31 July 2007

Brief readings on home, travel, and finance

A Short History

Corn planted us; tamed cattle made us tame.
Thence hut and citadel and kingdom came.

--Richard Wilbur

Let us not fool ourselves. What we knew is dead, and maybe the greatest part of what we were is dead. What's out there is perhaps good, but it's nothing we know.

--John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley

The place of my origin had changed, and having gone away I had not changed with it. In my memory it stood as it once did and its outward appearance confused and angered me.

--John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley

From For C.

After the clash of elevator gates
And the long sinking, she emerges where,
A slight thing in the morning's crosstown glare,
She looks up toward the window where he waits,
Then in a fleeting taxi joins the rest
Of the huge traffic bound forever west.

--Richard Wilbur

Now, financial analysts in pin-striped suits do not like being compared with bare-assed apes.

--Burton Malkiel, A Random Walk Down Wall Street

When a stranger addresses Charley in baby talk, Charley avoids him. For Charley is not a human; he's a dog, and he likes it that way. He feels that he is a first-rate dog and has no wish to be a second-rate human.

--John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley

The public, it seemed, would buy anything. ...The prize...must surely goe to the unknown soul who started "A Company for carrying on an undertaking of great advantage, but nobody to know what it is." The prospectus promised unheard-of rewards. At nine o'clock in the morning, when the subscription books opened, crowds of people from all walks of life practically beat down the door in an effort to subscribe. Within five hours 1,000 investors handed over their money for shares in the company. Not being greedy himself, the promoter promptly closed up shop and set off for the Continent. He was never heard from again.

--Burton Malkiel, A Random Walk Down Wall Street

-Current events: a hilarious, brilliantly written New York Times article on Rupert Murdoch's sadly successful takeover of the Wall Street Journal and its parent, the Dow Jones Company.


30 July 2007

Quotes from Thomas Merton and John Steinbeck

Living is more than submission: it is creation. To live is to create one's own world as a scene of personal happiness.

-Thomas Merton, "The Street is For Celebration"

Celebration is the beginning of confidence, therefore of power.

-Thomas Merton, "The Street is For Celebration"

The next passage in my journey is a love affair. I am in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection, but with Montana it is love, and it's difficult to analyze love when you're in it. ... It seems to me that Montana is a great splash of grandeur. The scale is huge but not overpowering. The land is rich with grass and color, and the mountains are the kind I would create if mountains were ever put on my agenda.
The calm of the mountains and the rolling grasslands had got into the inhabitants. It was hunting season when I drove through the state. The men I talked to seemed to me not moved to a riot of seasonal slaughter but simply to be going out to kill edible meat. Again my attitude may be informed by love, but it seemed to me that the towns were places to live in rather than nervous hives. People had time to pause in their occupations to undertake the passing art of neighborliness.

-John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley

When we live superficially, when we are always outside ourselves, never quite "with" ourselves, always divided and pulled in many directions by conflicting plans and projects, we find ourselves doing many things that we do not really want to do, saying things we do not really mean, needing things we do not really need, exhausting ourselves for what we secretly realize to be worthless and without meaning in our lives: "Why spend your money on what is not food and your earnings on what never satisfies?" (Isaiah 55:2)

-Thomas Merton, "Creative Silence"

Having a companion fixes you in time and that the present, but when the quality of aloneness settles down, past, present, and future all flow together. A memory, a present event, and a forecast all equally present.

-John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley

In the long run, the discipline of creative silence demands a certain kind of faith. For when we come face to face with ourselves in the lonely ground of our own being, we confront many questions about the value of our existence, the reality of our commitments, the authenticity of our everyday lives.

-Thomas Merton, "Creative Silence"

27 July 2007

A personal update and four quotes

I am excited about the weekend. I'll be walking straight from work to Union Station tomorrow afternoon, and then the usual, happy routine of a quick trip home: the #370 Pere Marquette accompanied by caffeine and books (and, since it's summer, a wonderful sunset over the harbor in St. Joseph, MI), a late-night outing to Pints & Quarts and Pablo's Tacos with Muskegon friends, a Saturday morning trip to eat breakfast and shop for used books in Grand Haven, a few intense games of ping-pong with Tyler, and a run on the beach. Early Sunday morning, I'll be on the return train to Chicago and it will all seem surreal.

