Epigraphs

Epigraphs

 

Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire.  He had a little scroll open in his hand.  And he set his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land, and called out with a loud voice, like a lion roaring.

                                                                                                                                                                 –John, Revelation 10:1-3

 

The voices of the subterranean river in the shadows were different from the voices of the sunlit river ahead.  In the shadows against the cliff the river was deep and engaged in profundities, circling back on itself now and then to say things over to be sure it understood itself.  But the river ahead came out into the sunny world like a chatterbox, doing its best to be friendly.  It bowed to one shore and then to the other so nothing would feel neglected.

                                                                                                                             –Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through it

 

It was a queer, rather disgusting scene.  Below were the handful of simple, well-meaning people, trying hard to worship; and above were the hundred men whom they had fed, deliberately making worship impossible.  A ring of dirty, hairy faces grinned down from the gallery, openly jeering.  What could a few women and old men do against a hundred hostile tramps?  They were afraid of us, and we were frankly bullying them.  It was our revenge upon them for having humiliated us by feeding us…

…The evil of poverty is not so much that it makes a man suffer as that it rots him physically and spiritually.   
                                                        
                                                                                                             –George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London

 

The trout had a big red stripe down its side.
It was a good rainbow.
“What a beauty,” he said.
He picked it up and it was squirming in his hands.
“Break its neck,” I said.
“I have a better idea,” he said.  “Before I kill it, let me at least soothe its approach into death.  This trout needs a drink.”  He took a bottle of port out of his pocket, unscrewed the cap and poured a good slug into the trout’s mouth.
The trout went into a spasm.
Its body shook very rapidly like a telescope during an earthquake.  The mouth was wide open and chattering almost as if it had human teeth.
He laid the trout on a white rock, head down, and some of the wine trickled out of its mouth and made a stain on the rock.
The trout was lying very still now.
“It died happy,” he said.
“This is my ode to Alcoholics Anonymous.
“Look here!”

                                                                                                                          –Richard Brautigan, Trout Fishing in America

 

Trout Fishing in America Shorty appeared suddenly last autumn in San Francisco, staggering around in a magnificent chrome-plated steel wheelchair.
He was a legless, screaming middle-aged wino.
He descended upon North Beach like a chapter from the Old Testament.  He was the reason why birds migrate in the autumn.  They have to.  He was the cold turning of the earth; the bad wind that blows off sugar.
He would stop children on the street and say to them, “I ain’t got no legs.  The trout chopped my legs off in Fort Lauderdale.  You kids got legs.  The trout didn’t chop your legs off.  Wheel me into that store over there.”

                                                                                                                          –Richard Brautigan, Trout Fishing in America

 

Little by little I came to realize the strange irony of events.  I had always imagined paradise as a kind of library.  Others think of a garden or of a palace.  There I was, the center, in a way, of nine hundred thousand books in various languages, but I found I could barely make out the title pages and the spines.  I wrote the “Poem of the Gifts,” which begins:

No one should read self-pity or reproach
into this statement of the majesty
of God; who with such splendid irony
granted me books and blindness at one touch.

[trans. Alastair Reid]

Those two gifts contradicted each other: the countless books and the night, the inability to read them.

                                                                                                                                           –Jorge Luis Borges, from Blindness

 

There is no doubt all sorts of reasons–climate, building materials–for the deep Japanese eaves.  The fact that we did not use glass, concrete, and bricks, for instance, made a low roof necessary to keep off the driving wind and rain.  A light room would no doubt have been more convenient for us, too, than a dark room.  The quality that we call beauty, however, must always grow from the realities of life, and our ancestors, forced to live in dark rooms, presently came to discover beauty in shadows, ultimately to guide shadows towards beauty’s ends.

And so it has come to be that the beauty of a Japanese room depends on a variation of shadows, heavy shadows against light shadows–it has nothing else.  Westerners are amazed at the simplicity of Japanese rooms, perceiving in them no more than ashen walls bereft of ornament.  Their reaction is understandable, but it betrays a failure to comprehend the mystery of shadows.

                                                                                                                   –Junichero Tanazaki, from In Praise of Shadows

 

I confess I love littleness almost in all things.  A little convenient estate, a little cheerful house, a little company, and a very little feast; and, if I were to fall in love again (which is a great passion, and therefore, I hope, I have done with it), it would be, I think, with prettiness, rather than with majestical beauty.

                                                                                                                                      –Abraham Cowley, from Of Greatness

 

I remember one splendid morning, all blue and silver, in the summer holidays, when I reluctantly tore myself away from the task of doing nothing in particular, and put on a hat of some sort and picked up a walking stick, and put six very bright-coloured chalks in my pocket…
…and I put the brown paper in my pocket along with the chalks, and possibly other things.  I suppose every one must have reflected how primeval and poetical are the things that one carries in one’s pocket; the pocket knife, for instance, the type of all human tools, the infant of the sword.  Once I planned to write a book of poems entirely about the things in my pocket.  But I found it would be too long; and the age of the great epics is past.

