A Duo of View

 

A John Piper painting of ruins

A John Piper painting, known for his moody depiction of post WWII ruins

Thomas Carlyle
From his Essay on Robert Burns

‘The poet, we cannot but think, can never have far to seek for a subject: the elements of his art are in him, and around him on every hand; for him the Ideal world is not remote from the Actual, but under it and within it nay, he is a poet, precisely because he can discern it there. Wherever there is a sky above him, and a world around him, the poet is in his place; for here too is man’s existence, with its infinite longings and small acquirings; its ever-thwarted, ever-renewed endeavours; its unspeakable aspirations, its fears and hopes that wander through Eternity: and all the mystery of brightness and of gloom that it was ever made of, in any age or climate, since man first began to live.’

With Thomas Carlyle’s words in mind, there are two poets that have been alive in my mind in recent days. Robert Browning, and A.E. Housman….two of their beautiful poems are presented here.

Truly, ‘the poet is in his place, for here too is man’s existence.’

These two poems share many threads of thought; this is but one example:

Housman: ‘Then ’twas the Roman, now ’tis I’

Browning: ‘When the king look’d, where she looks now’

Both use a dichotomy—from powerful Roman soldier to humble yeoman farmer, from lofty king to love-struck maiden—each share, at that moment, the same space. Each looks out to a similar view. Each poem emphasizes the frailty and transience of humanity, with all their strivings and conflicts, their stern strongholds that are now in fragments. But in the end, the poet asks, what remains?

There are two depictions of ruins: my own photos, from a burnt out former pear packing plant, and the phenomenal art of British artist John Piper. Piper was commissioned as an official war artist between 1940-1944.

All Saints Chapel, Bath 1942 John Piper 1903-1992 Presented by the War Artists Advisory Committee 1946 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N05719

Bath, 1942, painting by John Piper

Love among the Ruins
By Robert Browning (1812–1889)

WHERE the quiet-colour’d end of evening smiles
Miles and miles
On the solitary pastures where our sheep
Half-asleep
Tinkle homeward thro’ the twilight, stray or stop 
As they crop—
Was the site once of a city great and gay,
(So they say)
Of our country’s very capital, its prince
Ages since 
Held his court in, gathered councils, wielding far
Peace or war.

Now—the country does not even boast a tree,
As you see,
To distinguish slopes of verdure, certain rills 
From the hills
Intersect and give a name to, (else they run
Into one)
Where the domed and daring palace shot its spires
Up like fires 
O’er the hundred-gated circuit of a wall
Bounding all,
Made of marble, men might march on nor be prest,
Twelve abreast.

And such plenty and perfection, see, of grass 
Never was!
Such a carpet as, this summer-time, o’erspreads
And embeds
Every vestige of the city, guess’d alone,
Stock or stone— 
Where a multitude of men breathed joy and woe
Long ago;
Lust of glory prick’d their hearts up, dread of shame
Struck them tame;
And that glory and that shame alike, the gold 
Bought and sold.

Now,—the single little turret that remains
On the plains,
By the caper overrooted, by the gourd
Overscored, 
While the patching houseleek’s head of blossom winks
Through the chinks—
Marks the basement whence a tower in ancient time
Sprang sublime,
And a burning ring, all round, the chariots traced 
As they raced,
And the monarch and his minions and his dames
View’d the games.

And I know, while thus the quiet-coloured eve
Smiles to leave 
To their folding, all our many-tinkling fleece
In such peace,
And the slopes and rills in undistinguished grey
Melt away—
That a girl with eager eyes and yellow hair 
Waits me there
In the turret whence the charioteers caught soul
For the goal,
When the king look’d, where she looks now, breathless, dumb
Till I come. 

But he looked upon the city, every side,
Far and wide,
All the mountains topp’d with temples, all the glades’
Colonnades,
All the causeys, bridges, aqueducts,—and then, 
All the men!
When I do come, she will speak not, she will stand,
Either hand
On my shoulder, give her eyes the first embrace
Of my face, 
Ere we rush, ere we extinguish sight and speech
Each on each.

In one year they sent a million fighters forth
South and North,
And they built their gods a brazen pillar high 
As the sky,
Yet reserved a thousand chariots in full force—
Gold, of course.
Oh, heart! oh, blood that freezes, blood that burns!
Earth’s returns 
For whole centuries of folly, noise and sin!
Shut them in,
With their triumphs and their glories and the rest.
Love is best!

