Wednesday, May 31

mysteries of temperament

It has sometimes crossed my mind that James wanted to be a poet and an artist, and that there lay in him, beneath the ocean of metaphysics, a lost Atlantis of the fine arts; that he really hated philosophy and all its works, and pursued them only as Hercules might spin, or as a prince in a fairy tale might sort seeds for an evil dragon, or as anyone might patiently do some careful work for which he had no aptitude. It would seem most natural, if this were the case between James and the metaphorical sciences; for what is there in these studies that can drench and satisfy a tingling mercurial being who loves to live on the surface, as well as in the depths of life? Thus we reason, forgetting that the mysteries of temperament are deeper than the mysteries of occupation.

-- John Jay Chapman, in "William James" from The Selected Writings of John Jay Chapman ed. Jacques Barzun

William James

Monday, May 29

What Survives

Who says that all must vanish?
Who knows, perhaps the flight
of the bird you wound remains,
and perhaps the flowers survive
caresses in us, in their ground.

It isn't the gesture that lasts,
but it dresses you again in gold
armor -- from breast to knees --
and the battle was so pure
an Angel wears it after you.

-- Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by A. Poulin

Sunday, May 28

a secret delight

There is a second kind of beauty that we find in the several products of art and nature, which does not work in the imagination with that warmth and violence as the beauty that appears in our proper species, but is apt however to raise in us a secret delight ...

-- Joseph Addison, in "The Pleasures of the Imagination" The Spectator

Saturday, May 27

We are alone with everything we love.

-- Novalis

Thursday, May 25

Nature Assigns the Sun

Nature assigns the Sun —
That — is Astronomy —
Nature cannot enact a Friend —
That — is Astrology.

-- Emily Dickinson

Tuesday, May 23

on what is difficult

Most people have (with the help of conventions) turned their solutions toward what is easy and toward the easiest side of the easy; but it is clear that we must trust in what is difficult; everything alive trusts in it, everything in Nature grows and defends itself any way it can and is spontaneously itself, tries to be itself at all costs and against all opposition. We know little, but that we must trust in what is difficult is a certainty that will never abandon us; it is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be one more reason for us to do it.

-- Rainer Maria Rilke Letters to a Young Poet

via Whiskey River

Sunday, May 21

Lingering in Happiness

After rain after many days without rain,
it stays cool, private and cleansed, under the trees,
and the dampness there, married now to gravity,
falls branch to branch, leaf to leaf, down to the ground

where it will disappear -- but not, of course, vanish
except to our eyes. The roots of the oaks will have their share,
and the white threads of the grasses, and the cushion of moss;
a few drops, round as pearls, will enter the mole's tunnel;

and soon so many small stones, buried for a thousand years,
will feel themselves being touched.

-- Mary Oliver

Saturday, May 20


In the back room where a ray of light
has penetrated the vine-covered window
the green curtain that parts
onto the circular garden
you dip your hands into a basin of water
and they blur away
only the lines from your upturned palms remain
floating for an instant
rearranging themselves
a map etched in disappearing ink
to guide you for the rest of your life
or until you leave this address
whichever comes first

-- Nicholas Christopher, from "14 rue Serpentine"

Tuesday, May 16

like a spring pouring forth in many cascades

Artists and thinkers are like lyres, infinitely delicate and sonorous, whose vibrations, awakened by the circumstances of each epoch, are prolonged to the ears of all other mortals.

Without a doubt, very fine works of art are appreciated only by a limited number; and even in galleries and public squares they are looked at by only a few. But, nevertheless, the thoughts they embody end by filtering through to the crowd. Below the men of genius there are other artists of less scope, who borrow and popularize the conceptions of the masters: writers are influenced by painters, painters by writers; there is a continual exchange of thought between all the brains of a generation -- the journalists, the popular novelists, the illustrators, the makers of pictures bring within the reach of the multitude the truths discovered by the powerful intellects of the day. It is like a spiritual stream, like a spring pouring forth in many cascades, which finally meet to form the great moving river which represents the mentality of an era.

-- Auguste Rodin Rodin on Art and Artists
Translated by Mrs. Romilly Fedden

Sunday, May 14

The Black Lace Fan My Mother Gave Me

It was the first gift he ever gave her,
buying it for five francs in the Galeries
in prewar Paris. It was stifling.
A starless drought made the nights stormy.

They stayed in the city for the summer.
They met in cafés. She was always early.
He was late. That evening he was later.
They wrapped the fan. He looked at his watch.

She looked down the Boulevard des Capucines.
She ordered more coffee. She stood up.
The streets were emptying. The heat was killing.
She thought the distance smelled of rain and lightning.

These are wild roses, appliquéd in silk
by hand — darkly picked, stitched boldly, quickly.
The rest is tortoiseshell and has the reticent,
clear patience of its element. It is

a worn-out, underwater bullion and it keeps
even now, an inference of its violation.
The lace is overcast, as if the weather
it opened for and offset had entered it.

The past is an empty café terrace.
An airless dusk before thunder. A man running.
And no way now to know what happened then —
none at all — unless, of course, you improvise.

The blackbird on this first sultry morning
in summer, finding buds, worms, fruit,
feels the heat. Suddenly, she puts out her wing —
the whole, full, flirtatious span of it.

-- Eavan Boland

Saturday, May 13

a land not mine

A land not mine, still
forever memorable,
the waters of its ocean
chill and fresh.

Sand on the bottom whiter than chalk,
and the air drunk, like wine,
late sun lays bare
the rosy limbs of the pinetrees.

