"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Shadowiness of the Still House

Childhood Paintings by Gerry McCartney ~ late 1960s
The Listeners

‘Is there anybody there?’ said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
Of the forest’s ferny floor:
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveller’s head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
‘Is there anybody there?’ he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller’s call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
’Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head:—
‘Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word,’ he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone.

Walter de la Mare

The Sea Gypsy*

I am fevered with the sunset,
I am fretful with the bay,
For the wander-thirst is on me
And my soul is in Cathay.

There's a schooner in the offing,
With her topsails shot with fire,
And my heart has gone aboard her
For the Islands of Desire.

I must forth again to-morrow!
With the sunset I must be
Hull down on the trail of rapture
In the wonder of the sea.

Richard Hovey
*Sam recited "The Sea Gypsy" at St. Peter's
Poetry Declamation ~ 4th grade ~ September 2002

Next Fortnightly Post
Thursday, July 14th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

In a Museum!

Glass Miniatures at the
Asian Art Museum in San Francisco

Museum Connections:

A couple of months ago, on my Quotidian blog, I posted Sam's favorite paintings from the Guggenheim, along with a throwback reference to one of our favorite childhood movies Don't Eat the Pictures. I turned again to this Sesame Street favorite, about an overnight visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, on my previous Fortnighlty blog, "Light as a Feather." One of the subplots for Big Bird concerns finding an answer to the all - important question: "Where does today meet yesterday?"

Can you guess the answer? "In a museum!"

Last summer (August 2015), Gerry and I visited several museums in Lincoln, England. We were lucky enough to be there for the octocentenary of the Magna Carta (1215 - 2015). Of all the awe - inspiring documents and artifacts that we surveyed as part of this town - wide octocentennial celebration of today meeting yesterday, what made the most lasting impression on me was an ancient jar of ancient pennies on display in The Collection Museum.

I couldn't help thinking of the ancient family (probably Roman) and all of the household items they might have valued, even treasured: an ornamental vase or wall hanging? a headdress or some jewelry? the best tableware or even the second - best. Of all these items, could they have ever guessed that what would survive would be the unused pennies, the most humble currency? Of all their arts and crafts and labor, is this what they would have chosen for us to remember them by, 800 years hence?

Certainly of all the things in my home that I consider beautiful or useful (see previous post), it is not the souvenir jar of nearly worthless pennies that I would send as emissary to the future. Yet, as it turns out, that's where yesterday met today, and where today might meet tomorrow.

The riddle of Don't Eat the Pictures -- "Where does today meet yesterday?" -- can also be found in the following two poems. Underlying their sophistication and elegance is the same conundrum. In "Museum," Wislawa Szymborska observes that "Since eternity was out of stock, / ten thousand aging things have been amassed instead": plates, weddings rings, fans, swords, lutes, hairpins, crowns, gloves, shoes, dresses. Ten thousand artifacts! Some quite impressive, others merely as silly as a jar of pennies. Her closing image of the determined dress is particularly timely and of interest, since I've recently learned that clothing in any way unusual -- not only vintage styles, but also novelty fashions and passing fads -- may be donated to the Purdue Theatre Department. Such garments might be used onstage or studied in the classroom -- where today meets yesterday.

The second poem, "In the Museum of Lost Objects," is Lindenberg's tribute to "the magnitude / of absence," all the long - lost relics, jewels, and documents that we shall never lay eyes upon. For every thing that we can see, there is so much more that we never can. For every heirloom or rustic jug retained, how many more disappeared in the landslide? How many were crushed in the landfill and have now disintegrated beyond all existence? As with cemeteries, for each loved one commemorated, there are millions more whose bones and names we shall never know. The Terracotta Ghost Army remains 8000 strong, but where are the citizens of the realm? "Gone to feed the roses" -- that's where. Their lives too would fill huge vacant fields, huge vacant rooms -- but we have "ten thousand aging things . . . instead."

Four Salon Walls from
Frye Museum of Art, Seattle


Here are plates with no appetite.
And wedding rings, but the requited love
has been gone now for some three hundred years.

Here’s a fan -- where is the maiden’s blush?
Here are swords -- where is the ire?
Nor will the lute sound at the twilight hour.

Since eternity was out of stock,
ten thousand aging things have been amassed instead.
The moss-grown guard in golden slumber
props his mustache on Exhibit Number --

Eight. Metals, clay and feathers celebrate
their silent triumphs over dates.
Only some Egyptian flapper’s silly hairpin giggles.

The crown has outlasted the head.
The hand has lost out to the glove.
The right shoe has defeated the foot.

As for me, I am still alive, you see.
The battle with my dress still rages on.
It struggles, foolish thing, so stubbornly!
Determined to keep living when I’m gone!

Wislawa Szymborska

In the Museum of Lost Objects

What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee;
What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage.
Ezra Pound

You’ll find labels describing what is gone:
an empress’s bones, a stolen painting

of a man in a feathered helmet
holding a flag-draped spear.

A vellum gospel, hidden somewhere long ago
forgotten, would have sat on that pedestal;

this glass cabinet could have kept the first
salts carried back from the Levant.

To help us comprehend the magnitude
of absence, huge rooms

lie empty of their wonders—the Colossus,
Babylon’s Hanging Gardens and

in this gallery, empty shelves enough to hold
all the scrolls of Alexandria.

My love, I’ve petitioned the curator
who has acquired an empty chest

representing all the poems you will
now never write. It will be kept with others

in the poet’s gallery. Next door,
a vacant room echoes with the spill

of jewels buried by a pirate who died
before disclosing their whereabouts.

I hope you don’t mind, but I have kept
a few of your pieces

for my private collection. I think
you know the ones I mean.

Rebecca Lindenberg

Into the museums they go, so that today may encounter yesterday: bones and paintings, helmets and spears, classic books and curios, wonders of the world, unfinished manuscripts. Sensing how elusive eternity can be, we save what we can. As T.S. Eliot (and later Joan Didion) once said: "These fragments I have shored against my ruins."

Next Fortnightly Post
Tuesday, June 28th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading