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What is beautiful seems so only in relation to a specific

Life, experienced or not, channeled into some form

Steeped in the nostalgia of a collective past.

The light sinks today with an enthusiasm

I have known elsewhere, and known why

It seemed meaningful, that others felt this way

Years ago.  I go on consulting

This mirror that is no longer mine

For as much brisk vacancy as is to be

My portion this time.  And the vase is always full

Because there is only just so much room

And it accommodates everything.  The sample

One sees is not to be taken as

Merely that, but as everything as it

May be imagined outside time—not as a gesture

But as all, in the refined, assimilable state.

But what is this universe the porch of

As it veers in and out, back and forth,

Refusing to surround us and still the only

Thing we can see?  Love once

Tipped the scales but now is shadowed, invisible,

Though mysteriously present, around somewhere.

 

~ John Ashbery, born on this day in 1927

 

Frederick Carl Frieseke, 1911

Our simple childhood, sits upon a throne

That hath more power than all the elements.

I guess not what this tells of Being past,

Nor what it augurs of the life to come;

But so it is, and, in that dubious hour,

That twilight when we first begin to see

This dawning earth, to recognise, expect,

And in the long probation that ensues,

The time of trial, ere we learn to live

In reconcilement with our stinted powers.

 

~ From The Prelude by William Wordsworth (Book V, 508-17)

 

Paul Hoecker-Vally, 1888

The Going

Why did you give no hint that night

That quickly after the morrow’s dawn,

And calmly, as if indifferent quite,

You would close your term here, up and be gone

     Where I could not follow

     With wing of swallow

To gain one glimpse of you ever anon!

 

     Never to bid good-bye

     Or lip me the softest call,

Or utter a wish for a word, while I

Saw morning harden upon the wall,

     Unmoved, unknowing

     That your great going

Had place that moment, and altered all.

 

Why do you make me leave the house

And think for a breath it is you I see

At the end of the alley of bending boughs

Where so often at dusk you used to be;

     Till in darkening dankness

     The yawning blankness

Of the perspective sickens me!

 

[…]

 

Why, then, latterly did we not speak,

Did we not think of those days long dead,

And ere your vanishing strive to seek

That time’s renewal?  We might have said,

     “In this bright spring weather

     We’ll visit together

Those places that once we visited.”

 

     Well, well!  All’s past amend,

     Unchangeable.  It must go.

 

                       ~ From “The Going” by Thomas Hardy

 

May you wander the White Cliffs of Dover until your heart is at last content, dearest Donella…

 

The steadfastness of generations of nobility

shows in the curving lines that form the eyebrows.

And the blue eyes still show traces of childhood fears

and of humility here and there, not of a servant’s,

yet of one who serves obediently, and of a woman.

The mouth formed as a mouth, large and accurate,

not given to long phrases, but to express

persuasively what is right.  The forehead without guile

and favoring the shadows of quiet downward gazing.

 

This, as a coherent whole, only casually observed;

never as yet tried in suffering or succeeding,

held together for an enduring fulfillment,

yet so as if for times to come, out of these scattered things,

something serious and lasting were being planned.

 

~ Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Albert Ernest Flemming

 

“Contemplation” by Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant, 1845-1902

Virtue could see to do what Virtue would

By her own radiant light, though sun and moon

Were in the flat sea sunk.  And Wisdom’s self

Oft seeks to sweet retired solitude,

Where with her best nurse Contemplation

She plumes her feathers, and lets grow her wings

That in the various bustle of resort

Were all to-ruffled, and sometimes impaired.

 

~ From A Masque Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634 (Comus) by John Milton

 

“Reading Woman” by Ivan Kramskoi, circa 1866

Retired ballerinas on winter afternoons

     walking their dogs

          in Central Park West

  (or their cats on leashes –

    the cats themselves old highwire artists)

The ballerinas

      leap and pirouette

           through Columbus Circle

   while winos on park benches

     (laid back like drunken Goudonovs)

    hear the taxis trumpet together

      like horsemen of the apocalypse

            in the dusk of the gods

It is the final witching hour

       when swains are full of swan songs

   And all return through the dark dusk

       to their bright cells

             in glass highrises

    or sit down to oval cigarettes and cakes

           in the Russian Tea Room

or climb four flights to back rooms

            in Westside brownstones

      where faded playbill photos

          fall peeling from their frames

              like last year’s autumn leaves

 

~ Lawrence Ferlinghetti, born on this day in 1919

 

“Dancer with a Hoop” by Jean-Louis Forain (1852-1931)

Spring Quiet

Gone were but the Winter,

   Come were but the Spring,

I would go to a covert

   Where the birds sing;

 

Where in the whitethorn

   Singeth a thrush,

And a robin sings

   In the holly-bush.

 

Full of fresh scents

   Are the budding boughs

Arching high over

   A cool green house:

 

Full of sweet scents,

   And whispering air

Which sayeth softly:

   “We spread no snare;

 

“Here dwell in safety,

   Here dwell alone,

With a clear stream

   And a mossy stone.

 

“Here the sun shineth

   Most shadily;

Here is heard an echo

   Of the far sea,

   Though far off it be.”

 

                                   ~ Christina Rossetti

 

Marcus Stone, circa 1900

Late February

The first warm day,

and by mid-afternoon

the snow is no more

than a washing

strewn over the yards,

the bedding rolled in knots

and leaking water,

the white shirts lying

under the evergreens.

Through the heaviest drifts

rise autumn’s fallen

bicycles, small carnivals

of paint and chrome,

the Octopus

and Tilt-A-Whirl

beginning to turn

in the sun.  Now children,

stiffened by winter

and dressed, somehow,

like old men, mutter

and bend to the work

of building dams.

But such a spring is brief;

by five o’clock

the chill of sundown,

darkness, the blue TVs

flashing like storms

in the picture windows,

the yards gone gray,

the wet dogs barking

at nothing.  Far off

across the cornfields

staked for streets and sewers,

the body of a farmer

missing since fall

will show up

in his garden tomorrow,

as unexpected

as a tulip.

                                       ~ Ted Kooser

 

“Tulip” by Nicolas Verdeille, 2005

Valentine

Too high, too high to pluck

My heart shall swing.

A fruit no bee shall suck,

No wasp shall sting.

 

If on some night of cold

It falls to ground

In apple-leaves of gold

I’ll wrap it round.

 

And I shall seal it up

With spice and salt,

In a carven silver cup,

In a deep vault.

 

Before my eyes are blind

And my lips mute,

I must eat core and rind

Of that same fruit.

 

Before my heart is dust

At the end of all,

Eat it I must, I must

Were it bitter gall.

 

But I shall keep it sweet

By some strange art;

Wild honey I shall eat

When I eat my heart.

 

O honey cool and chaste

As clover’s breath!

Sweet Heaven I shall taste

Before my death.

 

                                           ~ Elinor Wylie

 

“The Morning of St Valentine” by John Callcott Horsley, 1865

A Good Book

A good book is an education of the heart.  It enlarges your sense of human possibility what human nature is of what happens in the world.  It’s a creator of inwardness.

~ Susan Sontag, born on this day in 1933

 

“Literary Pursuits of a Young Lady” by Alexei Harlamoff
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