Friday, January 1, 2016

this world being made so

There's Nothing like the Sun

There's nothing like the sun as the year dies,
Kind as it can be, this world being made so,
To stones and men and beasts and birds and flies,
To all things that it touches except snow,
Whether on mountain side or street of town.
The south wall warms me: November has begun,
Yet never shone the sun as fair as now
While the sweet last-left damsons from the bough
With spangles of the morning's storm drop down
Because the starling shakes it, whistling what
Once swallows sang. But I have not forgot
That there is nothing, too, like March's sun,
Like April's, or July's, or June's, or May's,
Or January's, or February's, great days:
And August, September, October, and December
Have equal days, all different from November.
No day of any month but I have said—
Or, if I could live long enough, should say—
"There's nothing like the sun that shines to-day"
There's nothing like the sun till we are dead.

Poems, 1917, by Edward Thomas

This whole area at the edge of the city, with the concentrated din of traffic coming from all directions, struck him as a place one could live in, comparable to the region on the fringe of dreams, where he would gladly have dwelt forever. He would have liked to live in one of the scattered cottages with a back garden merging directly with the meadow, or over there above the warehouse where the yellow light of a desk lamp had just come on. Pencils, a table, a chair. Freshness and strength emanated from edges, as in an everlasting age of pioneering.

The Afternoon of a Writer, 1987, by Peter Handke, tr. Ralph Manheim


  1. this is entirely unappropriate, but the thomas poem gives me the same feeling i get from ogden nash, a kind of homey, warm sense of comfort; and the handke does somewhat the same, but "edgier" as he says himself... nice for a cold snowy winter afternoon.

  2. Thomas, as I read him, as an intensely acute and sad feeling for the transience of homeyness, and all his homey stories are darkened by the knowledge that time is passing and the good place will be lost, no matter what it is. He is also aware that the good place only came to him by luck, and it's typically not a place, more often a view of a place, or the light falling on the place, or the birds or the wind he heard in the place. He has a sort of active yet helpless mourning.

    1. (I mean that I definitely agree with the idea of him being "homey," even if I wouldn't on my own, have made a connection to Nash, a poet I remember mainly for his impatience and couplets.)

    2. "active yet helpless mourning" : trenchant; pithy; like it...

  3. well, i've read some nash but not thomas, so my reaction is not based on expertise, but ignorance, and, like most humans, i judge on what i'm familiar with, trying to evade what's real. facts are a sometime thing, to paraphrase an oldie but goodie...

    1. Well my impression of Nash is based almost completely on the poem that was in the Book of Poetry for Children that my patents gave me when I was about five, and it was:

      "The trouble with a kitten is that
      Eventually it becomes a cat."

  4. Both of these are just fabulous. I've heard of both Thomas and Handke, but until now have never read a word of either. I wonder what Thomas means in that final line. When we die, what will be like the sun then?

    I like the Handke image of a full life on the edge of something, I can imagine a novel told of someone living on the outskirts of a great city, on the edge of a beautiful countryside, but who never ventures into either city or country, living always on the margin and happily so. I may use that idea. It fits in with some stuff I've been rolling around related to Turner skyandlandscapes.

    1. He might mean that death is the moment when we stop saying, "There's nothing like the sun today" -- it's the point at which we stop observing the sun at all, and the long stream of different suns finally comes to an end -- but I'm not sure. He has a number of those endings that point toward some sort of absence or forbiddenness or ghost-storyish mystery. Even in anthologised Adelstrop you know that something terrible is going to happen after the last line: the train will leave.

      Two Houses

      Between a sunny bank and the sun
      The farmhouse smiles
      On the riverside plat:
      No other one
      So pleasant to look at
      And remember, for many miles,
      So velvet-hushed and cool under the warm tiles.

      Not far from the road it lies, yet caught
      Far out of reach
      Of the road's dust
      And the dusty thought
      Of passers-by, though each
      Stops, and turns, and must
      Look down at it like a wasp at the muslined peach.

      But another house stood there long before:
      And as if above graves
      Still the turf heaves
      Above its stones:
      Dark hangs the sycamore,
      Shadowing kennel and bones
      And the black dog that shakes his chain and moans.

      And when he barks, over the river
      Flashing fast,
      Dark echoes reply,
      And the hollow past
      Half yields the dead that never
      More than half hidden lie:
      And out they creep and back again for ever.

    2. His stuff is all so good, but yes, also quite open-ended and melancholy. Still, really beautiful. Thank you for pointing to him.

      Here love ends,
      Despair, ambition ends;
      All pleasure and all trouble,
      Although most sweet or bitter,
      Here ends in sleep that is sweeter
      Than tasks most noble.