Sunday, September 25, 2016

Missed cultural signals

No. 93

well nothing happened
yesterday has passed away
with globefish soup
                -- Basho --
from The Complete Haiku

Texts written in a foreign language always present a translation problem for anyone not familiar with the original language.  However, another problem is also present--lack of knowledge about the text's culture.  I find this a regular obstacle because I frequently read stories and poems in translation.  Regardless of my knowledge, limited or otherwise, I was not born in that culture and therefore miss much.

The haiku, brief as it is, presents that problem: many times I have read a haiku, get what it expresses and, yet, feel I'm missing something.  What's even more worrisome is that I wonder how many times I never suspected I missed something.

Fortunately, Jane Reichhold, the editor and translator of Basho: The Complete Haiku has provided an appendix which includes notes for every single haiku.  You can guess how much this helps.

I read the above haiku and was a bit puzzled for it appeared as though the point was that it's been an empty day, with its high point being a bowl of globefish soup the day before.  However, turning to the notes, I find the following:

"1678--spring.  The globefish, or puffer fish, is a popular delicacy.  If a globefish isn't prepared properly it can be deadly.  It remains an expensive dish because chefs have to be specially trained and licensed.  The expense and idea of tempting death add to the thrill of eating this food."

Now I understand.  This haiku is a sigh of relief.

Friday, September 23, 2016

A Minute Meditation

"Don't worry and everything will naturally sort itself out."
                                                                     -- Lao Tzu --
from Taoist Wisdom, September 23

I wonder if this is one of his most misunderstood sayings. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Autumn Poems

Today, September 22,  2016 is the first day of Autumn, or the Autumnal Equinox, or if you prefer, the Fall Equinox.  In recognition of this, here are a few poems about autumn. 

No. 12

The morns are meeker than they were --
The nuts are getting brown --
The berry's cheek is plumper --
The Rose is out of town.

The Maple wears a gayer scarf --
The field a scarlet gown --
Lest I should be old fashioned
I'll put a trinket on.

-- Emily Dickinson --
from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson

With the moon-rising .. .
   Leaf after leaf after leaf
        Falls fluttering down
                     -- Shiki --
from Cherry-Blossoms: Japanese Haiku Series III
tran. not given

     The mountain grows darker,
Taking the scarlet
    From the autumn leaves.
                     -- Buson --
from Silent Flowers
trans R. H. Blyth

Clear autumn sky
   One pine tree
Soaring on the ridge.
               -- Soseki --
from Zen Haiku
Trans and edited by Soiku Shigematsu

Song at the Beginning of Autumn

Now watch this autumn that arrives
In smells.  All looks like summer still;
Colours are quite unchanged, the air
On green and white serenely thrives.
Heavy the trees with growth and full
The fields.  Flowers flourish everywhere.

Proust who collected time within
A child's cake would understand
The ambiguity of this--
Summer still raging while a thin
column of smoke stirs from the land
Proving that autumn gropes for us.

But every season is a kind
Of rich nostalgia.  We give names--
Autumn and summer, winter, spring--
As though to unfasten from the mind
Our moods and give them outward forms.
We want the certain, solid thing

But I am carried back against
My will into a childhood where
Autumn is bonfires, marbles. smoke;
I lean against my window fenced
From evocations in the air.
When I said autumn, autumn broke. 

-- Elizabeth Jennings --
from Collected Poems

 When I think of autumn, I do not think of autumn in Tucson, where I've lived for over 45 years.  Instead, I think of autumn in Chicago, where I grew up.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

John Muir: immortality, sort of anyway


Bears are made of the same dust as we, and breathe the same winds and drink of the same waters.  A bear's days are warmed by the same sun, his dwellings are overdomed by the same blue sky, and his life turns and ebbs with heart-pulsings like ours, and was poured from the same First Fountain.  And whether he at last goes to our stingy heaven or no, he has terrestrial immortality.  His life not long, not short, knows no beginning, no ending.  To him life unstinted, unplanned, is above the accidents of time, and his years, markless and boundless, equal Eternity.

