14 February 2019

The Windows and the Stars Illumined

Henri Le Sidaner, Les Faubourgs (1909)

This cityscape is unusual for an Intimist painter like Le Sidaner, but I'm quite fond of it; I look at the lit windows and rising smoke, and think of Baudelaire's poem "Landscape," from The Flowers of Evil, tr. George Dillon (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1936):
I want to write a book of chaste and simple verse,
Sleep in an attic, like the old astrologers,
Up near the sky, and hear upon the morning air
The tolling of the bells. I want to sit and stare,
My chin in my two hands, out on the humming shops,
The weathervanes, the chimneys, and the steepletops
That rise like masts above the city, straight and tall,
And the mysterious big heavens over all.
I want to watch the blue mist of the night come on,
The windows and the stars illumined, one by one,
The rivers of dark smoke pour upward lazily,
And the moon rise and turn them silver. I shall see
The springs, the summers, and the autumns slowly pass;
And when old Winter puts his blank face to the glass,
I shall close all my shutters, pull the curtains tight,
And build me stately palaces by candlelight.
And I shall dream of luxuries beyond surmise,
Gardens that are a stairway into azure skies,
Fountains that weep in alabaster, birds that sing
All day — of every childish and idyllic thing.
A revolution thundering in the street below
Will never lure me from my task, I shall be so
Lost in that quiet ecstasy, the keenest still,
Of calling back the springtime at my own free will,
Of feeling a sun rise within me, fierce and hot,
And make a whole bright landscape of my burning thought.


Je veux, pour composer chastement mes églogues,
Coucher auprès du ciel, comme les astrologues,
Et, voisin des clochers écouter en rêvant
Leurs hymnes solennels emportés par le vent.
Les deux mains au menton, du haut de ma mansarde,
Je verrai l'atelier qui chante et qui bavarde;
Les tuyaux, les clochers, ces mâts de la cité,
Et les grands ciels qui font rêver d'éternité.
II est doux, à travers les brumes, de voir naître
L'étoile dans l'azur, la lampe à la fenêtre
Les fleuves de charbon monter au firmament
Et la lune verser son pâle enchantement.
Je verrai les printemps, les étés, les automnes;
Et quand viendra l'hiver aux neiges monotones,
Je fermerai partout portières et volets
Pour bâtir dans la nuit mes féeriques palais.
Alors je rêverai des horizons bleuâtres,
Des jardins, des jets d'eau pleurant dans les albâtres,
Des baisers, des oiseaux chantant soir et matin,
Et tout ce que l'Idylle a de plus enfantin.
L'Emeute, tempêtant vainement à ma vitre,
Ne fera pas lever mon front de mon pupitre;
Car je serai plongé dans cette volupté
D'évoquer le Printemps avec ma volonté,
De tirer un soleil de mon coeur, et de faire
De mes pensers brûlants une tiède atmosphère.

8 February 2019

Quite Satisfied

George Herbert Powell, Reminiscences and Table-Talk of Samuel Rogers (London: R Brimley Johnson, 1903), pp. 281-282:
When asked why he had written so little, Porson replied, "I doubt if I could produce any original work which would command the attention of posterity. I can be known only by my notes: and I am quite satisfied if, three hundred years hence, it shall be said that 'one Person lived towards the close of the eighteenth century, who did a good deal for the text of Euripides.' "  
Thomas Kirkby, Richard Porson (c. 1805)

5 February 2019

I Used to Be Angry Every Day

Epictetus, Discourses (Book II, Chapter XVII), tr. W. A. Oldfather (London: Heinemann, 1931 = Loeb Classical Library, 131), p. 353:
Certain imprints and weals are left behind on the mind, and unless a man erases them perfectly, the next time he is scourged upon the old scars, he has weals no longer but wounds. If, therefore, you wish not to be hot-tempered, do not feed your habit, set before it nothing on which it can grow. As the first step, keep quiet and count the days on which you have not been angry. "I used to be angry every day, after that every other day, then every third, and then every fourth day." If you go as much as thirty days without a fit of anger, sacrifice to God. For the habit is first weakened and then utterly destroyed.
I broke my resolution and read a newspaper yesterday, with predictable results; the count to thirty days without a fit of anger begins once again.

Not unrelated: Keep Apart

The frontispiece to Edward Ivie’s translation of the Enchiridion
(Oxford: Henry Clements at the Sheldonian Theatre, 1715)

2 February 2019

Spiritual Affinities

Edwin Hubbell Chapin, The Crown of Thorns: A Token for the Sorrowing (Boston: A. Tomkins, 1860), pp. 201-203:
We take up some wise and virtuous book, and enter into the author's mind. Seas separate us from him, — he knows us not; he never hears our names. But have we not a close relation to him? Is there not a strong bond of spiritual communion between us? Nay, may not the intercourse we thus have with him be better and truer than any which we could have from actual contact, — from local acquaintance? Then, some icy barrier of etiquette might separate us, — some coldness of temperament upon his part, — some spleen or disease; we might be shocked by some temporary deformity; some little imperfection might betray itself. But here, in his book, which we read three thousand miles away from him, we receive his noblest thoughts, — his best spiritual revelations; and we know him, and commune with him most intimately, not through local but through spiritual affinities.

And how pleasing is the thought that not even death interrupts this relation. Years, as well as miles — ages may separate us from the great and good man; but we hold with him still that living communion of the spirit. Our best life may flow to us from this communion. Some of our richest spiritual treasures have been deposited in this intercourse of thought. Some of our noblest hopes and resolutions have been animated by those whose lips have long since been sealed, — whose very monuments have crumbled.
Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Reverie: Far Away Thoughts (1874)

23 January 2019

A Fanatical Grievance

Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements  (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1951):

Passionate hatred can give meaning and purpose to an empty life. Thus people haunted by the purposelessness of their lives try to find a new content not only by dedicating themselves to a holy cause but also by nursing a fanatical grievance. A mass movement offers them unlimited opportunities for both.

