AN UNCOMMON THOUGHT

"The real trick to life is not to be in the know, but to be in the mystery."
-Fred Alan Wolf

22 June 2015

Singing.


Baled hay out in a field
Five miles from home. Barometer falling.
A muffler of still cloud padding the stillness
The day after day of blue scorch up to yesterday
The heavens of dazzling iron, that seemed unalterable
Hard now to remember.
Now, tractor bounding along lanes, among echoes
The trailer bouncing, all its iron shouting
Under sag heavy leaves
That seem ready to drip with stillness
Cheek in the air alert for the first speck.
You feel sure the rain’s already started
But for the tractor’s din you’d hear it hushing
In all the leaves. But still not one drop
On your face or arm. You can't believe it.
The hoicking bales, as if at a contest. Leaping
On and off the tractor as at a rodeo.
Hurling the bales higher. The loader on top
Dodging like a monkey. The fifth layer full
Then a tettering sixth. Then for a seventh
A row down the middle. And if a bale topples
You feel you’ve lost those seconds forever
Then roping it all tight, like a hard loaf.
Then fast as you dare, watching the sky
And watching the load, and feeling the air darken
With wet electricity
The load foaming through leaves, and wallowing
Like a tug-boat meeting the open sea
The tractor’s front wheels rearing up, as you race
And pawing the air. Then all hands
Pitching the bales off, under a roof
Anyhow, then back for the last load.
And now as you dash through the green light
You see between dark trees
On all the little emerald hills
The desperate loading, under the blue cloud
Your sweat tracks through your dust, your shirt flaps chill
And bales multiply out of each other
And down the shorn field ahead
The faster you fling them up, the more there are of them
Till suddendly the field’s grey empty. It’s finished
And a tobacco reek breaks in your nostrils
As the rain begins
Softly and vertically silver, the whole sky softly
Falling into the stubble all round you
The trees shake out their masses, joyful
Drinking the downpour
The hills pearled, the whole distance drinking
And the earth-smell warm and thick as smoke

And you go, and over the whole land
Like singing heard across evening water
The tall loads are swaying towards their barns
Down the deep lanes

Ted Hughes

Details.



These are not the only controversial points to arise in connexion with tea drinking, but they are sufficient to show how subtilized the whole business has become. There is also the mysterious social etiquette surrounding the teapot (why is it considered vulgar to drink out of your saucer, for instance?) and much might be written about the subsidiary uses of tea leaves, such as telling fortunes, predicting the arrival of visitors, feeding rabbits, healing burns and sweeping the carpet. It is worth paying attention to such details as warming the pot and using water that is really boiling, so as to make quite sure of wringing out of one’s ration the twenty good, strong cups of that two ounces, properly handled, ought to represent.

George Orwell

Prefer.

21 June 2015

Unburied.


Fire balloons.

You rarely see them these days, though in some countries, I hear, they are still filled with warm breath from a small straw fire hung beneath. But in 1925 Illinois, we still had them, and one of the last memories I have of my grandfather is the last hour of a Fourth of July night forty-eight years ago when Grandpa and I walked out on the lawn and lit a small fire and filled the pear-shaped red-white-and-blue-striped paper balloon with hot air, and held the flickering bright-angel presence in our hands a final moment in front of a porch lined with uncles and aunts and cousins and mothers and fathers, and then, very softly, let the thing that was life and light and mystery go out of our fingers up on the summer night air and away over the beginning-to-sleep houses, among the stars, as fragile, as wondrous, as vulnerable, as lovely as life itself.

I see my grandfather there looking up at that strange drifting light, thinking his own still thoughts. I see me, my eyes filled with tears, because it was all over, the night was done, I knew there would never be another night like this.

No one said anything. We all just looked up at the sky and we breathed out and in and we all thought the same things, but nobody said. Someone finally had to say, though, didn’t they? And that one is me.

The wine still waits in the cellars below.

