Thursday, September 29


And that's why, basically, I have at most a limited interest in myself. I feel that I am an instrument through which currents, vibrations, have passed. That is true of all my books and I would even say of all my life. Perhaps of all life. The best of us, perhaps, are mere crystal vessels... Everything began before us and will continue after we are gone. Everything surpasses us, in other words, and we feel humble and amazed when we serve as instruments in this greater scheme.

-- Marguerite Yourcenar With Open Eyes: Conversations with Matthieu Galey
Translated by Arthur Goldhammer

Jason Kuznicki's translated excerpts from Yourcenar's Mémoires d’Hadrien here

Wednesday, September 28


I wrapped my hands around the steaming mug and gazed at the radiant land. Grasses and pines, ground squirrels and hawks, the very rocks seemed to be bursting with energy. The sight made my pulse rise until I could feel the pressure in my throat. At the top of a clean page in my pocket notebook I wrote "Sources of Hope," and on the line below I wrote "Wildness." The word was a clumsy label for the power I felt in that place and in my hammering heart. Had you asked me to explain it, I could only have pointed.

-- Scott Russell Sanders Hunting for Hope

Tuesday, September 27

the gates

"Ah my friend," seasoned Penelope dissented,
"dreams are hard to unravel, wayward, drifting things--
not all we glimpse in them will come to pass...
Two gates there are for our evanescent dreams,
one is made of ivory, the other made of horn.
Those that pass through the ivory cleanly carved
are will-o'-the-wisps, their message bears no fruit.
The dreams that pass through the gates of polished horn
are fraught with truth, for the dreamer who can see them..."

-- Homer The Odyssey
Translated by Robert Fagles

Monday, September 26

the traca

...and from the streets there was the scent of the flower market and the smell of burned powder from the firecrackers of the traca that ran through the streets exploding each noon during the feria. It was a line of fireworks that ran through all the city, the firecrackers linked together and the explosions running along on poles and wires of the tramways, exploding with great noise and a jumping from pole to pole with a sharpness and a crackling of explosion you could not believe...

-- Ernest Hemingway For Whom the Bell Tolls

Sunday, September 25

The Treasure

Mountains, a moment's earth-waves rising and hollowing; the
earth too's an ephemerid; the stars --
Short-lived as grass the stars quicken in the nebula and dry in
their summer, they spiral
Blind up space, scattered black seeds of a future; nothing lives
long, the whole sky's
Recurrences tick the seconds of the hours of the ages of the gulf
before birth, and the gulf
After death is like dated: to labor eighty years in a notch of
eternity is nothing too tiresome,
Enormous repose after, enormous repose before, the flash of
Surely you never have dreamed the incredible depths were
prologue and epilogue merely
To the surface play in the sun, the instant of life, what is called
life? I fancy
That silence is the thing, this noise a found word for it;
interjection, a jump of the breath at that silence;
Stars burn, grass grows, men breathe: as a man finding treasure
says "Ah!" but the treasure's the essence;
Before the man spoke it was there, and after he has spoken he
gathers it, inexhaustible treasure.

-- Robinson Jeffers

Saturday, September 24


Strangest of all is the ease with which the vision is lost, consciousness contracts, we forget over and over again, until recollection is stirred by some icon of that beauty. Then we remember and wonder why we ever forgot.

-- Kathleen Raine Defending Ancient Springs

Thursday, September 22

What Was Told, That

What was said to the rose that made it open was said to me here in my chest.

What was told the cypress that made it strong and straight, what was

whispered the jasmine so it is what it is, whatever made sugarcane sweet, whatever

was said to the inhabitants of the town of Chigil in Turkestan that makes them

so handsome, whatever lets the pomegranate flower blush like a human face, that is

being said to me now. I blush. Whatever put eloquence in language, that's happening here.

The great warehouse doors open; I fill with gratitude, chewing a piece of sugarcane,

in love with the one to whom every that belongs!

-- Rumi
Translated by Coleman Barks

Coleman Barks can be seen in Rumi-Turning Ecstatic
a film by Tina Petrova and Stephen Roloff
World premiere 27 September in Toronto (Theatre D Digital)
New York premiere 9 December (Lighthouse Theater)

like shoelaces

Not by the slothful, nor the fool, the undiscerning, is that Nirvana to be reached, which is the untying of all knots.