-- John Muir --
from John Muir: In His Own Words 

Many have said that only humans are "mortal" for we alone know we have a beginning and an end.  Others on this planet are unaware of this and, therefore, have a form of immortality.  While this idea is not unique to John Muir, I don't think I've ever heard anyone put it as clearly and concretely as this. 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882): The Two Longfellows

Presented are two poems written by Longfellow,  one published in 1836 and one published some forty years later.  I wonder what has happened to bring about such a change in perspective.

Longfellow the Younger

A Psalm of Life
What The Heart Of The Young Man Said To The Psalmist.

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
   Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
   And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
   And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
   Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
   Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
   Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
   And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
   Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,
   In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
   Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
   Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,— act in the living Present!
   Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
   We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
   Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
   Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
   Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
   With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
   Learn to labor and to wait.

This was published in  1838 when Longfellow was 31.

Longfellow the Elder

The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls

The tide rises, the tide falls,
The twilight darkens, the curlew calls;
Along the sea-sands damp and brown,
The traveller hastens toward the town,
       And the tide rises, the tide falls.

Darkness settles on roofs and walls,
But the sea, the sea in the darkness calls;
The little waves, with their soft, white hands,
Efface the footprints in the sands,
       And the tide rises, the tide falls.

The morning breaks; the steeds in their stalls
Stamp and neigh, as the hostler calls;
The day returns, but nevermore
Returns the traveller to the shore,
       And the tide rises, the tide falls.

This poem was published in 1879, when Longfellow was 72 years old.  He died three years later in 1882.

An image brought up in both, but with a different conclusion to the latter.

 Longfellow the Younger

"Lives of great men all remind us
   We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
   Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
   Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
   Seeing, shall take heart again."

 Longfellow the Elder
"Darkness settles on roofs and walls,
But the sea, the sea in the darkness calls;
The little waves, with their soft, white hands,
Efface the footprints in the sands,
       And the tide rises, the tide falls."

His view of those footsteps in the sand has changed somewhat, it appears.  

Thursday, September 15, 2016

A Minute Meditation: a paradox or a contradiction or. . .?

August 6

All theories are completely false.

-- Chuang Tzu --
from Taoist Wisdom:  Daily Teachings 

Does this include his theory? 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Rubaiyat: Second Edition, Quatrain LXXI

And yet another quatrain that FitzGerald introduced in the Second Edition.

Second Edition: Quatrain LXXI

I sent my Soul through the Invisible,
Some letter of that After-life to spell:
     And after many days my Soul return'd
And said, "Behold, Myself am Heav'n and Hell:"

Fifth Edition:  Quatrain LXVI
I sent my Soul through the Invisible,
Some letter of that After-life to spell:
     And by and by my Soul return'd to me,
And answered, "I Myself am Heav'n and Hell:"

Note the colon that ends each version of the quatrain.  That signifies that the quatrain that follows will provide a further elaboration to that last line. 

FitzGerald has modified the last two lines of the quatrain.  He has substituted "by and by" for "after many days" in the third line.  The first version suggests that the Soul returned a long time later (many days) while the second is far more indeterminate (by and by).  That could be many days or hours or weeks or . . .?
Perhaps he felt that after many days was too prosaic and that by and by flowed more smoothly.

The second change, from  Behold, Myself am  to I Myself am,  seems, to me anyway, to eliminate the awkwardness of  Myself am and replacing it with the much more standard I Myself am.

The Poet/Narrator does not say how he sent his Soul searching for information about the Afterlife.  Perhaps he uses some form of meditation or maybe even wine.  He does not say.  But, his Soul does return with an answer, a rather disconcerting one at that: "I Myself am Heav'n and Hell:".