My beloved family still sits on the porch in the dark.

The fire balloon still drifts and burns in the night sky of an as yet unburied summer.


Why and how? Because I say it is so.

Ray Bradbury, from "Just This Side of Byzantium," the introduction to Dandelion Wine

20 June 2015

Typography.

R.E.M., "Maps & Legends"

Paint me in the places you have seen

Intend.

Answer.

Bristow, Quixote and Panzo Preparing to Attack a Windmill, undated


They miss the whisper that runs
any day in your mind,
"Who are you really, wanderer?"--
and the answer you have to give
no matter how dark and cold
the world around you is:
"Maybe I'm a king."

William Stafford

Bruce Molsky & David Holt, "Sally Ann"

Awake.


A Ritual to Read to Each Other

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider---
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give---yes or no, or maybe---
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

William Stafford 

Opened.


Just as in the body, eye and ear develop as organs of perception, as senses for bodily processes, so does a man develop in himself soul and spiritual organs of perception through which the soul and spiritual worlds are opened to him. For those who do not have such higher senses, these worlds are dark and silent, just as the bodily world is dark and silent for a being without eyes and ears.

Rudolf Steiner

Proof.


Technique is the proof of your seriousness.

Wallace Stevens

Study.

Trebacz, Old Man Studying, 1896


Whenever I meet in Laplace with the words, "Thus it plainly appears," I am sure that hours and perhaps days, of hard study will alone enable me to discover how it plainly appears.

Nathaniel Bowditch

Miles Davis Quintet, "My Funny Valentine"

Sharper.


The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.

W.B. Yeats

Thank You very much, Jessica.

Beyond.


To look is important. We look to immediate things and out of immediate necessities to the future, coloured by the past. Our seeing is very limited and our eyes are accustomed to near things.

Our look is as bound by time-space as our brain. We never look, we never see beyond this limitation; we do not know how to look through and beyond these fragmentary frontiers. But the eyes have to see beyond them, penetrating deeply and widely, without choosing, without shelter; they have to wander beyond man-made frontiers of ideas and values and to feel beyond love. Then there is a benediction which no god can give.


You must understand the whole of life, not just one little part of it. That is why you must read, that is why you must look at the skies, that is why you must sing, and dance, and write poems, and suffer, and understand, for all that is life.

Jiddu Krishnamurti

Thank you, Kurt Arrigo.

Deep.

Nolde, Summer Clouds, 1913


What I saw was just one eye
In the dawn as I was going:
A bird can carry all the sky
In that little button glowing.

Never in my life I went
So deep into the firmament.

Harold Munro

19 June 2015

The Psychedelic Furs, "India"

Up.

Tiepolo, The Sacrifice of Isaac (detail), 1729


Up then, fair phoenix bride, frustrate the sun;
Thyself from thine affection
Takest warmth enough, and from thine eye
All lesser birds will take their jollity.
Up, up, fair bride, and call
Thy stars from out their several boxes, take
Thy rubies, pearls, and diamonds forth, and make
Thyself a constellation of them all;
And by their blazing signify
That a great princess falls, but doth not die.
Be thou a new star, that to us portends
Ends of much wonder; and be thou those ends.

John Donne

CONNECT

Farther.

DuMond, Iris, 1903


Our vanity, our passions, our spirit of imitation, our abstract intelligence, our habits have long been at work, and it is the task of art to undo this work of theirs, making us travel back in the direction from which we have come to the depths where what has really existed lies unknown within us.  The great quality of true art is that it rediscovers, grasps and reveals to us that reality far from where we live, from which we get farther and farther away as the conventional knowledge we substitute for it becomes thicker and more impermeable. 

Marcel Proust

Mozart, Sonata for Bassoon and Cello in B-flat major, K.292

Michael Kroth, bassoon, and Suren Bagratuni, cello, perform the Allegro ...

Possible.