Two unique and wonderful things about this trip. First: my family got a new dog, a black retriever named Maggie, whom I will have the pleasure of meeting for the first time tomorrow night. And second: on Saturday night, two friends and I are going to a Counting Crows and Collective Soul concert in Grand Rapids.

--- Quotes from tonight's reading: ---

What I am saying is this: the score is not what matters. Life does not have to be regarded as a game in which scores are kept and somebody wins. If you are too intent on winning, you will never enjoy playing. If you are too obsessed with success, you will forget to live. If you have learned only how to be a success, your life has probably been wasted.

Thomas Merton
--"Love and Living"

When that time was over and the good-bys said, I had to go through the same lost loneliness all over again, and it was no less painful than at first. There seemed to be no cure for loneliness save only being alone.

John Steinbeck
-- Travels with Charley

From Blackberries for Amelia

As the far stars, of which we now are told
That ever faster they do bolt away,
And that a night may come in which, some say,
We shall have only blackness to behold.

I have no time for any change so great,
But I shall see the August weather spur
Berries to ripen where the flowers were -
Dark berries, savage-sweet and worth the wait -

And there will come the moment to be quick
And save some from the birds, and I shall need
Two pails, old clothes in which to stain and bleed,
And a grandchild to talk with while we pick.

-Richard Wilbur

I can only imagine that the lonely man peoples his driving dreams with friends, that the loveless man surrounds himself with lovely loving women, and that children climb through the dreaming of the childless driver. And how about the areas of regrets? If only I had done so-and-so, or had not said such-and-such - my God, the damn thing might not have happened. Finding this potential in my own mind, I can suspect it in others, but I will never know, for no one ever tells. And this is why, on my journey which was designed for observation, I stayed as much as possible on secondary roads where there was much to see and hear and smell, and avoided the great wide traffic slashes which promote the self by fostering daydreams.

John Steinbeck
--Travels with Charley


26 July 2007

More wisdom from Czeslaw Milosz

From An Appeal

In you, as in me, there is a hidden certainty
That soon you will rise, in undiminished light,
And be real, strong, free from what restrained you.

From Notes

He felt thankful, so he couldn't not believe in God.

From A Poetic State

Every minute the spectacle of the world astonishes me; it is so comic that I cannot understand how literature could expect to cope with it.

Sensing every minute, in my flesh, by my touch, I tame misfortune and do not ask God to avert it, for why should He avert it from me if He does not avert it from others?
I was impatient and easily irritated by time lost on trifles among which I ranked cleaning and cooking. Now, attentively, I cut onions, squeeze lemons, and prepare various kinds of sauces.

From After Paradise

So that now at dawn
You must be attentive: the tilt of a head,
A hand with a comb, two faces in a mirror
Are only forever once, even if unremembered,
So that you watch what is, though it fades away,
And are grateful every moment for your being.

From From the Rising of the Sun

Darkly, darkly cities return.
The roads of a twenty-year-old are littered with maple leaves
As he walks along one acrid morning, looking through the fences at gardens
And courtyards, where a black dog barks, and someone chops wood.

Click here to see Milosz's Collected Poems on Amazon.com. Milosz is my favorite poet, and much more of his work can be found in older posts on this blog.

23 July 2007

Quotes from John Steinbeck's "Travels with Charley"

A dog, particularly an exotic like Charley, is a bond between strangers. Many conversations en route began with "What degree of a dog is that?"


The dairy man had a Ph.D. in mathematics, and he must have had some training in philosophy. He liked what he was doing and he didn't want to be somewhere else - one of the very few contented people I met in my whole journey.


Then a submarine slipped to the surface half a mile away, and the day lost part of its brightness. Farther away another dark creature slashed through the water, and another; of course they are based in New London, and this is their home. And perhaps they are keeping the world's peace with their venom. I wish I could like submarines, for then I might find them beautiful, but they are designed for destruction, and while they may explore and chart the sea bottom, and draw new trade lines under the Arctic ice, their main purpose is threat.


