Saturday, December 31

Praying the Sunset Prayer

I'll let you in on a secret
about how one should pray the sunset prayer.
It's a juicy bit of praying,
like strolling on grass,
nobody's chasing you, nobody hurries you.
You walk toward your Creator
with gifts in pure, empty hands.
The words are golden
their meaning is transparent,
it's as though you're saying them
for the first time.

If you don't catch on
that you should feel a little elevated,
you're not praying the sunset prayer.
The tune is sheer simplicity,
you're just lending a helping hand
to the sinking day.
It's a heavy responsibility.
You take a created day
and you slip it
into the archive of life,
where all our lived-out days are lying together.

The day is departing with a quiet kiss.
It lies open at your feet
while you stand saying the blessings.
You can't create anything yourself, but you
can lead the day to its end and see
clearly the smile of its going down.

See how whole it all is,
not diminished for a second,
how you age with the days
that keep dawning,
how you bring your lived-out day
as a gift to eternity.

-- Jacob Glatstein
Translated by Ruth Whitman

Friday, December 30


The Protheros were part-time neighbors of Henry James in Rye, Sussex, and Mrs. Bryan was their housekeeper.

Dear Mrs. George!

Just as black despair was seizing us -- that is 10 minutes ago -- the Devotee to the interests of the Idol (though we won't say who the Idol in this case is) arrived with an "I hope you don't mind me coming" & a nice little fat-faced boy. I said "Oh dear no, Mrs. Bryan: always so glad to talk with you about them" & then she broke it that she had just had a postcard & that they would be with us tomorrow. You could have knocked me down with a feather -- the revulsion was so violent. For you see we had, the others of us, met of late in such at last almost deathly tension. It had been, it had become, more & more this kind of thing.

"Have you heard --?["]
"Oh yes -- one 'hears': that's the bitterness of it. She is clearly indisposed --"
"Indisposed? Don't tell me!"
"Indisposed, I mean" -- this very gravely indeed -- ["] to come."
Oh, that? Don't call it indisposed. Call it firmly resolved, call it fundamentally determined."
"Well -- since you go straight to the terrible truth of it -- there we are. But she professes --!"
"Oh, she dresses it with ribbons & gardens: you know her enchanting way -- !"
"Ah yes, her enchanting way is the bitterness of it. She does deck it out -- !"
"As with streamers & a band of music! But all the while -- "
"Yes -- but don't too awfully say it -- !"
I must -- for we must face the worst! She has cooled."
"Aïe!" -- as of a nerve in anguish. "Not cooled, put it -- only just a little (in this weather) lowered her temperature."
"Oh, weather me no weather! She has frozen!"
"Let us then melt her!"
"We can't -- all our tears won't. It's the icy smile."
"yes, that smile! It muddles, but it means -- "
"It 'means' -- ?" (hanging on one's lips.)
"That she will never come again."
"Aïïee!" -- the shriek of ten thousand wincing nerves -- a piercing wail, a heavy fall & silence; from my gloomy gaze on the prostrate presence of which imagine the revulsion, as I say, of Mrs. Bryan's breathless approach to yours in ecstasy

Henry James

-- Henry James Letter to Mrs. George Walter Prothero 18 October 1907

Thursday, December 29

mad dog

She gave birth to a small stuffed bear, which she protected with extraordinary savagery from predators like Victoria and myself. When she wasn't crouched snarling over it, she was drooling over it and cuddling it, and then would suddenly rampage around the house screaming... The worst was Christmas... Toto in a frenzy because somehow her stuffed bear of a baby had vanished and she decided that she had delivered herself of all the presents under the Christmas tree, and crouched, snarling among them—this meant that no one could approach the tree without being threatened—a mad dog is a mad dog, however charming to look at and sweet her nature, and her shows of teeth, saliva dripping from her muzzle, were terrifying among the pink and gold and silver and scarlet packages—when she went on one of her looping, screaming runs, we tried to gather up the presents, but either she would be back before we'd done, or if we shut her out she would patrol the hall screaming—so when it came down to it there was nothing we could do but leave them under the tree and let her embed herself. Eventually the stuffed bear was found on a high shelf in the kitchen and was placed on the floor some way from the presents. Toto ran to it, buried her face in it, licked it, stroked it and rolled it about, then carried it gently down to the basement, and put it to bed—and so, apart from sudden rushes upstairs to check briefly on her other family, under the tree, and other rushes through the flap and screaming circuits of the garden—which led to a petition from some of the neighbours asking us to confine her to the house, her garden screams were too distressing, and set their own dogs off—the situation held through to Boxing Day... In the New Year we got canine Prozac from the vet.