On a December morning, two somewhat hesitant people stood on the sidewalk of the Boulevard Haussmann, looking for a pop-up gallery we had opened for a period of six months next to the Musée Jacquemart André.

They had traveled over 800 kilometers, inquiring with different people who discouraged them and said their search seemed impossible. Perhaps the most difficult part was finding me, but thanks to their perseverance, and the kindness of a neighbor, Frédéric, the meeting happened.

The photograph they had brought to show me was small, dark and rather difficult to see. Six characters were around a table. The light was pale, perhaps it was a winter afternoon.

They told me, still hesitant, that they thought they recognized the people in it, artists in whom they had long been interested. They were collectors and liked the painters of the late 19th century, in particular the neo-impressionists. They also said it was possible that one of the figures around the table was someone whose true face had never been seen.

CONNECT

More here.

Happy birthday, Sully.

Sully, Thomas Jefferson, 1821


Thomas Sully was born on this date in 1783.

Hammershoi.

A poetic voyage into the paintings of Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershoi with Michael Palin.

He was an artist.  He made paintings.  The rest is silence.

Michael Palin

Feel.


A poet is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feeling through words. This may sound easy. It isn't.

A lot of people think or believe or know they feel-but that's thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling. And poetry is feeling-not knowing or believing or thinking.

Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you're a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you're nobody-but-yourself.

To be nobody-but-yourself-in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else-means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.

As for expressing nobody-but-yourself in words, that means working just a little harder than anybody who isn't a poet can possibly imagine. Why? Because nothing is quite as easy as using words like somebody else. We all of us do exactly this nearly all of the time-and whenever we do it, we're not poets.

If, at the end of your first ten or fifteen years of fighting and working and feeling, you find you've written one line of one poem, you'll be very lucky indeed.

And so my advice to all young people who wish to become poets is: do something easy, like learning how to blow up the world-unless you're not only willing, but glad, to feel and work and fight till you die.

Does this sound dismal? It isn't.
It's the most wonderful life on earth.

Or so I feel.

e.e. cummings

Debussy, Prelude No. 8 , Book I, “The Girl with the Flaxen Hair”

Jascha Heifetz performs, accompanied by Emanuel Bay ...



The best of luck, Jessica!

Abbey.

The Abbey from Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose ...

18 June 2015

Peter Rowan, "Arise"

From time without beginning
All my ancient parents
Have shown me great kindness
In lifetime after lifetime
In confusion and sorrow
We wander now in darkness
Birth, old age, sickness and death
Like a shadow close behind

When I think of how you loved me
And you cared for me so kindly
Fed and clothed me and kept me from all harm
Oh, I want to take you with me
Across Samsara’s waters
Like a child running to its mother’s arms

Love and compassion
Lightning flashing
Oh, sufferers do cry

Let every living, breathing being
Find happiness
Let wisdom mind
Bodhicitta mind
Arise

Oh fearless great bliss
Primordial radiant wisdom
Help us to overcome
Samsara’s rushing tide
Lotus born in muddy waters
Open wide the gates of Eden
Free from hatred, jealousy and pride

Love and compassion
Lightning flashing
Rainbows fill the sky

Let every living, breathing being
Find happiness
Let wisdom mind
Bodhicitta mind

Arise

Surrounds.

Hals, The Lute Player, 1623


Music. The breathing of statues. Perhaps:
The quiet of images. You, language where
languages end. You, time
standing straight from the direction
of transpiring hearts.
Feelings, for whom? O, you of the feelings
changing into what?— into an audible landscape.
You stranger: music. You chamber of our heart
which has outgrown us. Our inner most self,
transcending, squeezed out,—
holy farewell:
now that the interior surrounds us
the most practiced of distances, as the other
side of the air:
pure,
enormous
no longer habitable.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Mike Auldridge, "Lorena"

Hat.

Calexico, "Inspiracion"

With Radio Symphonieorchester Wien ...