Who doesn't like to be a center for concern? A kind of second childhood falls on so many men. They trade their violence for the promise of a small increase of life span. In effect, the head of the house becomes the youngest child. And I have searched myself for this possibility with a kind of horror. For I have always lived violently, drunk hugely, eaten too much or not at all, slept around the clock or missed two nights of sleeping, worked too hard and too long in glory, or slobbed for a time in utter laziness. I've lifted, pulled, chopped, climbed, made love with joy and taken my hangovers as a consequence, not as a punishment. I did not want to surrender fierceness for a small gain in yardage. My wife married a man; I saw no reason why she should inherit a baby.


I saw in their eyes something I was to see over and over in every part of the nation - a burning desire to go, to move, to get under way, anyplace, away from any Here.


The word "Ftt" usually means he would like to salute a bush or a tree. I opened the cab door and let him out, and he went about his ceremony. He doesn't have to think about it to do it well. It is my experience that in some areas Charley is more intelligent than I am, but in others he is abysmally ignorant. He can't read, can't drive a car, and has no grasp of mathematics. But in his own field of endeavor, which was now practicing, the slow, imperial smelling over and anointing of an area, he has no peer. Of course his horizons are limited, but how wide are mine?

-John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley in Search of America

(Personal note: Steinbeck is my favorite American writer, and Travels with Charley is on track to become one of my absolute favorite books; I'm especially excited about it because my family just got a second dog, a black retriever named Maggie. I'll get to meet Maggie for the first time when I go home to Muskegon on Friday for a Counting Crows concert.)


22 July 2007

Four quotes from recent reading

"Tell me one last thing," said Harry. "Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?"
"Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?"

-J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Secular nationalism of the sort Fatah stood for is coming to look like the weak force and radical Islam like the strong force. This poses a huge danger to a region already beset by violent conflicts. What is worse, Western policy is in danger of strengthening the wrong side by making the Islamists look like martyrs and the secularists like traitors.

-"Martyrs or Traitors," The Economist, June 21st 2007

This competition for students would force public schools to become better. The system of higher education in the U.S. is the world's best mainly because competition between private colleges and tuition-charging public colleges has improved the performance of both.

-Gary Becker, "School-Finance Reform: Don't Give Up on Vouchers," in The Economics of Life

But if you will just change your ways immediately, then everyone will have peace. Although this has been going on since time immemorial, today we could make a special effort to be good, and say this is not to be done! I'm sure you can say so, brother. The other day when the tenant wanted the rent reduced, you said it couldn't be done.

-Lu Hsun, "A Madman's Diary"

18 July 2007

Four poems by Robert Creeley

From The Passage

What waiting in the halls,
stamping on the stairs,
all the ghosts are here tonight
come from everywhere.

Yet one or two,
absent, make
themselves felt by that,
break the heart.

I Know a Man

As I sd to my
friend, because I am
always talking, --John, I

sd, which was not his
name, the darkness sur-
rounds us, shall we &
why not, buy a goddam big car,

drive, he sd, for
christ’s sake, look
out where yr going.


She stood at the window. There was
a sound, a light.
She stood at the window. A face.

Was it that she was looking for,
he thought. Was it that
she was looking for. He said,

turn from it, turn
from it. The pain is
not unpainful. Turn from it.

The act of her anger, of
the anger she felt then,
not turning to him.

The Rain

All night the sound had
come back again,
and again falls
this quiet, persistent rain.

What am I to myself
that must be remembered,
insisted upon
so often? Is it

that never the ease,
even the hardness,
of rain falling
will have for me

something other than this,
something not so insistent -
am I to be locked in this
final uneasiness.

Love, if you love me,
lie next to me.
Be for me, like rain,
the getting out

of the tiredness, the fatuousness, the semi-
lust of intentional indifference.
Be wet
with a decent happiness.

--From Selected Poems by Robert Creeley

16 July 2007

Great quotes on education and business

After all, I got into teaching for the same reason, I suspect, that many people did: because I thought it was a high-stakes affair, a pursuit in which souls are won and lost.


One of the ways we've tried to be attractive is by loosening up. We grade much more genially than our colleagues in the sciences. In English and history, we don't give many D's, or C's, either. (The rigors of Chem 101 may create almost as many humanities majors per year as the splendors of Shakespeare.) A professor at Stanford explained that grades were getting better because the students were getting smarter every year. Anything, I suppose, is possible.