-- Itivuttaka

Wednesday, September 21


The fact is that chairs are extraordinarily constraining devices, and for that reason, in many societies other than our own, they are kept for exceptionally solemn occasions. They force us to sit where they are placed... Anthropologists tell us of at least 132 main ways of sitting; only about 30 of these involve anything resembling a chair. Among this restricted number of postures, many are thought impolite in our society, even for men. Women should strictly speaking sit in only very few of them, with legs either together or crossed; crossing their legs at the knee represented a revolutionary relaxation in quite recent times. Our clothing is designed with chairs very much in mind. Broad, flowing robes are required for floor-sitting, if much clothing be worn at all... Rigidity -- sitting bolt upright on a chair and very still -- is traditionally, with us, a sign of decorum... Sitting, provided that it is on a chair, enhances social stature: people who can arrange to sit while everyone else is obliged to stand are usually eliciting respect. There is only one posture which can beat sitting erect for status, and that is lying down... People lying down take up a lot of space; if nobody else is spread out full length, the distinction, and the focussing of everybody's attention, can be impressive.

-- Margaret Visser The Rituals of Dinner

Monday, September 19

the blues

The basic structure of the blues is almost always the same and the repertoire of riffs fairly limited. Indeed, part of the richness of the blues derives from its narrowness: any slight deviation takes on great significance within a system that is so restricted, in which the expectations of the listener are so determined. The arc of the song becomes evident from the first few moves. The expressive intensity of the blues derives from its roughness and simplicity. When you no longer have to focus on what the next change will be, you focus on how to express yourself within it, how to exploit it emotionally. Spontaneity follows on and reflects discipline.

-- Crispin Sartwell Six Names of Beauty

Crispin Sartwell has a blog: Eye of the Storm

the contrary man

Do you remember Mnemosyne, the Greek goddess, and her daughters, the Muses?

The Muses taught man "to celebrate things that shall be and things that were aforetime" -- they give aid to man's creative activity. Memory (Mnemosyne), their mother, wants to save what has been sung in praise of the gods, so that it may be handed down to posterity. In plainer words, and in guise of a warning: do not build and work only for the gratification of immediate needs, but build with the thought of a future life of the spirit on this earth. The thought of a life that continues after we as individuals are gone will purge our minds of selfish desires. If we don't want to be forgotten but want to live on, even anonymously, in the work we leave behind us, then let us work at the tokens of remembrance which Memory, the goddess, so badly needs. As a patron, or as an artist and a craftsman, you may be able to contribute to the spiritual life of mankind -- for which we have a good though nowadays deflated word: human culture.

You labeled me the Contrary Man, but you did not say contrary to what. Truly, I am contrary to mediocrity, though I know we could not live on this planet without it; I am contrary to sloth, and contrary to waste, which will go on in spite of me, and I am contrary to blasphemy against the Spirit. I have proved to myself that I can change the world, but only within the reach of my hands. The work I leave behind me may not be great, yet it will prove to be genuine -- genuine, though not "progressive." It may however show that I had to work alone most of the time. I am no reformer -- and I know that I shall never see the day when the arts will again be a mode of life and an approach to the godhead. Hoelderlin in his time has said:

True, the Gods go on living,
But they are over our heads, high in a different world.
Endless there is their work, and little it seems they consider
Whether we live, so much spare us the heavenly ones.
For a frail vessel not always commands the force to contain them,
Only at times can man bear the abundance of Gods.

-- Victor Hammer Victor Hammer: An Artist's Testament

Thursday, September 15


Far in a western brookland
That bred me long ago
The poplars stand and tremble
By pools I used to know.

There, in the windless night-time,
The wanderer, marvelling why,
Halts on the bridge to hearken
How soft the poplars sigh.

He hears: no more remembered
In fields where I was known,
Here I lie down in London
And turn to rest alone.

There, by the starlit fences,
The wanderer halts and hears
My soul that lingers sighing
About the glimmering weirs.

--A.E. Housman, from A Shropshire Lad

what one can do

To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of the arts.

-- Henry D. Thoreau

Wednesday, September 14

A Prayer For Old Age

God guard me from those thoughts men think
In the mind alone;
He that sings a lasting song
Thinks in a marrow-bone;

From all that makes a wise old man
That can be praised of all;
O what am I that I should not seem
For the song's sake a fool?

I pray -- for word is out
And prayer comes round again --
That I may seem, though I die old,
A foolish, passionate man.