                                                                                                                                  –G.K. Chesterton, from A Piece of Chalk

 

No one perhaps has ever felt passionately towards a lead pencil.  But there are circumstances in which it can become supremely desirable to possess one; moments when we are set upon having an object, and excuse for walking half across London between tea and dinner.  As the foxhunter hunts in order to preserve the breed of foxes, and the golfer plays in order that the open spaces may be preserved from the builders, so when the desire comes upon us to go street rambling a pencil does for a pretext, and getting up we say: “Really I must buy a pencil,” as if under cover of this excuse we could indulge safely in the greatest pleasure of town life in winter–rambling the streets of London.

The hour should be the evening and the season winter, for in winter the champagne brightness of the air and the sociability of the streets are grateful.  We are not then taunted as in the summer by the longing for shade and solitude and sweet airs from the hayfields.  The evening hour, too, gives us the irresponsibility which darkness and lamplight bestow.  We are no longer quite ourselves…

…But when the door shuts on us, all that vanishes.  The shell-like covering which our souls have excreted to house themselves, to make for themselves a shape distinct from others is broken, and there is left of all these wrinkles and roughnesses a central oyster of perceptiveness, an enormous eye.  How beautiful a street is in winter!  It is at once revealed and obscured.  Here vaguely one can trace symmetrical straight avenues of doors and windows; here under the lamps are floating islands of pale light through which pass quickly bright men and women, who, for all their poverty and shabbiness, wear a certain look of unreality, an air of triumph, as if they had given life the slip, so that life, deceived of her prey, blunders on without them.  But, after all, we are only gliding smoothly on the surface.  The eye is not a miner, not a diver, not a seeker after buried treasure.  It floats us smoothly down a stream; resting, pausing, the brain sleeps perhaps as it looks.

How beautiful a London street is then, with its islands of light, and its long groves of darkness, and on one side of it perhaps some tree-sprinkled, grass-grown space where night is folding herself to sleep naturally and, as one passes the iron railing, one hears those little cracklings and stirrings of leaf and twig which seem to suppose the silence of the fields all around them, an owl hooting, and far away the rattle of a train in the valley.  But this is London, we are reminded…

…For the eye has this strange property: it rests only on beauty; like a butterfly it seeks colour and basks in warmth.  On a winter’s night like this, when nature has been at pains to polish and  preen herself, it brings back the prettiest trophies, breaks off little lumps of emerald and coral as if  the whole earth were made of precious stone.  The thing it cannot do (one is speaking of the average unprofessional eye) is to compose these trophies in such a way as to bring out the more obscure angles and relationships.  Hence after a prolonged diet of this simple, sugary fare, of beauty pure and uncomposed, we become conscious of satiety.  We halt at the door of the boot shop and make some little excuse, which has nothing to do with the real reason, for folding up the bright paraphernalia of the streets and withdrawing to some duskier chamber of the being where we may ask, as we raise our left foot obediently upon the stand: “What, then, is it like to be a dwarf?”…

…Passing, glimpsing, everything seems accidentally but miraculously sprinkled with beauty, as if the tide of trade which deposits its burden so punctually and prosaically upon the shores of Oxford Street had this night cast up nothing but treasure….

…There is always a hope, as we reach down some greyish-white book from the upper shelf, directed by its air of shabbiness and desertion, of meeting here with a man who set out on horseback over a hundred years ago to explore the woollen market in the Midlands and Wales; an unknown traveller, who stayed at inns, drank his pint, noted pretty girls and serious customs, wrote it all down stiffly, laboriously for sheer love of it (the book was published at his own expense); was infinitely prosy, busy, matter-of-fact, and so let flow in without his knowing it the very scent of hollyhocks and the hay together with such a portrait of himself as gives him forever a seat in the warm corner of the mind’s englenook.  One may buy him for eighteen pence now.  He is marked three and sixpence, but the bookseller’s wife, seeing how shabby the covers are and how long the book has stood there since it was bought at some sale of a gentleman’s library in Suffolk, will let it go at that.

Thus glancing around the bookshop, we make other such sudden capricious friendships with the unknown and the vanished whose only record is, for example, this little book of poems, so fairly printed, so finely engraved, too, with a portrait of the author.  For he was a poet and drowned untimely, and his verse, mild as it is and formal and sententious, send forth still a frail fluty sound like that of a piano organ played in some back street resignedly by an old Italian organ-grinder in a corduroy jacket…

…And here–let us examine it tenderly, let us touch it with reverence–is the only spoil we have retrieved from all the treasures of the city, a lead pencil.

                                                                                                                                    —Virginia Woolf, from Street Haunting

 

The Pasture

I’m going out to clean the pasture spring;
I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):
I sha’n’t not be gone long.–You come too.

I’m going to fetch the little calf
That’s standing by the mother.  It’s so young,
It totters when she licks it with her tongue.
I sha’n’t be gone long.–You come too.

                                                                                                                                  –Robert Frost

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