As I read the reviews, I thought of a story I'd heard about a Columbia University instructor who issued a two-part question at the end of his literature course. Part one: What book in the course did you most dislike? Part two: What flaws of intellect or character does that dislike point up in you? The hand that framed those questions may have been slightly heavy. But at least they compelled the students to see intellectual work as a confrontation between two people, reader and author, where the stakes mattered.

-Mark Edmundson, Why Read?

The best businessperson in the world can't sell something the world isn't ready to use. People don't buy inventions. They don't buy technology. They buy a solution to a perceived problem. And if you have the greatest solution in the world and people don't perceive it as the solution to their problem, they are not going to buy it.

-Dean Kamen, in Kurtzman, ed., MBA in a Box

[Lord] Acton's learning and culture, like his ideas, were neither casually acquired nor casually expended. The languages he assimilated from his multilingual, multinational family were deliberately refined by years of careful study, and were cultivated as scholarly tools rather than as social graces. It was this seriousness and dedication of purpose that characterized the whole of his life, that made of his library not the cultured gentleman's lounge but the crowded workshop of the professional historian.

-Gertrude Himmelfarb, Lord Acton: A Study in Conscience and Politics

09 July 2007

Excerpts from the week's reading

For whom, he thought, that splendor? For me alone?
Yet it will be here long after I perish.

-Czeslaw Milosz, from "Study of Loneliness"

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them; and those who are ill-treated, since you are also in the body.

-Hebrews 13:1-3

The behavior of individual consumers and producers in the rational pursuit of their objectives is governed by the principle of marginal utility, or marginality. On the demand side of the economy, according to marginal-utility analysis, as consumers consume more and more of a good they experience diminishing utility; that is, while the first ice cream sundae consumed may be devoured with great pleasure, each additional sundae provides less pleasure (decreasing utility) and the demand of the individual for more sundaes decreases. ... The one possible exception to the principle of marginal utility, at least for most individuals, is the desire for wealth itself, a desire that appears insatiable.

-Robert Gilpin, Global Political Economy

The sense of belonging that bound the villagers to their village community was reinforced by social and economic factors. Population movements among the rural population were slight. Most families had lived in their villages as far back as memory could stretch, and membership in the village was a kind of birthright. This population stability over generations created a sense of local roots that is now unimaginable in highly mobile American society, where people change jobs and houses at the drop of a hat.

-Peter Duus, The Rise of Modern Japan

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

-Hebrews 11:1

day draws near
another one
do what you can.

-Czeslaw Milosz, from "On Angels"

Just because people were diligent did not mean they had to be abstemious. Enjoyment was not to be repressed, a notion associated with traditional American attitudes toward work and achievement, but rather to be put in its proper place. The pursuit of pleasure, sexual and otherwise, was regarded as natural and inevitable, to be condemned only when it threatened to put diligence and frugality behind it. Thus it was possible, as one recent observer has noted, for the Japanese to be Protestant by day and Mediterranean by night, an enviable cultural compromise.

-Peter Duus, The Rise of Modern Japan

08 July 2007

More poems & fragments by Anna Akhmatova

You will hear thunder and remember me,
And think: she wanted storms. The rim
Of the sky will be the colour of hard crimson,
And your heart, as it was then, will be on fire.

That day in Moscow, it will all come true,
When, for the last time, I take my leave,
And hasten to the heights I have longed for,
Leaving my shadow still to be with you.


Black and enduring separation
I share equally with you.
Why weep? Give me your hand,
Promise me you will come again.
You and I are like high
Mountains and we can't move closer.
Just send me word
At midnight sometime through the stars.


Everything is looted, spoiled, despoiled,
Death flickering his black wing,
Anguish, hunger - then why this
Lightness overlaying everything?

By day, cherry-scent from an unknown
Wood near the town. July
holding new constellations, deep
At night in the transparent sky -

Nearer to filthy ruined houses
Flies the miraculous...
Nobody has ever known it,
This, always so dear to us.