Room.

Hammershøi, Interior with a View of an Exterior Gallery, 1903


What art offers is space ... a certain breathing room for the spirit.

John Updike

Typography.

The Roycroft motto ...


Poetry.


Let us not overlook the further great fact, that not only does science underlie sculpture, painting, music, poetry, but that science is itself poetic. The current opinion that science and poetry are opposed is a delusion. On the contrary science opens up realms of poetry where to the unscientific all is a blank. Those engaged in scientific researches constantly show us that they realize not less vividly, but more vividly, than others, the poetry of their subjects. Whoever will dip into Hugh Miller's works on geology, or read Mr. Lewes's “Seaside Studies,” will perceive that science excites poetry rather than extinguishes it. And whoever will contemplate the life of Goethe will see that the poet and the man of science can co-exist in equal activity. Is it not, indeed, an absurd and almost a sacrilegious belief that the more a man studies Nature the less he reveres it? Think you that a drop of water, which to the vulgar eye is but a drop of water, loses anything in the eye of the physicist who knows that its elements are held together by a force which, if suddenly liberated, would produce a flash of lightning? Think you that what is carelessly looked upon by the uninitiated as a mere snow-flake, does not suggest higher associations to one who has seen through a microscope the wondrously varied and elegant forms of snow-crystals? Think you that the rounded rock marked with parallel scratches calls up as much poetry in an ignorant mind as in the mind of a geologist, who knows that over this rock a glacier slid a million years ago? The truth is, that those who have never entered upon scientific pursuits know not a tithe of the poetry by which they are surrounded. Whoever has not in youth collected plants and insects, knows not half the halo of interest which lanes and hedge-rows can assume. Whoever has not sought for fossils, has little idea of the poetical associations that surround the places where imbedded treasures were found. Whoever at the seaside has not had a microscope and aquarium, has yet to learn what the highest pleasures of the seaside are. Sad, indeed, is it to see how men occupy themselves with trivialities, and are indifferent to the grandest phenomena—care not to understand the architecture of the universe, but are deeply interested in some contemptible controversy about the intrigues of Mary Queen of Scots!—are learnedly critical over a Greek ode, and pass by without a glance that grand epic upon the strata of the Earth! 

Herbert Spenser

Strong.

Doisneau, Le Génie, 1955


The Man Watching

I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes
that a storm is coming,
and I hear the far-off fields say things
I can’t bear without a friend,
I can’t love without a sister.

The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
across the woods and across time,
and the world looks as if it had no age:
the landscape like a line in the psalm book,
is seriousness and weight and eternity.

What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights us is so great!
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.

When we win it’s with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us.
I mean the Angel who appeared
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
when the wrestler’s sinews
grew long like metal strings,
he felt them under his fingers
like chords of deep music.


Whoever was beaten by this Angel
(who often simply declined the fight)
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand,
that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
by constantly greater beings.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Lost.

Hammershøi, Young Beech Forest, 1904


That thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you is usually what you need to find, and finding it is a matter of getting lost. The word ‘lost’ comes from the old Norse ‘los’ meaning the disbanding of an army.  I worry now that people never disband their armies, never go beyond what they know.

Advertising, alarmist news, technology, incessant busyness, and the design of public and private life conspire to make it so. A recent article about the return of wildlife to suburbia described snow-covered yards in which the footprints of animals are abundant and those of children are entirely absent. Children seldom roam, even in the safest places.  I wonder what will come of placing this generation under house arrest.

Rebecca Solnit

Wagner, "Siegfried Idyll"

When I woke up I heard a sound. It grew louder, I could no longer imagine myself in a dream, music was sounding, and what music! After it had died away, R. came in to me with the children and put into my hands the score for his “Symphonic Birthday Greeting”. I was in tears, but so too was the whole household; As a birthday surprise R. had set up the orchestra on the staircase and consecrated our Tribschen forever.