This reminds me of Milton's Paradise Lost in which Satan says, "Which way I fly is Hell:  myself am Hell."   This is the wording of the last line in the Second Edition, only FitzGerald has added "Heav'n" to the equation.  Actually, it now seems to me that the entire quatrain seems to echo that line in Milton or perhaps is FitzGerald's incorporation of that line from Milton into the Rubaiyat..

But, the addition of  Heav'n changes radically Satan's realization.   Satan is doomed to Hell with no escape, but humans, some anyway, have another possibility.   Yet, the operative verb is am which signifies identity in both FitzGerald's and Milton's poems.  It is not that they are destined for Hell but that they are Hell itself, or possibly Heaven also for FitzGerald. 

Is there a suggestion here that the nature of the Afterlife is not determined by the Creator but by ourselves?  Since we are Heaven and Hell, does that mean that Afterlife will be as we are, both Heaven and Hell?  Or perhaps, the Afterlife for the Good will be as they are, Heaven, and for the Evil, it is Hell?

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Cats: a poem and a painting

                                                  Cat and Yellow Butterfly
                                           Hsu Pei-hung, Chinese, (1895-1953)
                 Garden Lion 
O Michael, you are at once the enemy
And the chief ornament of our garden,
Scrambling up rose-posts, nibbling at nepeta,
Making your lair where tender plants should flourish,
Or proudly couchant on a sun-warmed stone.

What do you do all night there,
When we seek our soft beds,
And you go off, old roisterer,
Away into the dark?

I think you play at leopards and panthers;
I think you wander on to foreign properties;
But on winter mornings you are a lost orphan
Pitifully wailing underneath our windows;
And in summer, by the open doorway,
You come in pad, pad, lazily to breakfast,
Plumy tail waving, with a fine swagger,
Like a drum-major, or a parish beadle,
Or a rich rajah, or the Grand Mogul.

-- Mary Ursula Bethell --
New Zealand, (1874-1945)

Just a slight change of pace.  The poem and the painting remind me of Molly and Dusky, both of whom have moved on to wherever they go after their stay with me:  Molly for about 16 years and Dusky about three weeks shy of 18 years.  Both had very active fantasy lives as I watched them out in the front and back yards.

Note:  Both the poem and the painting are featured in Art and Nature: An Illustrated Anthology of  Nature Poetry  

Friday, September 9, 2016

Elizabeth Jennings: "The Enemies"

Here is a strange, enigmatic poem by Elizabeth Jennings, a poet of whom I know nothing.  I shall have to do some digging around.

The Enemies

Last night they came across the river and
Entered the city.  Women were awake
With lights and food.  They entertained the band,
Not asking what the men had come to take
Or what strange tongue they spoke
Or why they came so suddenly through the land.

Now in the morning all the town is filled
With stories of the swift and dark invasion;
The women say that not one stranger told
A reason for his coming.  The intrusion
Was not for devastation:
Peace is apparent still on hearth and field.

Yet all the city is a haunted place.
Man meeting man speaks cautiously.  Old friends
Close up the candid looks upon their face.
There is no warmth in hands accepting hands;
Each ponders, 'Better hide myself in case
Those strangers have set up their homes in minds
I used to walk in.  Better draw the blinds
Even if the strangers haunt in my own house.

-- Elizabeth Jennings --
from Penguin Modern Poets: I

Who are the invaders? 

What is the role of the women here?  Why were they "awake/With lights and food?"  Why didn't they ask any questions of the invaders?  Did the women invite them?

Who are the enemies?  Who are the real enemies?

The last stanza suggests that the men, assuming that the term "man" is not a generic term that refers to both men and women,  now fear their neighbors more than they do the invaders.  How has this come about?

Is this a "feminist" poem?

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

A Minute Meditation

No. 36

inside the temple
  visitors cannot know
     cherries are blooming                  
-- Basho --
from  Basho:  The Complete Haiku 

Just a simple observation?

Or, is Basho making a point here?