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A. E. Housman (1859–1936). A Shropshire Lad. 1896.
On Wenlock Edge the wood’s in trouble

On Wenlock Edge the wood’s in trouble
His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves;
The gale, it plies the saplings double,
And thick on Severn snow the leaves.

’Twould blow like this through holt and hanger 
When Uricon the city stood:
’Tis the old wind in the old anger,
But then it threshed another wood.

Then, ’twas before my time, the Roman
At yonder heaving hill would stare: 
The blood that warms an English yeoman,
The thoughts that hurt him, they were there.

There, like the wind through woods in riot,
Through him the gale of life blew high;
The tree of man was never quiet: 
Then ’twas the Roman, now ’tis I.

The gale, it plies the saplings double,
It blows so hard, ’twill soon be gone:
To-day the Roman and his trouble
Are ashes under Uricon. 

For an excellent discussion and analysis of Housman’s poem, check out David’s Hokku blog here.

Discover

The Hairy Stairs

These days my walks around town are less bustling boulevard and more field and hedgerow.

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We love rambling around our new neighborhood, which we have dubbed ‘the Shire’, because it has so many winding, narrow lanes, charming old cottage style homes, and not a sidewalk to be seen. And, as all the neighbors resolutely attest, there will likely be no sidewalks. It might involve tree removal, or nesting sites disrupted, or a wet land deflected.

The Discover challenge appealed to me, not only because it introduced a new word into my vocabulary–flaneur–but because exploring our environs is something we enjoy. Of course, there are different shades of flaneur, no doubt…most having to do with actual people. People-watching at the airport, for example (oh the stories one can weave) or power-eavesdropping at a coffee shop, are both different in tone than listening for elusive bird calls coming from a nearby thicket.

All, however, exercise the power of curiosity and have an enlivening effect on the mind.

Oregonians love their scenic wonderland, and Portlanders get their dose of all that plus the fascination of a beautiful city. We’re less than five minutes from downtown Portland by car, but our ‘hairy staircase’ gets us to the Village in about the same time, on foot.

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What is the hairy staircase? It’s what a little neighbor girl calls the mossy and wooded path, tucked between some obliging neighbors, that gives the other neighbors a shortcut down the hill into the village. It’s somewhat secret but not, because everyone knows about it. It makes a trip into ‘the village’ only about five minutes on foot, even with a stroller.

If you’re a bit arthritic and slow, not to worry, we have a solution for you, so come along. Strollers can navigate the path, too.

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There’s even a book depot on the way. In case you run out of provisions on your journey and desperately need a book to read. (it happens) Take one, leave one. Loosely maintained by a kind neighbor who adds a sprinkling of cyclamen and daffodil bulbs on occasion.

Once in the village, oh my. There’s good coffee, a local brewpub, outdoor cafes, my favorite wool shop, a funky bead emporium, a historic tavern that has an interesting rooftop way of sending off its loyal patrons that kick the bucket…and the list of attractions goes on.

architecture, old buildings PDX, street photography, bar, dining out, tableside

Oregon is known for its friendly watering holes, and our feisty brewers.

(we take our refreshment very seriously here)

We also have the natural variety of watering hole, in this case my birdfeeder, patronized by very feisty patrons that are assuredly not birds. For now the squirrels have worked out an arrangement, but I sense the tension building.

There will be wars, and fur flying in a moment.

There’s the downtown boulevard at dusk, in beautiful colors….

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and here is one of my favorite ‘boulevards’ in the neighborhood. It cuts through a park and leads to the Hairy Stairs.

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Here we are;  be prepared to book shop on the way, in case you didn’t get to Powell’s bookstore for your fix… the ground is so springy underfoot, from years of moss drippings and wood shavings.

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Be careful; it gets a bit steep in places and you’re probably going to want to gaze at all the beautiful fall color on your way. Not that I have ever slipped, or anything, while eagerly ogling a flash of red twig against a spray of yellow…that would be so flaneur, right?

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The other distraction are these lovely blooms; quite fragrant and sweet. They would seem to herald spring, but the chill in the air tells me otherwise, and that our footsteps must hasten on to that coffee shop in the village.

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Thanks to the neighborhood app, we’ve just been alerted to the fact that One Particular Hen who shall remain nameless has escaped again. Known as ‘not actually lost but trying to find herself’ this little Russian Orloff has ambitions.

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But she’s not here, at this field. Only tiny finches in the underbrush, and the rustlings of field mice. The finches stop twittering as soon as I stray too close–which makes me feel quite left out. I wish I could get them used to my presence so they would continue to chatter on as freely as the college girls hanging out at the Powell’s coffee shop at midnight. But perhaps that sounds a little too…flaneur?