-- Simon Gray, in "Wish You Were Here" Granta 91

Wednesday, December 28

the line

Hope and sadness produce a line whose direction is faith, whose sound is love. In the instant of making its mark, the line knows what to say... The line can begin on the point of a pencil, on the tip of a brush, at the edge of a chisel, in a cup of tea... So much comes together here. The line is fragile and wants to disappear, but the ending of it is made new each moment. Here is real hope, real sadness. The line advances; at the vanishing end of it, creation takes place.

-- Harry Remde, in "Sadness in Art" Parabola 11:3

Tuesday, December 27

Where Does the Dance Begin,
Where Does It End

Don't call this world adorable, or useful, that's not it.
It's frisky, and a theater for more than fair winds.
The eyelash of lightning is neither good nor evil.
The struck tree burns like a pillar of gold.

But the blue rain sinks, straight to the white
feet of the trees
whose mouths open.
Doesn't the wind, turning in circles, invent the dance?
Haven't the flowers moved, slowly, across Asia, then Europe,
until at last, now, they shine
in your own yard?

Don't call this world an explanation, or even an education.

When the Sufi poet whirled, was he looking
outward, to the mountains so solidly there
in a white-capped ring, or was he looking

to the center of everything: the seed, the egg, the idea
that was also there,
beautiful as a thumb
curved and touching the finger, tenderly,
little love-ring,

as he whirled,
oh jug of breath,
in the garden of dust?

-- Mary Oliver

Thursday, December 22

a certain place

so long and thanks for all the hamburgers

It was not there that we saw it:
it was here.
The mass of the sun is three-hundred thousand times the mass of the earth,
yet it is on the earth that you have whippoorwills, hollyhocks, the poems of Catullus, ripe strawberries, the sonatas of Scarlatti...

I have walked the long hillsides
singing to myself deep songs: I did not know where they came from.
There were blue windflowers and deep grasses and in the distance the similar blue of the sea.
The songs were of special things: you had become very exact to me...

The ending of expeditions:
what was discovered in all that?
Can we say that at a certain place we did arrive at love?
Cannot we realize that that was enough?
O shining ones! O shining ones!

-- Peyton Houston, from XVI Complex Songs at the Borders of Silence

Wednesday, December 21


Life is -- or has -- meaning and meaninglessness. I cherish the anxious hope that meaning will preponderate and win the battle.

-- Carl Jung Memories, Dreams, Reflections

Tuesday, December 20

winter trees

Few things are more directly beautiful than winter trees: stripped of all ornament, clearly etched against the changing sky, moving in the stiff manner of wood into and then back against the wind. If leaves can be compared to clothing, then the deciduous tree in winter is naked. If clothing can be deceptive, then the tree in winter is true. If leaves represent an extreme profusion of form that is more finally articulated than the eye can register, much less language describe, then the form of the tree in winter is stark, particularly against the steel gray monochrome of the sky as snow comes.

But the form of a winter tree, though it may be stark and withered, is liable also to be extraordinarily complex. The bare bark is channeled and cracked, and the directions of growth frozen into the form of each branch include saggings, twistings, splinterings, angles at which the branch has reached out or up. The form of the tree is a register of its history. The coloring, too, becomes as subtle as our approach is proximate: all the grays, blacks, and browns of wabi, with perhaps the weathered white of dead lichen or the blasted green of last year's moss.