-- William Butler Yeats

the masterpiece

At the magic touch of the beautiful the secret chords of our being are awakened, we vibrate and thrill in response to its call. Mind speaks to mind. We listen to the unspoken, we gaze upon the unseen. The master calls forth notes we know not of. Memories long forgotten all come back to us with a new significance. Hopes stifled by fear, yearnings that we dare not recognise, stand forth in new glory. Our mind is the canvas on which the artists lay their colour; their pigments are our emotions; their chiaroscuro the light of joy, the shadow of sadness. The masterpiece is of ourselves, as we are of the masterpiece.

-- Kakuzo Okakura The Book of Tea

Tuesday, September 13

dialogue: the world

An emotion is a transformation of the world.

-- Jean-Paul Sartre The Emotions

And the moral of that is "Oh, 'tis love that makes the world go round."

-- Lewis Carroll Alice in Wonderland

when you walk with me

When you walk with me, I feel in myself your own power of walking. I partake of the power and freedom you have. I share your walking powers, your perceptions, your feelings, your existence. Without even knowing it, you make me a great gift.

-- Oliver Sacks Awakenings

Monday, September 12

to love

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket -- safe, dark, motionless, airless -- it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.

-- C.S. Lewis The Four Loves

Sunday, September 11

Sonnet 64

When I have seen by Time's fell hand defaced
The rich proud cost of outworn buried age;
When sometime lofty towers I see down-razed
And brass eternal slave to mortal rage;
When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
And the firm soil win of the watery main,
Increasing store with loss and loss with store;
When I have seen such interchange of state,
Or state itself confounded to decay;
Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate,
That Time will come and take my love away.
This thought is as a death, which cannot choose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose.

-- William Shakespeare

Saturday, September 10

the leaves

As the brain of man is the speck of dust in the universe that thinks, so the leaves -- the fern and the needled pine and the latticed frond and the seaweed ribbon -- perceive the light in a fundamental and constructive sense. The flowers looking in from the walled garden through my window do not, it is true, see me. But their leaves see the light, as my eyes can never do. They take it, as it forever spills away radiant into space in a golden waste, to a primal purpose. They impound its stellar energy, and with that force they make life out of the elements. They breathe upon the dust, and it is a rose.

Say that this is done with neither thought nor passion, and by something other than will. True that a plant may not think; neither will the profoundest man ever put forth a flower. Of the use and beauty of flowering there can be no shade of doubt. It is a rare thought of which as much can be said.

-- Donald Culross Peatie Flowering Earth


I'm sure a film can get in the way of looking. It can make something visible, and just as well make it invisible. A film can really shut your eyes to things; a lot of films do just that. You come out of them, and you're blinded for days. Really! Gummed up. Other films, you come out of them and you feel more open to the world than you did before... The director of a film uses his sight -- his vision -- on behalf of everyone who sees it. It's a huge responsibility. There's a chance you could equally be fitting everyone with your blinkers.

-- Wim Wenders The Act of Seeing
Translated by Michael Hoffman

Friday, September 9

on distilling it

It is beyond doubt an excellent thing to study the Old Masters in order to learn how to paint; but this can only be a subsidiary exercise, if your purpose is to understand the nature of beauty in the present time. The draperies of Rubens or Veronese will not teach you to depict moiré antique or satin à la reine or any other stuff of modern manufacture that is designed to be supported and carried on a crinoline or on starched muslin petticoats. The weave and grain are not the same as in the stuffs of ancient Venice, or in those worn at the court of Catherine. Furthermore, the cut of the petticoat or bodice itself is completely different; the pleats are arranged in a new system; and lastly, the gestures and carriage of the woman herself give her gown a life and physical existence which are not those of the robe of the woman of antiquity.

In short, in order that any particular modernity may be worthy of eventually becoming antiquity, it is necessary that the mysterious beauty involuntarily lent to it by human life should be distilled from it.

-- Charles Baudelaire The Painter of Modern Life (1863)
Translated by Norman Cameron

Thursday, September 8

Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms

Believe me, if all those endearing young charms,
Which I gaze on so fondly to-day,
Were to change by to-morrow, and fleet in my arms,
Like fairy-gifts fading away,
Thou wouldst still be adored, as this moment thou art,
Let thy loveliness fade as it will,
And around the dear ruin each wish of my heart
Would entwine itself verdantly still.