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The rain outwitted us and hit with a mighty splash before we’re home, but we’re used to it.

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One eventually dries out. And we have a warm welcome awaiting us.

Discover

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The Taste of Here and Now (haiku)

Here and now, savored
a bit of Then still lingers
ruins born anew

A response to Here and Now; wine tasting in the Ruins at Springhouse Cellar Winery, Hood River, Oregon. The Ruins Red is their special blend, ‘the Ruins’ is a burnt out, abandoned old pear packing plant where they host live bands… maple seed whirligigs come floating down into your glass, wind whispers secrets in the trees…and yes, it is so worth the trip.

A Mortal Big Notion

frances-theodora-parson

“I’ve only lived here a day, but I like it so well I’ve a mortal big notion to buy the place.” — from The Girl of the Limberlost

I love the idea of having a mortal big notion. Today we might use the expression, ‘I had a radical idea’. Perhaps one could also call the idea that we could learn something today from a prim Victorian lady botanist ‘radical’. Because I just had to laugh when I sat down to my blog this week and read over some of the prompts I’ve missed.

Zing. Edge. Superhero. Radical. Clearly, WP wants to jazz up our posts. Electrify our ideas. Infuse a bit of life into our prose.

Meanwhile, I have been immersed in the late Victorian world and ethos of Gene Stratton-Porter and Frances Theodora Parsons. Exciting, eh? But think about this: While these women may not resonate in history as superheroes, and what they wrote may not seem current–as to that I am not always convinced that being ‘current’ and ‘relevant’ are that exciting, unless you are watching bees pollinate–I was just reflecting yesterday on a recent study from Stanford University:

‘In the study, two groups of participants walked for 90 minutes, one in a grassland area scattered with oak trees and shrubs, the other along a traffic-heavy four-lane roadway. Before and after, the researchers measured heart and respiration rates, performed brain scans and had participants fill out questionnaires.

The researchers found little difference in physiological conditions, but marked changes in the brain. Neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, a brain region active during rumination – repetitive thought focused on negative emotions – decreased among participants who walked in nature versus those who walked in an urban environment.’

This makes total sense to me, and I’m glad to know the data can finally catch up with what the inimitable Mrs. Frances Theodora Parsons wrote back in 1901.

‘The ideal hobby, it seems to me, is one that keeps us in the open air among inspiring surroundings, with the knowledge of natural objects as the end in view.

The study of plants, of animals, of the earth itself, botany, zoology, or geology, any one of these will answer the varied requirements of an ideal hobby. Often they require not only perseverance and skill but courage and daring. They are a means of health, a relaxation to the mind from ordinary cares, and an absorbing interest.’ —From How to Know the Ferns by Frances Theodora Parsons

Frances Theodora Parsons

Frances Theodora Parsons

‘Courage and daring’, indeed! I love her books. (She also wrote as Mrs. William Starr Dana; more on her to come in a future post) accordingtoseasonbookcoverShe is authoritative, opinionated, and thoroughly readable. Parsons is a strong woman, and no fading violet, to borrow a Victorian era expression. She has not the nuanced charm and silky expressions in her nature writing, such as that employed by Louise Beebe Wilder, but this real-time eager woods explorer had a rugged approach matched with feminine spirit that might have been a bit like The Girl of the Limberlost when she was young.

‘She plunged fearlessly among bushes, over underbrush, and across dead logs. One minute she was crying wildly, that here was a big one, the next she was reaching for a limb above her head or on her knees overturning dead leaves under a hickory or oak tree, or working aside black muck with her bare hands as she searched for buried pupae cases.’  — The Girl of the Limberlost, by Gene Stratton-Porter

Written in 1909, this passage is from Gene Stratton Porter’s classic. She is not read so much today because people are squeamish. Not squeamish about rummaging around in dead, mucky leaf detritus for buried pupae cases, but because sentimental stories that highlight romantic ideals or values are out of favor. Stratton-Porter’s passion in writing was to chronicle the natural world, but it was her romances–nature with a generous side-helping of fiction–that secured her fame.

accordingtoseasonoldbookFrances Theodora Parsons had a simple remedy for stultified, closed minds:

‘I thanked my stars I had not fallen under the stultifying sway of cards. Much the same gratitude is aroused when I see men and women spending precious summer days indoors over the card-table when they might be breathing the fragrant, life-giving air, and rejoicing in the beauty and interest of the woods and fields.

All things considered, a hobby that takes us out of doors is best.’