-- Crispin Sartwell Six Names of Beauty

Monday, December 19


I do not know how to distinguish between our waking life and a dream. Are we not always living the life that we imagine we are?

-- Henry David Thoreau Journal 12 November 1859

This quote comes from a small hardback compilation of Thoreau's writings called Thoreau on Man and Nature assembled by Arthur G. Volkman and printed by the Peter Pauper Press in 1960. I was curious to see where it originated and in the process discovered that Thoreau has two blogs, one I visit occasionally here and another one here.

Friday, December 16

You Came as a Thought

when I was past such thinking
you came as a song when I had

finished singing you came when
the sun had just begun its setting

you were my evening star.

-- James Laughlin

Thursday, December 15

Desunt Non Nulla

Then she is leaning, facing north & numberless in pleated light. How the sheets appear as driven by a scurvy wind, the bedclothes end in quivering, the red lead of their folds asail, Northumbrian. Her face is primitive & spare, her neck an ill illumination, unnatural, prolonged — Are missing not no things. One morning I woke in the garden, night's lanterns snuffed & hung in alder trees, & was surrounded like an English leopard quartered on a coat of arms, the night gone in the glass eye of its final thirteen hours. Above — a bird, half cut off from the binder of the sky, flies north. At west, a calendar, a corridor, scriptorium.

And took the book & opened it, to this — a flinched life where nature has no place or folio. The adversaria were gold & partially erased; in the margin there, the furnishings of falcons glaired, their jesses & their tiny bells & hectic hoods. The glove is flanged, a color I will never know. He puts on his one right cuff. The rustre of two raptors, fisted, sit on a stone, a blush of iron, wonder, drear. At left, a hound is whistled up, & bounds. Above the sequence are two copper birds, the one in flight, the other perched. The first is prey; flies upward.

And thou not there -- a miniature of dread. Nothing is not not there.

-- Lucie Brock-Broido The Master Letters


And into these dreams Josephine's piping drops note by note; she calls it pearl-like, we call it staccato; but at any rate here it is in its right place, as nowhere else, finding the moment — wait for it — as music scarcely ever does. Something of our poor brief childhood is in it, something of lost happiness that can never be found again, but also something of active daily life, of its small gaieties, unaccountable and yet springing up and not to be obliterated. And indeed this is all expressed not in full round tones but softly, in whispers, confidentially, sometimes a little hoarsely. Of course it is a kind of piping. Why not? Piping is our people's daily speech, only many a one pipes his whole life long and does not know it, where here piping is set free from the fetters of daily life and it sets us free too for a little while.

-- Franz Kafka , from "Josephine the Singer, or the Mouse Folk"
Translated by Willa and Edwin Muir

Tuesday, December 13


We stand on the peak of the consciousness of previous ages, and their wisdom is available to us. History — that selective treasure house of the past which each age bequeaths to those that follow — has formed us in the present so that we may embrace the future. What does it matter if our insights, the new forms which play around the fringes of our minds, always lead us into virginal land where, like it or not, we stand on strange and bewildering ground? The only way out is ahead, and our choice is whether we shall cringe from it or affirm it.

For in every act of love and will — and in the long run they are both present in each genuine act — we mold ourselves and our world simultaneously. This is what it means to embrace the future.

-- Rollo May Love and Will

Monday, December 12

the spirit need not be spare

The spirit or soul -- should we say the self, once perceived, becomes the soul? -- This I was keeping "spare" in my desire for the essential. But the spirit need not be spare: it can grow gracefully and beautifully like a tendril, like a flower.