Sunday, September 4, 2016

A few words about Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey

Jane Austen
Northanger Abbey

This was one of the two novels published posthumously, shortly after her death in 1817.  The other was my favorite: Persuasion.  However, the publication date is misleading for Northanger Abbey was actually the first novel she sold to a publisher.  The publisher, Crosby and Co.,  purchased the novel in 1803, but decided against publishing it.   In 1816, Henry Austen, Jane Austen's brother, bought it back from the publisher and then published it in 1817.  It wasn't until 1811, eight years after she sold NA, that Austen finally saw her first novel in print,  Sense and Sensibility.

 As I mentioned in an earlier post, I believe this is really two novels, one being a comedy of manners and the second part a satire on Gothic novels.  What links them is that the satiric look at the Gothic novel was set up in the first half.

I posted, earlier, some thoughts about the Predator and Prey relationships, as I saw them, in Pride and Prejudice.  Naturally I was curious to see if some of the other novels could be looked at in the same way.  Following are some of my impressions of the major characters of NA:

Frederick Tinley:  a Predator.  His prey are vulnerable females, for he's not looking for a rich wife.  He is the eldest son and therefore will inherit his father's estate.  However, he may also be seen as Prey as long as he is unattached and the presumed heir to his father's fortune.

Isabel Thorpe:  a Predator.  She first sets her sights on Catherine's brother, James.  However, she is considerably disappointed when she learns of the small portion James will get upon their marriage.   At this point she discovers Frederick Tinley, a much more lucrative prize.

This is an interesting situation in that Predator Frederick meets Predator Isabel.  Unfortunately, Isabel is handicapped for she is looking for a marriage proposal while Frederick is just interested in a short term conquest, at the end of which he can simply ride off into the sunset.   

John Thorpe:  Predator who sees Catherine as far wealthier than she really is and also as the heiress presumptive of her neighbors, the Allens.

Isabel and John Thorpe are the first attempts at depicting a predatory brother and sister.  They, therefore, are the precursors of a later and more complex predatory brother and sister, Mary and Henry Crawford of Mansfield Park.

General Tinley:  he's looking for a rich wife, but not for himself but for his second son Henry.

Catherine Morland: Prey, as she is the target of John Thorpe who is looking for a rich wife to support him.

James Morland:  Catherine's brother who thinks he is in pursuit of Isabel, but he really is Prey.

Henry and sister Eleanor, do not seem to fit my definition of Predator, and nor is there any suggestion in the novel that they are actively sought after, therefore, they are not Prey either.

 I am just completing my rereading of Austen's works, and as it turned out, the last two novels just happened to be Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, apparently the first and the last of Austen's six novels.  It is interesting? informative? curious? ironic? to read these two back-to-back.  In NA we find Catherine, surely the youngest of Austen's heroines, so innocent and naive that she doesn't even realize at first that she's in love with Henry, while in Persuasion, Anne is not only not in her first love, but has long since lost it through her own actions and now regrets her decision.  The juxtaposition of the two novels reveals the increased depth and complexity of Austen's perception of her characters and the struggles they face in finding their futures, from dealing with First Love to being faced with that rarest of possibilities, a second chance, or as a recent poet once put it, to take "the road not taken.". .

Overall I would rank this as the lightest of the Six.  Catherine is the youngest and most naive of Austen's heroines, and she certainly violates several rules of feminine decorum as set out at that time, but her innocence and earnestness excuse her.  All can see that she means no harm as she is unaware, for the most part, of her errors in decorum.

Simply put, it's a light-hearted and enjoyable tale.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

A Minute Meditation

August 30

Nothing is wrong.  Everything is right.

-- Lao Tzu --
from  Taoist Wisdom

Why are those who go around denying the validity of universal statements so prone to making universal statements?

In the above statement, the Taoist insists there is no need to make judgements since all things are right.  Are rape, murder, child abuse good?