I won't beg for your love: it's laid
Safely to rest, let the earth settle...
Don't expect my jealous letters
Pouring in to plague your bride.
But let me, nevertheless, advise you:
Give her my poems to read in bed,
Give her my portraits to keep - it's wise to
Be kind like that when newly-wed.
For it's more needful to such geese
To know that they have won completely
Than to have converse light and sweet or
Honeymoons of remembered bliss...
When you have spent your kopeck's worth
Of happiness with your new friend,
And like a taste that sates the mouth
Your soul has recognized the end -
Don't come crawling like a whelp
Into my bed of loneliness.
I don't know you. Nor could I help.
I'm not yet cured of happiness.


I know the gods changed people into things,
Leaving their consciousness alive and free.
To keep alive the wonder of suffering,
You have been metamorphosed into me.

07 July 2007

Quotes from Willa Cather's "My Antonia"

The feelings of that night were so near that I could reach out and touch them with my hand. I had the sense of coming home to myself, and of having found out what a little circle man's experience is.


It came over me, as it had never done before, the relation between girls like those and the poetry of Virgil. If there were no girls like them in the world, there would be no poetry. I understood that clearly, for the first time. This revelation seemed to me inestimably precious. I clung to it as if it might suddenly vanish.


She lent herself to immemorial human attitudes which we recognize by instinct as universal and true. I had not been mistaken. She was a battered woman now, not a lovely girl; but she still had that something which fires the imagination, could still stop one's breath for a moment by a look or gesture that somehow revealed the meaning in common things. She had only to stand in the orchard, to put her hand on a little crab tree and look up at the apples, to make you feel the goodness of planting and tending and harvesting at last. All the strong things of her heart came out in her body, that had been so tireless in serving generous emotions.

It was no wonder that her sons stood tall and straight. She was a rich mine of life, like the founders of early races.


"What are you studying?" She leaned her elbows on the table and drew my book toward her. I caught a faint odour of violet sachet.


Nothing happened. I did not expect anything to happen. I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.


She looked at me, her eyes fairly blazing with things she could not say.


I saw grandmother look apprehensively at grandfather. He was rather narrow in religious matters, and sometimes spoke out and hurt people's feelings. There had been nothing strange about the tree before, but now, with some one kneeling before it - images, candles... Grandfather merely put his finger-tips to his brow and bowed his venerable head, thus Protestantizing the atmosphere.


When Ambrosch came back from Mr. Bushy's, we learned that he had given Marek's wages to the priest at Black Hawk, for Masses for their father's soul. Grandmother thought Antonia needed shoes more than Mr. Shimerda needed prayers, but grandfather said tolerantly, "If he can spare six dollars, pinched as he is, it shows he believes what he professes."


"Ain't you got no beer here?" I told him he'd have to go to the Bohemians for beer; the Norwegians didn't have none when they threshed. "My God!" he says, "so it's Norwegians now, is it? I thought this was Americy."


I liked to watch a play with Lena; everything was wonderful to her, and everything was true. It was like going to revival meetings with someone who was always being converted. She handed her feelings over to the actors with a kind of fatalistic resignation.


If I told my schoolmates that Lena Lingard's grandfather was a clergyman, and much respected in Norway, they looked at me blankly. What did it matter? All foreigners were ignorant people who couldn't speak English.


Grandfather didn't approve of dancing, anyway; he would only say that if I wanted to dance I could go to the Masonic Hall, among "the people we knew." It was just my point that I saw altogether too much of the people we knew.


There was the depot, of course; I often went down to see the night train come in, and afterward sat awhile with the disconsolate telegrapher who was always hoping to be transferred to Omaha or Denver, "where there was some life." He was sure to bring out his pictures of actresses and dancers. He got them with cigarette coupons, and nearly smoked himself to death to possess these desired forms and faces. For a change, one could talk to the station agent; but he was another malcontent; spent all his spare time writing letters to officials requesting a transfer. He wanted to get back to Wyoming where he could go trout-fishing on Sundays. He used to say "there was nothing in life for him but trout streams, ever since he'd lost his twins."


I did not want to find her aged and broken; I really dreaded it. In the course of twenty crowded years one parts with many illusions. I did not wish to lose the early ones. Some memories are realities, and are better than anything that can ever happen to one again.


"Sometimes, I ventured, "it doesn't occur to boys that their mother was ever young and pretty."

"Oh, we know!" they said again, warmly. ...