-- Theodore Roethke On Poetry and Craft

A Light Breather

The spirit moves,
Yet stays:
Stirs as a blossom stirs,
Still wet from its bud-sheath,
Slowly unfolding,
Turning in the light with its tendrils;
Plays as a minnow plays,
Tethered to a limp weed, swinging
Tail around, nosing in and out of the current,
Its shadows loose, a watery finger;
Moves, like the snail,
Still inward,
Taking and embracing its surroundings,
Never wishing itself away,
Unafraid of what it is,
A music in a hood,
A small thing,

-- Theodore Roethke


Any one who has common sense will remember that the bewilderments of the eyes are of two kinds, and arise from two causes, either from coming out of the light or from going into the light, which is true of the mind's eye, quite as much as of the bodily eye; and he who remembers this when he sees any one whose vision is perplexed or weak, will not be too ready to laugh; he will first ask whether that soul of man has come out of the brighter life, and is unable to see because unaccustomed to the dark, or having turned from darkness to the day is dazzled by excess of light.

-- Plato The Republic
Translated by B. Jowett

Friday, December 9

that should be enough

"I am beautiful, O mortals, like a dream of stone," says
Beauty, in Baudelaire's sonnet "La Beauté," where Baudelaire, in
Fewer words than I, has set down his ideas on the subject. Essentially he
Sees Beauty as eternal and pure, an enslaver of poets.
Rilke says that we love beauty because it "so serenely
Disdains to destroy us." In making works of art, then,
Is the excitement we feel that of being close to the elements of
Destruction? I do not want any mystery in this poem, so I will
Let that go. Or, rather, I want the mystery to be that it is clear
But says nothing which will satisfy completely but instead stirs to action
(or contemplation)
As beauty does -- that is, I wish it to be beautiful. But why I want that,
Even, I do not entirely know. Well, it would put it in a class of things
That seems the highest, and for one lifetime that should be enough.

-- Kenneth Koch, from "On Beauty"

lit up

In line with recent breakthroughs in neurological brain research, I fancy that one day the mental event that is an experience of beauty will be X-ray photographed. I predict that the photograph will show the brain lit up like a Christmas tree, with simultaneous firings of neurons in many parts of the brain, though not very brightly. It will show a suddenly swelling diffused glow that wanes gradually.

-- Peter Schjeldahl, in "Notes on Beauty" Columns and Catalogues

Thursday, December 8

garden of dreams

The great naturalist, Linnaeus, once said that he could spend a lifetime in studying as much of the earth as he could cover with his hand. However small the patch we investigate, it will lead us back to the sun at last. There is nothing too minute or too trivial. I have often remembered with a pang, how, long years ago, I once gave pain by saying, with the arrogance of boyhood, that it was foolish to tell one's dreams. I have done penance for that remark since. 'Il faut cultiver notre jardin,' said the wise philosopher of the eighteenth century. I have cultivated, so far as I care to, my garden of dreams, and it scarcely seems to me that it is a large garden. Yet every path of it, I sometimes think, might lead at last to the heart of the universe.

-- Havelock Ellis The World of Dreams

John Lennon's #9 Dream


Still Life with Apples by Lawrence Gowing
Still Life with Apples by Lawrence Gowing

APPLE: Try and remember what I am. I am alive, not a studio property or a figment of thought, or a peg to hang tone values on. I am an apple.


APPLE: And an apple is an organism of some dignity, greater perhaps than a painter's, and with a longer history.

PAINTER: I am afraid there is no question of painting your history.

APPLE: I reminded you of it in passing.

PAINTER: And your dignity, you thought I needed reminding of that? I respect your dignity.

APPLE: But even your respect, your bare respect is not immoderate.

PAINTER: What more is due to you?

APPLE: I am a fruit, a feast, a reproductive organ.

PAINTER: Shall I sell you or eat you, if you prefer it, or sow your pips?

APPLE: I would prefer not to forgo my functions merely in order to be judiciously measured until I wrinkle and rot.

PAINTER: Come, come. I am very fond of you, you know. If your fate disturbs you ...

APPLE: Does my ripeness, my round lustre, mean nothing to you? A summer has done its best to make me an attractive prize, make my shape an irresistible invitation. And yet you resist me.

PAINTER: I am quite distressed.

APPLE: Look at your picture and at me. I offered you a taste of the ravishment to which the ages have not been indifferent. I gave you a clue to a receding perspective of life which men have found good, of work done and appetites satisfied. But you have seen only a cultivated commonplace, an artistic impression. Really the Greek painter who deceived the birds did better.