It is not while beauty and youth are thine own,
And thy cheeks unprofaned by a tear,
That the fervor and faith of a soul may be known,
To which time will but make thee more dear!
No, the heart that has truly loved never forgets,
But as truly loves on to the close,
As the sunflower turns to her god when he sets
The same look which she turned when he 'rose!

-- Thomas Moore

movement and force

Every good engraving is made up of original, confident, complete, assured movements. Line then carries mass along with it; it propels movement, stirs matter, and gives each form its strength, impetus and dynamic nature... every engraving bears witness to a certain force...

Indeed, the engraver enables us to rediscover values of force in exactly the way that the painter shows us the values of light. These values of force lie in the hard-won relief, won with the humble means of black and white, and in forms that overflow with movement eager to break out.

-- Gaston Bachelard The Right to Dream
Translated by J.A. Underwood

Wednesday, September 7

The Garden

In some lights it is simple:
versions of green,
leaf and underleaf, tree
orchids, a fabric of vine

and flower and vine dense woven.
It might be original
as They first saw it—high,
sunless, breathing, a wall

called God, earth-rope and cloud-rope
tangled. And was
there sky? Had they caught its color
already in butterflies?

They tore the voices
away, silence was blue.
The wall sighed like an arras
and fell. When they stepped through

they were not themselves; far off
seemed closer, they stood
on flat boards in a world
of perspectives, while a cloud,

one only, a message pinned
to the ceiling, climbed
out of earshot and was lost.
It must have seemed

the far end of things.
It was in fact a start
in a fresh direction, a green
shoot, a co-ordinate.

As when a songbird sketches
three notes on the air: one
then another at a tangent,
then the first found new again.

-- David Malouf

Tuesday, September 6


In bird song, the interesting thing is that the bird repeats the same pattern, but not exactly. Within that apparent set of rules, that apparent shape, there is always a tiny freedom that is always improvised and that is not, in computer terms, an exact repetition. From a distant perspective, it may seem like an automatic repetition, but in fact, close by, no two phrases are the same. And I imagine that if you got close enough, you would come to the point where there's no repetition at all.

-- Peter Brook, in "Penetrating the Surface" Parabola 13:2

Sunday, September 4

all at once

Those ideas that please me I retain in memory, and am accustomed, as I have been told, to hum them to myself ... My subject enlarges itself, becomes methodized and defined, and the whole, though it be long, stands almost complete and finished in my mind, so that I can survey it, like a fine picture or a beautiful statue, at a glance. Nor do I hear in my imagination the parts successively, but I hear them, as it were, all at once. What a delight this is I cannot tell! All this inventing, this producing, takes place in a pleasing lively dream.

-- Mozart, quoted in Before the Gates of Excellence by R.A. Ochse

Friday, September 2


Die Windsbraut by Oskar Kokoschka
Die Windsbraut by Oskar Kokoschka

What used to shock people in my portraits was that I tried to intuit from the face, from its play of expressions, and from gestures, the truth about a particular person, and to recreate in my own pictorial language the distillation of a living being that would survive in memory. I usually start my paintings without having done any preliminary drawing: and I find that neither routine nor technique is of any help. I depend very much on being able to capture a mental impression, the impression that remains behind when the image itself has passed. In a face I look for the flash of the eye, the tiny shift of expression which betrays an inner movement. In a landscape I seek for the trickle of water that suddenly breaks the silence, or a grazing animal that makes me conscious of the distance or height of a range of mountains, or a lonely wayfarer whose shadow lengthens as evening falls. It would be too high-flown to call these things decisive experiences: they are simply what make me a seeing observer of nature... A bare canvas has always filled me with a horror vacui until, initially in a half-indecipherable form, I am able to bring out from its prepared surface the vision of my inner eye.

-- Oskar Kokoschka My Life
Translated by David Britt

Thursday, September 1

we say release, and radiance, and roses

We say release, and radiance, and roses,
and echo upon everything that's known;
and yet, behind the world our names enclose is
the nameless: our true archetype and home.

The sun seems male, and earth is like a woman,
the field is humble, and the forest proud;
but over everthing we say, inhuman,
moves the forever-undetermined god.

We grow up; but the world remains a child.
Star and flower, in silence, watch us go.
And sometimes we appear to be the final
exam they must succeed on. And they do.

-- Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by Stephen Mitchell

if only

If only you love one person with all your heart, everybody seems lovable.

-- Goethe Elective Affinities