terribly

Aug 202018
 

For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfil themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.

When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. Let God speak within you, and your thoughts will grow silent. You are anxious because your path leads away from mother and home. But every step and every day lead you back again to the mother. Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.

 Comments Off on Hermann Hesse: On trees
Aug 132018
 

Why should I let the toad work 
Squat on my life? 
Can’t I use my wit as a pitchfork 
And drive the brute off? 

Why should I let the toad work 
Squat on my life? 
Can’t I use my wit as a pitchfork 
And drive the brute off? 

Six days of the week it soils 
With its sickening poison – 
Just for paying a few bills! 
That’s out of proportion. 

Lots of folk live on their wits: 
Lecturers, lispers, 
Losers, loblolly-men, louts- 
They don’t end as paupers. 

Lots of folk live up lanes 
With fires in a bucket, 
Eat windfalls and tinned sardines. 
They seem to like it. 

Their nippers have got bare feet, 
Their unspeakable wives 
Are skinny as whippets – and yet 
No one actually starves

Ah, were I courageous enough 
To shout, Stuff your pension
But I know, all too well, that’s the stuff 
That dreams are made on: 

For something sufficiently toad-like 
Squats in me, too; 
Its hunkers are heavy as hard luck, 
And cold as snow, 

And will never allow me to blarney 
My way of getting 
The fame and the girl and the money 
All at one sitting. 

I don’t say, one bodies the other 
One’s spiritual truth; 
But I do say it’s hard to lose either, 
When you have both.

 

 Comments Off on Philip Larkin: Toads
Jul 192018
 

A pronoun is a kind of withdrawal from naming.
Because naming is heavy, naming may be slightly shaming.
We live much more lightly than this,
we address ourselves allusively in our minds –
as “I” or “we” or “one” – part of a system
that argues with shadow, like Venetian blinds.
Speaking of Venice, called “the Shakespeare of cities” by a friend of mine,
reminds me of how often the Sonnets misprint their for thine:

beware the fog in Venice.
Beware those footsteps that stop in a hush.
I used to think I would grow up to be a person whose reasoning was deep,
instead I became a kind of brush.
I brush words against words. So do we follow ourselves out of youth,
brushing, brushing, brushing wild grapes onto truth.

 Comments Off on Anne Carson: Reticent Sonnet
Jul 172018
 

A totalitarian state is in effect a theocracy, and its ruling caste, in order to keep its position, has to be thought of as infallible. But since, in practice, no one is infallible, it is frequently necessary to rearrange past events in order to show that this or that mistake was not made, or that this or that imaginary triumph actually happened… Totalitarianism demands, in fact, the continuous alteration of the past, and in the long run probably demands a disbelief in the very existence of objective truth.  The friends of totalitarianism… usually tend to argue that since absolute truth is not attainable, a big lie is no worse than a little lie. It is pointed out that all historical records are biased and inaccurate, or on the other hand, that modern physics has proven that what seems to us the real world is an illusion, so that to believe in the evidence of one’s senses is simply vulgar philistinism. A totalitarian society which succeeded in perpetuating itself would probably set up a schizophrenic system of thought, in which the laws of common sense held good in everyday life and in certain exact sciences, but could be disregarded by the politician, the historian, and the sociologist. 

 Comments Off on George Orwell: from The Prevention of Literature (1946)