Yes, "Moonlit Apples" is lovely. Your phrase "indefinable magic" describes it well. Of course, a great deal of this is attributable to the wonderful sound and rhythm of the words, a sort of incantatory, lullaby-like feeling. I never tire of it either.

It is always a pleasure to hear from you. Thank you for stopping by again.

Stephen Pentz said...

Anonymous: I appreciate your bringing Wordsworth to our attention. Thank you. He has much to say on these matters, doesn't he? Drinkwater's lines "While everywhere, above me, underfoot,/And haunting every avenue of leaves,/Was mystery, unresting, taciturn" have a bit of a Wordsworthian feel to them. Wordsworth has been described as a pantheist, and I confess that I am sympathetic to his view of the World. I'm quite fond of this fragment from his "Alfoxden notebook," which has appeared here before:

Of unknown modes of being which on earth,
Or in the heavens, or in the heavens and earth
Exist by mighty combinations, bound
Together by a link, and with a soul
Which makes all one.

I see this thought echoed in the lines "a sense sublime/of something far more deeply infused" and "A motion and a spirit, that . . . rolls through all things" from the passage you quote. Well, one either has an affinity for this sort of thing, or one does not. There's no "proving" or "disproving" the truth of the matter.

I agree with your thoughts that perhaps these inclinations and realizations come more to the fore as we grow older. I sense that to be the case. I certainly hope so.

Thank you very much for sharing both your thoughts and the passage from Wordsworth.

Half-heard in the Stillness said...

I just LOVE your blog....it really makes me 'think'.
The older we get the days seem to dissolve quickly behind us. Certainly I find this anyway. I have a vision of myself kind of with my heels digging into the dirt as life drags me ever forwards.
Ooh! I'm sounding sombre, even though the sun is shining here today, but I think we are all feeling that way today in Manchester, England.

'We are the music-makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,'

A.W.E. O'Shaughnessy.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Hanson: Thank you very much for visiting again, and for the kind words. I'm pleased to have provided you with an introduction to Drinkwater's poetry. As I noted above, he wrote a number of fine poems, as did the other Dymock poets, and, more generally, the Georgian poets. But, as you know, apart from Thomas and Frost, they are mostly neglected now, which is unfortunate. As I have said here before, it is the poem that ultimately matters, not the individual poet, and they wrote many poems that are worth seeking out.

I was not familiar with the book The Dymock Poets. Having now done some research as a result of your comment, I presume it was written by Sean Street. It does look interesting. Thank you for recommending it.

I always appreciate hearing from you. Thank you for stopping by.

Stephen Pentz said...

Half-heard in the Stillness: Thank you very much for your kind words about the blog.

Time does seem to move more quickly as we age, doesn't it? But I never feel that I am being dragged against my will. In fact, I lean towards the view that, in time, one feels ready to let go. The state of the world contributes to that feeling. For instance, Manchester. Too much sadness. Too much evil.

Thank you for visiting again, and for sharing your thoughts.







Seamus Sweeney said...

Thank you Stephen for this post, like so many others. I am particularly glad to be introduced properly to Drinkwater. My knowledge of him was previously confined to some essay (possible in a school text book) which essentially lumped Masefield and he together as amiable mediocrities destined to be swept away but the genius of Eliot. While I admire Eliot greatly, this is unfair to Masefield and, I can see now, even more profoundly unfair to Drinkwater.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Sweeney: It's good to hear from you again. Thank you for the kind words. I'm pleased you liked the poems by Drinkwater. It's a nice coincidence that you mention the essay suggesting that Drinkwater and Masefield (I'm quite fond of a number of his poems as well) were "swept away by the genius of Eliot": Just last week I was browsing through my copy of Georgian Poetry: 1920-1922, which was published in 1922, the year of The Waste Land. The thought occurred to me as I browsed: "Well, that was the end of that." Indeed it was: this was the last time that Edward Marsh published the anthology. But it wasn't the end, was it? If I have anything to say about it, Drinkwater's "Moonlit Apples" and "Reciprocity" will always be with us. As will Masefield's "On Eastnor Knoll," "Twilight," and "An Epilogue." And many others as well, by other poets. I went through my Eliot phase, as many of us did. And I still return to his poetry. (Mostly Four Quartets.) But he seems very cold to me now. Not so Drinkwater and Masefield. This is not a "literary" judgment (I avoid those), but a matter of feeling.

As always, thank you very much for visiting, and for sharing your thoughts.

Penn said...

Hello. I feel as if I have come home to a place where I need not explain, nor apologise, for the poetry that has been running in my veins my whole life. This is a relief so deep that in this African dawn, now coolly showing itself in chilly clarity over the raucous dawn chorus, I could weep, and I am. Thank you Stephen for page after page of the poetry that has informed my life; reading through each blog was like paging through an actual, tattered address book with names and places scored through, re-entered, different inks and eras, odd torn bits of paper, maiden names changed, deaths ruled through. So many of the poems brought the same shock of loving, nostalgic, frustrated, happy, gentle, melancholia. All my friends are here. Thank you.

Stephen Pentz said...

Penn: Thank you very much. That is extremely kind of you to say. My sole purpose in starting, and continuing, this blog is to share the things I love in the hope that they may resonate with others as well. Thus, your comment makes me feel grateful and humbled. I see this as an act of preservation and continuation that we are all involved in together.

I am delighted that you found your way here, and I hope you will return. Thank you again.