Here's an interesting and informative little task.  Those who have a copy or access to a copy of  Lao Tzu's definitive work,  the Tao Te Ching, should count the number of chapters in which the Taoist makes a judgement about what is right and what is not right, the number of chapters in which the Taoist insists that all things are right, and the number of chapters in which the Taoist makes no judgement about anything.

Any guesses on the results?

Monday, August 29, 2016

Sarah Orne Jewett: September Song

Sarah Orne Jewett
The Country of  Pointed Firs

The conclusion to the novel--the end of the vacation.  It is time to return home and face the "real world."

The Backward View

"At last it was the time of late summer, when the house was cool and damp in the morning, and all the light seemed to come through green leaves; but at the first step out of doors the sunshine always laid a warm hand on my shoulder, and the clear, high sky seemed to lift quickly as I looked at it.  Thee was no autumnal mist on the coast, nor any August fog; instead of these, the sea, the sky, all the long shore line and the inland hills, with every bush of bay and every fir-top, gained a deeper color and a sharper clearness.  There was something shining in the air, and a kind of lustre on the water and the pasture grass, -- a northern look that, except at this moment of the year, one must go far to seek.  The sunshine of a northern summer was coming to its lovely end.

The days were few then at Dunnet Landing, and I let each of them slip away unwillingly as a miser spends his coins.  I wished to have one of my first weeks back again, with those long hours when nothing happened except the growth of herbs and the course of the sun.  Once I had not even known where to go for a walk; now there were many delightful things to be done and done again, as if I were in London.  I felt hurried and full of pleasant engagements, and the days flew by like a handful of flowers flung to the sea wind.

At last I had to say good-by to all my Dunnet Landing friends, and my homelike place in the little house, and return to the world in which I feared to find myself a foreigner.  There may be restrictions to such a summer's happiness, but the ease that belongs to simplicity is charming enough to make up for whatever a simple life may lack, and the gifts of peace are not for those who live in the thick of battle."

-- Sarah Orne Jewett --
from The Country of the Pointed Firs

If you haven't read Sarah Orne Jewett's The Country of Pointed Firs yet, you really should.  You don't know what you are missing.  It was as if I too were leaving and returning to the everyday world.    

Friday, August 26, 2016

A Minute Meditation

I usually post texts that either I agree with to a greater or lesser degree or which puzzle me and I hope for illumination.  Rarely do I post something that I disagree with, but this will be one of those rare occasions.

"The Wise are pleased by nothing
          and pained by nothing,
          delighted by nothing
          and angered by nothing.
Everything is mysteriously the same.
         There is no good and bad.

-- Lao Tzu --
from Taoist Wisdom, "August 26"
Timothy Freke, editor

Not being Wise, I am pleased by some things
         and pained by others,
         some things delight me
         while I am angered by others.
Everything is mysteriously and wondrously different.
        There are things good and bad.

It is clear that I have an impossible distance to travel before I become "Wise."

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Thomas Hardy: "Afterwards"

Here is another gem of Thomas Hardy's that I just discovered recently while browsing through the collection of his poems. 


When the Present has latched its postern behind my tremulous stay,
   And the May month flaps its glad green leaves like wings,
Delicate-filmed as new-spun silk, will the neighbours say,
   "He was a man who used to notice such things"?

If it be in the dusk when, like an eyelid's soundless blink,
    The dewfall-hawk comes crossing the shades to alight
Upon the wind-warped upland thorn, a gazer may think,
    "To him this must have  been a familiar sight."

If I pass through some nocturnal blackness, mothy and warm,
   When the hedgehog travels furtively over the lawn,
One may say, "He strove that such innocent creatures should come to no harm,
    But he could do little for them; and now he is gone."

If, when hearing that I have  been stilled at last, they stand at the door,
    Watching the full-starred heavens that winter sees,
Will this thought rise on those who will meet my face no more,
    "He was one who had an eye for such mysteries"?

And will any say when my bell of quittance is heard in the gloom,
     And a crossing breeze  cuts a pause in is outrollings,
Till they rise again, as they were a new bell's  boom,  
     "He hears it not now, but used to notice such things."?

