March Night

I shook off the house like a hooded cape,
And came out, free, into the March-blown street…
At a lash of the gale, at a sight of the cloud-tattered skies,
As a coat discarded,
I shook off civilization
And became wild,
And my naked soul raced the clouds,
And the flavor of the Earth was fresh and primitive…

—James Oppenheim (1882–1932), War and Laughter, 1916

Quiet desert

“The desert was quiet. The coyotes were not howling yet. I was my own howling coyote. Outwardly a comfortable-looking man in an arm-chair, smoking a pipe, I was inside a half-starved little coyote, out there on the dark desert, howling to the stars.”

—J. B. Priestley (1894–1984), Midnight on the Desert: A Chapter of Autobiography, 1917

The spaces

And do not forget the spaces. When earth’s
Heaviness pulls hard, turn to the spaces.
Their breezes will brace us — and we shall know.

—Cave A. Outlaw (1900–1996), Fugitive Hour, 1950

One boot off

“On the floor of your mind, then — is it not this that makes you a poet? — rhythm keeps up its perpetual beat. Sometimes it seems to die down to nothing; it lets you eat, sleep, talk like other people. Then it swells again and rises and attempts to sweep all the contents of your mind into one dominant dance. Tonight is such an occasion. Although you are alone, and have taken one boot off and are about to undo the other, you cannot go on with the process of undressing, but must instantly write at the bidding of the dance. You snatch pen and paper; you hardly trouble to hold the one or to straighten the other. And while you write, while the first stanzas of the dance are being fastened down, I will withdraw a little and look out of the window. A woman passes, then a man; a car glides to a stop and then — but there is no need to say what I see out of the window, nor indeed is there time, for I am suddenly recalled from my observations by a cry of rage or despair. Your page is crumpled in a ball; your pen sticks upright by the nib in the carpet… You are rasped, jarred, thoroughly out of temper. And if I am to guess the reason, it is, I should say, that the rhythm which was opening and shutting with a force that sent shocks of excitement from your head to your heels has encountered some hard and hostile object upon which it has smashed itself to pieces. Something has worked in which cannot be made into poetry; some foreign body, angular, sharp-edged, gritty, has refused to join the dance…

The poet as I guess has strained himself to include an emotion that is not domesticated and acclimatized to poetry; the effort has thrown him off his balance; he rights himself… by a violent recourse to the poetical — he invokes the moon or the nightingale. Anyhow, the transition is sharp. The poem is cracked in the middle. Look, it comes apart in my hands:  here is reality on one side, here is beauty on the other; and instead of acquiring a whole object rounded and entire, I am left with broken parts in my hands…”

—Virginia Woolf (1882–1941), letter to John Lehmann, 1931

Who Shall Measure?

From my highest hill
I watched for Antares.
Brief would be his glimmer
Where the long line of mountains
Duped the horizon
With vague, rambling mist.

And I shall never know
If that was Antares’
Eye on the earth-line,
Or the gleam of a lantern
The wild poet carried;
For God who saw both
Only laughs when I ask him.

—Olive Tilford Dargan (1869–1968), Lute and Furrow, 1922

Wilderness pathways

“The wilderness has the power to exert enormous influence on the mind of a man freshly arrived from civilization, especially if he lives alone and has but little contact with other people; some that I have known could not take the solitude, the absence of comfort and reassurance offered by the presence of other humans.

Such men have become effete in terms of personal survival in the face of natural challenges, the city is too much with them, and they don’t last. There are also those who go too far the other way, becoming misanthropes… these are the withdrawers, and they are found sprinkled loosely wherever there is a forest or a jungle, like seeds that have lost the ability to germinate in cultivated soil.

But between the quitters and the lone stayers, there is a third kind — indeed, there may be more than that, for all I know — in whom the wilderness acts as a catalyst and who, after they have experienced both the wild and the civilized, begin to form new values, to explore unknown pathways, and to realize that nature is an endlessly patient teacher with an infinite capacity to stimulate thought and to sharpen the hunger for knowledge. That is how the wilderness affected me…”

—R. D. Lawrence (1921–2003), The North Runner, 1979

Leaden Echo & Golden Echo

THE LEADEN ECHO

How to kéep—is there ány any, is there none such, nowhere known some, bow or brooch or braid or brace, láce, latch or catch or key to keep

Back beauty, keep it, beauty, beauty, beauty,… from vanishing away?

Ó is there no frowning of these wrinkles, rankèd wrinkles deep,

Dówn? no waving off of these most mournful messengers, still messengers, sad and stealing messengers of grey?

No there ’s none, there ’s none, O no there ’s none,

Nor can you long be, what you now are, called fair,

Do what you may do, what, do what you may,

And wisdom is early to despair:

Be beginning; since, no, nothing can be done

To keep at bay

Age and age’s evils, hoar hair,

Ruck and wrinkle, drooping, dying, death’s worst, winding sheets, tombs and worms and tumbling to decay;

So be beginning, be beginning to despair.

O there ’s none; no no no there ’s none:

Be beginning to despair, to despair,

Despair, despair, despair, despair.

THE GOLDEN ECHO

         Spare!

There ís one, yes I have one (Hush there!);

Only not within seeing of the sun,

Not within the singeing of the strong sun,

Tall sun’s tingeing, or treacherous the tainting of the earth’s air,

Somewhere elsewhere there is ah well where! one,

One. Yes I can tell such a key, I do know such a place,

Where whatever ’s prized and passes of us, everything that ’s fresh and fast flying of us, seems to us sweet of us and swiftly away with, done away with, undone,

Undone, done with, soon done with, and yet dearly and dangerously sweet

Of us, the wimpled-water-dimpled, not-by-morning-matchèd face,

The flower of beauty, fleece of beauty, too too apt to, ah! to fleet,

Never fleets móre, fastened with the tenderest truth

To its own best being and its loveliness of youth: it is an everlastingness of, O it is an all youth!

Come then, your ways and airs and looks, locks, maiden gear, gallantry and gaiety and grace,

Winning ways, airs innocent, maiden manners, sweet looks, loose locks, long locks, lovelocks, gaygear, going gallant, girlgrace—

Resign them, sign them, seal them, send them, motion them with breath,

And with sighs soaring, soaring síghs deliver

Them; beauty-in-the-ghost, deliver it, early now, long before death

Give beauty back, beauty, beauty, beauty, back to God, beauty’s self and beauty’s giver.

See; not a hair is, not an eyelash, not the least lash lost; every hair

Is, hair of the head, numbered.

Nay, what we had lighthanded left in surly the mere mould

Will have waked and have waxed and have walked with the wind what while we slept,

This side, that side hurling a heavyheaded hundredfold

What while we, while we slumbered.

O then, weary then whý should we tread? O why are we so haggard at the heart, so care-coiled, care-killed, so fagged, so fashed, so cogged, so cumbered,

When the thing we freely fórfeit is kept with fonder a care,

Fonder a care kept than we could have kept it, kept

Far with fonder a care (and we, we should have lost it) finer, fonder

A care kept.—Where kept? Do but tell us where kept, where.—

Yonder.—What high as that! We follow, now we follow.—Yonder, yes, yonder, yonder,

Yonder.

—Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–1889), “The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo,” maidens’ song from the unfinished tragedy St. Winefred’s Well, in Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, now first published, edited and with notes by Robert Bridges, 1918