To which Gene Stratton-Porter would add:

‘The world is full of happy people, but no one ever hears of them. You must fight and make a scandal to get into the papers. No one knows about all the happy people. I am happy myself, and look how perfectly inconspicuous I am.”

The Limberlost journey is a journey of happiness. To get lost in the swamp, is, in Porter’s world, ‘to find oneself’.

Read good books. Get outdoors. Enjoy the natural world. Take walks and then more walks. If you see someone approaching with a brain scanner and a questionnaire, run. Photograph mushrooms. Keep a journal. Sketch (rather badly). Think about writing more. And then write more. Watch bees pollinate. As radical as that sounds, it’s a time honored recipe for a lot of fun and a continuing supply of happiness. I should know. Look at how perfectly inconspicuous I am.

(writers take note: both of these late Victorian era ladies wrote books that are still in print, and have gone into multiple editions and reprints)

Eternity Was in That Moment

‘Each hour of the day sets free some lovely thing.’   —Louise Beebe Wilder

Seeds are life in miniature.

Not miniature like an atom, of course, but the kind of miniaturized beauty I can hold in my hand. Perfectly designed, yet diverse in shape and form, I can feel the texture, marvel over its simple complexity, delight in the ingenuity behind it, and finally, with wild abandon and seeming carelessness, scatter these fractionary bits of wonder to the four winds, knowing the future of color, bloom and fragrance has just been set aloft.

Seeds are a time capsule in miniature. Travel back in time via seeds. If you save seeds from your own harvests, you can give your senses a trip through the ages. Heirloom seed cultivating gives you a chance to savor the sort of cucumbers that a Roman emperor once fancied, or to smell the perfume that Cleopatra once had strewn about her rooms.

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The secret—the oh so marvelous secret—is held bound in these strange and lovely packets. For it is a secret, this life. We don’t understand it, we just benefit from it. A gift.

Seeds are eternity in miniature. They can freely distribute a sense of timelessness, and give regular infusions of hope. They are tiny powerhouses, manufacturing a future of food, color and fragrance. How fascinating is this miniature world—this little factory, really—busily working away unseen to our eyes! Or, to put it more mundanely, while we are doing dishes, driving to work, adding new batteries to our remote, or whatever else occupies our day, seeds are storing energy to feed us, wow us with fragrance, or dazzle us with color. Making us happy. All timed—all designed by a designer—to go off perfectly, in season, and sun or rain.

‘It is only to the gardener that time is a friend, giving each year more than he steals.’ — Beverley Nichols

In the world of design, there is always the underlying question—‘who did it first’? For design follows design. Biomimicry, biomimetics, call it what you will, it’s a fascinating subject.

Like seeds, ideas are nurtured, gathered, carefully stored, and passed on from one generation to another.

Do you know the Designer of this perfect gift? If you do, thank him. And share the bounty. Sow seeds of gratitude.


Additional notes:

For another example of a design and engineering marvel–the honeycomb–I loved this article.

Coming soon: Maurice on the Bee…

Quote credit in title: William Congreve

Lists To Dream On

IMG_3376What to read next? New lists forming daily as I unpack my library and rediscover old ‘friends’…in the meantime, a poem that lists several of my to-be-read, or currently being read; all books having to do with the cooling atmosphere of water, rivers, or bridges. (It seemed like a good summertime theme!)

Reading
Quiet pools
warm words lapping
Sound of turning pages
sticky with sand
of seaside Sanditon
dappled, light-strewn
amber beaded
with the sparkle
of Jane

By Homer’s amplitude
we Odyssey
with mighty ones
For journeying
on the wine dark sea
“is the thing”
that maddens
While we search
for friends worth dying for

Frenchman’s Creek
shall you lure me
to your quiet shoals
insistent on romance?
Stay your swashbuckled
wandering feet
Free your thoughts
To pirate instead
amongst the stars
Boldly you pillage
Sweet contentment

Captured heart!
lovely oh lovely web
of gauze-like frailty

To The Lighthouse we go
There are words enough
for connoisseurs
and dabblers alike
Grooming my middlebrows
I’ll smile as Virginia
once smiled

What mind next allures me?
Shall we seed these books
In lists cascading  
Layered in waterfalls
Of refreshment
Or shall they be stacked
To suggest
some dreaming spires
of Barchester Towers?

I don’t know
It shall play out
that’s the beauty of it
For you or I
The learning comes easy
In Sweet and Twenties
and summer days
For Still Glides the Stream
When words pool deliciously
In dreamy rivulets
Reading