Sunset in the ethereal waves:
I cannot tell if the day
is ending, or the world, or if
the secret of secrets is inside me again.

-- Anna Akhmatova
Translated by Jane Kenyon

Friday, May 12

of forms and emotions

All things appear to us in the shape of forms. Even in metaphysics ideas are expressed by forms, well then think how absurd it would be to think of painting without the imagery of forms. A figure, an object, a circle, are forms; they affect us more or less intensely. Some are closer to our feelings and give rise to emotions which concern our affective faculties; others appeal more particularly to the intellect. I must accept all of them, as my mind has as great a need of emotion as my senses ...

The artist is a receptacle for emotions derived from anywhere: from the sky, from the earth, from a piece of paper, from a passing figure, from a spider's web. This is why one must not make a distinction between things. For them there are no aristocratic quarterings. One must take things where one finds them, except in one's own works. I have a horror of copying myself, but when I am shown a folder of old drawings, for example, I do not hesitate to take from them whatever I want.

-- Pablo Picasso, quoted in "Conversation avec Picasso" by Christian Zervos, Cahiers d'Art Vol. X (1935)
Translated by Elspeth A. Evans

Thursday, May 11


My desk and work tables reflect -- are, perhaps, an objective correlative for -- the scramble of my mind and my manuscripts. Every surface is covered by odd scraps of paper, dictionaries for several languages, half-empty cups of cold coffee or tea, computer disks, clips and staplers, long-buried pencils and pens, temporarily abandoned projects, file folders, unmarked calendars. Of course I keep promising that I'll get back to tidy them up; frankly, I must admit that I hope that all this kafuffle never gets cleared up -- not, at least, until the kafuffle on my worksheets produces one or two more sparkles.

-- W.D. Snodgrass, in "In the Studio" from American Poetry Review 35:3

Tuesday, May 9


When dreaming a little of the forces that maintain each object's particular form, one can easily imagine that in each vertical being there reigns a flame.

-- Gaston Bachelard The Flame of a Candle
Translated by Joni Caldwell

Monday, May 8


At one time whenever I made drawings for sculpture I tried to give them as much the illusion of real sculpture as I could -- that is, I drew by the method of illusion, of light falling on a solid object. But now I find that carrying a drawing so far that it becomes a substitute for the sculpture either weakens the desire to do the sculpture, or is likely to make the sculpture only a dead realization of the drawing.

I now leave a wider latitude in the interpretation of the drawings I make for sculpture, and draw often in line and flat tones without the light and shade illusion of three dimensions; but this does not mean that the vision behind the drawing in only two-dimensional.

-- Henry Moore, in "Notes on Sculpture" from The Painter's Object, ed. Myfanwy Evans

Sunday, May 7

each day

One should, each day, try to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it is possible, speak a few reasonable words.

-- Goethe

Friday, May 5


A pure American tone? The yellow of the kitchen-stool vinyl on which James Stewart climbs to test his acrophobia in Vertigo. It's the yellow of postwar American prosperity that Richard Nixon bragged about to Nikita Khrushchev. Aggressive cheer, boastful self-confidence, strident belief in work and getting ahead: Vertigo's yellow is blazon for these values. The same values that were toyed with, mocked, and exploited to great commercial success by certain Pop artists of the 1960s, who took over the dandy yellow that gleams like chrome but looks saturated with creamy yellow papaya pulp.

-- W.S. Di Piero Shooting the Works

Thursday, May 4


"It's innate," I answered. "I already showed it as a child. Incidentally, fur excites all high-strung people — an effect that is consistent with both universal and natural laws. It is a physical stimulus, which is just as strangely tingling and which no one can entirely resist. Science has recently demonstrated a kinship between electricity and warmth — in any case, their effects on the human organism are related. The tropics produce more passionate people, a heated atmosphere causes excitement. The same holds for electricity. Hence the bewitchingly beneficial influence that cats exert on highly sensitive and intelligent people; this has made these long-tailed graces of the animal kingdom, these sweet, spark-spraying electric batteries the darlings of a Mohammed, a Cardinal Richelieu, a Crébillon, a Rousseau, or a Wieland."

"So a woman wearing fur," cried Wanda, "is nothing but a big cat, a charged electric battery?"

-- Leopold von Sacher-Masoch Venus in Furs
Translated by Joachim Neugroschel

Wednesday, May 3

a memory of pictures

Gracing a bent flight of slippery stairs grazed a full dozen identically framed oblong views of cattle. Grim gray tree trunks, brown lank grass, chocolate and mustard cows were anonymously charmless but hand-painted. Above the dining-room sideboard hung an ample, beautiful, and luxurious homage to fruit, flowers, vegetables, fish, conch shells, and a dead rabbit, signed Melchior Hondecoeter. It was an original. Dry, flaking colors exposed fine-grained, pale, dusty linen beneath. Its condition was troubling. After all the labor in presenting an industrious vision of delight, no one seemed to have loved it recently. Pictures, one gathered, were neither impervious nor eternal, despite massive frames, rarity or cost.

-- Lincoln Kirstein, in "Boston: Frames and Outlines," recalling his boyhood home before his mother redecorated it, from By With To & From: A Lincoln Kirstein Reader, ed. Nicholas Jenkins

Monday, May 1

up into the silence the green

up into the silence the green
silence with a white earth in it

you will(kissme)go

out into the morning the young
morning with a warm world in it

(kiss me)you will go

on into the sunlight the fine
sunlight with a firm day in it

you will go(kiss me

down into your memory and
a memory and memory

i)kissme(will go)

-- e.e. cummings