Shards, Sweepings, Stealings, Sayings, Secrets

Month: April, 2010


“It’s a pleasure

When, rising in the morning,

I go outside and

Find that a flower has bloomed

That was not there


It’s a pleasure

When, a most infrequent treat,

We’ve fish for dinner

And my children cry with joy

‘Yum-yum!’ and gobble it down.

It’s a pleasure

When, without receiving help,

I can understand

The meaning of a volume

Reputed most difficult.” Tachibana Akemi

Lib Gains, Acid Rains

What with the Liberals’ spectacular rise to prominence, and no planes in the sky due to the Icelandic ash cloud, don’t you think this year seems more like 1906 than 2010? (An idea taken from one of the Sunday papers)

What I Have Lived For

” Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a deep ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.

I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy — ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness — that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it, finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined. This is what I sought, and though it might seem too good for human life, this is what — at last — I have found.

With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved.

Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a hated burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate the evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer. This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me.”  The Prologue to Bertrand Russell‘s Autobiography.

Could this be the most memorable and moving first page of any autobiography ever written? For my money I think it might.

Henry Miller: The Shocking Romantic

A writer I used to read avidly in my early twenties was Henry Miller, and some recent talk about Miller on my main blog The Solitary Walker prompted me to check back in the handwritten notebooks of quotations I’ve kept over the years to see if I’d scribbled down any literary gems from his semi-autobiographical and sexually explicit novels – books which caused quite a scandal in their day. The only one I could find was this from Tropic Of Cancer:

“To come upon a woman offering herself outside a urinal, where there are advertised cigarette papers, rum, acrobats, horse races, where the heavy foliage of the trees breaks the heavy mass of walls and roofs, is an experience that begins where the boundaries of the known world leave off.”

Why I chose to pick this particular sentence out of all the lurid passages from Tropic Of Cancer is not clear to me – except that it does seem quintessentially Milleresque, almost pastiche-Miller, in its exuberant desire to shock, in its over-the-top romanticism and in its nostalgie de la boue.

Love Is The Bridge

“But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.” Thornton Wilder

Listen To Your Life

“If I were called upon to state in a few words the essence of everything I was trying to say both as a novelist and as a preacher, it would be something like this: Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness; touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.” Frederick Buechner

Solitude And Freedom

“He who does not enjoy solitude will not love freedom.” Arthur Schopenhauer


Never forget that to remember is also to imagine…

Wherever You Go, There You Are

“Have you ever noticed that there is no running away from anything? That, sooner or later, the things that you don’t want to deal with and try to escape from, or paper over and pretend aren’t there, catch up with you – especially if they have to do with old patterns and fears? The romantic notion is that if it’s no good over here, you have only to go over there and things will be different. If this job is no good, change jobs. If this wife is no good, change wives. If this town is no good, change towns. If these children are a problem, leave them for other people to look after. The underlying thinking is that the reason for your troubles is outside of you – in the location, in others, in the circumstances. Change the location, change the circumstances, and everything will fall into place; you can start over, have a new beginning.

The trouble with this way of seeing is that it conveniently ignores the fact that you carry your head and your heart, and what some would call your ‘karma’, around with you. You cannot escape yourself, try as you might…” Jon Kabat-Zinn Wherever You Go, There You Are

Failure, One’s Loyal Companion

One of the USA ‘s finest novelists and short story writers, Joyce Carol Oates, said this in a Guardian interview in September 2004:

“I think serious art is transgressive … the more we are hurt, the more we seek solace in the imagination … our best selves, our most complex selves, are not our social selves. I consider myself a transparent personality.”

In a 1973 essay, Notes On Failure, Oates writes: “Success is distant and illusory, failure one’s loyal companion, one’s stimulus for imagining that the next book will be better, for otherwise, why write? The impulse can be made to sound theoretical, and even philosphical, but it is … as physical as our blood and marrow. ‘This insatiable desire to write something before I die, this ravaging sense of the shortness and feverishness of life, makes me cling … to my one anchor’ – so Virginia Woolf, in her diary, speaks for us all.”

Earlier this year, on the Camino between Seville and Santiago, I wrote this sonnet:

“It’s too late now. There is no turning back.
I am no saint. But sinner’s near the mark,
Counting my errors on this endless track,
Counting my failures in this endless dark.
The world is too much with us, someone said,
Nasty, brutish and short, it’s been portrayed,
A daily grind to earn our daily bread,
A pitiable, heartless, sad parade.
Surely there’s something more than grief and strife?
Some gleam of grace, some glimmer of shook foil,
Some chink of light, a glimpse of some bright life,
Before we shuffle off this mortal coil?
There’s no success like failure. Through the hail
And rain I quest, the better for to fail.”