Odysseus Was Just Here (plus a haiku)

IMG_1885
That one perfect drop
Shimmers with just a sweet trace
Of yesterday’s sun

Last night I strolled through the garden, enjoying the air freshened from the rain, the golden light of pre-dusk, and the intense scattering of water droplets.

In a fanciful mood, and with a glass of scotch in hand, one might call to mind history’s greatest criers, in fact and fiction. You could imagine, for example, that the mighty Odysseus had just wandered, (brooding) through the garden previous to my own visit, shedding his epic tears; lamenting his lost friends.

‘His eyes never dry, his sweet life flowing away with tears…’ [Odyssey, Book V]

Or that Dorothy Parker had just wafted past, weeping while exuding brilliantly tragic commentary, (she, crying, while everyone else is laughing delightedly at her wit) trailing long, drifty caftan sleeves and drinking gin. The largest, most lustrous rain droplets would surely have been her tears.

In truth, yesterday’s rainstorm left ‘tears’ of the happiest kind. Here are a few pictures I took in the early evening.

A Dweller in Possibility

IMG_1456

“I dwell in possibility.”  — Emily Dickinson

Oh Emily, what would you have said to today’s possibilities? What lifestyle choices would you have made? Your poetic turn of phrase, so ripe with optimism, might have been phrased differently. Perhaps… “I dwell in a multiplicity of distractions…?”

No one dwells more in possibility than a gardener. They say that is what keeps gardeners young–they are always looking to the future with excitement. (it must be said, however, that if a gardener’s heart is young, his/her hands look old!)

FullSizeRender 11

Today’s–and yesterday’s, and tomorrow’s, distractions and lifestyle choices have, for me, to do with a garden. Flowers… tending… cultivation… tree care. Lovely preoccupations. The cherry trees are blooming, the lilac bush is awash with color and fragrance, the old-fashioned peony is just about to expand into a giant billow of bloom…I not only dwell in possibility, I am giddy with potential. Forgive me for posting pictures of flowers for the moment. It is spring, after all!

FullSizeRender 10

‘I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –
Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of eye –
And for an everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky –
Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise –’
Emily Dickinson
IMG_1743

One Frond, Unfurling

One frond, unfurling
Bright fern, quiet uncurling
Winter undoing

The world outside is nudging us awake. The nearby woods, the wetlands, the ferns…the daffodils….those sweetly voiced robins…they are getting on with business, and what a delightful business it is!

IMG_0824

I have a particular interest in the unfurling of ferns. There is, perhaps, nothing else that better speaks to an awakening after winter than this welcome sight in the woods.  The first glimpse of that lovely, buoyant green appearing above the tops of decay is a burst of fresh happiness.

IMG_0896

My own winter sleep went a bit longer than I’d planned, and was, dare we say…unscheduled. A well-stocked library is always a good place for hibernating, especially when one is immersed in the 12th century. Or Jane Austen’s footwear. Or the 18th dynasty of Somewhere Grand. Or pondering the mystery of one’s own great grandmother. Or toying with the idea of becoming conversant in glottal stops and fricatives just for fun, only to realize it’s not that fun.

Remember Frances Theodora Parsons? I’m enjoying her book a great deal for its quaint tone as much for its vigorous encomiums of the lowly fern, and before I know it I’m thoroughly immersed in her world of silvery spleen-worts, adder’s tongues, bulblet bladders and fruiting fronds. She was a champion, you could say, of this often overlooked species.

img_6458

She quotes a great deal from Thoreau–being terribly fond of him–and I enjoyed these words, as I always enjoy a bit of ‘thither-ness’ with my morning coffee:

‘It is no use to direct our steps to the woods if they do not carry us thither. I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in  spirit.’ — Thoreau

 

Be not alarmed–these pictures of ferns and ‘moss-worts’ are from my own backyard, where I was quite present in the moment. We are a little behind in the unfurling stage, it is true, but I hope to bring you more pictures in a few days of the ‘big, woolly croziers‘, as Frances Theodora Parsons calls them with such affection.

Stay tuned, as we awaken and unfurl. The young lady responsible for many of the meticulous drawings in Parson’s books––as well as the riveting “descriptions of the Woodwardias“––Marion Satterlee; is a fascinating young lady in her own right. I’ll be sharing a bit more of her writing and art in coming posts.

Welcome back.

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!

img_5573

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

Wise November

Wise you are
November
your leafy drifts
cluster at the base

of endless trees
they mark where time
has passed
and will pass again 

This silken canopy
you, November

will change into
a dark elixir
falling once again
to another dimension

where roots can draw strength
from your richness
Ah November sky
you have opened
new portals onto mystery

it is at your strong bidding that I see
( your steely skies insistent)

these branching traceries
of stark silhouette
promise green days and renewal 

like breezes, a sweet return 
to where now I stand
yearning, 
gazing up
at November
and wisdom