The BBC Scottish Orchestra performs under the direction of Donald Runnicles ...

Anticipation.

Vermeer, Woman with a Lute near a Window, 1606


The air of those rooms was saturated with the fine bouquet of a silence so nourishing, so succulent, that I never went into them without a sort of greedy anticipation, particularly on those first mornings, chilly still ...

Marcel Proust

Stillness.


Too many words cause exhaustion
In the mind or from the mouth
Better to abide in stillness

Lao Tzu

Active.

Vasari, Self-portrait, 1567


Inspiration demands the active cooperation of the intellect joined with enthusiasm, and it is under such conditions that marvelous conceptions, with all that is excellent and divine, come into being.

Giorgio Vasari

Happy birthday, Ammannati.

Ammannati, Fountain of Juno (Ceres detail), 1563


Bartolommeo Ammannati was born in this date in 1511.

You must forget all your theories, all your ideas before the subject. What part of these is really your own will be expressed in your expression of the emotion awakened in you by the subject. 

Henri Matisse

Thank You, Dr. Richardson.

Telemann, Fantasia No. 3 in D minor (TWV 40 : 4)

Frans Brüggen performs ...


Voice.

Siken, Unfinishable (detail), 2005



The Language of Birds

1
A man saw a bird and found him beautiful. The bird had a song inside him, and feathers. Sometimes the man felt like the bird and sometimes the man felt like a stone—solid, inevitable—but mostly he felt like a bird, or that there was a bird inside him, or that something inside him was like a bird fluttering. This went on for a long time.

2
A man saw a bird and wanted to paint it. The problem, if there was one, was simply a problem with the question. Why paint a bird? Why do anything at all? Not how, because hows are easy—series or sequence, one foot after the other—but existentially why bother, what does it solve?
And just because you want to paint a bird, do actually paint a bird, it doesn’t mean you’ve accomplished anything. Who gets to measure the distance between experience and its representation? Who controls the lines of inquiry? We do. Anyone can.
Blackbird, he says. So be it, indexed and normative. But it isn’t a bird, it’s a man in a bird suit, blue shoulders instead of feathers, because he isn’t looking at a bird, real bird, as he paints, he is looking at his heart, which is impossible.
Unless his heart is a metaphor for his heart, as everything is a metaphor for itself, so that looking at the paint is like looking at a bird that isn’t there, with a song in its throat that you don’t want to hear but you paint anyway.
The hand is a voice that can sing what the voice will not, and the hand wants to do something useful. Sometimes, at night, in bed, before I fall asleep, I think about a poem I might write, someday, about my heart, says the heart.

3
They looked at the animals. They looked at the walls of the cave. This is earlier, these are different men. They painted in torchlight: red mostly, sometimes black—mammoth, lion, horse, bear—things on a wall, in profile or superimposed, dynamic and alert.
They weren’t animals but they looked like animals, enough like animals to make it confusing, meant something but the meaning was slippery: it wasn’t there but it remained, looked like the thing but wasn’t the thing—was a second thing, following a second set of rules—and it was too late: their power over it was no longer absolute.
What is alive and what isn’t and what should we do about it? Theories: about the nature of the thing. And of the soul. Because people die. The fear: that nothing survives. The greater fear: that something does.
The night sky is vast and wide.
They huddled closer, shoulder to shoulder, painted themselves in herds, all together and apart from the rest. They looked at the sky, and at the mud, and at their hands in the mud, and their dead friends in the mud. This went on for a long time.

4
To be a bird, or a flock of birds doing something together, one or many, starling or murmuration. To be a man on a hill, or all the men on all the hills, or half a man shivering in the flock of himself. These are some choices.
The night sky is vast and wide.
A man had two birds in his head—not in his throat, not in his chest—and the birds would sing all day never stopping. The man thought to himself, One of these birds is not my bird. The birds agreed.

Richard Siken

Thank You, Jessica.