"Well," I said, "if you weren't nice to her, I think I'd take a club and go for the whole lot of you. I couldn't stand it if you boys were inconsiderate, or thought of her as if she were just somebody who looked after you. You see I was very much in love with your mother once, and I know there's nobody like her."


"Do you know, Antonia, since I've been away, I think of you more often than of anyone else in this part of the world. I'd have liked to have you for a sweetheart, or a wife, or my mother or my sister - anything that a woman can be to a man. The idea of you is part of my mind; you influence my likes and dislikes, all my tastes, hundreds of times when I don't realize it. You really are a part of me."

05 July 2007

Quotes from The Letter of James

Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

-James 1:2-4

But be doers of the world, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if any one is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who observes his natural face in a mirror: for he observes himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But he who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer that forgets but a doer that acts, he shall be blessed in his doing.

If any one thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this man's religion is vain. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

-James 1:22-27

What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

-James 2:14-17

Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and get gain'; whereas you do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.' As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. Whoever knows what is right to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

-James 4:13-17

04 July 2007

Poems & fragments by Anna Akhmatova

Happy Independence Day! I'll be spending a lazy Fourth revelling in freedom from work, sitting on the back porch with my roommates, and reading like crazy.

Just discovered Anna Akhmatova, a Russian poet who wrote and published under the specter of Soviet communism and Stalinism; her husband of eleven years was shot in 1921 as a "counter-revolutionary," her son and lover were arrested and sent to labor camps, and she herself was regularly persecuted and followed by the secret police. I picked Akhmatova's Selected Poems up on a whim during my last trip to Cheapstacks in Grand Haven, MI, and she has immediately become one of my favorite poets. Some of the poems below are complete, others are excerpts - most of her poems have dates rather than titles.

O there are words that should not be repeated,
And he who speaks them - is a spendthrift.
Inexhaustible is the sky's blue spindrift
Alone, and the mercy of the Redeemer.


Now mirrors learn
Not to expect smiles.


Bays broke the low shore,
Boats ran out to sea,
And I'd dry my salty hair
On a flat rock a mile from land.
Swam to me the green fish,
Flew to me the white seagull,
I was gay, and bold, and wicked,
And never knew I was happy.


It goes on without end - the day, heavy and amber!
How impossible is grief, how vain the waiting!
And with a silver voice, again the deer
Speaks in the deer-park of the Northern Lights.
And I believe that there is cool snow,
And a blue font for those whose hands are empty,
And a small sledge is being wildly ridden,
Under the ancient chimes of distant bells.


Under an empty dwelling's frozen roof,
Dead days. Here no living comes.
I read the Acts of the Apostles
And the Psalms.

But the stars are blue, the hoar-frost downy,
And each morning more wonderful,
And in the Bible a red maple leaf
Marks the pages of the Song of Songs.

02 July 2007

Lines by Levertov, Wilbur, Lowell, and Stafford

Overland to the Islands

Let's go - much as that dog goes,
intently haphazard. The
Mexican light on a day that
'smells like autumn in Connecticut'
makes iris ripples on his
black gleaming fur - and that too
is as one would desire - a radiance
consorting with the dance.

Under his feet
rocks and mud, his imagination, sniffing,
engaged in its perceptions - dancing
edgeways, there's nothing
the dog disdains on his way,
nevertheless he
keeps moving, changing
pace and approach but
not direction - 'every step an arrival'.

-Denise Levertov

From The Undead

To prey on life forever and not possess it,
As rock-hollows, tide after tide,
Glassily strand the sea.

-Richard Wilbur

From Katherine's Dream

Where are you? You were with me and are gone.
All the forgiven couples hurry on
To dinner and their nights, and none will stop.
I run about in circles till I drop
Against a padlocked bulkhead in a yard
Where faces redden and the snow is hard.

-Robert Lowell

For Sale

Poor sheepish plaything,
organized with prodigal animosity,
lived in just a year -
my Father's cottage at Beverly Farms
was on the market the month he died.
Empty, open, intimate,
its town-house furniture
had on a tiptoe air
of waiting for the mover
on the heels of the undertaker.

Ready, afraid
of living alone till eighty,
Mother mooned in a window,
as if she had stayed on a train
one stop past her destination.