An engraving after Charles Le Brun (1765), via The Met

18 January 2019

The Labors of Man That Are Great

Francis Jammes, "These Are the Labors," Selected Poems of Francis Jammes, tr. Barry Gifford and Bettina Dickie (Logan: Utah State University Press, 1976), pp. 56-57:
These are the labors...

These are the labors of man that are great:
he who puts milk in the wooden vessels,
he who gathers wheat-ears sharp and straight,
he who herds cattle near fresh alders,
he who bleeds birches in the forests,
he who twists willows near rushing brooks,
he who mends old shoes
near a dark hearth, an old mangy cat,
a sleeping blackbird and happy children;
he whose weaving makes a steady sound,
when at midnight the crickets sing shrilly;
he who bakes bread, he who makes wine,
he who sows garlic and cabbages in the garden,
he who gathers warm eggs.

François Bonvin, Nature morte à la bouilloire (1883)

Ce sont les travaux...

Ce sont les travaux de l'homme qui sont grands:
celui qui met le lait dans les vases de bois,
celui qui cueille les épis de blé piquants et droits,
celui qui garde les vaches près des aulnes frais,
celui qui fait saigner les bouleaux des forêts,
celui qui tord, près des ruisseaux vifs, les osiers,
celui qui raccommode les vieux souliers
près d'un foyer obscur, d'un vieux chat galeux,
d'un merle qui dort et des enfants heureux ;
celui qui tisse et fait un bruit retombant,
lorsque à minuit les grillons chantent aigrement ;
celui qui fait le pain, celui qui fait le vin,
celui qui sème l'ail et les choux au jardin,
celui qui recueille les oeufs tièdes.

17 January 2019


Jean-François Millet, L'Angélus (c. 1858)

A very faded reproduction of this painting used to hang over the bed where I slept in my grandmother's house. Knowing nothing of Millet, never mind the Angelus, I believed the two figures were praying over a dead child.

In university, years later, I learned that Salvador Dalí thought the same and had convinced the Louvre to have x-rays taken; they revealed the outline of a small coffin.

Not unrelated: The Happiest Thing I Know

8 January 2019

Upon a Maybe

William James, "Is Life Worth Living?" The Will to Believe (New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1903), p. 59:
Not a victory is gained, not a deed of faithfulness or courage is done, except upon a maybe; not a service, not a sally of generosity, not a scientific exploration or experiment or textbook, that may not be a mistake. It is only by risking our persons from one hour to another that we live at all. And often enough our faith beforehand in an uncertified result is the only thing that makes the result come true. Suppose, for instance, that you are climbing a mountain, and have worked yourself into a position from which the only escape is by a terrible leap. Have faith that you can successfully make it, and your feet are nerved to its accomplishment. But mistrust yourself, and think of all the sweet things you have heard the scientists say of maybes, and you will hesitate so long that, at last, all unstrung and trembling, and launching yourself in a moment of despair, you roll in the abyss. In such a case (and it belongs to an enormous class), the part of wisdom as well as of courage is to believe what is in the line of your needs, for only by such belief is the need fulfilled. Refuse to believe, and you shall indeed be right, for you shall irretrievably perish. But believe, and again you shall be right, for you shall save yourself. You make one or the other of two possible universes true by your trust or mistrust, — both universes having been only maybes, in this particular, before you contributed your act.
Carl Gustav Carus, Berggipfel in Wolken

3 January 2019

Old Acquaintance Should Be Forgot

Friedrich Nietzsche, Jest, Ruse and Revenge, a prelude to The Joyful Wisdom, tr. Thomas Common, in The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, Vol. X (New York: Macmillan, 1924), p. 14:

A. Was I ill? and is it ended?
Pray, by what physician tended?
I recall no pain endured!

B. Now I know your trouble's ended:
He that can forget, is cured.

The original, from Alfred Kröner's edition of Nietzsche's works (Stuttgart, 1921), p. 16:

A. War ich krank? Bin ich genesen?
Und wer ist mein Arzt gewesen?
Wie vergaß ich alles Das!

B. Jetzt erst glaub' ich dich genesen:
Denn gesund ist, wer vergaß.

Dr. Nietzsche; he can cure what ails you.

Related posts:

Cf.  Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot?

17 December 2018

To Look Back Upon the Past Year

Robert Louis Stevenson, A Christmas Sermon (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1900), pp. 20-21:
To look back upon the past year, and see how little we have striven and to what small purpose: and how often we have been cowardly and hung back, or temerarious and rushed unwisely in; and how every day and all day long we have transgressed the law of kindness; — it may seem a paradox, but in the bitterness of these discoveries, a certain consolation resides. Life is not designed to minister to a man's vanity. He goes upon his long business most of the time with a hanging head, and all the time like a blind child. Full of rewards and pleasures as it is — so that to see the day break or the moon rise, or to meet a friend, or to hear the dinnercall when he is hungry, fills him with surprising joys — this world is yet for him no abiding city. Friendships fall through, health fails, weariness assails him; year after year, he must thumb the hardly varying record of his own weakness and folly. It is a friendly process of detachment. When the time comes that he should go, there need be few illusions left about himself. Here lies one who meant well, tried a little, failed much: — surely that may be his epitaph, of which he need not be ashamed.

Best wishes to the friends and strangers who follow along here. I'll return in 2019.