PAINTER: I am sorry, you must believe me ...

-- Lawrence Gowing Painter and Apple

Tuesday, December 6

a way of happening

For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.

-- W. H. Auden, from "In Memory of W. B. Yeats"

what happens

But the poet, Aristotle says, never makes any real statements at all, certainly no particular or specific ones.  The poet's job is not to tell you what happened, but what happens: not what did take place, but the kind of thing that always does take place.  He gives you the typical, recurring, or what Aristotle calls universal event.  You wouldn't go to Macbeth to learn about the history of Scotland -- you go to it to learn what a man feels like after he's gained a kingdom and lost his soul.  When you meet such a character as Micawber in Dickens, you don't feel that there must have been a man Dickens knew who was exactly like this: you feel that there's a bit of Micawber in almost everybody you know, including yourself.  Our impressions of human life are picked up one by one, and remain for most of us loose and disorganized.  But we constantly find things in literature that suddenly co-ordinate and bring into focus a great many such impressions, and this is part of what Aristotle means by the typical or universal human event.

-- Northrop Frye  The Educated Imagination 

Monday, December 5

quintessential D-ness

Absolute pitch is as much a quandary for philosophers as it is for neuropsychologists. Is there really such a thing as F-sharpness? The analogy to color, and to color blindness, doesn't really make sense. Whatever the color red may "be," it corresponds to a particular range of wavelengths of light, just as an adjacent range corresponds to the color orange. The brain finds distinct color experiences within the two ranges. If we were to begin referring to the spectrum differently, so that what we called "red" extended from the middle of normal red to the middle of normal orange, our brains would not obligingly regard the reddish orange at the center of the new range as a distinct color. But we do just this with absolute pitch. As we've seen, the tuning of instruments has shifted markedly over centuries. Mozart's D is not our D. Yet somehow the absolute-pitcher hears quintessential D-ness in today's D just as Mozart did in the D of his time.

-- Robert Jourdain Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy

Sunday, December 4

kiss me

The moth’s kiss, first!
Kiss me as if you made believe
You were not sure, this eve,
How my face, your flower, had pursed
Its petals up; so, here and there
You brush it, till I grow aware
Who wants me, and wide ope I burst.

The bee’s kiss, now!
Kiss me as if you entered gay
My heart at some noonday,
A bud that dares not disallow
The claim, so all is rendered up,
And passively its shattered cup
Over your head to sleep I bow.

-- Robert Browning, from "In a Gondola"

(A re-posting for the sublime Anne-Carolyn)

Saturday, December 3

there they were

Then much more vaguely I remember subsequent half-furtive moments when I would absorbedly scribble at verse for an hour or so, and then run away from the act and the production as if it were secret sin. It seems to me that "knowing oneself" was a sin and a vice for innumerable centuries, before it became a virtue. It seems to me, it is still a sin and a vice, when it comes to new knowledge. – In those early days – for I was very green and unsophisticated at twenty – I used to feel myself at times haunted by something, and a little guilty about it, as if it were an abnormality. Then the haunting would get the better of me, and the ghost would suddenly appear, in the shape of a usually rather incoherent poem. Nearly always I shunned the apparition once it had appeared. From the first, I was a little afraid of my real poems – not my "compositions," but the poems that had the ghost in them. They seemed to me to come from somewhere, I didn't quite know where, out of a me whom I didn't know and didn't want to know, and to say things I would much rather not have said: for choice. But there they were. I never read them again.

-- D.H. Lawrence, in the Foreword to Collected Poems

Thursday, December 1

empty stage

When I sit alone in a theatre and gaze into the dark space of its empty stage, I'm frequently seized by fear that this time I won't manage to penetrate it. And I always hope that this fear will never desert me. Without an unending search for the key to the secret of creativity, there is no creation. It's necessary always to begin again. And that is beautiful.

-- Josef Svoboda The Secret of Theatrical Space
Translated by J.M. Burian