-Robert Lowell


The left side of her world is gone -
the rest sustained by memory
and a realization: There are still the children.

Going down our porch steps her pastor
calls back: 'We are proud of her recovery,
and there is a chiropractor up in Galesburg...'

The birthdays of the old require such candles.

-William Stafford

01 July 2007

Great quotes from Willa Cather's "O Pioneers!"

Even as a boy he used to feel, when he saw her coming with her free step, her upright head and calm shoulders, that she looked as if she had walked straight out of the morning itself.


"I'd rather have had your freedom than my land."

Carl shook his head mournfully. "Freedom so often means that one isn't needed anywhere. Here you are an individual, you have a background of your own, you would be missed. But off there in the cities there are thousands of rolling stones like me. We are all alike; we have no ties, we know nobody, we own nothing. When one of us dies, they scarcely know where to bury him. Our landlady and the delicatessen man are our mourners, and we leave nothing behind us but a frock-coat and a fiddle, or an easel, or a typewriter, or whatever tool we got our living by. All we have ever managed to do is pay our rent, the exorbitant rent that one has to pay for a few square feet of space near the heart of things. We have no house, no place, no people of our own. We live in the streets, in the parks, in the theaters. We sit in restaurants and concert halls and look about at the hundreds of our own kind and shudder."


"Isn't it queer: there are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as if they had never happened before; like the larks in this country, that have been singing the same five notes over for thousands of years."


"You know that my spells come from God, and that I would not harm any living creature. You believe that every one should God in the way revealed to him. But that is not the way of this country. The way here is for all to do alike. I am despised because I do not wear shoes, because I do not cut my hair, and because I have visions."


That is all among the dim things of childhood and has been forgotten in the brighter pattern life weaves to-day, in the bright facts of being captain of the track team, and holding the interstate record for the high jump, in the all-suffusing brightness of being twenty-one. Yet sometimes, in the pauses of his work, the young man frowned and looked at the ground with an intentness which suggested that even twenty-one might have its problems.


"It's by understanding me, and the boys, and mother, that you've helped me. I expect that is the only way one person ever really can help another. I think you are about the only one that ever helped me. Somehow it will take more courage to bear your going than everything that has gone before."


Alexandra often said that if her mother were cast upon a desert island, she would thank God for her deliverance, make a garden, and find something to preserve.


"My God, girl, what a head of hair!" he exclaimed, quite innocently and foolishly. She stabbed him with a glance of Amazonian fierceness and drew in her lower lip - most unnecessary severity. It gave the little clothing drummer such a start that he actually let his cigar fall to the sidewalk and went off weakly in the teeth of the wind to the saloon. His hand was still unsteady when he took his glass from the bartender. His feeble flirtatious instincts had been crushed before, but never so mercilessly. He felt cheap and ill-used, as if some one had taken advantage of him. When a drummer had been knocking about in little drab towns and crawling across the wintry country in dirty smoking-cars, was he to be blamed if, when he chanced upon a fine human creature, he suddenly wished himself more of a man?


"I've found it sometimes pays to mend other people's fences."


"You wanna be a priest, maybe? Not-a for me!" Amedee swaggered. "I bring many good Catholics into this world, I hope, and that's a way I help the Church."


"I want to take a year off and look around. It's awfully easy to rush into a profession you don't really like, and awfully hard to get out of it."


"What good comes of offering people things they don't need?" Alexandra asked sadly. "I don't need money. But I have needed you for a great many years. I wonder why I have been permitted to prosper, if it is only to take my friends away from me."


They were not the sort of letters that a young man writes to his sister. They were both more personal and more painstaking.... He told about bull-fights and cock-fights, churches and fiestas, the flower-markets and the fountains, the music and dancing, the people of all nations he met in the Italian restaurants on San Francisco Street. In short, they were the kind of letters a young man writes to a woman when he wishes himself and his life to seem interesting to her, when he wishes to enlist her imagination in his behalf.


"If I were big and free like you, I wouldn't let anything make me unhappy. As old Napoleon Brunot said at the fair, I wouldn't go lovering after no woman. I'd take the first train and go off and have all the fun there is."

"I tried that, but it didn't do any good. Everything reminded me. The nicer the place was, the more I wanted you."

-Willa Cather, O Pioneers!