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. 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Thea von Harbou: Metropolis--First Impressions

Thea von Harbou
Silent with some text

First Impressions

This is my first reading of the novel, although I have seen various versions of the film, which, in my estimation, is one of the all-time great films.  The most recent viewing was of the reconstructed two hour and twenty-eight minute film.  It's one of the few DVDs that I now own.   While it's been a few years since I last saw the film, I had a strange reaction when I began the novel. I immediately flashed back to the film, for the tone or atmosphere of the novel was very similar to the film, or so I thought.  This may be because von Harbou wrote the screenplay for the film.

Both the novel and the film struck me as being rather formal, almost theatrical.  It's been awhile, as I said, since I've seen the film, but looking back now, I think it was much closer to being a play filmed on stage rather than a film with its greater freedom and flexibility.  This may make sense for a film, but a novel?

The beginning of the novel: 

Chapter I

Now the rumbling of the great organ swelled to a roar, pressing, like a rising giant, against the vaulted ceiling, to burst through it.

Freder bent his head backwards, his wide-open, burning  eyes stared unseeingly upward.  His hands formed music from the chaos of the notes; struggling with the vibration of the sound and stirring him to his innermost depths.  

.  .  .  .  .

Above him, the vault of heaven in "lapis lazuli;"  hovering  therein, the twelve-fold mystery, the Signs of the Zodiac in gold.  Set higher above them, the seven crowned ones:  the planets.  High above all a silver-shining bevy of stars: the universe.

Wouldn't this be a great opening for a silent film?  It's perhaps a bit overblown by today's standards, but it works, or at least it worked for me. 

Overall, I found the novel strange.  As I began reading, I immediately flashed back to the film.  I've never before ever felt that the novel and the film were so perfectly matched in tone or ambiance or whatever.

It's dated, of course, but that just makes it seem more alien.  This is not my world, even though it's depiction of a society that consisted solely of bosses and workers could be seen as a socio-economic allegory of  today--the 1% who control everything versus the rest of us.  There are also various religious elements in the story, as well as a reference to a Japanese pleasure quarter in Edo (it really exists). 

The following are just first impressions and are presented only for discussion, revision, or even elimination and really need a serious rereading on my part. 

Is this the story of an Oedipal conflict between Father and Son?

How accurate a depiction is this of actual Marxist practice?   Marxists talk of class warfare between capitalists and the workers, represented in the novel by the bosses (the head) and the workers (the hands).   However, in the real world there is a middle class.  What happened to them?

Is this a type of Jekyll and Hyde novel featuring the virtuous, virginal Maria and her evil seductive android double--a virgin and whore dichotomy?  Other examples of the double would be Dostoyevsky's novella "The Double" and Poe's "William Wilson."

A reread sometime in the near future is a must. 

I will do a blog post on the film, eventually, but it will take awhile because I'm still floundering around about the novel,  as you can tell from my comments above.

Monday, August 8, 2016

A Minute Meditation

Wish I had learned this long ago, and now I wish I could remember this in time.

Wisdom is knowing when to stop speaking .  .  .

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

Friday, August 5, 2016

Thomas Hardy: "The Subalterns" and "Hap"

Who's in charge here?

The Subalterns

"Poor wanderer," said the leaden sky,
      "I fain would lighten thee,
But there are laws in force on high
       Which say it must not be."

--"I would not freeze thee, shorn one," cried
      The North, "knew I but how
To warm my breath, to slack my stride;
       But I am ruled as thou."

--"To-morrow I attack thee, wight,"
      Said Sickness.  "Yet I swear
I bear thy little ark no spite,
        But am bid enter there."

--"Come hither, Son," I heard Death say:
       "I did not will a grave
Should end thy pilgrimage to-day,
         But I, too, am a slave!"

We smiled upon each other then,
       And life to me had less
Of that fell look it wore ere when
        They owned their passiveness.

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

I had to think of another, later poem by Hardy, "Hap"  in which he seems to express the same feeling but comes to a different conclusion as to the real situation.


If but some vengeful god would call to me
From up the sky, and laugh: "Thou suffering thing
Know that thy sorrow is my ecstasy,
The thy love's loss is my hate's profiting!"

Then would I bear, and clench myself, and die,
Steeled by the sense of ire unmerited;
Half-eased, too, that a Powerfuller than I
Had willed and meted me the tears I shed.

But not so. How arrives it joy lies slain,
And why unblooms the best hope ever sown?
Crass Casualty obstructs the sun and rain,

And dicing Time for gladness casts a moan...
These purblind Doomsters had as readily strown
Blisses about my pilgrimage as pain.

From a previous blog post, I wrote the following:

Hardy begins by saying that he could bear his sufferings if they were caused by a vengeful god, similar, I suppose, to those frequently preached about on TV or in various pulpits. He could endure and even die more easily, strengthened by his anger over his unjust pains and miseries, especially if all was caused by something more powerful than he.

However, Hardy concludes otherwise--"But not so"--that there is no vengeful god behind it all, for what happens is the result of "Crass Casuality" and "dicing Time," that it all happens by chance. There is no grand design or a plan behind it all, for "These purblind Doomsters had as readily strown/Blisses about my pilgrimage as pain."


In "Hap,"  an earlier poem,  he states that he would find it more endurable if he thought a more powerful being had caused those ills upon us, but he concludes 

"These purblind Doomsters had as readily strown
  Blisses about my pilgrimage as pain."

In other words, pure chance determines that pain and happiness come randomly and not by a plan of some higher power.  Chance rules the universe.

In "The Subalterns," a later poem,  he discovers that, while all the things that bedevil our existence down here come at us not of their own wish,  they are commanded by something far more powerful than they are.  Death insists they are "slaves."  The narrator smiles when he hears this, for they are commanded by a higher power.  "Subalterns" are those who simply follow orders, therefore, there must be something issuing those orders.  Consequently, something must have a plan.
On the other hand, just to confuse the situation a bit, I will place Robert Frost's little poem, "Design" on the table for consideration.


I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth--
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches' broth--
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?--
If design govern in a thing so small.

--  Robert Frost --

Does Robert Frost agree with Hardy, and, if so, with which Hardy?  Is Chance or Design in charge here?

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

A Minute Meditation

No. 63

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe...

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

There's an Eastern flavor to this comment, isn't there?