-- Thomas Hardy --
from The Works of Thomas Hardy

This, at first, struck me as an unusual poem for Hardy, but, of course, I'm familiar with so few of his thousand or so poems that this may not be that unusual.   When I first read it, I immediately thought of Emily Dickinson, who has a number of poems supposedly expressing ideas after having died.  She also has a large number of poems, over seven hundred I think, so I'm familiar with only a relatively few of them.

That was my first impression, but after rereading it, it became clear that the narrator was only speculating on how he might be remembered after death, not that he had actually died and was now wondering about how others would remember him.  What the poem does give us is a picture of the concerns of the narrator while he was alive, and those concerns are not, to me anyway, the expected ones.  If Dickinson, however, expresses the narrator's concerns in a poem of hers, I'm not aware of it. 

I see no concern here for his "place" in history or his "place" in literature.  Instead of a concern for an intellectual understanding of him, it focuses on his absorption in the real world about him.   I wonder what those who insist that art is, along with children, a symptom of the artists' or the parents' hope for immortality will think of the narrator of this poem.

The poem does reflect, also, one of Hardy's strengths as a novelist and a poet--his sense of place and the creatures that inhabit it.  His concerns are for those natural elements that we all see and experience, but we are so used to them that they are invisible.  But this is clearly not true for Hardy, for the natural world is so important in his poetry and in his fictions, that to remove them would leave a large gap in his poetry or his fictions.

In addition, I find his language to be straightforward and almost blunt.  And as always, there is that sense of honesty in that he simply says what he believes.

The narrator here asks a question that most of us, at one time or another, have asked, but he adds a unique qualification, "Do they remember the right things about me?" 

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: Second Edition, Quatrain LXX

This quatrain responds to the previous quatrain in which the human body was referred to as a "Clay suburb."

Second Edition:  Quatrain LXX

But that is but a Tent wherein may rest
A Sultan to the realm of Death addrest;
     The Sultan rises, and the dark Ferrash
Strikes, and prepares it for another Guest.

Fifth Edition:  Quatrain XLV
'Tis but a Tent where takes his one day rest
A Sultan to the realm of Death addrest;
     The Sultan rises, and the dark Ferrash
Strikes, and prepares it for another Guest.

The only difference between the Second and the Fifth editions occurs in the first line, which FitzGerald seems to modify to make it flow more easily and to eliminate that double "but."  This is one of the rare occasions in which I like the second version more than the first.

The body is now a tent which the occupant leaves behind, just as the soul presumably leaves the body behind at death.  Since the body is composed of clay or dust or ash, it will be used again and again in the future.   We are here for a short time only and then must move on to make room for "another Guest."

The Ferrash has pitched the tent (the body) and now it strikes it: "the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD,"  as we read in the KJV, Job 1:21.

Note:  Ferrash:  Servant, tent-pitcher.
Definition found in the glossary of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, "Published for the Classics Club by Walter J. Black:  Roslyn, N. Y.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

A Minute Meditation

At one point in his stay in the Sierras, John Muir got a job on a sheep ranch.  This resulted in the following observation, which may or may not be profound.  And, even if it isn't profound, I had to stop and think about it.  And smile also.

"Aside from mere money profit one would rather herd wolves than sheep."

-- John Muir --
from  John Muir:  In His Own Words

A question, as I reviewed the above, suddenly popped up:  Which would be easier?

Herding wolves or herding cats? 

Or--more fun?

A chuckle this time.

Hmmmm, methinks the summer heat is getting to me.   

Friday, August 19, 2016

Joseph Wood Krutch: drawing the line, sorta, kinda

Joseph Wood Krutch
The Twelve Seasons

This summer I have been looking again at Paramecia and Lacrimaria and Opalina, as well as at the flora amidst which they live.  But I do not know what kind of relation I have with them or just how I feel toward them.  I marvel and I admire.  They are beautiful.  They are, quite literally, lovely.  But in what sense do or can I love them?  After I have peered for a while at a drop of water, I wipe it off with a piece of tissue and put it into a wastebasket.  I should not be telling the truth if I said that I feel much compunction at such wanton killing.  Why don't I? Is it simply because responsibility cannot bridge the gap of that discontinuity established by nothing but size?  Do I, like my woman friend, doubt that the protozoa are real?

-- Joseph Wood Krutch --
from  "July" in The Twelve Seasons

Paramecia, Lacrimaria, and Opalina are organisms visible only with the aid of a microscope.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Joseph Wood Krutch: Where to draw the line. . .

Joseph Wood Krutch
The Twelve Seasons

Joseph Wood Krutch poses an interesting question, one which I had never really directly asked myself but had only thought briefly about it and then put it off for the future.

Krutch had just given a visitor the opportunity to look at a drop of water through his microscope.  After viewing the various critters swimming around in the drop, the visitor asked if they were real.  Krutch feels that the question really had a deeper meaning which the visitor was unable to express:

. . .whether or not acceptance of the microcosm as "real" means an obligation to expand still further the limits of that fellowship of living creatures which man has tended more and more to acknowledge.  We, or at least many of us, no long treat horses and dogs and cats ruthlessly.  We accept to some extent their right to live and to escape unnecessary suffering.  But where does our fellowship and our responsibility draw the line?    Most would probably agree that the refusal, recommended by the poet, to step wantonly upon even a worm is carrying things pretty far.  "We are all in this together";  does that include the paramecium too?  But if, to use Donne's now almost too familiar metaphor, a man is not an island but part of a continent, and if (to go one step farther) that continent is the continent, not merely of mankind, but of all living things; if, in a word, we feel even now an impulse to rescue a squirrel from a cat, shall we also come in time to turn away in horror when the hydra clasps a water flea?  If not, then at what point do we call a halt?  Am I being "sentimental" when I rescue the squirrel, or am I being "brutal" when I stop on the caterpillar?

-- Joseph Wood Krutch --
from "July" in The Twelve Seasons

I don't have any answers myself,  but I guess I'm prejudiced or biased in favor of furry mammals, and also consider whales, dolphins, and all of our mammalian sea cousins as within the limits of that fellowship of living creatures. Feathered creatures are also within that fellowship.    But, the others that share this planet?
Life is rare in the universe or so it seems, so, shouldn't all forms be equally valued?  

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Jonh Muir: some thoughts on graveyards

You . . . are with Nature in the grand old forest graveyard, so beautiful that almost any sensible person would choose to dwell here with the dead rather than with the lazy, disorderly living.

Bonaventure is called a graveyard, a town of the dead, but the few graves are powerless in such a depth of life.  The rippling of the living waters, the song of birds, the joyous confidence of flowers, the calm, undisturbable grandeur of the oaks, mark this place of graves as one of the Lord's most favored abodes of life and light.

On no subject are our ideas more warped and pitiable than on death.  Instead of the sympathy, the friendly union, of life and death so apparent in Nature, we are taught death is an accident, a deplorable punishment for the oldest sin, the archenemy of life.

. . . How assiduously Nature seeks to remedy these labored art blunders.  She corrodes the iron and marble, and gradually levels the hill which is always heaped up, as if a sufficiently heavy quantity of clods could not be laid upon the dead.  Arching grasses come one by one; seeds come flying on downy wings, silent as fate, to give life's dearest beauty for the ashes of art; and strong evergreen arms laden with ferns and tillandsia drapery are spread over all--Life at work everywhere, obliterating all memory of the confusion of man.

All quotations come from  John Muir: His Own Words.  

His sentiments definitely would not be in tune with Halloween, would they?  But, of course, he's mainly speaking of daytime here.   I wonder if anyone else has expressed similar sentiments about graveyards.